o they said to him,
"Rabbi, give us this bread always."
Jesus said to them,
"I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never go hungry,
and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."
JN 6: 24-35
It is easy to equate "bread" with the dietary staple that appears in so many forms in bakeries and supermarkets across the globe. Whether made of wheat, corn, maize, rice or other grains, "bread" fills the void when we are hungry. In some African nations, it is typically "hand-dipped" into soups or meat dishes; in Mediterranean countries, it is smeared with tomatoes, olive oil, capers and basil; in England, sliced white bread (minus the crusts!) is used to make dainty cucumber or fish paste sandwiches; here in the U.S., it is slathered with peanut butter and jelly. Wraps, tortillas, burritos, bagels, pita bread, sough dough loaves, doughnuts, matzos, muffins and more -- all these breads provide sustenance, comfort and even cultural identity! Metaphorically speaking, "bread" is synonymous with life. Without some form of bread, we would starve-- hence the phrase "daily bread" to refer to all that we need to get by in a single day. In fact, when we pray,
"Give us this day our daily bread,"
we are asking for what we need
day, not tomorrow or yesterday, or the day after tomorrow.
When the crowd asks Jesus for an unending supply of bread, the people are thinking literally.
The Discourse on the Bread of Life
comes right after the
Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes
(Jn 6:1-15). The crowd that seeks him out and gathers around him is the same crowd that Jesus had fed the day before, with just five barley loaves and two fish. Then, with full bellies, the people wanted to crown him king and so Jesus had withdrawn from their company. Now, having crossed the Sea of Galilee to find him, they are looking for breakfast -- or for an endless number of breakfasts, lunches, suppers. They want more of the same, all the time. Knowing their motives, Jesus challenges them:
"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 but for food that endures for eternal life" (Jn 6:26-27).
But the people don't get it. Just as in our first reading the Israelites focus only on their bellies and not on the deliverance they have experienced (Ex 16:2-4, 12-15), so the crowd is unable to think spiritually. Instead of marveling at the power of God, they can think only of those barley loaves --
how wonderful if there were an endless supply! How much money would be saved! How convenient this would be! What a blessing!
Of course, they miss the point. The miracle they witnessed less than 24 hours before has neither increased their faith nor created a sense of awe, wonder or gratitude. In spite of witnessing the miracle, they are incapable of interpreting it on a spiritual plane. All they are concerned about is somehow harnessing Jesus' abilities as a "multiplier" for their own convenience. For them, he is nothing more than a magician who can satisfy their hunger on demand.
It is easy to dismiss the crowd as "ignorant" but are we that different? Do we treat prayer as a magical transaction that will make God bend to our will? Do we imagine that prayer is a kind of investment and that the more we pray and perform religious devotions the more God will reward us? Do we substitute "harassing God" for "relationship with God"? It is true that Jesus invites us to pray without ceasing:
"And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you"
(LK 11:9). At the same time, however, there is a difference between constant prayer and harassment and it is this: when we pray, we need to pray with the mind of Christ or, to phrase this differently, we need to be in alignment with God's will; simply put, our prayer needs to come from "
will be done"
and not "
will be done now and immediately!"
When we ask for --even demand-- specific outcomes from prayer, we are assuming that we know what is best for ourselves, for others and for the world. Our vision, however, is sadly limited. We think logically and/or emotionally, but Divine thinking seems to be somewhat different. Sometimes what happens in life seems completely devoid of logic and we are unable to grasp emotionally "WHY?" The only consolation is that God sees the whole picture whereas we see mere pixels!
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
- Have you ever "harassed" God about anything and, if so, what was the outcome?
- What does it mean to pray with the "mind of Christ"?
- How might praying for specific outcomes limit your relationship with God?