The National Catholic Review
Daniel J. Harrington
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B), Aug. 13, 2006
“This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat it and not die” (John 6:50)

In today’s world there is a great hunger for spiritual sustenance. Millions of people believe that there are realities beyond material possessions, that the questions about who we are and what will become of us must be addressed and that we cannot reach peace of mind and soul without acknowledging dependence on God. Our Scripture readings today suggest that our spiritual hunger can best be satisfied in Jesus, the bread of life.

 

The Old Testament passage from 1 Kings 19 describes the physical and spiritual hungers of the prophet Elijah. Having escaped from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, Elijah finds himself exhausted and hungry in the desert regions of southern Israel. When he prays that God might take his life, God instead provides food and drink for him, thus enabling him to make his pilgrimage to Mount Horeb, where God gave to Moses the Ten Commandments and other stipulations of the covenant.

In response to the spiritual hunger of people in his own day, Jesus, in today’s passage from John 6, proclaims himself to be “the bread of life.” His opponents’ murmurings provide Jesus with the occasion to affirm his heavenly origin. As the one who has seen God and has been sent by God, Jesus has the power to reveal God and to give eternal life with God. In this sense he is “the bread that came down from heaven.”

Jesus goes on to contrast the manna with which God fed the generation of the exodus and the bread that he gives. Whereas the exodus generation died off eventually, Jesus promises that whoever eats the bread that he gives will live forever. That bread is Jesus himself in his revelation of the Father by his words and deeds, in his saving death and in his resurrection from the dead as the pledge of eternal life for us.

Today’s reading from Ephesians gives wise advice on how to treat those with whom we share our lives. It first describes attitudes and behaviors to be avoided, and then urges kindness, compassion and forgiveness as values to be cultivated and practiced. It grounds this advice in the context of the life of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Through Jesus, the bread of life, we have access to the divine life. As we journey through life and keep our sights on eternal life with God as our goal, we need food along the way. The Eucharist is the meal for God’s pilgrim people.

Aug. 15 marks the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. According to church teaching, at the moment of her death Mary was taken up into heaven to be with her Son Jesus. The Scripture readings concern her place in salvation history as the mother of the Messiah (Revelation 12), her assumption as the preview of the resurrection of us all (1 Cor 15:20-27) and her example as a person of faith who praises and thanks God as the one who fills the hungry with good things (Luke 1:39-56).

 

Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., is professor of New Testament at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass.

Readings: 
Readings: 1 Kgs 19:4-8; Ps 34:2-9; Eph 4:30–5:2; John 6:41-51
Prayer: 

• Can you think of some examples of spiritual hunger today? What shape do they take?

• Why has Jesus been a satisfying solution to spiritual hunger for many persons?

• How does the idea of spiritual hunger open up hidden dimensions of the Eucharist?