Friday, July 31, 2009

The Bread of Life: 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

This week-end we visit Part 2 of my favorite section of the Bible: the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. Part 1 was discussed in last weeks blog when we talked about the multiplication of loaves and fishes.

We get a glimpse of what is to come in the gospel in the first reading (Interesting how the Old Testament gives light to the New Testament). In Exodus 16 we get to see the Israelites grumbling. These guys always tickle me. The Israelites always seem to be the ultimate "what have you done for us lately" people. Moses has led them out of slavery, split the Red Sea so that they could escape from the Egyptians and what do they say? "Man! We would have done better dying in Egypt! At least then we could sit and eat as much bread as we wanted. You two [Moses and Aaron] have brought us out here and now we are all going to die of starvation."
God hears the grumbling and tells Moses that he is going to feed them. He says that in the evening there is going to be their fill of quail on the ground and in the morning there is literally going to bread on the ground like frost. This bread is called manna and since it went bad at the end of every day (to teach the Israelites to trust in God and not try to store it up) we do not know what it looked like except for how it is described in Exodus : "fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground." It might not have looked like bread because they ask each other what it is and Moses answers them, "This is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat."
So we fast forward several centuries to Jesus' time. You remember last week, Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes and then fled so that they would not carry Him off to be King. In today's gospel the people ask, "Hey!! That guy who made all the fishes and loaves multiply---where did he go?" They then set off in boats and went looking for him and found him in Capernaum and asked Jesus, "Hey! When did you get here?"

Jesus, being the wily guy he is, says "You aren't looking for me because you saw signs. You are only looking for me because I multiplied the loaves and your bellies were full." Jesus goes on and tells them, "Don't look for food that is going to go bad. Look for the food that endures for eternal life. The Son of God is going to give it to you."

The Jews, who have realized that eternal life is a good thing, ask Jesus, "What can we do to accomplish the works of God?" Jesus tells them that they need to believe in him.

Over the centuries, the Jews haven't changed much. They are still the "what have you done for me lately?" type people. They had just seen Jesus feed multitudes with fives loaves of barley and two fishes. They ask Jesus, "What have you done that we should believe in you. At least Moses gave our ancestors manna to eat in the desert!"

If I would have been Jesus I would have rolled my eyes and raised my hand like I was going to slap them upside the head. Luckily for us, Jesus is nothing like me, and he probably calmly said to them, "It was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven. My Father gives you the true bread from Heaven. The bread of God that comes down from Heaven gives life to the world."

The people reply, "Sir, give us this bread always."

Jesus tells them. "I am the bread of life;whoever comes to me will never hunger,and whoever believes in me will never thirst."

Jesus IS the bread of life. Whoever goes to Him will never hunger and whoever believes in Him will never thirst. That is some pretty heavy stuff but what's it mean? Does it literally mean that we will never go physically hungry or physically thirsty? God provided the manna and quail to take care of the Israelites physical needs but Jesus goes further than that.

Jesus fulfills our spiritual needs. He provides for us the spiritual nourishment that we need to live our days. It's in the sacrament of the Eucharist that we receive this nourishment. It is in the Eucharist that we receive the Bread of Life. Without the Eucharist, we will surely die. We need the Bread of Life so that we can battle the struggles that face us every day. Without proper nourishment we will fail.

That's why the mass is necessary. The Church looks after us. She knows that we need our nourishment. Like a protective mother, the Church tries to ensure that we go to mass so that we can receive this nourishment that is necessary. Make sure you go to mass this weekend so that you can receive this nourishment and come back next week for the next piece of the puzzle.

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