So 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. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus 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. Do 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.”
Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So 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? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Then 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. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus 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. (NRSV)
The crowd certainly appear to seek Jesus. In the abundance of loaves and fishes they realised they were onto a good thing. The search for more has moved them from one side of the lake to the other. And who wouldn’t join them? Free food in Galilee was not insignificant.
Jesus looks to them like an easy way to provide life’s basics. Everyday these 5,000 men and the uncounted women and children seek ways to defeat hunger – people who work, cook, grow, forage and feed. Most if not all of their daily work goes into providing life’s essentials. Luxuries may not come easily. Perhaps, for some, it is a good day when there is enough.
That day with Jesus on top of that mountain was certainly a good day. A free lunch with food to spare – so much so that brimming baskets were simply left behind. His provision was too abundant to overlook his escape.
And so they stand, hungry, before Jesus again. It looks like they have come. It looks like they have believed. Neglected jobs, chores undone, energy spent hunting – surely these are acts of faith and trust.
But Jesus is quick to finger their motive. They merely seek more loaves. God’s presence and action does not take precedence. They have seen the sign of God but not followed in the direction it indicates. To be sure, it has led them to search.But they seek – not for God – but, merely for more signs. As Jesus suggests, they are workingfor food that perishes.
Jesus urges them to work for the imperishable. When they ask what God wants they are told simply to ‘believe in the one God sent’. They request the assurance of another sign – as though the loaves and fish are not enough.
Ultimately, they are still asking for the same thing: manna – like Moses in the wilderness.
I guess that is why the final verses of this passage are the peak of the story. As important as ‘daily bread’ is, they offer more than temporary nourishment of the body. They offer Jesus himself – described as living bread that will ultimately satisfy: ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’