If the people witnessing the miracle of the loaves and fish in last week’s gospel reading were celebrating their first communion, this week’s gospel is a confirmation. In both the secular and the Christian meanings of the word “confirmation,” an affirmation takes place—the strengthening of a belief. The multiplication of the loaves and fish was a communal experience, witnessed by all in attendance. This miracle was accompanied by the teachings of Jesus, and his words were like seed scattered about. Some found fertile soil, but others found rocky and thorny ground that would not allow Jesus’ teachings to take root that easily.
In this week’s gospel reading (Jn 6:24-35) we get an up-close view of that confirmation process, where individuals from that communion of souls approach Jesus and ask follow-up questions to affirm their faith.
“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you,” they ask. “Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
This came from someone, I assume, who had just experienced the miracle of the loaves and fish, but still needed confirmation that this Jesus was the real deal.
“So Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” So this person in search of confirmation, still so governed by his belly, thinks this sounds like a great deal.
“Sir, give us this bread always.”
You could almost see Jesus’ eyes roll up into his head as he explains further:
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
Faith is not an easy thing to digest. It is food for the soul. Jesus knew these people were similar to the Israelites Moses led out of Egyptian slavery—the same people in this Sunday’s first reading (Ex 16:2-4, 12-15) who, instead of being grateful for the freedom of their souls, grumble because their bellies are empty.
“Would that we had died at the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!”
Another eye-rolling moment for God—who then fed them with the miraculous gifts of manna and quail.
“I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites,” the Lord tells Moses. “Tell them: In the evening twilight you shall eat flesh, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread, so that you may know that I, the LORD, am your God.”
We 21st century people aren’t much different from our ancestors of Moses’ time or even those who were confirmed by Jesus himself. We still need the affirmation that regular worship can bring. It’s our connection to the signs that our forefathers hungered for, and Christ’s fulfillment of humanity’s request to “give us this bread always.”
But in our second reading (Eph 4:17, 20-24), Paul tries to remind us of the significance of that bread—that it is living, and ours for the asking.
“Put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires,” Paul tells the Ephesians. “Be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.”
That means making room for the bread of life in our souls. If we do that, God will always see that our bellies are equally fulfilled.