As we know, the first reading is often connected thematically to the Gospel reading. In this instance, the connection is clear with the words “He gave them bread from heaven to eat”. This provides an historical backdrop for today’s Gospel. In the first reading, the Israelites “grumble” about leaving slavery and the food that was regularly provided. In fact, the Israelites are not only grumbling at Moses but also at God who rescued them from Egypt. It’s surprising to me that God meets their demands so quickly but requires that they follow the directions about how to collect the bread to acknowledge God as their God and themselves as God’s people.
The theme in the second reading is the conversion of the heart, mind, and action among Christ’s believers. The community is being asked to live their baptismal calling in a robust and truthful way which is “in righteousness and holiness of truth”. The Ephesians, as well as Christians today, are asked to give up the futility of the mind and be renewed in spirit. More about this a bit later.
Today’s Gospel is a continuation of last week’s telling of the loaves and fishes’ miracle. It reflects the dark side of human nature – they are looking to have their appetites quenched despite just having their fill. The crowd seems to be struggling to understand Jesus’ meaning; they are portrayed as ignorant. It is during this time that they refer to the words from the Old Testament in our first reading. Imagine asking Jesus to perform another sign after eating their fill just a short time ago! Jesus is no longer referring to the manna he provided but the eternal bread that gives life to the world. Again, the crowd doesn’t understand and goes so far as to be repulsed by the implication that Jesus suggest they eat his flesh. Jesus tries to communicate that although the manna had a heavenly origin, it did not bring the Israelites to their heavenly destiny. Manna is a food that spoils and perishes. This “new” manna was a sign of the imperishable eucharistic bread that the Father sends down from heaven in Jesus.
Notice the use of the term “seeking and finding” throughout; it is one of the central themes of John’s Gospel and it refers to discipleship. What does it mean for the early Christians and for us to be disciples of Christ? A disciple in its most basic form is a follower of Christ. We are asked to grow in grace and in knowledge of Christ with a new heart and the knowledge that we have the gift of the Holy Spirit within us.
I have been doing a lot of spiritual reading over these past several months. My most recent book is The Power of Now by Eckart Tolle. The book is a spiritual guide that helps you discover your true being, release you from your pain and find deep inner peace. Eckart claims that when you are intensely present in the now, you respond from deep consciousness and flow with ease and joy in life. In so doing, you can better fulfill your outer purpose (to achieve goals and seek to create a better world), while fulfilling our inner purpose. For most of us that inner purpose is to grow in knowledge and love of God. In another of Tolle’s books, A New Earth, one of the main topics is to distance ourselves from the ego; without separation we often approach others and the world from a place of suffering. This leads to a clouding of life’s purpose; in other words, we may be unable to find and listen to God’s plan for each of us.
It seems today that many in the world are approaching life from a place of suffering. This suffering may be rooted in jealousy, anger, grief, sadness, depression, or anxiety. It would be hard to hear our calling, never mind live out our calling, from this vantage point. If we want to become true disciples of Jesus, we need first to be able to find some quiet. I know for me this is my greatest challenge – quieting the non-stop voices in my head. I always have a to do list going or am thinking how I could have responded/reacted in a better, more loving way to people or events in the past. In addition, it at times feels like “wasted time” when in actuality, it is exactly the practice of becoming quiet that allows us to hear the voice of God within each of us. Without hearing that voice how can we expect to be disciples of Jesus? Our life needs to be in balance – the dimension of doing and the dimension of being. We need both to be satisfied and to be true disciples of Jesus. This is what the crowd in the gospel was lacking; they only wanted Jesus to exist in the dimension of doing.
If you’ll allow me, I’d like to finish with a 10-minute meditation from Daily Calm (click link).