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Bread from heaven

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GOSPEL COMMENTARY AUG. 1, JN 6:24-35

When was the last time that you were really, really hungry? Weak, delirious and ready to pass out from hunger?

During the Exodus, the Israelites learned about hunger. The departure from Egypt after nearly 400 years of slavery was a defining moment for God’s people. They proceeded to spend 40 years in the desert en route to the Promised Land. This was a very difficult transition. In Egypt, they were settled in a place they knew well and ate in abundance from a fruitful land. The desert, in contrast, was new to them. It was a most difficult place in which to live — the heat and lack of water resulted in sparse vegetation and no ability to raise flocks.

The desert is a place of purification. In the midst of sun and sand, we are forced to do without most amenities in life. You learn to focus immediately on life’s essentials: food, water and shade. Life in the desert is a battle for survival. God chose to use the desert as the perfect place for the Israelites to be reminded of their dependence on God for their very being and their everyday existence. It was an opportunity to refocus their lives and stick to the essentials.

There was no practical way to provide food and water for such an enormous crowd of people in the desert. There were moments early on during their sojourn in the desert when they went for periods of time without food and water. They experienced intense hunger. They suffered intensely, became fearful for their families and cried out to God with tremendous anxiety. They struggled to trust that God would take care of them.

As we know from Scripture, God provided in a mysterious way for his people. He made water flow from a rock. He sent manna in the morning that they gathered and made into a new form of bread. He rained down quail in the afternoon to give them meat for the evening table.

God creates us. God sustains us. God provides our daily bread.

Human beings alone, among all of creation, were made in God’s image and likeness. We have a dignity not shared by the birds of the sky, the fish of the sea or the beasts of the field. We are rational animals with a soul, which means we are capable of knowing, loving and choosing in a way that far surpasses the rest of creation. We are spiritual beings, not just physical beings.

As spiritual beings, our souls need to be nourished with truth and love in the same way our bodies need food and water. God, the Father, chose to do this principally by sending his Son. "I am the way, the truth and the life." Jesus took on our flesh and became one of us in order to redeem the world, make known God’s tender love and mercy, and reveal eternal truths about who God is and his exalted plan for us.

The moment before Jesus entered into his saving passion, he bestowed upon us the most magnificent way to nourish our souls. From the depths of his infinite love, Our Blessed Lord chose to feed us with his very self at the table of his body and blood: "I am the bread of life."  The miraculous ways God fed his people in the desert foreshadowed the miraculous way he would feed the souls of his beloved children for the rest of history.

God still allows us to go hungry at times. Many Christians even choose to fast, to sacrificially give up physical nourishment. That ache in our belly remains a stark way of helping us make the connection between deeply hungering for a slice of pizza and deeply hungering for an encounter with the living God.

"Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven."

Fr. Peterson is director of mission and development for the Youth Apostles.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021