Year B: Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst

John 6: 24-35

When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. And when they found him across the sea they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 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. 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.” So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” So they said to him, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written:He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” 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. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

So 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 hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In this reading Jesus is contrasting symbolic and temporary physical nourishment with the reality of eternal spiritual food. How would you define “spiritual growth” and how do you know if you are growing spiritually? What tells you this is happening?
  2. The personhood of Jesus is the “true bread from heaven”. How does this reality impact your understanding of being in a spiritual relationship with Jesus through prayer?
  3. Why do you think faith is necessary to receive the gifts that God wants to give us?
  4. Do you notice yourself letting go of the need for proof “signs and wonders” from God as your faith deepens with time? Explain why or why not.
  5. “What you focus on becomes your reality” (Gautama Buddha) How does this reflection by Fr. Marsh help you to look at the kind of “ bread” you focus on and consume in the day to day of life right now? What do you see?

Biblical Context

John 6:24-35
Mary M. McGlone CSJ

Typical of John’s Gospel, when the people asked Jesus a question, he responded to what they were really thinking but not saying (John 2:25). As Spanish theologian Juan Mateos explains in El Evangelio de Juan, these people who had sought and found Jesus “had been the beneficiaries of the love of God expressed through Jesus and … a child, but they only remember the satisfaction of their hunger.” The child had given them an example of unstinting generosity and they came looking for Jesus, seeking food and oblivious to the signs.

Jesus’ invitation that they work for the food that endures for eternal life apparently got through to them because they moved from seeking Jesus as the source of bread to asking how they could do the works of God. With that, we get a Johannine twist. Jesus dropped their plural noun “works” to offer them a singular focus. He wasn’t teaching about laws or cultic practices or even the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Instead, as he had when he gave them the bread, Jesus was inviting them into communion of being with himself and the Father. If they wanted to do the work of God, the only requirement was to accept what God was doing in their midst. Jesus was doing God’s own work on their behalf. All they needed to do was believe in the one God sent them (John 3:16).

In response, the crowd fell back into their desire for incontrovertible proof and asked for a sign like their fathers had seen. As good Jews, they cherished the fact that they stood in continuity with their ancestors. They identified with the slaves who allowed Moses to lead them out of Egypt; they were proud descendants of the people first nourished by God’s manna. Jesus challenged them to take those memories to a deeper level, not only to remember what God did for their legendary ancestors, but to see God’s action in the present. Instead of speaking of Moses, their fathers and historical miracles, Jesus challenged them to recognize his Father’s offer of true life to them in the present.

We might imagine Jesus and the people in this scene as involved in a delicate dance. The people are poised between faith in God’s presence to them in the moment and the agnosticism of believing in the past and future, while discounting the potential and power of the present. If only their ancestors could have told them about naming that miraculous bread and how long it took before “Manna?” became a word that made them think of blessing rather than desperation.

The people who sought Jesus out seemed to have forgotten that the bread they had shared the day before came as a donation from a child who gave Jesus five loaves and two fish. On one hand it was very little, on the other it was everything he had. That was what allowed it to become the bread of life.

We share the challenge faced by the people who sought Jesus after eating the bread that nourished the multitude. Jesus offered his people the bread of life, but like their ancestors, they kept focusing on “Manna?” Looking so hard for miracles, they missed what was right before their eyes.

God’s providence is all-around us. We don’t have to look far to find reflections of the child who gave everything he had so that Jesus could share it with the hungry. How often do we remain oblivious to simple signs of the reign of God in our midst while pining for miracles and saints whose holiness shines irrefutably in the public square?  The work God gives us is to realize that our eyes can perceive God’s presence in simple ways. Faith has no need of miraculous coercion.

The Bread We Eat

John 6:24-35
Fr. Michael K. Marsh

We live as hungry people in a hungry world. Everyone is looking for something that will sustain and nourish life, something that will feed and energize, something that will fill and satisfy. Everyone is looking for bread. The problem is not that we are hungry, but the kind of bread we eat.

Think about the varieties of bread being eaten in our lives and in the world today. King David is surely not the only one to have eaten the bread of betrayal, adultery or murde. In Syria both sides are eating the bread of violence and war. Republicans and Democrats share the bread of negativity, hostility, and name-calling. In the Chik-fil-A debacle both sides are eating the bread that objectifies and depersonalizes another human being. Many of us eat the bread of having to be right and get our way. We eat the bread of hurt feelings and resentment. Sometimes we eat the bread of loneliness, fear, and isolation. There are times we eat the bread of sorrow or guilt. Other times we eat the bread of power and control. Sometimes we eat the bread of revenge or one-upmanship. We eat all kinds of bread. The bread we eat reveals something about the nature of our appetites.

The world is full of bread and yet far too many live hungry, empty, and searching. That says something about our appetites and the bread we have eaten. It’s a sure sign that the bread we have eaten cannot give real life. It is perishable bread that nourishes only a perishable life. It leaves us wanting only more of the same.

Not all bread sustains and grows life. Not all bread is nutritious. If you want to know the nutritional value of the bread, you have to look beyond the bread. Where did it come from? What are its ingredients?

That’s what Jesus is teaching in today’s gospel. The people have shown up hungry. Just yesterday Jesus fed 5000 of them with five loaves and two fish. Today they show up and their first question is, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”

They do not marvel at yesterday’s miracle, give thanks for God’s generosity, or even wonder who this rabbi is. It sounds to me like they are worried they might have missed the next meal, that Jesus started without them, and they are too late. They saw no sign, no miracle, in yesterday’s feeding. They saw nothing more than fish and bread. They either refused or were unable to see beyond the fish and bread. They are interested only in their own appetites and Jesus knows it.

“Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves,” he says to them. The people are concerned for their bellies. Jesus is concerned for their lives. The people want to feed themselves with bread. Jesus wants to feed them with God. “Do not work for the food that perishes,” he tells them, “ but for the food that endures for eternal life.”

The food that endures is Jesus himself. He is the bread that is broken and distributed for the life of the world. He is the bread that is broken and yet never divided. He is the bread that is eaten and yet never exhausted. He is the bread that consecrates those who believe in and eat him.

When we believe in Jesus, eating, ingesting, and taking him into our lives, we live differently. We see ourselves and one another as persons created in the image and likeness of God rather than  as obstacles or issues to be overcome. We trust the silence of prayer rather than the words of argument. We choose love and forgiveness rather than anger and retribution. We relate with intimacy and vulnerability rather than superficiality and defensiveness. We listen for God’s voice rather than our own. Ultimately, we seek life rather than death.

“I am the bread of life,” Jesus tells the people. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” He is offering the people himself. He is the imperishable bread that nourishes and sustains imperishable life.

Jesus makes us the same offer. He offers himself to us in every one of our relationships: family, friends, strangers, enemies, those who agree with us, and those who disagree. In every situation and each day of our life we choose the bread we will eat, perishable or imperishable. In so doing we also choose the life we want.

So, I wonder, what bread will we eat today?

Reflection excerpt from: Interrupting the Silence, Fr Michael K. Marsh