Tag Archives: 18 Sunday in Ordinary time

5 August 2018: 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

Bread coming down from heaven: the living Word of God

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary readings present stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to think about manna in the wilderness and the bread of life that feeds the whole world.

The first reading, from Exodus, tells of God giving the grumbling Israelites bread and meat in the wilderness. Through this gift of bread, God demonstrates care for the people. In later Jewish thought the “bread from heaven” or “bread of angels” becomes a symbol of God’s word (Torah) and God’s wisdom (Ps 119:103; Pv 9:5; Sir 15:1-3), and a type of the promised messianic feast. In today’s gospel, Jesus reveals himself as the bread of life: he is both food (God’s gift in the wilderness) and wisdom (God’s self-revelation in the Torah).

The second reading continues the letter to the Ephesus ekklesia. The letter’s major theme is the unity of all Christians in one believing community. Today’s reading continues the ethical exhortation (or paraenesis). Last week the author explained how God united Jew and gentile into a single, new person. This week the author describes the necessary attitudes and behaviors of the new person. Christians must “take off” the old or worn-out self and “put on” the new or fresh self. The language of “taking off” and “putting on” comes from the ritual practice of stripping off a catechumen’s old clothing before he or she enters the baptismal water, then clothing the newly-baptized with a new, white garment after baptism.

John’s gospel presents the introduction to Jesus’ “bread of life” discourse. Last week Jesus multiplied bread to feed the crowd in the wilderness. This week the crowd catches up with Jesus, who has returned to Capernaum. A series of questions and answers shapes John’s introduction to the discourse:

  • When did you get here? The crowd asks an irrelevant question showing that, although they experienced Jesus’ sign of feeding in the wilderness the day before, they still don’t understand who he is. Jesus instructs the crowd to work for bread that remains or abides. The Son of Man will give this bread that produces eternal life. Because God sent the Son of Man, God approves (“sets a seal on”) him.
  • What work can we do? The crowd misunderstands the meaning of “to work for bread that remains.” They think they can do some physical action to gain more of Jesus’ physical bread. Jesus corrects their misunderstanding. God freely gives this spiritual bread to the one who believes in Jesus. The “work” or spiritual action to gain this spiritual bread requires a total submission of self to the Word of God in Christ.
  • What sign do you give? Following on the earlier mention of Moses, and Jesus’ claim to be sealed by the Father, the crowd asks for a sign that is greater than Moses’ Passover sign: “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” Jesus uses their scripture citation as the starting point for his discourse. Jesus again corrects the crowd’s misunderstanding: God provided manna, not Moses. God’s gift of manna, physical bread given to the Israelites in the past, is superseded by God’s gift now: Jesus, the true bread from heaven, who gives life to the whole world.
  • Give us this bread always! Again correcting the crowd’s confusion, Jesus reveals he is the true bread from heaven, who both reveals the Father and gives eternal life.

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider how God feeds the believing community. In the past, God fed the Israelites starving in the wilderness with physical manna that disappeared. In today’s gospel, Jesus promises that God will feed the whole world with bread from heaven that will abide with us forever. Do we know what and who this bread is? Are we doing the spiritual work to gain this bread? Are we seeking this bread always?

—Terence Sherlock


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31 July 2016: Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

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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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