Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

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Fr. James R. Keating, O.S.A.
Church of St. Augustine
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Readings
Ex 16:2-4, 12-15
Ps 78:3-4, 23-24, 25, 54
Eph 4:17, 20-24
Jn 6:24-35

I believe that most of us – if not all of us – are familiar with the expressions “back in the day” or “the good old days.” Both phrases direct our attention to the distant past.

Our Old Testament reading from the Book of Exodus takes the collective memory of the ancient Israelites back to the “good old days” of slavery in Egypt. Traveling through the desert on their way to the Promised Land, the Israelites complain to Moses about the many hardships they were enduring. In comparison, Egypt looked pretty good. They had forgotten that “back in the day” they were slaves in Egypt. But then, at least, they had enough food to live on. The Israelites fell into the trap of remembering the past as better than it actually was, and seeing the present as worse than it actually is. God responds to their complaints by sending them manna. Moses encourages the Israelites to remember that God is providing them with food now in the desert and will continue to provide them with food in the future.

Jesus alludes to this famous episode in the discourse preserved in today’s gospel. The similarity of the miracle of the manna and the multiplication of the loaves and fish – which formed last Sunday’s gospel – was not lost on the people who followed Jesus across the sea of Galilee. The crowd demanded that Jesus perform another miracle. But instead of doing so, Jesus spoke to them more clearly about how worthy he was of their faith and trust. He began by telling them he is the fulfillment of all that Moses did and stood for. The manna – the bread from “back in the day” – satisfied their physical needs and sustained them for their journey to the promised land. Now the new bread – the bread of Jesus, the only Son of God – is among them and he has promised them so much more than the manna. Jesus has come to satisfy their physical hunger and every other hunger the human heart could experience as well.

Moses gave them food that spoiled every night. Jesus, however, gives himself as the bread of eternal life, which will never spoil or perish but will last forever. In the “good old days” the Israelites were only partially satisfied. But now we can be fully satisfied as we come to Jesus to receive him in the most holy Eucharist.

Many of us today are so concerned about the foods we eat and their effect on our physical health. But are we as concerned about nourishing our spiritual lives as we are about the food that nourishes our physical life? If we accept our Lord’s invitation to follow him on the way to eternal life, we must renounce the sinful pleasures of the “good old days” and acknowledge God’s presence in our lives now and unite ourselves to that presence. We do that by participating worthily in the Eucharist. Doing so makes us one with him so that he might nourish and strengthen our spiritual lives, thus helping us to live new lives in Christ.