25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ 26Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’ 28Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ 29Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ 30So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” ’ 32Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ 34They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’
35 Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Translation: When the crowd saw that Jesus is not there, nor his disciples, they themselves entered into the small boats and they went into Capernaum, seeking Jesus. And having found him beyond the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come to be here?" Jesus answered them and said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me not because you saw signs, but because you ate out of the loaves and were fed. Do not work for the perishing food, but the abiding food into life eternal, which the son of man gives to you, for him the God the Father sealed."
Then they said to him, "What might we do so that we might work the works of God?" Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you might faith into that one whom he sent." Then they said to him, "Then what sign do you do that we might see and might faith to you? What do you work? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, as it is written, 'He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.'" Then Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, Moses did not give to you the bread out of heaven, but my Father gives to you the true bread out of heaven, for the bread of God is the one coming down and gives life to the cosmos." Then they said to him, "Lord, always give to us this bread."
Background and situation: Location of the precise venue of this dialog is confusing, particularly with verses 22-23 included, but, wherever it is, the fourth gospel makes clear that it is on "the other side"--peran--or literally, "beyond the sea."
The crowd is "seeking Jesus." (Seeking Jesus is a common theme in the fourth gospel.) They found him on "the other side"--again, literally, "beyond the sea".
They address him as "rabbi." The title is respectful. It appears half a dozen times in the fourth gospel and does not have the negative connotation that it does in, say, Mark's gospel. Still, it is a lesser title than "savior of the world" (4:42) or even "prophet" (6:14).
The lection is the second of five readings from John 6, a chapter heavy-laden with the eucharistic theology and imagery of the Johannine community. Comment on 6:1-21 is here.
"When did you come to be here?": Even though we are definitely given the impression that the crowd is large, from this point on, they are referred to simply as "they," as if all of them were speaking with one voice. They ask, "When did you come to be here?"
The theology of the fourth gospel would answer this question by saying that the logos, the Word, has always existed, but "came to be" here when "the Word became flesh" (1:14). Philosophically speaking, when the Word became flesh, the "essential" entered into the life of the world and became "existential."
As is customary for the fourth gospel, Jesus seems to speak on one level while his listeners relate on another. Jesus turns their question around. Rather than talk about when he "came to be" here, Jesus responds with "truly, truly," which underlines what is to follow, and poses a query as to why they are there.
He says that they are seeking him not because they saw "signs," when, actually, the author of the fourth gospel had said the people were responding to his "signs" (6:2, 6:14). That was then, however, and this is now. Jesus has decided that they weren't responding to signs any longer, and that they were merely interested in getting a good meal--"because you ate out of the loaves and were fed."
Food that perishes:
Do not work for the perishing food, but the abiding food into life eternal, which the son of man gives to you, for him the God the Father sealed.
The contrast is between "perishing food" and "abiding (menein) food into life eternal." Menein is one of the most important verbs in the fourth gospel. It means "reside with," "abide," or "dwell." In every single case, Jesus is the one who "abides," the one who is there, the one who is with the people. The fourth gospel is relentless in asserting Jesus' presence in and with the community.
In consideration of the eucharistic overtones of the whole story (6:11, 6:23), the author of the fourth gospel is asserting that Jesus is present with, and abides with, the people through the eucharist. This is what the son of man "gives to you," his abiding presence.
God's seal: In 3:33, whoever had accepted the testimony or witness of Jesus had "certified" or "sealed" (sphragizo) that God is true.
Here, God is the one who puts the "seal" on Jesus. The word sphragizo refers to someone "setting their seal," as on a letter, for example. This sealing may indicate something like a stamp of approval, but also with an element of secrecy to it. The sealing of a letter, for example, indicates both that the letter is genuine and not to be opened.
In this regard, one notes the construction of the Greek text: ho pater esphragisen ho theos--literally, "the Father sealed the God." The verb "sealed" is framed by words for "Father" and "God," suggesting that this "sealing" takes place within the life of God.
The works of God:
Then they said to him, "What might we do so that we might work the works of God?" Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you might faith into that one whom he sent."
Any Jewish crowd would know what it meant to "work the works of God." They are to observe the Torah. But this is a crowd "on the other side" and they seem to have no knowledge of Torah. In any case, the "work of God" is that "you might faith into that one whom he sent."
NRSV and other translations typically translate pisteuein as "believe." Pisteuein is a verb which means "faith." Unfortunately, using faith as a verb sounds odd in English which is why the translators made the regrettable leap to "believe" instead.
The Greek actual phrase is pisteuete eis--"faith into." The fourth gospel uses this phrase quite often--26 times! It does not mean "believing" things about Jesus, as many suppose. It means, rather, "trust into" Jesus, which is an orientation of one's entire self.
Back to "signs":
Then they said to him, "Then what sign do you do that we might see and might faith to you? What do you work? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, as it is written, 'He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.'" Then Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, Moses did not give to you the bread out of heaven, but my Father gives to you the true bread out of heaven, for the bread of God is the one coming down and gives life to the cosmos." Then they said to him, "Lord, always give to us this bread."
We are back to "signs" again. It is interesting that the crowd asks "what sign?" since Jesus had just done one of his more spectacular ones, the feeding of the 5000. If they get a "sign," then maybe they will "see" and maybe they will "faith." (The verbs are in the subjunctive, expressing contingency.)
They cite the tradition regarding manna in the wilderness, and even cite scripture: "He gave them bread out of heaven to eat." This is all the more remarkable since here they are requesting the very sign they had just been given.
Jesus' answer is to assert God over Moses, and that God "gives"--present tense--while Moses "gave". From the point of view of the fourth gospel, the crowd is focusing on the past. Jesus is shifting them to present and future. Moses gave "the bread from heaven" while God gives "the true bread from heaven."
Where once God gave "bread" to the Israelites wandering in the desert, now the "bread of God" is "the one coming down"--Jesus--who "gives life to the universe." One notes also that the word "gives" is a present participle, which subtly intensifies its meaning and implies continuous action. One might translate: "The bread of God...is in a continuous process of giving life to the whole world."
The crowd responds by calling Jesus "Lord." (Kyrie may mean either "sir" or "lord," much as senor may mean "sir" or "lord" in Spanish.) First, they had called Jesus "rabbi." They've moved to "Lord." They're making progress!
Their response--"Lord, always give us this bread"--is similar to that of the Samaritan woman in chapter 4, "Lord, give me this water." (The Samaritans had also proclaimed Jesus "the savior of the world" (4:42); the crowd here calls him "the prophet who is to come into the world" (6:14).
Psychologically, if food appears in dreams, it is thought to be a symbol of something unconscious that is ready to be absorbed--or consumed--into consciousness. In this section of the fourth gospel, the food of God is contrasted with the food of old, or, to put it a different way, God's nourishment is being defined in a new way--not the old bread of life which fed some, but the new bread of life who feeds all.
Image: The Bread of Life, Hermel Alejandre