Reflection: 5th August 2018

A Reflection for the Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

JN 6: 24-35 ( 

I am the bread of life.

Once where I worked I frequented a beautiful bakery which had lovely breads and cakes. After a few years, the bakery closed when the only family member who had baking skills retired. The bakery was replaced by a law firm, litigation being more lucrative in ‘Celtic Tiger’ Ireland! I was sad to see the bakery close, but my appetite for bread and cakes did not abate.

The Israelites in today’s first reading from Exodus felt hunger as they crossed the desert. They looked back with nostalgia to the security of bread and meat that they had while they lived in captivity in Egypt and which seemed more appealing than the risk of freedom. They complained to Moses and Aaron ‘Why have you led us into the desert to die of famine?’

The images in today’s reading remain very relevant. Ireland is in the grip of one of the driest summers in history.  Elsewhere in Europe and in Asia temperatures are soaring. We saw the terrible fatal fires in Greece recently. This is not just the weather, this is climate change. Like the Israelites we complain and blame the weather while we fail to take responsibility, by taking action on the root cause of climate change which we can reverse if we have the will to do so.

Climate change is threatening food security in regions of the earth where drought prevails. Daily hunger is a reality for 815 million people in our world. Famines are an ever-present threat in parts of the world; we are familiar with recent reported famines in the Horn of Africa, South Sudan and Yemen. The second of seventeen sustainable development goals is to ‘end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture’.

People long for manna in the desert. In the developed world, most people have access to bread; our food security systems are advanced yet even these are not in our own control. The Israelites in the desert were dependent on God to provide manna, while we depend on our ‘just in time’ supply systems. Whilst systems seem secure they can also be precarious. The famine in Ireland in the 1840s had as much to do with political and economic mismanagement of food as it did with lack of food.  In the Gospels, Jesus refers to self-sufficiency in the Parable of the Sower. 

Today’s Gospel speaks of a different kind of bread, one that does not perish and does not have a sell-by date but that gives life to the world. This bread which feeds a ‘spiritual hunger’ does not fall from heaven so readily. For countries like Ireland where the majority of people can find their daily bread, a deeper spiritual hunger remains. It seems organised religions have fewer practicing adherents in many parts of the world, often replaced with a spiritual vacuum. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is the bread of life. His words, stories, parables, miracles and actions brought alive to us in the Gospel are true nourishment for the soul, the spiritual core of our being. The followers of Jesus in this week’s Gospel said to him ‘Sir, give us this bread always’.

As we remember those who have tragically lost their lives in a fragile and precarious earth, and those who hunger and thirst in our world today, we pray ‘Give us this day our daily bread’.

Mr. Liam McGlynn – A student with the Spiritans in the 1980s, Liam spent two years on mission in Sierra Leone, and remains a member of the Sierra Leone Ireland Partnership. He lectures in social and community development in the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown.