Commentary on John 6:22-29
Following on the feeding of the 5,000 and the walking on the water, we begin the long discourse of Jesus as the Bread of Life. It is presented as a replacement of the manna with which God fed his people during their long trek through the desert in the Old Testament. What we read today is really an introduction. The proper discourse will begin tomorrow. The last part of the discourse is about the mixed reaction of Jesus’ disciples and Peter’s profession.
The day following the feeding the people go in search of Jesus. First, they realise he did not cross the lake with his disciples but, when they go to the site of the feeding, they find he is not there either. Eventually they find Jesus and his disciples in the vicinity of Capernaum, Jesus’ principal base in Galilee.
They ask him: “When did you come here?” In typically Johannine fashion, the question is loaded with deeper meanings, of which those asking it are quite unaware. Jesus’ origin (where he comes from) is a constant source of misunderstanding both on the part of the crowds and of the Jewish leadership.
Jesus begins by telling the crowds that they are coming in search of him not because of the ‘signs’ that he is doing but because of the bread that they had been given to eat. They have missed the point of what Jesus was doing. They have seen the things that Jesus has been doing but have missed the ‘sign’, the deeper meaning behind them. The food they are looking for is not the food that counts. The real food brings a life that never ends and that is the food that Jesus is offering. It parallels the water “springing up to eternal life” which Jesus promised the Samaritan woman (John 4:14).
The source of this ‘bread’ is the Son on whom the Father has set his seal. This ‘seal’ was given at his baptism. It is the Spirit of the Father, who is the power of God working in and through Jesus.
In answer to the question what they are to do in order to do the works of God, they are told, “This is working for God: you must believe in the one he has sent.” For ‘works’ in the Jewish sense, external fulfilment of the Law’s requirements, Jesus substitutes faith in himself as the delegate of the Father.
And he asks us not just to ‘believe’ but to ‘believe in’. It is not just a question of accepting certain statements about Jesus and who he really is. ‘Believing in’ involves a total and unconditional commitment of the whole self to Jesus, to the Gospel and the vision of life that he proposes and making it part of one’s own self. This is where the real bread is to be found.
And we may add that Jesus is not just speaking of the Eucharistic bread but the deepdown nourishment of which the Eucharist is the sign and sacrament but which also comes from the Word of God in Scripture and the whole Christian community experience.
It is important in reading this whole chapter that we do not limit the truth of Jesus as the Bread or Food of our life simply to the Eucharist, which is the sacramental sign of something much larger – all that we receive through Christ and the whole Christian way of life.