DISCOURSE ON THE BREAD OF LIFE
THE, PARTISANS OF A POLITICAL MESSIAH REJOIN JESUS AT CAPHARNAUM JESUS REJECTS THEIR EARTHLY VIEWS HOW HE UNDERSTANDS HIS ROYALTY HE IS THE BREAD OF LIFE FOR THOSE WHOM THE FATHER BRINGS TO HIM HE DESIRES THAT MAN SHALL RECEIVE NOT ONLY HIS DOCTRINE, BUT ALSO HIS FLESH AND HIS BLOOD, WHICH ARE TO BE OFFERED FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD THE MEANING OF THE OFFERING PERFECT COMMUNION DISSENSION AMONG THE ADHERENTS OF JESUS PETER'S RESPONSE HYPOCRITYICAL SILENCE OF JUDAS. (St. John vi, 2271.)
IN the meantime the party of zealots, who were eager for the proclamation of the Messianic Kingdom, had reappeared on the following day in the desert of Bethsaida, in the hope of again finding Jesus. Their disappointment was great when they learned that He had departed. Boats that had arrived from the neighbourhood of Tiberias might have brought them definite tidings, and might have assured them that He had been seen on the opposite shore. It may be that these boats had been sent to bring this information and to fetch back to Capharnaum the leaders in the popular agitation. It is quite possible, indeed, that these latter may have had some understanding even within the Apostolic circle itself. Have we not seen how Jesus' disciples shared with the multitude the desire of transforming the Messiah into an earthly king? Would not the worldly and selfish soul of a Judas seek with impatience every opportunity to hasten events in order the sooner to enjoy the material results he expected therefrom? Later on, under the influence of analogous sentiments, he connives no longer with the friends, but with the very enemies of Jesus.
However that may be, the boats from Tiberias arrived most opportunely to carry to the other side those who wished to rejoin Jesus without delay, and to bring the group of revolutionists again around Him. When these enthusiasts discovered Him, in the synagogue of Capharnaum, they approached Him with unfeigned eagerness. "Rabbi," they said, "how and when camest Thou hither?" To find Him again was to recover all their worldly hopes. Jesus knew it well, and, instead of replying to their question, He rebuked the intention that dictated it: "Amen, amen, I say to you, ye seek Me, not because ye have seen miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that which endureth unto life everlasting, which the Son of Man will give you. For Him hath God the Father sealed." The lesson was direct. These ambitious agitators with their deepfelt longings are mistaken in seeking in Jesus the Thaumaturgus Who will feed His partisans, instead of the Teacher Who seeks to instruct His disciples. To ask of the Messiah barleybread, when He offers moral life; to wish to make Him King of the earth, when He is King of Heaven, is to mistake His august character and to suppress His true grandeur. Like fools they have regard only to the body which is to be fed, to the earthly man who is to be satisfied, and as for the loftier, the spiritual, the divine side of man, they have no suspicion of it. It is a woful case; for the Son of Man has not been chosen marked, and consecrated by His Father for the vulgar mission of founding a political kingdom; He has been sent to establish the great society of souls and to lay the foundation of the spiritual city of the children of God.
But the people made answer: "What shall we do that we may work the works of God?" With all their devotion to the Messianic cause they are astonished that they are not a part of the religious work that Jesus wishes to found. "This is the work of God," replies Jesus, "that ye believe in Him Whom He hath sent." God demands not partisans who will combat, but faithful hearts who will believe. Faith is the work He expects from men. In His sight they can do nothing greater or more necessary: nothing greater, since faith is the complete gift of one's self in the humiliation of the mind and in the sacrifice of the heart; nothing more necessary, since it is by faith alone, uniting our souls to Jesus Christ, that we are incorporated in the Messianic Kingdom.
