Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 5 August 2012
Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15; Psalm 78:3-4, 23-25, 54; Ephesians 4:17, 20-24; John 6:24-35
The desert is a dangerous place. Who would choose to go there unless they had to? Yet so much of the story of God’s people takes place in the desert. It is where God leads them. The desert calls for a spirituality that is hard to cultivate or even imagine in the sated consumerist western world. Like the people of God who had just come out of Egypt, we may prefer slavery with predictability and a bit of comfort to the freedom of the desert. We feel safer knowing we have what we need without having to depend so utterly on God for it. But the pilgrimage through the desert is an integral part of God’s journey with God’s people. It is a life of daily dependence upon God. It brings to mind the words of the Our Father: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Jesus didn’t teach us to ask for a week or a month’s worth, but for what is needed for this day. It was a lesson that the people of God learned with the manna in the desert. Each morning it was there to collect. But if they tried to store it for the next day, it spoiled overnight.
Psalm 78 remembers this as bread from heaven, the food of angels. The story of the manna, told and retold, reassures the people of God that the Lord will provide. When Jesus fed the five thousand, his audience were excited by the possibility that here was someone who could provide for their needs. What better person to be their king? But Jesus then confounds and confuses them with his teaching as he awakens them to the possibility that to be physically sated is not necessarily the greatest good. To eat the true bread from heaven is to believe in the One sent by God.
Paul expresses this in terms of ‘learning Christ’. Faith isn’t just about intellectual assent, saying that we believe something to be true. It is a way of making meaning of the whole of reality in a way that fundamentally affects our commitments and our actions. If we have embraced the truth that Jesus embodies, then we can’t go on living the way we did before. If Jesus is the bread from heaven, then we should be absorbing his values, internalising his teachings, reconstructing our image of God, the world, others and ourselves according to what he has shown us. What do we need God to give us today to sustain us in our journey toward Christlikeness? Receive your daily bread with thanksgiving.