Today’s first reading from Exodus sets the stage for Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel. The Israelites were wandering through the desert and, at this point in the story, they were hungry, frustrated and depressed. In response, Moses let them know that God, who had led them from slavery, continued to be faithful and would provide daily sustenance for them. This came in the form of manna. Throughout the 40 years, the Israelites would ask God for signs of his providence and care. Water, quail, manna and protection from their enemies all became signs of something much deeper — their relationship with the God who loved and protected them.
In the Gospel, people had just experienced a profound “sign” in the feeding of the multitude with loaves and fishes, so they sought out and followed Jesus. He knew they were coming only because their physical needs had been met. But in his response, he tried to help them see that there were deeper needs that he could meet if they would be open to him. Instead of offering physical food, he offered them “living bread” and the promise to always “be there” for them. Jesus invited them into a relationship.
Relationships require mutuality. A healthy relationship involves giving and receiving, creating an “us” and includes being there in difficult times as well as easy days.
Our relationship with God is about giving and receiving, in times of joy and sorrow, being together for the “long haul.” The relationship is at God’s invitation and is more generous than we can imagine. But we have something vital to offer as well: the gift of ourselves, a response of faith, trust and living as God wills. This relationship is sustained and sustains us in good times and in bad and continues beyond the limits of time and space.
We know that relationships take time and effort. A husband who spends all his time at work to provide for the family, but is never present to them, may lose what he works for. A wife who takes her husband or children for granted can hurt those she loves.
The same is true of our relationship with God. An attitude of gratitude, the willingness to spend time together, and loving attention, are needed for growth and depth. Sometimes we offer personal prayer and at other times we are at communal worship and in relationship with others, even if we don’t always feel that we “get anything out of it.” What we give and making the effort is what is important. That’s the self-giving part.
This summer, when there is a bit more time for family relationships and the leisure to think about what’s really important, maybe we can assess our spiritual relationship and see if we are following Christ because we are looking for bread to sustain us or because we truly seek the Bread of Life.
Sr. Rehrauer is the diocesan director of Evangelization, Living Justice and Worship.