18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s gospel reading connects the feeding or multiplication miracle with the Bread of Life discourse. In this discourse, Jesus teaches that he is the life-giving bread that God gives from heaven.
Here in this passage, according to one gospel commentary, Jesus prepares his listeners for this teaching in three ways: First, he instructs them that they need to elevate their minds above physical bread, which sustains earthly life, to heavenly bread, which gives eternal life, Second, Jesus establishes the discourse’s basic principle: people should work to obtain the bread that lasts for eternal life, which he provides. Third, Jesus talks about the work of God, which leads to faith in Jesus and the reception of the life-giving bread.
Allow me to elaborate on those three points and apply them…
First, like the crowd in today’s gospel narrative, we easily get stuck on the physical bread. We get so preoccupied with our physical needs and wants so much so that we ignore our deeper spiritual needs. We are tempted to get caught up looking for more material food. We are tempted to dwell only on our self-inflicted hunger for material things – money, wealth, and possessions. We are tempted to set aside our deepest huger – our hunger for the Bread of Life, our hunger for God. The Lord, however, is exhorting us to elevate our minds above physical food and material goods to the heavenly food, the Bread of Life.
Second, we must heed Jesus’ instruction: “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” Jesus is simply underlining the fact that the human heart has a hunger and a thirst that nothing on earth can satisfy. We hunger for a love that does not disappoint. We hunger for a word that does not fade away. We hunger for food that does not fail to satisfy. Jesus promises to nurture and satisfy us. It is a promise fulfilled in the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, the love of a tender God is offered to us in Word and Sacrament. In coming here, we declare that we need Jesus, the Bread of Life, to sustain us.
Third, we must do the work of God which leads to faith in Jesus and to the reception of the Bread of Life. To believe in Jesus takes hard work because it meansbecoming personally involved and completely committed to fulfilling, realizing, or making real the purpose of the wonderful design of God’s work of love. It takes hard work because it implies denying our desire for independence and false freedom, for self-reliance and self-sufficiency, and submit and entrust our lives to Jesus instead. It means turning away from sinfulness and selfishness, and embracing Jesus’ self-giving ways. It means letting go of our own wants and desires and following Jesus’ commands. It means doing God’s will over and above our own. That is, indeed, hard work!
Jesus offers himself to us as the Bread of Life –telling us, “Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” Through the Eucharist Jesus nourishes us – he is the source of our energy. In the Eucharist Jesus is truly, really, and substantially present. Through the Eucharist Jesus relishes us – adding flavor to life – a flavor that does not depend on any circumstances in life (ups or downs). Through the Eucharist Jesus perpetuates life. He gives us “the food that endures for eternal life.” He gives us immortality. Jesus, the Bread of life, our Eucharistic Lord, satisfies the real hungers and thirsts of our soul.
If we really believe that the bread and wine we offer become Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist, we must also allow ourselves to become like Christ. We must allow the Eucharist to be a way of life for us. We must allow it to empower us to give more of ourselves, to be selfless and to be other-oriented, to serve our sisters and brothers with humility, to generously share our time, talents, and resources. We must trust the Lord enough to take and bring his words into our homes, schools, and workplaces, into our social network and digital world, into the political arena and cultural stage.
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”