They say that “You are what you eat.” That means I’m at least 6% pork roll. Actually, I got a physical a few weeks ago and although I checked out okay, I was put on Crestor to straighten out my cholesterol, my arteries being the victim of a lifetime of pork-egg-and cheeses. My doctor said that if I work on my diet, in three months I could probably come off the Crestor, and so I’m doing my best, cutting back, and so occasionally I get hungry. But, of course, I get the modern, privileged sort of hungry: hungry enough to notice, hungry enough to get a little cranky. That’s not really hungry hungry.
“In the First Reading, the Israelites, who are marching through the desert, are hungry and they are angry. God should have killed us in Egypt, they say; then at least we would have died with food in our bellies. In response, God feeds them with bread from heaven. Manna falls from the sky during the night, and in the morning they can pick the manna up off the ground. It seems to have been a specially wonderful analogue to bread. Scripture says that it was small, and white and mildly sweet, like honey with coriander (Ex 16:31); and it was greatly sustaining too.
“This is a story to shake your head over. In my world, if you want bread, you have to go to the store for what you need, and you have to pay for what you get there too. And if you grumble against God angrily, you get a guilty conscience—you don’t get bread falling from the sky. With or without stores and money, we get no…bread at all. Why are these Israelites so lucky? Why doesn’t God make bread fall from heaven for us too?
“Here, by way of answer, is what the story makes clear. God is a God of history. He intervenes in human affairs in particular ways at particular times to provide for his people what will do them good at that time. The only ones who got to eat manna were those grumbling Israelites. And even they got to eat it only for a while. When they crossed the Jordan River, the manna stopped. All they got then was the parched corn from the previous harvest.”
And so I bet they were hungry again, stomachs grumbling for something more. But I also wonder what else they were hungry for, what else they were missing. I wonder if they were confused: where did the free food go? I also wonder if they were spiritually vexed: did heaven shut its doors on them? Was God just finished tending to their needs?
The whole thing raises questions for us as well. “Who would not want to be among those who got to taste that honey-sweet manna? Who would not want to have been one of the people hand-fed by the Lord?”
And then we realize that we are hand-fed by the Lord, with bread sweeter than manna and of infinite value. Jesus tells us today, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger.”
By now you’re probably thinking that you’ve heard about bread in church an awful lot lately, and you have. You see, the feeding of the five-thousand was kind of a big deal. Not only was it a cool miracle, but it set thousands of people down a path to both belief in Jesus and/or total confusion. Like their Israelites ancestors, the people present were hand-fed bread by God, and they couldn’t get enough. Who doesn’t like free food? But Jesus is the Good Shepherd, not the Good Baker: just as the manna stopped, Jesus ceased to produce miraculous amounts of bread. He needed them to understand that He Himself is what does and will sustain them, and us.
They didn’t get it, and we rarely do either, and so we’ve been hearing about bread in our Gospel lessons since July 22nd and will keep hearing about it until August 19th. All so that we realize that we are hand-fed by the Lord, with bread sweeter than manna and of infinite value, straight from the altar.
“The British theologian, Ronald Knox, speaking about the Eucharist, submits this: We have never, he claims, as Christians, been truly faithful to Jesus, no matter our denomination. In the end, none of us have truly followed those teachings which most characterize Jesus: we haven’t turned the other cheek. We haven’t forgiven our enemies. We haven’t purified our thoughts. We haven’t seen God in the poor. We haven’t kept our hearts pure and free from the things of this world. But we have, he submits, been faithful in one very important way; we have kept the Eucharist going. The last thing Jesus asked us to do before he died was to keep celebrating the Eucharist.”
Why? So that we might be hand-fed by the Lord, truly satisfied by the Bread of Life, made more like Jesus in body and soul. You are what you eat.
 Eleanor Stump: http://liturgy.slu.edu/18OrdB080518/reflections_stump.html