“Jesus wants to give us much more than free bread or liberation from earthly suffering. But we want to settle for much less.”
In this Sunday’s Gospel we hear the continuation of the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish that we began last Sunday. John tells us that after Jesus performs the dramatic miracle, the people begin to marvel that Jesus is “the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world” (John 6:14).
Interestingly, only John mentions this detail. The other three evangelists, who all tell the story of the feeding of the five thousand, do not mention this particular reference to “the Prophet.”
We see “the prophet” referenced earlier in John’s Gospel as well, when the priests and Levites ask John if he is Elijah or “the prophet” (John 1:21). John tells them no, perhaps because they are not referring to any prophet, but a particular promised figure: the one promised in Deuteronomy 18:15-19. They are waiting for the new Moses.
“A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kindred; that is the one to whom you shall listen” (Dt 18:15).
This is a role not filled by John the Baptist, but Jesus Himself. And in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, the people realize that this new Moses is in their midst.
Scholars will often use Matthew’s Gospel to show how Jesus fulfills the promise of a new Moses. Matthew’s Gospel is full of references to Old Testament prophecies to show his Jewish audience their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. From the flight into Egypt to the Sermon on the Mount and discourse on the New Law, Matthew demonstrates to his audience that Jesus is the new Moses.
But we cannot ignore John’s contribution to the depiction of Jesus as the new Moses. The preceding chapter just ended with Jesus rebuking the Jews for not believing in Him. He chastises their lack of faith, saying, “Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father: the one who will accuse you is Moses, in whom you have placed your hope. For if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:45-47).
Immediately after this, he backs up these words with actions. He gives the Jews bread from heaven. In this “deserted place,” he feeds the children of Israel with miraculous bread, just as Moses did in the desert.
The people follow him to Capernaum, wanting more. They have declared that this is the new Moses, and now they want more bread (John 6:24). But they have misunderstood. Perhaps some just want more free food, ignoring all indications from the past that they’d soon tired of free bread (Numbers 11:4-6). Others falsely assume that this new Moses will lead them in an exodus out of slavery to Rome.
Perhaps only John connects the multiplication of the loaves explicitly to Jesus as the new Moses because only he will follow the miracle up with the Bread of Life discourse. The New Moses has come to fulfill the Exodus, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the manna – not with worldly freedom and food, but with supernatural freedom and food.
Jesus wants to give us much more than free bread or liberation from earthly suffering. But we want to settle for much less. We are not that different from the men and women who followed him to Capernaum that day in search of free bread.
When he begins his Bread of Life discourse in John 6, he seems to be continuing his discourse from the previous chapter, when he said, “Moreover, the Father who sent me has testified on my behalf. But you have never heard his voice nor seen his form, and you do not have his word remaining in you, because you do not believe in the one whom he has sent. You search the scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life” (John 5:37-40, emphasis added).
When after witnessing the miracle the people ask what they need to do – probably simply wanting this new Moses to give them bread and a kingdom – He repeats, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one He sent” (John 6:29).
Jesus wants to give life. But He will not force it; He needs them to believe. They want to make Him king because they think He will solve their earthly problems. He is ready to do much more… if only they would believe. Are they willing to leave slavery to sin behind? Can they accept the radical nature of the kingdom- one that requires losing one’s life?
Are we ready to believe in the one Whom the Father sent? This does not just mean professing words; it is a change of life and a surrender of self. It is about approaching that little white host, that supernatural manna from heaven, and saying, “Amen.” An Amen to not just belief in the Eucharist, not just belief in the fact that Jesus is God, but an Amen to everything the Father asks of me, no matter how difficult. This is why I must serious examine my conscience before approaching the altar.
The new Moses has come to lead you away from sin in a supernatural exodus. He has come to bring you supernatural food that will sustain you in this wilderness. Jesus wants you to leave Egypt behind. He wants to give you His own life, His very flesh to eat. How will we respond?
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