(A biblical refection on THE 18TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – August 5, 2012)
First Reading: Ex 16:2-4,12-15; Psalms: Ps 78:3-4,23-25,54; Second Reading: Eph 4:17,20-24; Gospel Reading: Jn 6:24-35
Dr. Robert Haas is a nutrition consultant for a dozen professional athletes, including tennis star Martina Navratilova. His book Eat to Win: The Sports Nutrition Bible, stresses complex carbohydrates and downplays protein and fats.
Dr. Haas says that 60-80% of an athlete’s diet should consist of complex carbohydrate foods such as cereals, fresh fruits, vegetables, spaghetti and whole-grain breads. The advantage of complex carbohydrates is that they decrease toxic wastes which make us sluggish and increase our available energy level. Marathon runners use these foods to load up with glycogen for stamina at the end of a race.
Whole-grain breads are one of the key components in such a diet. Bread also plays an important role in the way God nourishes His people.
In today’s first reading from Exodus, the Israelites grumble in the desert because of their hunger. So God rains down bread from heaven for them in the form of manna.
In John’s gospel, Jesus identifies Himself as the real heavenly bread: “In Myself am the bread of life. No one who comes to Me shall ever be hungry. No one who believes in Me shall thirst again.”
The Exodus text and John’s gospel are related to each other as type and anti-type. Jesus is the new heavenly bread sent by God – a bread that is imperishable, is all-satisfying and gives eternal life.
From her reflections on the Eucharist, Sr. John Vianney Vranak gives us the following insights. The Latin root for bread is pan. We will remember the famous Latin hymn by St. Thomas Aquinas, Panis Angelicus (Bread of Angels). In the Slavic languages the word pan means Lord. For example, in Polish we Pan Jezus for Lord Jesus.
Pursuing the word further into its Greek origins, pan means all or every. For example, we are familiar with such words as panacea for cure-all, Pan-Am Airlines or Panasonic radios. Still another meaning for the word pan comes from its French connection. The French word for bread is pain, a direct derivative of the Latin pan, but with a new dimension added because of our English word “pain” meaning suffering or hurt.
All these connotations of the word pan converge in the Eucharist in a marvellous manner. Jesus gives Himself to us under the form of bread. The bread of angels becomes the bread of man. Jesus is our Lord, the one sent by God, the one on whom the Father has set his seal.
In the Eucharist we find all fulfilment. Whoever believes in the Lord will never be hungry or thirsty again. Jesus paid the price of pain when He gave His life for us on the cross. The Eucharist is the memorial of His passion.
No wonder we praise God in Psalm 147 for “filling us with the best of wheat.” No wonder the hymn, “Gift of Finest Wheat,” has become so popular since its composition in 1976 for the International Eucharistic Congress.
St. John Vianney points out that while the word finest ordinarily means “the best quality,” it can also mean “most pulverized.” Both senses are true of the Eucharist. The pulverizing of the grains of wheat to make quality bread is a symbol of the suffering Jesus experienced in His passion.
In this context, we can’t help but recall the following statement by St. Ignatius of Antioch before he was martyred by wild beasts: “I am the wheat of God. I must be ground under their teeth in order to become a bread worthy of Jesus Christ.”
According to modern nutritionists like Dr. Haas, we need daily bread to keep us healthy, active and strong. We also need the bread of the Eucharist to nourish our spirits, strengthen us in time of trial and fulfil all our deepest yearnings.
Note: Taken from Albert Cylwicki CSB, His Word Resounds, Makati, Philippines: St. Paul Publications, 1991, pages 171-173.
Jakarta, 1 August 2012
A Christian Pilgrim