The setting for the Gospel is the outskirts of Capernaum, a city on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The people were flocking to Jesus, coming to be fed, to be healed. They were doing the right thing, but for—if not the wrong reasons, at least inadequate reasons.
What they were seeking from Jesus was a solution to their immediate needs. But they should have been seeking something so much more valuable.
Just the day before, the people had seen Jesus feed a crowd of maybe 10,000 with a handful of food—or if they didn't see it themselves they heard about it soon enough. This was truly something amazing. Unheard of.
And everybody knew Jesus possessed great healing powers. All throughout the region of Galilee, many thousands of people had been healed by Jesus' touch. Jesus himself didn't want to be thought of as a miracle worker, but that had become his image anyway. News about his power to heal sickness and to drive out evil spirits had spread far and wide.
So, more and more people sought out Jesus. And notice that Jesus didn't refuse them:
"All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away" (John 6:37).
In his work, Jesus made it abundantly clear that God is concerned about people's immediate needs. He taught his followers to pray: "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matt 6:11). And He showed compassion for the plight of people around Him.
So when hungry people came to Jesus, He fed them. When sick people came to Jesus, He healed them. When people who were troubled by the dark forces that keep humanity in bondage came to Jesus, He freed them. He never refused people.
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At the same time, Jesus knew that there was so much more than this. What the people in Capernaum were seeking from Jesus was a solution to their immediate needs. But they should have been seeking Jesus himself:
"I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever" (John 6:51).
Living bread. The bread of life. The bread that came down from heaven.
The Bible speaks of two kinds of life. On the one hand, there is the biological functioning of an organism—sleeping, eating, breathing, moving around. In Greek, this is bios.
But the life Jesus talks about is another kind of life altogether. He uses the word zoe.
This word zoe describes the quality of a life well lived. It means a life radiating with love and joy and peace. Those who have zoe-life are fully alive, fully human, fully themselves. They delight in using their gifts, delight in having fruitful relationships with others.
Alone among all the creatures, God gave this zoe-life to man. In Genesis we read:
"Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature" (Genesis 2:7).
So zoe-life comes from God, and is sustained by communion with God. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, had this life, because God gave it to them and because they were living in intimate communion with God.
But sin cuts us off from zoe-life because sin separates us from God. When we turn our backs on God, we turn our backs on abundant life as well.
So when Adam and Eve sinned, they lost their zoe-life. Even though they didn't die physically, at least not right away, they lost the abundant life that comes from God. Although they were still breathing, they were already dead inside.
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That's how human beings are. That's our human situation. Just like the people in Capernaum 2,000 years ago, we, too, are heirs of Adam and Eve. We long for zoe-life, and yet we don't possess it.
Without the life that comes from God, we are dead inside. Our hearts are beating, we seem alive on the outside, but our inward selves do not have life.
This is the deepest hunger in the human heart, even though many people don't recognize it: abundant life.
We long to live well. To radiate love and joy and peace. To be fully alive, fully ourselves. We long to find joy in using our unique gifts, in making a contribution to the bettering of this world. We long for rich friendships with others.
And yet our longings remain unfulfilled. Abudant life eludes our grasp.
We turn to all sorts of other things to try and simulate the zoe-life we long for. Material goods. Work. Sex. Pleasure. Entertainment.
But nothing works. Nothing lasts. Nothing really satisfies our heart hunger.
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Jesus said that the very reason He came to earth was to restore to human beings the zoe-life that we had lost:
"I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10)
This was the will of the Father from the beginning:
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16)
Or as we read this morning:
"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" (John 6:40).
If zoe-life comes from God, from communion with God, that means that it can't be interrupted by anything, even by death. That's why Jesus calls it eternal life—not because it is life after death, but because it is life that is not changed by death.
Jesus came to earth to restore to human beings the zoe-life that we had lost. And He does this by offering us His own life:
"I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world" (John 6:53).
Jesus gives to the world the life that He has. From the cross, He offers His life to anyone who'll have it. Whoever eats this bread, that is to say, whoever receives Jesus by faith.
Anyone! It doesn't matter where you've been or what you've done.
Anyone! Those who have somehow been muddling along through life, and those who have made a real mess of things. Anyone! Those who have been seeking something for a long time and those who haven't even known that they should be seeking.
Anyone. You, me. Whosoever "looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life" (John 6:40).
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It is good for us to come to church, to come to Jesus, asking to be fed, asking to be healed, asking for God's help in meeting our immediate needs. God wants us to come to Him. He wants us to ask for His help. He is our loving Father.
But we should also seek what is so much more valuable—we should seek abundant life, eternal life. Which is to say, we should seek Jesus Himself.
Look to the Son. Look to Jesus. Believe that He is your life. Entrust your life to Him. If you want to do that but don't know how, let's talk later. It's not hard.
If you look to Jesus and believe in Him, He will give you eternal life—abundant life, life with God, life which begins today and never ends.
At the very beginning, Jesus established at the center of the community of His followers this meal, this Eucharist. In it, we receive the bread that Jesus called His Body, and the wine that Jesus called His Blood.
Let us pray. Lord, we long to have abundant life. Open our hearts. Make us ever more hungry to receive the bread that comes from heaven. Deepen our hunger, Lord, and draw us to yourself. Amen.