18th Sunday Ordinary Time - Year B
Manna: What is it?
If you could ask an ancient Israelite what is Manna, the Israelite would answer "What is it?" That is exactly what the word "Manna" means. It's a question, sort of like, "Whatchamacallit?" They really didn't know what the stuff was.
There have been several attempts to answer the question. The most likely explanation is that is a secretion of an insect. If that sounds weird, where do you think honey comes from? The Sinai desert is not completely barren. There are trees that thrive even in this wasteland. They bear tiny leaves. During the night, when it is cooler, a species of insect comes out and eats the leaves. They get piggish and eat too much. This forces them to exude a form of highly concentrated sugar. It drops to the ground and begins to dry, leaving a white, flaky substance behind. At dawn other insects quickly eat the stuff. Moses knew this and taught the Israelites to gather it up first. It wasn't really bread, but it was bread-colored and sweet. After a while, the Israelites got sick of it, like we can become tired of a diet of only candy.
I am the Bread of Life
Sometimes hindsight can be a disadvantage. We make assumptions and then ignore everything else. This is true about the words in today's gospel. Jesus says, "I am the bread of life." We naturally assume that he is talking about the Eucharist, and of course he is. But that conclusion can prevent us to see beyond the simplest interpretation. There is more to the Eucharist than just wafers and wine. Even when we correctly understand that Holy Communion is Christ's body and blood, we fail to understand the full meaning of his words.
Jesus is also telling us that we must ravenously devour him. We must hunger for spiritual as well as physical union with him. Simply put, this means that taking Holy Communion can become a mechanical action. It's sort of like taking an aspirin for a headache. We take it without trying to understand its uses and dangers. There is a danger to the Eucharist: to take it requires a commitment to a life change. Are you ready to accept that commitment?
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