Reading I: Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15
There are two accounts of the manna and the quail in the Pentateuch,
the other being in Numbers 11. There the manna was provided first,
and after the people “murmured” (a constant motif
in the Exodus story), the quails were given. In this account
greater emphasis is placed on the manna.
Both are intelligible
as phenomena in the Sinai desert, the manna being a sweet excretion
from certain insects and the quail being migratory fowl that
often drop dead from exhaustion in their flight over the Sinai
Note how the final remark of Moses highlights the manna at the
expense of the quail, providing the phrase “bread from
heaven,” which was destined to play an important role in
Responsorial Psalm: 78:3-4, 23-24, 25, 54
The phrase “bread
from heaven” is taken up in the refrain of the psalm. Psalm
78 is a long recitation of Israel’s salvation history from Jacob
to David. This section of it covers the Sinai period.
from heaven becomes the “bread of the angels,” a further
step on the road to its typological interpretation of the messianic
banquet and the Eucharist.
Reading II: Ephesians 4:17, 20-24
Today’s reading from Ephesians continues the parenesis, or ethical
exhortation. The material is almost certainly derived from a
primitive Christian catechism.
Note first the reference to the
teaching of Christ. Note secondly the pattern of renunciation
and renewal. “Put off” and “put on” are
suggested by the candidates’ divesting themselves of their garments
to go down into the baptismal waters and their vesting again
with the baptismal robe after emerging from them.
be sure that this symbolism was already applied at this time,
but it is not improbable.
Running through this passage is the contrast between the old
pagan life and the new Christian life. The word “likeness”
in the RSV is not in the Greek, and we have no reason to speculate
that the author is here thinking of human beings as having lost
the divine likeness (though retaining the image) at the fall.
Also, the word “nature” translates the Greek word
for “human being.” We might find it helpful here to
use Tillich’s term, the “new being.”
Gospel: John 6:24-35
This is the opening section of the discourse on the bread of
life. Like so many of the Johannine discourses, it is composed
from traditional materials. The reference to “signs”
recalls the discussion in Mark 8:11-13 and the figurative interpretation
of bread recalls the dialogue in Mark 8:14-21.
The evangelist himself is not averse to the term “sign,” but he
polemicizes against a faith that does not penetrate beyond the
sign to the thing signified. Hence the exhortation to labor
not for earthly bread but for the “food which endures to
This introduces the theme of the bread from
heaven. At the outset it is stated that the Son of man (that
is, he who came down from heaven and who will ascend thither
again) will give this bread.
The dialogue about the true work looks like a digression, but
it serves to underline the nature of the bread from heaven.
This bread has to be received in faith; that is the only way
to labor for it.
Having established the difference between the
sign and the thing signified, the dialogue then proceeds to
draw a second distinction, that between the type and its fulfillment,
between the manna and the “true” (that is, eschatological)
bread from heaven.
Note how the evangelist draws both distinctions
by means of the Johannine technique of misunderstanding. Each
time the Jews misunderstand the Revealer, who then proceeds
to give the correct interpretation.
In the course of this dialogue,
a shift occurs, First Jesus promises as Son of man to give the
bread of eternal life, but later he says, “I am the bread
There is a major dispute as to whether the evangelist already
has the Eucharist in mind in this first part of the discourse
or whether that theme does not really come to the fore until
verses 51-58 (regarded by some as the addition of a redactor).
Is Christ the bread of heaven already in the incarnation or
only in the Eucharist? Is this bread made presently available
in the proclamation of the word only or in the sacrament also?
Are eating and drinking no more than metaphors for faith in
the divine Revealer, or do they also include sacramental eating
We would hazard two opinions on this subject. First, it would
be wrong to draw a sharp line between the historical and kerygmatic,
and the sacramental. All are part of one single act of revelation
and redemption, with the historical coming of Christ decisive,
and the preaching of the word and partaking of the sacrament
complementary as re-presentations of the once-for-all revelatory
and redemptive event.
Therefore, it is not either faith in the
word or sacramental eating and drinking alone, but both, the
one informing the other but the one incomplete without the other.
Secondan even more hazardous opinionsince verses
20-51b speak exclusively of the bread of life, and only verses
51c-58 of the flesh and blood of Jesus, the background of the
earlier part is the fellowship meal and preaching of the word,
while the background of the later part is the Eucharist proper.
If the later part is the addition of a redactor who is also
of the Johannine school, it would mean that the evangelist had
emphasized the agape meal and preaching, to the virtual exclusion
of the Eucharist proper.
But his rather “way-out”
view was seen within the Johannine school to require supplementation.
It is in that supplemented form that John’s Gospel has been
received into the canon by the Church.
As the text now stands,
it asserts that the incarnate Christ is present as the bread
of life in the fellowship meal and in the word, and that in
the Eucharist proper the crucified One gives his flesh and blood
to be the food of the faithful.
Reginald H. Fuller
Copyright © 1984
by The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., Collegeville, Minnesota.
rights reserved. Used by permission from The Liturgical
Press, Collegeville, Minnesota 56321
Preaching the Lectionary:
The Word of God for the Church Today
Reginald H. Fuller. The Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition),
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