The first reading and the Gospel of today make clear that material bread is only the starting point of all that is to follow. However, the Israelites, in the first reading of today, and those who follow Jesus, in the Gospel text of today, are not able to recognize this and continue to remain at the level of material bread. The question that the Israelites ask of the manna, namely, “What is it?” is an indication that they do not know. This is similar to the question asked by those who follow Jesus, namely, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?” The response of Moses and Jesus to the people is similar. It is God alone who gives true bread. However, while these words in the mouth of Moses refer to Yahweh, God, who gives the manna, in the mouth of Jesus, they refer to Jesus. This is because it is on Jesus that God has conferred all authority and it is to Jesus that God has given all power. The misunderstanding of the people continues and they remain at the material level. They still want signs.
This request for a sign is strange coming as it does immediately after Jesus has fed them, included in the crowd of five thousand, with only five loaves and two fish. However, though strange, it is not unexpected, since their ancestors in the desert had made a similar request of Moses. In his reference to the story of manna in the desert, Jesus explicates that it was not Moses, but God, who gave their ancestors bread. Jesus goes even further and informs them that the bread that their ancestors ate is not something only in the past, but it is available even in the present. This present bread is indeed true bread that has come from heaven. They can receive it if they truly desire it. While Moses could give them only the bread that God gave him to give, Jesus gives them something more, the bread that is his very self. This is bread which, because it is given once for all in the person of Jesus, is also given always.
Jesus intends to move the crowd from the merely material to the spiritual, from the merely physical to the metaphysical, and from the merely external to the internal, that is, from the body to the heart. While there is no doubt that the satisfaction of physical hunger is the basic and even primary need of the human being, precisely because we are human beings, there is more. We do not stop after our physical hunger has been satisfied. The fact is that physical food satisfies only a small part of our needs. The major component of the satisfaction of the human person is the satisfaction of the heart and mind. This is why most doctors all over the world are agreed that the great majority of our illnesses today are not physical but psychosomatic. That is, they have to do primarily with the mind and heart and only then, with the body. This means that, if our minds and hearts are not at ease, the body is affected. This means that, no matter how much physical food may be available to us, we will still be left unsatisfied. When we fail to nourish our mind, our heart, and our spirit, life lacks meaning. Grief, disappointment, illness, anxiety, overwork, a sense of betrayal, failure, or purposelessness, sets in and it can make it seem that just going on living is an effort scarcely worth making. We may be physically filled, but we still feel depressed, apathetic, and bitter, with no sense of anything better.
This is why, following his plea for unity based on the reality of the Christian community’s identity with Christ, the author of Ephesians here emphasizes that this new identity transforms our very being into a new person. This new person is one who realises that there is much more to life than merely satisfying carnal desires. This new person, because he/she has experienced Christ, will focus on renewal of mind, spirit, and heart as necessary steps toward that fullness of life which Jesus came to bring by becoming, for all, the bread of life.