“Communicating hope and trust in our time.”

- Pope Francis

‘I myself am the bread of life’

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Exodus 16:2-4, 22-15
Ephesians 4:17, 20-24
John 6:24-35

By Fr. Euly Belizar, Jr.

An old priest dying of colon cancer made an impact on my life in a way I would not easily forget. When I paid him a visit at a hospital I could see he was going through a lot of pain. Just to break the ice I asked him how he was. I was surprised to see him smile and was even more surprised to hear him say, “I’m fine. No complaints.” I felt his sincerity but his answer made me say to myself, “Here is someone who is in great pain and he has no complaints. And here I am who am not as sick as he is, and I have a lot of complaints.”

The Israelites too had so many blessings, being liberated from slavery in Egypt on top of the list, but they were still full of complaints. But God’s patience, love and generosity prove greater than Israel’s rebelliousness. It is the same with us. Instead of a deserved punishment, the Lord God gave Israel the famous quail and manna (from “manhu” or “What is this’s?”), the first “bread from heaven”. For Christians manna was really a symbol of the real “Bread from Heaven” who is Jesus Christ.

Manna was also perishable food. Israel got tired of it eventually and manna simply faded away. This is a basic lesson we often miss. We will soon get tired or run out of earthly ways and means to assuage our more profound hunger. Jesus therefore has to tell us bluntly as he speaks to the crowd. “You should not be working for perishable food but for food that remains unto life eternal.” I used to hear parents say, “I’m working my butt off to put food on the table and to send the children to school.” Now we know life is more complicated than that. There may be bills, bills and more bills to pay, not to say ‘train taxes’ to vex us, or a new car or computer to buy etc. Still the point is: Are we not really kidding ourselves when we ignore the fact that these are all part and parcel of the “perishables” in life? I haven’t encountered anyone in our over-stimulated society who can honestly say our “synthetic joys” really last or satisfy our cravings for the fullness of life.

St Paul in the second reading has a very pointed advice to Christians struggling to go beyond the “perishable” stuff of life: “you must lay aside your former way of life…and acquire a fresh spiritual way of thinking.” Now how do we do that? Join a club, chase Dra. Belo, or acquire a new ideology or life advocacy?

There is something better, simpler but more profound: Have recourse to the “imperishable” food.

Is this Bread already available? “He” always is. And centuries of history and lives of saints attest to his words: “I myself am the Bread of Life. No one who comes to me shall ever be hungry, no one who believes in me shall ever thirst .”

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