Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15
Ephesians 4:17, 20-24
Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves." This is how Jesus responded to the people who searched him out after the feeding of the multitude which we read about last Sunday. This response unlocks for me the message behind the readings for this Sunday. Similar to the structure of last week’s readings this week we are again reading and learning about an historical incident linked with a spiritual message in the Gospel, a similar incident in the Hebrew Scriptures, and a virtue-based message by St. Paul that is related to these incidents. Once again Bread becomes the symbolic instrument for the spiritual message.
A similar (but perhaps less tactful) response that Jesus could have made to these people is that they are "thinking with their stomachs and not with their hearts." In the case of the feeding of the multitude or in the manna that comes from heaven it seems that the people who are affected are seeing this as a form of divine welfare policy. God and Jesus are both suggesting to the people that this is not the case. In both incidents there is certainly the implied message that God will provide, but the heart of the message is not that. Instead what it is desired is that the people see this test or sign as an opportunity for them to relate with each other in a way that is similar to how God is treating them. This is an invitation not just to eat, but to share and to "perform the works of God."
St. Paul also reminds us that this is an opportunity for us to put away our "former way of life… and to be renewed in the spirit." In this letter Paul reminds the Ephesian community that in the former way of life the Gentiles were "lost of all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity." Following these verses we hear St. Paul offering some rules for the new life in Christ. These rules are based on a close relationship of solidarity to one another. We are expected to be truthful, slow to anger, compassionate and sharing. "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us."
These miracles can only be truly understood as part of the overall message that we are called to be in powerful relationship. On occasions God demonstrates this relationship between each one of us, our Divine Creator, and the cosmic forces of creation. These moments that we consider supernatural are moments where all creation testifies to the intense relationship that God calls us to be in. The manna from heaven, the feeding of the multitude, the resurrection of Christ, all these are moments that demonstrate a divine purpose where all of us are called to be in relationship with God and with each other. This relationship is a relationship based on love, integrity, and mutual sustainability.
John Gonzalez is the Executive Director of the Passionist office for Peace, Justice and the Integrity of Creation. He lives with his family in New York.