For an audio of the homily see below:
In the Old Testament, manna plays a big role in Israel’s journey through the desert to the Promised Land. According to the Book of Exodus, only one month after they left Egypt, the Israelites began to complain that God had abandoned them. Even though they experienced the mighty deeds of God who freed them from Pharaoh’s enslavement, they were sure they were going to starve in the desert. Why did we leave Egypt anyway, they say? Why not go back?
Manna was the food God gave them to remind them he was with them and keep them going on their hard journey to the Promised Land. “They ate the manna for forty years’ until they came to settled land; they ate the manna until they came to the borders of Canaan.” (Exodus 16, 35) Manna was such an important part of their experience that Moses told Aaron to take a jar and fill it with manna, so that future generations would remember the Lord’s goodness. (Exodus 16,33)
Some say manna was a natural food that’s still found in the Sinai desert, a honey-like resin from the tamarisk tree, and so that would mean, perhaps, the Jews discovered it on their own. Wherever it came from, whether they found it or received it from divine hands, the Jews saw manna as bread from heaven. At every celebration of Passover afterwards, they took bread and gave thanks to God, who fed his people. At the Last Supper, Jesus also took bread and wine, gave thanks and gave them to his disciples as his body and blood. He is the true Bread come down from heaven.
The manna in the desert has important lessons for us. First of all, it’s a sign of God’s providence, a providence that’s steady and sure. God doesn’t send us on the journey of life and leave us on our own. God doesn’t help us once and then abandon us to our own resources. However uncertain the times are, however uneasy the circumstances we face–the journey’s through the desert, remember– God is with us. Manna will be there, sometimes we have to discover it, its not always obvious, sometimes it’s a complete surprise.
The manna was a daily gift. That’s another life-lesson it teaches us. “Give us this day our daily bread,” Jesus says in the prayer he taught. That’s manna he’s telling us to pray for. Each day we’re to turn to God with empty hands and look for everything we need. “Daily bread is the bread of everything,” St. Augustine said.
Some of the Israelites, according to the Old Testament story, try to hoard the manna so that they don’t have to look for it each day. They want to be free from any obligation to God and be on their own. The manna that’s hoarded mysteriously spoils and becomes rotten, according to the Old Testament story. Moses forbade hoarding the manna, because it was another way of making ourselves above God and not needing him.
In John’s gospel, Jesus seems to accuse the crowd who come to him looking for bread of just this sort of attitude.
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
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 the food that endures for eternal life.
You wonder today as people abandon the practice of daily prayer and going to church if we are not seeing this story being lived out in our time. “You can do anything yourself, if you want.” “You don’t need anyone but yourself.” “Your life is yours to live, it’s up to you.”
Fine words, but are they true. We are on a journey through a desert. We need manna for the journey. We need Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life.