Aug 4, 2012

18th Sunday: He Gave them Bread from Heaven



Caravaggio: Whoever comes to me will never hunger . . .
Ex 16: 2-4, 12-15
Eph 4: 17, 20-24
Jn 6: 24-35

Growing up we had an Uncle named Charlie. Uncle Charlie was the kind of guy everyone loved because he was generous and revealed a great sense of humor. In addition to being humorous my Uncle was organized, especially about times we would eat meals if on vacation.  Once one meal was finished, he wanted to plan for the next.  “Well, that was a great breakfast!  Now, what about lunch?  Where do you think we should eat lunch?” It was obvious to all of us that Uncle Charlie loved his food and never wanted to go without.  You never heard any complaints about not having enough.

How different with the Israelites in this Sunday’s first reading from Exodus. Poor Moses gets the brunt of it.  It was not long before the event we hear of this Sunday that Moses heard complaints from a thirsty people in the desert (Ex 15: 22-27).  God heard the grumbling of the Israelites and provided fresh water for the people as he instructed Moses to throw in a piece of wood which turned the briny water to fresh. The point of all this was that God was hoping the Israelites would remember from where and who came their nourishment.

But, the complaining continued as we hear this Sunday: “Would that we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert . . .” the people whine to Moses.

What does God do?  He provides once again. Not just manna, a kind of sweet flaky substance from desert insects that appears on the ground the next morning but also migrating quail to eat. Moses says, “This is the bread the Lord has given you . . .” God satisfied their thirst, now he fills their empty stomachs.  

An important point that Moses made once again was to remind the people this was God’s bread. It was God who cared for his people and not something that Moses himself had derived. This uncovers an important understanding as we look at our Gospel this Sunday for both are a call to faith.  

The earlier miracle of Jesus’ mysterious multiplication of bread and fish to feed the vast hungry and tired crowd impressed the people enough that many of them continued in hot pursuit to find him. It was an illusion back to the desert manna as Jesus remarks.

Once they found him, they were confronted by Jesus: “. . . you are not looking for me because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled . . .” In other words, they missed the point of what Jesus was doing in feeding them. Their vision was limited to the material and physical.

Yet, we might want to go easy on these poor thirsty, tired and hungry folks. It’s not surprising they missed the deeper significance of it all. They needed the Lord to explain it all to them. So, Jesus called them to go deeper in the “sign” he had provided: “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you . . .” And then he reveals the invitation: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

We are invited to come and to believe.  Where did the manna come from?  From  God.  Where did the fish and bread come from?  From Christ Jesus who is the sign of the Father’s presence and care for humanity.  Believe in Him as the source of, “. . . food that endures for eternal life . . .” The multiplication along the hills of Galilee, like the manna in the desert, fed the people indeed.  But this isn’t about a great seafood meal.  It is an invitation to “come” and “believe.”

Many have commented that the real problem today is a crisis of faith.  One would be hard pressed to argue otherwise.  The level of moral confusion, the claim for personal “rights,” the seeming lack of concern for the common good, the level of hostility and indifference to religion, and accusations of bigotry if one merely shares his values openly, may be more a symptom of a deeper sickness. Secular culture continues to do what it can to remove God or any reference to religion or religious values from public speech. About the only thing we continue to believe in as a culture is what is best for “me.”  Have we lost a set of core values and a common bond between our brothers and sisters? What do we believe in?

In the view of ancient Middle Eastern society faith was more than an assent of the mind.  It was far more an assent of the heart: loyalty, commitment, and community.  Jesus speaks about the sign he has worked.  Go beyond that and have faith in him.  Faith is the result of commitment and loyalty and loyalty to Christ and his Gospel produces a bond of communion with our brothers and sisters.  We need not worry since God is ultimately in control and will provide “our daily bread.”  

Do I view life, and my spiritual life in particular, merely through a prism of what I feel, hear, touch and taste? Maybe we do a little grumbling ourselves: “If God would just give me what I want, then I’d be satisfied. As the saying goes from a popular film about 15 years ago:  “Show me the money!” Do I remain with Christ and His Church when things are confusing or tough?  Come and Believe.

Allusions to our Eucharist are growing as we journey through John for the next few Sundays. For now, we are challenged, as the people were of old, to pursue a relationship with Christ in the Church that is based on loyalty and commitment rather than the endless distraction of living by the creed of “more is better.”