An exegetical reflection on the Gospel of the
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B (John 6:24-35)
August 5, 2012
By Msgr. Lope C. Robredillo, SThD
WITH MILLIONS OF people starving, powerful countries vying for world domination, and the few who are rich wallow in scandalous wealth, while human rights are being violated and the environment being cannibalized for the sake of more wealth, what is there to say that God cares? Present-atheists generally reject the existence of God because, for them, if he really exists, he will not allow the dehumanizing plight of millions of people. At the time of Jesus, although the Jews always believed in God, yet many of them doubted his care for them, in face of the reality of exile and their shameful defeat at the hands of their conquerors. But almost all of them, on the other hand, remembered that God acted on their behalf when they forefathers complained to him about their oppressive situation under the Pharaoh of Egypt. When they were starving in the desert, God showed his care by sending them manna from heaven (Exod 16:11-12). They knew that he cared for them in the past.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus assures the Jews that despite their experience to the contrary, God still cares for them. Just as in the Old Testament God, not Moses, gave them bread from heaven in their journey through the desert, so in the New Testament, God shows his loving care for them by sending them bread from heaven. He does so ever more exceedingly, for here, he is not only after the basic things in life, like what ordinary bread does to satisfy their hunger (John 6:27). Rather, through this bread from heaven, God wants to give his people eternal life (John 10:10). This eternal life is none other than the participation of his life, the life in the Kingdom of God, a life of final reconciliation, freedom, peace, love and forgiveness, not only here on earth, but also in the life to come.
How is one to receive that life? Accordingly to the Gospel, it is by eating the bread, and the bread that came down from heaven in the New Testament is none other than Jesus himself. If for the Jews to achieve a blessed life on earth, one has to do the works of the law (John 6:30), for Christians, one has to believe in him whom God sent (John 6:29). That is to say, to eat the bread that God sent is to have faith in Jesus. In other words, if in the Old Testament God cared for the Jews in their journey to the promised land by sending manna from heaven, so they would not die in the desert, so in the New Testament God continues to care for his people by sending Jesus, the bread of life, from heaven, so his people may have eternal life and live for ever.
But how does one profess his faith in Jesus? If this question is addressed to someone with fundamentalist orientation, the answer will surely be: “Accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.” A Catholic, of course, will not accept that formula for a number of reasons, but this is correct on two points: one, a Christian must accept Jesus in faith, believe in him, and be committed to him. Without faith, to be a Christian is a contradiction in terms. And nothing could be more central to faith than Jesus himself, not religious practices or observances, however grand and lofty. Two, Jesus should obviously the Lord and Savior of one’s life. One cannot make money the dominant factor of his life, nor should he think that wealth can save him, or bring him new life. Being a Christian is not simply a transcendental relationship between one and Christ. Jesus must necessarily enter into every dimension of one’s life.
If only all Christians were committed to Jesus, taking their life of faith seriously, and if only all of them would make him the Lord of their lives, not money, or power to satisfy their greed, they would certainly become “the new man” (Eph 4:22). As the new man, the entire body of Christians, on account of their belief and life of faith, can create, even on this earth, a new society with a new social arrangement, in which greed, struggle for power, oppression and aggrandizement would be largely lessened, if not eliminated, and in which truth, forgiveness, freedom, liberation, and love would prevail. By embracing the life of Jesus, they would obviously create new forms of relationship among people, eliminating poverty, starvation, violation of human rights and other forms of evil, Thus, while still living on earth, Christians should already be participating in the everlasting life that God promised to those who believe in his Son, and once the end has come, they would enjoy these features of the new community in an even perfect degree.
In that way, God’s care for people is seen in the life of Christians who eat the bread from heaven that he sent—Jesus himself. People may not see bread falling down from heaven as proof that God continues to remember his people, but his care is tangible, because committed Christians share with others, especially the lesser members of the community. Every time, then, that Christians receive communion, the Eucharistic Bread should be a reminder of God’s care for them and of the mission that he gave them through Christ. Precisely because they received the Body of Christ—they are to make the present history a reflection of the life to come, transforming it from one that is taken as an evidence of the absence of God to one that proclaims that he is alive, through people who have become witnesses to his presence.
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