18TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE EUCHARISTIC MEAL, OUR STRENGTH TO BE LIKE JESUS
Today’s readings continue the discourse on the bread from heaven, the Blessed Eucharist which was introduced last Sunday at the incident of the multiplication of loaves. Jesus fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish. Those people didn’t go away after Jesus fed them. They remained because their hunger had been satisfied. The love of food can be strong that it captures our human interest. The crowd stopped seeing Jesus and his disciples and they set out to look for him. They can predict his movement because he’s got the flow, so they locate him. Why are they looking for him? Jesus answers, “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.” This opens a deeper conversation on the real food which Jesus has come to give.
In life, people will always go to persons or places where their hunger is satisfied. For example, some guys knock on our door from time to time. They are convinced that something would show up, sometimes they join the congregation to worship. What they do is that they leave a little earlier so they can station themselves appropriately to ask for help. Over time, these guys identify those who give them and follow them. They ignore anyone who does not. The drive is the desire to get something, to satisfy the physical hunger as seen in the followers of Christ today. Jesus teaches us that life is sustained by nourishment and that the joy of living comes from communion with another life.
Truly, we all love meals and would always honor invitations for food. Meals connect us. Meals nourish our bodies. Meals enhance love among families and friends. Meals help us to express affection and provide opportunities to share with those we cherish. During meals, food is served. Fun and laughter are essential features of a meal. With food, we satisfy the law of nature because we need food to survive. I hope we can pay more attention to the hungry and starving in the world.
These people are looking for Jesus because they had food. In the Old Testament, the Israelites help us understand the saying that a hungry man is an angry man. Why do they grumble against Moses and Aaron? It is because they are hungry. They prefer going back to Egypt, a place of pain and suffering because they have no food to eat. Hunger threatens the basic human instinct for survival, and we must get it. Ironically, some of us never experience hunger in our lives and would not know how it feels to be hungry. On a physical and biological level, every living creature -plants, birds, sea creatures, wild animals, human beings- all need food for their bodies.
The great lesson from Jesus for the people looking for him today is that they must distinguish between the “food that perishes” and the “food that endures for eternal life.” Jesus reprimands them; do not equate religion with soup kitchens; do not take for granted what God gives to you in the Blessed Eucharist. Although the body is sustained by physical food, spiritual nourishment brings us to a close relationship with God. The bread from heaven, broken and shared in the Blessed Eucharist is what transforms both the body and the soul. Jesus promises to give to his followers this food of eternal life for on this food, “the Father, God, has set his seal.” I consider this very significant about the Sacred Host that we use at the Mass. The Host usually has an inscription of the Lamb, the IHS, or the Cross. This is the Father’s seal on the Blessed Eucharist, the seal of the Lamb who was slain on the cross for our salvation.
To focus completely on earthly, material food steals away the profound significance of this food. The Jews ask Jesus, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” The work is God’s and not ours. That is why they miss the mark. They equate Jesus with Moses. They mistake the manna in the desert as given by Moses. It was Moses who satisfied the hunger of their forefathers and provided manna several times whereas Jesus only fed them once. So, they need further signs from him, possibly more food. Jesus expands their horizon by making them understand that it was God and not Moses who fed their ancestors. The bread came down from heaven. Only God can make that happen. And they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
We need to understand what the scripture presents about Jesus in this Eucharistic context and what that represents for modern-day which is closed to dialogue around ideological or theological differences. Jesus engages the crowd in a conversation. He shares in the dialogue to help them understand an abstract concept. Even though these people seem to differ from him, he guides them compassionately to appreciate this difficult teaching. Presenting his body as true food and his blood as the true drink is a very hard and strange teaching. He does not dismiss them. He does not condemn them either, rather helps them to learn more deeply. And the result is this statement from the people, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
A similar scenario is Jesus’ encounter with the woman at Jacob’s well. The Samaritan woman had no clue about who Jesus was. Ignorantly, she came to fetch the regular water and there showed up this strange Jew. He began to demand water. This woman would not give him because of their existential differences. Jesus pulled this woman in and step by step, unfolded the reality of both her life and the identity of the one who is the wellspring of salvation. At first, the Samaritan woman knew only one source, the water from the well of Jacob, nothing more. And that is why, like the Jews in today’s gospel, she quickly said to Jesus, “Are you a greater man than our father Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his sons and his cattle?” (Jn. 4:12). Listen to Jesus’ response to this woman, “but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn. 4:14). And he says to the Jews in today’s discussion, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”