In today’s Gospel the crowd asks Jesus for a sign to help them believe. Yet this is the same crowd that followed Jesus because of the many he was healing (John 6:2), and had been nourished the day before from a miraculous multiplication of loaves by Jesus (John 6:10-14). It was Jesus’ signs that had brought them out of their homes to follow him. It was Jesus’ signs that nourished them and gave them the energy to keep seeking him out. And yet, the very next day, they find themselves forgetful, desiring more, yearning for God’s life-giving presence to nourish them every day. Jesus cared deeply about the material and physical needs of his people, and worked wonders to meet those needs. Yet he sensed in the crowd a deeper hunger than just the material – so instead of proclaiming what he could do, or offering more signs and wonders, Jesus proclaims who he is and who God is: Jesus himself is the Bread of Life, the one who nourishes and sustains us on the path of life.
There are days when I feel as forgetful as this crowd. It’s easy to be so focused on my needs for today, the problems of the world, of my own heart, that I cannot see God with me. I yearn for God to show up in majestic, awe-inspiring ways. I want to see signs so that I may believe. Jesus promises that – greater than any miraculous sign that could capture our attention – he is the one who is present to us as the Bread of Life, satisfying the hunger and thirst of our hearts, and inviting us into new life. Jesus proclaimed with his whole life the abundant, life-giving Kingdom of God, breaking into our world, satisfying our hungers and transforming our community so there was no more hunger and thirst. Today I am invited to be attentive to the ways that God nourishes and sustains me in my journey of life, and to hear Jesus calling me to be a witness to God's presence in our world.
In the first reading we are confronted by the execution of Stephen. Stephen was a leader in the early church, chosen to help serve the poor and vulnerable in the community (Acts 6:1-6). He was the first of many early Christians who, like Jesus, were killed by the powerful for their proclamation of God’s kingdom and who hoped to share in Jesus’ resurrection. It is easy, in our modern Western world, to interpret the hunger of the Gospel crowd to be purely spiritual, and to preach a Christian message that challenges no one (least of all ourselves). Yet we know that Jesus healed and fed the hungry crowd, and challenged the powerful and the status quo, promising a kingdom of justice and abundance for all.
Around the world today there are models of committed faith who have given their lives to proclaiming God’s presence with the poor and vulnerable: modern martyrs like Sr. Dorothy Stang, Sr. Rani Maria, and the churchwomen of El Salvador, as well as many others who continue to witness, despite the risks, to Christ’s life-giving presence that desires to satisfy every hunger, and challenges the powers of domination, violence, and oppression. These folks remind us that we, the Body of Christ, are not called to work signs and wonders, but to live every day like Jesus: as witnesses to God’s abiding, nourishing presence in our world, alongside all those who yearn for God’s love.