The 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 1 August 2021
Lectionary Readings: Ex 16:2-4,12-15; Ps 78:3-4,23-24,25,54; Eph 4:17,20-24; Jn 6:24-35
Theme: I am the bread of life
The gospel passage today mentions food thirteen times with the words “manna”, “food” and “bread”. The responsorial psalm prepares us for this with its use of the same three words. However in the psalm the Hebrew words dagan samayim (Ps 78:24), translated “bread from heaven” in JB and NAB, and so in most lectionaries, literally mean “grain of heaven”. This is the translation in most other English versions. Now grain is not ready to eat. It needs the work of miller and baker to transform it into something nourishing. So the word of God needs grinding and shaping by us if it is to nourish our lives, and the gospel passage invites our involvement in doing just this.
This passage begins John’s long discourse in chapter 6 in which he gradually unfolds his theology of Eucharist. He presents it to us in words of Jesus which we are meant to hear as the Risen Christ speaking to us today, rather than as merely an historical record of something Jesus said at the time.
The quotation from Exodus 16:4 (not a verbatim quotation) in John 6:31, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat” is the fulcrum on which the whole discourse rotates. Two strands in Jewish thinking throw light on deeper meanings of the “bread from heaven” that Jesus offers.
The first is that it is a connected to the coming of the Messiah. This is explored by Risto Santala in his study of Midrash Ruth Rabbah, which reflects “the common Jewish interpretation that the Messiah will give manna from the heaven”. Likewise Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman says of Hamotzi, the blessing over bread at the beginning of a meal, “the official Jewish wisdom today identifies the bread of the blessing as the bread of a messianic future… It constitutes also a statement of faith in a time to come when all will have enough to eat.” With this approach, John is claiming Jesus as the Messiah.
The second is that “bread from heaven” is a metaphor for Torah, the wisdom that leads to life. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, holds this view. However, he teaches (in the words of Moshe Wisnefsky) that, “Torah, will not be fully absorbed by its student unless it is properly ‘baked’ in the fire of the soul’s love for G‑d and its desire to cleave to Him. One can study thousands of pages of Torah and remain unaffected. To digest Torah so that it permeates all of one’s being, one must evoke the soul’s sometimes dormant love for G‑d – the fire that prepares the Torah for human digestion”.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Have you found your study of Scripture nourishing for your life? In what ways? 2. What are the implications for you of Jesus’ statement “I am the bread of life”?
Bibliography: Hoffman, L. A. The Way into Jewish Prayer (Woodstock: 2004); Santala, R. The Midrash of the Messiah: The Messiah and His Meal in Midrash Ruth Chapters V, VII and VIII (Helsinki: 2002); Wisnefky, M. Y. “The Bread of Divine Service”,
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Kevin L McDonnell cfc, Australia, Bat Kol alumnus 2003, 2004, 2005