18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15
Psalm 78:3-4, 23-24, 25, 54 (24b)
Ephesians 4:17, 20-24
August 5, 2018
Last week we hear from the Old Testament of when Elisha fed 100 people with 20 loaves. This was a small miracle serving as a precursor to the huge miracle of Jesus feeding 5,000 people with 5 loaves and two fish. I spoke last week of how Jesus did this as a sign of God’s power at work in him and to draw the people to what was to come.
Today’s gospel passage happens the next day. The crowds are following Jesus. This is a good thing, but Jesus knows they are following because he filled their bellies with physical food rather than seeing the feeding as a sign. Still, they are following him. Jesus uses the opportunity to begin to move them from “food that perishes” to “the food that endures for eternal life.”
“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life.”” This is not the first time the Bible refers to God-given his people “bread”. Our first reading is the story of when, shortly after God freed them from slavery in Egypt, the Israelites in the desert “grumbled against Moses” because they had no food to eat.
Of course, God provided for their needs, raining down “bread from heaven,” giving them “their daily portion.” In the evening God gave them quail to eat and in the morning their “fill of bread.”
Today bread comes in many kinds. There is white, wheat, rye, pumpernickel,… the list could go on. Generally, we buy it in loaves that are already sliced at the store. We also have bread in the form of rolls. Maybe you have had fresh baked homemade bread. All of these are recognizable to us as bread.
None of these was what the Israelites found in the morning. What they saw “were fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground.” When they saw it they “asked one another, “What is this?” for they did not know what it was.” Moses had to tell them this was the bread that God gave them.
I think God gave them bread that looked different to help them realize this was not just ordinary bread but “bread from heaven.”
Going back to Jesus’ statement, “I am the bread of life,” while he begins this statement with “I am”, it is not a statement simply about who he is as what he does. Bread is necessary for life. Jesus gives us true life.
Jesus gives us life through the Eucharist we receive. The bread that we receive in the Eucharist is both like ordinary bread and yet different. It is like a lot of bread in its color. It’s different in that it has no yeast and so it hasn’t risen. The difference should help us realize that it is not simply physical food that we are partaking of. It is the bread of life.
We will hear more about this “bread of life” in the next three weeks. Before concluding for today, I just want to take one moment to go back to the first reading where the Lord speaks of giving them “their daily portion.” In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray “give us this day our daily bread.” We trust in Jesus to give us what we need each day as he feeds us with the “bread of life.”