As we reach the high summer and vacation season is in full swing, many people are enjoying the freedom to travel and see family, or simply relax, for the first time in more than a year. The pandemic has taught us many things about the vulnerabilities and capabilities of our medical resources and community government structures, and it has also reminded us of what is truly important in life.
Getting away for a vacation can seem like a necessity for many—and indeed it is probably healthy for most people—but it can also be viewed as a luxury, something that was beyond the realm of possibility for most people through history. As we enjoy a well-earned break or relax at home, this Sunday’s scripture readings teach us to hold fast to what we have been given and to remain thankful for it. Our faith in God stands foremost among these gifts, and God’s corresponding fidelity to all his children throughout history is beautifully presented in today Bread of Life discourse.
In the Gospel we find that Jesus had provided food for a crowd of thousands with but five barley loaves and two fish, as they listened to him near the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 6:9-11). The next day, after he had departed from the crowd, they sought to catch up with him; when they reached him, he warned them: “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (John 6:26-27).
It is easy to value that which brings us tangible benefit or relief, just as Jesus’ followers searched for him because they “ate the loaves and were filled.” What are more difficult to hold onto are those things which are intangible, but which nonetheless are even more powerful evidence of God’s fidelity than the bread that satisfied the crowd that day in Galilee or the manna and quail that sated the Israelites in the desert during the days of the Exodus, as we hear in today’s first reading and in the responsorial Psalm (Exo 16 and Ps 78).
God’s covenant relationship with his people Israel, and the new covenant which is foreshadowed through the Bread of Life in today’s Gospel, are of infinite value for they sustain not only our earthly physical life but life eternal. As we sing the Gospel antiphon together we are reminded of this, proclaiming: “One does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4; Deut 8:3).
In connecting this antiphon, which comes from the Book of Deuteronomy and is repeated by Jesus himself during his temptation in the desert, to the account of the Bread of Life, the Church helps us to understand that while Jesus’ hearers were blessed to have their stomachs filled by the actual bread he gave them, they were even more blessed—as are we today—to receive the Bread of Life which is the very Body and Blood of Christ, God’s ultimate Word.
At the closing of the Gospel Jesus says: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (John 6:35). May we always recall what is important in life and be grateful for it, for our faith above all, and for the Bread of Life we receive as our sharing in the mystery of Christ, he who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.