The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Exodus 16:2-4,12-15  +  Ephesians 4:17,20-24  +  John 6:24-35
August 1, 2021

“I am the Bread of Life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Any Scripture passage that you pray over will echo many others in Sacred Scripture.  Take Jesus’ statement in today’s Gospel passage:  “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 and chapter of the Bible from which this sentence comes, and then move outwards, like the ripples in a pond after a stone falls down into its center.

Saint John the Evangelist refers to “bread” not only in John 6.  Like the other three evangelists, he precedes his account of Jesus’ Death with an account of the Last Supper.  It’s not a coincidence that at the beginning of John 6—which we heard last Sunday—the evangelist notes that “The Jewish feast of Passover was near” [John 6:4].  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.  St. 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.

What Jesus prays to the Father in John 17 flows from what Jesus had taught in John 6.  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” [John 17:22-23].  This is the end goal.

But then, remember the ripples in the pond.  Move outwards.  Consider the other three Gospel accounts, the other books in the New Testament, and then the books of the Old Testament.  Many Old Testament events 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 promised land.

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.  They begin to tell themselves that they were better off as slaves in Egypt, complaining to Moses and Aaron:  “Would that we had died… in the land of Egypt, as we… ate our fill of bread!”

However, in response to their ingratitude, the Lord not only does not punish them.  The Lord mercifully 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 same time.

This “daily bread” is meant to give the Israelites hope.  Yet 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.  Then it ceases, because the Lord has something greater yet in store for them.

Through this we understand better Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel passage.  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 at each celebration of Holy Mass, to strengthen you for the long earthly pilgrimage to the end goal of Heaven.