The Gospel this Sunday amounts to a summons to faith by Jesus. He is summoning us to faith in Himself and in the truth He proclaims about His presence in the Holy Eucharist. Last week’s Gospel ended with Jesus declaring that He was the bread come down from Heaven. This Sunday’s Gospel opens with His Jewish listeners grumbling because He claims to have come from Heaven. Throughout the Gospel Jesus stands firm in His call to faith; He teaches them of the necessity of faith, its origins, and its fruits. Let’s look at what the Lord teaches in four stages.
I. The Focus of Faith – The Jews murmured about Jesus because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Their lack of faith is a scandal. In addition, it shifts our focus to the need for faith and emphasizes how difficult it is to have faith. Both the scandal and the difficulty are illustrated in the background to the crowd’s lack of faith.
Recall that Jesus had just fed over 20,000 people with five loaves and two fishes, leaving 12 baskets full of scraps. It was this very miracle that led many of them follow Him to the other side of the lake. All the miracles Jesus worked were meant to summon people to faith and to provide evidence for the truth of His words. The Gospel of John recounts Jesus saying, for the works which the Father has granted me to accomplish, these very works which I am doing, bear witness that the Father has sent me (John 5:36).
Yes, their lack of faith, their grumbling, and their murmuring was scandalous. The multiplication of the loaves and fishes was not the first miracle Jesus had worked to this point and it would not be the last. Recall that he had
Changed water into wine, healed lepers, healed the centurion’s servant, cast out demons, healed the lame, healed the woman with a hemorrhage, raised Jairus’ daughter, cast out blindness, cured the man with a withered hand, walked on water, calmed storms at sea, healed the deaf and mute, caused miraculous catches of fish, raised the widow’s son, and raised Lazarus!
What do they focus on? On what Jesus does or on where He is from? It seems clear they are more focused on His human origins: where He is from and who His human kin are.
How many people today really put their focus on what God is doing, on the many daily miracles of simple existence, and on the many ways that even defeats become victories?
Jesus focuses on faith because we humans are a hard case and our faith needs to grow.
II. The Font of Faith – Noting their lack of faith, Jesus rebukes them in these words: Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets: They shall all be taught by God. Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.
Jesus teaches two things here: that our faith in Him comes from the Father, and that we are a hard case.
First, Jesus teaches that His Father is the source of our faith in Him. Scripture teaches this truth elsewhere as well:
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God (Eph 2:8).
This is my beloved son, listen to him (Matt 3:17).
But the testimony which I have is greater than that of John; for the works which the Father has granted me to accomplish, these very works which I am doing, bear me witness that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness to me (John 5:36).
I bear witness to myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness to me (John 8:18).
The central work of the Father is to save us by drawing us to faith in His Son, whom He sent to redeem the world.
Jesus also teaches that this work of God generally meets considerable resistance from us. This is evident in Jesus’ words: the Father must “draw” us to the Son. The Greek word used here is ἑλκύσῃ (helkuse), which means to drag, draw, pull, or persuade; it implies that the thing being drawn or dragged is resisting. This same word is used in John 21:6 in describing drawing a heavily laden net to shore.
Thus, Jesus points to their stubbornness in coming to faith. We are stubborn and stiff-necked, so the Father must exert effort to draw—even drag—us to Jesus.
Yes, we’re a hard case and sometimes we have to be “drug.” Someone once said,
I had a drug problem when I was young: I was drug to church on Sunday morning. I was drug to church for weddings and funerals. I was drug to family reunions and community socials no matter the weather. I was drug by my ears when I was disrespectful to adults. I was also drug to the woodshed when I disobeyed my parents, told a lie, brought home a bad report card, did not speak with respect, spoke ill of the teacher or preacher, or if I didn’t put forth my best effort in everything that was asked of me. I was drug to the kitchen sink to have my mouth washed out with soap if I uttered a profane four-letter word. I was drug to pull weeds in Mom’s garden and to do my chores. I was drug to the homes of family, friends, and neighbors to help some poor soul who had no one to mow the yard, repair the clothesline, or chop some fire wood. And if my mother had ever known that I took a single dime as a tip for this kindness, she would have drug me back to the woodshed. Those drugs are still in my veins and they affect my behavior in everything I do, say, and think. They are stronger than cocaine, crack, or heroin. If today’s children had this kind of drug problem, America might be a better place.
