9 August 2015: Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
1 Kgs 19:4-8 Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9 Eph 4:30—5:2 Jn 6:41-51

The bread of life: real food for our wilderness trip

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 faith.

The first reading from 1 Kings is a story about Elijah, a prophet in the northern kingdom (Israel). In a contest between God and Ba’al (the chief Canaanite god), God and Elijah defeat Ba’al and Ba’al’s priests. Queen Jezebel forces Elijah into exile. In the wilderness, Elijah prays for death because he has been unable to turn the Israelites back to God. God gently touches and tenderly feeds Elijah with miraculous food to sustain Elijah for his long trip to Mount Horeb/Sinai.

The gospel continues John’s “Bread of Life” chapter (Jn 6). Last week we heard the beginning of Jesus’ teaching (or discourse) on the meaning of unperishable food: faith in Jesus as the continuing revelation of God, the new manna, the bread of life. Today’s gospel includes the following elements:

  • The crowd murmurs and objects: The crowd “murmurs about” Jesus because he says he is “the bread coming down from heaven.” The word translated here as murmur is the Greek word γογγύζω (“gog-GOO-zoh”), Exodus (Ex 16:2) uses γογγύζω to describe the Hebrews grumbling or complaining to Moses about starving in the wilderness. John uses γογγύζω to connect the crowds’ complaint with the Hebrews’ complaint. In both cases, God provides the people with manna or bread from heaven. The crowd also complains because “they know” who Jesus is–Joseph’s son–and “they know” his father and mother. A contemporary translation would be: “Who does this guy think he is?” The crowd rejects Jesus as a qualified messenger and they complain about his message.
  • Jesus corrects the crowd’s misconceptions: “Stop grumbling!” says Jesus. You may think you know who I am because you know my father and mother, but my heavenly Father is the one speaking here. The Father’s work is to bring everyone to faith in Jesus (Jn 6:29); the result of faith is eternal life–“raised on the last day.” Like a good rabbi, Jesus supports his assertion with scripture: “They shall all be taught by God.” (Is 54:13). Jesus, who is from God and who has “come down” teaches the people–but they must listen to learn. Only when they stop murmuring and listen can they hear Jesus, the new living manna coming down from heaven, tell them about the gift of eternal life. Jesus is the bread of life–the new Torah, God’s teaching that gives eternal life.
  • Jesus raises the discussion to a higher level: “I AM the living bread. The bread I will give is my flesh.” Jesus goes further: not only is he the new manna–the new Torah–coming down, but he will also give the world his flesh to eat (literally “consume” or “devour”). In this Eucharistic teaching, Jesus promises to give his crucified and glorified body (and blood)–himself–to those who believe.

Today’s readings ask each RCIA participant and every believing community member to examine his or her faith and idea of God. Elijah was worn out from his work and mission and wanted to give up. We might have expected God to thunder against Elijah and punish him for his lack of faith. Instead God treats him tenderly, feeding Elijah for his forty-day journey. Jesus offers us–often tired and discouraged–eternal food, himself as food for our journey. Can we stop grumbling about God long enough to hear what God is telling us? Can we stop seeing the Jesus we want long enough to see Jesus as he is?

—Terence Sherlock

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