18th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle B)
Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15
Psalm 78:3-4, 23-25, 54
Ephesians 4:17, 20-24
All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).
God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).
The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Bread from Heaven
Our psalm response sets the theme for this Sunday's readings: "The Lord gave them bread from heaven." In the First Reading, the children of Israel were grumbling that God was not meeting their needs on their exodus out of Egypt. To show them that He was ready to meet their needs, God gave them manna, bread from heaven, to nourish the children of Israel on their journey to the Promised Land.
In the Second Reading, St. Paul reminds the faith community of Ephesus that Christians have been configured to Christ in the Sacrament of Baptism. Therefore, Christians are called to a life of holiness, and they must be committed to leaving behind the old sinful lives of selfish desires and self-deceptions. Paul's message is that a life of sin will only alienate us from God, and Christians are called to live according to the likeness of our holy God in whose image we are made.
And in the Gospel Reading, Jesus begins His "Bread of Life Discourse" the day after the miracle feeding of the 5,000 men. God the Son promises to meet the needs of everyone who believes and comes to Him by nourishing them with "Living bread" that will sustain them on their journey of faith through this earthly existence. As God fed His people on the exodus out of Egypt, so will God the Son feed His people on their exodus out of this life on their journey to the Promised Land of Heaven.
The First Reading Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15 ~ God Gives Bread from Heaven
2 The whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, "Would that we had died at the LORD's hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!" 4 Then the LORD said to Moses, "I will now rain down bread from heaven for you. Each day the people are to go out and gather their daily portion; thus will I test them, to see whether they follow my instructions or not." [...] 12 "I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them: In the evening twilight you shall eat flesh, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread, so that you may know that I, the LORD, am your God." 13 In the evening quail came up and covered the camp. In the morning a dew lay all about the camp, 14 and when the dew evaporated, there on the surface of the desert were fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground. 15 On seeing it, the Israelites asked one another, "What is this?" for they did not know what it was. But Moses told them, "This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat."
The suffering on the journey out of Egypt affected the whole Israelite community. This time the suffering was greater and more widespread than in the previous crisis of being pursued by the Egyptians at the Yam Suf (Red Sea) in Exodus 15:11-12, or the thirst of the people and animals in Exodus 15:24. And this time they accused God's agents, Moses and Aaron, of intending to lead them to die of famine in the desert.
Apparently the people had depleted the food supplies they had brought with them from Goshen. Living in Egypt the people were used to a good diet of staples like bread and barley beer (henket), vegetables like leeks, lettuce, cucumbers, garlic, lentils, beans, chickpeas and onions; also fruit like dates, figs, melons, grapes, olives and pomegranates; fish and more rarely the meat of wild game and chickens (Chronicle of a Pharaoh, pages 94-95; Num 11:5; 20:5). The Israelites' complaint to Moses was that it would have been better to die of old age in slavery than to die prematurely by starvation in freedom. The response of the Israelites to their suffering shows a lack of gratitude for their redemption from slavery and a lack of faith in God's divine providence. You might ask if the people were hungry, why didn't they just kill some of their livestock? They knew that their future prosperity depended on their flocks and herds. A dead animal will never reproduce or give milk or wool. They needed to preserve their animals for their future prosperity.
4 Then the LORD said
to Moses, "I will now rain down bread from heaven for you. Each day the people
are to go out and gather their daily portion; thus will I test them, to see
whether they follow my instructions or not."
There are two ways in which God tested the people in this event (Ex 6:4-5):
The journey to Mt. Sinai provided an introduction to God's laws and statutes for governing Israel. The journey humbled the people and taught them to trust and to depend on God. And their experiences with God on the journey revealed to the Israelites a more intimate knowledge of God. In Moses' last homilies to the covenant people in Deuteronomy, he recalled the testing in the desert and reminded the new generation of Israelites who had grown up during the forty years in the wilderness of that experience to remember and Learn from this that Yahweh your God was training you as a man trains his child, and keep the commandments of Yahweh your God, and so follow his ways and fear him (Dt 8:6 NJB).
12 "I have
heard the Israelites' complaints. Speak to them as follows: At twilight [bein
ha-'arbayim = "between the twilights," plural ending] you will eat meat,
and in the morning you will have bread to your heart's content, and then you
will know that I am Yahweh your God." [..] = literal translation (Interlinear
Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 184).
