Pastoral Column, Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: August 5, 2018
Msgr. Joseph Tracy, St. Stanislaus Parish
In a certain small town, drivers kept going through the borough’s only stop sign. They all said it was not big enough. The frustrated chief of police constructed an enormous billboard with the word STOP! In flashing letters and blinking lights around the perimeter. Then the police chief waited … and waited. A car approached from a distance and went straight through as usual. When stopped, the driver said “What stop sign?” Sometimes no matter what you do to communicate, some people just won’t get it.
In the gospel today, the crowd of people who addressed Jesus were the same people who had recently witnessed Jesus feeding 5,000 with five barley loaves and two pieces of dried fish. But despite the generosity of Jesus’ act of multiplication, many in the multitude became lost in the sign and came to Him looking for more. Similarly, in the selection from Exodus in the first reading, the Israelites were being called to accept the manna and the quail as gifts and to see beyond them to the God who had brought them into being and who was guiding them to freedom and a new way of life. Moses interpreted the sign for them: it was bread from the Lord for the journey. The crowd gathered with Jesus that day recalled that desert event and talked of Moses and manna. But the Lord redirected their attention to the true bread from heaven. That bread is His very self, who can satisfy every human hunger. Jesus challenged them to look beyond the bread and see beyond their stomachs so as to be able to be fed from the real food He has to offer, the bread of life. Jesus could see beyond the bread He took, blessed, broke, and gave, aware that He Himself would be taken and broken when He gave His life for the salvation of sinners. Jesus could also see beyond the crucifixion to the Eucharistic celebration, where He would be remembered and truly be present to His disciples.
You and I are encouraged by this Gospel to move from one level to another: to see beyond and behind, to see as Jesus did. Our Lord could see beyond the demands of the crowds for another free lunch and recognize the deeper hungers of which the people had yet to become aware. He could see beyond the beggar to the blessedness God bestowed on every human being. He could look beyond the adultery and acknowledge the repentant sinner. Jesus could see beyond skin color, gender, politics and social standing and recognize His brothers and sisters.
If we are to accept the bread that God gives to us in Jesus, it is essential to look beyond and to see where the sign in pointing. Some of the saints in our tradition had the ability to see beyond. St. Teresa of Calcutta, for example, could look beyond the wretchedness of India’s poor and recognize in them the face of Jesus. St. John Paul II could look into the eyes of his would-be assassin and recognize a brother whom he could forgive. As this lengthy Bread of Life discourse goes on over the next 4 – 5 Sundays, Jesus will continue to challenge our way of seeing and believing. We are invited to listen behind the words and look beyond the bread so as to perceive the mystery of the sign that is the very bread of life, the only life that matters: Jesus’ life.