EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2021)
Readings:Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15 Psalms 78:3-4, 23-25, 54 Ephesians 4:17, 20-24
Over the last few week’s worth of gospel readings we see crowds that are remarkably persistent, even robbing Jesus and His disciples of the quiet time they so desperately sought and needed. Today those same crowds, buoyed up by being part of a miracle that ended with their stomachs full, are just as persistent, crossing once again the well-traveled sea looking for Jesus.
Jesus normally responds well to those who seek Him out, but in John 6:24ff the Lord appears to have lost some of His patience. As Jesus does so often, He reads the hearts of those around Him, and He recognizes that those who made the water journey to Capernaum are seeking Him out for all the wrong reasons. Jesus’ feeding of the multitude was not meant to make Him just another miracle worker, and He surely was uninterested in being viewed as that worldly kind of Messiah that so many had expected. Jesus’ miracles of any ilk were meant to bring people to an understanding that the kingdom which He spoke about so often was in their midst, and the people would have to look beyond the externals associated with His miracles if they were to catch a glimpse of their God made man.
All of the prophets who came before Jesus, even the greatest such as Moses, encountered the hard-heartedness which makes people miss “the forest for the trees.” With God’s help, Moses had accomplished the impossible, and with no little difficulty he brought the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt. It wasn’t that long, however, before the Israelites were “grumbling” against Moses and Aaron, wishing they were back in Egypt where they had “their fill of bread.” Once their stomachs started rumbling, they would forget about all the reasons why they so desperately wanted to leave. Even when God hears the “grumbling of the Israelites,” and gives them “quail,” and a “hoarfrost” from which bread could be made, they are less than jubilant. As hard as Moses tried to please, the Israelites would grumble their way through the desert for many years, before they would reach the promised land.
Jesus encounters a similar hard-heartedness in the crowds that He so graciously just fed. When the crowd inquires when He had arrived, He recognizes they are only looking for another meal, He recognizes the weakness of their faith: “you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.” Remember the importance of “signs” in the Gospel of John! They point to a deeper reality, and impatient as Jesus might be with the crowds, He is going to try His best to bring the crowd to see that deeper reality: “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life.”
After alluding to our first reading, the crowds persist in looking for a sign that they can see and touch, so that they can “believe” in Jesus. The very least Jesus can do is give them something tangible, like that Manna in the desert that Moses gave. Jesus corrects them, telling them it was not Moses who gave the “bread from heaven.” Rather, it is God the Father who gives them “the true bread from heaven,” a bread which “gives life to the world.”
Jesus does not wish to give them another free lunch! He wants to give them a glimpse of who He really is, “the bread of life,” and those who believe in Him, who accept His teachings, “will never hunger or thirst.” Jesus did not come into our world to wow us with miracles, He came that we might have the kind of life that truly matters, a life free from the slavery of sin and death, a life that is truly “full” in the deepest sense of that word. Our lives become “full” when we believe in the one God sent into our world,” and that belief involves a surrender of self in order that we might take on all that Jesus did and said during His brief time among us. We believe that Jesus, “on the night before he died,” gave us His very self in the form of bread and wine, something far greater than Manna. It is our communion with Jesus that will enable us to become the people God intended us to be, and in doing so, with God’s help, we too “will give life to the world,” a world so hungry for what only God can offer.