It is easy to see why the crowds followed Jesus: he was attentive to their physical needs and performed marvelous works. In this Gospel, though, it is clear that the people “don’t get it.” They wanted another sign, more of what had just happened; they had been fed to fullness and wanted to be dazzled. Jesus’ rebuke about not working for perishable food cuts straight to the heart. And the answer to their question, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God? (John 6:28), is equally direct: “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent” (John 6:29).
What are the signs for which we ask: Greater job status? A bigger house? More money? None of these is basically bad, but it is easy to lose sight of the fact that these aren’t the most important things. Though they will not endure, there is the temptation to see them as a “sign” of God’s blessing. In some sense they may well be, but they will not fill the hunger that goes beyond our physical need. And they can easily become distractions from what is our true work, having faith in the One sent by God.
Faith as “work” is not necessarily a new concept. However, it is something we don’t think about until keeping our faith is challenged. There are many circumstances in life that present direct challenges to our faith: the illness or death of a loved one, unemployment, underemployment, a natural disaster, the killing of thousands of people because of racial intolerance. Just as “the good things” in life can be distracting, so it is with the difficulties and harsh realities of living in this world. During times like these, keeping faith is work.
In the exchange between Jesus and the crowd, the people are asking questions about tangible, material things. Jesus’ answers call them, and us, to conversion, to see things differently. They wanted to see signs; he wanted them to see that he was the only “sign” necessary. They were still thinking about the bread that satisfied them; he wanted them to understand that he, himself, was the bread that satisfies all hunger.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Gaspar Masilamani, Pastor