|Peter Paul Rubens, The Israelites Gathering Manna in the Desert (1627)|
In today’s First Reading, Moses reminds the Israelites of how God fed them “with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3). The manna was a visible sign of God’s Providence, and the need to rely upon Him every day.
The manna first appeared while the Israelites were starving in the desert. In their hunger, they began to doubt God’s plan for them, and they turned against Moses and Aaron, accusing them of bringing “us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Exodus 16:3).
God responds to this challenge with great mercy, saying to Moses: “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law or not” (Ex. 16:4). The manna was a constant reminder that without God, the Israelites were helpless, but with Him, they were provided for. In meeting their physical needs, God was giving them an opportunity to see that He was in control, and that He alone could meet all of their needs, bodily or spiritual.
Jesus teaches us this in an even more profound way in today’s Gospel, in which He declares that He is “the living bread that came down from heaven.” This is a clear Eucharistic reference: Jesus says that “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” and that “whoever eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:51). This means that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (John 6:53-54). Lest we think that this is only metaphorical, He clarifies that “my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6:55).
This shows that the Eucharist is greater than the manna of old, since “unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:58). The manna satisfied the Israelites’ immediate hunger, but it was just a temporary fix. By trusting in Christ, we’re offered something infinitely more: an eternal remedy from death.
As St. Augustine said, “the eyes of the blind, that were opened by those acts of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, were again closed in death; and limbs of the paralytics that received strength were loosened again in death; and whatever was for a time made whole in mortal limbs came to nought in the end: but the soul that believed passed to eternal life.”
Let us center our lives around Jesus, and in a particular way, around the Blessed Sacrament, confident in the hope that if we are faithful to Him, He shall be faithful to us, fulfilling His promise of eternal life for all those who believe and who receive His Body and Blood faithfully.