August 2, 2015 — Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jesus proclaims to us in today’s Gospel reading from St. John: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will not hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” As Catholics, we have heard those words, or words to that effect, throughout our faith lives. However, we do not always grasp the complete meaning of what the Lord is saying to us.
Throughout our readings for this Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time this “bread of life” concept is explained and reinforced. In fact, John, Chapter 6, from which today’s Gospel reading is drawn, is known among many scholars and theologians as the “Bread of Life Discourse.”
Our First Reading from Exodus recounts what occurred in the desert after the Israelites had fled Egypt. They are quoted as saying that they had plenty to eat when they were in Egypt, and Moses seems to have led them into the desert to starve. Moses assures them that they will receive “bread from Heaven.” This miracle in the desert is the forerunner to what we are to learn about the Bread of Life from the Lord.
The Israelites are simply complaining. People who complain (even today) often look at the past or some previous event as being more positive than it may have been. Here are the Israelites looking with fondness back on their time as slaves and captives. Just as God met the needs of the Israelites in this account, He most often meets our needs as well. God has resources beyond our comprehension; the Israelites did not know the how of the bread which miraculously appeared. Our trust in God involves our trust in His ability to always meet our needs, to be with us in times of trial and stress.
In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul is trying to explain to them the unique and special qualities of being a Christian. As we as Catholics have become more mainstream in our society, we may tend to try to lessen our differences from others. Paul’s point is that we are different, that we look at life and society in a different way. This is, of course, a challenge for us and for all Catholics. Observe those who on the surface are Catholic throughout our country and our society. How many of them compromise Catholic beliefs to appear like others? Do we? As Paul indicates, if we are truly pursuing our faith as a way of life, we must be willing to change and to “be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.”
In the Gospel from John, part of that discourse on the Bread of Life, Jesus prompts us to see the gift He gives us, that Bread of Life. Our Gospel readings for the past few weeks have emphasized this special gift from the Lord. From His feeding of the 5,000 about which we received the Word last week to this week’s declaration Christ broadens our understanding of the meaning of the Eucharist. Jesus is the Bread of Life who brings life to all who receive Him. This is fundamental to our beliefs and practices. In the First Reading from Exodus God delivered Israel from Egypt and He provided them with food so they could live while crossing the desert. That food was real food. However, it only sustained them in this life. Jesus as the Bread of Life not only sustains us here and now, but in a life that will endure forever. Every time we celebrate the Eucharist we celebrate the paschal mystery by which Jesus offers Himself as a sacrifice, and through that offering He is raised from the dead. Our participation in His dying and rising is through the Eucharist.