They Will All Be Taught By God
I’m almost certain I’m not the only preacher whose sermon preparation is challenging when this bit of the lectionary’s three-year cycle comes round. Even looking back on notes I’ve made in the past, I can see how I’ve wrestled with it over the years. Often, there is the enticing temptation to preach on a moral or a pastoral issue, or on a series of them. But this year I’ve decided to listen to this discourse a little more closely, and to be patient with it.
We’re in the middle of the series of Sundays when this discourse is proclaimed. I think one of the difficulties with preaching about it week after week is that the discourse itself is a kind of carefully prepared sermon. The early part focuses on the Book of Exodus – ‘he gave them bread from heaven to eat’. This is part of the versicle we sometimes use in Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and that got me thinking. Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is a time for us to reflect on what the Lord does for us in Holy Communion; to be thankful for it and to prepare for our next Holy Communion. In the early part of this discourse, the Lord has been reflecting on the Bread of Life as the revelation of God. It is in just the same way that the Liturgy of the Word prepares our hearts and minds to receive the Lord in Holy Communion when we come to Mass.
It’s only when we get to the end of today’s Gospel that we begin to hear about feasting upon the Bread of Life. It’s a fleshy feast, given to us for the abundance of life. That’s the promise that comes at the end of the passage; but for us this week, it is presented as a ‘pledge of future glory’ – there is need for preparation.
So if you’re like me, and you’re impatient for these weeks to pass and we can return to listening to St Mark, take heart. Right in the middle of the first proclamation of this discourse, by the Lord Himself, there was malcontent. They murmured against him, so he had to tell them to listen – “they will all be taught by God” – a quote from the prophet Isaiah. This is a reminder to each of us that the Father draws each one of us to Himself through Jesus through a close personal relationship which is sustained in prayer. For that, we require patience, prayerfulness, contemplation, and silence. We will be nourished beyond our wildest expectations, transformed beyond our most lavish longings, as our Creator draws all things to Himself. It is his great love for us that drives this, and it is that experience that we are called to savour as we listen to the Lord in the Mass during these weeks.
St Catherine of Siena reflects beautifully on this same theme in her reflections on Divine Providence in the Dialogue. Seeing the devastating effects of sinfulness on herself and on others who are called to the Church, she wonders how the fulness of life could ever be enjoyed by those who have offended God’s great majesty by such weakness and depravity. But she asks for a measure of His Love, to be able to contemplate with His Merciful Eyes. What a marvellous superabundance of love it was that our Creator made us in His Own Image, what an awesome gift we received. So freely did He create us that we have the freedom to choose sinfulness, which we did in our weakness. So deserving we were then of the loss of that dignity.
But the same overflowing and superabundant love sought our reconciliation. His Only Son takes on our form so that he can be rejected and despised by us so that we can learn what His Glory does for us through that wonderful love. In order to feast on that, we have to listen to the Word. We have to watch and learn. This is what will convert the world – they will all be taught by God.