18th Sunday in Ordinary Time reflection by Gabriel Mayhugh
“Sir, give us this bread always.” This is a striking line in the Gospel reading for today. It speaks of hunger, a deep hunger for things that nourish us spiritually. As members of a liturgical community and a sacramental faith, we recognize that physical objects and moments can communicate something of the divine. Bread and wine, oil and water, incense and candles: these small and simple objects point us toward a deeper reality. There are even everyday objects and rituals that we all use that point us to deeper realities.
In today’s Gospel, when the people ask Jesus to give them bread always, there is a real urgency in their tone. It’s something they need, not just want. They ask Jesus for this bread in response to Jesus’ explanation that this bread gives life. Earlier Jesus warns that we really can waste our time working for things that will perish. There are many things in our world that easily disguise themselves as bringing lasting joy and hide in a certain sense as the bread of life. Jesus is clear and we will hear this more next week -- he himself is the bread of life. How do we embrace the nourishment that his teachings give us?
It seems difficult to simply rely on the bread that God gives, and trust that God is really going to provide for us. The people of Israel in today’s first reading basically say they would rather be enslaved than trust totally in God. Like them, we too are anxious to find something to feed us. We pass from place to place, from interest to interest, continuing to feel unfulfilled. The world around us is filled with God’s greatness. Yet the things that entice us, even the good things, need to be seen in their proper sense.
When our relationship with God seems to have limits and obstacles, Jesus assures us that in him we shall hunger and thirst no more. Where we fall short is in not turning to or trusting in God. What better way to demonstrate this desire than to become food, a necessity you cannot live without. In this way, Jesus is telling us that we simply need him to live.
God desires to be in relationship with us personally, deeply. God the maker of the universe, who speaks a word and creation comes into being, humbly becomes the simplest of things: bread and wine. We are called to imitate this love. Our mandate and mission to love one another, nourishing others and pouring ourselves out in loving service is the fruit of our celebrating the bread of life with one another. From here we are called to go forth, nourished by the bread of life to be the bread of life for all.