My Dear People,
This section connects the feeding miracle (6:1-15) and the sea crossing (6:16-21) with the Bread of Life discourse (6:32-58). In this discourse, Jesus will teach that he is the life-giving bread that God gives from heaven. Here in 6:22-29, Jesus prepares his hearers for this teaching in several ways. First, he instructs them that they need to elevate their minds above physical bread, which sustains earthly life, to heavenly bread, which gives eternal life (6;26-27). Second, Jesus establishes the discourse’s basic principle: people should work to obtain the bread that lasts for eternal life, which he provides (6:27). Third, Jesus introduces the theme of God’s work, which leads to faith in Jesus and the reception of the life-giving bread (6:28-29).
On the next day, the crowd is mystified by Jesus’ absence. They know that there had only been one boat there on the previous day and that Jesus did not leave in that boat; only his disciples did. It seems that some boats came from Tiberias to a location near the place where The Lord gave thanks. The people hailed the boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. Upon finding him there, they voice their wonderment. Rabbi, when did you get here?
Jesus gets right to the point. The real reason why the crowd, initially drawn to him because he worked healing miracles (6:2), is looking for him is because they want more food: you ate the loaves and were filled. Although they witnessed the healings and ate their fill, they did not recognize these miracles as signs. They did not see spiritually what the feeding miracles revealed about Jesus and his work. Hence, Jesus withdrew to the mountain to evade their attempt to make him king (6:14-15).
Jesus exhorts them to elevate their thinking above food that perishes to the food that endures for eternal life. He establishes the basic principle for the discourse; people should work to obtain the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give (compare 4:14).
These words about food enduring for eternal life run throughout the discourse and reflect biblical tradition in which God’s wisdom and word, meaning the Torah or the Mosaic law, were likened to food and drink. The psalmist prays, “How sweet to my palate are your words, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Ps. 119:103). Proverbs depicts God’s Wisdom as inviting people to understand her as a woman making a dinner invitation: “Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed!” (Prov. 9:5). Sirach likewise uses the imagery of food and eating to describe learning from God’s wisdom and law: “Whoever fears the Lord [and] . . . is practiced in the Law will come to Wisdom. . . / She will feed him with the bread of learning,/and give him the water of understanding to drink” (Sir. 15:1,3).
As the Son of Man who came down from heaven, Jesus is the one on whom The Father, God, has set his seal. The language of sealing designates ownership, and the New Testament often describes the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as a sealing, impressing a permanent mark (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13; 4:30). The Baptist reported that the Holy Spirit descended and remained upon Jesus (1:32); thus, Jesus has been revealed as the Father’s representative and accredited envoy.
Responding to Jesus’ exhortation to “work” for imperishable food (6:27), the crowd asks what they need to do in order to accomplish the works of God, possibly understanding them in terms of pious works prescribed by the Torah, Jesus responds in the singular: This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent. God’s work is the act that the Father performs in believers’ hearts, which enables faith in Jesus as we will see developed in the discourse. This work has two aspects. Not only does “the work of /God” refer to the work that God does in us, leading us to faith in Jesus (6:37, 39, 44-45,65); it also applies to our work of yielding to God’s action in us. Our work is to yield to the Father’s work within us and so believe in his Son and receive him as the source of our eternal life.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Vincent Clemente