Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 12, 2018)
Jesus explained to them: “I myself am the bread of life. No one who comes to me shall ever be hungry, no one who believes in me shall ever thirst.”
Today is week 3 of the 5 weeks dedicated to john’s sixth chapter on the bread of life.
The first reading from 1 Kings tells of Elijah’s eating bread, a hearth cake. It also tells us that this was quite the “power bar.” After eating two of them, we read that he walked for 40 days and 40 nights to Mt. Horeb where he re-examined his fear-ridden life, accepted once more the word of God and renews his trust in God.
The Hebrew bible has a tradition of knowledge being called the bread of the spirit. In Deuteronomy, we read a famous and familiar quote: “Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the Lord. [8:3]
In John 6 we read of two different senses of Jesus’ speaking of himself as the bread of life. John follows a clear outline. He first quotes Jesus claim: “I am the bread of life.” Next, there is murmuring from the Jews. Finally, there is Jesus’ explanation of his saying, “I am the bread of life.” Today’s Gospel addresses the first sense in which Jesus uses the phrase: “I am the bread of life.”
Key to understanding the two parallel passages are the verbs that Jesus uses when he speaks about the “bread.” Let’s review today’s reading:
“No one comes to me shall ever be hungry, no one who believes in me shall ever thirst.” It is written in the prophets: God shall teach them all. Everyone who listens to my father and learns from him comes to me…this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.
Do you see how these verses correspond to the quote from Deuteronomy? “Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the lord? We heard the verb - phrases: believes – taught by God – listens to my father – learns from him - eat[s] [this bread].
Jesus is proclaiming in today’s passage that he is “the bread of life” in the sense that he is food for the mind / heart. He gives us “something to chew on.” He is sapiential food. He is wisdom for those who listen to him, to those who accept him as the center of their lives. This food provides the one who accepts him with a life that is not at mere subsistence level, not simple existing. Bread is seen as something that is necessary for living a life that is fully alive. This bread of life provides an answer to the question of what living is for.
We can never underestimate the intelligence and the ingenuity of John the author. It is well accepted that this section of john 6 was calculated to express what we call “the liturgy of the word” in the celebration of Eucharist. It is at this time of our celebration that we turn our attention to a theme that is present in each Sunday celebration of Eucharist.
We first hear a connection to the Hebrew bible; we then usually hear a passage from the apostle, Paul; the final reading is from one of the four gospels. When we listen carefully each week, we hear the great themes from scripture in carefully chosen seasons of the year. These give us the history of salvation, the interventions of our god in the lives of those who have gone before us. During the season of Easter, the first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles that tells us the formative experiences of the early Christian church.
This is bread that thoroughly nourishes us. We realize that our concerns, our worries, our burdens, our joys are not unique to us. We hear of others who walked before us and experienced similar times. In a sense, these people are brought into ours lives in our day. We digest the bread of life and are eternally nourished on our journey.