III. The Functioning of Faith – Jesus goes on to teach about how faith functions and what its fruit is: Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.
Regarding the functioning of faith, the Greek text is clearer than the English translation. The Greek word used here for “believes” is πιστεύων (pisteuon), a present, active participle. This construction signifies an ongoing action and is better translated as “He who goes on believing” or “He who is believing.”
The danger is in reducing faith to an event or an act. Some say that they answered an altar call; others point to their baptism. That’s good, but what is going on today? What is prescribed here by the Lord is lasting, ongoing faith. It is a lasting faith because faith is more than a one-time event; it is an ongoing reality. Faith is more than something you have; it is something you do, daily. It involves learning and trusting in God. It is a basing our whole life on His Word, the daily obedience of faith.
Here are a few other Scripture passages about the ongoing need for faith:
But you must hold fast to faith, be firmly grounded and steadfast in it. Unshaken in the hope promised you by the gospel you have heard (Col 1:21ff).
Brethren I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and in which you stand firm. You are being saved by it at this very moment provided you hold fast to it as I preached it to you. Otherwise you have believed in vain (1 Cor 15:1).
He who perseveres to the end will be saved (Matt 24:13).
IV. The Fruit of Faith – Having taught of the ongoing quality of faith, Jesus also speaks of its fruit: eternal life.
The Christian use of the word “eternal” does not refer only to the length of life but to its fullness or quality. The Greek word that is used here is αἰώνιος (aionios), from which we get the English word (a)eon). According the Greek lexicon of Scripture, the word does not focus on the future per se, but rather on the quality of the age.
Note, too, that the Greek word translated here as “has” is ἔχει (echei), which is a present, active indicative. Thus, it does not refer just to something that we willhave but something we now have. Believers live in “eternal life” rightnow, experiencing this quality of God’s life now as a present possession. We do not enjoy it fully, as we will in Heaven, but we do have it now and it is growing within us.
Thus, Jesus teaches that the believer enjoys the fullness of life in him even now, and in a growing way each day. One day we too we will enjoy the fullness of life, to the top, in Heaven.
Here, then, is Jesus teaching on the functioning of faith (its ongoing quality) and the fruit of faith (eternal life, i.e., the fullness of life).
V. The Food of Faith – Having set forth the necessity of faith, Jesus now prepares to turn the heat up a bit and test their faith. Not only does He tell them that He has come from Heaven, but also that He is Bread they must eat. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died but this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.
This final verse points to next week’s Gospel, in which this concept will be developed more fully and more graphically.
Having warned them of the necessity of faith, Jesus now points to one of His most essential teachings: the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.
Without faith, they cannot grasp or accept this teaching. As we shall see in next week’s Gospel reading, most of them turned away and would no longer follow Him because they could not accept what He was saying; they did not have the faith to trust Him in this matter. Instead, they scoff and leave Him. We will say more about this next week as John 6 continues to unfold.
For now, let the Lord ask you, “Do you have faith to believe what I teach you on this?” Perhaps, like the centurion, we can say, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” Perhaps, like the apostles, we can say, “Increase our faith.” Perhaps we can imitate St. Thomas Aquinas and say,
Visus, tactus, gustus in te fallitur, (Sight, touch and taste, in thee fail) Sed auditu solo tuto creditur. (But only the hearing is safely believed) Credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius; (I believe whatever the Son of God says) Nil hoc verbo veritátis verius. (Nothing is more true than this word of truth)
In the end we either have faith or will be famished. We will have the faith to approach the Lord’s table or we will go unfed. Jesus says later, Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood, you have no life in you (Jn 6:53). In other words, we starve spiritually without the faith that brings us to God’s table.
How few come to the Lord’s table today, in these times when faith is so lacking. Only about a quarter of American Catholics attend Mass regularly. How can we stay away if we have faith in the Eucharist? We cannot. If we truly we believe, we will never deliberately miss Sunday Mass. Our devotion to the Lord will grow daily and our experience of the fullness of life (eternal life) will grow.
It’s faith or famine. Do you believe?
Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515-1586), “Christ as the Man of Sorrows” (photo: Public Domain)