24So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 25When they found him on the other side of the sea, 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.” 35Jesus 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.
The Gospel of John was written between the year 100 CE and the 110 CE. The crowd in John not only represents the perspective of many Jewish people in Jesus’ day, but also represents the deep questions of the writer’s own community.
The people in Jesus’ day had been waiting for 80 years for the Romans to be cast out of Palestine. John’s community had been waiting for 70 years and Jesus had not come back to make all things right. This produced a significant questions for both groups: is there any hope for the future? Does God care? Should we continue to risk ourselves for the reign of God when nothing seems to be happening?
As a master storyteller, the writer of John shows Jesus’ response to both groups in the “crowds” (the writer of John used the disciples in the same way). Jesus has just finished the feeding of the 5000 and has walked on the water. The people who feasted on the 5 loves and the two fish follow him to the other side of the sea. They were not interested because they liked magic tricks. They were desperate. They were desperate because the Romans were taking their property through economic exploitation and because the Jewish leaders were in the pockets of their Roman overlords. They were hungry to feed an increasingly lavish Roman lifestyle.
In their desperation they were looking for the messiah, sometimes called “the prophet” who would be their priest-king and set all things to right.
John 6:15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
Once he was made their king, events would get out of control very quickly – they would raise an army and begin a holy war to kick the Romans out. The word for “crowd” can also mean “army.” So he walked on the water and got out of there before their expectations for the messiah would overtake Jesus’ own plans.
They are looking for signs that Jesus is the violent messiah of their expectations. But the signs of Jesus’ own life are different from what they expect – as the sword always leads to death by the sword. And this difference makes all the difference. Just as God gave Manna in the wilderness, God was now giving Jesus – the bread of life. Jesus’ willingness to risk himself rather than to initiate a holy war represents God’s deepest intentions. It is bread because it makes life possible, not just for the crowd but also for the Romans.
And this bread endures. The word “endures” in John 6:27 is the word “meno.” It is the same word for “abide” used later in John as “abide in me.” Meno means a lasting presence that cannot be removed. In a theme that will run through all of John, the disciples abide in Jesus, Jesus in them, Jesus in God, God in Jesus, and through the presence of the Holy Spirit, abides in the disciple community.
The writer of John acknowledges a troubled world and the injustices that we influct on one another. He acknowledges the despair that eats away at our hope. His answer is that in the same way that God is present in the world in Jesus, he is now present in the world through us.
So instead of waiting for the world to change (John Mayer) we are called to be the change we want to see in the world (Ghandi).