Bread for the life of the world 1 Kgs 19:4-8; Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9; Eph 4:30-5:2; Jn 6:41-51 The whole world seemed to hold its breath, hoping for the rescue of the young boys and their soccer coach trapped deep in a cave in Thailand last month. Expecting to be there only an hour or so, they entered the cave with no provisions. Only the coach had brought some snacks along. Over several days while they were trapped in utter darkness and unsure of their fate, the coach carefully rationed out his meager food to help keep his young charges alive and alert. Even when they were wondrously rescued, the young boys had to be gently and gradually introduced to nourishment, so affected were their bodies in the days they were trapped. I thought of this as I began to look over the readings for this Sunday. Both have to do with food as essential to human thriving. The account in our first reading from the Book of Kings describes the great prophet Elijah’s desperation as he flees for his life from the tyrants Ahab, the king of Israel, and his deadly consort, Jezebel. Discouraged, hungry and fearful, Elijah withers in the desert heat as he journeys toward Mount Horeb in the Sinai Peninsula. He is so spent that he prays for death, “This is enough, O Lord!” God sends an angel to bring Elijah a “hearth cake” and a “jug of water.” Finally, the angel helps Elijah shake off his despair and he eats these God-given provisions. “Get up and eat,” the angel urges him, “else the journey will be too long for you!” The lectionary usually pairs the first reading with the Gospel selection and in this instance, they fit beautifully. For this Sunday, and every Sunday until the end of August, the Gospel selections are taken from the Bread of Life discourse in Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel. The message of this discourse comes in waves that wash up on the shore, recede and return with a slightly different rhythm. This leads some homilists to complain that they thought they had preached on this same Gospel last Sunday. Central to this discourse of Jesus is the image of food — bread and wine — that is revealed as the very body and blood of Jesus. The food Jesus provides is not simply a hearth cake and water but his very self — that is, his body and his blood. Continuing the food metaphor, Jesus invites his listeners to believe in him, that is, to “eat” and “drink” this bread and wine that is his very person. The segment of the discourse we hear today emphasizes Jesus’ role as the revealer of God — a central theme in the Gospel of John. In reflecting on Jesus’ compassion, his healing of those in pain, his words of truth, we see, as Pope Francis has said, “the human face of the Father’s mercy.” This is one central reason why Jesus is the bread of life because in savoring Jesus and his message of mercy we glimpse the inexhaustible beauty and mercy of God. The final line of the Gospel for today adds another key emphasis of John’s Gospel: “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Interpreters of John’s Gospel recognize in the phrase “the bread that I will give is my life for the life of the world” a reference to the death of Jesus. In giving his life as an act of consummate love on our behalf, Jesus truly gives us, “the bread of life.” On the eve of his death, Jesus told his disciples, “No greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” To live and not grow weary, we all need nourishment — physical, yes, but also spiritual. We need to experience that we are loved; that we have a destiny that extends beyond our lifetime; that ultimately, we will never be abandoned; that we have dignity as daughters and sons of God.