August 3, 2012

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Exodus provides us with the first reading in this weekend’s Liturgy of the Word.

As the name implies, this book of the Bible traces the path of the Hebrews as they fled Egypt under the leadership of Moses, and proceeded across the desolate Sinai Peninsula en route to the land that God had promised them.

A trip across the Sinai Desert today, even on a paved highway and in a modern vehicle, is no delight. The land in general is unoccupied. It is arid and unappealing.

When the Hebrews crossed this territory, the circumstances were even more forbidding. They were traveling on foot, and were exposed to the heat of the day and chill of the night. The peninsula offered little by way of food or drink for them.

Nevertheless, Moses urged them onward. Constantly, he reminded them that God had prepared a place for them, a “land flowing with milk and honey.”

Following Moses at times seemed to the Hebrews to mean that they were wandering farther and farther away from civilization and security. Deeper and deeper they marched into the unknown and the inhospitable.

So they grumbled. This reading from the Book of Exodus captures some of their complaints. They were hungry and tired.

Moses challenged them even more to trust in God. Miraculously, they discovered one morning that the ground was covered with a substance that they could eat. They called it “manna.” Without this food, they would have starved to death.

Modern scholars do not know exactly what this substance was that they suddenly found on the ground. In any case, the vital point for the Hebrews was that this substance arrived precisely when they needed food, and precisely after they had prayed for food.

God provided for them. God primarily works through nature. The fact that the manna likely had a natural origin in no way diminishes the fact of the miracle.

For the second reading, the Church offers St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians.

Paul calls upon the Christians of Ephesus to recognize Jesus, the Lord, as the source of all wisdom. He is the source of all goodness.

St. John’s Gospel offers the last reading.

As was the case with the Hebrews in the story from Exodus, the contemporaries of Jesus looked for signs and wanted salvation on their own terms.

In this reading, the Lord presents salvation as God’s gift. Jesus bears this salvation. He is the “bread of life.”

In Exodus, earlier in these readings, was the story of the manna, which rescued the starving Hebrews when they fled from Egypt. Without this manna, they would have died. But God provided for them. God gave them life.

Exodus did not use the term “bread of life” in referring to the manna. Nevertheless, the connection between the event in Exodus and the words of Jesus would have been clear to the people when Jesus spoke them.

God is the giver of life. We consume whatever life-giving provisions that God gives to us.

Then Jesus states, “I am the bread of life.”

Reflection

The first verses in the reading from John are very informative. Jesus and the Apostles have left the crowd.

The people search for them. The crowd wants to be with Jesus because he means so much to them. They need Jesus, and they know it, although their knowledge is not that crisply focused.

We need Jesus because we are vulnerable to death and, specifically, to spiritual death.

These readings are not gloomy reminders of this possibility. Rather, with excitement and hope, they reassure us. Again and again, God has answered our needs. He has given us access to everlasting life.

Jesus is the “bread of life” given to us by God’s love. If we accept Jesus, if we worthily consume this bread in the Eucharist, Jesus is part of us. He lives in us. We live in Jesus. †

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