Hunger is life’s most primitive instinct. Without food we die. To be hungry is to long for life, to search for life. Moses understood the hunger at the heart of man. During the 40 years wandering in the wilderness hunger had tested the inmost heart of God’s people. Some had allowed their hunger to bring them to the point of rebellion, preferring to turn away from God rather than perish on the journey. Those who trusted in God had been fed by manna, bread from heaven. They had come to realise that man does not live on bread alone but on everything that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
No less than the children of Israel in the wilderness, we are driven by a multiplicity of hungers. We long to be loved and understood. We long to be forgiven and healed. We long to succeed. With Moses we must discern the meaning of our hunger, allowing our many hungers to bring us into the presence of God.
Jesus felt compassion for the hunger of the multitude. The multiplication of the loaves and fishes, however, was much more than an act of compassion. Here Jesus revealed himself as the only satisfaction for the hunger that drives our humanity.
“I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.”
Throughout this long discourse Jesus contrasted himself with the superficial satisfactions of a sinful world. A commercial world tempts us with the allure of instant satisfaction. Our wardrobes are full of must-buy items that have failed to satisfy. Our consciences are troubled by actions that once seemed so attractive. Jesus confronted our self-indulgent appetites. “Do not work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal life, the kind of food the Son of man is offering to you.”
Jesus presented himself as real Bread, as real flesh, a life totally given for the life of the world.
Beyond the many superficialities of our lives we long for a life giving communion. We long for the self-giving that enables us to find ourselves in another. Through the gift of himself, on the Cross and as the Bread of Life, Christ has satisfied this hunger. The eternal life that he promised to those who eat his flesh and drink his blood begins now. Already he feeds our hunger, bringing us to life in a gift that enables us to give ourselves.
Jesus himself was fully alive in his relationship with the Father. In this sense he hungered for the Father and used this hunger to reveal himself as the Bread of Life.
“As I, who am sent by the living Father, myself draw life from the Father, so whoever eats this bread will draw life from me. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever.”
Ultimately we are fed by the relationships that sustain our lives, that give meaning and dignity to what we are. In giving himself, Jesus became the Bread of life.
St Paul understood the far-reaching consequences of this truth. Because we are one in the Body and Blood of the Lord, we are one with each other. Christ gave himself to become the food that feeds the soul. We can do no less than give ourselves to the Lord and each other.
“Though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all have a share in this one loaf.”
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