In the synagogue, as in every public assembly, there were hearers of various dispositions. Besides those who had witnessed the multiplication of the loaves, and who were eager to learn of Jesus His real intentions, there were jealous Pharisees, incredulous teachers, who became indignant when they heard the youthful Prophet put Himself forward resolutely as the object of the faith of mankind. "What sign, therefore, dost Thou show," they said to Him sharply, "that we may see and may believe in Thee? What dost Thou work? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert, as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat."1 This was a malicious effort to turn to their own profit the blame that Jesus had laid upon the people, and His refusal to continue to nourish them by a miracle. If He is the Messiah, let Him prove it by doing each day in the sight of all, that which He had already once done, in the desert. Moses acknowledged himself inferior to the Messiah, and yet he had nourished, not five thousand people on a single occasion, but the entire people during forty years, and that, too, not with barleybread, but with bread from heaven. Jesus, taking up the comparison they have made, says to them: "Amen, amen, I say to you; Moses gave you not bread from heaven, but My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life to the world." Thus let there be no equivocation; the bread of which Jesus speaks is not that of which His questioners speak. They refer to a miraculous but material manna; He, in these ambiguous words, means to convey that He Himself is a spiritual bread that is come down from heaven, and that it is through Him and by Him that the world is to live.
If Jesus is not really God, nothing can be more astounding, more unheard of, more inexplicable than this assertion and the whole discourse that follows. For, after all, where could He have derived so certain and so perfect a knowledge of His future part in the history of mankind? It cannot be denied, in truth, that for nineteen centuries the world has asked life from Him, and that by Him as by an inexhaustible and everrefreshing store of bread the world has been visibly nourished, through the assimilation of His thoughts, His morality, and His virtues.
His beautiful response is too sublime for even the most favourably disposed portion of His audience to comprehend. All that these ignorant Jews understand is that He is talking of a miraculous bread which is as material, however, as the bread of the desert. With a simplicity that recalls that of the woman of Samaria, they declare that they are ready to be satisfied with it, and to follow Him Who will give it, wherever He may lead. "Lord," they say, "give us always this bread." At this point Jesus, resolutely removing the veil with which He had cloaked His thought, puts an end to all misunderstanding at the risk of breaking with His most devoted followers: "I am the bread of life!" He exclaims; "he that cometh to Me shall not hunger; and he that believeth in Me shall never thirst." They need look no farther; the food which at the same time is and gives real life is Himself come down from heaven, He Who being alive in God from all eternity, is come upon earth and is become incarnate in order to be the life of man. Man, therefore, has only to take, by an act of faith, and assimilate this divine food from heaven, and he will no longer feel either hunger or thirst in his soul. Unfortunately, though invited to this incredible communion, he hesitates to eat what would give him life. This thought saddens Jesus. "But I said unto you, that ye also have seen Me, and ye believe not." This is a formal condemnation of a great number of His hearers. They have seen His works, have heard His discourses, yet they have not made the act of faith which would have brought them life.
Will all mankind follow their example? Assuredly not; this would be contrary to God's plan. Jesus, Who seems to have been for a moment in silent thought, casts a sudden glance into the future, and His heart is reassured. "All that My Father giveth Me," He says, "shall come to Me, and him that cometh to Me, I will not cast out; because I am come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him that sent Me. Now this is the will of the Father Who sent Me, that of all that He hath given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again in the last day. And this is the will of My Father that sent Me: that every one who seeth the Son, and believeth in Him, may have life everlasting, and I will raise him up in the last day." Inevitably men shall rise up who will desire to assimilate the divine life placed at their disposal. But, come they whence they may, even from among the vilest of the Gentiles, they shall be welcomed. The bread of heaven shall be given them. Not one of those whom the Father has chosen shall die of hunger; in the ardour of their faith they shall all live by that Jesus Whom they shall have contemplated, adored, and served with their most generous love. Thus it is that on the last day the multitude of the elect shall rise up full of life and beauty. Then the Son shall place in His Father's hands the flock that He shall have faithfully guarded, fed, and sanctified.
