Our readings today are about God’s provision to desperate people – though in the New Testament reading the people didn’t know they were desperate.
In our first reading from the Book of Exodus we are taken to the newly freed Jewish people who were wandering in the Wilderness. The novelty of freedom had worn off, the sense of liberation from slavery soon gave way to the practicalities of how were they to be fed and watered! It’s all very well being free but the children still need to be fed. I love the Exodus stories as they are so human – the people of God who had seen the wonders of the God acting in history, the plagues afflicting the Egyptians until Pharaoh let God’s people go, the parting of the Sea – soon started to doubt when they got hungry. It’s amazing how the simple things in life can trip us up. So the people complained and were regretting freedom as, at least in slavery, their bellies were full!
In our Gospel reading the people were searching for Jesus who had miraculously fed a crowd; as Jesus notes they had eaten their fill of bread – but they were still looking for a miraculous sign. Maybe seeing one miracle makes people demand another. They wanted another miracle – like the one they had just seen which had put them in mind of the Old Testament story of Moses feeding the people – but Jesus moves them away from full bellies and perplexes them by saying that He is the bread of life – he is the one who satisfies our hungers.
In both readings the people are being awkward – in Exodus they are grumbling because they hungered, in St John’s Gospel they are irritating as they want more signs – the Gospel word for miracle. It’s as if the people in both readings want more and more and, no matter what they are given, it isn’t enough.
That shouldn’t surprise us as it seems it’s a basic temptation facing most humans – the desire for more. We live in a culture which is based on a desire to consume – the appliance we buy have built in obsolescence – computers, tablets, phones, washing machines, cookers are all designed to last for a limited time so that if we’ve not succumbed to slick marketing we have to go and buy new. My grandparents saved up to buy things and had a horror of what were known as Hire Purchase agreements, my parents were more ‘modern” and like the rest of their generation had a number of HP agreements for domestic appliances – now we all are urged to buy things on credit and the idea of saving up first is something we only really think about for mortgage deposits. The desire to consume is ever stronger, our economy is based on it after all and it’s hard for us to see as it surrounds us and is seen as normal. Yet the human motivation it is based on – the need to consume and the desire for more – is as old as time itself.
We can’t blame the Jewish people for wanting food – after all they were in a desert. Whatever plants grew there wouldn’t be enough to feed a people. They had been slaves, devoted to Pharaoh’s building projects, they hadn’t been farmers so wouldn’t have had the means, even if there was fertile soil, to grow their own food and animals. Their hunger made them irritable but God’s response to it – to feed them – also taught them.
In the passage following today’s the people were told to only gather what they needed for the next day – the only exception was Friday when they could gather enough for the Sabbath too. If they gathered more than they needed, if they were tempted to hoard, the bread went bad. They had to depend on God each day, no saving up for a rainy day, no plan to make a quick profit from neighbours who didn’t gather enough or wasted. Day by day, for 40 years, or so the story goes, the Jewish people had to depend on God for the everyday things such as food and sustenance.
Jesus ends today’s passage – though not this dialogue – declaring that he is the bread of life, those who go to him will never hunger or thirst. Instead of giving the people yet another miracle, Jesus offers himself.
In the verses that follow this we have John’s great passage about Jesus being the bread of life, bread that is eaten. John is making links between Jesus and the sacrament of Holy Communion where we eat bread, drink wine, and are fed by the Lord’s own hand with his Body and Blood.
Jesus Feeds Us
Christians have always puzzled about what Jesus meant when he said “this is my body” and “this is my blood” at the Last Supper. Clearly he meant that we was feeding us – just as God fed the Jewish people for all those years in the Wilderness. Clearly he meant to draw a link between his own self and the simple things of bread and wine. Clearly he wanted us to remember him but there’s more.
The Greek word used for memory – as in do this in memory of me – means more than remember. Remembering can be a very passive event – the Greek is much more active, it would be better translated as “make me real.” To remember, in this context, is to make Jesus real in the here and now.
When we take the broken bread and poured out wine we do many things
- We remember Jesus’ broken body and blood poured out on the Cross.
- We receive into our bodies, Jesus very self, as we are fed.
- We are taken to the Cross as it is projected through time and space and made present for us now
- We are lifted up to be with Christ in the heavenly places. It’s not just that he’s with us, but that he draws us to Himself as we eat and drink these holy things in his holy presence.
We Are Fed for a Purpose
We don’t do this, however, as a private act of spirituality. It’s not just about being fed, but being fed so we can feed others. It’s not just about receiving, but receiving so we can give. It’s not just about being blessed, but it’s about being a blessing to others.
God calls the Jewish people to be a light to the other nations of the earth. Alone chosen to be His people they are to model a right relationship with God which is made manifest in social justice – this is the recurring theme of the Old Testament prophets. Grafted onto God’s chosen people is the Church, called by God to be salt and light in our world, strengthened by the sacraments, by our experience of common worship and fed by God’s own very self in Jesus giving us the strength to respond to the needs of our world with the love of God.
When we feed the homeless, listen to those in need, show love and care for another we do so in God’s strength and as agents of God’s own self. We feed, listen, love and care in God’s name, for the people he loved and died for.
Will you pray with me?
O God who took human flesh,
that you might be intimate with us;
may we so taste and touch you in our bodily life
that we may discern and celebrate
your body in the world, through Jesus Christ, Amen.