‘Work for the food that endures for eternal life’

Immediately following the great miracle of the feeding of the multitudes, which we heard in the Gospel last Sunday, in this week’s Gospel we continue our reading of John Chapter 6, the Bread of Life Discourse. At this point the crowds were as enthusiastic as they had ever been for the Lord. When he left the area where he performed this miracle, the people were so impressed by him they went in search of him. Discovering where he was, they wanted to make him their king, but the Lord left them.
We can’t blame them for seeking the Lord. The healings he performed, followed by the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, would have been astounding to witness. The people were rightfully impressed.
When the Lord left them, they began to search for him again. When they found him across the sea at Capernaum, the Lord tells them rather bluntly what their true motive is for seeking him: “You are looking for me not because you saw signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled.”
The people followed the Lord not to fulfill their spiritual needs, but because they wanted their material needs met. They sought him for worldly motives, not spiritual ones. The kind of king they wanted was not the king he would be. He spoke bluntly to them and to us in words we must take deeply to heart if we want our Lord to be the kind of king he came to be: “Do not work for food that perishes.”
This world is full of good things that God made for us. In themselves, worldly things are created good, but as the saying goes, “The glory of the world is passing.” As good as the things of this world can be, it all fades and withers eventually.
It is easy to try to fill our lives working for food that perishes. In fact, this is the root of addiction and sin. Every addiction is a hunger we continually feed with something that cannot satisfy. Each sin is an attempt to invest ourselves in a fleeting moment, rather than thinking in eternal terms.
The only remedy for seeking after food that perishes is to do what the Lord says to the crowd: “Work for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” In the feeding of the multitudes, the Lord performed what would turn out to be a minor miracle compared to the true miracle for which he was trying to prepare them. The Lord turns from filling the people with earthly food to promising to give a food which will endure to eternal life. This food is the Eucharist – his own Body and Blood.
In case we think the Lord is speaking metaphorically about his Body and Blood, he makes himself perfectly clear when no less than 10 times in this chapter of John he repeats himself, each time more strongly than the last, that he is the Bread of Life and that we must eat and drink his true Body and Blood to have eternal life within us.
The Eucharist is the greatest gift God ever gave us because the Eucharist is God himself. The One through whom the universe was made once humbled himself to become incarnate for us. This Jesus, the Son of God, still humbles himself to give himself to us through his Body and Blood in the Eucharist at each Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. There is no surer path to grace and life, no better food for nourishment and health, nothing more everlasting and salvific than to receive his Most Blessed Sacrament with an eager and open heart.
Sadly, most of the crowds who sought after the Lord wanted their bellies filled more than their souls satisfied. Even many of his disciples who had followed him for some time walked away that day because he was not going to satisfy them more as an earthly king might. They wanted to be fed and satisfied for the moment rather than for eternity. Nearly all except the apostles walked away from him.
How do we approach our Lord when we encounter him, whether in the Eucharist, in the church, in the Mass or in our prayers? Are we like the crowds who expect to be fed and delighted in the way of our own choosing for the moment only, or do we allow ourselves to be fed according to the lasting design of the Lord?
When we only want to be fed for the moment according to our own desires rather than for eternity, we will nearly always walk away disappointed like the crowds, because we have not embraced the greater gift God wants to bestow on us. Instead of seeking the food that perishes, we must work for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man gives us especially in the miracle of the Eucharist.
Father John Broheimer is the pastor of St. Peter Parish, Omaha.
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