The Life-Giving Bread: The Discourse From John 6 Continues
User’s Guide to Sunday, Aug. 8
Sunday, Aug. 8, is the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass Readings: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9; Ephesians 4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51.
The Bread of Life Discourse from John 6 continues in the Gospel for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time in the Year B lineup. In this Sunday’s Gospel (John 6:41-51), knowing that people are questioning his teaching, Jesus references the prophet Isaiah speaking of a future time of hope and deliverance for God’s Chosen People, a time when “They shall be taught by God” (Isaiah 54:13). They do not see that Jesus is the one from God, come down from heaven to bring eternal life. Last week we heard about the Israelites being sustained on manna, which only lasts one day, except that which they gather the day before the Sabbath, which lasts two days. Jesus explains how while the Israelites ate this bread from heaven in the desert, they still died. But those who eat the bread he gives will live forever. This bread is his own flesh given to us in the Eucharist.
This Sunday’s first reading is about a kind of bread or “hearth cake” brought by an angel to Elijah. Elijah has fled to the wilderness in Judah after offending Ahab the king of Israel and his wife Jezebel by turning the people against the prophets of Baal. The story of Elijah triumphing over the prophets of Baal and having them killed is memorable (1 Kings 19:20-40). This Sunday’s reading begins with Elijah exhausted and hungry and wanting to die: He works hard for the Lord but is often fleeing for his life.
The Lord looks at him with care and provides him with a hearth cake, which he eats two times and is provided with strength for 40 days and nights as he journeys to the mountain of God (1 Kings 19:4-8). Elijah’s bread from heaven is more like the Eucharist than manna because while his ancestors ate manna and died, Elijah was taken to heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11). His devotion to loving and serving God was so great that he was worthy of being taken up to God before the Son became incarnate.
The various breads in the Scripture readings are reminiscent of lembas bread in The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, which the elves make and which is “more strengthening than any food made by Man.” This bread sustains the heroes of the story on their various journeys, giving them not just physical strength, but strengthening them spiritually, as well. Its virtues are so great that Gollum, the creature that was once hobbit-like and has been consumed with desire for the ring of power, cannot bear to eat it, even when he has no other food. The bread only helps those who are disposed to do what is good. It gives Frodo and Sam the strength they need to persevere in their long, hard journey.
Just like lembas bread, the Eucharist only helps those who are disposed to receive Our Lord well. The Living Bread that came down from heaven only brings us life if we are living in a state of grace. To do this, we must live as St. Paul asks us to in the second reading (Ephesians 4:30-5:2). He speaks of our being sealed with the Holy Spirit, as we are when we receive the sacrament of confirmation, and how this helps us to be transformed into people who are kind, compassionate and forgiving. We are to be imitators of God living in love and imitating Christ’s sacrificial offering of himself.
Let us join the Psalmist (Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9) and “taste and see how good the Lord is.” He has been faithful to us, providing us with all that we need. Do not cast aside his gift, but embrace it to live forever with him and “be radiant with joy.” He is the Bread of Life.