Do not work for food that perishes

Last Sunday, the worldwide Catholic Church began reading for five consecutive Sundays, the gospel of John chapter 6. Last week, we heard about the multiplication of the loaves and fishes to feed 5,000 men plus women and children. Today, some of same crowd are seeking additional signs that Jesus is God. They want visible and tangible proof that Jesus is God; the crowd wanted to see and touch the physical things that Jesus could do. Jesus challenges them, saying, "You are seeking me 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." The members of the crowd react as if they never heard Jesus' last sentence, and repeat, "What sign can you do that we may see and believe in you?" Can you imagine Jesus shaking his head in incredulity at the spiritual density of the people in front of him? Jesus says, "the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst."

Scholars interpret this section of John as referring to Jesus both as the Word of God and as the anticipated Eucharist of God. Last week, I spoke about the Eucharist: the essential aspect of the Divine Presence in the sacrament of the Eucharist, and the non-essential aspects of the context in which the Church has celebrated Eucharist for 2000 years, namely, the changes in languages, church architecture, physical and spiritual relationship between the priest and people, and historical moments of receiving Communion under one or two species, and in the hand or on the tongue. This week, I want to speak about Jesus as the Word of God, as this section of John 6 proclaims.

The Catholic faith is renowned for presenting both Word and Sacrament. When you walk into any Catholic Church any place in the world, you see in the sanctuary both the pulpit for proclaiming the Word of God, and the altar of sacrifice for confecting the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. The Church highlights the Word of God. Half of the liturgy in theory and in real time is devoted to the Liturgy of the Word. Each Sunday, we hear four scriptural readings: usually an Old Testament reading, a responsorial psalm, a non-gospel New Testament reading, and one of the four gospels. To make sure that Catholics hear as much of the Bible as possible, the Church structures its Sunday readings on a three-year cycle, and its daily readings on a two-year cycle. The Church wants to make sure that Catholics hear the Word of God, and repeats the warning of St. Paul, "be not only hearers but also doers of the word of God." (Js. 1.22) Priests are instructed to preach on the day's Scriptures every Sunday, and daily during the seasons of Advent and Lent.

You and I, we're not very different from the crowd of people in Jesus' time. We also are capable of being spiritually dense due to the limitations of human nature and the inclination to sin with which each of us has been created. One caveat, please: Remember that each person is created good in nature by God who cannot do or make anything evil, but that each of us has a proclivity to commit sin. Regarding our individual relationships with God, you and I say how wonderful it would be if when we pray, we could hear God speak back to us, yes? We yearn for that. In fact, God does speak to us through the inspired authors of the Old and New Testaments. But how often do we read the Bible? How often do we study the Bible? How well do you listen to the priests' homilies? How practically do you try to apply the gospel message to your daily life?

May I make one suggestion. Choose one book from the Old Testament, and another book from the New Testament. Try to become knowledgeable and reflective about these two books. I suggest both the Old and New Testaments because my Scripture professor taught me that 90% of the New Testament is not understandable except in context of the Old Testament: Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Covenant. Read your two books quietly, carefully, prayerfully. Ask these questions: When did the authors write these books; how soon before or after the life of Christ on earth? Who was audience of these two books: Jews in Jerusalem, or Jews in Exile; Jewish Christians before the synagogue-church split in 70AD, or Gentile Christians in Asia Minor or Greece or Rome? What was the context of the recipients: triumphant during King David's reign in 1000 BC, or exile in Assyria or Babylon 700-500 BC, persecution during the Roman Empire, or expecting the end of the world real soon? What is the literary genre: is this story and its details to be interpreted literally or metaphorically? Is the book primarily historical in our modern sense of the word, or primarily theological with liberal use of historical details? What you think and feel individually is interesting, but most interesting and important is what Scripture scholars say is the context and intended message of this reading.

I suggest this process of reading the Scriptures so that you might become more familiar with the Scriptures in general and with Jesus in particular; Jesus is the Word of God. He speaks to us through the Scriptures. He is the Word of Life. We are nourished intellectually, spiritually, and physically by Jesus as Word and Sacrament. As Jesus says in today's gospel, "Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life."

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley