The sign they were looking for back then will arrive in a few minutes on our holy altar: The food that endures for eternal life.
Our readings this Sunday offer a couple of interesting conversations that take place: between Moses and God, extended to the Israelites in the 1st reading, and Jesus and the large crowd in the Gospel. Let’s follow their words and see what transpires in the ways of our Catholic faith.
First, Moses and God. All I can say is, “Poor Moses.” He must feel like Grandpa Moses, the husband of Grandma Moses, as these ungrateful, demanding, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately people continue to wear down the poor old man.
Moses must have asked, “Lord, is this my punishment for laying low that Egyptian I slew way back when? I can think of easier punishments than dealing with this people of yours and leading them forth to freedom!”
The conversation extends to Moses and the Israelites, where is found a great deal of complaining about bread. Most people like bread. Not all people will eat bread, but I would guess most everyone likes to enjoy some bread minus any bad health connections. The complaint of the people to Moses is the lack of quantity of bread. It’s not that the bread is stale, moldy, hard, and so forth. Instead, there is none. And with zero amount of bread in the camps of the Chosen People of God, there is much grumbling.
How many of us would grumble and complain harshly against God if we arrived here in this camp of Immaculate Conception and there was no Eucharist? What if the sign that Jesus talks about in the Gospel that we know will be present on this holy altar in a few minutes did not arrive? Would we consider something to be missing in our Sunday experience? Or, would we move on without complaint as if it made no difference that the Bread of Jesus was not provided? “Oh well, I didn’t receive any bread from heaven this week. Maybe they’ll have it next week.” Or, would there be a loud complaint coming out of the Immaculate Conception camps?
In one sense, I can certainly side with the at times insidious and ungrateful Israelites. Quite honestly, I like their complaint to Moses, even though their complaints are wearing him down and turning him into Grandpa Moses. Grandma Moses must have been a patient person having to listen to the complaints of Grandpa Moses every night about those people.
I love the complaint, bringing this story forward, because it’s a sign of expectation and belief that what we receive each week is not only a gift, but necessary. It’s a necessary part of our souls being fed. And if we did not have any, for some reason….if we did not have any to consume…if we did not provide for your need for the Living Bread come down from heaven, I would hope you would complain very loudly, because nothing in life is guaranteed. Not even the Eucharist. Just ask all those Catholics who for years had to deal with oppressive, anti-religious, atheistic governments.
And the second conversation is just as pivotal as the first one: Jesus and the crowds. The very first image that comes from this Gospel is the crowd’s intense search for Jesus. They’re chasing after him. The thousands of them have their GPS’s on with the location typed in, “Jesus, where is he?” How I wish everyone would search for the Lord with such determination. That’s my prayer.
And when they find him, what is it that follows? A conversation that begins with Jesus accusing them of looking to satisfy their bellies. He just fed them loaves and fish. Bread and haddock. Jesus must have added some foreign, heavenly ingredient that caused the loaves and fish to be the best loaves and fish they ever ate. Like the wine at Cana. It was the best wine ever put out to drink. So their following him, their chasing after him is connected to their bellies more than their hearts and souls.
But in the conversation, Jesus wants to change that. He wants to shift our hunger from the daily food that perishes – this is why we go to the bathroom , because it perishes – to the food that endures forever. For eternal life. So the question for us is, “Where does the ‘Jesus Shift’ occur?” It occurs in our hearts, not in our bellies. It’s a shift that brings us Catholics from any lack of belief in the Real Presence of the Eucharist, to believing fully in the reception of Who it is we receive. And that’s something for Jesus to grumble about. Jesus grumbles about their desire for physical satisfaction only, when he knows he has something infinitely greater to offer us. It’s a good complaint by Jesus that is meant to draw us deeper into the mystery of his gift that comes down from the altar.
Search for the deeper meaning in this conversation between Jesus and the crowds. And wear Moses down if for some reason there’s no bread on the table here. Sometimes grumbling can be effective, such as these two conversations. But only if they deepen our relationship with the Bread of Life who is raised from the dead.