The Gospel read on Sunday was excerpted from the Bread of Life section of John’s Gospel which is heard every third year from the 17th to the 21st Sunday.
Next Sunday we miss the usual follow-on, as the Solemnity of the Assumption is kept on Sunday, and its readings take precedence, so the additional text has been added below to last Sunday’s reading, for sake of comprehension and completeness.
The Jews were complaining to each other about Jesus, because he had said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ ‘Surely this is Jesus son of Joseph’ they said. ‘We know his father and mother. How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?’ Jesus said in reply, ‘Stop complaining to each other.
‘No one can come to me
unless he is drawn by the Father who sent me,
and I will raise him up at the last day.
It is written in the prophets:
They will all be taught by God,
and to hear the teaching of the Father,
and learn from it,
is to come to me.
Not that anybody has seen the Father,
except the one who comes from God:
he has seen the Father.
I tell you most solemnly,
everybody who believes has eternal life.
‘I am the bread of life.
Your fathers ate the manna in the desert
and they are dead;
but this is the bread that comes down from heaven,
so that a man may eat it and not die.
I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.
Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever;
and the bread that I shall give is my flesh,
for the life of the world.’
Then the Jews started arguing with one another: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ they said. Jesus replied:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man
and drink his blood,
you will not have life in you.
Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life,
and I shall raise him up on the last day.
For my flesh is real food
and my blood is real drink.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me
and I live in him.
As I, who am sent by the living Father,
myself draw life from the Father,
so whoever eats me will draw life from me.
This is the bread come down from heaven;
not like the bread our ancestors ate:
they are dead,
but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.’
John 6:41-51 (-58)
The passage can seem exclusive. ‘Only those who eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, will have life in them. But anyone who does eat his flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and they shall be raised on the last day.’
What might we make of this?
First about those for whom the passage seems to offfer comfort. Well, there is reassurance for those who do eat his flesh and drink his blood, for we know his love in this. Unless we eat and drink unworthily. For then we bring condemnation on ourselves.
Second those for whom the text is more immediate challenge. The ancestors, says Jesus, are dead, for they have not eaten his flesh or drunk his blood. But is their death the end? And is there no hope who will not/cannot, now, eat of this bread?
The text is challenge, and will not let us duck the challenge, the choices that discipleship present, and salvation involves.
And yet there is more to the Gospel than this passage, this chapter alone. More than the Gospel of John, even. Tradition tells us something of that more in the story of the harrowing of hell: how in his death and resuurection Jesus descend to draw the dead to new life.
So, finally, who is excluded? It is not for us to know, still less for us to judge.
Let us only rejoice in the communion we know is granted to us, who know ourselves invited to share in the love and life that is proper to God and to the family of God. And let us seek to live that more fully, more faithfully.
Photograph of Chi Rho monogram. Vatican Museum. (c) 2010, Allen Morris