Food That Endures
May 2, 2022 (readings)
- Memorial of Saint Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
- Andrew Rawicki
[After Jesus had fed the five thousand men, his disciples saw him walking on the sea.] The next day, the crowd that remained across the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not gone along with his disciples in the boat, but only his disciples had left. Other boats came from Tiberias near the place where they had eaten the bread when the Lord gave thanks. When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. And when they found him across the sea they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered them and said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.” So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”
Opening Prayer: Lord, today I want to find you. I know that you are inviting me into a deeper relationship, out of love and for love. You tell me that to accomplish the works of God, I must believe. I believe, Lord, help my unbelief.
What More Do I Need?: Today’s Gospel passage begins, unusually, with some bracketed text. This literary device is customarily used when an author wishes to add some clarity to the main point being developed. Of course, this particular “extra information” notes a miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes, followed by an equally miraculous walk on the surface of the water! What are we, the reader, to make of this? What is being clarified is not the narrative that follows, but the essence of the protagonist of the scene. This Jesus whom the crowds sought was not just a man, but God incarnate. “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30). The time for disbelief, or even passive indifference, had passed.
He Knows Our Hearts: The crowds desperately desired an encounter with Jesus and went to great lengths to find him. But when they found him, they were too embarrassed to state why they had come; instead, they asked a meaningless question about the time of his arrival. Thankfully, Christ knew what was on their hearts, and he conveyed this to the crowds instead of entertaining their question. For us, the message should be comforting. Jesus desires an encounter with us. He wants us to respond to his invitation to “come to the other side.” He will work with whatever we bring him, no matter how insufficient it may seem to us. We need only recall his words before multiplying the loaves: “Bring them here to me” (Matthew 14:18).
Sent: When someone in the crowd asked, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” Jesus told him to believe in the “one he sent.” We often refer to one or the other of “the Twelve” as Apostles, or St. Paul as the “Apostle to the Gentiles,” meaning that they have been “sent” on a mission from God. Rarely do we acknowledge, though, that Jesus, the second person of the Holy Trinity, was the original Apostle, as he clearly identified himself in this Gospel as the one whom the Father “sent.” Today’s saint, the third-century Bishop Athanasius, was exiled multiple times by civic leaders and even Church officials for his staunch opposition to the Arian heresy. Ultimately, this great Doctor of the Church, who never stopped perceiving that he was being “sent,” and sent so that many would come to believe the truth about the Holy Trinity, prevailed. Praise be to God for this saint’s perseverance in following the lead of the original Apostle in spreading truth. We, too, are sent at the end of every Mass to spread truth in generosity to those whom God places in our path.
Conversing with Christ: Jesus, I thank you today for reminding me that you are waiting for me to come to you, despite my unworthiness. You desire that I grow in wisdom from your teaching, and urge me to freely accept your gift of faith. Grant me the grace to accept this gift, along with hope and love, and to let these theological virtues fill me and spill over to others.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will slowly pray with Psalm 119, from which the responsorial psalm is taken.
For Further Reflection: Read some excerpts from St. Athanasius’ writings here.
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