Today’s Gospel records events the day after Jesus fed the five thousand with the five loaves of bread. Following on that miracle, he had sent the Apostles off in their fishing boat, while he had disappeared up in the hills.
The people, delighted with eating the miraculous bread and fish, spent the evening rounding up boats to take them across the lake to Capernaum. Arriving in Capernaum around noon the next day, they were amazed at finding Jesus already there. There had been no boat that could have carried him across.
Puzzled and delighted with finding him, they asked, “Rabbi, how did you get here?”
With that, Jesus turned stern. Chiding them, he said, “You have not been seeking me because you understood the sign I performed, but only because you want your bellies filled again. Instead of looking for bread that perishes, you should seek the food that endures.”
The people had something else on their minds. They all had heard an ancient saying according to which when the Messiah came he would make actual manna come down from heaven. That is what they had in mind when they asked Jesus, “What sign can you do so that we might belief in you? Our Fathers were given bread to eat in the desert?”
Jesus told them that what Moses gave them had not been true bread from heaven. He might have just been giving them a factual statement. Commentators tell us that in the Sinai aphids feeding on juniper bushes exude a white substance, similar to the honey deposited by bees, and the Bedouins who gather it up still call it manna.
Jesus told them “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
That same Chapter Six of John’s Gospel records the long lesson that he taught through that afternoon. At the end of it, speaking of Holy Communion, he would speak of giving living bread to eat, but here at the beginning he was referring to himself and to his teaching as the bread that nourishes their spirits.
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