Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The 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 God had promised them.
A trip across Sinai today, on a paved highway and in a modern vehicle, is no delight. The land is generally unoccupied, arid and unappealing. When the Hebrews crossed this territory, the circumstances were even more forbidding. They were traveling on foot. They were exposed to the heat of the day and the chill of the night. The peninsula offered little by way of food or drink. They had no compass to guide them, no map to follow.
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 wandering farther and farther away from civilization and from security. Deeper and deeper they marched into the unknown and the inhospitable.
So, they grumbled. This reading from Exodus captures some of their complaints. They were hungry, for instance.
Moses challenged them even more to trust in God. Miraculously, they discovered one morning that the ground was covered with a substance that indeed they could eat. They called it “manna.” Without this food, they would have starved.
Modern scholars do not know exactly what this substance suddenly found on the ground was. Some scholars have suggested that it was the secretion of insects. Indeed, other scholars note that a species of insects migrates to the south from Europe, and that indeed these insects secrete a substance suggestive of the ancient manna.
In any case, the vital point for the Hebrews was that this substance arrived precisely when they desperately needed food; precisely after they had prayed for food. God provided for them. God works through nature. The fact that the manna possibly had natural origins in no way diminishes the reality of the miracle.
For the second reading the Church offers the Epistle to the Ephesians. This epistle 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. To survive, literally, we need the Lord as much as we need bodily nourishment. Jesus makes a startling statement. “I am the bread of life,” the Lord declares.
The Church in these readings reminds us once more that we are human. First, we are vulnerable to death. We die physically if we are deprived of material food long enough. We also may die spiritually if we are left to ourselves and without God.
Part of our human limitation is our exaggerated trust in ourselves. We ignore, or dismiss, genuine dangers before us.
These readings remind us not gloomily of our sad plight, but with excitement and hope they recall the fact that again and again God is with us and answers our needs.
God’s greatest and most perfect answer for us is in Jesus. Jesus is the revelation of God. If we live as Jesus lived, we will be near God.
Most importantly, Jesus is the “bread of life.” 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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