2 August 2015: Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Ex 16: 2-4, 12-15 Ps 78: 3-4, 23-24, 25, 54 Eph 4: 17, 20-24 Jn 6: 24-35

The bread of life: the sign explained

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all believing community members with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we continue our five-week meditation on the Eucharist and discipleship.

The first reading from Exodus recounts God’s mighty act of feeding the Hebrews in the wilderness. We find the chosen people in the desert about a month after leaving Egypt. They grumble to Moses that they have nothing to eat. God promises to give the people “bread from heaven”–manna. God feeds the chosen people with manna daily for forty years, until they reach the promised land.

The gospel continues John’s “Bread of Life” chapter (Jn 6). Last week we heard Jesus’ sign of the multiplied barley loaves; today we hear Jesus’ teaching (or discourse) on the sign’s meaning. Last week’s gospel ended in the wilderness; today’s reading picks up the next day in Capernaum. The gospel includes the following elements:

  • Perishable vs eternal food: The crowd follows Jesus because he gave them bread yesterday. Jesus tells them “stop looking for food that perishes” and rather “work for food that eternally endures.” The crowd would recognize Jesus’ reference to “eternal food” as God’s word and wisdom found in the Torah.
  • This is the work of God: Because he says they must “work for eternal food,” the crowd asks Jesus how to “accomplish the work of God.” The crowd expects Jesus to outline pious works described in the Torah. Instead, Jesus says they must “believe in the one whom God has sent.” That is, God’s work is the act that God accomplishes in a believer’s heart: faith in Jesus.
  • A sign like the wilderness manna: The crowd asks for a sign: “If you are the one who is sent, what do you do?” The crowd suspects that Jesus thinks himself greater than Moses, so they bring up the story of Moses giving the people manna in the wilderness: “He gave them bread from heaven to eat” (Ex 16:4, today’s first reading).
  • The Bread of Life discourse begins: Jesus corrects the crowd–God, not Moses, gave your ancestors manna. Manna was a manifestation of God’s care for the chosen people’s physical needs in the past. Jesus brings the crowd into the present by telling them that my Father now gives you the true bread from heaven–that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. In God’s ongoing care for the people, the “true bread” feeds more than their physical needs. The true bread is not simply manna, but the Son. The crowd demands “this bread always,” still thinking it is physical food. Jesus’ answer raises the discussion to a higher level: “I AM the bread of life.” Jesus is the continuing revelation of God–the new Torah. Jesus is also nourishment; through the Eucharist his presence continues in the ekklesia, the believing community.

The readings ask each RCIA participant and every believing community member to examine his or her discipleship. The Hebrew people experienced God’s ongoing care through daily manna. Although the manna stopped, God’s care continued through the Torah’s words. We of the believing community–who believe in Jesus, the one whom God sent–also experience God’s ongoing care through daily bread. Is our discipleship based on the past-perishable bread now stale and tasteless? Or do we choose our discipleship daily-eternal bread based on faith that finds Jesus revealed daily in word and sacrament?

—Terence Sherlock


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