wonder bread | John 6.30-34
So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” John 6.30-34 | ESV
The crowd was quick with their reply: “You want our trust? Show us your credentials. What can you show us to earn our trust in you? What can you produce? For instance, our ancestors in the desert had their daily fill of manna – just like the old books say: ‘It was heaven’s bread on which they fed.’”
Jesus shot right back, “I’m turning up the volume all the way on this one: Moses didn’t give anyone heaven’s bread – don’t settle for that! You want to talk about heaven’s bread? My Father is the One serving that up – it’s the real bread. Talk about Wonder Bread! Bread of God, delivered fresh from heaven’s oven right down here, right on your doorstep, the very smell of it filling the world with life.”
The crowd cheered, their mouths watering in anticipation: “Master, we want this Wonder Bread. Now. Always!” MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
Not a bad contemporary translation of how they viewed that heavenly bread we know as “manna” (which literally means, “What is it?” – “whatchamacallit” bread). Surveying the texts about manna in Exodus and Numbers, it becomes clear that manna wasn’t ready baked bread delivered on their doorstep. It was hard, white bits of grain (like coriander seed) that was all over the place on the ground in the early morning, that they then had to go out and “harvest” – gathering then grinding it up to make flour which could then be baked into flat cakes of bread. God delivered the raw materials needed that they then could process (not a bad picture to keep in mind as we compare manna to our time as believers in Bible reading and contemplation).
It was a powerful national image – something like apple pie in American culture – and there may even have been a carving of a pot of manna in that synagogue at Capernaum where this whole interaction ends up.
It was commonly believed that Moses himself, through his personal piety, provided that manna, just as he had been the catalyst of ten mighty plagues that had rocked Egypt and released Pharaoh’s grip on the enslaved Hebrew people. To evoke Moses and manna was to evoke the Deliverer – specifically a political, economic, and social deliverer, leading them through their own Red Sea to the realization of the Kingdom of God on the far shore.
Jesus corrects all the assumptions woven through such expectations. Neither Moses nor his piety provided the manna, that was the Father; and the Father had now sent not another Moses with ten powerful plagues in his quiver to strike down Gentile kings and deliver Israel into a new area of political freedom and power.
Nor was the Father interested in starting a new wave of daily manna deliveries.
No, he had now sent the real bread of heaven, the ultimate Wonder Bread that didn’t melt away mid-morning under the hot sun.
How alike we all are – still looking down for little grains of manna on the ground, when Wonder Bread is staring us in the face.
What are your expectations of God today? How might these expectations need to be realigned, redirected, reformed and informed? How open are you to that?
Lord, forgive me for all the times I obsessively search the ground for signs of manna, when you, the Living Bread are right here before me to sustain and fill me with life. Realign my heart, my vision, my expectations so that I stop chasing after momentary snacks and truly feast on you, the True Manna from the Father. Through Christ.