August 6, 2018
Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B) on August 5, 2018, at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15; Psalm 78; Ephesians 4:17, 20-24; and John 6:24-35.
Last week in the gospel of John, Jesus fed over five thousand people with a few loaves and fish. He then crossed the sea to his home base in Capernaum, but the people were so excited about his recent miracle that they quickly followed him there.
Jesus responds to them with the famous of “Bread of Life” discourse, which we will hear over the next four weeks. This is a great time to focus on the Eucharist, the most Blessed Sacrament. But today, in the first part of the discourse, the people listening to Jesus probably thought he was speaking in metaphors. They surely recognized the parallels and contrasts he was making to passages from the Book of Exodus, Psalm 78, and the Second Book of Maccabees.
So today, let us spend time with some of the more figurative ways that Jesus is the Bread of Life. As we go through the month of August, we will transition from metaphors towards the more literal, sacramental understanding that Jesus emphasizes at the end of the discourse.
As we prepare to receive the most Blessed Sacrament once again, let us acknowledge our sins and ask for God’s mercy.
The first half of the Book of Exodus is action packed: Israel enslaved in Egypt, baby Moses saved from death and raised by royalty, adult Moses exiled for committing murder, Moses and the burning bush, ten plagues, the Passover, the parting of the sea, and the Israelites singing God’s praises. But just three verses later, the Israelites are complaining that they have nothing to drink. Through God, Moses performs a miracle, and they have fresh water. A few verses later, they complain that they have nothing to eat. It’s definitely a case of “But what have you done for us lately, God?”
God responds by providing manna and quail. Both were miracles – they provided daily nourishment to the Israelites during their forty years of wandering in the desert. The manna and the quail were miracles, but they were also drudgeries. Manna – the bread from heaven – appeared every night, but it took everyone a lot of work to gather enough to eat for the day. And quail? Well, I once ordered quail at my favorite restaurant about 20 years ago. Never again! Those birds are tiny – after cutting through the bones, you only get a few bites to eat!
But despite manna and quail being things that God sent the Israelites every day, Jesus’ words in today’s gospel focus on eternal things. And that’s where the reference to a doozy of a passage from the Second Book of Maccabees comes in, a passage most of us are not familiar with. There, we are told that the prophet Jeremiah took the ark of the covenant – which held some manna in addition to the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments – and hid it in a cave in Mount Nebo that will not be rediscovered until the end of time. (Seriously. I pulled this directly from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website. Look at the footnote to John 6:31 here.) The idea of the eternal bread from heaven would have made Jesus’ listeners think of this passage.
So we have this interesting interplay today between the daily and the eternal. But from what Jesus has said so far in this discourse it’s not clear what he means by “the food that endures for eternal life.” It’s not clear if he means actual food, like the manna. He could be talking about a number of things metaphorically: how we study his words, how we try to become more like him, how we deepen our relationship with him.
This past week, I made my annual retreat. Thanks to everyone who prayed for me: it was one of the best retreats I’ve ever made. I focused on this little book by Wayne Muller, called A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough. I highly recommend it, especially for anyone who feels overwhelmed by a seemingly never-ending “to do” list at work, at home, or both at work and at home.
Muller points out that many different religious traditions and forms of secular wisdom focus our spirituality on the cycle of the day – a 24 hour period. Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread. God provided the manna to the Israelites every day. Even Alcoholics Anonymous exhorts its members to live sobriety one day at a time. The best way for us to have a life of purpose, says Muller, is for us to make each of our hundreds of daily decisions in light of our eternal values. Muller writes, “This period of time [24 hours], this small part of a life, if lived mindfully and well, can seed the garden of a whole new harvest, a whole new life.”
Each day, Muller says, we should invest in the relationships that mean the most to us… and for all Christian people, that should mean a daily investment in our relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
We will reach eternity and eternal happiness through tending to our ongoing relationship with Jesus. We deepen our relationship with him through our prayer with him, through our study of his Word, and through our partaking of his body, the Eucharist, one day at a time.