The 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time [B] – Aug. 2, 2015

Here is the homily preached at St. Peter Parish in Schulte on the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time [Year B], on August 2, 2015.  The Scriptures of the Mass are Exodus 16:2-4,12-15; Ephesians 4:17,20-24; John 6:24-35:  click HERE for the readings at the USCCB website.

Jump below for the homily’s text:

The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Exodus 16:2-4,12-15  +  Ephesians 4:17,20-24  +  John 6:24-35
August 5, 2012
“‘I am the Bread of Life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.’”
In the Church’s ancient tradition of Lectio Divina—the prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture—the first step is simply to choose a passage or verse of Scripture.  You might choose, for example, a phrase from today’s Gospel, such as:  “‘I am the Bread of Life.’”  The next step is to listen to the Word of God speaking through the passage you’ve chosen.  This can only be done well when you remember that the Word of God is not a thing, but a Person:  the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.

This is the Person of whom St. John the Evangelist speaks in the first chapter of his Gospel account when he tells us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And [this] Word became Flesh and dwelt among us” in Jesus Christ.

This same person speaks to you individually through Scripture, when you listen in your soul.  It doesn’t matter that the words of Scripture were written thousands of years ago.  Through the Power of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God can speak to you personally through those written words about whatever struggles, hopes and challenges you are facing (perhaps even if you’re unaware of them).

The next step of Lectio Divina is to understand the Word of God.  Whereas the prior step of listening tends more to engage your heart, this step of understanding tends more to engage your mind.  There are several ways this occurs, but most of them have to do with context.  Most people misunderstand the Word of God when they don’t reflect on a given Scripture passage within all its contexts.  To use a metaphor, understanding a Scripture passage means not to isolate the passage, but rather to allow it to strike a chord within the breadth and width and depth of the Word of God.

Take the phrase “‘I am the Bread of Life.’”  Open your mind to the whole of Sacred Scripture.  Every passage in Scripture where “bread” is spoken about, or “life” is spoken about, relates to these words of Jesus.  There are hundreds of such examples in the Bible.  But start simply within the same book of the Bible where your chosen passage comes from, and then move outwards, like the ripples in a pond after a stone falls in its center.  Start simply here within the Gospel according to John.

Saint John the Evangelist refers to “bread” not only in Chapter Six.  St. John, like Matthew, Mark and Luke, precedes his account of Jesus’ Death with an account of the Last Supper.  It’s not a coincidence that at the beginning of Chapter Six—which we heard last Sunday—the evangelist notes that “The Jewish feast of Passover was near.”[1]  Jesus chose this sacred time of the year to teach His disciples that He is the Bread of Life.  In a later year of Jesus’ life, He chose this sacred time again in order to institute the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  John wants those listening to his Gospel account to reflect on how everything Jesus says in Chapter Six strikes a chord with Jesus’ teaching at the Last Supper.  If you have some extra time this month, I’d encourage you to read John Chapter Six in tandem with the chapters of John where Jesus gives His teachings at the Last Supper (chapters 14-17).

“‘I am the Bread of Life.’”  Jesus proclaims these words to you, today, to strengthen you.  He does not want you to hunger.  Jesus is—for you—“the Bread of Life.”  Jesus is not bread that satisfies physical hunger, but rather a spiritual hunger that is much more deeply personal, that reaches down into the core of the human soul.  This is where the imagery of bread nourishing a person connects to Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, words that refer to what many saints call the “divine indwelling”.

For example, what Jesus prays to the Father in Chapter 17 of John flows from what Jesus had taught in Chapter Six.  Praying to the Father at the Last Supper about you and all His other disciples, Jesus says, “‘I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.’”[2]  Jesus here at the Last Supper is telling us why He nourishes us with Himself as the Bread of Life:  so that we may be one, as the Father and Son are one, Jesus in us, and the Father in Jesus.

But don’t stop there.  Think of the ripples in the pond.  Move further outwards.  Consider the other three Gospel accounts, the other books in the New Testament, and then the books of the Old Testament.  There are many events recounted in the Old Testament that relate to Jesus proclaiming, “‘I am the Bread of Life.’”  The most powerful come from the Book of Exodus, and relate to Israel’s Passover from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the land that God had promised them.

The Passover meal, as you know, requires God’s faithful to eat unleavened bread.  The bread is unleavened because there is no time to wait for it to rise.  The haste expresses the need to escape quickly from the slavery of the Pharaoh.  By sharing in this meal, the Jews in Egypt were given new life:  freedom from Pharaoh, rescue at the Red Sea, and guidance through the wilderness, to the Promised Land.  All of that sets the stage for today’s First Reading from Exodus, which will shed more light for us on Jesus’ words today.

Today’s First Reading is from Chapter 16 of Exodus.  The Israelites are only one month past their escape from slavery in Egypt.  But to them, there seems to be no end to their wandering, and they begin to tell themselves that they were better off as slaves in Egypt!  The Israelites complain to Moses and Aaron:  “‘Would that we had died… in the land of Egypt, as we… ate our fill of bread!’”

The Lord does not try to reason with the Israelites.  He doesn’t appeal to their head.  He certainly doesn’t tell them that they have 39 years and eleven months more of wandering ahead of them!  The Lord appeals to their heart.  This is part of the mystery of the Old Testament, but also a reason for you and me to hope.  If the Lord treated the Israelites with such mercy, He will treat you and me with mercy, also.  After all, the Lord was in the process of leading this people from cruel and bitter slavery in Egypt, in order to lead them to a land overflowing with milk and honey.  Yet the Israelites chose to complain against Moses.  However, in response to their ingratitude, the Lord not only does not punish them.

The Lord says, “‘I will now rain down bread from heaven for you.  Each day the people are to go out and gather their daily portion’”:  that is, their “daily bread”.  What the Lord begins that day to give them is a bread to satisfy physical hunger.  But He is clearly working something deeper at the very same time.  This “daily bread” is meant to give the Israelites hope.  Their “daily bread” is meant to be a cure for their ingratitude.  Though the Lord gives this bread to the Israelites daily for almost forty years, He does not do so perpetually.  This “daily bread” continues only until they arrive at the Promised Land.[3]  Then it ceases, because the Lord has something greater in store for them.

Understanding this Old Testament passage as a backdrop, we see more clearly into Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel.  Jesus says to you today, “‘Do not work for food that perishes but for food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.’”  The Son of Man gave you this food—the Bread of Life; that is, Himself—at the Last Supper.  He gave you the Bread of Life on the day of your First Holy Communion, and He offers Himself up for you in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

You are on the same journey as the Israelites during your days on this earth:  a journey from slavery to sin, to the freedom that the Lord has promised.  The Lord only wants to show you His merciful love, to strengthen you with His own life, so that you may abide in Him always.

[1] John 6:4.

[2] John 17:22-23.

[3] Exodus 16:35.