In this passage, Jesus shows that in God’s economy everything—whether it is physical food or spiritual food—is a gift. We seem to have trouble with receiving life’s good things as a gift. We think we must earn everything we have.
Johannine scholar Gail O’Day says that we have misunderstood the whole concept of food and work. According to Jesus’ teaching in John 6, work is not what we think it is. It is living in and out of faith.
We have difficulty getting beyond physical perception to spiritual understanding, so how can we grasp what Jesus is trying to say? He says the manna kept the Israelites alive for forty years, but they eventually died. “I’m trying to tell you,” he continues, “that there is a kind of food that will sustain you forever” (v. 51, paraphrase).
Arthur John Gossip, another Johannine scholar, describes the people in today’s scene (and us as well, I think) as “dull creatures with no glint of poetry in them.” That’s a little harsh, but surely we can imagine Jesus’ exasperation with them and with us. His audience is thinking of the young man who grew up among them. How can he be the bread from heaven?
But Jesus keeps saying to all of us that he—what he is, what he teaches—is the true food of the soul. Gossip says that this spiritual food nourishes and sustains each soul, “enabling it to do and be all that it is meant to be and do.” Both our work and our food, O’Day says, is to live into the life of the one who loves us and gives us life.
How can you and I live into the life of Christ today?
Holy God, show us the way to receive the gifts of food and work, the bread of life. Amen.