18th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, B THE LIFE GIVING BREAD

“I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to Me will never be hungry again; he who believes in Me will never thirst.”

Last week we began the break-away journey from the Gospel of Mark to the Gospel of John, reading the sixth chapter, where we encountered the Miracle of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fish for the feeding of five thousand men (women and children not counted, Matthew 14: 21). We noticed that John calls the miracles of Jesus “signs.” For John, the miracles of Jesus are not simply miracles for the sake of miracles; they are pointers to realities beyond the immediate reality. Today we begin a gradual process of unravelling the reality that the miracle of the multiplication of five loaves and two fish points to.

The setting of today’s Gospel is the day after the miracle of the multiplication. On the evening of the miracle, the disciples went across the sea by boat to Capernaum while He remained in the hills all by Himself (John 6: 15-17). The following day, when the people realised that neither Jesus nor His disciples was with them, “they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus” (John 6: 24). When they found Him they asked: “Rabbi, when did you come here?” (John 6: 25). The answer of Jesus is rather startling: “I tell you most solemnly, you are not looking for Me because you have seen the signs but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat” (John 6: 26). Jesus knew immediately the reason for their interest and search for Him. They saw only the bread and the satisfaction it offered. So they went in search of Jesus to have more food for their stomachs. Since the beginning of creation man has been a slave to the stomach and material satisfaction. No wonder the devil tried to trap Jesus through the power of the stomach “If You are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread” (Matthew 4: 3). Here Jesus knew His mission was not to satisfy mere human desires but so much more – “I have come that they may have life and have it in full (John 10: 10); and “ I came … to give My life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20: 28). So Jesus turned their attention to something deeper, spiritual and lasting. He said to them: “Do not work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal life, the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you, for on Him the Father, God Himself, has set His seal” (John 6: 27). He leads them from the natural, physical bread he gave them to the supernatural and spiritual bread that He has not yet given them. The admonition of Jesus here is to the fact that the spiritual is more important than the physical and that is what they, nay we, should seek and strive for.

Then the people ask Him: “What must we do if we are to do the works that God wants? (John 6: 28). Jesus’ answer again is not what they expected: “This is the work of God, that you believe in the One Whom He has sent.” (John 6: 29). The people had already recognised Jesus as “the prophet” by the fact of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves because there was an expectation among the Jews of the time that the Messiah, the “new Moses” would bring back the miracle of manna performed by the “old Moses.” Remember when they said: “This really is the prophet who was to come into the world” (John 6: 14). It is within this context that they began to challenge Jesus to prove to them His true identity: “What sign will You show us that we should believe in You? What work will you do” (John 6: 29).

Is it not almost absurd that the same people who ate the loaves Jesus multiplied just the day before are here asking this? Why are they asking for more signs? Or rather, what other signs do they want to see? Like their fathers in the First Reading, who quickly forgot the powerful Hand of God’s deliverance, when He parted the sea for them to walk through on dryland, and began to complain for mere lack of water and thirst, these Jews have already forgotten the miraculous loaves they ate the day before. Like the Jews, sometimes we allow the present challenges to becloud us so much that we forget the Lord’s faithful love for us. God surely has plans for us and will never let us down no matter the difficulties we face. Remember Isaiah 43: 1-3, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you: I have called you your name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep you away. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned, nor will the flames consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.”

Now here is the core challenge: “Our fathers had manna to eat in the desert; as Scripture says: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’” (John 6: 31). There is a direct link here with the First Reading (Exodus 16: 2-4; 12-15). So they are challenging Jesus here: if You are the “new Moses” give us manna to eat as the “old Moses” did for our fathers. Once they bring up the manna, Jesus captures it to lead them into the mystery of the Eucharist and of His identity as the True Manna from heaven. Before going further Jesus takes time to correct them: “I tell you most solemnly, it was not Moses who gave you bread from heaven, it is My Father who gives you the bread from heaven, the true bread, for the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6: 32 -33). Notice here that Jesus identifies Himself as The Son of God by saying “it is My Father who gives you bread from heaven.”   The response of the people here: “Lord, give us this bread always” (with emphasis on “always”) takes us back to the Jewish understanding of the relationship between the manna and the messiah. Whereas the manna was transitory, dropping with the dew of the morning and disappearing with the rising sun in the day, the Messiah would provide the “new manna” that would be available “always.” More than that, whereas the manna of the “old Moses” lasted for only forty years, as the food for the journey, which supply seized as soon as the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea (Joshua 4, 5), the Messiah’s “new manna” would be a life-time supply. So what they are asking Jesus to do here is to perform something greater than what Moses did, to go beyond the limits of Moses by providing the bread, not just for a time but “always,” not just for forty years, but for eternity. Then Jesus launched the Bread of Life Discourse: “I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to Me will never be hungry again; he who believes in Me will never thirst.” Jesus presents Himself as the True Bread of Life that satisfies not just the human physical hunger but the spiritual hunger that lasts forever. The Eucharist is the Body of Christ given to us as a manifestation of His love for us. 

As Christians, St. Paul in the Second Reading (Ephesians 4: 17, 20-24) exhorts us to give up the old way of life; to put off the old self and put on the new self that is incorruptible and soaked in holiness. This journey begins when we learn from the mistake of the crowd in the Gospel by asking some personal questions: why do I should seek Jesus. Why do I pray? Why are am I in Church today? What hunger do I feel? What satisfaction do I seek from Jesus? Is it Jesus, the Super Star or Jesus, the Suffering Servant that I seek? St. Ignatius of Loyola says: “Seek not the consolation of God, but the God of consolation.” May the Lord open our hearts and minds to understand, accept and revere His Presence in the Holy Eucharist, His greatest gift to those who believe.