Sunday of Week 18 of Ordinary Time (Year B)

Commentary on Exodus 16:2-4,12-15; Ephesians 4:17,20-24; John 6:24-35

Last Sunday we switched from reading Mark’s Gospel to that of John. Today we continue with the 6th chapter of John on Jesus as the Bread of Life. In last Sunday’s Gospel we saw how excited the people were after Jesus had fed them with just a few loaves and fish. They were so excited that they wanted to make him king. They cry:

This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world. (John 6:14)

Their being fed with bread reminds them of Moses, who fed the people with manna (see today’s First Reading). ‘Being fed’ can also be interpreted as a sign of the expected coming of the Messiah-King. But Jesus had fled to the mountains. He could have used this occasion to exploit the situation and further his own mission, but he rejected it outright as a temptation. He was indeed their Messiah-King, but not in this way.

The disciples, too, have been packed off in a boat in case they got the wrong ideas and tried to take advantage of Jesus’ popularity. They also had to learn the kind of king their Master was.

When did you come here?
The people now set off to Capernaum on the other side of the lake looking for Jesus. After finding him they asked:

Rabbi, when did you come here?

It is one of those ironic questions that John loves. A seemingly innocent and simple question which actually touches on the real origins and identity of Jesus.

Jesus tells them they are looking for him, not because they have seen signs, but because they had gotten a lot of bread to eat. They did not realise that the feeding itself was a spectacular sign pointing to something much deeper than the material bread they enjoyed. It was a sign of an altogether different kind of food, a different kind of nourishment on a different level entirely. This would be a food that endures forever, and this is the real food that Jesus has come to offer. But they still have not grasped what he is saying to them. Jesus says to them:

Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.

Believing in Jesus
The people said to him:

What must we do to perform the works of God?

Jesus’ response was simple and straightforward:

This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.

That is all and it is everything: to believe in Jesus, that is, to commit oneself totally and unconditionally to his Way. To believe in a person is to make an investment of one’s whole self. It is an act of faith, of trust and a letting go. It is much more than just accepting what a person says as being true.

But the people are still not satisfied. They ask for a sign which would give them a reason for believing in Jesus. They cite the example of the manna that Moses had fed the people with over their 40 years in the desert.

Jesus, the new manna
To this request Jesus replies:

Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

The real bread that comes from God is not material; it comes directly from God and it is life-giving. Then, hearing only the literal meaning of his words (and reminding us of the Samaritan woman by the well of Jacob who asked Jesus for the water of life after which she would never be thirsty again), the people cry:

Sir, give us this bread always.

Jesus then answers simply:

I am the bread of life.

This is much more than a statement of fact; the phrase “I AM” is the name of God given to Moses at the burning bush. It is the first of seven ‘I AM’ statements uttered by Jesus in John’s Gospel, all pointing to his divine origin.The others are:

I AM the Light of the World (8:12, 9:5)
I AM the Gate (10:7,9)
I AM the Good Shepherd (10:11,14)
I AM the Resurrection and the Life (11:25)
I AM the Way: the Truth and the Life (14:6)
I AM the Vine (15:1,5)

Now, however, we need to ask: How is Jesus bread and how are we to get it? We get it by going to Jesus, by becoming his close companion (derived from the Latin: ‘one who shares bread’ – cum “with” and panis “bread”) and follower:

Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

We get this bread by believing in Jesus, by an unconditional and total giving of self to him.

But how does Jesus nourish us and be our food and drink? He does so, first, by giving us his Word in the Scriptures. In this way, he feeds our minds and hearts and enriches and gives meaning and direction to our lives. The Word of God in the Scriptures is really food and, in so far as the Bible is unknown to us, we are being starved of food that we really need.

Second, Jesus nourishes us through his Church – through the fellowship and mutual support we get through our involvement and participation in a Christian community.

Third, we are nourished through every loving and nourishing experience coming to us through people, books, radio, TV, the world of nature – in short, through everything which enriches and gives more meaning and understanding in our lives and increases our feeling of being loved and having self-worth.

And fourth, we receive nourishment through the Eucharist – the sign by which we celebrate God’s love shown to us through the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is in the Eucharist that we give thanks for all the life-giving ways by which God, through Jesus, comes into our daily lives.

The fact that we are indeed being fed and nourished is shown by the way we live our lives and share what we have received with others who are still hungry for life and meaning. As Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, says in today’s Second Reading, you are:

…to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

This is exactly what happens when we have been fed by the Bread of Life.

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