(See the readings for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 26)

The “Bread of Life” discourse in the Gospel of St. John has been used as the Gospel reading for the Sunday Masses for the past few weeks. Today’s Gospel passage contains the conclusion of this teaching of Jesus. As we followed along each week, we have been invited to go deeper into our understanding of Jesus who is the “bread of life.”

Jesus began by calling us to faith. Faith in him is at the heart of understanding his message. The message is about who he is and what he offers.http://catholicphilly.com/2018/08/catholic-spirituality/readings-of-the-holy-mass-twenty-first-sunday-in-ordinary-time-4/ Jesus comes from the Father. He is sent from the Father on the mission of life. He comes to invite us to believe in him and through that belief to experience what it truly means to live. He teaches not as other human beings teach us. What he offers no other human being can offer.

As we follow along and move further into an understanding of who Jesus is and this call to faith, we begin to see that his offer of life will come with his own death. He offers himself completely in love so that we might know love and how to love. His offering of his flesh, the bread of life, will be completed when that bread is broken on the cross. Yet it is precisely through his death and ultimate resurrection that he wins life, not only for himself, but for all who put their faith in him.

The teaching is difficult. He understands the difficulty and what he is asking. Yet he does not turn from the course but continues forward. This climaxed last week when he said: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”

The reaction to this comes in today’s Gospel reading. “Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?” We soon find out that “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”

Yet when Jesus puts the question to the Twelve: “Do you also want to leave?” Peter responds: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” Peter and the Twelve have put their faith in Jesus. They believe in him. They have accepted the invitation and responded in faith. Faith in Jesus. Faith in the Father.

Jesus is the bread of life — not in some mythical manner nor merely symbolic fashion. He is the bread of life because he is sent from the Father to nourish and feed his people. He feeds us with his word and body. He offers himself as the gift of life. When we see with the eyes of faith then we will truly be alive. The invitation is real and it is urgent. We have the opportunity to renew and deepen our faith when we encounter, and whenever we encounter, the Bread of Life. We have the invitation. The invitation involves a decision — to accept or reject.

The first reading from the Book of Joshua gives us an example from the Old Testament of this call to faith. The people have to make a decision. Are they going to follow the Lord or the gods of the Amorites? When the people are pressed with this question they make the decision: “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord for the service of other gods.”

As they commit themselves to the Lord, they remember God’s goodness to them: “For it was the Lord, our God, who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, out of a state of slavery. He performed those great miracles before our very eyes and protected us along our entire journey and among the peoples through whom we passed.” Though they had forgotten, they now remember and they commit themselves to the Lord and His way: “Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

The commitment of faith is a commitment to love. St. Paul speaks of this love in the second reading when he speaks of married life. For many people today this teaching is hard. Partly because of the language used that seems incendiary: “wives be submissive to your husbands.” Perhaps the teaching is best understood when we see this line coupled with “so also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.”

The call to love is the same for husband and wife. It is the call to let go of self-centered ways and to lay down their lives for the other in the lifelong commitment of loving. This love becomes a sacrament or sign of Christ’s love for his Church. The same love which led to his laying down his life in love.

St. Paul is not saying here that one should accept abuse from one’s spouse. Quite the contrary, he is saying that each should truly love one another – so much so that each one is willing to love as Jesus loved by laying down their lives for each other. Love entails a deep commitment and will be challenging but that commitment is good and worthwhile for it leads to life not just for themselves but for many who will come to know love and through their love.

Jesus is the Bread of Life who leads us to the life that is love. He invites us today to recommit ourselves to him and to share in that life he offers. We have the opportunity today to respond to Jesus by making Peter’s response to Jesus’ question “do you also want to leave?” our own: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.