EXODUS 16:2-4; PSALM 78; EPHESIANS 4:17, 20-24; JOHN 6:24-35
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Fr. Galadima Bitrus (OSA)
BEYOND PHYSICAL NOURISHMENT; BEYOND PAST EXPERIENCES
The liturgical readings this Sunday continue with the theme of nourishment which we encountered last Sunday. The emphasis of the readings last Sunday was on opening our hearts and hands to share the little we have with our brothers and sisters who do not have at all, knowing that God delights in multiplying the little we are ready to share, in accordance with his modus operandi of perfecting imperfect nature and making small things great.
Today’s readings focus on God’s willingness and ability to even provide something from nothing, where and when all of us prove to be lacking and needy (1st Reading). The readings further invite us not to forget that beyond our need for physical food, we also have a need for spiritual nourishment, thus encouraging us to make progress from the material into the spiritual (Gospel) and from the past into the present (2nd Reading).
In the 1st Reading (Exod 16:2-4.12-15; cf. also Num 11), we read the account of how God provided food for the Israelites in the wilderness shortly after their exodus from Egypt (16:1). The people grumbled against God’s messengers Moses and Aaron who led them, accusing them of bringing them into the wilderness to starve to death (16:2).
Although their hunger was real, the people failed to acknowledge the progress they had made and to properly appraise their past. In Egypt, they had been condemned to slavery and hard labour, and the Egyptian Pharaoh had even ordered midwives to kill all Israelite male children at birth, and when they escaped being killed at birth, to throw them into the Nile-river, for fear that the Israelites were becoming too numerous (cf. Exod 1:6-21).
What could be more dangerous than living in this state? Yet, in the face of hunger in the wilderness, the Israelites seem to have forgotten all that and began idealizing their past life in Egypt, saying: “If we only had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, when we ate our fill of bread!” (16:3). The Lord, nonetheless, miraculously provided them food, raining down from heaven quails for flesh and manna for bread (16:4.12-15).
The grumbling of the Israelites captures well the human condition. While our sufferings of the moment are often real, we tend to easily fall into some kind of amnesia with regard to the past no matter how ugly it might have been, often idealizing it, but when carefully and conscientiously examined, the past might not have been exactly that rosy.
In the light of such unfair appraisal of their present journey with the Lord and his messengers who led them, the Israelites did not exactly merit God’s gracious intervention. They forgot his great act of liberating them from the cruelty of Egypt, an experience they should have built on to experience more grace going forward. Yet God was gracious to them still in a radical way, bringing for them food from above. This shows us how God, despite our lack of appreciation of his past graces, continues to confer on us still many more graces, as much as we need to keep us going and growing.
In contrast to the attitude of idealizing the past, the 2nd Reading (Eph 4:17.20-24) exhorts us to let the past go and embrace the newness of the present. Speaking on the unity of Gentile and Jewish Christians, the author exhorts the Ephesians to embrace the new teaching in Christ requiring them to put away their former life, described in franker terms as the “old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts” (4:22). They are rather encouraged to let their minds become new in the spirit and to assume “the new self”, thereby living according to God’s will, in true righteousness and holiness (4:23-24).
Clearly, therefore, there is no need to hold on to our past. We can either learn from it, build on it or radically depart from it but we cannot keep dragging it into the present or future. Doing so can only prove uselessly burdensome.
In the Gospel Reading (Jn 6:24-35), we see another example of the need to move on from the past and grow into a new encounter. Jesus leads the crowd who sought after him to satisfy their need for physical food to understand the need to go beyond the physical to the spiritual.
The crowd came looking for Jesus the day after he had fed them with five loaves and two fish. Having not found him in the place he had earlier fed them, they crossed over to Capernaum on the other side of the sea (vv.23-24). However, they could not be explicit in their request for food. They approached Jesus almost shy, asking an apparently irrelevant question, “teacher, when did you come here?” (v.25).
This is quite understandable even to us moderns. Direct begging (except for professional beggars) is humbling and quite difficult. Hence, people would often do so in indirect ways but we do ultimately understand what they really want. So, Jesus understood they were looking for him because they wanted more food. He, therefore, ignored their irrelevant question and went straight to the point: “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (v.26).
He then invited them to rise beyond looking for physical food, which like everything physical, perishes, but instead, to seek “the food that endures for eternal life” which Jesus will give as “The Son of Man” upon whom God has placed his seal or conferred his authority (v.27). The expression “Son of Man” is the title Jesus uses to refer to himself to underscore his messianic identity as the one whom God sent, anointed and gave authority to save the world.
