Readings: Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15; Ephesians 4:17, 20-24; John 6:24-35
Had the Gospel passage ended last Sunday as we celebrated it in the liturgy, we would have had a very nice, if challenging, story about Jesus multiplying loaves and fishes for hungry people, eager to hear his word. Even if it ended as it continues today, it could be a pleasant instruction. But it will grow increasingly challenging in the next few weeks and Jesus will lose many of the same people who followed him into the desert.
Deserts are challenging places. My only experience was our nuns’ abbey in the Sonoita Desert of Arizona and it wasn’t what I expected. Yes, it was stark and arid and ninety-four degrees when I arrived in April, but is was also full of life–different life than I had ever seen before, life pared back to basics, but still full of life. I felt I was on the brink of the unknown, which could have happened anywhere; but in the desert, I could not escape the fact. In New York City, where I was born and raised, there was plenty to distract me from that unless something really went wrong.
That starkness, resulting from being of the frontiers of the unknown, invites me to trust that Mystery, who created me and calls me to engagement and commitment. I could squander my life on deceitful desires or put on the new self, created in God’s way–as the Letter to the Ephesians puts it.
I believe that is the point Jesus is trying to make when the people who had eaten the bread he miraculously multiplied, ask for a sign. Weren’t they aware of what he had already done? Hadn’t they noticed that he could feed them in the middle of nowhere? Or did they crave wonder after wonder to distract them from their survival hanging in the balance?
Jesus’ invitation is radical. He’s asking us to discover who we truly are when all we think we are is threatened, when our very existence could cease. But think of your own experience: don’t such dire situations open our eyes to what is really important, what we really value? What really gives us hope?
It is there, and not in our flights of fancy, that Jesus asks us to hunker down and admit that mysterious, elusive but ever-present, ever-provident God who is real life. He invites us to feast on that Bread who is himself, he who willingly hands over his life so we can surrender illusory living for real life