18th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Ex 16: 2-4, 13-15, 31a; Jn 6: 24-35) “When The Manna Came to Capernaum” PDF Version
18thSunday of Ordinary Time, Year B (2018): Ex 16: 2-4, 12-15, 31a; Jn 6: 24-35
As people began to make their way to the town of Capernaum, a small village on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee that one Jesus of Nazareth had made his somewhat permanent place of residence, many did not realize that they were about to relive and bring to fulfillment an event that had been lived by their ancestors many centuries before.
The Exodus from Egypt to Israel was among the most pivotal moments in the history and salvation of the People of Israel and in time, all of humanity. It was in this long desert sojourn that Israel came to know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a God they had not known and thought was supposedly silent for nearly 400 years, but who was now revealing Himself through the leadership and teaching of Moses.
Israel received from Moses the Law that God ordained to forge them into a Holy People. They were also given forms of sacrifice and prayer that would allow them to worship God in a fitting and holy manner and learned day by day to trust in The Lord, the same God that Adam and Eve failed to trust and as a result brought sin upon the human condition.
The time of the Exodus had many low points when the People of Israel did not trust God, longing to return to Egypt and willing to accept slavery once again if it meant eating the food they once enjoyed. But their longing for Egypt was more than just desiring the tasty fleshpots! Many of them also longed for the godless ways they had learned from their Egyptian neighbours, returning to idols that gave them false hope and forsaking the gift of becoming a Holy Nation in a Land of Milk and Honey by demanding to return to servitude in both body and spirit.
On the shores of the sea of Galilee, Jesus recognized that many of the people of His day were also spiritually far from God, no longer trusting that He would deliver His people from bondage and by hoping for a Messiah who was a warrior king who would kill God’s enemies and not a saviour who would free them from the bonds of sin and inspire them to love God and neighbour.
Many had rejoiced that this Jesus of Nazareth had given them bread and fish to eat, but few were willing to see in this miracle a shadow of the spiritual food that was coming, one that would satisfy a deeper hunger and provide a means to obtain eternal life.
It was the commonly held belief among the People of Israel in Jesus’ day that one of the signs that the Messiah had come to His people was that the Manna would return. Many rabbis taught that when the People of Israel entered the Holy Land and the Manna no longer appeared on the ground every morning, that the Manna was kept safe in God’s temple in heaven, waiting for the day it would return and be given by the Messiah to nourish the People in their need.
It was on that fateful day in the small town of Capernaum that the heavens were opened and the Manna would be taken from God’s sanctuary in heaven to once again come down upon the earth. Though the Church would have to wait until the Last Supper for the New Manna to be consumed for the very first time, the teaching that Jesus would give in Capernaum was the first step in preparing His people to receive the Eucharist, showing them that what was eaten in the desert many centuries before was truly a gift from God, but that the True Manna He would give, His own Body and Blood, was infinitely greater and would remain with humanity until the end of this world as we know it.
Many cried out that day “Give us this bread always!” They echoed the cries of joy that came from the People of Israel when the Manna was first given to them. But in time the manna no longer satisfied their hearts and they once again complained that this food was not sufficient and the delicacies of Egypt should be back on the menu.
So too the People of Jesus’ day at first rejoiced that the manna was returning to earth, but how quickly they took offense when they learned this New Manna given under the appearance of bread but was in fact the Gloried Flesh and Blood of the rabbi who was speaking to them and would in a few years time die shamefully at many of their request.
Likewise, there is a danger for any Catholic to begin to become bored, indifferent and ungrateful for the gift of the Eucharist. It is not that we are seeking to become evil people who harbour deep resentment or scorn for the Bread of Life. Rather, one can become lukewarm and start to no longer care if the Eucharist is part of their life, be it having little concern or remorse if we skip Sunday Mass for some other activity or spent our time during Mass distracted and neglecting to speak with Christ after we receive the Eucharist.
We might know and believe that Holy Communion is meaningful and good and we can allow the Lord to enter our bodies when we consume Him, but we do not allow Him into the depth of our heart and soul. He is substantially within us when we receive His Body and Blood, but we can act as if it matters little that He is there or God forbid that His presence is a burden in my life.
Each of us can refine our Love for the Holy Bread that comes down from heaven at each and every Mass and rests peaceful in tabernacles throughout the world. Let us not be like the People who complained and failed to trust in God and in time began to resent the Manna He provided. Rather, let us be grateful for the gift we receive and learn to love Christ ever more deeply.