Gospel Lectio Divina for 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
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’?” Jesus answered and said to them, “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. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; 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.”
“Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?”
The Jews knew Joseph as a carpenter. Even the town Jesus came from was known for being nothing special, leading Nathan’a-el to say, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” In John 1, in response to Nathan’a-el, Philip the apostle says, “Come and see.” This is the key differentiation between Nathan’a-el and the Jews in the above passage. Nathan’a-el did come and see, and he was proven wrong. His encounter with the truth made him OK with that, though. Nathan’a-el was willing to test his presumption, and have it shattered by reality. The Jews in this week’s Gospel, on the other hand, were set in their ways. No matter how many miracles Jesus performed, no matter how much truth he spoke, they could not be convinced that Jesus was the son of God. These Jews were of the same mindset as those who would sooner believe that Jesus cast out demons in the name of Beelzebub than believe that Jesus was the son of God. They had a predetermined prejudice about who Jesus was, who raised him, and where he came from, and they weren’t going to let any amount of evidence convince them otherwise. It may sound like quite a stubborn position to take, but how often do I remain set in my ways by refusing to see the great works God does in my life? How often do I refuse to admit his providence while just calling it coincidence? It’s hard to believe in God when we don’t believe he can use ordinary things to reach us. Why can’t the foster son of Joseph be the promised Messiah? Why can’t he come from Nazareth? Why did the fact that they knew his mother and father negate the possibility that he was sent from heaven in their eyes? I can ask the same questions in my own life. Why can’t God’s answers to my prayers be found in the things right in front of me? St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, said “Either we learn to find our Lord in ordinary, everyday life, or else we shall never find Him.” Jesus came from a very ordinary town and family (well, the Blessed Mother wasn’t so ordinary, but you get what I mean). For the better part of the liturgical year, we celebrate the Mass and read God’s word in “Ordinary Time”. It’s the same God that created the universe and performed all sorts of wonders, though. The ordinary can produce some quite extraordinary things.
“Stop murmuring among yourselves.”
Jesus spoke with authority even toward those who opposed him, and they listened--not because he was the Son of God--but because he spoke the truth with authority. They didn’t even believe he was the Son of God, but the way he spoke did one of two things. It either caused others to be uncomfortable with what he was saying, or it caused them to follow him. It’s possible to be authoritative without being authoritarian. If we speak the truth of the gospel and lead by example, we would do well to speak and do so authoritatively. If we do not, people will begin to question if we even thoroughly believe what we are saying and doing. But the truth naturally has an advantage over falsehood, and that advantage is truth’s clarity. When someone abides in the truth, they can issue commands as if their commands were not coming from them, and people respect the commands because the truth shines forth through them. When we sway, speak ambiguously, or avoid clear distinctions in order to make other people feel more comfortable, we lead people away from the truth. They then look elsewhere for truth and don’t care for whatever we have to say, even if there is some truth in our words. Jesus does not shy away from speaking assertively to even those who doubted him. He knew these doubters needed an assertive, authoritative voice to show them the way to God.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven
After Jesus fed the crowds in last Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 14:13-21), he watched them and pitied them as they came to him expecting him to answer all their prayers. They wanted the wrong things. They wanted him to perform miracles by healing the sick, and to awe them with supernatural phenomena. Later, in Matthew 16, when the Pharisees and Sadducees demanded a sign, he told them only a wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, or at least the kinds of signs they were looking for. Jesus does give us miracles every day that we often fail to notice and appreciate. He gives us his Body in the Eucharist, and his word in Scripture. The Eucharist is the living bread, but so is his word. Jesus pitied the crowds because they sought the wrong kind of bread. They sought nourishment for the body only. Scripture is bread from heaven because it is nourishment for the mind and the soul. The Bible tells us to fear the Lord. For that reason we ought to fear Scripture, because Scripture is the Lord. Because of this, it has the ability to change our lives. Scripture can speak to us in ways that nothing else can. The pages of the Bible know us inside and out like no one else does. Before we read Scripture, we should acknowledge its ability to shine light on areas of our life we prefer to hide from others. We should acknowledge how it can point us in a direction in our lives we don’t want to go. God is uncontainable, and when we try to put him in a box, that’s when he often shows us how he is completely different than what we expected. When we see him as nothing but a source of comfort, and start to get comfortable every time we read Scripture, his truth often surprises us with a rude awakening. When we pick up the Bible or read Scripture anywhere, we need to be ready to be spooked. After all, the words are alive. It is the living bread from heaven.
whoever eats this bread will live forever
But we still die. That is the thought that first comes to mind when I read this verse. Jesus said we will live forever if we eat the bread from heaven, but we most certainly still die. Christ only gives us one life, and he doesn’t want us to waste it. We need to get it right here on earth if we’re going to make it to heaven. The saints in heaven are the same people they were here on earth. Our loved ones who have gone onto heaven are still the same person there. This is the only way this verse makes sense. Christ is not trying to trick us. He is not saying you will live forever, but you have to die first. He is saying the second death, the death of the soul, is the only real death. And if we eat the bread of heaven so that Christ may abide in us and we in him, we will surely live forever because we won’t experience the death of the soul.
Lord Jesus, you are the life. You are the bread from heaven that has come down to bring everlasting life to the world. But you did not come to simply give us the gift of eternal life. You came to show us the way to the Father. You showed us the way so we can show others the way by our example. Teach me to be that example to others in word and deed. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
The best way to hear God’s voice in lectio divina, and in any part of life, is to enjoy the process. So often God is found in the process, in the ordinary drudgery of the everyday routines. So often we just push through our daily tasks, hoping that we’ll find some relief, some peace, some form of God somewhere at the end. But he is here right in the middle of it all just as much as he is at the end of it all. Enjoy the process of finding him, of working through the hardships, and you will see God. If you learn to find God in even the hardest parts of life, nothing that life throws at you will be able to steal that joy from you.
David Kilby is a freelancer writer from New Jersey and managing editor of Catholic World Report.