Previously Christ had laid out His teaching on spiritual food (vv. 27-40). Next, He answered two objections from the people, one concerning the origin of spiritual food (vv. 41-51), and the other concerning the eating of spiritual food (vv. 52-59).
“The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, ‘I am the bread which came down from heaven’” (Jn 6:41). Christ is spiritual bread, but the Jews neither understood nor desired spiritual bread. As soon as they had realized that Christ was not going to provide them with any more material bread, as He had done the day before, they started to complain. As soon as they had lost hope for another miraculous feeding, they began to grumble, as their ancestors did in the desert: “They murmured in their tents, and did not obey the voice of the Lord” (Ps 106:25). St. Paul advised the Corinthians not to grumble, lest the devil take hold of them and lead them to perdition (1 Cor 10:10).
“They said, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?’” (Jn 6:42a) The Jews whom Jesus addressed were carnal; they knew only earthly things. This is why they brought up Christ’s presumed physical generation, but were ignorant of His eternal generation from God the Father. Christ said of their kind: “he who is of the earth belongs to the earth, and of the earth he speaks” (Jn 3:31). Because they could not easily grasp spiritual things, they complained, “How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (Jn 6:42b).
“Jesus answered them, ‘Do not murmur among yourselves’” (Jn 6:43). It was for their own good that they should stop murmuring, for we read, “Beware then of useless murmuring, and keep your tongue from slander; because no secret word is without result, and a lying mouth destroys the soul” (Wis 1:11). This is in line with St. Paul’s advice (1 Cor 10:10).
The reason they grumbled was because they did not believe in Christ, because they lacked faith. But faith is a gift, He told them: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up [on] the last day” (Jn 6:44). We learn three things from this verse. First, when Christ said, “No one can come to me,” we learn that it is beyond human ability to come to Christ by faith. Faith is a gift which a person receives from God, a gift which he can choose to accept or to reject. It is obvious that the people whom Christ was addressing had not yet received this gift. Therefore, one should not be surprised to hear them grumble. Second, when Christ said, “unless the Father draws him,” He affirmed the efficacy of divine help. God has the power to influence a soul from within and to lead a person to Himself. Third, when Christ said, “I will raise him up [on] the last day,” He revealed the end of faith, the sweet fruit of faith. We obtain the fruit of bodily resurrection on account of how Christ suffered and died in His flesh. St. Paul taught, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor 15:21-22) So, it is Christ as man Who promised, “I will raise him up,” not to a natural earthly life, but to a glorious eternal life. On that day, the Lord will make a new heaven and a new earth, as St. John envisioned: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (Rv 21:1). There will be a new cosmological order, one in which celestial motion will cease, for we read that on that day, “there shall be continuous day . . . , not day and not night” (Zec 14:7). The reason for this new order is because, when we are raise to life on the last day, our bodies will be raised to an incorruptible state. Since motion implies corruptibility, the motion that we now observe in the heavens must cease, for since all physical things were created for man, it is fitting that they be disposed according to man’s state. In the present time, there is motion, because man is in a corruptible state. But on the last day, motion will cease, as time will cease, because man will be raised to an incorruptible state.
This verse (Jn 6:44) raises three questions. The first question concerns the phrase, “unless the Father draws him.” One cannot believe unless one wills to believe; but to be drawn implies compulsion; therefore, it seems that, in the act of believing, one is not free, but is compelled. However, when the Father draws, He does not coerce. A person may be drawn without coercion in three ways: by persuasion, by attraction, and by an interior impulse. First, one is drawn by persuasion, as when one man persuades another with a rational argument. The Father draws us to His Son by persuasion in two ways. First, by an interior revelation. For example, after Simon Peter confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 16:16-17). The Father persuaded St. Peter by giving him an interior revelation. Second, the Father draws us to His Son by persuasion through miracles, as Christ said, “the works which the Father has granted me to accomplish, these very works which I am doing, bear me witness that the Father has sent me” (Jn 5:26). Second, one is drawn by attraction, as when “With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him” (Prv 7:21). The Father draws certain people to His Son by attraction, namely, those people who respect the authority of the Father and recognize that the Son is eternally generated from the Father. Arius of Alexandria did not believe that Christ was the natural Son of God, nor did he believe that the Son was of the same substance as the Father. Therefore, we may conclude that Arius was not drawn to the Son by attraction. We are well advised to “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps 37:4). Or, as Solomon prayed, “Draw me after you” (Cant 1:4). Third, one is drawn by an interior impulse which moves one to believe in Christ. St. Paul spoke of this impulse when he said, “God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). The Lord said of His people Israel, “I led them with cords of compassion, with the bands of love” (Hos 11:4). We read of this interior impulse in Proverbs: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Prv 21:1).
