When we have an extraordinary or intense experience, it usually takes time to understand and come to terms with it. We cannot quickly absorb such an experience and see what it means for us.
The reading from the gospel according to John tells a story of people struggling to understand the meaning of their interactions with Jesus. As we heard last Sunday, Jesus had fed these people, a crowd of about 5000, with five barley loaves and two fish. Afterwards Jesus' disciples left for Capernaum in a boat without Jesus, but Jesus walked across the water to join them. The crowd knew that Jesus had not gone with his disciples, but was no longer there (see John 6:16-23). Today's reading begins by saying that the crowd got into boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. Jesus had fed them in an extraordinary way, and they knew there was some mystery about how Jesus got to Capernaum, but they were not able to make much sense of these events.
When the crowd found Jesus, they asked when he had gotten to Capernaum. Jesus did not answer their question, but confronted them with their failure to understand their experiences. They had not seen Jesus' miracles as signs, i. e., as indicating the truth about Jesus, but only as amazing events. Jesus told them to work for “food that endures for eternal life;” the crowd responded by asking Jesus how they could accomplish the works of God; and Jesus said that the work of God was to believe in him.
The story then indicates how thoroughly the crowd had failed to see Jesus' miracles as signs. The people whom Jesus had fed miraculously asked him to perform a sign like that which Moses did when he fed the Israelites manna in the desert. When Jesus told them that God the Father gives the true bread from heaven, the crowd asked to receive this bread. Jesus told them, “I am the bread of life.” If they had seen Jesus' miracles as signs, they would have known that Jesus was the bread of life.
The reading from the book of Exodus is the story of the miraculous feeding with manna. Like the crowd in the gospel reading, the Israelites had difficulty understanding what was happening to them. Through Moses God had brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, leading them on dry land through the Red Sea. But when the Israelites had no food in the desert, they accused Moses of leading them there “to make the whole community die of famine.” They did not see the miracles of God on their behalf as signs of God's unfailing love for them. God told Moses to tell the people that every night there would be quail for them to eat and every morning bread. In the morning the people found “fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground” but they did not know what it was. Moses told them it was the bread the Lord had given them to eat.
The reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians speaks of a more ordinary kind of difficulty making sense of experience. Few if any of us have witnessed a miracle, but all of us have heard and answered the call to follow Jesus. However, we may not fully understand all that this implies. The Ephesians reading says we must no longer live like those who are not followers of Jesus. We must put away “the old self ... corrupted through deceitful desires,” and put on “the new self, created in God's way in righteousness and holiness of truth.”