“Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” (John 6:60)
In the opening prayer of today’s Mass, we prayed: “O God, who cause the minds of the faithful to unite in a single purpose, grant your people to love what you command and to desire what you promise, that amid the uncertainties of this world, our hearts may be fixed on that place where true gladness is found.” This prayer summarizes our readings today. In it, we prayed that amid the uncertainties of this passing world, we would love what God commands, desire what He promises, and fix our minds on that place where true gladness is found.
Obviously, the crowd in today’s Gospel passage walked away from Jesus Christ because their minds were not fixed on that place where true gladness is found. They became disappointed with Jesus when they realized that He was not willing to feed them with ordinary physical bread once again. It is interesting to note that Jesus did not try to change His stand or water down His message when He saw the crowds leaving. What lessons does this passage teach us:
1. Following Jesus For the Sake of Bread (material benefits) Leads to Disappointment.
So many Christians today have been made to believe that the only reason Jesus took our human flesh, lived among us, died, and rose again was simply to provide for our material needs. Somehow, we have been wrongly influenced by the popularity of the prosperity gospel. Like these disgruntled crowds, many Christians today have reduced their worship of God to the mere attainment of the passing things of this life. We only remember to pray when we need money, friends, connection, food, water, etc.
Dear friends, if all that Jesus came to do for us was to provide for our material needs, why did Jesus allow the crowds to leave Him? If all that Jesus came to do was to remove poverty from our lives, why did He say we would always have the poor among us? (Cf. Matthew 26:11). Do not make the mistake of this crowd? Let it never be that the only reason you worship God is just to get your own fill of bread – that which you would eat and be hungry again. If this is the case, you might soon find yourself moving from church to church like these crowds.
2. The Holy Eucharist is our Life.
You might wonder, if Jesus did not come simply to feed us with physical bread and make our lives on earth sweet and beautiful, why did He die for us? What did Jesus achieve by His passion, death, and resurrection? To give us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink that we may attain eternal life. Jesus’ greatest gift to mankind is the Holy Eucharist which is His flesh and blood. The Holy Eucharist is the bread which comes down from heaven, it is the food of angels, it is the food that Elijah ate which sustained him for forty days and forty nights without being hungry (Cf. 1 Kings 19:5-8).
The Holy Eucharist is the food of which Jesus said: “if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh… unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. … As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.” (John 6:51-57)
The Holy Eucharist is our life – without it, we are no better than walking corpses even if we have everything else in this life. If you are not receiving Holy Communion, you are missing out on the main purpose Jesus came to die for us. St. Paul in today’s second reading use the analogy of Christ’s gift of Himself in the Holy Eucharist to describe how husbands are to sacrifice themselves completely for the sake of their wives. “For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church because we are members of his body.” (Ephesians 5:29-30)
Like a man willing to die for his wife, only for her to walk away from him, Christ was willing to give the crowd His own flesh and blood to eat and drink only for them to walk away from Him. The question is: “Will I also walk away from this precious gift Christ is offering to me today?” Or Would I walk away from Jesus once again like that young man who walked away from Jesus sad all because he was unwilling to give out his riches to the poor? (Cf. Luke 18:18-22)
3. The Christian Life is a Choice.
The beauty of what happens in today’s Gospel passage is that when the people walked away from Jesus, He did not call down fire from heaven to burn them. Jesus will not even try to use sweet-mouth to get them back. Jesus was never a crowd-pleaser. Jesus always spoke the truth, unlike false prophets who specialize in telling people only that which they want to hear. (Cf. 2 Timothy 4:3 & 2 Corinthians 11:13-14)
In fact, Jesus asked the twelve: “Will you also go away?” Coincidentally, this was the same choice that Joshua in our first reading today placed before the Israelites: “If you will be unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve…” (Joshua 24:15). In other words, if you have a problem with following God’s instructions, no need to put one leg here and the other leg there just decide where you really want to be. Serving God is not by force.
If you do not see any value in what Jesus is offering (Holy Eucharist), and all you want is ordinary bread (the perishable things of this world), then feel free to walk away. As much as we are free to choose, we are never free from the consequences of our choices. One thing is very clear, if we choose to walk away from God, we would never find happiness anywhere else. Only in God can we find true happiness for our souls. One question I often ask myself is: “After walking away from Jesus, did the crowd eventually find the bread they were looking for?” If you consider the commandments of God as too difficult to keep or as a hindrance to your happiness, will you find happiness by worshipping the devil?
4. Taste and see that the Lord is Good.
Peter, speaking on behalf of the twelve disciples responded to Jesus saying: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69). Joshua also makes a similar choice in our first reading when he said: “as for me and my house, we would serve the Lord.”
It is funny that after listening to Joshua, the people responded: “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods…” (Joshua 24:16). If you read the next book of the bible (the book of judges), you would realize that the Israelites never kept this promise. Note that it is one thing to give verbal assent to God but a different thing altogether to live it out. A lot of Christians today are “like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23:27). Do I outwardly profess the creed even when I do not accept the teachings of the church? Am I living in pretence?
Our psalmist today sings: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” What is keeping you stuck in those sinful habits, why not give God a try today. Taste God, follow those “difficult” instructions you have always resisted and you will see that God is Good.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, I will not walk away, I will not follow the world, to whom shall I go, you alone have the key to eternal life, I believe in you, give me the grace to remain faithful to this commitment. Amen.
Bible Study: Joshua 24:1-18, Psalm 34:1-22, Ephesians 5:21-32 and John 6:60-69).