Between "the twilights" a day is high noon, that occurs between the twilight of dawn and the twilight of dust. God assured the people that at noon (between the twilights of dawn and dusk) they would eat meat, and in the morning they could have as much bread to eat as they wanted. Noon was the normal time to take the daily main meal. Then too, in a desert journey, one didn't travel at the hottest time of the day. The purpose of these miracles was for the people to know that Yahweh is their God and not just the God of their forefathers. The manna blessing continued for the next forty years, but the gift of the quail is only mentioned twice in Scripture (in the first manna feeding in Ex 16:13 and in Num 11:31-32).
13 In the evening
quail came up and covered the camp. In the morning a dew lay all about the
camp, 14 and when the dew
evaporated, there on the surface of the desert were fine flakes like hoarfrost
on the ground. 15 On seeing it,
the Israelites asked one another, "What is this?" for they did not know what it
was. But Moses told them, "This is the bread which the LORD has given you to
"Evening" began after the sun reached its zenith at noon and began to descend into night. Sundown signaled the beginning of the next day. That day, at the noon meal, they ate quail, and the next morning they ate "bread from heaven."
15 On seeing it, the
Israelites asked one another, "What is this?" for they did not know what it
The meaning of the word "manna" is a puzzle. In Exodus 16:31 the word in the Hebrew text is man but in 16:15 the word is rendered in Hebrew as man hu. Some Biblical scholars have suggested that the Hebrew words man and man hu are derived from the Egyptian word mannu, which means "food" (Davis, Studies in Exodus, page 189). The expression man hu is usually translated, "It is manna," but the Greek Septuagint translation of this verse is ti esti touto, "what is this?", the translation used in the NAB. "What is this?" has become the most widely accepted explanation of the meaning of "manna" and is supported by the rest of the Scripture passage following man hu in 16:15 when the Israelites asked "What is this [man hu]?" and Moses told them: "This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat."
Some scholars have attempted to associate the miracles of the quail and the manna with natural phenomena that occurs in the Sinai Peninsula. In the autumn large flocks of quail are known to migrate from Syria, Egypt, and Arabia, flying southward to central Africa and then returning in the spring. In this long migration, sometimes large flocks of birds fall to the ground from exhaustion. Since the quail miracle is only recorded twice in Scripture, it is possible that it was a natural phenomenon, but it cannot be denied that God used that "natural" occurrence at a very specific time and at a very specific place to address the specific need of the Israelites.
It has also been suggested that the manna was not a miracle but was a gum resin produced by several varieties of flowering trees in the Sinai, or that the manna was a substance from the excretions of two species of scale insects found on branches of the tamarisk tree, a secretion that occurs in June in the Sinai (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 4, "manna", page 511; Davis, Studies in Exodus page 192). However, these natural substances only occur seasonally and cannot be ground into a flour and baked into pancakes or boiled into a mush like the manna described in Exodus 16:23 and Numbers 11:7-9. Nor are these other substances found covering the ground with the morning dew as in the Biblical text, and the natural substances do not occur year round in large enough quantities to feed at least two million people. St. Paul called the manna "spiritual" or supernatural food (1 Cor 10:3). Jesus compared Himself to the "bread which came down from heaven" (Jn 6:31-65) and not to the secretions of insects or tree resin, and in other Bible passages the manna is described as supernatural food which was previously unknown (Dt 8:3, 16; Ps 78:24; 105:40; Neh 9:20).
The miracle feeding of the manna prefigures the miracle feeding of the Eucharist. In our miracle feeding of the Eucharist, we also have rules which govern receiving the miracle:
We have the obligation to submit and to be obedient in the same way the Old Covenant people of God were tested in their obedience.
Responsorial Psalm 78:3-4, 23-25, 54 ~ Heavenly Bread
Response: "The Lord gave them bread from heaven."
3 What we have heard and know, and what our fathers have declared to us, 4 we will declare to the generation to come, the glorious deeds of the LORD and his strength and the wonders that he wrought.
23 He commanded the skies above and the doors of heaven he opened; 24 he rained manna upon them for food and gave them heavenly bread.
