As today’s Gospel (Jn 6:41-51) begins, the people are “murmuring” because Jesus has declared that He is the “Bread of Life.” St. Thomas notes: “Those who complain show that their minds are not firmly fixed on God.”
Jesus said: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me, draws him” (Jn 6:45). Thomas affirms “to come to Christ is to believe in him.” However, Thomas wonders whether Jesus’ words indicate that we are coerced to come to Jesus?
St. Thomas answers his own question:
The Father draws men to the Son in many ways, using the different ways in which we are drawn without compulsion. One person may draw another by persuading him with a reason. The Father draws us to the Son by showing us that Jesus is His Son… This may be by an interior revelation, as when Jesus responds after Peter has confessed that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of the Living God: ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but it was done so by my Father’” (Mt 16:17).
At times, we have knowledge of Jesus which we can’t explain. No one is forcing us to our intuition since it seems quite natural to us. Thomas explains that this is an internal revelation: “There is also an interior impulse that incites and moves us to believe. And so the Father draws many to the Son by the impulse of a divine action, moving a person’s heart from within to believe: ‘It is God who is working in us, both to will and to accomplish” (Phil 2:13); ‘1 will draw them with human cords, with bands of love’” (Hos 11:4).
People are often drawn by attraction. Thomas says: “This is the way those who are captivated by His greatness are drawn by the Father. But they are also drawn by the Son, through a wonderful joy and love of the truth, which is the very Son of God Himself.” Non-Christians are often attracted by Jesus because of His evident integrity and goodness.
Thomas recalls an idea of Augustine: “Each of us is drawn by his own pleasure, how much more strongly ought we to be drawn to Christ if we find our pleasure in truth, happiness, justice, eternal life: all of which Christ is! Therefore, if we would be drawn by Him, let us be drawn through love for the truth, according to the psalm: ‘Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart’” (Ps 36:4).
We are drawn by Jesus because His message touches our hearts and we are drawn by His goodness.
While Jesus has asserted that we can only come to Him if we are drawn by the Father, Jesus declares: “No one knows the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son wishes to reveal Him” (Mt 11:26) and “I have made Your name known to those You have given Me” (Jn 17:6).
Does the Father draw us to the Son or does the Son draw us to the Father? Thomas responds that, in His humanity, the Son is the way to the Father: “As man, Christ is the way: ‘I am the way’ (Jn 14:6); and as the Christ, He leads us to the Father, as a way or road leads to its end.”
On the other hand, as Thomas shows the Father draws us to the Son: “The Father draws us to Christ as man insofar as He gives us His own power so that we may believe in Christ: ‘You are all saved by grace, through faith; and this is not due to yourself, for it is a gift of God’ (Eph 2:8).”
The Son “manifests” the Father: “Insofar as He is Christ, He is the Word of God and manifests the Father. It is in this way that the Son draws us to the Father.” Still, it is the Father who moves us to the Son: “The Father draws us to the Son insofar as He manifests the Son.”
Thomas offers us an analogy of why we need the Father’s help to be drawn to the Son: “For just as a heavy object by its nature cannot rise up, but has to be lifted by someone else, so the human heart, which tends of itself to lower things, cannot rise to what is above unless it is drawn or lifted.”
If we are not drawn to the Son, can we say that the Father has not drawn us? Thomas continues on the example of the heavy object: “And if it does not rise up, this is not due to the failure of the one lifting it, who, so far as lies in Him, fails no one; rather, it is due to an obstacle in the one who is not drawn or lifted up.”
Can we conclude that God draws some people to the Son and does not draw the others? Thomas answers:
God in so far as it depends on Him, extends His hand to everyone, to draw every one; and what is more, He not only draws those who receive Him by the hand, but also converts those who are turned away from Him, according to ‘Covert us, O Lord, to Yourself, and we shall be converted’ (Lam 5:21)… Therefore, since God is ready to give grace to all, and draw them to Himself, it is not due to Him if someone does not accept; rather it is due to the person who does not accept.
Jesus refers to the prophets: “They shall all be taught by God.” Thomas reflects: “All, so far as God is concerned, shall be taught, but if some are not taught, that is due to themselves. For the sun, on its part, shines on all, but some are unable to see it if they close their eyes… From this point of view, the Apostle says: ‘He desires the salvation of all men, and that all come to the knowledge of the truth’” (1 Tim 2:4).