At this point, the people asked what they must do to perform the works of God (v.28). Note that the people’s question presupposes a mentality of doing works to earn that enduring food which God has authorized the Son of Man to give. Hence, they asked, “what must we do to perform the works of God?”
Jesus in his response corrects this notion, making it clear that there is only one work, not many works of God, namely, “that you believe in him whom he has sent” (v.29). But the people would seem not to fully comprehend where Jesus was leading them to, hence, they wanted another sign of physical food to believe in Jesus, just as their fathers believed in Moses for the miracle of the manna in the wilderness (vv.30-31; cf. Exod 16; Num 11). Jesus again quickly corrected them that it wasn’t Moses in fact who gave the manna but God.
Contrasting the bread from heaven given in the wilderness and the true or real bread which the Father gives, Jesus seems to consider the manna as merely a foreshadowing of the real bread, which is himself. The manna was bread from heaven but Jesus is the true bread which the Father gives, the bread of God that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world (vv.32-33).
At their request that Jesus should give them this true bread always (v.34), he makes it even clearer that he was indeed this true bread. For he said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (v.35).
We can see here that Jesus is leading the crowd to grow beyond an initial attraction to him based on their past experience of having received material or physical food. He invites them to the spiritual realm of faith in him as saviour of the world and giver of eternal life.
In this way, we are invited to grow in the direction of a progressive detachment from the material into a deeper immersion into the spiritual realm of faith. For if our journey with Jesus continues to be tied to material prosperity, if it remains at that level of the perishables, then we must be worried if we are at all growing in faith.
Similarly, our journey of faith must be courageous enough to overcome the grip of the past and the temptation to idealize it in the present. We are rather encouraged to open up to the uniqueness of the present and the novelty of the future. For our faith is not just a deposit of the past to be passed on unaffected from generation to generation, but a gift from the past that is capable of being enriched by our lived experiences of walking daily with Jesus, trying to answer his call to follow him in the immediacy of our existence. Above all, our faith seeks to welcome the kingdom of God among us now (“realized eschatology”) and to prepare us for the coming kingdom of God (“futuristic eschatology”), so to speak.
FR. DANIEL EVBOTOKHAI
HUMAN WANTS ARE INSATIABLE: SEEK JESUS
On two occasions Jesus was hungry (Matthew 21:18; Luke 4:2). Hunger is said to be the desire for food, a physiological sensation associated with emptiness of the stomach, and dependent on some state of the mucous membrane. All living things go through this experience and tend to react in different forms. Thus, a fable says; “A hungry man is an angry man”. Somehow, when a man is angry if you give him food you will discover that you have taken care of his mind frame. Therefore, while good food good food eases anger; hunger triggers anger. Again, anyone who is hungry is likely not to think right. We see this in the biblical story of Esau, while he was hungry he sold his birth right (Gen.25:29-34). For hunger, Joseph’s brothers moved to Egypt (Gen.41:53). When David was hungry he ate the consecrated bread in the temple (1 Sam. 21:1-6). Many people steal and do all sorts of evil deeds to satisfy their hunger.
In the first reading of today the Israelites murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness because they were hungry. Where they supposed to murmur, complain or ask? What is our own attitude today when we are hungry? Do we ask, murmur or steal? It is not wrong to be hungry but the behavior we put up when we are hungry can speak volume of who we are. Hunger is not a genuine reason for stealing, scamming and prostitution. We may protest because we are hungry but it is not right to engage in violence because of hunger.
However, in response to the prayers of Moses and Aaron, God provided for the Israelite but with instructions. God says “‘now I will rain down bread for you from the heavens. Each day the people are to go out and gather the day’s portion…” Exd.16:20 shows that some gathered more; that is, greed crept in. Again, in Exd. 16:27 some went to gather on Sabbath day; thus they disobeyed God. Beloved, the Israelite reflected our behavour. Oftentimes, we cry for food but when eventually we have this food we exhibit greed. At this point we need to ask ourselves some basic questions. What is our attitude towards food? What is our attitude towards money? Do you cheat others to have your fill? Are you hoarding rather than saving? Are you disobeying God because of food? Are you excited about bread as your pleasure or Christ as your Treasure?
