Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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.
"This really is the prophet who is to come into the world", they cry. Their being fed with bread reminds them of Moses who fed the people with manna (described in today’s First Reading) as well as an expression 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, "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 got 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. 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.
Believing in Jesus
What must we do, they asked, to get this bread of life? The answer was simple and straightforward: "You must believe in the one God 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:
First, the manna came from God, not Moses.
Second, the real bread that comes from God is not material, it comes directly from God and it is life-giving.
"Oh, let’s have some of that bread," Jesus’ listeners cried, hearing only the literal meaning of his words. (It reminds 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.) 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? By going to Jesus, by becoming his close companion (one who shares bread from the Latin ‘cum’=with and ‘panis’=bread) and follower. "Who comes to me will never be hungry." By believing in Jesus, by an unconditional and total giving of self to him. "Who believes in me will never thirst."
But how does Jesus nourish us and be our food and drink?
a. By giving us his Word in the Scriptures.
In this way he feeds our minds and hearts, 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.
b. Through his Church: through the fellowship and mutual support we get through our involvement and participation in a Christian community.
c. 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, increases our feeling of being loved and of self-worth.
d. 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 and where we give thanks for all the nourishing 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 lives our lives and share what we have received with others who are still hungry for life and meaning. As the letter to the Ephesians says in today’s Second Reading: "Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution so that you can put on the new self that has been created in God’s way, in the goodness and holiness of the truth."
This is exactly what happens when we have been fed by the Bread of Life.


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