An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, John 6:24-35, August 5, 2012
WITH MILLIONS OF people starving, powerful countries vying for world domination, and the few who are rich wallowing 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 really cares? Present-day atheists generally reject the existence of God because, for them, if he really exists, he will not allow the dehumanizing plight of millions. In the Old Testament, time was when, 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 complained to him about their oppressive situation under the Pharaoh of old. And when they were starving in the desert, God showed his care by sending them manna from heaven (Exod 16:11-12).
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, so in the New Testament, God shows his loving care for them by sending them bread from heaven. He does so even more exceedingly, for here, he is not only after the basic needs in life, like what ordinary bread is supposed to ansswer (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 divine 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? According to the Gospel, it is by eating the bread from heaven; and this bread in the New Testament is none other than Jesus himself. But what is meant by “eating this bread”? To eat the bread that God sent is to have faith in Jesus. 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, it is to believe in him whom God sent (John 6:29). Thus, if in the Old Testament God cared for the Jews in their journey through the desert by sending manna from heaven, so in the New Testament God continues to care for his people by sending Jesus, the bread of life, from heaven.
But then, one might ask: how does one eat this bread, or, how does one profess his faith in Jesus? If this question is addressed to one with fundamentalist orientation, the answer will surely be: “Accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.” A Catholic, of course, will not accept this formula for a number of reasons; at any rate, however, this saying is correct on two points: one, a Christian must accept Jesus in faith, believe in him, and be committed to him. Jesus determines what it means to live. He defines how one lives. Two, Jesus should obviously the Lord and Savior of one’s life. A Catholic cannot make a god out of money, nor make it the dominant factor of his life, nor should he think that wealth can save him, or bring him new life. Money, together with the comfort that it affords, cannot be the be-all and end-all of one’s existence.
If only all Christians are committed to Jesus, taking their life of faith seriously, and if only all of them make him the Lord of their lives, not money, or power to satisfy their greed, then they will certainly become “the new man” that St Paul speaks of (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 structure, in which greed, struggle for power, oppression and aggrandizement will be eliminated, and in which truth, forgiveness, freedom, liberation, and love will prevail. By embracing the life of Jesus, Christian will 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 already participate in the everlasting life that God promised to those who believe in his Son, and once the end comes, they will enjoy these features of the new community in an even perfect degree. Their being “the new man” becomes the perfect evidence that God continues to care for his people.
Every time, then, Christians receive communion, the Eucharistic Bread should be a reminder of God’s care for them, at the same time giving them the mission—precisely because they received the Body of Christ—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.