No One can Come to Me Unless …

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

After a couple of days in Rome on that trip I was on recently, my friend from Sydney, Fr. Kerry, and I settled into a routine of sorts. We would start out early with mass and a hearty breakfast. I ate pretty much the same meal every morning the entire trip: scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, baked beans, fresh fruit, coffee, orange juice, and toast. I knew we would be walking a lot, so all those calories would not just sit. At least it wasn’t fast food. And I don’t think it rained once while we were in Rome. Every day was sunny and very hot, and I was lugging a backpack with all my maps, my camera, and our water bottles to keep us hydrated. The currency exchange rate wasn’t working to our advantage, so even water was expensive. And we didn’t have the luxury of our own vehicle, so we took the bus and the metro, or we navigated the city on foot. But considering the way they drive in Rome, I have no regrets. After major sightseeing all morning and a quick lunch, we would return to the Australian pilgrim house where we were staying in the heart of the old city, and I would cool down with a shower and a nap. In the late afternoon, we would set out again but on a smaller scale before finding dinner at some restaurant nearby. You know what they call Italian food in Italy? Food. We ate well, if you must know. It cannot be helped, most certainly not in Rome.

One of my maps recommended some fine dining establishments, so we did some exploring. And there were a few restaurants that were not on the map. So every once in a while, we ventured into the unknown. We decided on this one restaurant close by one evening. We were shown to our table, and after a few minutes, we decided we didn’t want anything on the menu. So we told the waiter we were leaving, and ended up at another restaurant down the street. Our meal was wonderful, as expected. After we got home I looked up the website of that first restaurant, and discovered it was apparently a very good restaurant, with many glowing reviews. But we didn’t find their menu very inviting, or we weren’t sophisticated enough. No one on their staff spoke English. They didn’t provide a menu in English for the uncultured traveler, like other places. There were no descriptions or pictures on the menu, you know, to persuade the undecided and the gullible, so we were left to imagine for ourselves what to expect. It may have been a very nice restaurant, but we didn’t see much on the menu we wanted. And I didn’t want to know what a sea porcupine was, or how it would be prepared.

If I was the restaurant owner and a couple of tourists decided they would go someplace else, I might tell myself they weren’t really meant to dine here, that we are happy to serve the more knowledgeable diner with a highly refined palate, and that we need not be alarmed that a couple of nobodies gave us a resounding thumbs down. Besides, the undiscerning will always find someplace else to dine. They won’t starve. No one comes to us unless the gods of good taste and sophistication sends them.

When Jesus declared himself to be bread from heaven, and his flesh as food that gives eternal life, the crowd was more than skeptical. They were downright offended. “Who does this man think he is? How can he say he came down from heaven? We know his family. There is nothing extraordinary about them.” Perhaps if they had heard the same thing from someone they thought more distinguished, more noble, more reputable, it would have been easier to take, but not from this carpenter’s son. And Jesus offered no apologies.

“No one can come to me unless the Father draws him.” No one can come to believe unless the Father desires it. So faith is indeed a gift from God, and not the kind of gift that everyone receives without distinction. It is not simply like sunshine or rain that falls on everyone, the good and the bad alike. It is not like opportunity that comes to the deserving and the undeserving alike. We do not come to faith simply because we want it. God must desire it first. Only then can we respond. For no amount of reasoned argumentation or scientific evidence will ever bring a person to faith, otherwise faith would be entirely the consequence of one’s desire for it, and one’s ability to understand it. If God does not call, there would be nothing to respond to. Nor can we call other people to faith ourselves, without God desiring it. It is not up to us, it has never been up to us. And apparently, God’s call to faith can also be quite unimpressive at times. God does not spice up his offer of faith by adding on some attractive perk, like a comfortable life, material gifts, or the admiration of our friends. Instead, the offer comes to us much like it did in Jesus’ time, proclaimed by preachers and prophets with little standing in society, unimpressive and uninspired in the perception of the worldly, even perhaps offensive and controversial to those unfamiliar with Jesus and his teaching. And Jesus offers no apologies. “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” If you desire life eternal, come to me. My flesh is food for the life of the world.

But faith is also a free choice on our part. God calls, God invites, and we always have the freedom to respond. Whoever comes to Jesus must be drawn by the Father. But not all who are drawn by the Father will embrace the invitation wholeheartedly. Not all whom the Father calls will appreciate the honor and respond positively. And if we truly embrace the Father’s invitation to faith, we will recognize a moral imperative. Our choice to believe has to affect the way we live our lives.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds us, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God … all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” There is indeed a necessary consequence to faith in Jesus Christ. When the Father draws anyone to faith in his Son, they are called to respond not merely with an assent of the mind. It is not enough that believers take no offense or find no objection to his teaching or his example. They must also profess that faith in their own words and actions, and in their witness of loving kindness and service toward their neighbor. As Jesus declares himself to be the bread from heaven, and offers himself as food for the life of the world, so faithful believers by the witness of their lives proclaim to the world that God is alive and well within them, that God’s Spirit has not gone stale. They who are nourished by that food from heaven are themselves full of life. By their conviction and joy, they will be able to draw others to the heavenly food that will sustain them on their journey.

“I am the bread that came down from heaven. No one can come to me unless the Father draws him.” If you desire the life of God, come, be nourished unto eternal life.