These assertions touched the Jews on their most sensitive side. It was hard to learn that pagans might be preferred before themselves. Was He Who spoke thus the true Messiah of Israel? This fresh grievance aggravated the already strange pretension to be the bread of life come down from heaven, and a longcontinued murmuring began to be heard in the assembly. "Is not this Jesus," they said, "the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How then saith He: I came down from heaven?" The Master makes no reply to this objection which prudence forbids Him to answer directly. To disclose the mystery of His divine conception would only have intensified the scandal in the eyes of His questioners. But with that severe authority which His words at times assumed, He said to them: "Murmur not among yourselves. No man can come to Me, except the Father Who hath sent Me draw him,2 and I will raise him up in the last day. It is written in the prophets: And they shall all be taught of God.3 Every one that hath heard of the Father and hath learned, cometh to Me. Not that any man hath seen the Father, but He Who is of God4 He hath seen the Father." The faithful are therefore first chosen by the Heavenly Father; it is He that opens their hearts, makes ready their souls, and, at times by the violent strokes of His mercy, at times by the sweetness of His grace, leads them, conquered but happy, to the Son. His allpowerful influence accomplishes its work amid the ordinary incidents of life. A great grief that hurts, or a joy that exalts, a word that we read in the Holy Books, or that we gather from the lips of a true believer, a sudden light that dispels all doubt, all these are the voice of God. Though we have not seen Him in Himself for this is the exclusive privilege of His only Son Who is in His bosom we feel His influence, and, moved by a secret force which does not destroy our liberty, but only guides it, we are conducted to the Son. And then He begins His work: by His doctrine, He furnishes us with the great light of religion; by His expiatory sacrifice, He restores us to righteousness; by His contact, He gives us life again. At last, comes the third agent in our moral sanctification, whom Jesus will name later on; it is the Holy Spirit. It belongs to the Spirit to care for the converted soul; to adorn it with His gifts; to make it a temple, wherein God shall be duly honoured. Thus the two Persons who proceed from the Father bring back to the Father those whom the Father had chosen, the one by enlightening and redeeming them, the other by completing their sanctification. Such is the invariable and sublime history of God, Who employs His power, His truth, and His love for His own glory in the exercise of His mercy.
"Amen, amen, I say unto you," continues Jesus, with everincreasing energy, "He that believeth in Me hath everlasting life. I am the bread of life! Your fathers did eat manna in the desert and are dead. This is the bread that cometh down from heaven, that if any man eat of it, he may not die. I am the living bread, which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is My flesh for the life of the world." These last words are plainly a transition to a new order of ideas. Besides the bread which the Father has given to earth, there is the flesh which the Son gives for our resurrection. As bread, Jesus offers to humanity truth that nourishes the soul. As flesh and blood, He creates in us supernatural life; for it is by His sacrifice that He has accomplished our redemption. Hence man, to live a complete life, must be incorporated at the same time with Jesus the Teacher and with Jesus the Redeemer. The first act is accomplished by faith which unites us with His thought; the second, by physical contact which should join us to His body bruised and immolated for our salvation. To grasp Christ in His whole divine being, moral and physical that is for us the condition of the religious life. The greater the energy with which man attaches himself to this bread, this flesh, this blood, that are to nourish and to sanctify him, the greater will be the intensity of his life. He must bring God into his own life, and, his life being absorbed in the divine life, there must be henceforth in his enlightened soul, in his transformed heart, in his sanctified flesh, but one living being, Jesus Christ.
