(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
Last week, we heard about Jesus satisfying the hunger of five thousand people. We know that "no more hunger" is a sign of the Kingdom of God. In the Gospel for this Sunday, the people come looking for Jesus again. They want more.
When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were at the place where Jesus had given the bread, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”
The people have gone to a lot of trouble to find Jesus who gave them bread. They have done a lot of work to get those barley loaves again. We know that they have desire.
Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.
Jesus knows they have desire, but it is in their bellies. The people have filled their bellies once, they have had a taste of something good and they liked it. They have not yet discovered the desire that is in their hearts. Jesus says,
“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.
"Food that perishes" is food that goes bad after awhile. We know that food does not last forever. After awhile, it begins to spoil, it grows mould, it becomes rotten. We throw it out because it can no longer be eaten. It is no longer good for life.
Jesus tells the people that they have been working for the wrong food. He wants them looking for different food—food that does not perish, but endures. "Food that endures" is food that lasts forever. Food that does not spoil. Food that is good for eternal life.
Food that Jesus will give them.
Now the people are curious. Eternal life, eh? They challenge Jesus.
So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
We know from the Gospel last week, that the festival of the Passover is near. The Passover celebrates God calling Moses to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt into the desert wilderness. It recalls the gifts of God in the wilderness, the gifts that satisfy their desire: the gift of the Law and the gift of manna.
The Law is the Word of God that shows them how to live. They call it the Torah. There is a saying, "Torah is life." Torah forms them into the Chosen people of God. The Word satisfies their desire for relationship with God. Living the Law each day is how they respond to this gift. They live their covenant relationship with God.
Manna is the mysterious bread from heaven. Each day of the journey, manna appears and the people make enough bread to last for the day. It satisfies their desire for food, it gives them strength for the journey. The manna lasts throughout the journey until they arrive at the promised land. The gift of the manna no longer appears, but the gift of the Word of God remains. Relationship with God remains.
The people have the story of the Passover on their minds. They want to know if Jesus can do what Moses did. Can Jesus give them bread from heaven?
Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
True bread? What can that mean?
We can consider what we know about regular bread. Bread is made from grain that grows from the earth. Humans harvest the grain, grind it into flour, knead it and bake it into loaves. Each culture, all over the world, makes a kind of bread. We could say that bread is universal. The whole world, not just the Chosen people of God, eats bread. It is filled with nutrients that we need for life and with the strength we need to work. Bread satisfies our hunger. After we eat it, the desire of our bellies is satisfied. For awhile. Eventually we get hungry again.
What, then, is true bread? Is this bread that does not perish, bread that endures for eternal life? Could true bread satisfy our desire forever?
They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
The people want this true bread. They came wanting to satisfy the desire of their bellies. But now they sense that Jesus is talking about something much more. Jesus is speaking about life. There is more to life than food that perishes. They desire more.
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life.
Jesus is the true bread that satisfies all our desires. He is not bread that perishes, that gets stale or mouldy. He is not manna that only appears during an earthly journey. Jesus remains. God gives us Jesus for life.
How do we receive this bread of life? How do we receive Jesus to satisfy our desires?
When we come to Mass, we come to satisfy the desire of our hearts. Pope Saint John Paul II tells us that we come to be fed at one table--the table of the Word and the table of the Eucharist. We recall that Torah is life, the Word of God is life. When we listen, Jesus, the bread of life, feeds us with the Word. Then we stretch out our hands to receive the Body of Christ. We can see it, we can touch it, we can taste it on our tongues. Jesus, the bread of life, feeds us with himself. We listen, we receive, we satisfy our desire for relationship with God.
Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
We listen, we receive, we satisfy our desire for relationship with God. Our hearts and bellies are fed. We are given the nutrients we need for eternal life, and the strength we need to work for the Kingdom of God.