Feeling empty? Maybe that’s Jesus calling out to you
In today’s Gospel, Jesus declares, “I am the bread of life.” Jesus often speaks in symbolic ways, especially in John. The symbol of the bread of life, the bread from heaven, would resonate with John’s audience, who were familiar with the tradition of the Exodus and manna in the desert. The expression offers us, too, much food for thought.
‘Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.’ (Jn 6:35)
What can you do to meet the spiritual needs of your community?
How can you increase your faith?
What can you do to be more like Christ?
Last Sunday, we heard the story of Jesus feeding thousands of people with five barley loaves and two fish. Jesus demonstrated his care and concern for the physical needs of his community, and he did not let hardship or limitations stifle his ability to help others. In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus tending to the spiritual needs of the community, offering himself as spiritual nourishment. Jesus affirms that belief in him will cure spiritual hunger and thirst, and he makes a clear reference to the story of the manna sent from heaven in today’s first reading.
The first reading is set soon after the Exodus, in which God’s saving and liberating power is revealed. Despite the deliverance, the Israelites complain to Moses, lamenting their journey through the desert and even wishing to return to Egypt. God hears their frustration and sends quails and bread from heaven to nourish them, giving instructions for how they should collect, manage and share the food. Like the story of Jesus sharing the loaves and fish, the manna from heaven was abundant, and it served the people’s needs. Tradition holds that the Israelites ate manna from heaven for 40 years while traveling through the wilderness to the promised land (Ex 16:35).
Jesus compares himself to this manna from heaven, calling himself the bread from heaven, sent by the Father to sustain and nourish: “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Belief in Jesus offers spiritual fullness. Symbolic teachings like this occur throughout John. Two chapters earlier, Jesus encountered the woman of Samaria at a well and called himself “living water” that quenches thirst and leads to eternal life (Jn 4:13-14). As the bread of life, Jesus proclaims that he fulfills the spiritual needs of everyone.
When Jesus offered bread and fish to the multitudes, he modeled behavior that we are called to emulate, attending to the physical needs of others. In affirming that faith in him fills spiritual hunger, today’s Gospel invites us to think of ways we can tend to the spiritual needs of ourselves and others. To be nourished by faith in Christ, we are called to be like Christ.