5th August. 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Exod 16:2-4, 12-15. God feeds the Israelites in the desert by sending them manna and quails. This became the classic example of Yahweh’s care for his people.
Eph 4:17, 20-24. Christians should turn aside from an aimless, pagan style of life and to live in a spirit of goodness, holiness, and truth.
Jn 6:24-35. Jesus is the true bread from heaven, nourishing his people with a life that will never end.
One of the great masterpieces of fiction was the satire about Don Quixote, by the Spanish writer Cervantes. In it we read how the absurdly chivalrous hero, followed by his squire Sancho Panza, set out to find adventure, to perform deeds of bravery and win the admiration of all those around him. Quixote had such an open mind in this quest that he decided to go wherever his horse Rosinante would lead him. But the horse, once given free rein, naturally returned to the place it knew best, its own stable. Too often perhaps, we find ourselves going the same way, doing the same thing, returning to the same sinful habits again and again, drifting aimlessly, or lured on by the novelty of sensationalism, or even carried away by the latest fashion in religion.
St Paul hit out against aimless living. “I want to urge you in the name of the Lord,” he says, “not to go on living the aimless kind of life that pagans live.” In paganism, human weakness led to countless moral failures, and to indecency of every kind, often culminating in permanent spiritual collapse. But, says Paul, “if we live by the truth and in love, we shall grow in all ways into Christ, who is the head by whom the whole body is fitted and joined together, until it has built itself up, in love” (4:15f). In other words, Christ must be felt as a living influence in the lives of all his true followers.
On the other hand, if people concern themselves only with immediate pleasure and trivial things, their understanding will be darkened, and, worst of all, their hearts will shrivel and become insensitive to real values. This lapsing into sin will be gradual and almost imperceptible; for we can say for certain that nobody becomes a sinner all at once. When people first become aware in their conscience that they have fallen into sin, they regard the action which led to this with horror and regret. But if they ignore conscience, if they continue with their sinful ways there will inevitably come a time when they will lose all sense of wrongdoing, when they will commit sin without any feeling of guilt whatsoever. At that stage the conscience will have become petrified, a dead thing incapable of discerning right from wrong.
The people who followed Jesus along the lake shore were solely concerned with satisfying their bodily needs. They were so enthusiastic about this sudden abundance of food that they wanted to make Jesus a king. They were totally blind to the spiritual content of the miracle, and the message Jesus wanted them to draw from it. “Do not work for food that cannot last,” Jesus warned them, “but work for food that endures to eternal life, the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you.”
With us too, it can happen that we are willing to follow Christ – but only on our own terms, namely, that he should solve our immediate problems, and grant us the requests we make of him. If we feel he has let us down, we may want to turn our backs on him. But never on such conditions will Christ draw near to us. We must seek our Lord for himself, and not for what we can get from him. The bread come down from heaven referred to by Jesus is the Blessed Eucharist, and the proper reception of this requires that we open ourselves to God’s love which comes to us in the person of Jesus. Furthermore it demands of us acceptance of others as well. Unlike those who abandoned Jesus when no more bread was forthcoming, we must persevere in trying to be his faithful followers.
Divine help which always is there for the asking. “Work for your salvation in fear and trembling,” the New Testament urges us, and then goes on, “It is God who gives you both the will and the ability to act, and so achieve his own purpose” (Phil 2:12f). We could not even begin to seek God, if he had not already found us.
Hunger for God
History repeats itself. At least, certain historical events, though widely separated in time, often have features strikingly similar. Historians attribute the proximate cause of the French Revolution to the chronic bread-shortage in Paris. What began as a simple demand for bread later developed into a full-scale revolution for liberty, equality and fraternity. Almost twenty five years ago, back in the late 1980s another world-shaking revolution happened on the other side of Europe. The first inkling of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of Russia’s Communist empire was in the lengthening queues to buy bread. Those endless bread queues changed to mass rallies, leading to a radical regime change. The Soviet regime, like the French monarchy, had ignored the dictum coined by the Romans two thousand years earlier: To keep the people happy, “give them bread and entertainment.”
When the Berlin Wall fell, crowds of East Germans poured through it to the West to share in the Promised Land on the other side. But the early euphoria was soon mixed with a bitter-sweet longing for some of what had been left behind. Some of the more discerning were deeply disillusioned at what they found in the West. The shops were full alright and so were the people. But for those who could see beyond the consumerism, there were long lines of soul-famished people. The well-upholstered West Berliners, who dined so well, were often just as hungry as their killer cousins from the East. It may not be the hunger which provokes revolutions but it is just as lethal to individuals.
There is a great hunger today in the West, a hunger for God and his life-giving influence in our lives. We should be slow to gloat over the demise of atheistic communism, because the Christian West is ailing too, less spectacularly, perhaps, but no less seriously. With our situation of declining church attendances and a disappearing priesthood, our needs are urgent. “I am the bread of life,” Christ tells us as he told the hungry crowd, “Those who come to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
First Reading: Book of Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15
The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.
“I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’
In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.
Second Reading: Epistle to the Ephesians 4:17, 20-24
Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.
That is not the way you learned Christ! For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Gospel: John 6:24-35
So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”
Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. or it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.