The connections between wilderness manna and bread provided by Jesus – physical sustenance for the body – draw our attention to the sign of gift, of giving, and of the giver. Rather than seeing our groceries as products of our own labor and ingenuity, we are invited in these texts – just as were the Israelites and the crowds following Jesus – to hear Jesus’ insistence that we see these provisions as gifts from God.
Food does far more that keep us individually alive. It brings people together. We gather around meals to cement our bonds, to celebrate. We eat together after funerals to commit ourselves to life in the face of death. We were commanded by the stories of Jesus’ last supper to eat together to remember him. Food is essential to faith in the way that the community of faith itself is essential.
This day asks us to ponder food not only as tangible life necessity and community creator but as a sign and reminder of God’s gift of life.
Jesus warns the crowds: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” The Gospel writer continues to develop the relationship among gift, Giver, and act of giving, and in doing so, Jesus is lifted up as the culmination of this relationship: as the Bread of Life, Jesus is both the gift and the Giver, and he embodies the act of giving. – Steven H. Fazenbaker
Curiously but not surprisingly, the crowd is interested in knowing the steps or the formula for doing the works of God. “What must we do… ?” That's so North American. You would think that came out of a twenty-first-century self-help manual. What must we/I do to do the works of God? I think they were expecting Jesus to answer something like, well, pray. Eat well. Read your Bible. Walk the labyrinth. Journal. Exercise.
. . . Jesus' simple reply is that they need him. We need him. Jesus is the food we need, the One who is the provision for the journey, the manna from heaven. He offers, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” – Neal D. Presa
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
Six weeks out of Egypt, and the memory of the Israelites is already beginning to fade. Not only have they forgotten the miserable conditions from which they have come, they have also forgotten the acts of God that rescued them . . . God hears their complaints and responds, “[I]n the morning you shall have your fill of bread. . .” The author is very clear that the gift of bread is meant to be a sign of God's provision . . . [and] that the Israelites fail to grasp the meaning of the sign, and almost fail to recognize the gift itself. . .
When we are not able to remember God's gracious acts in the past, nor recognize God's gracious acts in the present, it is difficult to hold any hope for the future (cf. v 3, “you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger”). Yet God continues to act on behalf of God's people, and into the future we go! – Steven H. Fazenbaker
The author of this letter is begging the church in Ephesus (and, most likely, several other churches in Asia Minor) to think of themselves not as separate and individual congregations, but rather, “bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” they are asked to think of themselves as “one body”. . . .
Each church's responsibility, therefore, is to develop its own gifts and help other churches discern and develop the gifts unique to their communities. It is important to remember, however, that each of the various gifts was given for a common purpose: “for building up the body of Christ. . .” – Steven H. Fazenbaker
Steven H. Fazenbaker is director of the Wesley Foundation at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Neal D. Presa, pastor of Middlesex Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth Presbytery, New Jersey, was the Moderator of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA).
Homily Service 42, no. 3 (2009): 100-110.