August 5, 2018 — Eighteenth Sunday In Ordinary Time
Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem was foretold more than once in the Old Testament. In fact, the town of Bethlehem is mentioned more than 40 times in the Old Testament. The prophet Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah, and perhaps you are familiar with how often Isaiah referred to the Messiah to come. Micah states in Chapter 5 of the Book of Micah, “But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathaha, least among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old.” He refers to it as Bethlehem-Ephrathaha to distinguish it because there was more than one Bethlehem.
`However, King David was born in Bethlehem-Ephrathaha, as was Joseph. Bethlehem in Hebrew (Bet Lehem) means “House of Bread.” This reference to bread is one that occurs throughout Holy Scripture. We are all aware of that part of the Our Father,“Give us this day our daily bread,” but there is and was more to it than that, and is much more than providing us with enough to eat. St. Paul wrote in First Corinthians “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” — namely, Jesus Christ.
Bread is important in today’s readings. The final verse of the First Reading from the Book of Exodus is, “This is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.” This reading speaks of the Bread from Heaven (manna) that fell to save the Israelites as they wandered in the desert. God provided for them, but they did not recognize what was being provided. We are provided the “Bread of Life” through the Eucharist and through our holy liturgies. Sometimes, though, we do not recognize it as we should.
In truth, we need to be changed every time we receive of the “Bread of Life.” This idea of change, conversion, is emphasized by St. Paul in the Second Reading from his letter to the Ephesians. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians lays out in many ways the spiritual journey on which we should travel. Paul is telling us we as Catholics and Christians need to walk — to live — in a different way than the world around us.
We tend to display to the world that we really are not that different at all. To have as our goal the respect and approval of the world around us is misguided. Recall from the First Reading that God met the needs of the Israelites but He did not do it in a way they expected. As Christians we must be prepared to break with the past. We do not just add the Lord to our old life. He needs to become our “new life.” That is what the Bread of Life discourse is all about. It renews us; it invigorates us; it strengthens us every time we receive it. It is not easy to see it that way or to feel that when we approach the Holy Eucharist, but that is very much what it is intended for. As Paul tells us in this reading from Ephesians, we need to “put away the old self of your (our) former life, and be renewed in the spirit of your (our) minds, and put on the new self.” It is this “new self” that recognizes the important role each of us plays as part of the Body of Christ.
The Gospel Reading from John tells of Jesus revealing that He is the Bread of Life. In terms of chronology, this happens shortly after Jesus fed the multitude. We note that the “feeding of the 5,000” occurred near Bethsaida (also worth noting that Bet (Beth) again means “house of” and “saida” means “fish.” What a coincidence! Jesus has just fed the multitude using a few loaves of bread and some fish, and Bethsaida is recorded as being the hometown of Sts. Andrew, Peter, James, John, and Philip, some of whom were fishermen. Bethsaida lies at the northern end of the Sea of Galilee, and not too far west of that is Capernaum, where our Gospel is set.
Many of the same people who were “fed” at the miracle of feeding the multitude sought Jesus out. They were still hungry, but not for food as we know it, but for the Word of God — and Jesus knows that. The Lord says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life.” In other words, for the “Bread of Life.”
When Jesus calls Himself the “Bread of Life,” He is indicating that He wants us to lift our minds, thoughts and hearts from earthly existence and to spiritual realities. Each of us needs to put our confidence in the Lord — not in material things. If we accept the Lord and believe and trust in Him, we, too, can satisfy our spiritual hunger.