The Jews murmured about Jesus because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven, “and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (Jn 6:41-42)
Five weeks ago on the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we read at Holy Mass (from the Gospel of Mark) how Jesus came to the synagogue of his “native place”. While many who heard Jesus speak “were astonished at his teaching”, they still “took offense at him” (Mk 6:3). This was not only because Jesus spoke boldly, but because many of these same people who listened to Jesus said that they knew His mother and father and many of his relatives. That is, since Jesus did not arrive on the scene as a prophet of unknown origin, he could not be from God; he could not have come down from heaven.
Thus we find ourselves now on this 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, in the midst of the renowned Bread of Life discourse in Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel, with a similar situation. Jesus has just been teaching that He is “the bread that came down from heaven” and some of the people claiming to know his mother and father (or perhaps only that he has a mother and father) reject the testimony of Jesus as coming from God.
There is much to consider here, but two points are salient. First, the people who are offended seem not to be bothered by Jesus calling himself the “bread from heaven” (they will be bothered in Jn 6:60). What offends them now is the part about Jesus coming down from heaven since they know he was born of Mary. Therefore, what truly offends them (whether they realize it or not) is the Incarnation, the miraculous event of the virgin conception of the Son of God (Lk 1:30-31; 38). The “Son of God” claim is of course what will most offend them; so much so that they will kill Jesus for claiming this (Lk 22:69-71).
Since we are reflecting on how Jesus came down from heaven into the world, it would quite fitting to place on our bulletin cover a picture of the Annunciation (Lk 1:26-38). However, we did not do so to avoid any confusion over the liturgical seasons (the Feast of the Annunciation happens in March, yet the theme is also deeply reflected upon in Advent). We chose instead to focus simply on what the people in today’s gospel reading are focused on: the presence of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph – the Holy Family.
Hence we present an endearing work by the great Spanish Baroque artist, Bartolome Esteban Murillo, entitled The Holy Family with the Infant John the Baptist (1670). The baroque of Murillo is always a subdued zeal: fervor immersed in solemnity. Murillo paints here ordinary people at ordinary work with the vivid exception of the infant John the Baptist helping the infant Jesus prepare His cross. This is the work of Murillo: mystery brush-stroked into the ordinary. That is also the work of God.
In the Catholic liturgy, “ordinary time” is never ordinary. It is always imbued with the mysteries of God.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services