More so, research has shown that we are never satisfied – in truth human wants are insatiable. Therefore, striving for them is an endless pursuit. There may be plenty but because of our desires there is scarcity. These uncontrolled desires keep us in a perpetual condition of scarcity which informs conflict of interests, disunity and competition. Therefore, the way out from these endless struggles is the ability to control our appetite. The readings today give various dimensions by which man can control his appetite.
1. Man shall not live by bread alone: In today’s gospel acclamation (Matt. 4:4) we have a line from the account of Jesus’ temptation. He was hungry and the devil came to tempt him. In response Jesus says “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Jesus elevated our minds beyond bread, butter and sardine. He wants us to desire balanced spiritual diet for eternal life. Spiritual balanced diet is one that gives your spirit the nutrients it needs to function correctly. Christians who don’t feed on good spiritual diet (the word of God and the bread of life) are liable to have poor spiritual growth. So if you are weak spiritually check your spiritual menu and see how you have been feeding spiritually. Without good spiritual food, your spirit is more prone to disease, infection and fatigue. Beloved, life is not all about food. It is true we eat to live but we don’t live to eat. Beyond food we must seek for eternal life. In Penny Catechism we were asked; “Which must we take more care of, your body or your soul?” The response shows that we must take more care of our soul; for what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul? Beloved, satisfaction is not in bread and beans but in Jesus Christ.
2. Be spiritually minded: If we must control our appetite we must be spiritually minded. Jesus said to them in the gospel “Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life”. Beloved, do you realize that all we have now shall not follow us to the grave? Job was very blatant with this when he says “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will return…” (Job 1:21). Manna was perishable; it melted away the following day (Ex 16:21); in the same vein, the miracle food and miracle money are all perishable. Don’t kill yourself over what will soon perish. Be spiritually minded so that in the use of material things we don’t lose sight of that which is imperishable.
3. Be transformed: If we must control our appetite we must live a transformed life. In the second reading, Paul tells us to put off the old man and be renewed in spirit of your minds. Beloved, we must put off our material desires. No doubt, we need these things but if we don’t make them all in all we shall have our peace and live a life of holiness. Many Christians today are deformed in their Christian disposition because of material pursuit. We have ends to meet but we do not care if our soul’s ends are met. As those in Christ we must put off our old nature and put on the new man created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. We must set our minds on the things that are above where Christ is.
4. Seek Jesus for the right reason: The Jews were seeking Jesus for the wrong reason. They wanted Him to provide them with material comfort, not with eternal life (John 6:22-27). Similarly many people seek Jesus to fulfill their appetite; they seek him for gain, for bread and for riches. Heaven is not about food and drink but righteousness and joy in the Holy Ghost. Beloved, seek Jesus and you will be satisfied.
Fr. Paul Oredipe
“I am the Bread of Life”
I want to begin with the words of the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II in his apostolic letter on the Rosary: “Christ is the supreme teacher, the revealer, and the one revealed. It is not just a question of learning what he taught but of ‘learning him’.”
That is what we see especially in the Gospel of today. We see Jesus using the best teaching method – From the known to the unknown. He took the people through a process or stage-by-stage approach in teaching them about Him. He did not begin with declaration – “I am the Bread of Life”.
After He filled their minds with the truth (which is Himself), last Sunday we read how Jesus also fed their bodies with food with the multiplication of loaves and the fish. He answered their every need.
Today, Jesus began to lead them step-by-step into the core message of His ministry. The best approach is not to try and understand it all at once, but to enter gradually into what it means. Let us see it together – the form of spiritual journeys that Jesus leads the people to take.
Were they simply hungry for things which satisfy the body or for that which satisfies the heart and soul? Why do we seek Jesus? What do we look for from Him? It important that we examine why we are following Him. What is it that we desire? What do we look for? Why are you here today?
Jesus, knowing the intentions of their hearts, as He also knows our intention today, He told them: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you; for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.”
What do you most hunger for – health, wealth, love, truth, life? Jesus echoes the question posed by the prophet Isaiah: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy” (Isaiah 55:2)?
There are two kinds of hunger — physical and spiritual. Only God can satisfy the spiritual hunger in our heart and soul — the hunger for truth, for life, and for love.
Bodily food helps keep us alive in this world; spiritual food sustains and develops supernatural life, which will last forever in Heaven. This food, which only God can give us, consists mainly in the gift of faith and sanctifying grace. Through God’s infinite love, we are given, in the Blessed Eucharist, the very author of these gifts, Jesus Christ, as nourishment for our souls.
