Last Sunday’s liturgical celebration has left us a message: "This is My Beloved Son. Listen to Him." The voice from the Cloud would like us to treat the words of Jesus as God’s Word. What the Law and the Prophets meant for Israel is now transferred to Jesus. This is what the author of the Letter to the Hebrews (Heb. 1:1-3) meant:
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.
In today’s Gospel reading, we are presented with a selection from the Discourse on the Living Bread. A scholar, Raymond Brown, informs us that the greater part of this selection (excluding verse 51) contains a sapiential theme: The words of Jesus give eternal life. The idea is in complete continuity with last Sunday’s Gospel. "Listen to Him" said the Voice. What is striking about this is that verse 51 is the beginning of what Raymond Brown calls the sacramental theme of the Bread of Life Discourse: The flesh and blood of Jesus is the bread of angels given for the life of the world. First, the sapiential theme is about the word; the second is the sacramental theme, about the bread. This corresponds to the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist: the Mass.
The Words of Jesus Give Eternal Life
Let us concentrate on the idea that the words of Jesus give eternal life. The voice from the Cloud commands it. At the beginning of our Gospel reading we come upon the theme of the murmurring of the Jews. "And the Jews murmurred among themselves: "How can this man say he is the bread come down from heaven?… And Jesus said: ‘Stop murmurring.’"
When Israel was still in the desert, they murmurred against God and against Moses (cf. Ex. 16: 2.7.8.;Num. 14:27). In Ex. 16, the object of murmurring was food. It was answered by the giving of manna. In Num. 14, the object was the land. It was answered by forty years more of wandering until the last of the generation that left Egypt was already dead*. The murmurring of Israel is an expression of their lack of faith and of their rebellious nature. Jewish spirituality had an answer to it: they called it "hagah". It produced the sound of murmurring but the content was the proclamation of the wondrous deeds that God has wrought. We translate the word "hagah" as meditation, but it was more than meditation. "Hagah" is the acoustic reading of the Scriptures. One read and at the same time proclaimed the events narrated in Scriptures.
The Catholic Tradition calls this acoustic reading of the Scriptures "lectio divina." Popularizers of the concept speak of it as the "prayerful reading of the Scriptures." It is meant to be a preparation for and extension to the Liturgy of the Word. We don’t read the Scriptures outside the proclamation of the Word that the Church makes in the Mass. We read the Scriptures that we may be receptive to the Word when it is proclaimed; we also read the Scriptures that what we’ve heard at Mass may become a part of our lives. And it is an acoustic reading — it is read and heard — because, as Paul says, faith comes from hearing (NOT from reading).
We’ve heard the Voice from the Cloud say: "Listen to Him." When do we listen to Him? In today’s Gospel we are told: we listen to Him in the Liturgy of the Word. Jesus gives us the words of eternal life in the Mass during the Liturgy of the Word. We have proclaimed it. Did you hear it? How do I know that I’ve heard the Word of God? Answer (and Jesus tells us himself): "Whoever listens … comes to me." He who listens to the Father is drawn to the Lord and drawn to Him, stays/remains/abides with Him. Towards the end of the Discourse of the Bread of Life, the Jews who have begun to believe in Jesus found it difficult to accept His words, so they leave. And Jesus turns to the disciples aking them: "And you, are you leaving too?" And Peter will answer: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."
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