Exodus 16: 2-4, 12-15; Eph 4: 17, 20-24; John 6: 24-35
I’ve often wondered what must have been going on in the mind and heart of people like Jesus and Moses in the situations they find themselves today. In some ways, I’d imagine that it was somewhat of a parental experience. The disciples, the crowds, and people Israel, ask a lot of questions, are never satisfied with the answers, and it’s always about them. Isn’t it the way kids often are in our lives as well? Certainly in our call to discipleship, we all begin there. Yet, in the larger context of this gospel that we hear today, we must be mindful of themes that take place in John. If we think about the stories we are most familiar, Lazarus, Man Born Blind, and the Woman at the Well, there is always movement that is taking place, a movement to somewhere deeper within themselves. There is a time for questions but not always the answers that is expected. There is a movement towards what we would call mature discipleship as opposed to where we often begin and where the crowd finds itself today in a more childish discipleship; they are looking for specific answers and for physical nourishment but Jesus in turn never answers their questions directly but is rather trying to move them to those deeper places within themselves and to be able to sit with the questions and not always know the answers and not always understand in the futility of our minds as Paul says.
The movement in the Bread of Life discourse is no different. But before they can come to the finality of this gospel and a question of whether they can commit to what is being demanded of them, there is a process of deepening and understanding that Jesus is leading them and us in our lives at this very moment. When it’s time to commit, can we stand with what is being asked of us, such a radical way of life. In the end, as I mentioned last week, some will make the commitment to a new and different way of life in which they are called; but most will walk away, unable to meet the demand of what is being asked of them. Paul tells us in the second reading today that it’s time to put away the old self, our former way of life because something new is being asked of us.
Moses, whom you have to feel for at times, never has it easy with people Israel either. You wonder why he never gives up on them over time. Again, think of the context of what we hear today. They have just been freed from Egypt. The Red Sea parted and they crossed over, only to see the Egyptians swallowed up by the same sea that saved them. Their lives were spared of slavery and hardship. All of that, and yet, today we hear them grumbling and complaining. It’s easy for us to say that they should be grateful for what has been given to them. But Moses never gives up on them on their own journeys of life. Despite never making it to the promised land, Moses, knows it within and has committed himself to that promised land, which gives him the hope and perseverance he needs in these difficult times and to accept that not always having the answers and at times, being unhappy with life’s circumstances, is a part of the process of moving towards mature discipleship and to know that there aren’t always answers to life’s questions and I may not always be fed in the ways that I desire. Before any of us can commit to this demand that is given, we have to, as Paul says, let go of the former way of life, stop feeding with what doesn’t nourish and seek out in this journey the bread that lives forever.
But it’s what they knew. Even though a life of slavery for people Israel was wrong and something we would certainly condemn, it’s what they knew. Their basic needs were met and now they have nothing. We’d complain and grumble as well! Moses, with his eye on the promised land, assures them that they will be fed. This God that has been faithful to them now for generations will once again see them through this time of change and transition into the new life that they have been called. Who knows if they can commit to such a change. It’s almost impossible for the crowds to change in that way; it’s often one by one that change and grow and with that the community.
It’s hard when it comes to faith. We don’t change easily. We get comfortable with what we know and want to stay there. But that’s not the discipleship we encounter in John’s Gospel. Jesus continuously is trying to move them to something deeper, to a more radical way of life where the only thing that will feed the deeper hunger is the bread that comes from on high. What comes from on high feeds us in our deepest hunger and in turn, we feed others. That bread that lives forever is not just something out there and something received, it’s already within. That’s where he tries to lead from what can be seen with our eyes and known with our minds to what is seen with the heart and known with our souls. The same will be asked of us as is asked of the crowds and disciples, can we commit to such a radical way of life and to trust a deeper call within ourselves? It’s not easy, but it is the discipleship that we are called to. Life’s not easy. There aren’t always answers to our questions in life and sometimes we’re left with simply sitting with the question while keeping our eye on that promised land. The more we do the more we learn to put away the old self and become the new creation in and through Christ, who we have been all along!