05Aug 05 August. 18th Sunday

1st Reading: Exodus (16:2-4, 12-15)

God feeds the Israelites in the desert by sending them manna and quails

The whole congregation of Israel 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.

Responsorial (Ps 78)

R./: The Lord gave them bread from heaven

What we have heard and know,
and what our fathers have declared to us,
we will declare to the generation to come
the glorious deeds of the Lord and his strength
and the wonders that he wrought. (R./)

He commanded the skies above
and opened the doors of heaven;
he rained manna upon them for food
and gave them heavenly bread. (R./)

Man ate the bread of angels,
food he sent them in abundance.
And he brought them to his holy land,
to the mountains his right hand had won. (R./)

2nd Reading: Ephesians (4:17, 20-24)

Leave aside your former pagan lifestyle, and seek goodness and truth

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, 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)

Jesus is the true bread from heaven, offering eternal life

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, “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.

BIBLE

Today’s Gospel

The Gospel of John often works on two levels, the material and the spiritual. At the spiritual level, Jesus himself is the centre of each episode in John 6. For instance, in today’s verses, the climax is “I am the bread of life.” The Gospel of John makes use of everything “things”, such as light, birth, water, bread, a wedding feast. All of these can be read at the level of common sense or at the level of our own desires. The Fourth Gospel wants us to go deeper every time. (Kieran O’Mahony. For his exegetical notes on the text, click here.)

FOOD OF ETERNAL LIFE

[Jose Antonio Pagola]

Why does Jesus hold such interest after twenty centuries? What can we expect of him? What can he give to support men and women of our time? Can he solve the problems of today’s world? The Gospel of John speaks of a very interesting dialogue that Jesus holds with a crowd on the shores of Lake Galilee. They have shared a surprising and free meal with Jesus on the day before. All had eaten until their fill; so how would they just allow him to walk away? What they wanted was for Jesus to repeat this action and again feed them for free into the future.

Jesus upsets them with an unexpected proposal: “Do not work for food that goes bad, but work for food that endures for eternal life.” But how would we not be worried about our daily bread? Bread is indispensable for life. We need it and ought to work so that no one ever lacks it. Jesus knows that. Bread is number one. Without eating we can’t subsist. That’s why he’s so worried about the hungry and the beggars, who don’t receive from the rich even the crumbs that fall from their tables. That’s why he speaks ill of the foolish landowners who store up grain without thinking of the poor. That’s why he teaches his followers to ask the Father every day for bread for all God’s children.

He wants to awaken in them, and in us, a different kind of hunger. He speaks to them of the bread that doesn’t only satisfy hunger for one day, but can satisfy the hunger and thirst for life that exists in the human heart. We must never forget it. Within us is a hunger for justice for all people, a hunger for freedom, peace, truth. Jesus presents himself as that Bread that comes to us from the Father not to fill us with food, but “to give life to the world.”

This Bread that comes down from God “gives life eternal.” The food we eat each day keeps us alive for years, but comes the time when that food can’t defend us from death. It’s useless to keep on eating. It can’t give us a life that’s greater than death. Jesus offers himself as “bread of eternal life.” Each one of us needs to decide how we want to live and how we want to die. But those who call ourselves followers of Jesus need to know that to believe in Christ is to nourish an unprecedented power in us, to begin to live in a way that doesn’t end in our death. Simply speaking, to follow Jesus is to enter into the mystery of death, sustained by his resurrecting power.

Those people of Capernaum cried out from the depths of their hearts: “Sir, give us that bread always.” With our wavering faith, we sometimes don’t dare to ask for such a thing. Perhaps we only worry about the food for each day. And sometimes just for ourselves alone.


Purposeful living

In his classic satire Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes describes the chivalrous Don Quixote setting out to perform absurddeeds of heroism to win the admiration of Spanish ladies. Seeking new adventures, Quixote decides to go wherever his horse Rosinante would lead him. But when given free rein, the horse naturally returned to the place it knew best, its own stable. We might find ourselves going the same way, doing the same thing, returning to the same haunts again and again, telling the same set of stories we’ve told for years . . . or perhaps itching to try out some new fad or sensation, lured by the latest fashions.

Aimless living will lead us exactly nowhere, says St Paul. He urges his Christians, “not to go on living the aimless kind of life that pagans live.” The lack of moral direction in paganism has led to faults and moral indecency of every kind, even to spiritual ruin. His alternative is that we should “grow in all ways into Christ, who is the head by whom the whole body is joined together” (4:15f). On the other hand, if we are engrossed with trivia and pleasure-seeking, our understanding is diminished, and our hearts become insensitive to real values. Abandoning our ideals can be gradual and barely noticeable, for nobody becomes decadent all at once. When first we realise that we are developing bad habits, we may feel some mild regret about it. But if we continue to ignore conscience and go our merry way, the unused conscience falls asleep, and we can sin without any feeling of guilt, hardly capable of knowing right from wrong.

The people gathered around Jesus along the lakeshore focused their attention only on the physical miracle he had worked. They were so impressed by whatever he did to multiply the loaves and fishes that they wanted to make him their king. They were blind to the meaning of the miracle and the spiritual message Jesus wanted to teach through it. “Do not work for food that cannot last,” he warned, “but for food that lasts to eternal life.” What about ourselves? Are we are willing to follow Jesus, but only on our own terms? Are we like the fickle crowd who just as quickly turned away from him. We must stay close to Christ to learn from him, on his terms rather than our own. Then he becomes the bread from heaven by which we are nourished in God’s love, and shaped for eternity. Unlike those who abandoned him when miracles seemed to cease, we need to persevere and stay near to him.

