18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Last week we read about Jesus feeding the crowd with the barest of resources. Everyone had their needs met. The crowd’s reaction was predictable: Let’s make Jesus our political leader so that we can eat well every day. Physical needs are important. Before we begin to preach and teach about the spiritual realities of the kingdom, we must pay attention to physical needs. Authentic Christianity covers both: body and soul.
Today’s Gospel centers our attention on the danger of remaining fixed at the physical level. It is all too easy to avoid looking beyond the earthly bread, to the Bread of Life come down from heaven. The crowd had their fill of earthly bread. They followed Jesus because they knew that they would become hungry again. They hoped that Jesus would keep on feeding them. Yet, Jesus wanted them to move to a new level of reality: You should not be working for perishable food but for food that remains unto life eternal, food which the Son of Man will give you.
This challenge by Jesus is a constant one all throughout the 4th Gospel. The Pharisees as well as the crowd, and even the disciples who encounter Jesus, do so at the physical level. There is a physical need which is met by Jesus: curing blindness, multiplying the loaves, etc. Jesus, of course, doesn’t ignore the physical, but through it he invites us to move to the level of belief. Jesus wants us to know that reality is richer than mere surface appearances or the immediate needs of the body. He invites us to go deeper, to the levels of the Spirit where God is at work in us and in all reality. This is not a denial of the physical. Rather, Jesus is inviting us to look through the material to the spiritual.
We see how easy it is to become fixed at the level of the material in today’s first reading, which contains one of the more human episodes of Israel’s relationship with God. Their wanderings in the desert have left them in a bad mood. They are willing to become slaves in Egypt again. Famine evokes nostalgic feelings of the good old days in Egypt. The security of slavery is more attractive than the freedom and adventure of journeying towards the new land.
The bread from heaven in Exodus will give way to the Bread of Life in the person of Jesus: I myself am the bread of life. No one who comes to me shall ever be hungry, no one who believes in me shall thirst again. We are in constant need of the material, yet we need something more. There is another kind of nourishment needed by the human heart. The physical must be a revelation of God’s beauty and love. The physical and material must lead us to the spiritual.
EXAMPLE: A well-known Catholic writer, Alban Stolz, says somewhere:
This is a point which, I am afraid, many of us overlook and forget at times. The little crippled girl teaches us a wonderful, practical lesson. Thank God every day for the daily bread He puts on your dinner table and thank Him also for your good appetite and for the good health you enjoy.