Ex 16:2-4,12-15 Eph 4:17, 20-24 Jn 6:24-35
Dear friends! Once there was a young hermit who lived as an ascetic in a forest. He owned nothing except a pair of loincloths. One morning, to his great disappointment, he found that mice had destroyed one of the loincloths. He brought a cat to kill the mice and then a cow to give milk to the cat. Later, as the cows multiplied, he hired a girl from the nearby village to look after the cows and to sell the extra milk in the village. Finally, his ever-growing material needs prompted him to end his religious life, marry the girl and settle down as a farmer in the village. This little story illustrates how easily the never-ceasing hunger for material things can take over our spiritual life. In today’s gospel, Jesus promises to satisfy our spiritual hunger by offering his body as our food.
Last Sunday we reflected on the miracle of the loaves and fishes, how Jesus had fed the people with ordinary food, and did so with great generosity. Afterwards he and his disciples crossed the lake. But the people followed them. Jesus knew that they followed him in the hope of receiving more of the same kind of food.
But this time Jesus refused to give it to them. He wouldn’t do what business people do – give people what they want. It’s called catering to co9nsumers’ tastes and pleasures. Producers simply provide what there is a demand for. Their sole aim is to try to meet the needs of the market or the potential buyer’s taste.
For a spiritual teacher to this would be a disaster. The spiritual teacher must challenge people to go beyond their tastes.
It was the first temptation all over again: turn these stones into bread. The temptation to use his special powers to give the people all the material things they could possibly want. But Jesus knew that material things by themselves will never satisfy people. These needs can never be satisfied, and increase when yielded to. Food is only the beginning. We eat in order to live; we don’t live just to eat.
It was the temptation to give people what they want rather than what they need. The temptation to please the crowd by giving them what will satisfy their immediate wants, when they don’t know what they really need.
Moreover, we know that it’s not only the body that gets hungry; the heart and the spirit get hungry too. The bread of material things can never satisfy the heart of a human being. To nourish a human being is not the same as to fatten the cattle. We are creatures not with one hunger but with a hundred hungers. We hunger for lots of things besides bread. We hunger for a feeling of importance, recognition, power, acceptance. We hunger for relationship, for love, and faith.
Jesus made it clear that the Son of Man had not come down from above merely to satisfy people’s physical hunger. He came to give them heavenly bread that people will eat and never again become hungry. He challenged them to go deeper. He said: ‘Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, food that the Son of Man will give you.’
Jesus challenged them to face the deeper hunger, the spiritual hunger. He urged them to seek food, food that he could give them. But when he taught them about spiritual food, and about eternal life, they began to murmur and turned their backs on him.
We too are tempted to live for material things alone. It’s not that we deny the spiritual, but that we neglect it. Physical food sustains life temporarily. But the food Jesus gives sustains life permanently. Who would not want to eat of this food? Jesus says here today to each one of us “I am the Bread of Life, if you come to me you will never be hungry, if you believe in me you will never be thirsty.” He speaks to our hearts and he calls us to feed on him in the Eucharist and to believe in him with all our strength so that we will be saved and the whole world transformed into the Kingdom of God.