When I first started going to Ecuador, the priest I was staying with didn’t know what to call me. Was it señor, or brother, or mister, or friend, or what. I said, “Just Jerome.” When I come into a church or parish and people meet me, they ask, “What are you?” They want to know if I’m a priest or a deacon or a religious brother, or what am I. Where did I get what I have, and why should they listen to me. I say, “I am a missionary.” And then that gets into, what organization are you with, and I explain that I don’t belong to an organization but I’m a friend of several. That usually gets a puzzled response. There’s something about me they like, I can tell, but they want me to fit into something. But all they can do is take a step in trust.
One day, I was on a bus and a vendor was walking around selling candy from person to person on the bus and as he passed by me he said, “You have the look of a priest in the church.” There are a lot of stories like that one. People call me father, brother, companion, mister, friend, benefactor, missionary, teacher, or just Jerome. My name is written in a thousand ways. One little boy hears my name as Jorón, which is crybaby in Spanish. And there is a community of sisters that considers me an auxiliary member of the community!
OK, you know why I am sharing all this, it’s because it says something about me.
It says, I am manna.
See, we want to put people into categories. We want people to fit into categories so we can be comfortable and feel like things are under control. When we can’t put someone into a category to our satisfaction, we get very uncomfortable, because it means we are not in control. And when we don’t have things under control, then we have to trust.
Back in the history of the Israelites, after they were freed from Egypt by God through Moses’ intervention, they started making their way through the desert to finally reach this land they were promised and only heard about. Well, going through the desert, nothing is comfortable and nothing is under control. So, they started complaining to Moses and wanting back the old stuff of Egypt, where they were slaves but everything was predictable and known and under control. So God says He’s going to send them some bread from heaven. The next morning, there is this stuff on the ground that they are supposed to collect to eat. They go and see and they have no idea what it is. All they can say is, “What is it?”
Do you what how you say “what is it?” in Hebrew? “Manna”.
So that’s what they called it: manna. That’s right, they called it, “What is it?” Because they could never figure out what it was! Look at the story in Exodus, it’s called a small, flat round thing, it’s called something like coriander seed, it’s called bread, and then something like a white wafer with the taste of honey. There is no clear description of manna anywhere in the Bible. Nobody walking the earth today has ever seen or touched it, nobody still to this day knows just what it exactly was. It is forever, “What is it?”
It is manna.
And that’s the point: people had to trust God. They never could get it all figured out and under control and get comfortable. And that’s what manna is for: they needed to trust.
Enter Jesus in the Gospel from today. He is with the Israelites in his day, and he says, I am the bread that came down from heaven. And really, all the Israelites can say in a number of different ways is, “Who are you?” They can’t for the life of them figure out exactly who he is. They want things to be figured out and under control and comfortable. Jesus is saying, You will never figure me out. You have to trust.
I am manna.
There is a part of all of us that likes church doctrines and authority structures and ritual practices, because they make us comfortable, they make us feel that things are under control. But remember that Jesus rarely shows up with a Roman collar, or a religious habit. He’s not limited to a doctrine, and he can’t be summoned like a genie by a scripted prayer.
Jesus can never be put into a category. He’s not under our control.
He is manna.
You have to trust.
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (Jn 6:51)