AUGUST 5TH, 2018: EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
The whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.
The Israelites said to them,
"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
to make the whole community die of famine!"
Then the LORD said to Moses,
"I will now rain down bread from heaven for you.
Each day the people are to go out and gather their daily portion;
thus will I test them,
to see whether they follow my instructions or not.
"I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites.
Tell them: In the evening twilight you shall eat flesh,
and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread,
so that you may know that I, the LORD, am your God."
In the evening quail came up and covered the camp.
In the morning a dew lay all about the camp,
and when the dew evaporated, there on the surface of the desert
were fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground.
On seeing it, the Israelites asked one another, "What is this?"
for they did not know what it was.
But Moses told them,
"This is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat."
Brothers and sisters:
I declare and testify in the Lord
that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do,
in the futility of their minds;
that is not how you learned Christ,
assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him,
as truth is in Jesus,
that you should put away the old self of your former way of life,
corrupted through deceitful desires,
and be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
and put on the new self,
created in God's way in righteousness and holiness of truth.
When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there,
they themselves got into boats
and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
And when they found him across the sea they said to him,
"Rabbi, when did you get here?"
Jesus answered them and said,
"Amen, amen, I say to you,
you are looking for me not because you saw signs
but because you ate the loaves and were filled.
Do not work for food that perishes
but for the food that endures for eternal life,
which the Son of Man will give you.
For on him the Father, God, has set his seal."
So they said to him,
"What can we do to accomplish the works of God?"
Jesus answered and said to them,
"This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent."
So they said to him,
"What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?
What can you do?
Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written:
He gave them bread from heaven to eat."
So Jesus said to them,
"Amen, amen, I say to you,
it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven;
my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world."
So they said to him,
"Sir, give us this bread always."
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."
Whenever we come across grumbling and griping during the Exodus, we know that particular passage comes from the “Yahwistic source.” That particular author had to deal with a fair amount of grumbling and griping in her own community. Somehow they felt left out of Yahweh’s salvation history. Though God had worked “signs and wonders” during the Israelites’ first centuries, now, shortly after King David’s death in the 10th century BCE, people were beginning to believe those glory days were in the past, gone forever. They couldn’t perceive any traces of Yahweh’s care and concern in their everyday lives. They simply were born too late. Nothing left to do but complain about their fate.
At this point the Yahwistic author steps in and reminds them of something they’ve overlooked: the Exodus Israelites also grumbled and griped. Though Yahweh’s signs and wonders are all around them, they aren’t “explicit” enough to remove all doubts. When the slightest problem arises – like hunger – they jump to the conclusion God’s left them, and the complaining starts.
It’s important that Scripture scholars are convinced today’s double miracle – manna and quail – can be explained by natural phenomena. The manna, by the nightly secretion of insects on trees and bushes; the quail, by native bird migrations. Anyone adept in survival techniques would have been familiar with both. What was natural for native Bedouins was miraculous for a bunch of runaway slaves. One could easily miss God’s hand in the natural around us.
Along the same line, the Pauline disciple responsible for Ephesians hammers away at the “metanoia” necessary for all Jesus’ followers. Believers and non-believers live in the same world. We basically experience the same things. The difference revolves around how we interpret those experiences. Having a different value system, we’re able to see, hear and touch things others miss. We sense things through the faith of Jesus. The risen Jesus doesn’t normally step in and change reality for our benefit, working miracles on a daily basis. He/she simply helps us see, hear and touch the miraculous that’s already there.
In a way, that’s what John’s Jesus helps us do when we encounter the Eucharist. Though Paul – in I Corinthians 11 – expects the faithful to acknowledge the fundamental difference between a group of people eating lunch at McDonald’s and a faith community sharing a Eucharistic meal, John focuses on the fundamental difference between regular table bread and wine and Eucharistic bread and wine. According to John’s Jesus, the former takes care of our bodily hunger and thirst, the latter, our spirit’s hunger and thirst. Obviously the latter is essential to living a truly fulfilled life.
When compared to the Exodus manna, no matter how miraculous, those nightly insect secretions can’t measure up. Those bread-like flakes only satisfied the Israelites for a day. The Eucharistic bread, on the other hand, will stop us from ever hungering again. This bread morphs into the “bread of life” for which we constantly hunger, even when our stomachs are full.
I presume without these John 6 passages we’d have no tabernacles in our churches. Following Paul, we’d genuflect in front of the community, not the Eucharistic bread. Yet it’s good to see how our understanding of the Eucharist has changed its emphasis through the years.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with evolution, as long as we don’t forget Scripture’s earlier emphasis, as we obviously did for centuries. The problem is, it costs us very little to acknowledge the presence of Jesus in the bread and wine. On the other hand, experiencing Jesus in the community causes us to have a constant death, especially if some of those people belong to a different race, social status or even just a different political party.