Last week's Gospel told us about Jesus feeding the hungry crowds through the miracle of multiplying the loaves & the fish. That story concluded with the crowd seeing Jesus as a prophet after they had eaten their fill. Today, we see a continuation of the unfolding drama in the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel as the crowd yet again is filled with questions & doubts. In the Gospel readings these past few weeks, we’ve seen the crowds following Jesus around wherever he goes. The crowds are clearly searching for something. But, the crowds don’t quite understand what Jesus is all about. Is Jesus going to provide for their earthly needs, symbolized by the lunch of bread and fish that he provided them? Or, perhaps there is more beneath the surface that the crowds are just not yet seeing. The crowds still clamor for more signs – they want to see and believe. For us today as modern-day followers of Jesus, what does it mean to truly believe into him? Notice that I use the phrase “believing into Jesus,” not “believing in Jesus.” What affect could today's Gospel have on the way we seek our daily bread from Christ, the way we are challenged to grow in our faith?
To believe, to have faith: this is at the foundation of what it means for us to journey as Catholics. It's common in modern American for us to believe or have faith in someone or something on the basis of authority. In our culture, faith & belief often have a strong intellectual character; they are usually an act of the mind. However, in the ancient Mediterranean world, faith and belief were that connection that bound people together, coming more from a sentiment of heart instead of an act of the mind.
When the crowds ask what they can do to accomplish the works of God, Jesus tells them that the work of God is for them to believe in the one whom God sent, to believe in or to believe INTO Jesus. Believing into Jesus goes beyond an intellectual assent; it involves the loyalty, the commitment, and the solidarity of our very being that forms our faith in Jesus. Jesus fed the crowd last week as he was moved with compassion for their plight – the multiplication of the loaves and the fish was an important act of kindness to peasants of ancient Israel, as most of them lived a day-to-day existence in getting the food they needed to survive. Yet, believing in Jesus moves us way beyond our earthly needs & concerns. Jesus moves the crowd from their thoughts of earthly food filling their stomachs to the food that the Son of Man will give them that endures for eternal life. Even though the crowd in today's Gospel seems like it is making strides in understanding Jesus and his message, they still want another sign. Wasn't it enough that he just performed this miracle for them? Yet, on one level, we can understand the need for signs in the tradition of the prophets of ancient Israel, as the true prophets always proved themselves to the people through signs that came directly from God.
How often do we cry out to the Lord wanting some sort of sign, wanting clarity, wanting something to reinforce our faith? Look at the Israelites who had just been delivered from bondage in our reading from Exodus, how they were miraculously brought to safety through the sea. They cried out to God in a voice louder than the rumbling in their stomachs, not having faith that God would provide them food on their journey. They were afraid to trust God – they were afraid to trust their faith. In a moment of doubt, they thought it would be better to go back to Egypt, to walk away from God. They would even go back to the horrors of their captivity in slavery, because at least their basic needs of food and housing were met. Even when manna was sent down from heaven, they did not understand that it was a gift from God to meet their needs.
The Israelites had manna in the desert to satisfy their hunger; likewise, we have the true bread from heaven in our Lord Jesus Christ. What is it that this bread from heaven will do to us in our daily journey of faith? How is it different from the manna that fed the hungry Israelites in the desert? Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians that we are “to put away our old selves, to leave behind our former way of thinking and living” We are to be renewed in the spirit, in the way in which we live, in the way we think in our minds. We are to be open to the grace of holiness that God gives to us. That is how this bread from heaven will feed us, renew us, re-energize us.
Letting the significance of the bread of heaven touch our souls can be a very wondrous event in our lives. One of the great honors I have as a priest is distributing the Eucharist during mass. When I look into the eyes of the people and declare this “the body of Christ,” the joy and meaning that you see in the expressions of the people can be amazing. It is hard to put into words sometimes, but our hearts know what the bread of life means to us and to our own lives.
That is because the daily bread that we receive from Christ brings us new life - it calls us to a continuing process of transformation, conversion, & renewal. We as a people of faith live in the same physical world as people without this faith. However, our faith gives us a new filter & a new lens in which we look at the world. It is through faith that we are able to believe that the Eucharist is truly the body & blood of Christ. It is through faith that we are able proclaim the dignity of all human life in a secular culture that sees so many people in our society as disposable & unwanted. Through our faith, we are in solidarity and union with Jesus and with our brothers & sisters. We are in union with them not only when times are good and when the bread we eat is plentiful, but most especially when we are suffering with Jesus on his way to the cross. Through our faith, we are challenged by Jesus Christ to go beyond the skepticism and cynicism that engulfs so much of our world, to go beyond the sarcasm and the existential angst of modern society.
Even though we are challenged, encouraged, and pushed to grow in our faith, Christ always approaches us with mercy and love. He helps us in our weaknesses, in our unbelief. We are called to go through our lives of faith by looking at the bread and wine of the Eucharist that we share together as a community as a sign of Christ’s love for us, Only our faith in our daily bread will satisfy our hunger and thirst for what is most important in life.