Sunday reflection by Very Reverend Stephen Salocks, Rector of Saint John's Seminary - August 1, 2021
“Give us this day our daily bread.” On the Eighteenth Sunday of the Year, we are reminded how dedicated God is to answering that petition of the Lord’s Prayer. Bread, which is basic and fundamental, symbolically stands for all that may sustain us, and we see this often in the Scriptures when God responds to the hungers and needs of his people. In the First Reading today, we hear the Lord proclaim to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you.” True to his Word, God fed his people in the wilderness and sustained them for their journey to the promised land. Jesus’ feeding of the multitude last week recalled God’s efforts to care for the wilderness generation, but it also previewed something new and even more fundamental to sustain us. The Gospel of John makes it clear that God responds to greater hungers than simply those for physical food, and the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, which is truly a banquet, shows Jesus preparing the people, including all of us, to be fed spiritually.
Today, we hear Jesus help us to raise our perspective beyond that which sustains earthly life to that which gives eternal life. In the Gospel, Jesus knows that those who are drawn to him, who are attracted by his healings, and who have eaten of the loaves and satisfied their immediate hunger, want more food. But those who follow Jesus must think about more than satisfying their physical hunger.
We should work to obtain the food that lasts for eternal life, and that is the bread that Jesus provides. We want to “work” and keep our focus on the one who provides “the food that endures for eternal life.” In reality, it is all about God’s work, which should lead us to faith in Jesus as both the giver of the life-giving bread and the bread of life itself. Believing in Jesus, whom the Father has sent to us, we experience the work of God enabling not only our faith in his Son but also our reception of him as the source of our eternal life.
When the people conversing with Jesus ask for another sign to confirm their faith in him, they refer to the moment of receiving the manna or “the bread from heaven” at the time of Moses. Here is the springboard and catalyst for Jesus to begin his great discourse on the Bread of Life. We hear the echo of today’s First Reading from the 16th chapter of the Book of Exodus, where the Lord tells Moses, “I will now rain down bread from heaven for you,” and where Moses tells the people about the manna: “This is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.” The bread from heaven was a genuine gift from God, but it was much less than “the true bread from heaven” that God the Father is now offering in Jesus. The Gospel of John has already made the point that Jesus, the Son of God, came down from heaven. As the conversation continues, it will become clear that Jesus is the “true bread from heaven.”
Having established that God is the one who provides life-giving bread from heaven, Jesus identifies himself as “the bread of life.” The work of God to bring people to salvation finds its fulfillment in Jesus. By identifying himself as the bread of life, Jesus brings together all of the elements of nourishment that God has already bestowed upon his people, namely wisdom and the Law. By promising that “whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst,” Jesus fulfills the Old Testament prophecies about God’s delivery of salvation and relief from all hunger and thirst. The Law was the covenant established by God that set forth the parameters of communion between the people of Israel and their God.
The “first course” of the Bread of Life Discourse is finished, but the banquet will continue. Next week, Jesus will make it clear that we are all invited to the banquet and to receive the Bread of Life as his body and blood in the Eucharist. Today, we give thanks for God’s effort and initiative to call us into a relationship with His Son. We pray that God, our heavenly Father, will grant us the grace to listen to his Son, whom he sent to us as Word made flesh and that, with that grace, we will ever set our hearts on that which endures for eternal life, the true bread from heaven, our Lord, Jesus Christ.