August 1, 2021
XVIII Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Every gift brings with it some questions. When we have bought something, it does not excite us with wonder or questions: we bought it, we know where it comes from, what it’s worth, what it’s for …
But when someone gives us something, then we start asking questions. And even more when the gift is free, unexpected, when we had not even had time to wish for it.
Each gift refers to another, refers to the one who gave it to us: why did he do it? Who is he? What did he want to tell me?
Last Sunday we saw the gift of Jesus to the crowd, who were filled with His bread. There was even leftover bread.
All the rest of chapter 6 of John collects the questions that this gift has raised and, through them, we can get closer to understanding what that gift means, who is that Bread.
Habitually we speak of this chapter as the “discourse” of Jesus in the synagogue of Capernaum . In reality, it is not a discourse, but a dialogue that arises from the questions raised among the crowd about the gift of the bread. It is not a monologue, because God never makes monologues.
In other parts of the Gospel, Jesus complains when people do not ask questions, do not react, and are like that generation for whom the flute is played, and they do not dance; a lament is sung, and they do not weep (cf. Lk 7:31-35).
We must therefore learn to ask ourselves the questions, but also not to ask ourselves the wrong questions, like we see in today’s Gospel.
Immediately after the multiplication of the bread, the disciples get into the boat and head to the other shore. Jesus does not go at once with them, but He reaches them in the night, with the lake in a tempest, walking on the water (Jn 6:16-21).
People are amazed at what happened: if He did not leave in the boat, how did He get to the other side?
This is the first question, and it is a question that tells of the amazement at this prodigious and mysterious teacher, this elusive teacher: Jesus flees in the face of those who seek Him to make Him king (Jn 6:15), but He also escapes in the face of the pretense of knowing everything about Him, of possessing Him, of controlling Him.
Well, Jesus says that this is not the right question, because they are looking for Him not to know Him, but to possess Him. To secure for themselves the presence of this prophet who is capable of taking away their hunger.
They do not seek Jesus, but seek bread; or rather, they do not seek Jesus because they seek bread only. In short, they are satisfied with bread without going any further.
The true question, then, is not that of the crowd: “Rabbi, how did you come here?” (Jn 6:25), but it is the one hidden in the folds of Jesus’ reply: “You look for me not because you have seen signs , but because you have eaten” (Jn 6:26). The right question is to ask ourselves what we are looking for when we seek Jesus?
It is the question that runs through the Gospel of John, from beginning to end. Jesus first addressed the disciples of the Baptist, who leave their first teacher to follow Him (Jn 1:38), and He repeats it to Mary Magdalene who is crying looking for Him among the dead (Jn 20:15).
But man does not know what he is looking for, and often he does not even know that there is something beyond bread, that is, beyond himself. Whereas Jesus wants to bring us there.
This is why Jesus ignites a new hunger in His interlocutors, and invites them to look for a food that nourishes a life that does not die: “Do not work for food that perishes, but for food that endures to eternal life” (Jn 6:27).
What is this bread? It is that “which the Son of Man will give you” (Jn 6:27).
We could say that the bread that nourishes eternal life is the very life of God who makes himself gift: we nourish ourselves with the gift of God, and this gift is the life of Jesus himself. He is the true bread of life (Jn 6:35).
Among His interlocutors, immediately there are those who think that in order to have this bread there is something to be done (Jn 6:28), but this is not the case: in a few verses the term “gift” returns several times, almost in an incessant way. Only that which is a gift can truly nourish us, and that bread, which Jesus has multiplied, is there to say that God himself is gift, and that only if we nourish ourselves with His gift we can truly live.
To nourish ourselves with Him is the only work we are asked to do, and this work is called faith (Jn 6:29); it is “only” to believe in Him, to go to Him, to trust in the gift capable of nourishing deeply our hunger for life and love. It is only a matter of entering into a new perspective of life, the perspective of the kingdom, in which life is freely given.
It is the first step of this Chapter 6 of John, in which Jesus begins to speak of another bread, and of another hunger: a bread that alone is gift, and a hunger that is satisfied only by welcoming life.