25 Man ate the bread of angels, food he sent them in abundance.
54 And he brought them to his holy land, to the mountain his right hand had won.
Psalm 78 recalls the history of the past generations of the Israelites: God's gracious deeds on their behalf, their failure to respond to God's gracious deeds, and how they were punished by God for their failures. Among God's gracious deeds was His gift of manna to feed the Israelites for forty years after leaving Egypt. They first received His gift of the "bread of angels" on the journey out of Egypt to God's mountain, Mt. Sinai, where He took Israel as His covenant people. He continued to feed them on their journey to His "holy land" of Israel where they were to build His Temple on the "mountain" of Mt. Moriah.
In the same way, God is gracious in providing for the needs of His New Covenant people. He feeds us the "living bread" from Heaven that is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of God the Son in the Eucharist. He provides this miracle feeding to nourish us spiritually in the exile of this earthly life, as we make our journey to God's "mountain" Temple in the "holy land" of Heaven.
The Second Reading Ephesians 4:17, 20-24 ~ New Life in Christ
Brothers and sisters: 17 I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds... 20 That is not how you learned Christ, 21 assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus, 22 that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and put on the new self, created in God's way in righteousness and holiness of truth.
St. Paul contrasts the Christian's "new life in Christ" with the sinful life of the pagan Gentiles that was far from the holiness of Christ. It is the "old self" (verse 22) that must be put away and the "new self" (verse 24) that must take hold to make the Christian a new creation in the image and likeness of God. Christians "put on" the new self (verse 24) in the Sacrament of Baptism, when we die to our sinful old selves to be reborn as a new creation in Christ Jesus, as Paul wrote in Galatians 3:27 ~ For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
The Gospel of John 6:24-35 ~ Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life
24 When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 25 And when they found him across the sea they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you get here?" 26 Jesus answered them and said, "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. 27 Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal." 28 So they said to him, "What can we do to accomplish the works of God?" 29 Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent." 30 So they said to him, "What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? 31 Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" 32 So Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from haven and gives life to the world." 34 So they said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." 35 Jesus said to them "I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst."
Notice the interesting juxtaposition of three events in John chapter 6: the feeding of the multitude; Jesus' water miracle; and the "Bread of Life" discourse. The key to these 3 seemingly unrelated events is John's statement in 6:4 that it was near the time of the Passover Feast. The holy feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits celebrated the liberation of the Exodus experience, when Moses led his people out of Egypt and across the Red Sea to freedom. The "baptism" of the children of Israel in the Red Sea (Yam Suf = Sea of Reeds) was another creation story. In the first Creation, the division of the waters created land, but in Moses' Red Sea miracle, the divided waters create a nation of free people as Israel emerges from the waters of chaos, no longer as slaves but as a free people. As Moses led the people of God across the wilderness God continued to care for His people by miraculously feeding them manna, bread from heaven. Within these 3 event in John chapter 6, during the time just preceding the Passover, John shows us Jesus like Moses miraculously feeding a multitude, like Moses making a water miracle, and now in the Synagogue in Capernaum those who witnessed the miracle of the feeding of the multitude the day before, have just sung Moses' Song of Victory (Ex 15) that was part of the Sabbath liturgy. John is presenting Jesus as the new Moses who will lead the new Exodus. Jesus, like Moses, will lead His people out bondage, but He will liberate them from slavery to sin and death. Jesus is the future prophet-redeemer God promised to Moses and the people: From their own brothers I shall raise up a prophet like yourself; I shall put my words into his mouth and he will tell them everything I command him. Anyone who refuses to listen to my words, spoken by him in my name, will have to render an account to me (Dt 18:18-19 (NJB).
The people who witnessed the feeding miracle got into boats and crossed to Capernaum to look for Jesus. When they found Him leaving the Synagogue Sabbath service, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?" The feeding miracle took place near the city of Tiberias, located on the western shore of the Sea about 2/3rds of the way down. Capernaum is on the northwestern side of the Sea. They had been watching for Jesus ever since the multiplication of the loaves miracle when they wanted to make Him king, but He disappeared (Jn 6:15). They realize He had somehow, perhaps by another miracle, eluded them, and so they asked Him how He came to Capernaum on the other side of the sea.
Verse 26 is Jesus' 8th use of the double "amen" in St. John's Gospel that Jesus always uses in making an emphatic statement. In verses 26-27 Jesus is combining a teaching about "works" and "faith", which cannot be separated (Jam 2:14-26). James, Bishop of Jerusalem taught in James 2:26, As a body without a spirit is dead, so is faith without deeds [works]. In verse 27, Jesus tells the crowd not to "work" for ordinary, earthly "food". He is using "food" as a metaphor for earthly, material wealth. All earthly "works" will perish. Even though earthly food is necessary to sustain earthly life, it's use is limited because it is perishable and therefore is not able to safeguard beyond its earthly limitations...it cannot safeguard against death (Jn 6:49). Even the manna that came down from heaven in Exodus 16:20 was perishable. Only Christ can give the food that satisfies eternally, sustains our spiritual hunger, and gives eternal life. He offers what Isaiah prophesized in Isaiah 55:2-3, Why spend money on what cannot nourish and your wages on what fails to satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and you will have good things to eat and rich food to enjoy. Pay attention, come to me; listen, and you will live. The supernatural food that Christ promised and Isaiah prophesized is His very own Body and Blood = the Sacrament of Eucharist. This teaching will become clearer as the narrative continues (Jn 6:50-58).
Verse 27 refers us back to John 5:27 where Jesus tells the people that God the Father has given the Son authority to execute judgment because He is the "Son of Man". The title not only points to His humanity but it is to remind His listeners of the passage in Daniel 7:13-14 of the glorious figure who looked like a man but was to receive from God the eschatological kingdom and eternal rule—the great mystical term from Daniel's vision identifying Jesus as the divine conquering Messiah who has the power from the Father to rule the nations of man: I saw one like a son of man coming on the clouds of heaven; when he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, he receive dominion, glory and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed (Dan 7:13-14).
Jesus will use this title for Himself 10 times in John's Gospel. Up to this passage, Jesus has referred to Himself as the "Son of man" in John 1:51; 3:13; 3:14; 5:27; 6:27. He will also use this title in 6:53; 6:62; 8:28; 12:23; and 13:31. With the exception of Acts 7:56; Revelation 1:13; and Revelation 14:14 the title "Son of man" appears only in the Gospels. In all the Gospel accounts this is Jesus' favorite title for Himself, only He uses it, and it is always used in a Messianic reference linking Jesus to Daniel's prophecy of the divine Messiah in Daniel 7:13-14.
The "seal" that God has set on the Son in verse 27 is the seal Jesus received at His baptism; the seal of God the Holy Spirit (i.e., Mt 3:16). It is the third Person of the Most Holy Trinity who is the power of God operative in Jesus' signs (see Mt 12:28; Acts 10:38; 1Cor 1:22; Eph 1:13 and 4:30). There may also be a connection to the seal placed on baked bread by the baker. The Greek word used for "seal," the Greek word sphraagizo, means "to stamp (with a signet or private mark) for security or preservation (literally or figuratively); by implication to keep secret, to attest", and also means "baker's mark". It was the assurance that the bread was "sealed" by the baker who made the bread just as Christ, the true bread, has been "sealed" or marked by the Father.
In verses 28-31 the crowd challenges Jesus and quotes from Exodus 16, saying: "Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" The Greek word for "do" or "doing" is used three times in the literal translation of the Greek text. In the literal translation the people say, "What must we be doing to be doing the doings of God?" (Interlineal Bible: Greek-English volume IV, New Testament; page 267). The people still do not understand that it does not only depend on them.
In response to their challenge, Jesus tells them they must believe in Him and stop trying to do it all themselves. If they continue to do everything under their own power, they will miss the "doings" of God = Jesus the Messiah. The "new Moses" is telling them what Moses told the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 8:3 when Moses told the people it was not the manna that would continue to feed them but the 5 books of the Torah (connection to the 5 barley loaves in 6:9), the words of God. It also is what Jesus said to Satan in the Temptation when Satan challenged Him to turn stones into bread in Matthew 4:4. Jesus said, "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God."
In verse 30 the people ask Jesus for a "sign" that His authority comes from God because prophets worked "signs" to signify their authority. They are asking for "works" from Jesus but He is asking them for faith. Their faith in Him will be the "sign" that He is God's representative. Jesus is telling them that faith in itself is a "work" of God. The "work" of God is to believe in Him. The people fail to understand what Jesus is telling them about "belief" (verse 29) so they ask again, implying that if they saw a really convincing sign, something even greater than anything they had yet witnesses (verses 2, 14, 26) they would believe Him—that is believe His words.
