Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
For the next three weeks our gospel reading will be taken from chapter six of John’s gospel. Most of this chapter is the bread of life discourse. It began last week with the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and will end with many disciples ceasing to follow Jesus because his teachings were too hard to follow. In between these two events is sandwiched Jesus’s teaching of him as the “bread of that came down from heaven” and him being the “bread of life.” Since we have three weeks to understand every aspect of this teaching, I would like to explore the “Bread of Life Discourse” in some detail. I would like to keep the more strictly Eucharistic themes for the coming weeks. Today, I want to reflect on the more unconventional interpretations Jesus teaching on the bread of life.
Here is the question I am trying to reflect on today. Jesus says, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst." On a purely physical level, we know that even though we eat the body and drink the blood of the son of man, we still feel hungry and we still thirst, and we will still die. So how can we understand these words of Jesus?
1. "Do Not Work for Food that Perishes." In today’s gospel passage, Jesus says, “ do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life….” What does Jesus mean by that? To understand this perhaps we need to look at other places where Jesus talks about food and spirituality. Think for example of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. When the devil came to Jesus and asked Jesus to change stone into bread, Jesus answered, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). And again, in the story of the Samaritan woman when the disciples returned with food and urged Jesus to eat, he said, “(Jn 4:32).
Food and water are among the most basic needs of human beings. One of the reasons we educate ourselves and find gainful employment is to provide for our basic needs and the needs of our family. Think about the time, the energy and resources we invest in providing for our basic needs. In this context, I think Christ is telling us that as eager we are to provide for our needs, we must be more eager to discern and accomplish God’s will. A person may do well in providing for the basic need of the family, but if the same person has lived an undiscerned life and goes back to God without fulfilling the purpose for which God created him or her, what use would that be? In this case, Jesus is saying that the human spirit will continue to be hunger and thirst. Today. Jesus is cautioning us against sacrificing eternity by putting all our time, energy and resources into securing our earthy life.
2. Hunger is Real. I want to pay attention to what hunger can do to people. The first reading and the second reading seem to suggest that the spiritual is superior to the carnal. Jesus clearly instructs the crowds “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life.” Yet, it must not lead us underestimate the basic human need for food. I want to offer a new way to think about Jesus’ words. In the desert, the Israelites were willing to trade food for slavery. I think this tells us of the desperation that hunger can bring. The body can only take so much hunger, after which our instinct for survival can take over. Moreover, the human body carries in it the life and spirit of God. The human body is not made to hunger and starve but to be nurtured and nourished. After all, we believe in the resurrection of the body. We could understand Jesus’ words, “whoever comes to me will never hunger and thirst,” to mean that those who believe in him will not allow those around them to hunger and thirst both spiritually and physically. After all, as we heard in last week’s readings, after teaching the crowds, he did not just dismiss them. Rather, he recognized that they were hungry and fed them.
We too, then, must do what Jesus did. Who are the hungry of our world? And I do not mean only spiritually; I mean those mothers who become desperate because they cannot bear to see their hungry children; or parents who see their children die of starvation; or those who are deprived of food because of famine, corruption or the cycle of poverty. We must do what Jesus did. That is what a Christian is called to. That is the calling of a disciple.
3. Hunger of the Mind. Paul in today’s second reading offers us yet another interpretation of the meaning of hunger and thirst. Paul calls it the “futility of the mind.” Paul separates those who believe in Christ and the rest of the world by that criterion. He says, “You must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; that is not how you learned Christ…” Eph 4:17). We find an example of this in today’s gospel reading. Even after Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish, there were people who said to him, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do?” How terrible it would be if children evaluated their parents for their mighty deeds; or, if parents evaluated their children by how much they earn; or, if husband and wives evaluated their spouse by their investments. This is futility of the mind - to say to God, “What can you do?” Futility of the mind is to let the human mind become greater than God. Futility of the mind is also a kind of hunger and thirst. Rather, simple, humble, radical faith means simply this: “… that you believe in the One God sent.” (Jn 6:29) It means we believe in God for who God is than for what God can do for us.
Today, we abandon the futility of our minds and allow God to be God and believe in God as God.
As we come for communion today, let us remember that this is the "Bread of Life" we hold in our hands. May we work for the food that endures to eternal life. May it take us to eternity.
- Fr. Satish Joseph