EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Exodus 16:2-4, 12-14
Psalm 78:3-4, 23-25, 54
Ephesians 4:17, 20-24
As it so often is in the Scriptures, the human condition is on full display in our gospel reading from John. The crowd of five thousand are still scratching their heads and asking themselves, “How did Jesus do that?” We were told in last week’s gospel that Jesus was aware that the massive crowd of followers “were going to come and carry him off to make him king,” and so Jesus slipped away to the mountain where he could pray and recharge his batteries. The crowd watched as the disciples also slipped away in a boat, without Jesus, to go “across the sea to Capernaum.” Jesus comes to the disciples across the troubled waters of the Sea of Galilee, and they all “arrived at the shore to which they were heading.”
The vast crowd was still hungry, if not for physical food, at least for something miraculous. Seeking Jesus, they follow the disciples across the water, and, finding him, ask Jesus “when did you get here?” Jesus, who could read the hearts of man, knew that their pursuit of him was merely to satisfy the desires of the flesh. The conversation, however, turns sacramental in tone, with Jesus stating : “Amen, amen, (something important is going to be said!) you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” Jesus is clearly dragging his listeners into the most profound of theological discussions. The genuinely generous action of Jesus feeding the five thousand, is for John, a sign, not unlike Jesus’ first sign in John’s gospel, the Miracle at Cana. Signs for John are extraordinarily important in his gospel. They are heavily-laden incidents or actions of Jesus that are meant to point to a more profound reality.
Although we are to assume that Jesus’ listeners were present for the multiplication of loaves, they did not recognize what happened as a sign, but Jesus, the quintessential teacher, is going to lead his listeners to a point where they will be able to recognize the profundity of what Jesus did with the loaves and fish. Can’t Jesus do what Moses did for their ancestors, and give them manna in the desert? Jesus tells them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father 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.”
Of course, the human condition is once again on display. “Sir, give us this bread always.” The crowd wants this super fortified bread. Imagine a food that does away with hunger and thirst! Since the crowd was not able to put two and two together, Jesus makes the statement that they might not be able to fully understand until after the Last Supper: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” For those of us with Eucharistic sensibilities, Jesus’ words don’t tend to shock us. But before John’s discourse is over in several Sundays, the crowd will begin to murmur and complain, and some of the disciples will return to “their former way of life and no longer” accompany Jesus. It is important for us, also, to be shocked at Jesus’ words, if we hope to more fully comprehend the profound truth being revealed in today’s gospel.
The hungers of the stomach which we saw Jesus satisfy in last Sunday’s gospel, are nothing compared to the hungers of the human heart which only God can quench. In today’s gospel from John, Jesus proclaims his divinity, something already stated in the prologue of John. Jesus is the preexistent and incarnate Word of God who has revealed the Father to us: “He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him, nothing came to be.” For a little over three decades, that Son of the Father shared with us who God is and what God expects of us. He is that true bread from heaven, capable of nourishing our souls and strengthening us for our earthly journeys. May we never fail to recognize what a precious gift we have in the Eucharist. The bread that is transformed on altars all over the world into the very Body of Christ is, indeed, the bread from heaven, the bread that gives life and light to the world. Let us rejoice and be glad, and be filled with an overflowing gratitude.