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Gospel commentary: Stay hungry, my friends

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Gospel Commentary Jn 6:24-35


People who remember things from “back in the day” will comment on how things have changed in the church. They recall when Mass was prayed in Latin, for example. Wedding Masses were celebrated early in the morning and, in fact, there weren’t usually evening Masses because the fast before Communion was from the night before, not the easy hour we observe today. Would a longer fast before Holy Communion help us renew our appreciation and love of the gift of Jesus’ body and blood in the Holy Eucharist?

In these weeks of summer, the church brings to our attention the very special teaching of Jesus in chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel. This Sunday, we find crowds of satisfied people who are ready to be satisfied again. Having just been filled with miraculous loaves and fish, they find themselves hungry for more of the good things Jesus clearly can provide. Discovering that Jesus and his disciples have slipped away to Capernaum, the crowds hurry to scurry over the sea to catch up with them. They ask Jesus when he got there, how he had managed to give them the slip. The response Jesus gives is very instructive for us. The way he responds engages them in a dialogue designed to invite them to understand an important deep hunger within them — and within us. 

We can put ourselves in the sandals of the crowd and receive Jesus’ response: “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” His original hearers find themselves sort of accused for liking too much the fact that he had filled their bellies. Jesus fled their presence to avoid the likelihood of them attempting to keep him on as their reliable food king, a career decidedly less noble than the one his father sent him to accomplish. Were they really just wanting satisfaction of their recurring physical hunger? Would we like a steady solution to the ongoing need we have for nourishment? Of what benefit is a growling stomach in our life of prayer and grace?

The continuation of Jesus’ dialogue with the crowd encourages us. He purposely fed them. Then, finding them excited about that, he points out to them that their hunger is much deeper than a physical hunger. He points out that Moses wasn’t the source of the manna from heaven that their ancestors ate daily. It was Jesus’ father who took care of them and who can provide “true bread from heaven,” the “bread of God ... which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  Who would not want this bread? We have to admit that we know that we hunger for more in our lives than a way to satisfy our physical hunger. As convinced as we are that the biggest and best meal soon gives way to a need for another, we have to know that other things still matter more. But it is hard for us. The attachment we have to the foods we love and crave — even when we acknowledge God as their source and thank him — plays a big role in our failure to desire and seek the better things he came and comes to bring. 

There is great drama unfolding in these Sundays of St. John’s sixth chapter. When we receive the words of Jesus in the way he first presented them we can give him today the satisfaction he must have had when he first spoke them. He was making progress with his hungry listeners when they said, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Making those words our prayer, we are prepared for his response: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger.”  Knowing this, how can a little extra fasting cause us to fear? 

Fr. Zuberbueler is pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church. 


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018