These theories were far beyond the capacity of an audience which, taking them literally and with no thought of discovering their purport, exclaimed more violently than a moment before: "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Their lack of intelligence cannot discourage Jesus. On the contrary, He insists on giving His words a sense that is more and more literal. "Amen, amen, I say to you: Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, ye shall not have life in you. He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood hath everlasting life, and I will raise him up the last day. For My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed Here, without further metaphor, the precept is imposed in all its astonishing reality. That the union may be perfect and life assured, it is not enough that Jesus be eaten in spirit; the mouth itself must receive Him; a real eating of the victim offered for the human race becomes necessary.5 But is it human flesh that must be eaten; is it blood, yet warm, that must be drunk? The institution of the Eucharist will furnish the divine response to that question. After the Last Supper, the Saviour's flesh will be really, not the bloody, but the mystical food of mankind, and His blood, not the repellent, but the consoling drink that is offered to Christians under the veil of the Sacrament. And now the last word in the divine plan tells us the marvellous results of the strange and heavenly repast to which Jesus invites us. "He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood abideth in Me and I in him. As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father, so he that eateth Me, the same also shall live by Me." True life has its source in God alone, Who is the Living Father, according to Jesus' expression. This life attains its bloom in His Word, and, in a visible manner for us, in the ManGod. To eat the ManGod is to bring within ourselves that which is in the ManGod Himself, and consequently the life of the Father; it is to unite ourselves to the Infinite, since we establish between ourselves and Jesus the same relation that exists between Jesus and His Father. Only, the Son derives His life directly from that of the Father, and, reproducing it on earth under a human form, He places it within our reach. As earthly bread gives a share in the life of nature, the bread of heaven gives us a share in the life of God It is called living bread because it bears the Living One, and communicates Him to all who, by faith, desire to possess Him. To be sure we absorb God less than God absorbs us; but we are nevertheless the drop of water which, falling into the sea, shares in its lofty risings, in the majesty of its calm, in the purity of its azure mass. Does communion, then, really place the life divine in us? Yes, for it is Jesus Himself that says so, and it is easy to understand that the divine element entering into our souls through our bodies, engenders, sustains, and perfects therein the very principle of our supernatural life.
The conclusion of this sublime discourse is an invitation to unite ourselves to Jesus, at present by faith, later on by the Eucharist, for there is no doubt that, mindful of His approaching death, appointing it even for the next Passover as the reality of the symbolic immolation of the lamb, He referred to the institution that was to perpetuate its memory. "This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead. He that eateth this bread shall live forever." His hearers were more and more amazed at His words.
They had begun by murmuring and disputing; they ended by giving expression to their indignant feelings, to which, indeed, even some of the disciples were not strangers. "This saying is hard," they exclaimed, "and who can bear it?" No doubt, those who saw no possible realisation for the Master's words other than in a revolting and cannibalistic sense, had some reason for being repelled by this proposition. But they were wrong in attributing to Jesus such extravagant designs. His words must have had a more spiritual meaning, and it was for His hearers to discover it. Far from retracting them, the Master endeavoured to maintain them in their literal and direct sense, merely hinting that there was a misunderstanding as to the manner of eating, which was to be in no way bloody. "Doth this scandalise you?" He said. "If then you shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before?"6 They will then at least understand that there could be no question of eating flesh that is given out in portions like the flesh of a mortal victim. He who ascends to heaven after his resurrection cannot die again. This, therefore, is what will take place: Jesus will give Himself really, but under a mystical form; substantially, but under the sacramental species that will recall His death; wholly, His humanity and His divinity together; Himself entire, in a word, but multiplied, not divided. Then He shall appear as the Bread from Heaven, since, having come down from heaven, He will ascend again, and though eaten as a Victim here below, on high He will nevertheless ever be King, living and full of glory. Then shall men grasp at every reason to apply to themselves the doctrine and the supreme expiation of Him Who will have sealed His work with the prodigy of His Ascension.
Henceforth, if one wishes to comprehend that which seems to be incomprehensible, he must be penetrated by the words which the Master adds, and which dispel many difficulties. "It is the spirit that quickeneth," He says; "the flesh profiteth nothing. The words that I have spoken to You are spirit and life." Let not the senses therefore endeavour to find the flesh of Jesus Christ; they will not discover it; it is a mystical flesh; it is for the spirit alone to find it, to feel it, to adore it while eating it. From the natural point of view, the Eucharist would be impossible. From the supernatural point of view, it is life in all that is sublime and ideal. He comprehends it who can silence his body, and can give ear to his soul alone, in the light of faith and in the ecstasy of love.
