Have you ever asked yourself why God doesn’t just perform miracles all the time to reveal his presence so that everyone will believe in him?
It’s a valid question, but one of those questions that we might ignore or push to the back of our mind because we don’t think there’s a good answer. But these questions have answers in Catholic theology, and we are called to pray about these questions, because God will illuminate the answers to them.
The readings today invite us into this mystery of our faith – why not miracles? Of course, there are extraordinary miracles of physical healing, for example, that do happen, but God does not ordinarily reveal himself to us in this way. Ordinarily, God moves in more gradual ways that invite us into deep friendship with him. We tend to ask for miracles that provide for our physical, worldly needs, but God is also concerned for our spiritual well-being and our ﬁnal end of eternal life. Therefore, our spiritual well-being may not entail physical healing.
In the Gospel today, Jesus chides the Israelites for seeking only earthly fulﬁllment. He calls them, and likewise us, to open our hearts to our deeper desire for God. Ultimately, God wants to ﬁll our deepest longings for his inﬁnite love.
First Reading Reflection
When we experience suﬀering, we come face to face with our own weaknesses. The Israelites feel hungry in the wilderness, and their hunger turns into fear and resentment. They are so angry with Moses and with God that they turn their thoughts toward death. Not only do they wish they were back in Egypt as slaves, but they wish for death: “Would that we had died!” (16:3). The Lord, who is love and mercy itself, comes to them in their weakness and supplies their need with miraculous bread from heaven—the manna. Unfortunately, when we confront suﬀering in our own lives, we often react by complaining like the Israelites rather than enduring the diﬃculties with patience. The Lord, in his mercy, is ready to reach out to us in the midst of our need—sometimes giving us a miraculous solution and sometimes giving us the grace to endure. He knows exactly what we need, even if he gives us something that seems contrary to what we deem to be our “highest good.” Even though the Israelites pray for death, God gives them manna, which is what they truly need. The Book of Wisdom describes how the manna, the food of angels, was customized for each person, “serving the desire of him who received it, [the manna] was blended to whatever ﬂavor each one wished”
(Wisdom 16:21 RSVCE). God longs to reach each of us and feed us with his very Body and Blood, if only we would open our hearts to him. The Eucharist is the fulﬁllment of the manna from Heaven: while the Israelites received mere bread as sustenance for their journey, we receive the Bread of Life as nourishment for our journey toward the Heavenly Jerusalem.
In the Letter to the Ephesians, St Paul compares their old way of life prior to conversion with their new life in Christ. He extols them not to be like the Gentiles, who walk “in the futility of their minds” (4:17).
This intellectual state of “ignorance” brings about a bad spiritual state of “hardness of heart” (v. 18). For Paul, our behavior proceeds from our inner thoughts. Paul is drawing his teaching from Christ, “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil” (Luke 6:45). The darkened mind brings about a hard heart, which leads to “the practice of every kind of impurity” (v. 19). Paul explains to the Ephesians that Christians have learned a diﬀerent way of life through Christ (v. 20). In Christ we have “learned” and “heard” and have been “taught.” Now that we have the truth of Christ in our minds, we have the grace to “put away the old self ” (v. 22). Paul invites us to abandon the old self fully and put on the new self in Christ. Through this re-creation in Christ, we can “be renewed in the spirit of [our] minds” (v. 23), meaning that our Christian life is characterized both by new thinking and new acting. The darkened thinking before conversion gives way to renewal in Christ, which brings us away from the impurity of sinful action into living like Christ.
Jesus challenges us to believe in him. Immediately prior to this passage, he performed the miraculous feeding of the ﬁve thousand. On the day afterward, everyone seeks him like a celebrity. The crowds look for him all around the Sea of Galilee until they ﬁnd him in Capernaum. When they ﬁnd him, however, Jesus discloses their inner hearts: “You are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were ﬁlled” (6:26). They are doing the right thing— looking for Jesus—but for the wrong reason: to ﬁll their bellies. They are treating Jesus like a miraculous food provider rather than the Messiah. The miracle of the loaves was meant to point them to a greater reality and to enkindle in them a greater hunger for God. The miracle should have led them to greater faith, not to carnal dependence. The people did not see or recognize the sign that Jesus gave to them. They only ate the food because it was physically satisfying. Because of this, the people ask him for a new sign (v. 30). Even though they already witnessed a miracle, they want another one. They do not see the connection between the miracle of the loaves and the manna in the desert. Jesus then reveals the true meaning of the manna and the meaning of the miracle of the loaves. Those miracles point to an even greater miracle, which is the Bread of Life: Christ himself gives us his Body and Blood. This is the bread for which the people long, because it is the only bread that they will always have (John 6:34). Jesus gives himself to us daily in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Join the Parish Discussion Group!
Go to StMichael.FORMED.org and log in (or sign up if you don’t have an account). Click the “Community” tab and visit the Opening the Word Discussion Group. There you can view the short reflection on this Sunday’s readings and post your comments to the discussion questions. Comments are only visible to our parish group.
Reflections reprinted here with permission from Augustine Institute.