Brother, often animals are wiser than men. Let us learn obedience and patience from the ox, humility and meekness from the lamb, cleanliness and industry from the ants and bees. We can learn a lesson for our life from all the animals. — Elder Paisios Olaru from Sihla Sketes
Joshua is on the banks of the Jordan and about to cross into the promise land. Unbeknownst to the crowd, the Manna that has kept them alive and about which they have complained so often is about to cease falling. Its time is done. It has kept a people alive for a generation but now they are at Jordan’s banks and new realities are taking hold. The LORD will still provide but in different ways.
There is a difference between Manna and the Holy Eucharist. One is a temporary provision to keep alive the wandering refugees. The latter is the food of heaven, eternal, given to wandering and trembling souls as well as settled and secure ones, the poor and fortunate ones alike, the fearful sinner and the humble saint, and it is meant toward eternity.
One cannot really hold on to Manna. It spoils overnight. (Ex 16) It has to be created new every morning. Not so with the Eucharist: It is the Body and Blood of Christ who is without beginning and without end. It is not a temporary solution. It is the food of the world to come as well as the food of those who are longing for that world, having been destined toward it through baptism. (6:57)
We have heard Jesus make it plain: Moses and the people ate Manna, a miraculous gift, but they nonetheless died. (6:58) It was a gift given for this world. To long for it is to long for the things of this world. Neither Moses nor Manna are diminished by Jesus’ words. They were and are gifts to this world by a gracious God. But we do well not to loose perspective: They are temporary and beyond them lies the vastness of eternity where they are of no avail. (6:63) There, in the vast space and time of God, only the Body and Blood of Christ avail. There not the letter of law but the Spirit avails. (1:12-13) In this world bronze snakes (once a sign of healing, later an idol destroyed by Hezekiah — 1 Kings 18:4) are lifted by prophets (Moses), there the Son of Man is lifted up. (3:14)
The multitude has come seeking Jesus and he has taught them many things. He fed them in the wilderness. They sat and ate their fill. (6:26) But they are not disciples. They have not placed their Faith in him. More importantly, he has not called them to follow. For now, that privilege rests only on the 12. At the end of chapter 6, those 12 are the only ones left to follow him and he seems fine with it. They are the only ones who will gather at the passover with him. They are the same who will gather at the beach after the resurrection. No, I have not forgotten about Judas who, in John, is taken hostage by the evil one and betrays Jesus only to disappear in the telling of St. John.
The rest of the crowd withdraws. Unlike the 12, it had not been given them to follow Jesus. (6:65) Their values and commitment are to Manna, blessed but temporary. Their values and commitment worship on mountains at shrines and the Temple — both destined to be destroyed. (4:21) They are of the world, of the temporary things. They cannot go where he is going and will perish in the temporary and in their sin. (8:21) There are earthly things and heavenly things and he is master of both and lives in both but is obedient only to the heavenly, as must you be. (3:13)
You wish to be his disciple? Then you too must realize that he has overcome the world. (16:33) He has no need to judge it, it will pass by its own nature. (12:47) But those who put their faith in him cross over from the passing to the eternal. (5:24)
At this point the question of faith becomes difficult. Are you here just for dinner or are you here for something radically different? Jesus seems to be content to lose a throng of dinner guests in favor of a small band of disciples who put their Faith, allegiance, and their life in him and him alone. That is not a very worldly thing to do or think. No wonder it was remarked that his were hard sayings. (6:60)
John writes in the prolog:
1:16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
Heaven’s graces replaces earth’s graces, even the dear ones, even the best ones, even our finest, even the miracles we experience, even Moses. The same spirit is contained in the post script to John’s Gospel on the beach: “Do you love me more than these?” (21:15)
What in the world will you not give up for Faith and for the Lord? You will give them up. All of them. Each of them. In the end, what will you be left with? In the end will you not be either be left with Christ or nothing at all?
The gifts and graces of this world abound and they are good in their time. Will you love Him more than these?