Therefore, whatever doubts His hearers might have as to the character of the Messianic Kingdom, let them now be put aside. Its atmosphere is the purest spirituality. All earthly views, all human means, all coarse appetites are excluded from it. The King, as Jesus has just said, gives Himself to be the food of His subjects' souls, and, by this giving, creates the close ties that bind His people to Him. In the supernatural gifts He offers and the religious homage He expects, material desires have no part. Nearly all the relations of the Master to His subjects are established in the higher, invisible world of spirits. Like swiftwinged eagles, the faithful ever rise up to reach for the heavenly bread, to grasp it, and to eat it. For them it is a duty and a pleasure. The bread that is given is the King Himself, and all together, forming but one people, one family, the organism of one body, as it were, according to St. Paul's beautiful expression, they constitute the most holy, the most worthy, the most divine homage that earth can offer to heaven.
But, in all this, there was no trace of what had been the dream of those ambitious disciples who, a few days before, had hastened to the Master's side. If by this explicit profession of faith, Jesus had wished to end all misunderstanding, His success was complete. He perceived it, for, says the Evangelist, He read in their hearts, and distinguished "those that did not believe, and who he was that would betray Him." Therefore, with an accent of profound sadness, He added: "There are some of you that believe not. . . . Therefore did I say to you, that no man can come to Me, unless it be given him by My Father." It was a touching farewell addressed to all those who looked for a temporal Messiah.
Deceived in their hopes, the politicians noisily withdrew. Their business was not with a spiritual Messiah, and they departed.
Unfortunately this voluntary separation, which purged the Kingdom of God of a most dangerous leaven, did not extend to the Apostolic circle itself, where the criminal element was still represented. As if to force them to declare themselves explicitly, Jesus turns to the Twelve7 and says, "Will ye also go away?" Peter with his customary ardour made himself the voice of all and answered: "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and have known that Thou art the Holy One of God." No one protested against this act of faith, the terms of which seemed to make it collective. Yet there was one who could not give his adherence to it; this was Judas. In a tone of sadness fully capable of penetrating and converting a soul less hypocritical, Jesus said: "Have not I chosen you twelve? And one of you is a devil." This awful utterance passed unheeded the heart of the wretched man, who declined to escape by the door thus opened to him. He assumed an impassive expression, and counted on the Master's kindness not to betray him. The truly wicked have confidence enough in the virtue of the good to repay them for their inexhaustible patience.
From now on the position of Jesus in Galilee becomes difficult. Several of His disciples having given the example of defection, the people will manifest less enthusiasm and interest in Him. His enemies will profit by it to pursue Him more boldly, and, even in Galilee, where the harvest seemed to advance so rich in promise, the word of God threatens to remain fruitless. The word that gave the quietus to wretched human hopes was enough to compromise everything: "The Messiah is not the King of men, but the King of souls."
1 Ps. lxxvii, 24, 25; Exod. xvi, 4 and 15.
2 The verb elkuein, which Jesus uses, does not imply the violent action of dragging man against his will. It signifies an impulse given to one who was at first unwilling, but who in the end, permits himself to be led on. The very text of Isaias, which Jesus quotes, indicates simply a persuasive in fluence of God penetrating a docile nature with His grace and leading it where He will. The picture used here seems to remind one of the father of a family who accompanies his young child to the schoolmaster. The Father leads men to His Son's school; and men, like children, seem to approach their preceptor only with difficulty. That is why they are drawn, but not with violence.
3 Isa. liv, 13, and Jer. xxxi, 33, etc.
4 After these words of the Master, we need not ask where St. John found the idea of his prologue: o wn para tou qeou is the exact counterpart of pros ton qeon. The Son is of the Father and wholly with the Father.
5 Jesus employs the most expressive terms to signify a physical assimilation: prwgwn, eating with the teeth; pinwn, drinking as a beverage: and He makes it certain that this is not a metaphor but a reality: alhqws brwsis, alhqws posis.
6 This allusion to the Ascension is the more remarkable since St. John says nothing later on of the Ascension itself.
7 St. John suddenly speaks of the Twelve as if they had already been mentioned. In his Gospel he has spoken of the vocation of only five disciples and of the existence of an indeterminate but large group of faithful. So we see here another instance of his agreement the Synoptics, St. Luke vi, 12 et seq.; St. Mark iii, 13 et seq. Telling that Jesus has chosen the Twelve, he says: exelexamhn, while St. Luke vi, 13, says: eklexamenos.
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