First reading: 2 Sam. 11:26-12:13a; Ps. 51:1-13
Alternate: Ex. 16:2-4, 9-15; Ps. 78:23-29
Eph. 4:1-16 • John 6:24-35
The manna was a test. God called called his people out of slavery, clearing their path with signs and wonders. He heard their hungry cry, and promised to feed them miraculous food. He surely loved them, and wanted their devotion in return.
Would they gather the manna according to the direction of Moses? Would they take only what they needed, believing that more would come with the next day’s dew? Would they trust that he knew them best, and satisfy them completely? Not at first, of course. They detested the food’s sameness, hoarding it till it decayed. They even longed to be slaves again, eating from captor’s tables.
But with time they learned to live on God’s food and cherish it. Indeed, they would come to look back nostalgically on the one-bedroom apartment and burnt macaroni suppers; for “he gave them grain from heaven. So mortals ate the bread of angels; he provided for them food enough.” A strange bread — the gift of his love, reserved for his own, spread out with fatherly care.
“So they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved,” that is, “he did not disappoint them of their lust,” in the old Prayer Book’s earthy rendering. Nothing but manna, and manna’s giver, could satisfy. The wilderness tests trained their desires, and opened their eyes to see the sacrament of God’s covenant faithfulness, his wisdom and grace.
What do we really crave? That’s Jesus’ question to the grumbling crowd gathered by the side of the lake. “You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” They look to Jesus to satisfy their hunger, their desire for a spectacle.
But their eyes are blinded to the true purpose of his mission. He is the bread “for which we cannot labor.” To eat him we need the right kind of hunger and thirst, and faith to see him as the fulfillment of our longing. Here too is a test, and the same God working to train the desire of the world. “The very moment God sees us fully convinced of our nothingness,” writes Therese of Liseux, “he reaches out his hands” to fill us with bread “containing in itself all sweetness.”
Jesus himself is our angelic bread, “grain from heaven” sent to give life to the world. The same loving Father who filled the desert with manna has sent his Son, an even more precious, life-giving food. As we learn to long for him, we find all we will ever need.
In the poetic rendering of Edward Taylor:
The purest wheat in heaven,
His dear-dear son.
Grinds, and kneads up
this bread of life,
Which bread of life from heaven
down came and stands
Dished on thy table
up by angel’s hands…
Come eat thy fill
of this thy God’s white loaf
It’s food too fine for angels,
yet come, take
And eat thy fill.
It’s heaven’s sugar cake.
Look It Up
Read Sirach 24:19-29. How does Christ surpass even the law’s abundance?
Think About It
Should more frequent communion lead to better communion?