|18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 78:3-4, 23-24, 25, 54
Ephesians 4:17, 20-24
So as to be more available to the graces
contained in the Word of God in the Liturgy, imagine Jesus holding one of
the baskets containing the fragments left over from the recent great feeding
of the crowd. Some of those who witnessed the event begin questioning
him. While they do so, Jesus is picking up pieces of bread casually
and eating them with some delight, while the questioners grow increasingly
frustrated. Jesus seems to be enjoying the encounter as a great “teaching
We pray often the prayer Jesus taught us and ask that God give us “our daily
bread.” The prayer of today’s reading has to do also with “bread as
“manna,” “bread as “Jesus,” “bread” as “a doing”- a work.
We can pray as we prepare to celebrate the
Eucharist to receive the more of life which Jesus came to share with us.
We pray to be doing the “works of God’ which Jesus told us through John
is believing in Jesus as the one who has been “sent.” We pray to live
out our belief rather than merely say, “o yes, I believe.” Jesus came
not as an idea to stimulate the mind, but that we might flesh his flesh and
live out our own having been “sent” in, through, and with him.
Moses has been having a hard time of it since bringing his oppressed people
out of Egypt in the Exodus. They are very early in their forty-year
journey of faith. In the preceding chapter the people grumbled about
their being thirsty and when they found water it was bitter. Moses complained
or prayed to God and so the water was made potable. They pitched camp
there, but had to move on towards the “wilderness” and so grew thirsty again
and hungry. This tension forms the context for our being introduced
in the First Reading, to the Israelites’ complaining.
They do the whole “poor me” as a community. Things were terrible back
in the bad old days, but they did have “fleshpots” from which to gain nourishment!
They are disappointed in their leaders, but this time Moses does not have
to make any requests. God comes to their rescue, but with an instruction
which they must follow. God is teaching them ever so slowly to listen
and obey for their own good. This teacher-student relationship forms
the context for much of the Hebrew Scriptures.
We hear of the great event of God’s responding to grumbling and regret.
God rains down bread and meat. Their journey is going to be a long one
and with God’s continuing to be faithful, they will grow in their being faithful
The Gospel follows John’s account of the
multiplying of the five loaves and two fish which we heard last week.
The word spreads and though Jesus and his shipmates have sailed to the other
side of the sea, those who had eaten their fill follow him. This can
sound wonderful; he is gaining new followers. When they meet up with
Jesus, he offers them their truth. They were following, but not in the
same sense, as he desired. They came to see if he was handing out more
bread or doing something else for their enjoyment. They failed to see
the bread as “Sign”, but merely as a crusty “thing.”
Then begins a long discussion centering
around the double-meaning of “bread.” The Jewish people have in their
religious memory how Moses brought about the miracle of bread in the desert.
Here, they are talking to Jesus in terms of a continuation of bread
being served for their eating. Jesus knows this and turns the word “bread”
into a meaning for “himself.” Jesus is not playing with the minds of
the Jews, but leading them to a faith-leap in him, who like bread, gives life
to those who eat.
“Eating” for Jesus means taking in the whole “loaf,” the entirety of him
as the one “sent” and “sealed” by his Father who is at this very moment giving
Jesus as “bread” for eternal life. Believing is “eating” for Jesus,
and “eating” means more than saying “Yes, I believe.” It means living
out the life which “The Bread of Life” came to give. My young nephew,
while sitting in the back seat of his mother’s car with a hamburger in one
hand and fries on his lap, having just pulled out of McDonald’s, asked his
mother, “Where are we going to eat after we eat next?” I have a younger
brother who is honestly, quite worried about there being “enough” food at
his home or the home of those who invite him for dinner. Our Jewish
ancestors had their similar worries. Will God be faithful? Will
we survive? Will God get us out there and abandon us? Will there
really be “enough?”
“Our daily bread” contains many grains of nourishment. It is about
doing God’s will by receiving what God is giving us at any one moment and
sometimes it can seem like crumbs, or crust, or quite stale. We too
ask God many times, about where we will eat after we eat next. “Our
daily bread” is God’s love, shared through the Eucharist, but eating more
of the life of grace, the life of God’s love, after we eat the Eucharist next
time. That Holy Bread, containing in Him all “sweetness” is God’s pledge
that we will not be abandoned or left to go our own way.
Here is just one more friendly reminder. This whole chapter
and discussion about Jesus as “bread” is not specifically or even symbolically,
about the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Jesus is asking to be received
or acknowledged as the “one” specifically “sent” to be the life of the world.
Merely consuming the Eucharistic presence as some kind of ticket to
heaven is a terrible abuse of the gift of Jesus, the whole Jesus, to us. He
comes to nourish us even the next time after the next time and he is more
“You give us bread from
heaven, Lord- a sweet-tasting bread that was very good to eat.”