18th Sunday 2012 B
Last week we heard in the gospel of John, the miraculous feeding of the 5,000. Today’s continuation is part of the lengthy Bread of Life discourse, which explained the sign of the loaves and illustrated its messianic and eucharistic significance. “What are you looking for?” was the question in Jesus’ mind. They were eager to remain with him. Jesus seems rather short with them. He tells them that they are not there because they had appreciated the meaning and seen beyond the sign that he had given them. What would Jesus say to you and me this morning? What would our response be to his question, “What are you looking for?”
Careful readers will note that in John’s gospel, the questions from the crowd also drive the conversation, in that each query gives Jesus an opportunity to enlighten the crowd. Their first question, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”, was not just curiosity about the time. Such a question could be also understood as a probe into Jesus’ origins.
In response to their second question, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”, Jesus challenges his listeners to set their minds and hearts on one work only: that of believing in him. This response prompted still another question, “What sign can you do?”. Again they were thinking with their stomachs rather than their minds and hearts; looking for another miracle. In response to their reference to the manna in the desert, Jesus reminded his questioners that the manna their ancestors had been given was not from Moses but from God. That same God now gives the true bread from heaven — Jesus, by whose teaching and by the gift of himself in Eucharist, the hungry and the believing would be fed unto eternal life.
We often hear of famine in our world, we hear the cry of the poor in Eastern Africaat this time. Thank you for your compassion and gift in the collection. Lands either brought to their knees by drought, or worn torn countries where it becomes impossible to cultivate the land. Give us bread, they cry, so we can live.
Here in our backyard, hundreds line up daily for bread at the Door is Open and Union Gospel Mission, First United and other service providers. We are aware of a hunger because of unemployment or under-employment. Others because they are in a personal war zone, in a battle with addiction, mental illness or the cost of housing where they have to pay more than half of their social assistance on rent.
We recognize that every person needs to be fed; we need food and we need nourishment. Many of us have sufficient food for our bodies, but it is a bread from heaven that we need that satisfies a deeper universal hunger.
The people asked Jesus to perform a sign that they might believe in him. The Eucharistic bread would be his sign; the new manna, the new bountiful gift of God. Jesus himself is to be our sustenance. “I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me shall ever be hungry; no one who believes in me shall thirst again.” Jesus said to the people: “I am the bread of life.” Theophylact, an ancient writer, declared: “He did not say ‘the bread of bodily nourishment,’ but ‘the bread of life.’ ”
When the crowd asks Jesus what they must do to perform the works of God, he makes it very clear: “This is the work of God: have faith in the one God has sent.” The greatest “work of God” we can ever do is open ourselves to him so that he can fill us with his treasures and change us into his image. It demands a great humility for us to let go of the illusion that we can ultimately feed or save ourselves. But this faith is precisely what Christ requires of us.
Fr. Ron Rolheiser points out the importance of the question “What are you looking for?” That question is like book-ends, holding the good news according to John. I quote: “In the gospel of John, the first words out of Jesus’ mouth, to Philip and Andrew, the first disciples, are a question: “What are you looking for?” Essentially everything that Jesus does and teaches in the rest of Johns gospel gives an answer to that question: We are looking for the way, the truth, the life, living water to quench our thirst, bread from heaven to satiate our hunger.
At the end of the Gospel, on Easter Sunday morning, Mary Magdala goes out searching for Jesus. She finds him in a garden, but she doesn’t recognize him. Jesus turns to her and, repeating the question with which the gospel began, asks her: What are you looking for? Mary replies that she is looking for the body of the dead Jesus and could he give her any information as to where that body is. And Jesus simply says: “Mary.” He pronounces her name in love. She falls at his feet. Do not look for me among the dead. I am risen as I said.
In essence, that is the whole gospel: What are we ultimately looking for? What is the end of all desire?
Many came seeking Jesus, but they didn’t want to follow him. They called him “Rabbi,” but they refused to be taught. They clamoured after bread, but they did not want to be nourished as Jesus intended. They were willing to work for food that would perish, but Jesus challenged them to channel their efforts and their hungers toward food that gives eternal life.
Jesus, help me to understand my own deepest hunger; show me the ways I distract myself from it and seek to fill it with things other than your word and presence.
We know too, that there are a lot of different ways of approaching the Lord e.g. in prayer and through doing good works. But that the best way, the way that he gave us above all others to come to him was the Eucharist, the Mass.The liturgy is not just a meal we have made, not just fellowship, not some drama that we have artistically dreamed up. Its reality does not depend upon our ingenuity or virtue, our expertise in preaching or singing. It is fundamentally an act and gift of God.
Liturgy means the “work of the people”. What is liturgy? What must we do to go the work of God? Believe in Christ who is present in his word and receive his body and blood at Mass with open hearts, he will feed us. He will lavish us with the best of gifts.
“Look beyond the bread you eat. See your Saviour and your Lord.” "Look beyond" the physical signs of bread and wine we receive at Eucharist, to our Lord and Saviour who is present there.