Scripture: Lectionary: 273. 4/23/12. Acts 6:8-15. Psalm 119:23-24.26-27.29-30. John 6:22-29
We have learned from an early reading in Acts that Stephen is one of the deacons who was selected to help the widows with their need for food and shelter. He is said to be filled with the Spirit. We will see that he is so convinced about Jesus’ and his work and mission that he will preach and testify to it in the Synagogue called the Synagogue of Roman Freedmen (Jews from several important places in the Middle East and Mediterranean). His witness is strongly opposed by them. Soon he will deliver the longest sermon in the Acts. He will be charged as speaking against the Mosaic Law (Torah) and even against God! Then he
will be stoned to death and become the first named martyr in the emerging Christian community. As the proto-martyr he is an imitator of Christ in word and in works.
The Gospel continues with a transition scene before the discourses on the Eucharist by Jesus. Jesus is followed by the crowd and now he addresses them for their motivation of wanting more bread to eat. He tells them that the bread most necessary is himself, the Bread of Life. We recall how he uses the same actions as we have in the Mass—bless, break, thank and distribute the bread and the fish. This sign is among the seven given by John who uses the word “semion” or sign rather than the word for miracle. Like the sacraments a sign points to someone or something or some way beyond itself. In John the seven signs are meant to help us believe in Jesus not in the miracle itself but to “look beyond the miracle” and to believe in the one who has accomplished it. Jesus tells us, “You should not be working for perishable food but for food that remains unto eternal life.” Jesus is leading them and us to have an absolute trust and a firm commitment to believe in Him as the Bread of Life, our nourishment for the journey to eternal life. We are the community of Jesus who believe in him not only through the Scriptures but through the sacraments, especially Baptism and the Eucharist. They help us to accept the fact that he is risen from the dead and that we too will share in that grace. We need to look beyond our reasoning and on what we see. Then we are blessed as those who believe and have not seen Jesus in the flesh or in his resurrection from the dead. We come to know him in the love we have for one another. We learn from John that God is love (Agape).
Fr. Mac Rae, S.J. has this comment on the question of those seeking more physical nourishment from the Lord: “Then they said to him. ‘What should we do in order to perform the works of God?’ Jesus gave them this answer, ’This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he has sent.’ As we will continue to observe “Doing God’s work” for the Fourth Gospel is a matter of coming to faith, or bringing people to faith. The relation of “works” to “signs” is a close one, but it suggests different levels of understanding of what Jesus is doing and what his followers are to do (see, e.g. 9:4). Amen. Alleluia. Alleluia.