The second question concerns the identity of the One Who draws. Here we read that “the Father draws” us to His Son, but elsewhere, it is the Son Who draws us to His Father. For example, Christ said, “I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me” (Jn 17:6), and again He said, “no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Mt 11:27). The question is: Who draws to Whom? This problem is resolved in two ways: by considering Christ as man and by considering Christ as God. First, Christ as man is “the way” (Jn 14:6) that leads to the Father, as a road leads to its end. God is our end, for we seek eternal union with Him. God draws us to our proper end, that is, to Himself, by drawing us to Christ as man. For since a creature loves its own kind, we can relate to Christ, for He assumed a human nature when He took flesh from His mother Mary, and He is like us in all things except sin. Moreover, God gives a person the gift of faith, which is the power to believe in Him. From faith, there follows good works, which, when performed in a state of grace, merit him eternal life, where God gives him the eternal vision of His essence. Thus, St. Paul said, “by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8). Second, Christ as God is the Word of God. Inasmuch as He is the Word of God, He manifests the Father, so that whoever is drawn to the Word, is also drawn to the Father.
The third question concerns the phrase, “No one can come to me unless the Father draws him.” This seems to imply that, if someone is not drawn to the Son, it is not because of some fault or negligence on the part of the person who was not drawn, but it is because the Father has chosen not to draw him. It follows, then, that a person who is not drawn to Christ is not culpable. St. Thomas solved this problem as follows. As a heavy object cannot rise on its own power, but must be lifted up, the human heart, which tends to base things, cannot lift itself up to sublime things, unless it is drawn by an external cause. That cause is God. If a heart does not rise, it is not the fault of the One Who is lifting it; but rather, its failure to rise is due to some obstacle in the person whose heart was not lifted up. In other words, the fault is not with God, but with the person who failed to be drawn. In man’s integral state, that is, before Adam’s sin, there was no obstacle in man that prevented him from being drawn or prevented his heart from being lifted up. But in his fallen state, sin is the obstacle which hinders him from being lifted up. Every human person who has contracted original sin needs God’s help to be drawn to Him and lifted up. God, indeed, extends His assistance to all human persons, for God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tm 2:4). And not only does He assist those who readily accept His help, He also seeks to convert many of those who deliberately turn away from Him. The prophet Jeremiah prayed for those who had turned away: “Restore us to thyself, O Lord, that we may be restored!” (Lam 5:21) Likewise, the Psalmist prayed for them, “Restore us again, O God of our salvation, . . . Wilt thou be angry with us for ever? Wilt thou prolong thy anger to all generations? Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee? Show us thy steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us thy salvation.” (Ps 85:4-7) God extends His grace to each human person, but in various measures. If a person is not drawn to God, it must be because he has rejected whatever grace God had provided him.
Why does God not draw all those who turn away from Him? First, the general reason for this is so that divine justice may be manifested in those who are not drawn, and divine mercy may be manifested in those who are drawn, even though they at first turned away. Second, the particular reason why certain persons are drawn, and others are not, is due to the divine will, for it is God’s pleasure to call some back, but not to call others back, to the Good Shepherd’s fold. When a craftsman begins to build a house, he must place some stones on the front wall and some on the back wall, but the decision as to which particular stone goes where is a matter of the craftsman’s will and pleasure. So it is with the totality of the universe and its integral completion. God manifests His justice in some rational creatures, and His mercy in others, but as to which particular person receives justice, and which one receives mercy, is a matter of His will and pleasure. Thus, He is seen to draw some, and not to draw others, though both may be equally undeserving. St. Augustine said that if one has not yet been drawn, he should pray to God that He might draw him. We find in the Church some who are apostles and others who are confessors, some who engage in the active life and others who are contemplatives. This diversity rounds out the Church and gives the Body of Christ a certain fullness of spiritual beauty.
Then Christ explained how we are drawn: “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God’” (Jn 6:45a). That is, men are drawn by God’s Word, through teaching and revelation. Both Jeremiah and Deutero-Isaiah mentioned this. The Lord promised: “I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding” (Jer 3:15). And the prophet foretold: “All your sons shall be taught by the Lord” (Is 54:13).
