Try balancing yourself on one foot; it is difficult to remain standing still and upright. There is this “inner ear” which helps us know we are off center a bit. High wire performers do amazing stunts when aided by a long pole which keeps them tantalized us from below.
There is our “inner-self” which so easily loses balance. Our spirits can go this way and that with leaving us with no proper sense of soul-self. Our emotions, our self-esteem, our relationships with God and life oscillate and we long for some kind of stability.
We can prepare for this weekend’s liturgy with some daily experiences of being out of balance. One experience with which we can pray is our sense of closeness to God. As with the moon, which these days is farther away from the earth, and in a year will be closer, our sense of God comes near and then drifts away. We can pray with the resulting sense that this distancing is our fault. It may be, but most likely it is too much to take in at all times. We can pray for the peace that comes from realizing that, like the moon, God is present in the light and the dark, even when we are out of balance.
This whole chapter from which our First Reading is taken is such a wonderful human-to-God story. The release from 430 years of slavery in Egypt is over, the Exodus has led them out into the desert of wandering and they are hungry. Their hunger becomes a complaint against God. They whimper and regret their having left slavery.
God promises food in the form of some mysterious bread which the Israelites do not understand. There is a little test embedded in the offering. In this Reading we do not hear what it is. God has asked them to take only their “daily bread” and not provide for any tomorrows.
Ah, more humanity, of course they tuck a little away for a less rainy day and it spoils. The gift of today is prelude to the Giver’s kindnesses tomorrow. Pro means “toward or for” and videre means “to look”. God pro-vides and the Israelites are to continue watching for tomorrow’s renewal of care.
The wonderful thing here is that God doesn’t retract the gifts, because of the human self-providing, rather God remains “watching-out” for God’s humanly family. God gives them bread from heaven which is mysterious, but inviting.
Those of you who read the Daily Reflections for Sunday, you know I dearly love the Eucharist, not just as liturgy, but as a mystery, an invitation and a comfort within a challenge. The Gospel for today is not exactly a text proving the Eucharist as the Real Presence, nor is the Holy Bread a sure ticket to salvation for those who receive it. The text can make for a great homily on the Bread of Life, but there are other Gospel texts for that purpose. So what’s the what here?
John presents the religious leaders of the Jews as asking Jesus for a “sign”, some kind of unusual event that will prove His authenticity. They quote a line from our First Reading from Exodus, reminding Jesus that their Father sent down miraculous bread, so what can Jesus do, like that.
Jesus uses the very image they use in their challenge. He refers to their religious historic scripture, bread from heaven, as a way of explaining just Who He is. As bread came down, He, Jesus Himself is presently, right now, coming down in their present experience.
John uses often homey symbols, such as light and water. Here it is bread. As the Jews failed to understand the gift of bread in the desert, so they are not understanding Jesus. John’s Gospel is written as a support for those who have remained faithful to the early Jesus-Group, and as a confrontation against those who have refused to believe or have failed to continue in the community of believers. The Jewish leaders are solidly religious and committed to their traditions and sacred history. This entire chapter is not so much an indictment against the Jewish community as it is a presentation of the invitation to take in, digest, and interiorize the Jesus of the Gospel.
We read in the first verses of the Gospel today, how the religious leaders were confounded with how Jesus got from here to there. In a sense, they were asking our human question about Jesus in the Eucharist, but even more about Jesus as our Lord and Savior. “How did you do that?” Faith is an understanding which allows for the misunderstandables. How did God split the sea? How did God present manna and quails? How did Jesus take five loaves and two fish to feed so many? How is Jesus present as man and Son of God? How is Jesus present in the Eucharist? All very good human questions and we, like our Jewish ancestors, can grumble, regret and take off to the comfort of the easily explainables. I do love the Eucharist, it is easy to consume. I surrender to the love that Jesus is, even when I can’t stomach or digest all that love means and invites me to.
“You gave us bread from heaven, Lord, a sweet-tasting bread that was very good to eat.” Wis. 16, 20
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