Bread of Life teaches truth that endures
By Father R. Michael Schaab
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time / Aug. 5
Exodus 16:2-4,12-15; Psalm 78:3-4,23-24,25,54; Ephesians 4:17,20-24; John 6:24-35
When Jesus walked this earth he was referred to and recognized as “Teacher.” Today we seem to gravitate toward other titles for him, like “Shepherd.” But in the Gospels, even when a title like Shepherd is used, a close reading of the text will often bring us back to Teacher.
For example, a couple Sundays ago we read that Jesus took pity on the people who were coming out to see him. It said that “his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mark 6:34) One would expect that Jesus’ response to these people would be to guide them as a shepherd would. However, this verse ends with the phrase, “and he began to teach them many things.” It is clear that Jesus saw himself preeminently as Teacher.
In the first half of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word continues the teaching tradition of Jesus. The primary teaching this Sunday is summed up by Paul in these words: “Be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.” In a time when truth has lost a lot of value for many people, the phrase “holiness of truth” stands out for me, even though all the other readings present us with the very powerful and all too familiar image of “bread from heaven.”
“HOLINESS OF TRUTH”
With our 2,000-year tradition of celebrating the Mass, it’s almost automatic that reading about God sending manna from heaven and hearing Jesus refer to himself as the bread of life “which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world,” we should conclude that the Church’s message today is a call to deeper Eucharistic devotion. But these readings are from before the Last Supper and the institution of that first Eucharist. Long before Christ was the Bread of Life in the Eucharist, Jesus was the Bread of Life in his preaching and his teaching. Jesus, the Bread of Life, Rabbi and Teacher, presents us with a lesson about “holiness of truth.”
“Truth” may be understood in many ways. It may be theological or philosophical or political or economic etc. One of the functions of the gift of faith is to enable us to determine the most important truth. What is the “holiness of truth?”
Truths often clash. For instance, a farmer with advanced cancer has insufficient medical insurance to cover the cost of the treatment that may extend his life. He faces many truths: the truth of his medical diagnosis, the truth of his need to care for himself, the truth that his treatments will necessitate the sale of some or even all of his property and the truth of his duties as a spouse and parent. He decides to forego the treatment so his farm will pass down to his wife and children and provide for their future. In this clash of truths, the farmer discovered the “holiness of truth” which the Bread of Life teaches us: “there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend.”
While there are many truths, the Bread of Life teaches truth that “endures for eternal life.”
When we get to our judgment day, I expect the different truths of life and their varying degrees of importance will be very clear to us. I expect that we’ll be judged on how well we learned the lessons taught by the Bread of Life that we find in Scripture. His “holiness of truth” is what we’re called to study under the guidance of God’s grace.
Father R. Michael Schaab is a senior priest of the Diocese of Peoria who gives retreats and days of recollection, and fills in as presider at parish Masses on weekends. He resides on a hobby farm in Putnam County.