We have been reading from this chapter of St John’s Gospel for the past two weeks and will continue to read from it for another two.
Have you ever noticed that it is very difficult to escape your reputation? Once people have an image of you in their minds, it is very difficult to change their perception.
Jesus encountered this attitude among those who thought they knew Him. He lived in a small town, in a small country. The little village of Nazareth where He grew up was tiny. In the time of Jesus, the village of Nazareth took up no more space than a football field. Everybody knew everybody in Nazareth. People knew Jesus’ mother and father. They would have even known Him as He worked at His trade in His father’s carpenter shop. Perhaps He had built a piece of furniture for them or replaced a handle on one of their favourite tools or made a yoke for their oxen. After all, He did not begin His ministry until He was about thirty years old. For most of His adult life He laboured in as a carpenter or builder.
You can imagine how these people responded when suddenly Jesus proclaimed Himself to be the One prophesied by the prophets. We read in today’s Gospel that His fellow countrymen began to grumble about Jesus because He said that He was the bread that came down from heaven. They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose mother and father we know?” In their culture of the day basic honour came from birth into very special circumstances. Honour required that a person remain in this status, maintain and preserve it, and never consider “getting ahead.” Any attempt to improve upon or behave not in keeping with one’s birth status was shameful because it was a divisive force in the community.
We can appreciate their disbelief for we have done the same thing to people. We put them in a box. We assign them to a category. We know where they came from, we know who their parents are, we know where they went to school, we can tell by their accent or by their appearance about their background and we make certain assumptions. And because we make those assumptions, we treat them in a certain way. None of this is intentional of course. We may not even be conscious of it. It simply saves our brains the time and energy of sorting out people individually. So, we sort them out by category. That is what the folks in today’s text were doing: “We know who you are. You are Mary and Joseph’s son. You’re from Nazareth. That’s farming country, isn’t it? People are a little slow there. Well, maybe we can find a job for you that’s not too taxing mentally.” Do you think such things do not happen? Then you are naive. That is the way the human brain seems to operate.
They laughed at Jesus. “Bread from heaven? We know where you came from. You’re Mary and Joseph’s son.” Be careful when you judge anyone else’s potential. It makes no difference where we come from…or how we look or talk…or who our parents are. We are all children of God. We all have more potential than we can ever exhaust. And there is One who can help us so orient our lives that we can overcome every obstacle. Christ is bread for the world. When we feed on Him we find we can accomplish more than we ever dreamed possible.
In today’s reading, we hear Jesus say again, as he did in last week’s Gospel, that he is the bread of life. We also hear Jesus add that he is the living bread. Both statements help us understand better the gift that Jesus gives us in the Eucharist. We celebrate this gift of Jesus each time we gather for Mass. Our spiritual journey, just as any journey requires nourishment, thus God has made that nourishment available to each and every one of us through His Word and the Holy Eucharist. We must be willing to accept his gifts for the journey that lies ahead.