When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said, “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” He said to them, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” But they said to him, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” Then he said, “Bring them here to me,” and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over—twelve wicker baskets full. Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children.Matthew 14:13-21
The Jews murmured about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets:
‘They shall all be taught by God.’
Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”John 6:41-51
once in the wilderness
your people ate heavenly manna
and they were filled.
And once in a desert place
you fed the hungry
with blessed bread.
A simple thing, we say,
costing our mighty God
But what if bread is
a body offered for all,
and a cup of wine
your own life-blood
given to those who hardly care?
A costly thing, we say,
Is there anything more
God could have done?
Love could do
than lay down his life
for his friends?
From Lent-Easter Meditations and Prayers
by Fr. Victor Hoagland, C.P.
Thursday of the Third Week of Easter
The Jews murmured about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”John 6:41-42
Unless Jesus was who he claimed to be, his statements were certainly wild and preposterous. From a natural perspective, the son of Joseph and Mary, born in a particular place and time, was destined to live and die like all human beings. Nothing about Jesus’ appearance suggested that he was a heavenly being.
Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves.John 6:43
The new Moses echoed his predecessor by chiding the children of Israel for murmuring and grumbling just at the time when God promised manna in the desert (Exodus 16:2; 7-8; LXX—same verb as in John 6:43).
“Whoever comes to me will never hunger,” Jesus said (John 6:35), but
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.John 6:44
And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”John 12:32
Creation has an in-built force of attraction towards her LORD and Maker. In the beginning (Genesis 1:1), the shalom of God filled the heavens and the earth. Shalom means wholeness and completeness through communion with the LORD God, the basis of integral peace. In a shalom-filled world, all creatures move gracefully in synergy with the Spirit of God.
It is written in the prophets:John 6:45
‘They shall all be taught by God.’
Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.
Jesus quoted Isaiah 54:13:
All your children shall be taught by the Lord;Isaiah 54:13; LXX
great shall be the peace (shalom) of your children.
Like the second Adam, the first Adam in the Garden of Eden enjoyed an unmediated sonship in the Father, “walking” (halak) and talking with him in familiarity and intimacy. Yet only the uncreated Son “sees” (horaó) the Father in his plenitude exceeding the capacity of finite creatures. God alone “comprehends” God.
Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.John 6:46
Not by vision but by faith, the children of God are drawn up to the Father through the Son.
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.John 6:47
Believing (pisteuó) goes far deeper than having right ideas about God and religion. Many who had a formidable knowledge of Scripture and theology did not believe Jesus. Only a genuine personal encounter leads to faith (pistis, the noun form of pisteuó).
I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living (zaó) bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live (zaó) forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh (sarx) for the life (zóé) of the world (kosmos).”John 6:48-51
Manna was provisional and a pointer to the tree of life to come from Abraham and Adam. The repetition of zóé (noun) and zaó (verb) which are cognate recall the words of the LORD God about the tree of life:
The Greek Septuagint version matches the words of Christ in the Gospel of John concerning the bread from heaven that bestows eternal life. Zóé in the Greek lexical universe indicates the fullness of life beyond mere physical existence, in fact, participation in the divine life. It is sharply distinguished from bios or biological, earthly existence.
The original Hebrew word for life in Genesis 3:22, chay, includes divine, human, animal, and vegetative life as a whole—a concept that resonates with shalom. The Hebrew mind did not make the sharp distinctions between spirit and matter that characterized Hellenistic philosophy. In the beginning—bereshit, the opening word of the Torah in Genesis 1:1—God, Adam, and the cosmos were one.
Restoration of shalom encompasses heaven and earth, all flesh and the cosmos. The eating and drinking Jesus risen in the flesh epitomizes shalom. Every division is overcome in the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Spirit.
The Israelites were not at their best in the desert. The food was certainly better in Egypt, but complaints about food was just one of their gripes. They also complained about Moses, who led them, and Moses complained to God about the grumbling people he’s called to lead:
‘“Why do you treat your servant so badly?” Moses asked the LORD.
“Why are you so displeased with me that you burden me with all this people?
Was it I who conceived all this people? Or was it I who gave them birth,
that you tell me to carry them at my bosom, like a foster father carrying an infant,
to the land you have promised under oath to their fathers?
Where can I get meat to give to all this people? For they are crying to me,
‘Give us meat for our food.’
I cannot carry all this people by myself, for they are too heavy for me.
If this is the way you will deal with me, then please do me the favor of killing me at once, so that I need no longer face this distress.”’ (Leviticus 11, 11-15)
You can’t speak more “face to face” to God than that. That’s one thing we learn from the Old Testament: you can complain to God. The Jews did it in the desert, we can do it too.
I forget the ratio, but I think the psalms of lament (complaints) in the Old Testament are only slightly less than psalms of thanksgiving. God doesn’t mind complaints.
The Gospel of John, written around the year 90, is skillfully constructed around seven wondrous actions of Jesus, seven “signs” that lead to his passion and resurrection. Our reading last week was about the fourth sign; Jesus multiplies a few loaves and fish to feed a hungry crowd of people near the Sea of Galilee. (John 6, 1-15)
After each sign, Jesus explains its meaning, and the gospels read on Sundays for the remainder of the month– all from the sixth chapter of John’s gospel– are the dialogue Jesus has with the crowd following this miracle.
They’ve followed him and are clamoring for more. He’s the bread come down from heaven, Jesus says, and he reminds them of a previous sign God gave their ancestors in the desert when he sent manna from heaven as they journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land. They were hungry and God fed them.
He’s the new Moses come down from above to dwell with humanity, Jesus tells them, and he will feed them and lead them on their journey to God’s kingdom. Yet, like their ancestors described in our first reading from the Book of Exodus, this crowd grumbles too. Yes, they experienced a wondrous gift yesterday or so, but that was yesterday. They want daily miracles, something for their stomachs today.
But miracles of that kind don’t happen everyday. Miracles and exceptional signs from God are rare; we spend most of our years living by faith.
Yet, faith also needs something to go on, signs to help us on our way, and so Jesus leaves a reminder of the miracle of the loaves and the fish. He gives the Bread of the Holy Eucharist as a sign that he abides with humanity. We remember him in this sign, we recognize him and we receive him, the “true bread come down from heaven.”
Jesus came to satisfy our hunger, not just our basic hunger for food and drink, but the hungry for life in so many forms. “The hand of the Lord feeds us, he answers all our needs.”