18th SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME
5th AUGUST 2018.
Deacon Tony van Vuuren
The First reading telling how God fed His people in the desert with manna is regarded as the classic example of God’s care for His people.
Jesus too fed people who were hungry as we heard about last Sunday. But the Gospel makes it clear that the Son of Man did not come down from above merely to satisfy physical hunger. He came to give heavenly bread that people will eat and never become hungry. The bread in question at this time is primarily the teaching given by Jesus. Only at a later point does it refer to the Eucharist.
Often in his preaching Christ uses images of food, particularly bread, to emphasise our need for spiritual as well as physical nourishment. He warned his listeners about having too much of a preoccupation with their material needs – or what they imagined to be their needs – and he criticised them for not being attentive enough to their more crucial need to be well-fed spiritually.
“Do not work for food that cannot last,” he says here, “but work for food that endures to eternal life – the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you”.
He spoke in a similar way at the outset of his ministry when he rejected the devil’s temptations and said that man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.
There are two conclusions that I would like to draw from these kinds of statements made by Jesus.
Firstly; not to exaggerate what he said. Jesus never made out that our ordinary physical or material needs are irrelevant, or that they’re not real needs.
It’s not being unspiritual to acknowledge that we all need to eat. And it’s not being selfish to try to gain a certain minimum of security and stability in our material circumstances.
For most of us, if we’re caught up in great anxiety or upheaval in the outward circumstances of our lives, it’s much more difficult to pray and to concentrate on God in any sense, and at those times we often have to be content with whatever brief, distracted prayers we can manage.
What Jesus tended to warn his listeners against wasn’t the idea of maintaining a certain minimum level of stability in their material circumstances. More often he warned against the temptation to make the material side of life the whole of life; making it an end in itself; getting over-concerned about money, possessions, or about the level of comfort that we have; hankering after a luxurious style of living; that might exclude any time or thought for our spiritual needs.
According to Christ’s way of seeing things those sorts of total preoccupation alienate us from God. They stifle the spiritual side of our nature and they erode the bonds of care and compassion that we’re supposed to have towards other people and their needs.
And then there’s a second aspect of this Sunday’s gospel reading we can look at, because Jesus does more here than stick up for spirituality in some vague sense. When they ask him how they can get this bread that he’s talking about; bread that endures to eternal life, Jesus answers: I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst.
To enter into friendship with Christ, to grow in knowledge of Christ, is like a path we have to walk along if we want to come to a full, truthful knowledge of God.
Finding God – the way we understand it – isn’t just a product of our human imagination or capacity for creativity. We find the true God revealed in the person of Christ, and faith is the attitude of acceptance of what’s revealed by Christ.
And it’s through this attitude of acceptance towards the person and work of Christ – acknowledging him for who he says he is – that we’re led into a life of closer communion with God. Without Christ’s ministry and preaching, without his Passion and death, we would know a certain amount about God, but we would still be waiting for the most important facets of God’s nature to be revealed to us.
We must distinguish between faith and trust. Though they are closely linked they are not the same thing. The person, who firmly believes with strong faith, trusts completely. But if one does not have perfect trust in God, their faith will be faint as well.
Faith and trust in God will nourish us at all times, but especially during times of trial. It’s not we who keep the faith; it’s the faith that keeps us.
John wrote his gospel in the first place because he was convinced that in Jesus, God has been revealed to us in a final, full and unsurpassable way. He wrote in the hope that as many of his readers as possible would be led to the same conclusion.
So these are just a couple of the lessons we can draw from this part of Jesus’ discussion with the people who are questioning him about the “bread of life”.
Jesus repeats what is a frequent theme of his, trying to persuade people not to become mired in the preoccupations of material life. And at the same time he goes further, insisting on his own unique vocation to lead humanity towards knowledge of, and communion with, the true God.