Hunger is one of the most powerful motivators in human life. Look at the way hunger motivates you. Hunger will make people do strange and difficult things. Fear of hunger is also a major motivator.
The Israelites who followed Moses into the desert, out of Egypt, began to realize just how far out they had traveled in the desert. There was no way to return to Egypt. Somehow they had survived this far. They began to know their hunger for food, and it overpowered their spiritual values. They began to fear dying of hunger, and began to grumble to Moses and Aaron.
“Would that we had died at the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread!
But you had to lead us into this desert
to make the whole community die of famine!”
This was fear.
As we grow, we discover we have hunger, and fear of hunger on many levels. Some hunger is for food. Some hunger can be for sex. Some hunger can be for attention. And another hunger that we don’t discuss enough is spiritual hunger.
Hunger is natural. Good created us to know and experience hunger.
Hunger is also controllable. Fasting with faith and prayer is a traditional Christian tool for guiding our hunger. Jesus used our natural hunger to teach us the importance that Faith is greater than hunger and worldly food. In the preceding story, he had just fed 5,000 people with five barley loaves and two fish. Now the crowds are still following him, but only to have more food for their bellies. He told them,
“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,
which the Son of Man will give you.
With these words he began to get them to relate physical hunger with spiritual hunger, not for food that perishes. He asked them for faith in him.
Just like love, faith is a choice, not an emotion. Spiritually we struggle all our lives, longing for God. It is an easy choice to make if we just say, “I believe.” However, many of us resist, choosing instead the foods of this world, things that perish.
Often the problem is that our hunger for food and the things of this world become major distractions for us. They don’t satisfy us, and we always want more. We become slaves to these hungers. Jesus wants to free us from this slavery.
In the desert, the Israelites would even have accepted slavery, with a return to their slavery in Egypt simply for food for their bellies. God gave them manna from heaven: Bread and the flesh of quails to eat. With that sign from God they continued to follow Moses to the Promised Land.
Today, Jesus tells us how to quench our spiritual hunger. But, we must believe in him. We must do the works of God. The people questioned this,
“What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”
We must choose Jesus. It is not an emotion. It is a choice. Faith is a choice.
Paganism is a choice to not believe in God, and to live as if God did not exist.
St. Paul laid before the Ephesians the choice that they had to make as they straddled the issues between faith and paganism.
… you must no longer live as the Gentiles do,
in the futility of their minds;
that is not how you learned Christ,
assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus,
that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires,
and be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
and put on the new self,
created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.
Holiness is a choice, a way of life. Faith in Jesus is a choice. We are pagans if we do not make that choice and embrace it.
Belief in Jesus means acceptance and hunger for him in the bread that never perishes, the bread of the Eucharist.
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.”
Remember, if you hunger for eternal life, Jesus offers us three things. Do not miss Mass. Receive Holy Communion as often as you can. This is the True Bread from Heaven. Jesus taught us, “Whoever eats my body, and drinks my blood will have eternal life in him.” That is a promise.
And, third, if you fall off the bicycle, get back into the confessional, so that you might be united once again to Jesus and his Holy Church in Holy Communion. That is the Way. That is our Sacramental Life. That is the road to Eternal Life.