There is a play in the Greek text on the word "works" in verse 28 which literally translates "to work the works." However, the word "work" in verse 28 does not mean, as it does in verse 27, "to work for" but means instead "to perform", as one performs the works that please God. In verses 26-30 the word "work" or "works" is used 5 times in the literal Greek text [Interlineal Bible: Greek-English volume IV, New Testament page 267].
31 Our ancestors ate manna in the desert... The crowd already sees Jesus as the "new Moses". His multiplication of the loaves and fishes links Him to Moses' greatest miracle, the feeding of the multitude with the heavenly manna, the bread from heaven (as does His walking on the water witnessed by the Apostles). Therefore, they think that He is referring to manna and so they ask Him to provide the manna as Moses did as a "sign". Their challenge to Jesus is "What Moses gave us was bread from heaven—if you are the "new Moses" can you do the same?" In order to appreciate the significance of this request it is important to keep in mind that there was a general belief that the Messiah, when He came, would come as one "greater than Moses" the great national prophet-hero of Israel, in the signs that He would accomplish. A Jewish commentary on Ecclesiastes [Midrash Koheleth, 73] states: The former redeemer caused manna to descend for them; in like manner shall our latter redeemer cause manna to come down, as it is written, 'there shall be a handful of grain in the earth' (quoting from Psalms 72:16). What His questioners are looking for is a miracle greater than the miracle of the loaves and fishes from one who claims to be the Messiah! The key to understanding this challenge is of course linked to the whole situation of the national expectation of the "prophet greater than Moses" promised in Deuteronomy 18:15-19.
In verses 32-33, Jesus answers them: 32 So Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from haven and gives life to the world." First, He corrects them, saying it was not Moses but God who gave the people the miracle feeding of the manna. The people respond to His correction by making a request: 34 So they said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always."
Jesus' response is remarkable: 35 Jesus said to them "I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst." Jesus identifies Himself in with a particular choice of words that recalls one of the most significant events in the history of Israel—the revelation of God to Moses in the incident of the burning bush (Ex 3:14). "I am" in Greek, Ego ami, recalls the Divine Name that God revealed to Moses. But here and elsewhere in John's Gospel it forms the prelude to the explanation of a parable. In this case the parable is in action and not in words. The gift of the manna and the multiplication of the loaves are explained by Jesus as parables of His gift of Himself, the true bread from heaven. Also see John 8:24 where Jesus says, "That is why I have told you that you will die in you sins. For if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins."
Jesus has corrected two misapprehensions on the part of His questioners. First, with another solemn "amen, amen, He has told them it was not Moses who was the giver of the manna. Moses was only the instrument of God's action. Secondly, Jesus tells the people that the manna, while it was in a sense "bread from heaven", was not the "true" bread of God. The true bread is "the bread of life". While all bread is the gift of God, the bread which can be described as peculiarly of God is that bread that does not just give bodily nourishment but gives a greater gift, and that gift is "Life!" What distinguishes the "true bread" from the manna in verse 33 is that the bread of God brings life, in the present tense, indicating that which is continually giving life; and it is offered to all men, not only to a particular nation or people. It is the Bread of Life that is ever descending and "gives life to the world".
Jesus made an explicit announcement in verse 35 when He
stated: "I AM the Bread of Life."
The crowd was quite prepared for the idea of uniquely heavenly bread, but they were not prepared for such a mystical statement as "I AM the Bread of Life" and the claim such a statement carried. "The Bread of Life" means primarily bread that gives life, but with Jesus' next statement in verse 35b, this becomes Bread that is life itself!
Jesus makes a 2-fold promise to the crowd in verse 35 that is similar to the promise made to the woman of Samaria (Jn 4:14): no one who comes to Him will ever hunger; no one who believes in Him will ever thirst. Jesus is going to take up Satan's challenge in Matthew 4:4. The Living Word of God is going to transform "hearts of stone" by feeding them the Word, the true Bread which has come down from heaven!
Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15 (CCC 2836-37)
Ephesians 4:23 (CCC 1695); 4:24 (CCC 1473, 2475, 2504)
John 6 (CCC 1338); 6:26 (CCC 2835); 6:27 (CCC 698, 728, 1296); 6:32 (CCC 1094); 6:33 (CCC 423)
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015