Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15
Most of us tend to complain and to blame others when we find ourselves without our usual security structures. The Israelites were hungry and they blamed their plight on those who had led them out of slavery inEgypt to the freedom of the desert. In rejecting God’s agents, they reject the God who set them free. This reading reminds us that God does not abandon God’s people but cares for them in the wilderness of life, whether or not they recognise and appreciate it.
In John’s gospel, Jesus makes some remarkable claims for himself: ‘I am the light of the world’; ‘Before Abraham was, I am’; ‘ I am the gate for the sheep’; ‘I am the good shepherd’; ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’; ‘I am the resurrection and the life’. All of these claims draw us into the mystery of the God of Israel who was revealed in the burning bush as YHWH, meaning ‘I Am who I Am’ or ‘I will be who I will be’ or ‘I cause to be what I cause to be’.
The God of Israel is the God of all creation who cannot be manipulated. Of all the gospel writers, John comes closest to identifying Jesus as the human face of the God of Israel. Every metaphor or image reveals something of the mystery, butno metaphor or image on its own can fully capture the reality of Jesus, the Word of God made Flesh, who is presented to us in this gospel.
Jesus’ claim, ‘I am the bread of life’, invites us to reflect on one aspect of the person and mission of Jesus. The disciples always seem to misunderstand the Johannine Jesus. Their misunderstanding gives Jesus the opportunity to deepen their appreciation of who he is and what he is about. They have participated in the feeding of the 5000. They know that Jesus has the capacity to draw out the goodness of people and lead them beyond themselves in addressing the needs of a hungry world. They remain impressed by his ability to respond to material need. They have yet to understand the source of the spiritual sustenance they so sorely need.
At least they ask the question: ‘What must we do…?’ and their question elicits the answer: not so much doing as believing in Jesus as the one sent by God, ‘the true bread from heaven that gives life to the world’. Sixty-four years after Hiroshima, and as we approach Copenhagen 15, we might well ask the question again: ‘What must we do to bring the Bread of Life rather than the means of death and destruction to our world?’