In this Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, we continue with Part 2 of our study of the Sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. The Church skips over the episode of Jesus’ walking on the water and picks up again when the crowd who was just fed found Him on the opposite side of the Sea of Galilee, in Capernaum.
Jesus addresses them, first by challenging their motives for seeking Him: not for the signs which point to something much more significant, but that they have been fed and were looking for more. They, in turn, challenge Him with the fact that Moses gave them Manna from heaven to satisfy them while they sojourned in the wilderness for forty years. This connection with Moses is interesting because at the Feeding of the Five Thousand, they had already acknowledged Jesus as “The Prophet”, which to the Jews of the time, pointed to the new “prophet like Moses” from Deuteronomy 18:18, “The LORD said to Moses: ‘I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; I will put my words in is mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.’”
Yet, this is the opening Jesus needed to launch into the Bread of Life discourse. The people challenged Jesus to do what Moses did in providing the Manna, but do Moses one better: namely provide sustenance not just for a time but forever.
Jesus, here, goes even further than their greatest expectation: He declares Himself as the true bread of life. We shall see how this is accepted or rejected next week.
Our First Reading from the Book of Exodus gives us the story of God providing His people sustenance in the wilderness. Circumstances were so dire for the Israelites that they complained that they would rather be in well-fed slavery than in freedom and dying of starvation. But God knew which side of the equation was best for them: Freedom from slavery and trust in the Lord.
God wants us to embrace that same freedom, even if it is accompanied by some hardship. It is in that hardship that God calls us to trust in Him with our future – by focusing on the present, in what one classic spiritual writer called the “Sacrament of the Present Moment” (Jean-Pierre de Caussade). Too often, we either dwell too much on the past, much the way the Israelites dwelt too much on their time in Egypt, or we fret too much about the future, much the way the Israelites fretted about where their next meal was coming from.
In the Exodus story, God fashioned a remedy for them by giving them just enough to live on for each day, but no more. (of course, keeping the Sabbath, by allowing them to gather twice as much).
As Christians, we are blessed with the founded hope in Jesus Christ, that although we are not immune from adversity and hardship, we know that “life will not end in emptiness,” but with the glory of Christ’s Resurrection. That said, we still must allow ourselves to be held in the hands of God day by day. We Christians may know the ultimate outcome, but the specifics of future events in our lives still remains hidden. That is why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.” That bread that is given us each day is not simply ordinary bread, but supersubstantial bread – the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity.
It took a whole lot of trust for the Israelites to make it through their sojourn in the wilderness. Let us put just as much trust in our God, in Jesus Christ … our whole lives, even. In Jesus Christ, the true Bread from Heaven, we never have to worry about where our next meal is coming from.