I am continuing to read John’s gospel in Greek and to translate it with a commentary.
JOHN 6: 22 -40
The next day, the crowd that stayed on the other side of the sea saw that there had been no other small vessel there except one; and that Jesus had not boarded the boat, but his disciples had set off alone. Now other small vessels from Tiberias came close to the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd realised that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they boarded the small vessels and came to Capernaum, looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, how did you get here?”
Jesus answered them and said, “Amen, amen, I tell you, you are looking for me not because you perceived signs, but because you ate some of the loaves and were stuffed. Do not work for the bread that goes stale, but for the bread that lasts into the life of the Age to Come, which the Humane Ruler will give you, for God the father has marked him as his own.”
Then they said to him, “What must we do to work the works of God?”
Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you put your trust in the one whom he has sent.”
They said to him, “What sign will you do, so that we can see it and put our trust in you? What will you perform? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as the Scripture says, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat'”
Then Jesus said to them,” Amen, amen, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you bread from heaven, but my father who now gives you the real bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
They said to him, “Sir, always give us this bread!”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger and whoever puts trust in me will never thirst. But I told you that you have seen me and have not put your trust in me. Everyone whom the father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never throw out. I have come down from heaven not do my own desire but the desire of the one who sent me. And this is the desire of the one who sent me, that of all those he has given me, I should let none slip away, but lift them up on the Last Day.”
This episode is connected somewhat clumsily with the miracle of the loaves and fishes, and with the scene of Jesus walking on the sea. The crowd looking for Jesus deduces that he has left the area in a mysterious way. The reader knows that they have misunderstood Jesus’ sign of feeding them, by seeing him as a worldly liberator, rather than the very presence of the creator God. (see previous blog).
Now they are excited by the apparent miracle of Jesus’ having crossed the water without a boat. Jesus chides them for being more interested in material miracles than in the meaning of his feeding them. He points them towards a sort of bread that nourishes the life of the Age to Come, which is given by Jesus as Humane Ruler (“Son of Man” the ruler promised in Daniel 7). He gives more than worldly rulers, because he is God’s chosen representative in the end time of the world.
God, according to this writer, demands nothing from human beings except trust in Jesus, as the one sent by God. (Later the Gospel tells us that trust includes obedience to commandments, especially the commandment of love). The crowd demands that Jesus prove himself by a miracle, and mentions the manna in the desert, perhaps looking for Jesus to repeat the feeding of the crowd. Jesus directs them away from past miracles to a miracle of the present: the real bread of heaven which gives life to the world. When they clamour for this bread, Jesus bluntly declares that he is the bread of life, using the “I am” expression which suggests the identity of God.
Although Jesus goes on to speak of those who “come to him” which is an affectionate expression for those who put their trust in him, he clearly says that the bread of heaven gives life “to the world,”. Given that there is no other explanation of this phrase, we have to conclude that Jesus gives life to the world by giving the life of the Age to Come to those who trust in him. St Paul has a specific place for the created universe in his scheme of salvation but in this Gospel there is no mention of a rescue for the cosmos itself.
Jesus the bread of life satisfies the fundamental needs of humanity symbolised by food and water. Jesus who is the earthly presence of the creator God, the Logos or Creative Wisdom, nourishes people by being the way, the truth and the life, the food for body (practical living), mind (intellectual life) and soul (spiritual life).
The phrase “everyone whom the father gives to me” has been used to support crude doctrines of predestination. We should remember that the judgement is that the light has come into the world and some preferred darkness; that the father has put all judgement inti the hands of the son. Those who come to Jesus are those who choose the light, so how can it be said that the father gives them to Jesus? God has created a world in which even the most infinitesimal particles have freedom, while human beings have freedom to choose how they live. Those who choose evil and darkness exercise their freewill for that end; while those who choose goodness and light exercise theirs; but as God has created human beings to find fulfilment in goodness, which is also the divine nature, those who choose it belong to God more authentically than those who reject it. In that sense it can be said that they are given to Jesus by God. The author adds that the father wants Jesus so to hold on to those who come to him, that none will be lost.
Far from a picture of arbitrary predestination it is a picture of how powerfully God wants to lead human beings towards eternal fulfilment. “To be raised by Jesus on the last day” means that those who choose the light will, after death, beyond all the determinations of space and time experience a new life shared with God and Jesus and God’s other children. No one can describe this mystery, but everyone can hope for it.
Clumsy indeed, as you point out. Much of this and the rest of chapter 6 read like a composition of the writer, clumsily made to connect to the episodes of the feeding and the lake, and clearly manufactured as a polemic against the Judeans.