What were you looking for, Peter? Were you looking for bread with all the rest, and so you followed this man, Jesus, because you knew that he could provide it? It seems there was something more in you, but even you did not know what it was. He begins his lesson by asking your friend, “how are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (Jn 6:5). The response echoes your own thoughts. To acquire enough bread is impossible, because there is not enough money. Two hundred denarii would not be enough. You and your friends have faith, but it is still so weak. Your minds still live in the world.
So you are astounded, and you take the lesson to heart, when he sits down and multiplies the loaves, feeding everyone. You remember how you felt when you hauled in a miraculous abundance of fish, and you realize it is the same lesson, not fully learned. He called you, but are you just like everyone else?
These are the thoughts which occupy your mind as the day continues, and the crowds follow Jesus wherever he goes. Shallow crowds, looking only to eat and be satisfied. Jesus says as much when he tells them, “you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (Jn 6:26). One word stands out in your mind: seek. What are you seeking? What is your end? What are you looking for? Jesus is trying to teach you the right answer to this question, but his point eludes you. You know the answer is not fish. You know the answer is not bread.
Then he begins to speak more plainly, and you listen attentively to his words: “do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you” (Jn 6:27). At this point you can see that the bread was a metaphor. It was a sign of something more important. In fact, it was a sign of the most important thing—the ultimate thing that man must seek. He is telling you to seek eternal life. He is offering some “bread” which will give you eternal life! Surely this is what he wants you to seek, but what exactly is this bread?
Again, the crowd echoes your own thoughts. Everyone knows that eternal life is not granted to the wicked, so the question that follows is a natural one: “what must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (Jn 6:28). In other words, if this man, Jesus, is going to give you eternal life, then he can only do so by giving you a teaching—a law to govern your actions. You are not supposed to seek fish or bread, no worldly material goods. No, indeed, and now you understand that you should seek right action—righteousness! This is the bread that he is offering, and all you need to know is what this right action actually looks like. Once you know what you need to do, you will do it, and eternal life will be yours. This is what the prophet that stands before you is offering.
But his response is not what you expected: “this is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (Jn 6:29). Jesus tells you that he is not talking about something you need to do, but something you need to believe. And if that were not shocking enough, he also makes it clear, that the thing you are supposed to believe in is none other than him. Once again, it is all about him. He stands before you, and with all humility he points to himself. Not only that, but he says something even more shocking when the crowds push him for evidence. They ask him, “what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you?” (Jn 6:30). You too might have asked as much. What is this sign? What is this bread? What exactly, Jesus, are you offering? You tell us to believe in you, but you have not yet given us the divine gift that you promised! What exactly should we be seeking?
His words strike your heart like a thunderbolt…
“I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn 6:35-40).
And now you know, whether you believe it yet or not, what exactly he is teaching you. He is the bread. He is the way to eternal life. You should be seeking him. Do not seek wheat or fish or even, in a sense, righteousness. Clearly he is concerned with living well and avoiding sin, but when asked how one can manage this, his answer is clear: “believe in me,” “eat me,” “seek me.” The audacity is almost too much to handle, and once again you are struck dumb, having so little understanding of the man who stands before you. He is stirred in his spirit as he watches so many of his disciples walk away, no longer planning to follow him, but he does not withdraw his statement. He sadly watches them go, and then turns his eyes to you, asking meekly, “will you also go away?” (Jn 6:67).
Not fish or bread, not righteousness or action, but belief and to eat the flesh of this new prophet from Nazareth… It is more than you can understand, and you are far from satisfied, but something stirs in your heart, and you find the strength to say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:68-69).