Looking for the fountain of youth
We tend to fear death. Immortality seems pretty good, and it is an interesting theme in literature. In Greek mythology, we have Tithonus, who is immortal, but still ages. This causes obvious difficulties. Ponce de Leon was famous for seeking the Fountain of Youth in the New World. We would like to avoid the pain and discomfort of aging. We become too focused on this world and forget the true fountain of life, that comes out in today’s Gospel.
Jesus is the Bread come down from Heaven. Heavenly bread sounds pretty good. Jesus is telling us he is God. If he is God, we should probably listen. We often try to be “buddy-buddy” with God, but it is good to remember that he is wholly different from us. He is completely different. The fact that he is so different does not make him further from us since he is not a despotic God. Rather, he knows us so intimately that he is closer to us than we are to ourselves. St. Augustine said that the Lord is closer to us than we are to ourselves: “interior intimo meo et superior summon meo.” (Augustine, Confessions, III.6.11) Sometimes we imagine God to be like a mad scientist. A mad scientist wants to possess his creation completely for himself, for his own good and satisfaction. God is totally different, in that he wants us to be completely free, free even from the slavery of sin.
What is Jesus saying to us in today’s Gospel?
The Jews understood what Jesus was saying he is truly God. This upsets them. “We know he was a carpenter! We know he is from Nazareth! How can be ‘bread come down from Heaven.’” They take Jesus seriously. One of the great things about the Discourse of the Bread of Life is that Jesus is speaking so literally. The Jews are going crazy. “How can he give us his flesh to eat?” “How can he say he has come down from Heaven?” They know that he is saying things seriously, and it seems utterly offensive to them. They are hoping he will walk back his statements.
We also try to downplay what he was saying in this passage. Jesus does not walk back his statements. Often, we have the tendency to walk them back ourselves. We think that Jesus could not possibly have been speaking literally. Or we think that what he is claiming is too far-fetched or out of date. God is God, and we are not Him. Jesus, as the Bread comes down from Heaven, proclaims himself to be God, completely different from us. His origin story is tremendously different, yet he is still intimately connected to our reality.
We would do well to take Jesus at his word. “They shall all be taught by God.” (Is. 54:13) The fact that Jesus truly comes from God is in fact God himself, and he chooses to teach us is great news. Jesus has the best opportunity to teach us the truth about ourselves because he knows us more intimately than we can possibly know ourselves. All of us carry a locked place in our hearts. We do not want to open it. There, we store our pain, our frustration, our embarrassment. It is like a lonely cellar with a lot of pain. We prefer to not even look at the pain in our life. But Jesus can take it and transform it deeply. He knows why we have pain locked up and he can open our hearts and pour in new peace that will truly heal us. We hold onto our pain, but in the Eucharist, Christ can take it from us and make it into something useful. For through pain, we learn how to live. Sin has a way of confusing things and hiding the truth. Jesus Christ, the Bread come down from Heaven, is present really in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Here, he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (cf. Jn. 14:6)
God truly wishes to be close to us, as St. Augustine imagined in his Confessions. He needs us to open ourselves up to him so that he can get close. We can do this, especially through Eucharistic Adoration. I encourage you to look for 15 minutes this week to spend some time exclusively with God. You will not regret it.