John 6: 41-51
41 Then the Jews grumbled about him for saying, "I am the bread from God." 42 And they were arguing, "Isn't this guy Jesus, the son of Joseph whose father and mother we know?" 43 Jesus answered them, "Stop grumbling all together. 44 No one is capable of being drawn to me, unless the Father, who sent me, draws him himself, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 Indeed, the prophetic writings say: 'And God will offer his teaching to all'. Anyone who listens to God and opens up to his teaching is drawn to me. 46 This does not mean that someone has seen the Father, since only he who comes from God has seen the Father. 47 Truly, truly, I assure you, the believer has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they died. 50 This is the bread of God, that one may eat it and not die.
51 I myself am the living bread that comes from God. If someone eats this bread, he will live forever, and the bread that I will give him is my flesh so that the world may have life."
What is the nutritional value of what we eat?
Gospel commentary - Homily
A local newspaper recently presented the nutritional value of certain foods: the share of lipids, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, fibers, proteins, vitamins, etc. Today, we must read the labels to avoid what is harmful to health and find what is nourishing, and especially the protein value, because it is what gives energy and strength. But I ask myself the question: what is really nourishing and gives us strength on a human and spiritual level. Unfortunately, there are no labels that can guide us. What I do know is that there are lives whose strength challenges me.
The media reported on some difficult events in Pakistan in the spring of 2018, in particular the persecution suffered by small Christian communities by the Islamic Jihad movement. For example, on April 22, 24-year-old Yasma Yaqoob died in Lahore hospital after being set on fire because she refused to convert to Islam and marry a Muslim. But this force is not properly Christian. Just think of Asma Jahangir, a Muslim Pakistani and human rights lawyer. She co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in 1987, a representative of religious freedom in the United Nations for six years, who attacked the famous anti-blasphemy laws and made it her duty to defend victims. Even if she did not die murdered, but rather from a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 66, the fact remains that she has demonstrated extraordinary strength and courage. What fed all of these beings and gave them this strength to be what they have become?
This is the context in which I would like to read the gospel of this day when Jesus proclaims, "I am the bread of life", therefore the one who offers a unique nourishment, source of true life who cannot die. The liturgy has extracted for this Sunday a small text of 11 verses from a long sequence of John which resembles a homily of synagogal type, started by a quote from Exodus 16, 4: "the fathers who ate the bread from heaven in the desert", a quote which will be repeated in conclusion. Our homily answers the question: how can Jesus come from heaven, as he said? The answer is in two stages. First of all, insofar as one opens to this word which is already present in the depths of his heart, which according to John comes from God, one opens to the word of Jesus: for the two words proclaim the same values, both point in the same direction. And so the human and historical Jesus, who worked and traveled the roads of Palestine, becomes the very face of God. "Isn't this guy Jesus, the son of Joseph whose father and mother we know?, protested the Jews. Precisely, God is no longer in heaven, but in our midst.
But there is also a second answer. When you experience living what Jesus proclaimed and lived, you experience an incredible life, and this life cannot die, it tastes of God. This may seem paradoxical: because it means being ready to give your physical life so that others can live. This is how our pericope ends: "the bread that I will give him is my flesh so that the world may have life"; to give one's life is to allow others to live.
What does it all mean? We spend our lives learning to resurrect, that is to say, to give substance to what has been deposited deep within us from our birth, and which is our true being. To become what we really are, we must learn to listen to this word from the heart despite the pressure of everything around us and our multiple wounds: "they will all be taught by God" reminds us of the Jesus of John. Also, we need help to overcome anything that alienates us. This is how John presents Jesus to us as the "bread of life", the bread of a word which echoes what is already in our heart and which we no longer hear, which we believe to be dead. This word gives new life to what we really are, and this life, according to the Jesus of John, is called to have no end.
But there is more. In a way, this word, which allows us to become ourselves, is not easy. John tells us: "Before the Passover feast ... having loved his own who were in the world, Jesus loved them until the end". Because Jesus came to release love in the human heart, the only force that allows us to become ourselves. He embodied it so that we could see it at work with our eyes, and thus give us the conviction that suffering and even death cannot be the last word, cannot put an end to love. The apostle Peter is a good illustration of this, he who gave in to pressure and denied his master. John says at the end of his gospel that after the death of Jesus, he experienced that he was alive, and three times, answering his question, he said: I love you. And that's when he learns that he will be able to die as a martyr; liberated love has become its strength.
I do not know what the motivations of Yasma Yaqoob or Asma Jahangir were. But I am convinced that they listened to the deepest word of their heart, a word marked by the force of love, a word taken up by Jesus when he said: the bread that I will give is my flesh for let the world have life. One cannot love without giving birth to oneself, and without giving birth to others; and when you give birth, death no longer has a hold on you.
-André Gilbert, Gatineau, August 2018