This is a great challenge for us. How many of our time do we spend in the pursuits of what does not last? “Do not work for the food that perishes.” What do we work for today? Do we give enough attention and care to the things that matter, things that have to do with our salvation? Jesus challenged us to works of God.
“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.” God demands our simple faith. It is not what we can do, what we can say, what we can keep, but what we believe. That is what pleases God. That is what honours God. That is what is acceptable to God. That is what God wants from us.
To believe in this context obviously means more than simply giving assent in our minds to the word of God. It means doing the will of God. It means exercising initiative and making efforts to live as faithful Christians.
The second half of Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, from which we are currently reading, gives us a detailed program for accomplishing the work of God. Jesus offers a new relationship with God which issues in a new kind of life: A life of love and service, and the forgiveness of others which corresponds to God’s mercy and kindness; a life of holiness and purity which corresponds to God’s holiness; and a life of submission and trust which corresponds to the wisdom of God. This is the work which Jesus directs us to and enables us to perform in the power of the Holy Spirit.
“…it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.” Jesus said them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me will never hunger, and whoever believes in Me will never thirst.” This is the first of seven self-revelatory declarations which John has distributed through his Gospel.
The Israelites were given Manna, a mysterious but perfectly adequate daily ration of food, to sustain them in their wanderings. In the gospel, Our Lord refers to this, and contrasts that wilderness food with the new Manna which God would give the world, through Him, through Jesus, the new Manna. Jesus proclaims Himself as the Bread of Life. The essential difference between the old Manna and the new Bread of Life, He says, is that the new ration will be totally satisfying: “He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst.”
The Lord spoke of Himself in a way that made Him seem Superior to Moses, for Moses never dared to say that he would give food which would never perish but would endure to eternal life. Jesus promises much more than Moses. Moses promised a kingdom, and a land flowing with milk and honey, good health and other temporal blessings, plenty for the belly, but food which perishes; whereas Christ promised food which never perishes but which endures forever.
These people know that the manna — food which the Jews collected every day during the journey through the wilderness (cf. Exodus 16:13ff) — symbolized messianic blessings; which was why they asked our Lord for a dramatic sign like the manna. But there was no way they could suspect that the manna was a figure of a great supernatural messianic gift which Christ was bringing to mankind — the Blessed Eucharist.
In this dialogue and in the first part of the discourse, the main thing Jesus is trying to do is bring them to make an act of faith in Him, so that He can then openly reveal to them the mystery of the Blessed Eucharist — that He is the bread “which comes down from Heaven, and gives life to the world” (verse 33).
Also, Saint Paul explains that the manna and the other marvels which happened in the wilderness were a clear prefiguring of Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:3-4).
The disbelieving attitude of these Jews prevented them from accepting what Jesus revealed. To accept the mystery of the Eucharist, faith is required, as [Pope] Paul VI stressed: “In the first place we want to remind you that the Eucharist is a very great mystery; strictly speaking, to use the words of sacred liturgy, it is `the mystery of faith’.
This is something well known to you but it is essential to the purpose of rejecting any poisonous rationalism. Many martyrs have witnessed to it with their blood. Distinguished Fathers and Doctors of the Church in unbroken succession have taught and professed it. We must, therefore, approach this mystery, above all, with humble reverence, not following human arguments, which ought to be hushed, but in steadfast adherence to divine revelation.
Going to Jesus means believing in Him, for it is through faith that we approach our Lord. Jesus uses the metaphor of food and drink to show that He is the one who really meets all man’s noblest aspirations.
How beautiful is our Catholic faith. It provides a solution for all our anxieties, calms our minds and fills our hearts with hope.
So, let us get personal: do I realize what Jesus’ Gift of Himself in the Eucharist is for me? Do I reverence and esteem this life-giving presence of the Risen Lord? As I take care to receive the bodily, emotional and intellectual nutrients for my life, do I also make sure that I am not without this spiritual nourishment? What does having the Eucharist so freely available mean to me?
The presence of Christ in the Tabernacle is a Source of comfort and strength. My daily reception of the Eucharist is a moment of deep communion and intimacy with the God I love. My fasting before I receive is an expression of my longing for this food that the world cannot give. The spiritual nourishment which Jesus gives me is food for my unique life journey. May I always say through my words and deeds “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.” The bread of eternal life is not something. It is Someone. It is with this declaration that Jesus brings us to the threshold of His stupendous doctrine of the Eucharist.
We are invited to COME. And as we have come today, we are invited to BELIEVE. May the Lord bless and increase our faith. Amen.
