Once they set forth from the land of Egypt, the house of their slavery, the chosen people show themselves to be a resounding bunch of whingers.
They leave Egypt and they head for the Red Sea. Then they hear the thundering of Pharaoh’s Army coming to get them. Every empire needs a slave class to support the imperial economy and Egypt was no different. Pharaoh changed his mind and said “Get them back. We need the slaves!”
So here they are, caught between the devil and the deep Red sea, and what do they start doing? They start whinging. “This God whom we thought was a liberator is nothing but a betrayer. He’s lead us into a trap and here we are. We’re gone.” Well, what happens? Surprise, surprise – the waters open and through they go to continue their journey to freedom. Pharaoh and his army are drowned beneath the waves and who’d have imagined this? Through the Red Sea they go and what lies beyond is desert.
We’ve heard the story today. What do they start doing in the desert? Whinging once again. “This God has lead us into another trap now because at least back in Egypt we had leeks, cucumbers and pans of meat. We should have stayed in Egypt; better slavery than this death by hunger and thirst. So what happens this time? The liberator God gives them quail. It’s very nice! A bit hard to eat but still nice. Then comes this other “stuff”- white on the ground, and they take one look at it and they say “man na”. That’s two Hebrew words which mean “what’s that?” It’s supposed to be bread to go with our quail but it’s very strange looking bread. So God feeds their hunger in the desert but does it in ways which they don’t expect.
Now the people who come looking for Jesus take one look at him but they don’t say “what’s that”, they say “who’s that?” According to Jesus what they think is that he’s just the guy who delivers the goods. Now remember that he’s just fed the 5000; this was a magnificent feast provided by Jesus and it cost them nothing. So this is someone who really does deliver the goods. Why wouldn’t you chase after him? He says to them “I’m not just the one who delivers the goods, I am the goods.”
His words are extraordinary! He says “I am the bread of life. I don’t just provide it. I am actually the bread of life.” In other words, I am what enables your survival, the staff of life in all the deserts of life including the desert of the human heart. If you want to survive in the desert then you better eat me.
To see this truth that he utters, not just once upon a time but here this morning – “I am the bread of life” – no less now than back there. To understand what Jesus said; to hear him, to really hear him; is in the words of St Paul, to move beyond the kind of aimless life that pagans live; going round and round like the early explorers in the Australian desert. They thought they were going somewhere and were exhausted but in fact they were going nowhere. They were just going round and round in circles until they disappear into the desert sands.
So once you see the truth of Him and start to eat the bread that comes from heaven it’s then you can move beyond aimlessness. There are plenty of people who wander, they are not bad people but they just don’t know where they’re going. They’re starving, looking for food but looking for the right thing in the wrong place. In other words they can’t turn their wandering into journeying, which is the great challenge. Therefore they are imprisoned by what St Paul calls illusory desire, looking for the food that satisfies their deepest hunger, where it simply can’t be found. It’s a mirage as in the desert. It looks like the real thing but as soon as you approach to eat it vanishes. The illusory desires go with the aimlessness.
Paul says that we must be renewed by spiritual revolution and nothing less. The spiritual revolution comes when we see with the eye of faith and see the truth of Jesus. Yet don’t just see, begin to eat Jesus. The language is a bit spectacular and even shocking, but that’s what we’re talking about and that’s the power of what we do here today in the Cathedral. You come here to eat and drink, and because you are hungry. You come to eat what looks like bread but it’s not; it’s the Body of Christ. This too is shocking language but true. You come to eat the bread which is His body because you believe what he says. “I am the bread of life.” And you come to drink the wine which is His blood because in your heart of hearts you know that unless you eat that bread and drink this wine; the Body and the Blood then hunger and thirst will have the last word in your life and in the end there will only be the desert into whose sands you sink.
This is Vocations Awareness week throughout Australia and that’s why we have this special celebration in the Cathedral today and the Expo which we will open and explore after Mass.
What do we mean when we talk about vocation? We mean the call of Christ, who calls people to himself no less now than he did 2000 years ago or whenever. He calls us to himself as the Bread of Life; to eat of the bread and then to become the bread. That is what Vocation is really all about. If someone is called to consecrated life, like the Sisters of Carmel sitting here before me, or others in this gathering such as myself and Fr Morgan Batt, who are called to the priesthood. What are we called to be and do? We are called to become the bread of life that we have eaten and we are called to offer that bread to whoever.
The bread is always broken; if you follow Christ you will be bread that is broken for the life of the world. You will follow him to the cross but you will also follow him to the glory of Easter. In doing that you will lead a host of others to do the same; leading them out of an aimless kind of life beyond illusory desires into that spiritual revolution that enables us to put on the new self which has been created in God’s way in the goodness and holiness of truth.
So in the name of Christ here in the Cathedral I say this morning come to him. You will not be betrayed. In saying yes to Christ you will lose nothing. A lot of people are afraid if they say ‘yes’ to Christ they’ll lose too much, but you lose nothing in coming to him because in doing so the desert becomes a garden. Your deepest hungers are satisfied, your thirst is quenched I promise you in the name of the Risen One Himself. Then you are set free yourself to journey on with others, those whom you lead, through the desert that becomes a garden as you move towards the newness of life and the promised land. It is the life of the goodness and holiness of the truth which are in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.