In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that when we become believers in Christ we can no longer live in the same way. In today’s Gospel we see Jesus extending that invitation to the crowds for whom he had just multiplied the loaves and fishes, yet they were still seeking a sign like the one recalled in today’s First Reading. It was time to leave the First Reading attitude behind and believe in him.
In today’s First Reading the Israelites wanted their bellies filled, and complained, and were even willing to return to slavery just to have a full stomach. They’re still far from today’s Gospel, a people who need signs just to keep going at all. The Israelites today had a weak faith that could only be nurtured by signs, but signs don’t last forever, nor are they meant to. The Lord always planned to go beyond simply providing subsistence to a desperate, sometimes disgruntled people.
The people who sought Jesus in today’s Gospel still want nothing more than a full stomach, but Our Lord is trying to help them see that what they really crave is what that full stomach normally gives them: life, not just for a few decades, but for eternity. As Jesus reminds them, full stomachs didn’t enable those Israelites under Moses to live forever, even though the Lord provided them with manna to eat.
Our Lord wasn’t just speaking metaphorically when he said he was the bread of life: every time we receive the Eucharist we know that he is the Bread of Life, and we know that one day that we’ll never need to fear dying of hunger or anything else ever again. Like the Israelites in the First Reading the people were still seeking signs, but now the moment had come for faith, a faith that lead to no longer living as the Gentiles did, just focused on immediate needs and concerns of this life and not seeing the bigger picture where this life is a pilgrimage toward eternal life.
The Israelites who grumbled in the desert in the First Reading didn’t live to see the Promised Land due to their lack of trust in God; the people in today’s Gospel are being extended an opportunity to one day enter into the true Promised Land, but they have to trust the new Moses–Jesus–to lead them.
Whenever we receive Communion we hear “the Body of Christ” and respond “Amen” without thinking much about how incredible it is that we are receiving God into our hearts under the appearance of bread. Whenever we genuflect in front of a tabernacle and that little red lamp is glowing nearby we acknowledge our faith that Our Lord is sacramentally present in the Eucharist.
Imagine the crowds hearing the teaching of the Eucharist for the first time and trying to understand it before believing in it. In today’s Gospel Jesus is trying to move them from thinking of ordinary bread in their stomachs to thinking of the bread of life. Our Lord today is asking them to go from what they understand of bread and the thought of endless bread to what they are really looking for: eternal life, not just as living forever, but as living contentedly forever.
When we consider our needs and our expectations for God to help fulfill them we can never lose sight of our ultimate need, God, and the means God has given us to fulfill it: believing in his son and receiving him as the Bread of Life. Let’s try believing today even when understanding something God teaches us is challenging, knowing he is always trying to provide for our eternal needs, not just our short term ones.