In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus further develops the teaching which we heard last week: that we must not labor for food that perishes – that is to say, we must not seek after things in this world which will make us temporarily happy – but we must labor for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son ofMan alone can – and does – give to us. That is to say, we are to seek Jesus himself, and when we attain him, we will find a lasting joy and a lasting peace, which cannot be taken away from us by any means.
Another lesson of last week’s gospel lesson is that we must approach Jesus in FAITH – by believing in him – believing that he is who says he is, and that he has done for us what he said he would do for us.
For some reason, the new lectionary omits some verses from what should be the gospel reading for today. In verse 38, for example, Jesus says: “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me…” We learn from this saying that the remedy to our predicament is humility: in allowing our own will to be subsumed into the will of God: saying to him with conviction, “Lord, I do not know what is best for me, but you do; may your will be done in my life. Lord, I trust you with my life, and I place myself in your hands, for in your hands all is safe, and I am safe.”
Saint Augustine of Hippo said: our soul “departed from God because it was proud. Pride casts us out, [but] humility restores us. When a physician in the treatment of a disease, cures certain outward symptoms, but not the cause which produces those symptoms, his cure is only temporary. So long as the cause remains, the disease may return. That the cause then of all diseases, i.e. pride, might be eradicated, the Son of God humbled himself. O man, why are you proud? The Son of God humbled Himself for you. It might shame you, perhaps, to imitate a humble man; but imitate at least a humble God. And this is the proof of His humility: ‘I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me…’ Pride does its own will; humility [does] the will of God.”
We are eaten up with pride. We always think we know best. Trusting in another is difficult – and it can be particularly difficult for people who have been injured by others. We train ourselves to stand on our own, to be self-sufficient, to go through life strong, self-reliant, and autonomous. It’s the American way: manifest destiny! Westward the wagons! But trusting in ourselves is the road to death and hell. The road to peace and joy – the road to the presence of God – lies in self-abandonment, in giving up our own notions about what we need and even what we want, and instead trusting God: believing in Jesus, who said, “whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it,” (Luke 9.24).
This process is difficult precisely because it requires trust. But if we attain to faith, we come to know that God does, in fact, provide WHAT we need, WHEN we need it. This is the experience described in the Old Testament, in Deuteronomy, in a passage that begins with the prerequisite – again – of HUMILITY: “you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might HUMBLE you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not. And he HUMBLED you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out upon you, and your foot did not swell, these forty years.”
Coming to understand with our hearts that “man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord” – this can be painful, because it entails allowing ourselves to be purged, to have a lifetime of false-selves scraped away. In order to find the satisfaction of our hunger, we must first know what it means to hunger. Spiritually, this means giving up our pretensions, and giving up something that has been instilled in us as a very high end indeed: the American Dream itself: the pursuit of happiness. Lasting happiness eludes us as long as we seek it. “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” But we make progress as we learn rather to seek Jesus – who is the SOURCE (and the only source) of true and lasting joy and peace. As he himself says in today’s Gospel: “this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Taking into account the mysteriously missing verses from today’s Gospel, Jesus makes mention of the mystery of the resurrection three times, and each time with reference to it being the Father’s will that we should come to Jesus and be raised by him at the last day. In the Lord’s third mention of this, Jesus says: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” And to this, Jesus connects a prophecy of the Old Testament: “It is written in the prophets, `And they shall all be taught by God.’ Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”
Here we have a deep mystery of the divine life. God calls to himself within us. As the Psalm says: “Deep calls to deep in the noise of your cataracts.” Our task is to allow that process to unfold within us, to give in to it, and to pray for it continually. Saint Augustine says, “This is the doctrine of grace: none comes [to Christ], unless he is drawn. But whom the Father draws, and whom not, and why He draws one, and not another, presume not to decide, if you would avoid falling into error. Take the doctrine as it is given to you: and if you are not drawn, pray that you may be.” For only thus will your deepest longings find fulfillment and consummation.
The Gospel passages over these few weeks are about the Lord’s teaching about the Bread of Life. And of course, as such, they all are intimately connected to the Blessed Sacrament. That is no accident. Because in the Eucharist the eyes of faith see this spiritual drama unfold. The Eucharist fans the flame of the yearning for God within our hearts. The Eucharist is the principle location of the Lord’s summons within the economy of the life of faith in this world. It is where the Father draws us to the Son.
I would like to conclude by saying a word about the Lord’s invitation to the Eucharistic feast. Firstly, we return to the centrality of humility. For we accept the Lord’s summons by means of humble faith. Saint Augustine reminds us that: “the Sacrament is one thing, the virtue of the Sacrament another. There are many who receive from the Altar, and then perish in [the very act of] receiving; eating and drinking their own condemnation, as the Apostle says. Therefore to eat the heavenly bread spiritually, is to bring to the Altar an INNOCENT MIND. Sins, though they be daily, are not deadly. Before you go to the Altar, pay attention to the prayer you pray: Forgive us forgive, you are forgiven: approach confidently; it is bread, not poison. None then that eat of this bread shall die.”
Lastly Saint Augustine says, “The faithful know and receive the Body of Christ, if they labor to BE the body of Christ. And they become the body of Christ, if they labor to live by the Spirit of Christ: for that which lives by the Spirit of Christ, is the body of Christ. It is this bread of which the Apostle speaks, where he says, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.. O sacrament of mercy, O sign of unity, O bond of love! Whoever wishes to live, let him draw near, let him believe, let him be incorporated, that he may be made alive.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.