3) John 6: The Impossible Need & The Unforeseen Response

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) – August 8, 2021

St. Paul – Lyons, KS

1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:2-9; Ephesians 4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51

A Yet Deeper Need

As we’ve been working through the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, we’ve focused our attention a lot on our need, this impossible need: this “something” we’re looking for and can never quite seem to find; this longing within for a freedom, a gladness, a happiness; this desire for a fulness, for completeness. And little by little, Jesus is revealing that he can provide for our needs. Real concrete needs like food for our hunger (bread and fish). But also, these deeper needs, the ones that we’ve often given up on. Think of that girl who was unexplainably happy because of her encounter with Christ at Totus Tuus Camp. All of a sudden, she experienced a taste of what she was looking for. But there is something even deeper, something we find revealed in scripture.

Now, we’ve all heard the stories in scripture. Abraham, Moses and the Exodus, David, the Prophets—we have heard these stories, and know the stories. But sometimes we can just think of them as the random historical facts; history and fact about the Jewish people; and since Jesus was a Jew, we should know that history. Or again, they teach us some moral value or some wisdom about humanity. Ok.

But beneath all of that, beneath the facts and history, there’s a lot more going on. From the very beginning, the story of the people of Israel, the story of the Bible, is the story of God RENEWING all of creation, RENEWING humanity itself. It’s not just a rule book or a “get to heaven” book. There’s something more.

The History of Israel: Journey to a New Creation

There in the beginning of it all, we have that very famous and very misunderstood story about Adam and Eve and the Tree of Life. The Tree represents God’s own life and creative power that is made available to others. And God’s first command is that the humans eat from all of the trees including that one. In other words, eating the “fruit” from this Tree means you’re ingesting God’s own life. This fruit transforms the one who eats it. And in the words of the story, it leads to “Eternal Life.” And this tree is found in the center of the garden, in a higher place, almost as if it’s on top of a mountain. And mountains provide a clue about what is really going on. Because mountains are places where heaven and earth overlap. 

So in the beginning, before it all fell apart, what we’re being told is that creation was a place where heaven and earth overlapped. They weren’t different. They were united. The fruit of the Tree of Life allowed humanity to inhabit heaven & earth at the same time. They go to the top of this mountain to eat this food, this food transforms them and they share in “Eternal Life”—they are able to inhabit heaven and earth. That’s wild! That’s incredible! That’s what we were made for!

But we know how the story goes. Adam and Eve choose to eat of the one tree they were commanded not to eat from. Humanity is kicked out of the “garden,” they are no longer in a heaven-earth place, they no longer have this food that transforms them, this food which gives them this “eternal life.”

So think: What is humanity looking for? What is their great need? What is scripture going to be the story of?  If God’s goal was to give us a place where heaven and earth are one, if the goal is to give us a food which allows us to share in His life, transform us, allows us to share in this “Eternal Life”—did He just completely ditch that plan and say, “We’ll just try to get them to Heaven when they die”? NO.

The story is one of a journey to a new land, a restoration to the garden. In other words, there is a great hope for the Lord to restore creation to its original state, to recreate heaven and earth. And as we’ll see, all of Scripture is a story of the Lord leading us to a New Creation.

The Tops of Mountains

And the Lord begins leading people to this new creation in completely unexpected ways—and the tops of mountains are always involved, tops of mountains just like where you would find the Tree of Life. On top of Mount Moriah Abraham is asked to sacrifice his son Isaac. On top of Mount Sinai the Lord gives the ten commandments, forms the nation of Israel. On top of Mount Zion, in Jerusalem, we find King David. Not a coincidence that the tops of mountains are always at play.

In our first reading, we get another story about a mountain. So we should be clued in! The prophet Elijah is journeying to Mount Horeb. But he can’t make it, he doesn’t have the strength. He prays for death because he knows he cannot make it. But then the Lord sends an angel to give him bread. And by the strength of that bread, he can arrive at this mountain. What’s really going on? Elijah is on his way to a mountain, to a place where a renewed creation is called to mind—but he can’t make it! To get there he needs the “bread of angels,” a supernatural food, a “bread from heaven” that sustains him, allows him to reach this place.

Exodus Hope vs. Christian Hope

Does that sound familiar? Where else have we heard of bread from heaven sustaining people on a journey? The Exodus. And what is the goal of the Exodus? People getting to a promise land. But, this hope is only a shadow, a prefiguration of an even greater hope

The Great Hope is not for a little chunk of land in the Middle East. The overarching hope, the great Biblical hope the hope and desire we all possess—the Hope is for an entirely new land, a new creation, a promised land where heaven and earth are once again united—and even more than that: a renewed humanity, able to inhabit heaven-earth. The great Christian hope isn’t just for a chance to go to heaven. There is something more. We are in search of a new world, a new life, a new and renewed humanity.

Jesus Giving Food on A Mountain for Eternal Life

This entire sixth chapter of John’s Gospel began with one simple fact, one random detail we often skip right over: “Jesus went up on the mountain.” This entire chapter immediately calls our attention to this. From there, he provided food: he feeds the five thousand.  And then he started talking about how this food, this bread—unlike the manna that Israel ate in the desert and still died—this food, this bread is food that endures for “eternal life.”

What is Jesus saying today? “I am the bread of life. 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; the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Do you know the only other time in scripture we are told about eating something and living forever, possessing eternal life? Only one other time: it’s when we are told about the fruit from the Tree of Life.

We all know the story. Later on, Jesus is taken to the top of a mountain to be hung from a tree. And he invites us to eat the fruit from this New Tree of Life—and that fruit is nothing other than his own flesh. And by eating this fruit, we are transformed, we are given a share in His own life, we are given “Eternal Life.”

This Eucharist we celebrate each and every Sunday, this bread of angels we eat each and every Sunday, this bread of life—in this living bread we are given food for the journey. And even though it’s is not until the resurrection the dead that we will experience the fullness of this “Eternal Life,” we begin to experience tastes of this eternal life EVEN NOW. Again, think about that girl at Totus Tuus camp I talked about. “Jesus sucks!” That’s what she said. But then she expressed her experience of this eternal life: “I’m happy. I’m so happy right now.  I’ve never been this happy. This is literally the happiest I have ever been in my life. And I don’t know why.”

Yeah, we are still on an “exodus” of sorts, journeying to this promised land, this new heaven and new earth. Yes, we are up and down a mountain, at times easily experiencing this heaven-earth space and at other times not. Sometimes we experience that eternal life even now! Sometimes not.

But because we eat this bread of life, this new bread from heaven—we now have an unwavering hope that we who eat this bread, will one day completely share body and soul in the humanity he renewed, in the new heaven and new earth the Lord has promised.

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