Cortez: Reflections on the eighteenth Sunday in ordinary time

IN THIS Sunday’s readings, we again see the theme of God giving his people bread to eat. In Exodus 16:2-4 the Israelites, on their way to the Promised Land, complained to Moses and Aaron on the lack of food in the wilderness. The people even regretted leaving Egypt, for there, they recalled eating meat and bread until they are full. Hearing their complaints, the LORD rained on them bread of heaven (manna), instructing them to gather daily just what they need for the day. This was to test them--whether or not they will obey.

In the gospel (John 6:24-35) we see that the people, in demanding a sign from Jesus, talked about this experience of their ancestors. They claimed that in the Old Testament, Moses gave them bread out of heaven to eat. They challenged Jesus to do something similar, so they may see and believe.

In his answer, Jesus made it clear that it was not Moses who gave them manna but his Father in heaven. He in fact said that the Father gives the “true bread” from heaven, which gives life to the world. When his hearers asked him to give them this bread, Jesus came out with a wondrous revelation saying, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst.”

The Israelites in the desert were given by God bread to eat in order to satisfy their physical hunger. In last week’s gospel, we saw Jesus multiplying the five loaves of bread and two fish--again to address the multitude’s physical hunger. Indeed, God loves to feed his children. He delights in giving them food to satisfy the needs of their bodies.

In this gospel, however, Jesus elevates the meaning of eating bread from God to a higher level. Now he talks about God addressing man’s spiritual hunger. Just as God cares for the body, he cares for the soul, and just as God feeds the temporal, he feeds the eternal.

More than the physical bread, Jesus offers us spiritual bread, and this is no less than his very own self. He invites us to believe in him, that we may have eternal life--to eat of him, that he may abide in us and us in him.

As we will see in the latter part of this gospel reading on the sixth chapter of John (the subjects of next weeks’ gospels), this teaching will become harder and harder. But we who are in Christ are called to accept it in faith. Only with the eyes of faith can we truly see Jesus as the bread of life in the Eucharist.

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