The thirst for God is present in every person on the face of the earth. The yearning for fulfillment beats in every human heart. The women and men in today’s Gospel had experienced being fed, completely satisfied, miraculously, in the presence of Jesus who had multiplied the bread and fish brought by a small boy. From a few loaves and fish, five thousand people had been more than amply provided for. This did not escape their notice.
When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world” (v. 14). Jesus, knowing what was in their hearts, fled because he knew they were coming to take him away and make him their king. These children of Israel, with their homeland occupied by the Romans, with all the humiliation and indignity that goes with being an oppressed people suddenly flickered with hope. They believed they had found a way out of their problems in the person of Jesus who had provided for them beyond their wildest imagining. If they could just keep him for themselves, like being able to make three wishes that would change the circumstances of their life forever. When they sought for Jesus the next day, he said as much to them.
“Jesus answered them and said, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes’” (v 26-27).
In order to live, we need to nourish ourselves, we need dignity and peace. The hearts of the people in this crowd were hoping against hope that things could change for them on a temporal level. They just didn’t realize that things had already changed. With the radical newness of the incarnation of the Son of God, everything had already become new. A greater hope of a more eternal promise was being fulfilled before their very eyes. Yet they could not recognize it. They were enamored still of the loaves of bread they had eaten. They were still looking for the food that perishes. Their imagination was too small.
In the document Verbum Domini, Benedict XVI writes:
What the Church proclaims to the world is the Logos of Hope (cf. 1 Pet 3:15); in order to be able to live fully each moment, men and women need “the great hope” which is “the God who possesses a human face and who ‘has loved us to the end’ (Jn 13:1)” (no. 91).
When we have found him, when we have let ourselves be seen by him, when we have allowed ourselves to be saved by him, we will no longer be absorbed by what we can get for ourselves, but in how we can tell others about Jesus.
Again, in the words of Benedict XVI:
We cannot keep to ourselves the words of eternal life given to us in our encounter with Jesus Christ: they are meant for everyone, for every man and woman. Everyone today, whether he or she knows it or not, needs this message. May the Lord himself…raise up in our midst a new hunger and thirst for the word of God (cf. Am 8:11) (no. 91).
“Do not work for food that perishes,” Jesus admonishes the crowd, with an ardent desire to expand their hearts and deepen their hope. “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
This food by which they will truly be fed is “the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (v. 32-33). It is the food on which we ourselves, thousands of years later, are weekly and even daily nourished if we so desire. In the first line of Panis angelicus, the famous Eucharistic hymn written in the 13th century by St. Thomas Aquinas,we sing, Panis angelicus fit panis hominum. (“The bread of angels is made the bread of mortals.”) Then St. Thomas leads us to cry out in wonder: O res mirabilis! Manducat Dominum / Pauper, pauper, servus et humilis. (Oh, wonderful thing! The Lord becomes our food / poor, a servant, and humble.)
With as much intensity and effort as the crowd sought out the Lord who had multiplied the loaves and the fishes, satisfying their needs that day, may we seek out the Bread of Angels, the true bread from heaven, the Eucharist to be nourished on the body and blood of the Lord. And having been fed with the Bread from Heaven may we become Eucharistic missionaries to all those who feel no need, no urgency, no desire to be fed with the Bread of Angels that lasts unto eternal life. As Pope Benedict XVI has said: “It is our responsibility to pass on what, by God’s grace, we ourselves have received” (no. 91).
Praying with this passage of Scripture
Lectio Divina is a way of listening to God as he speaks in his Word. It is a practice of communicating with God through Scripture and attending to God’s presence and what he wishes to tell us. In this slow and prayerful reading of the Word of God, we allow ourselves to be transformed by the Spirit who forms us into the image of Christ.
There are four movement in Lectio Divina: Read (lectio), Meditate (meditation), Pray (oratio), Contemplate (contemplation).
Begin by finding a still space to pray. Breathe deeply and become quieter within. Abandon any agenda, worries or thoughts you bring to this prayer and entrust these things to the merciful care of God. Ask for the grace to be receptive to what God will speak to you through this Scripture reading. Grant me, Jesus Divine Master, to be able to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God and your unfathomable riches. Grant that your word penetrate my soul; guide my steps, and brighten my way till the day dawns and darkness dissipates, you who live and reign forever and ever Amen.
Begin by slowly and meditatively reading your Scripture passage out loud. Listen for a particular word or phrase that speaks to you at this moment and sit with it for a time.
The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.
When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
Read the passage a second time. As you re-engage the text, let the word or phrase that stood out become your invitation to speak from your heart with God who wishes to share his heart with you. Allow this word or phrase to wash over you and permeate your thoughts and feelings. You may wish to repeat this phrase quietly and gently for a period of time.
Read the text a third time. Listen for what God is saying to you. Speak heart to heart with God. Notice the feelings that this conversation with God raises up within you. Share with God what you notice about your response to this conversation. You may wish to return to repeating the phrase quietly and gently, allowing it to permeate you more and more deeply.
Read the text a final time. Now be still and rest in God’s embrace. Ask God to give you a gift to take with you from this prayer. You might ask God if he is inviting you to do some action, for instance, make some change in your thoughts, attitudes or reactions, in the way you speak or how you treat others. Thank God for this gift and invitation as you conclude your prayer.
Photo Credit: Fr. Fernando via Cathopic