The following verses contain both teaching, about the real bread we should work for, and a prelude to the great teaching about Jesus Himself as the real bread of life.
Vs.23,24= The next day, the crowd that remained across the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not gone along with His disciples in the boat, but only His disciples had left. Other boats came from Tiberias near the place where they had eaten the bread when the Lord gave thanks. When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor His disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
Sometimes a sign is just that, something that points to something, such as a stop sign, but it is inert, that is the sign indicates stop but stopping can only be accomplished by something or someone in motion.
None of Jesus’ signs is inert, they are indicators of His authority over everything that is, over every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth: In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the Name that is above every name, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father. [Phil. 2:5-11]
The multiplication of the loaves and fish is the fifth of what St. John refers to as signs, beginning with Cana: Jesus did this as the beginning of His signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed His glory, and His disciples began to believe in Him. [2.11]
The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that: Jesus accompanies His words with many "mighty works and wonders and signs", which manifest that the kingdom is present in Him and attest that He was the promised Messiah. [#547]
Common parlance uses the word ‘miracle’ whereas St. John’s use of the word ‘signs’ is actually more efficacious than alternates such as miracle, mighty works, wonders, because often, such as at Cana and the feeding of the multitude, they point as well to aspects of sacramental life for the sacraments are: "efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us" (CCC 1131).
V.25=And when they found Him across the sea they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You get here?”
Important to keep this verse before the eyes of our heart when we considered Jesus’s answer: Jesus answered them and said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for Me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.” V.26
In some respects, this is a non-direct answer because Jesus does not say how He got there, yet fundamentally it is a most direct answer because Jesus goes to the heart of the matter.
V. 27: “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.”
There is a lot in this answer from Jesus: Do not work for food that perishes: It is not only the food which perishes, we who consume food will ultimately perish, die and find ourselves before the awesome judgment seat of God, to render account of our choices in life, of how we have lived.
As Jesus also teaches, in St. Luke 12: 13-34, we are to reject the ‘food’ of greed and anxiety, and trust we have a Father who in His love for us knows all that we need, not merely to sustain earthly life, more importantly what we need to enter eternal life, embracing therefore all the expectations and costs of discipleship, verses 35-59.
Let us not be too harsh in any reflections on the crowd seeking Jesus and more bread.
They were living under the jacket boot of the Roman Empire, under a puppet king, and the immense burden of taxation by the Romans, by Herod, by their own religious leaders. All four Gospel accounts reveal to what extent the people suffered from not just taxation, but the burden of innumerable religious laws, besides the draconian laws of the state and from hunger, poverty, disease.
Truly as Christ Himself saw them and sees us today: When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. [Mt.9:36]
Thus against this background it is from His compassionate Heart that flows, for those who had just questioned Him, and for us that we should work: for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.
In the above versus Jesus tells us why He will give us this food for eternal life: For on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.
Though no longer is the familiar red-wax circle imprinted with a signet ring, commonly used to seal letters, ‘to seal’, as Jesus uses the word, needs a point of reference: Canada and other countries have, and use, what is commonly called “the great seal of….”; in Canada it is rather large, heavy, and is held in trust by the Governor General of Canada and is used, by being stamped upon state documents. Minus the imprint of the Great Seal state documents are just pieces of paper. It is the imprint of the seal which authenticates the purpose of the document.
In a sense we can say that minus ‘the seal of the Father’, Jesus is just another human being.
An example of the power conferred on Jesus by the Father setting His seal upon Jesus is found in Revelation 5:1-5= I saw a scroll in the right hand of the one who sat on the throne. It had writing on both sides and was sealed with seven seals. Then I saw a mighty angel who proclaimed in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to examine it. I shed many tears because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to examine it. One of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. The lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed, enabling him to open the scroll with its seven seals.”
The ‘sealing’ of Jesus by the Father is a consecration, affirming Jesus as His Son, giving Him as the Incarnate One all the power He needs to fulfill His redemptive mission.
V.28=So they said to Him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”
These people, who had just been told, by Jesus, the only reason they came to Him was for free food, then were told to only seek food for eternal life, are the same people who had tried to seize Jesus to make Him their earthly king, now, suddenly, appear to have experienced some spiritual metamorphosis!
Perhaps as with the Emmaus disciples [Lk.24:13-35] just being in the presence of Jesus, just the power of His anointed words enabled an obvious conversion and: Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one He sent.” [v.29]
© 2018 Fr. Arthur Joseph