The identity of “they” in the phrase, “And they shall all be taught by God,” can be understood in three ways: as all the people in the world, as the people in the Church, or as the people who will populate the kingdom of heaven. First, if “they” refers to all the people in the world, then this statement (Jn 6:45a) would seem to be false. For if everyone in the world were taught by God, then they would all be drawn to Christ. But this is not so, for not everyone has accepted the faith. Three solutions are possible. First, according to St. John Chrysostom, Christ was speaking of the majority, not of the totality. Thus, Christ said, “I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 8:11). Second, Christ’s statement could mean that, although God desires to teach all people, not all are receptive to His teaching. Just as the sun always shines, but some are unable to see it because they close their eyes, so too are those who close they eyes and ears to the Word of God. Third, St. Augustine said that “they” refers, not to all people everywhere, but only to all those who are taught by God, so that anyone who is taught, is taught by God. In the same sense, the Evangelist wrote, “[He was the true light that enlightens every man coming into the world]” (Jn 1:9), meaning that any man who is enlightened, is enlightened by the Word of God. Second, if “they” refers to the people in the Church, then we see that the members of the Church are taught by God Himself, as the prophet foretold: “All your sons shall be taught by the Lord” (Is 54:13). St. Augustine said that what the clergy teach us comes from God, for God teaches from within, as Christ said of Himself, “you have one master, the Christ” (Mt 23:10). In the Old Testament, the prophets taught the Word of God and revealed the Word of God; but in the New Testament, the Word of God Himself taught and revealed divine things. Third, if “they” refers to the people in the kingdom of heaven, then they are taught by God by seeing His divine essence directly, face to face, as it were, without any intermediary, as St. John said, “we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:2).
The Father’s act of drawing is most efficacious, for Christ declared, “Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (Jn 6:45b). We can make three points here. First, when Christ said, “who has heard,” He was referring to a revelation as a gift which God gives. Second, when Christ said, “learned,” He was referring to the act of assent on the part of the person being taught by God. Third, one “comes to” Christ in three ways: through a knowledge of the truth, through affection, and through imitation. First, one comes to Christ through a knowledge of the truth. He must listen for God’s voice speaking to him from within, as the Psalmist prayed, “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak” (Ps 85:8). Second, one comes to Christ through affection, that is, through love and desire, as Christ proclaimed during Sukkoth (Pentecost): “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink” (Jn 7:37). One must truly grasp the word of God in order to learn and to be moved in one’s affections. Third, one comes to Christ through imitation. When one learns a principle of science perfectly, one arrives at the proper conclusion; when one learns the word of God perfectly, one performs virtuous moral acts, as the prophet declared, “The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I turned not backward” (Is 50:5).
Lest anyone think that the only way to hear and learn from the Father is through a vision, Christ added, “Not that any one has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father” (Jn 6:46). When He said “Not that any one has seen the Father,” He meant that no human person in this life has seen the Father in His divine essence, for the Lord explained to Moses, “you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live” (Ex 33:20). Direct knowledge of the divine essence is experienced by the blessed ones only in the next life in the beatific vision.
Christ said that no one has seen the divine essence in this life “except him who is from God”; and this person is the Son of God. On another occasion, He declared, “no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Mt 11:27). Christ is a divine person, not a human person, though He has both a divine nature and a human nature. He was a wayfarer like all other men, for He suffered in His human nature and experienced in His human body and soul what other men experience in this life. He was also a comprehensor from the moment of His conception; and this was due to the fact that, at His conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary, His human soul was united to the divine essence in hypostatic union (STh III, 2, 9).
We acquire knowledge of the Father from what the Word of God has revealed to us, but only the Word of God knows the Father in His essence. Christ’s knowledge of the Father is direct knowledge of the divine essence, as if from seeing His essence, whereas our knowledge of the Father in this life is obtained by hearing about the Father. Christ was referring to His comprehensive knowledge of the Father when He said that no one has seen the Father except Him (v. 46), whereas above, when He was speaking about the knowledge that the disciples have of the Father, He said that everyone who has heard the Father comes to Christ (Jn 6:45b). Since seeing a thing is more certain than hearing about a thing, Christ’s knowledge is superior to that of His disciples. Christ’s knowledge of the Father is firsthand, whereas the disciples’ knowledge is secondhand. But since the Word of God is the Truth, we can be assured that whatever the Word has revealed to us is true.
All knowledge comes through a likeness of the thing known. For example, we acquire knowledge of God according to the manner in which we have a likeness to Him. While every creature bears a likeness to God, inasmuch as God created it out of nothing (ex nihilo) and continually conserves it in being, the likeness between Creator and creature is infinitely distant. For this reason, no creature can know God perfectly and completely. That is to say, no creature, by its own power, can be a comprehensor of God’s essence. The Son of God, however, since He received His divine nature from the Father through an act of eternal generation, knows God the Father perfectly and completely. And since Christ’s human soul is united to the Word of God in hypostatic union, Christ as man is a comprehensor of the divine essence.