The True Bread from Heaven
Sometimes when we read the Bible or hear Scripture at Mass, we can feel disconnected or that the events we are hearing couldn’t have really happened. In the Old Testament, people regularly live to be well over 100 years old. In the book of Numbers, when Balaam punishes a donkey, the donkey begins to speak in protest. A seven headed dragon prowls through the book of Revelation. While we can understand the metaphors and explanations of these extraordinary events, we can struggle to connect the ideas to our ordinary lives.
Today’s first reading from the book of Exodus, however, tells a very familiar and real story that has happened to all of us. In Exodus chapter 16, the Israelites have left Egypt and fled from pharaoh. They have survived the encounter at the Red Sea. However, the excitement and energy from the start of their journey has diminished. Anyone who has traveled, particularly with a toddler, will recognize how the Israelites feel at this point in their journey. They are tired. They are hungry. They want to stop and go home. And the Israelites make these demands known to their guides, Moses and Aaron.
How many of us have felt defeated on a journey? When we are stuck in an airport on a long flight delay and we don’t know when we will get home? Or cared for tired, hungry children in our care while putting on a brave face when you want to complain just as loudly?
God heard the cries of the Israelites. He did not seek to punish them for their complaining. Instead, God spoke to Moses and gave directions for how He would provide for their nourishment. The next day, true bread from heaven appeared and provided nourishment for the Israelites.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he challenges his listeners that change is necessary. It is necessary to put way the old self and old habits, instead taking up a new identity in Jesus and trusting in the way of the Lord. St. Paul’s words set up the message from Jesus in today’s Gospel, which takes place immediately after the multiplication of loaves and fish. After the crowd had eaten their fill, they came to Capernaum to look for Jesus. Jesus challenges the crowd that a change is necessary. Jesus tells the crowd to focus on more than the simple multiplication of loaves and fish, in itself a miracle. Instead, He focuses on the bigger picture of what bread they truly desire.
The true bread from heaven isn’t just substance to get through the day without feeling hungry. Jesus gives us the answer today. When the crowd presses Him on where to find the bread, the answer is very clear: Jesus himself. We must trust in God, no matter how tired or broken we are, that by remaining in Him we will be fed and nourished forever.