Is It Ever Enough?
Who among us has not had the experience of trying to do something special for another person and discovering that what we thought would be gratefully received and appreciated fell short in the eyes of the intended recipient? It might be something as simple as remembering a birthday or as momentous as arranging a trip to a fabulous vacation destination. But somehow, the recipient of our gift does not appreciate what has been given.
In the readings this week, the Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, we see something of this same sort happening. The Israelites have escaped from slavery in Egypt. They have miraculously crossed the Red Sea, with the entire Egyptian army in pursuit. They have traveled into the Sinai and now, two months after leaving Egypt, they find that food and water are not naturally abundant for a large group of people traveling together in a dry land. One of those DUH! moments. They begin to grumble and complain. At least in Egypt they had enough to eat and drink. They even had bread (an Egyptian invention when ovens were invented and wheat bread developed). Here in the desert, they didn’t know where their next food and water were going to be found.
Moses took their complaints to God, who responded by providing manna in the morning and quail in the evening for the people to eat. The manna fell from the sky each morning and the people were instruction to collect just enough for their own family for the day. The same rule applied to the quail which came in the evening for the hunters. Only on the sixth day were they allowed to harvest more than enough for one day, because nothing was to be collected on the seventh day. It was to be a day of rest.
When the manna fell the first day, the people asked, “What is this?” Moses responded, “This is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.” (Ex 16:2-4, 12-15)
This gift of manna in the desert became one of the abiding themes in Jewish culture and history. The psalmist declares, “He commanded the skies above and opened the doors of heaven; he rained manna upon them for food and gave them heavenly bread.” (Ps 78). The people fed by Jesus out in the countryside came to him when they had returned to the city and demanded a sign before they would be willing to believe that God had sent him to them: “Our ancestors ate manna in the desert…” Jn (6:24-35)
Jesus told those who searched for him in the city that they were to search for food that endures for eternal life, not everyday, ordinary food that spoils. The food that endures comes from the Father, just as the manna in the desert had come from God, not from Moses. The bread of God gives life to the world. Those who eat it will never hunger or thirst.
In this discourse, Jesus tells those with whom he is speaking, “I am the bread of life.” We’re used to hearing folks say, “I am.” “I am happy,” “I am sad,” “I am coming home soon,” etc. “I am” doesn’t mean anything significant in our ordinary speech. But in John’s Gospel, “I am” statements mean something important. This is the name of God. When Jesus says this, he makes clear that he speaks in the power and authority of God. “Whoever comes to me will never hunger” because he himself is the life-giving gift of God.
This new life from Jesus demands a different style of interaction and behavior from those who are his sisters and brothers. (Eph 4:17, 20-24) They no longer live as people who are only looking out for themselves and their own pleasure. They are now part of a community committed to living as members of the Body of Christ – those who eat the Bread from Heaven.
Is this gift from God enough for us? For you? For me? Will we eat of this bread of life? Will we believe and never thirst?