Reflection for Sunday, Aug 2nd by Marc Caissy

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Bread that Matters NOW

Readings: Ex 16:2-4, 12-15; Eph 4:17, 20-24; Jn 6:24-35


While working on today’s refection, I learned something new.  In the Our Father, the Greek word translated as “daily” actually means “that matters now”.  In today’s 1st Reading, the bread that mattered then is manna, the “bread that rained from heaven”.  What is “manna” anyway?

It seems that when insects feed on a specific desert shrub, a secretion is produced.  It drops from the shrub’s leaves in white flakes called manna. Heat quickly melts these flakes, so they must be gathered early every morning.  They are then ground and baked into a sweet flat bread, enjoyed by bedouins to this day.

This Sunday’s psalm 78 celebrates God’s wonders in the Sinai: “Man ate the bread of angels, food he sent them in abundance” (v. 25).  From v. 17 on, though, in spite of God’s many instances of compassion and mercy, we read how the psalmist’s ancestors still failed to trust the Almighty.  Are we any different? We are reminded that even when we fail to trust the Creator, he persists in caring for us.  Patient as a father with an unruly child, he waits for us to gradually put on our baptismal gift.  Today’s 2nd Reading identifies it as “the new self, created in God’s likeness, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:22-24).

At the time of Jesus, it was believed that the messiah could and would make bread rain from heaven. Huge crowds had just witnessed the miracle of the loaves and fishes.  The next day, they asked Jesus, “Give us a sign that we can see and believe in you”. They wanted a sign, and Jesus gives them one, but not the one they expect.

That the carpenter from Nazareth might be a super-rabbi, or even a great prophet, is one thing. For the crowds surrounding Jesus, it was quite another to believe that he was the actual messiah.  Sixty odd years later, St. John would include a long section on the Bread of Life in his gospel.  Why?  To teach early Christians that Jesus was the One chosen to transmit God’s life to the newly baptized, and to us.  But who would trust such an extravagant claim without question?  If Jesus was the messiah, he should be able to repeat the miracle of the manna.

Jesus faced the same misunderstanding here as with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4: 14-25).  Jesus offered her water “that would become in her a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”  “Sir, she asked, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water”. Similarly, the crowds in today’s Gospel misunderstand the nature of the bread Jesus offers.  They ask him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

The bread that is offered is not a thing, it is the Beloved Son through whom Life reaches us.  “I AM, says Jesus, using the name God gave to Moses in the burning bush, I AM the BREAD OF LIFE”…

– because the Father’s dream is to share his Life not only with Israel but with everyone who puts his/her trust in Him!

– because God longs for closeness, for communion, with those who hunger for His Presence in them!

– because the Bread Jesus gives creates community.   Church is born, survives and thrives, in US!

Gandhi once said:  “There are people so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread”.  Hundreds of millions of them!  Because social justice also matters, we are commanded to relieve their hunger. But then, what about that other hunger, the one we seldom acknowledge?  Is our spiritual hunger deep enough to break the unending cycle of hunger for material things?  Are we hungry enough for a relationship with the Lord to recognize his Presence in the Bread that matters, the Bread of Life?  THIS is God’s magnificent dream for humanity: he offers his beloved Son as the ultimate spiritual food.  THIS is what is asked of us: to trust and believe!

Our throw-away society dearly wants to convince us that happiness lies in the unending satisfaction of a multitude of superfluous needs.  So much energy, so much talent wasted on a frantic race that only promotes greed, envy and mindless competition.  In this context, beyond the satisfaction of legitimate needs, how can we ignore those questions that burden our hearts:

– What could nourish and renew my innermost self?

– What can bring me deep and lasting happiness?

– What is that intense longing nibbling at the edge of my consciousness?

In Bolivia, last month, pope Francis denounced the “unfettered pursuit of money and its anonymous influence through corporations, loan agencies, austerity measures, etc”.  In his homily, Francis attributed these words to Jesus: “It is not necessary to exclude them (the poor, the exploited, the homeless).  Give them something to eat.”  Something that will satisfy hungry mouths, definitely, BUT famished hearts as well.  Today’s Gospel is only the beginning of St. John’s teaching on the Bread that matters now.  The next four Sundays will deepen our introduction into the mystery of the Eucharistic Christ, through whom, with whom and in whom we too become bread, broken and shared with the multitudes, and with each other.