Fr. Evaristus Okeke
THE PRIMACY OF SPIRITUAL NOURISHMENT!
“… do not labour for the food which perishes ” (John 6:27)
The gospel reading of today is a continuation of that of last Sunday. Last Sunday, we read about the multiplication of loaves. Even though it was a lad who owned the five loaves of bread and the two fish, even though it was Andrew who presented them to the Lord and it were the disciples who shared them amongst the people, it was clear to the crowds that Jesus was responsible for the multiplication. Thus, after eating, they wanted to make Jesus king. This was not in a bid to appreciate Jesus but to move from generosity to obligation. Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves was an act of generosity because he was not obliged to feed them. But when he becomes their king, it would be his primary responsibility to provide for the needs of his people. So, making Jesus king will guarantee the people such miraculous act of Jesus so that they will no longer need to fend for daily bread.
What is obvious here is selfishness under the guise of loyalty. This attitude forced them to look for Jesus everywhere; but when they found him, Jesus pointed out to them their selfishness and His dissatisfaction with it. In truth, many Christians today are like these people. We are searching for Jesus; we are making sacrifices to encounter Jesus; we are accustomed to praying and calling Him our Lord and personal Savior; we may even be making frantic effort to live by His commandments. But all of these we do so that God may reward us with our basic needs. So, it is common to hear that when someone complains to a man of God about unanswered prayers, the man of God recommends more prayers to the person; with the hope that the recommended prayers will please God and make him grant the requests.
Beloved, our followership of Jesus means nothing to Him if it is for some ephemeral reasons. We must grow in our conception of who Jesus is and how we are to relate with Him. Infants appreciate their parents to the extent that their parents give them food and basic care; but as the infant turns adults, he/she still appreciates the parents not for providing him/her with food and basic care but for the love the parents continue to show even when the adult can now provide for himself/herself. Consequently, in the first reading, God did not rebuke the Israelites for murmuring against Him; He simply granted their request because they were at an infancy stage in their understanding of the person of God. But in the Gospel reading, Jesus expected some level of maturity. Maturity means to understand that the multiplication of loaves was only a sign, not a reality. It was a sign that God loves us and wants us to walk closely with him. It is not a reality that God is only interested in giving us daily bread. Dear friends, in our relationship with Jesus, what level are we now?
Physical nourishment is very vital to life sustenance, but the gospel acclamation tells us that the Word that proceeds from the mouth of God is more than physical food. It is a life that was created by the Word of God that can be sustained by physical food. It is a life that is being spiritually nourished by the Word of God that can be said to be truly alive while consuming physical food. Our daily labours may guaranteed us physical food but never spiritual food, whereas, the one who feeds us spiritually is able to sustain us physically too. The sustenance of physical food is only of this present life; but the Bread of Life is able to save us both in this world and in the world to come. In sum, it is possible to be nourished physically but spiritually malnourished. On the other hand, it is not possible to be nourished spiritually and malnourished physically because the One who feeds spiritually is able to feeding physically too.
For this reason therefore, Jesus advised the people not to labour for food which perishes but for the food which endures to eternal life. By this, Jesus was not recommending that we neglect bodily nourishment but that we make as much effort and attach even more importance to our spiritual nourishment. Therefore, if you can afford to take supper but too weak to say your night prayers, you are wrong. If you will be unhappy when food does not get to you in a party but will find no big deal in attending Mass without receiving Holy Communion, you are wrong. If you take seriously your years of studies in school but demand for crash program when preparing to receive the sacraments, you are wrong. If you struggle to make an impression in your work place but do not care about being anonymous in the Church, you are wrong. If you make effort to abide by the rules of your work place, school or organization but come to revolt against proper order in the Church, you are wrong. If you will defile the rain and go to work but will use the same rain as excuse not to go to Church, then you are wrong. The list is endless.
Beloved, whatever cannot guarantee us heaven should not be allowed to rule us in this world. The second reading teaches us how to seek the Lord. We must seek the Lord in order to have an intimate relationship with him. Jesus says that He no longer calls us servants but friends. True friends go out of their way to please each other. So, St. Paul tells us to put off the old man that belongs to our former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts; instead we should be renewed in the spirit of our minds, and put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Let us not deceive ourselves; without holiness, our prayers does not please God. If you really want to reap the fruit of your labour, then you should be labouring to receive Jesus who himself is the bread of life. If Jesus is not feeding you, you can never be satisfied; you can never be saved. God Bless You!
Fr. Evaristus Okeke