This Sunday we celebrate the Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time. The first and last readings this week utilize the symbolism of bread to tell us that God wants to feed us and to care for us on the many levels of our existence. God has reached out to do this through His Son Jesus, the Christ. Paul, in the second reading, reminds us that Christianity is about a person; Jesus is at the center. When we accept Him we also accept all the values that He stands for. Christianity is not primarily about doctrine; it is first and foremost a person-to-person relationship with Jesus. This Sunday, I ask myself how serious am I about this relationship? How completely have I put on Christ so that I can be the new me that Christ calls me to be? Do I see the signs in Christ’s actions in my life or am I like the crowd in the Gospel that can’t see past the loaves?
First Reading: Exodus 16: 2-4, 12-15
2 Here in the desert the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “Would that we had died at the LORD’S hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!”
4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will now rain down bread from heaven for you. Each day the people are to go out and gather their daily portion; thus will I test them, to see whether they follow my instructions or not.
12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them: In the evening twilight you shall eat flesh, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread, so that you may know that I, the LORD, am your God.”
13 In the evening quail came up and covered the camp. In the morning a dew lay all about the camp, 14 and when the dew evaporated, there on the surface of the desert were fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground. 15 On seeing it, the Israelites asked one another, “What is this?” for they did not know what it was. But Moses told them, “This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat.
NOTES on First Reading:
* 16:2-36 This account focuses on the phenomenon of the manna and the quail as responses of God to the needs of His people and on the responses of the people to the provision given them by God. Most of this section is from the hand of the Priestly writer who is interested in the “spiritual” significance of the events. Verses 17-21 stress both that the provision is adequate but also new each day and vv 22-26 connect the manna and the Sabbath.
It is likely that originally this story sprang from the tradition of God’s gracious care of His people in the desert. At the arrival of God’s Glory in v 10-11 Yahweh assures the people that their needs will be met instead of meting out punishment for their rebellion of vv. 2 and 7. See Ps 105:40.
During and after the Exile the Priestly (P) writers were searching for an explanation of the disaster that had occurred and stressed the rebellion theme by expressing it as a death wish in v 3. At this level the real problem and rebellion is not in hunger pangs but in theological despair. The people are refusing to acknowledge that God can do what He sets out to do. The rejection of what God has already done is what Moses and Aaron are addressing in v 6.
*16:4 Bread from heaven: as a gift from God, the manna is said to come down from the sky. Psalm 78:25; Wisdom 16:20. Perhaps it was similar to a natural substance that is still found in small quantities on the Sinai peninsula ( a secretion of two insects that live on the tamarisk tree), but here it is, at least in part, clearly intended to be taken as miraculous. Our Lord referred to the manna as a type of the Blessed Eucharist. John 6:32, 49-52.
* 16:6-8 There is some confusion here. V 6 & 7 are repeated in v 8 & 12. Vv 6 &7 are ominous and probably indicate that at one time this story included the death of some of the people. See Num 11:31-34.
* 16:15 The ancient versions render the original “man hu” as “What is this”. The phrase is understood as a popular etymology of the Hebrew word “manna”; some read it, “This is manna.”
Second Reading: Ephesians 4: 17, 20-24
17 So I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; [18 darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance, because of their hardness of heart,19 they have become callous and have handed themselves over to licentiousness for the practice of every kind of impurity to excess.] 20 That is not how you learned Christ, 21 assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus, 22 that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.
NOTES on Second Reading:
* 4:17 This verse begins a section ending at 5:20 that contrasts the ungodly ways of the Gentiles to the way of life implied by membership in the Body of Christ. The admonitions are generally traditional and are usually stated as imperatives to avoid certain behaviors and actions. Verses 17-19 present a fairly common Jewish view of pagan morals and life.
* 4:18-19 Verses 18-19 are left out of the reading. I include them here only for completeness since they are short.
* 4:20 This verse marks the shift from the description of the ways of the Gentiles to the way of life of a follower of Jesus.
* 4:22-24 Paul uses baptismal language to exhort the reader to live as would be fitting to the new humanity that is found in the believer. The words translated as “new self” and “old self” literally mean “old man” and “new man”. This language is also found in Gal 3:27; Rom 13:14; Col 3:10 Similar language is also found in the Old Testament (Job 29:14; Isa 59: 17)
Gospel Reading: John 6: 24-35
24 When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 25 And when they found him across the sea they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 26 Jesus answered them and said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. 27 Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.” 28 So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” 30 So they said to him, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? 31 Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written:
‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”
32 So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34 So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.
NOTES on Gospel Reading:
* 6:25 The crowd’s question is ignored and never addressed. The geography as indicated by verses 24 and 25 is a bit baffling. Capernaum is not across the sea but on the north shore just a bit west of Tiberias. This may indicate a lack of geographical familiarity with the area. Some have suggested that the link between Tiberias and the feeding miracle (6:24) was the result of later editing rather than part of the original story.
* 6:26 Jesus draws a distinction between seeing signs and simply experiencing the miracle. While the crowd saw the miracle they failed to recognize the sign.
* 6:27 Here Jesus seems to be reminding us of His statement about “living water” and looking forward to His statement about Himself as “bread of life”(4:14, 6:35). In both images, the key to receiving the gift of Jesus is faith that He is the one sent from God. This would indicate that this verse, although it has eucharistic undertones is not primarily referring to the Holy Eucharist but to Jesus’ word of revelation or to Jesus, Himself, as expressed at the end of the verse: “For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.” This also echoes verse 3:33,which says, in the words of the Revised Standard Version(RSV): “he who receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true.” John emphasizes that it is God who affirms the role of Jesus.
* 6:28-29 The “works of God” may refer to what God does and requires. Jesus speaks of Himself as “doing the works of the One Who sent Him” (9:4). In v 29, Jesus says that only one “work” is needed and that is believing in the One sent by God.
* 6:30-31 The request from the crowd for a sign seems to indicate that they understand that Jesus is making a claim for Himself. At the same time, verse 30 reminds the reader that Jesus has just said, in verse 26, that they did not see the sign even though they ate the loaves. The crowd challenges Jesus by referring to Exodus 16:4-5 although John’s citation actually combines Exodus 16:4-5, Psalm 78:24.
Later Jewish writings indicate that there was an expectation that manna would again be provided in the eschatological age. Thus the people may have thought that the miracle of the loaves was a prelude to a greater event in which they expected that Jesus would be the new provider of manna as Moses was in the old days of the ancestors.
* 6:32 Jesus restates and corrects the crowd’s statement in three important respects: not Moses, but “My Father,” not gave, but “gives,” not manna but the “true bread (alethinos) from heaven.”
Jesus then (verse 33) defines this true bread from heaven as: “that which (or he who) comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (See also 3:15-16, 5:24).
*6:34-35 Here the crowd’s request parallels the request of the Samaritan woman (4:14) and it is met with the same affirmation that looks back to the image of the water as well as engaging the present image of bread: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” Note the shift from “bread from heaven” to “bread of God” and finally to “bread of life”. </font