Fourth Sunday in Lent
In the epistle to the Galatians, St. Paul the apostle illustrates the difference between believers who rested in Christ only and those judaizers who trusted in the law, by a comparison taken from the story of Isaac and Ishmael. Matthew Henry.
St. Chrysostom’s comments can be paraphrased thus: The Patriarch Abraham had two sons, Ishmael through Hagar, a bonded woman and Isaac through promise.
Ishmael, for instance, who was born according to the flesh, was not only a bondman, but was cast out of his father’s house; but Isaac, who was born according to the promise, being a true son and free, was lord of all.
The bond-woman was called Hagar, and “Hagar” is the word for Mount Sinai in the language of that country. So that it is necessary that all who are born of the Old Covenant should be bondmen, for that mountain where the Old Covenant was delivered hath a name in common with the bondwoman. And it includes Jerusalem, for this is the meaning of,
Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now.
The reference to Isaac as the son of promise brings us to the scene when God tests the faith of Abraham and asks him to sacrifice his only son on Mt. Horeb. On their way we see Isaac asking his father about the sacrificial offering.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
Isaac, the son of promise becomes synonymous with the Messiah with one significant difference. There will be no substitute in terms of the victim as Isaac was saved by the Angel of the Lord. Here the victim will be Jesus Himself who will be crucified. St. Paul’s reference to Jerusalem in terms of the liberated indeed will become true through Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. In terms of the old covenant (Mt. Sinai), there will be substitution when Jesus will institute the New Covenant. The law kills but the spirit saves. This instance of the New Covenant brings us to the sixth chapter of Johanine narration of the miracle of multiplication of loaves and fishes, where Jesus passionately asks the hungry crowd to focus not just merely on the daily bread, but the Living Bread, which is His own body and blood.
Just as Jesus out of compassion for the hungry people would break the bread to multiply it, he would outside Jerusalem let his body be broken. Thus they will look upon him whom they have pierced. After the son of man is lifted up as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent and all who looked upon it were saved, Jesus says, “ I will draw all men to myself”
And Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. In the Eucharistic prayer, these very words of the miracle will be repeated synonymously with the words of the last supper. For in the night in which he was betrayed, (a) he took Bread; and when he had given thanks, (b) he brake it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, Take, eat, (c) this is my Body, which is given for you; Do this in remembrance of me. Likewise, after supper, (d) he took the Cup; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of this; for (e) this is my Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you, and for many, for the remission of sins; Do this, as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of me.
After feeding the multitudes, people will seek after him. Jesus takes the opportunity to open their eyes to the singular sacrifice that is about to take place outside the city walls of Jerusalem. The Living Bread would be broken for them and His Blood will be poured out for them, to save them from sin – something that His disciples will rediscover on their way to Emmaus after His resurrection.
Looking at the multitudes expecting several encores of the miracle, Jesus addressed them:
6 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ”
32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All whom the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”
43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which people may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
Many Disciples Desert Jesus
60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit [e] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.”
During the administration of the Holy Communion the priest says reiterating that the Living Bread which is broken for us: The body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee. The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ that was shed thee. Preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.
It is not a matter of how he is present, that is our content of our faith: but that He IS present. The real presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist should be apparent for anyone who would read the above mentioned discourse on Bread of Life (Jn.6). The Anglican tradition simply accepts this as a mystery, because Jesus said so.
The Prayer of Humble access is the greatest Eucharistic theology in simple terms:
“WE do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.
Back to the Galatians, St. Paul reiterates that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. What a price Christ paid for our freedom, indeed! The choice therefore: to be children of slaves and sin or children of freedom and grace?
Fourth Sunday in Lent