Believing is seeing beyond the sign.
Ex 16:2-4,12-15; Ps 78; Eph 4:17, 20-24; Jn 6:24-35
The following Sunday commentaries by Patricia Datchuck Sanchez appear in full in Celebration, the worship and homiletic resource of the National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company. To receive a full copy of the May 2009 issue in PDF format, go to www.celebrationpublications.org/freeoffer.
Had Jesus been born into a place other than Judah and into a culture other than that of our Hebrew ancestors, the Gospels for the next four Sundays would probably have been a little different. In these Gospels, Jesus offers himself as bread: sapientially (the bread of his Word) and sacramentally (the bread of Eucharist). But perhaps an Asian Jesus would have offered rice as the sustenance that gives life. A Latino Jesus might have offered corn or beans, while a Jesus born into sub-Saharan Africa could have provided matoke or plantains as the staple to feed the physical and spiritual hungers of his contemporaries. Wherever he might have ministered, whatever staff of life he chose, whatever sign he offered, the gift that Jesus gave was the gift of himself for the life of the world.
In order to accept and acknowledge that gift, we are called to look beyond the sign in order to see and believe in the one who has used that sign to offer his very self. As featured in today's first reading from Exodus, the Israelites were being called to accept the manna and the quail as gifts and to see beyond those gifts to the God who had brought them into being and who, at that moment, was guiding them to freedom and a new way of life. Moses interpreted the sign for them: It was bread from the Lord, bread for the journey.
Jesus similarly provided bread and fish for the multitudes, but many became lost in the sign and came to him looking for more. As the Johannine evangelist picks up the thread of his lengthy Bread of Life discourse in today's Gospel, Jesus is represented as addressing the people's desire for signs. They cited the desert event and talked of Moses and manna. But Jesus redirected their attention to the true bread from heaven. That bread, of course, is his very self, who can satisfy every human hunger. Look beyond the bread and see beyond your stomachs, challenged the Johannine Jesus, so as to be able to sink your teeth into the real food he has to offer, the bread of life. Jesus could see beyond the bread he took and blessed and broke and gave, aware that he would be similarly taken and broken when he gave his life for the forgiveness of sinners. Jesus could also see beyond the crucifixion to the Communion celebration, where he would be remembered and would be truly present to his disciples.
Jesus, as William Bausch has explained, was engaging in what is called "consciousness raising" (Once Upon a Gospel, Twenty-Third Publications, 2008). He encouraged people to move from one level to another, to see beyond and behind, to see as he himself sees. Jesus could see beyond the demands of the crowds for another "free, lunch" and recognize the deeper hungers of which they had yet to become aware. He could see beyond the beggar to the blessedness God has bestowed on every creature. Jesus could look beyond the shamed adulterer and acknowledge the repentant sinner. Jesus could look beyond the betrayals and denials of his disciples and see in them the wounded beggars who would thereafter help others to find the bread of his word, of his wisdom, of his very self. Jesus could see beyond skin color, gender, politics and socioeconomic status and recognize his brothers and sisters.
Some of the saints among us have shown a similar ability to see beyond. Mother Teresa, for example, could look beyond the filth of India's poor and recognize in them the face of Jesus. Mohandas Gandhi and Pope John Paul II could look into the faces of their would-be assassins and recognize a brother whom they could forgive.
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 is pointing. Learning to look beyond in this way remains the challenge of Eucharist.
[Patricia Sanchez holds a master's degree in literature and religion of the Bible from a joint degree program at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York.]
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|Title Annotation:||The Word: Scripted for Life|
|Author:||Sanchez, Patricia Datchuck|
|Publication:||National Catholic Reporter|
|Date:||Jul 24, 2009|
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