One of the more powerful lines in today’s readings is found in the Letter to the Ephesians:
“Lay aside your former way of life and the old self which deteriorates through illusion and desire, and acquire a fresh, spiritual way of thinking.”
Read that call to change against the background of the first reading in which the Hebrews, trudging through their exodus experience, took along their old selves. That’s why we find them today grumbling about their lack of food, longing for the good old days. We can all take heart from the fact that God pays attention to grumblers – because God heard and acted, giving the people quail at night and manna in the morning. Food. But not what they wanted. Food, which they nonetheless tried to hoard, even though they were told to pick only what was sufficient for the day.
With their blinded hearts and limited tastes, the Hebrews could not quite grasp the big picture. They could not quite embrace a future that was given to them piecemeal, in a way that called for trust.
The people in today’s Gospel were plagued by similar problems of illusion and desire. They had eaten their fill of the bread that Jesus had given them, and they wanted more. Irked because Jesus recognized them for what they were, the people pushed Jesus with their trick questions and used today’s first reading to drive home their point.
But Jesus didn’t bite, if I may put it that way. Instead, he offered himself as the one who would truly satisfy their hunger.
To hoard, to stockpile, to let self-gratification be the horizon of life – these are easy things to do. But to acquire a fresh spiritual way of thinking is hard work. What do we suppose it means to acquire a fresh spiritual way of thinking?
Here are four examples, taken from Scripture, which are new ways of thinking in these still-pandemic times.
My food is to do the will of the one who sent me: to heal, to teach, to plant, to help the poor and suffering. The fruit of what we do lies beyond us. We may never know what good we have done by our kind words and generous deeds.
We must become food for others. That means being consumed, if only for a time. Becoming food for others may mean interrupting one’s plans, one’s charted course to serve others. We watched medical personnel and other people in the service industries do this in these critical times.
We do not live on bread alone. Bread feeds our bodies for now. Justice and mercy feed the community day after day.
Finally, in acquiring a fresh spiritual way of thinking, we need to believe that the Lord will give us the bread we need. What is the manna that each of us receives daily? A word of peace that calms us? Someone, something that gives us courage to take the next step? The example of someone who leads the way? The bread we need may be a phone call from a stranger – an invitation to serve the community in some way, an experience that refines us and adds clarity to our thinking.
Each Sunday until the end of August, Gospel passages will all be taken from John 6. They will give us insight into the Eucharist. But these verses are also about the fact that we are given food for the journey of life – food for our bodies, minds and hearts – food that nourishes the sacredness of our community. Food that lasts. Let hunger for this food be a daily part of our lives.
~Sister Joan Sobala