To the crowd searching for him at all cost in today’s Gospel (cf. Jn. 6:22-29), Jesus reacted, saying: “I tell you most solemnly, you are not looking for me because you have seen the signs but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat.” Apparently, Jesus had fed them miraculously to their satisfaction with five barley loaves and two fish, which led to their search of him, but Jesus’ reaction was mean and honest.
No doubts, the crowds play an important and symbolic role in the Gospels. They generally represent the common people of Israel in contrast to their religious leaders. Jesus describes them with compassion as sheep without a shepherd, harassed and helpless, and this is almost certainly a sharp criticism of the leaders of Israel, who ought to have been their shepherds (cf. Mk. 6:34, compare to Num. 27:17 and Ezek 34:1-16). On the other hand, the concept of “crowd” has different interpretations across the Gospels. In Mark’s gospel, the crowds are often shown as recognizing God’s presence in Jesus better than the Scribes and Pharisees; however, in Luke’s gospel, they are sometimes shown as people curious to see signs and wonders, without any real commitment to following Jesus. In the context of today’s reading according to John, the crowd could be understood as having a poor understanding of Jesus messianic mission as one who has politically come to feed them to their satisfaction and to grant them other material benefits. It was in this light that Christ makes a distinction between the food that cannot last and the food that endures forever: “Do not work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal life, the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you, for on him the Father, God himself, has set his seal.” This obviously opens up the discourse on the Eucharist in the subsequent verses – the spiritual food that nourishes and gives life to our souls which endures forever, offered by the Spirit of Christ. This is so because, in verse 63, we shall learn from Jesus that it is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer.
Inasmuch as we are material beings and we need material foods to survive; however, we must not stop at the material level, but advance spiritually and benefit from what the Holy Spirit has to offer through the Word of God and the Sacraments. When we receive benefits from the Spirit of Christ, we become like Stephen in today’s First Reading (cf. Acts. 6:8-15) who was ‘filled with grace and power…’ And when certain people came forward to debate with him, they could not get the better of Stephen because of his wisdom, and because it was the Spirit that prompted what he said.
It is no doubt that hunger has killed many in our world; nevertheless, something worse than hunger lingers around the corner and destroys the souls of men – it is the hunger for the spiritual food received through the Word of God and the Sacraments, a fulfilment of the prophecy of Amos: “The days are coming – declares the Lord Yahweh – when I shall send a famine on the country, not hunger for food, not thirst for water, but famine for hearing Yahweh’s word. Thus, it is only the Spirit of God that can satisfy the deepest hunger and thirsts in our hearts; and that is why St. Augustine said, ‘Lord you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.’ By relying on the kind of food Jesus is offering us today, may we, like today’s Psalmist grasp the way of God’s precepts and muse on his wonders. May the Lord keep us from the way of error and teach us his Law, and above all, may we come to enjoy the beatitude of a blameless life: “They are happy whose life is blameless”. [cf. Ps. 118(119):23-24,26-27,29-30]
© Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Fatima, Vila Sabrina, São Paulo, Brazil
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