Food that lasts

“What is it that can last?” Many things produced today are not made to last. We wonder how many of the buildings constructed in recent years in the cities will still be there in three hundred years time. Much of what we buy on the domestic level, like home furniture, does not seem to last very long either. The very clothes we wear have a shorter life span compared to a generation or two ago. We live in a throwaway culture, even if we always retain the capacity to create something of enduring value. On our journey through life we tend to seek out what might be of lasting value because we sense that it can enrich us and make us better human beings. Having found something of real value we often return to it, whether it is a book, a poem, a piece of music, a painting or a building. What we really value are not so much objects or things but people. A good friend is worth more to us than a good book, or a good piece of music, or a good painting. There is nothing more valuable to parents than their children. For those who are in love, their treasure is the beloved. Everything else is on a much lesser scale of value. We want the people we value to last forever, which is why the death or the loss of a loved one is such a devastating experience.

In today’s gospel  the crowds of Jesus fed in the wilderness come back, looking for him, wanting more of this bread he had shared. Jesus takes the opportunity to point them towards more enduring. His advice is, ‘do not work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal life.’ The horizon of Jesus  is not the mere horizon of this world but that of eternity. When he speaks of what truly lasts he means what it is that lasts into eternity. For Jesus what is of lasting value is not just what is remembered for generations into the future, but what will continue to have value in eternity. It is hard to keep that horizon of eternity before us, especially in these times when our universe seems so all absorbing. Yet the horizon of Jesus is the horizon of eternity. Certainly he takes this earthly life very seriously; he has invested himself in showing us how to live in this life, by his teaching, his way, relating to others. He gave himself over to meeting the basic needs of those he met. He healed the sick; he comforted the bereaved; the fed the hungry; he befriended the lonely. He told us to do the same and declared that what we do for others we do for him. Yet, all the time the backdrop was an eternal horizon. In living in this way, we are preparing ourselves to live forever. Those who live by the values of the kingdom of God will inherit the kingdom of God.

When Jesus called himself the “way” it is the way to live under God’s influence; he shows us how to live our life as the way to eternal life. His message is about what endures not just into successive generations but into eternity. Since human beings were created by God to live forever, Jesus came to show the way to that eternal life and to help us enter it. In a great metaphor, he speaks of himself as the bread of life who feeds us into eternity. If we stay with him our deepest hunger and thirst will be satisfied – and fully in the next life. When we wonder about what really lasts, we should think first of Jesus. He is the gateway to enduring life, for ourselves and for all we love and value.


Machtnamh: Lón na beatha síoraí (The food of eternal life)

Na daoine a bhailíodh timpeall ar Íosa ar imeall an locha níor cuireadar suim in aon rud ach ach sa mhíorúilt a tharla os comhair a súl. Bhí siad chomh sásta leis an méid a rinne sé leis na bollóga agus na h’éisg gur theastaigh uathu rí a dhéanamh de. Bhí siad dall ar bhrí na miorúilte agus an ceacht spioradálta a bhí Íosa ag iarraidh a mhúineadh dóibh. “Ná bí ag saothrú ar son bia nach maireann,”, “ach le lorgaígí an lón síorraí” Cad mar gheall orainn féin? An bhfuil muid sásta Íosa a leanúint, ach amháin ar ár dtéarmaí féin amháin? An bhfuilimíd cosúil leis an slua guagach a d’éirigh agus a d’imigh leo abhaile. Ní mór dúinn fanacht i n’gar do Chríost le foghlaim uaidh, cluas le héisteacht a dá bhfuil á rá aige seachas aird a thabhairt ar ár dtuairmí féin. Ansan i sea a thagann an lón síorraí a chothaíonn grá Dé, agus a leagann múnla síorraí orainn. Ní mór dúinn fanacht dílis dó nuaur a thagann trá ar na míorúiltí, murab ionann agus iad siúd a thréig é.

2 Responses

  1. Brian Fahy

    Energy for life

    Robyn is a nurse and a very feisty young lady. She tells you straight and she told her patient straight. The man had been feeling ill lately when Robyn questioned him closely. Sir, she said, you are undernourished. You are not eating enough. She then proceeded to tell the man about the need for food, about carbohydrates and proteins and energy. If you feel faint, she told him, it is because you need food inside you!

    Most people today are pretty clued in about food, and medical science has greatly improved our understanding of the various elements in food, but our earliest ancestors knew from experience that hunger demands food, and weakness needs to find sources of energy. We cannot live without food and we certainly cannot live without water.

    We also cannot live well without spiritual food, without the word of God, without the good words that uplift our spirits to meet the day. People tune out when they hear this and in doing so they turn off the very source of their happiness and joy. Consider all the words that are spoken to you each day. How many bring you down! How few lift you up!

    Every word spoken is a food source for the soul. The world we live in spews out poisonous food every day in the form of bad news and negative arguments and human strife. All this stuff de-energises us. When we feel ill especially we have no energy for listening to the news of this world. Absorbing news, bad news, takes its toll on our spirit.

    Radio 4 in the UK has a slot called ‘Thought for the day’ in the middle of its morning news programme. In the midst of all the ‘garbage’ that the programme delivers – the weary world of bad news – this reflection moment is always attuned to lifting the spirit and encouraging the heart.

    The Israelites in the desert needed food and manna was provided. In our own journey through life and its desert places we also need spiritual food every day to give us the energy for living a good and holy and positive life, from childhood into old age. That food is every good word that is spoken to you and most of all the words that come from the Lord.

    You need food inside you! Listen to Robyn.

  2. Pat Rogers

    Thanks Brian. Very useful and image-rich reflection.

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