On this second Sunday of the five consecutive Sundays when the Church draws from John’s Gospel to reflect on Jesus Christ as the Bread of Life we are given an invitation. After the feeding of the multitude and our Lord withdrawing for some solitude we are told that the crowds in today’s gospel (Jn. 6:24-35) come in search of him but their intent is not the most sincere and our Lord is aware of this. Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.
We can live a form of “faith” that holds as its main goal and purpose the desire to be filled. This approach to faith can take many forms. The most blatant is the prosperity gospel that reduces Christianity to a commercial exchange between the human and the divine and God to a beneficent loan agent. “If you have faith, if you live a good life, then God will reward you materially,” is the mantra of the prosperity gospel. Another mantra is that you can have your best life now. This take on faith is very popular for many people and one can see why – it promises a comfortable materialistic approach to the rewards of faith while ignoring the inconvenience of the cross. The problem is that it is not christian.
This is one expression on seeking faith in order to be filled but there are others. Many of which are found and promoted even within many churches today. Another expression is seen in equating real faith with an emotional high gained from a certain type of worship or retreat experience. It is only faith if I feel it and it fills me up. A further expression (closely linked to the previous two) is the Jesus who satisfies my every need and who shelters me from any real problem, hurt, crisis or need in life.
There is a common thread that runs through all these forms of faith based in the desire to be filled. Despite often loud attestations to the contrary which proclaim Jesus as Lord these approaches actually have the person him or herself as the center of existence and Jesus as just the means to the end of my material well-being, my emotional well-being, my personal sanctity and my eternal glory. The focus is not so much on Jesus as it is on me.
The gospel invitation which we are given today is to move beyond this narrow faith seeking to be filled in order to find true faith and true relationship with Christ. After chiding the crowds for the real reason why they sought him out Jesus goes on to say, Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. When the crowds ask for this real food, this true bread, our Lord says, I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.
True faith is not found in using Jesus as a means to personal satisfaction but in seeking a living relationship with Christ and in committing ones life to do the very real work of acknowledging him as Lord. Yes, there is an aspect of “work” to faith. Faith requires decision, commitment, toil, choices, and abandonment and sometimes even going against the stream, risking to be unpopular and even be persecuted for what one holds to be true. This is the work of faith – we see it in the lives of those first disciples and the same invitation is given to us today.
In contradiction to faith which seeks to be filled it is worthwhile to conclude with a prayer which expresses the work of true and mature faith. This is the Suscipe of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Notice that where the faith of the crowd can only ask what it can get from Christ; this faith asks for the grace to give more for Christ. I would contend that only someone who had truly accepted and lived the gospel invitation of seeking a living relationship with Christ could write this prayer.
St. Ignatius and all holy men and women who accepted our Lord’s invitation to faith and encounter with Him, please pray for us.
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
all I love and call my own.
You have given it all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and grace,
that is enough for me.