Living by this bread
The annual holiday has become standard in our society ; it is part of the contract for most jobs and professions, This is topical right now, in the time of the year when holidays are being enjoyed, and because it may help us reflect on what “real living” is and specifically what the link is between the Eucharist and this “real living.” People looks forward to their holidays as the chance to get away, free from the pressures of their work. For a young person it can conjure up all kinds of possibilities of adventure, new experiences, a time to be oneself — or even to find oneself. More settled adults have more limited expectations. The holiday offers less the prospect of new discoveries or experiences, and more the chance for rest, the restoring of flagging energies and perhaps renewing their joyfulness and zest for life. Whether young or old the holidays are a time to be really ourselves and to really live and ideally they help us to live with more zest when we return to “normality.”
This time of leisure is a time for recreating, restoring our lives, ultimately to benefit our living. It is not in itself the object of our life. We do not live in order to have leisure, we have leisure in order to live. This may sound trite but most people feel it when a holiday is too long or perhaps just a little aimless, the idea of endless leisure somehow sounds intolerably boring.
This image of rest and recreation links up with Eucharist and Christian living. In today’s reading, we see Elijah as a man who has had too much of this life and its burdens. His mission to fight against the paganism promoted by Queen Jezebel had sapped his energies and hopefulness, and he wanted out. Unfortunately there was no such thing as a vacation for the prophet, but he did seek rest and renewal by going to the mountain of God, searching for God who alone could give him the renewed faith and courage he needed. It was out there in the wasteland of his life that he found the bread of God which gave him the strength he needed.
Like the adventurous youngster, the tired worker and the jaded prophet, the Christian, too, needs rest and recreation if he or she is to really live the life that God has given us. Today’s second reading has guidelines on what kind of living is involved here. It offers a standard against which we can measure ourselves, to see whether we are really living (in the Christian sense) or not. There are warning lights to show if our spiritual lives are running down or we are becoming dispirited — malice, bitterness, slander. These are forms of weakness which lead us to snap at our neighbour ; they are destructive. We can usually rationalise them in terms of the difficulties we are facing, we have suffered disappointments, frustrations of our plans, emotional rejection by others, etc.
Living as a Christian involves trying to make our response to such hardships tune in with the response of Christ himself, For the Christian to “really live” is to live “like Christ” and that means to live “in Christ.” What does this kind living look like ? It looks like constant kindness to those around us, constant forgiveness of their annoyances and the ways they reject us, the ability to be tender-hearted towards anyone in need. It is a kind of living to which we would all aspire and even occasionally achieve, but it is a kind of living that needs constant support and nourishment if it isn’t to die out altogether.
The perfect model of this way of living is Christ and he is the only possible source for us, only he can give it to us and nourish it in us. He does this by his giving himself to us in the Eucharist. Here we receive the bread of life, we are united to Christ through our believing in him, listening to his word and receiving his body and blood. If this communion with him is real and not sham then we have his life in us and it must show itself by our leaving Mass every Sunday to go and live like him. Living the Christian life really means living out what we have celebrated in the Eucharist. Equally we need to learn that without this frequent return to the bread of life we will be unable to keep the spirit of Christ alive in our hearts.
Just as we need holidays so we need spiritual recreation. Our Eucharist is a source of re-creation, a source of new life in us. Here we can find new inspiration and vision through the Word of God. Here we can have our faith renewed and we are given the strength to live it out.
Appreciating what we have
We all do our fair share of complaining, and sometimes with good reason. We complain about the weather a great deal. We complain about all kinds of things. If we are not careful we can find ourselves complaining about nothing in particular, just complaining. We can easily get ourselves into a very negative frame of mind. We see the problems but we see nothing else. We fail to see the bigger picture which will nearly always have brighter shades in it. Our vision can restricted to what is wrong or missing or lacking.
The gospel this morning opens with the Jews complaining to each other about Jesus. As far as they were concerned, he was a problem, and they could not see beyond the problem. They had always known him as the son of Joseph, the carpenter from Nazareth ; they knew his family and his mother. Yet, here he was claiming to be the bread that came down from heaven. They were scandalized that one of their own could make such claims for himself. Their response to Jesus was to complain about him. Complaining on its own is rarely an adequate response to anything or anyone ; it is certainly not an adequate response to the person of Jesus.
In the gospel, Jesus calls for a very different kind of response. He speaks of this response initially as coming to him. To come to Jesus is the first step on the way to faith. In the first chapter of John’s gospel, when Jesus meets the disciples of John the Baptist for the first time he says to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came, they saw, and eventually they went on to believe in him. Jesus’ call to come to him is given even to those who already believe. He calls those who believe to come closer to him so as to believe more fully, more deeply. As followers of Jesus, we spend our whole lives coming to him. We never fully arrive to him in this life ; we never fully grasp him, either with our minds or with our hearts. We are always on the way towards him. No matter where we are on our faith journey, the Lord keeps calling on us to come.
Jesus declares in the gospel that nobody can come to him unless drawn by the Father. We cannot come to Jesus on our own ; we need God’s help. The good news is that God the Father is always drawing us to his Son. When Jesus says to us, ‘Come’, we are not just left to our own devices at that point. God the Father will be working in our lives helping us to come to his Son ; he will draw us to Jesus. There is always more going on in our relationship with Jesus than just our own human efforts. That should give us great encouragement because we know from our experience that our own efforts can fail us in the area of our faith as in other areas. Our coming to Jesus, our growing in our relationship with him, is not all down to us. God the Father is at work in our lives moving us towards his Son, drawing us towards Jesus. There is a momentum within us that is from God, a momentum that will lead us to Jesus if we are in any way open to it.
The language of the gospel is very graphic. Jesus speaks of himself as the bread that comes down from heaven and calls on us to eat this bread. When we hear that kind of language we probably think instinctively of the Eucharist. Yet, it might be better not to jump to the Eucharist too quickly. The Lord invites us come to him and to feed on his presence, and in particular to feed on his word. In the Jewish Scriptures bread is often a symbol of the word of God. We may be familiar with the quotation from the Jewish Scriptures, ‘we do not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ We need physical bread, but we also need the spiritual bread of God’s word. We come to Jesus to be nourished by his word. The Father draws us to his Son to be fed by his word. The food of his word will sustain us on our journey through life, just as, in the first reading, the baked scones sustained Elijah, until he reached his destination, the mountain of God. When we keep coming to Jesus and feeding on his word, that word will shape our lives. It empowers us to live the kind of life that Saint Paul puts before us in this morning’s second reading, a life of love essentially, a life in which we love one another as Christ as loved us, forgive one another as readily as God forgives us. That, in essence, is our baptismal calling.