The Father’s drawing of us is effective but we may still resist God’s invitation, as Thomas shows:
This drawing by the Father is most effective, because ‘Every one who has heard the Father and has learned, comes to Me.’ Here, He mentions two things: first, what relates to a gift of God, when He says, ‘has heard,’ that is, through God, who reveals; the other relates to a free judgment, when He says, ‘and has learned,’ that is, by an assent. These two are necessary for every teaching of faith. ‘Everyone who has heard the Father, [teaching and making known], and has learned, [by giving assent], comes to Me.”
Thomas states that we go to God in three ways: “He comes in three ways: though a knowledge of the truth; through the affection of love; and through imitative action. And in each way it is necessary that one hear and learn.” We must be open to what God is saying to us and we must assent.
Thomas explains the way of knowledge of the truth: “The one who comes through a knowledge of the truth must hear, when God speaks within: ‘I will hear what the Lord God will speak within me’ (Ps 84:9); and he must learn, through affection… he must hear the word of the Father and grasp it, in order to learn and be moved in his affections.”
The one who comes by knowledge of the truth will be led by the way of love: “For that person learns the word who grasps it according to the meaning of the speaker. But the Word of the Father breathes forth love. Therefore, the one, who grasps it with eager love, learns… “
We go to Jesus by imitation: “One comes to Christ through imitative action, according to: ‘Come to Me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you’ (Mt 11:28).” As we understand the meaning of the words, we begin to act as Jesus did: “Whoever learns the words perfectly arrives at the right action: ‘The Lord has opened my ear; and I do not resist’” (Is 50:5). “No one can know the Father except through Christ, who makes Him known; and no one can come to the Son unless He has heard from the Father, who makes the Son known.”
We do not know the Father through visions: “No one knows the Father except the Son” (Mt 11:27). We have a likeness to God but not the likeness that the Son has: “Now every creature possesses some likeness to God, but it is infinitely distant from a likeness to His nature, and so no creature can know Him perfectly and totally, as He is in His own nature. The Son, however, because He has received the entire nature of the Father perfectly, through an eternal generation, sees and comprehends totally.”
Just as bread sustains life, so the Son sustains our lives:
Bread is life-giving insofar as it is taken. Now one who believes in Christ takes Him within Himself, according to: “Christ dwells, in our hearts through faith” (Eph 3:17). Therefore, if he who believes in Christ has life, it is clear that he is brought to life by eating this bread. Thus, this bread is the bread of life. And this is what He says: Amen, amen, I say to you: Whoever believes in Me, with a faith made living by love…
Thomas explains that Christ is in us by faith and by love: “Christ is within us in two ways: in our intellect through faith, so far as it is faith; and in our affections through love, which informs or gives life to our faith: ‘He who abides in love, abides in God, and God in him’ (1 Jn 4:16). He who believes in Christ so that he tends to Him, possesses Christ in his affections and in his intellect.”
The “bread” that Jesus gives as food can be understood only as a symbol. This would not take away our physical or spiritual death. The food may be taken in a spiritual way, as the Israelites ate manna in a spiritual way and had spiritual life: “But those who eat the Eucharist spiritually, both live spiritually now without sin, and will live physically forever.”
Jesus declares: “The bread which I will give is my flesh.” Jesus has already announced that He is the “living bread” but now He is making clear that this does not only mean that He is the living bread as He is the Word or in His soul alone: “He shows that even His flesh is life-giving, for it is an instrument of His divinity. Thus, since an instrument acts by virtue of the agent, then just as the divinity of Christ is life-giving, so too His flesh gives life because of the Word to which it is united.”
Thomas explains that Christ healed the sick by His touch: “So what He said above, I am the living bread, pertained to the power of the Word; but what He is saying here pertains to the sharing in His body, that is, to the sacrament of the Eucharist.”
St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, Part I, trans. James A. Weisheipl, O.P. and Fabian Larcher, O.P. (Albany, NY: Magi Books, Inc., 1980). The Commentary is also available on the web page of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/