Last Sunday we were provided examples of how the hungry are given the food they need through the service of the community. This Sunday we look a bit closer at the bread itself. The first reading and the Gospel identify it as “bread from heaven.” We know that it does not really come down from somewhere, but rather comes off from something (probably a tamarisk tree). What is important about this bread is not its recipe, but its meaning. It comes from God, and the restrictions for collecting it remind us to trust that God will always provide what we need.
It is always a challenge to hold in delicate balance our authentic responsibility to care for ourselves and others, as we saw last week, and our humble acknowledgment of our total dependence on God. Today’s readings focus our attention on this latter theme. Admitting our need for others is very difficult for people who aspire to be independent. Sometimes we have to be stripped of our usual sources of support in order to be reminded that our ultimate sustenance comes only from God.
Today’s readings also point out that those sustained by God have not earned such a blessing through their own merit. On the contrary, the Israelites are provided bread from heaven even after their murmuring; Jesus promises the true bread from heaven to people who had been satisfied by the bread he gave them earlier and who were looking for more. From this we see that God’s generosity is not dependent on our virtue, but on God’s goodness.
Jesus makes a bold claim today: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger.” Paul insists that acceptance of Jesus as the real source of our life and the very nourishment of our spirits effects a total transformation in us. We are no longer content to live with full bellies but empty minds. We put aside our old selves steeped in ignorance and self-interest, and we put on a new self, created in Christ’s image. Having fed on the bread from heaven, we are mysteriously transformed into it. The spirit of our minds has been renewed. We have learned Christ; we are nourished by his teaching. As a result, we launch out into a way of living that witnesses to our new understanding, our new life.