The first reading is a snapshot of Israel in the desert. They are doing what they did a lot in the desert, complaining. “We enjoyed meat in Egypt,” they complained. “Now we are starving to death in the desert.” First, God brought them to water, but the water was bitter and undrinkable. So God directed Moses to put a piece of wood in the water, a foreshadow of the cross, and the water became sweet and refreshing. Then, they wanted meat, so in the evening God sent them a flock of quail to give them meat. And in the morning, God sent them manna.
As the Israelites left their tents in the morning they saw that instead of dew, the ground was covered with a white substance. They all looked outside and said the same thing, “What is it?” “Manna” is Hebrew word that means literally, “What is it?” To this day we do not know what manna was. We can tell from the Biblical narrative that it was some form of carbohydrate that was stable enough to be baked into bread, but so spoilable that it only lasted one day. So, each morning, the Israelites would gather enough manna for one day’s use. It was “daily bread.” And since it fell from the sky, it was also “bread from heaven.” The Bible even describes how it tasted, “like a honey wafer.” So, it must have been pretty tasty.
This week’s gospel picks up where last week’s gospel left off. Remember last week that 5 loaves and 2 fish multiplied to feed 5,000 men plus women and children. Seeing the miracle, the people wanted to make Jesus king by force, but he slipped away and prevented it. Jesus sent the disciples to the other side of the Sea of Galilee in a boat while he went to pray. Then, in the stormy night, Jesus came to the disciples walking on the water. The crowd who had witnessed the miracle of the loaves and fishes took to their own boats in the morning and came to Jesus and his disciples. They were surprised to see Jesus there since they knew the disciples had left without him. It would seem a tribute to Jesus for them to pursue him like that, but Jesus had no ego that needed stroking. He knows they did not come to him because they wanted him, but because they wanted what Jesus could do for them.
That strikes pretty close to home, doesn’t it? How often do we come to Jesus not because we want him, but because we want something from him? “Jesus fix my finances.” “Jesus fix my body.” “Jesus fix my relationships.” If things don’t work out the way we want, we get angry with God. Even if we determine God has indeed answered out prayers, we are thankful for a moment, then we put him on a shelf and forget about him until we need something from him again.
That was why Moses was so frustrated with the Israelites. They wanted to be free from slavery in Egypt. In Exodus 15, God parts the sea and sets them free. But by Exodus 16, they are complaining that they are hungry and want to go back to Egypt where they had plenty to eat.
In last week’s gospel when Jesus worked the great miracle, the crowd doesn’t ask Jesus, “What do you want us to do?” Instead, they want to tell Jesus what to do. They want to control Jesus. So, in today’s gospel, Jesus tells the crowd, “You didn’t come to find me because you want to entrust your lives to me, but because your bellies are full. Do not live for the bread that perishes, but for the bread that lasts for eternal life.”
As a culture we are angry with God for allowing world hunger. If God is a loving god, why doesn’t he just turn all the stones into bread. That is what the crowd wanted. “See what you can do, Jesus. End hunger forever.” But that is not Jesus’ purpose. Instead, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.”
Jesus is to bring us to God. To nourish us with God. And then, empowered by the love of God, dealing with world hunger is our responsibility.
Jesus is the manna. The bread which came down from heaven. The daily bread that sustains us each day. That needs to be refreshed each day. To partake of the daily bread, is to do the will of Jesus each and every day. The crowd asked, “How do we accomplish the works of God?” Jesus answered, “Believe in the one He sent.” “Trust the one He sent.” Entrust yourselves to the one He sent.”
To believe is to trust. To trust is to entrust our lives into His hands. And, Jesus adds, daily. Daily take up your cross. Daily follow Jesus. Daily choose to be His disciple.
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
We are not just temporal beings. We are also eternal beings. Yes, we need temporal food and temporal drink. But more importantly, we need eternal food and eternal drink in the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus. As we come to the table today, recognize the eternal food and drink that brings us to eternal life. Not in some magical way, “I received communion, therefore I am going to heaven.” But in real conversion and transformation. Nourished with this spiritual food, we are empowered to do the will of God today and every day.