“What is this?”

Homily for August 5, 2018 (18th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15; Psalm 78; Ephesians 4:17, 20-24; John 6:24-35

“What is this?” That question can denote curiosity or caution. 

It can also denote whining. 

Imagine it being asked with great drama by a child

            with a sneer or a look of horror

            as they examine some food that is unfamiliar to them

                        and spend ten minutes picking at it with a fork,

                        deciding whether or not to even try it.


It probably rates near “Are we there yet?” and “It’s not fair!”

            on the parental irritation thermometer. 


So you can imagine

            how Moses, Aaron and ultimately God

            must have felt in dealing with whining Israelites. 

As today’s first reading opens,

            God has liberated his people from 400 years of slavery in Egypt. 

They’re only a month into what will be their 40-year Exodus journey…

            and already they’re complaining! 


Not only that, they’re complaining like true drama queens: 

            “Would that we had died at the Lord’s hands in the land of Egypt,

                        as we sat by our fleshpots and at our fill of bread. 

            But you had to lead us into this desert

                        to make the whole community die of famine!”


Like any good parent, God doesn’t argue with them. 

Instead, God feeds them.


But there’s a catch. 

            The food that God gives them appears as if from heaven. 

            It’s food that they don’t recognize—manna,

                        from the Hebrew man hu, which can mean “What’s this?”


God is asking his people to trust him enough to eat something new. 

Not only that, Manna has a short shelf life!  

God commands them to gather only what they need for a day

            and to trust that he will always provide for them. 

Centuries later,

            God’s Son would encourage his disciples to remember a simple prayer

            that would include the petition “Give us this day our daily bread.” 


That same Son would go further,

            proclaiming to his disciples and the crowds that followed them

                        that he, Jesus, was the Bread of Life,

                                    a bread that would satisfy every hunger

                        and a source of life that would quench the thirst of all who believe in him.


Those crowds, Jesus knew, were looking for more signs. 

They had witnessed the miracle of the loaves and fishes,

            just as their ancestors had experienced freedom from centuries of slavery. 

But they wanted more proof

            so that they could follow Jesus with confidence. 


For Jesus, however, the signs he performed were an invitation to faith. 

When people looked at him and asked “What—or who—is this?”

            he wanted them to step out in faith rather than give them the answer. 

As we will see in the coming weeks,

            many people couldn’t accept Jesus as the Bread of Life,

                        the new manna that required faith to gather and eat. 


Accepting Jesus as the Bread of Life,

            “the food that endures for eternal life,”

            transforms us and how we live. 

St. Paul puts it very directly to the church at Ephesus:

            “you should put away the old self of your former way of life…

            and put on the new self, created in God’s way,

                        in righteousness and holiness of truth.”


This is bread that we must gather anew every day

            and allow it to transform us every day. 

As the recent resignations of some archbishops and cardinals of the church

            in light of their negligence or misconduct have demonstrated,

            none of us can rest our laurels or our status. 

The Bread of Life is always fresh and can only be eaten fresh.  +