In a reading from Exodus at Mass, we heard about how the Israelites “grumbled” against Moses and Aaron, for good cause: they were starving. So God gave them manna from heaven, with the stipulation that they were to follow His commands on how and when to gather it and eat it.
Then the LORD said to Moses,
“I will now rain down bread from heaven for you.
Each day the people are to go out and gather their daily portion;
thus will I test them,
to see whether they follow my instructions or not.
Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written:
He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”
So Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven;
my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world.”
So they said to him,
“Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them,
“I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
The next Sunday, the first reading shows us Elijah, who is just about ready to give up, when God sends him food. The angel prods him into eating all of it, not just so that he will survive, but so that he will have the strength to continue coming closer to God:
“Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!”
He got up, ate, and drank;
then strengthened by that food,
he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.
And in the Gospel, Jesus is very plain:
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes has eternal life.
I am the bread of life.
Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;
this is the bread that comes down from heaven
so that one may eat it and not die.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
In his amazing work Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, Brant Pitre explains that the 1st century text 2 Baruch speaks of the manna from Heaven as coming from a heavenly treasury or vault, in which the bread of life has been stored since before the Fall; and the related prophecy says that, when the Messiah comes, “it will happen at that time that the treasury of manna will come down again from on high,” and that the dead will be resurrected.
As I tell my kids over and over again: it’s all part of the same story. Everything you hear at Mass is part of the story that God has been telling us ever since He created us. It all fits together.
Almost every week, I find a new book or a new resource or a new system designed to help the faithful grow closer to God, and I think, “Aha! This is the one that will finally make the difference!” But I think that what God is trying to tell me is, “Sweetheart, why are you making this so complicated?”
Because really, it’s simple. In all of these passages, God provides physical food and explicitly ties it to the law, and explicitly says that the nourishment from God brings us closer to God, and the law of God brings us life, and that all these things are unified in the person of Jesus, who is literally the bread from Heaven. They are not separable from each other: food, love, law, Jesus. It’s all the same thing.
God wants us to know only a very few things: (a) He will take care of us because He loves us; (b) He gave us His law, and that is how He takes care of us; (c) His love and His law are the same thing; and (d) Love and the Law are personified in Jesus.
Oh, and (e) HERE HE IS. Right there, in the tabernacle, reserved for us since before the Fall.
It’s just good to remind ourselves of this unity. Sometimes our Faith feels complicated when we try to fragment it, and when we focus on some individual aspect of it, without taking it to Jesus, who comprehends it all in His person. It is a good thing to examine various aspects of our Faith — to study scholarly works, to examine the law closely, to do good works — but all of these efforts will come to nothing, unless we bring it to Christ. Unless we remember that it all comes from Christ. This is why people who cannot stomach some aspect of the Church’s teaching still feel drawn to the Mass, even if they can’t receive communion: because that’s where He is, and we want to come closer to Him. We’re made to come closer to Him. In Him, every voice makes sense. In Him, every action is efficacious. Without Him, nothing can be complete. “In Christ, charity in truth becomes the Face of his Person, a vocation for us to love our brothers and sisters in the truth of his plan. Indeed, he himself is the Truth”
Every kind of unity that we experience is an echo of the unity that has its center in Jesus Christ. Every kind of division or strife comes from trying to make things happen without His help.
So when you’re passing a tabernacle, don’t just bob and scoot. Pause on your journey and thank God, on bended knee, for His law, for His sustenance, and for Himself.