a) A key to the reading
In John’s Gospel, the basic perspective concerning Jesus and his mission is that the Word made flesh is sent by the Father in to the world to give us life and to save that which was lost. The world, however, rejects the Word incarnate. The prologue of the Gospel presents us with this thought (Jn 1: 1-18), which the Evangelist will gradually elaborate in the Gospel story. The synoptic Gospels also, in their own way, proclaim the same news. One need only think of the parables of the lost sheep and the lost drachma (Lk 15: 1-10); or the declaration: *I did not come to call the just, but sinners *(Mk 2: 17).
This thought is also found in this passage: *I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent *(Jn 6: 38). *This is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life (Jn 6: 40). The key words in John’s Gospel are: see and believe. To see, implies and automatically means to believe in the Son sent by the Father. This attitude of faith brings the believer to possess eternal life. In John’s Gospel, the salvation of the world is already fulfilled by the first coming of Christ through the incarnation and the resurrection of the one who allows himself to be lifted up on the cross. The second coming of Christ on the last day will be a completion of this mystery of salvation.
Today’s Gospel is taken from the section that speaks of the mystery of Jesus (Jn 1-12). The text takes us, for the second time in John’s Gospel, to Galilee, at the time of the Passover: After this, Jesus went across the sea of Galilee… it was near the Passover, the feast of the Jews (Jn 6: 1, 4). A great crowd followed him, (Jn 6: 2) and Jesus seeing the crowd that followed him, multiplies the loaves. The crowd want to proclaim him king, but Jesus disappears and goes up to the mountain alone (Jn 6: 15). After a brief pause that allows us to contemplate the Lord walking on the waters (Jn 6: 16-21), the story continues the next day (Jn 6: 22), and the crowd goes on waiting for and seeking out Jesus. Then comes the discourse on the bread of life and Jesus’ warning to obtain the food that will last forever (Jn 6: 27). Jesus defines himself as the bread of life and makes reference to the manna given to the people of God through Moses, as a figure of the true bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world (Jn 6:, 30-36). *This is the context within which the words of Jesus are pronounced and that we are using for our Lectio (Jn 6: 37-40). In this context, too, we come across a new kind of opposition and a new rejection of the revelation of the Christ as the bread of life (Jn 6: 41-66).
Jesus’ words concerning everyone who goes to him, echo God’s invitation to take part in the benefits of the banquet of the covenant (Is 55: 1-3). Jesus does not reject those who come to him, rather he gives them eternal life. In fact, his mission is to *seek and save the lost ones *(Lk 19: 27). We are reminded of this in the story of the meeting of Jesus with the Samaritan woman by Jacob’s well (Jn 4: 1-42). Jesus does not reject the Samaritan woman, but begins a ‘pastoral’ dialogue with the woman who comes to the well to draw material water and there finds the man, the prophet and the Messiah who promises to give her the water of eternal life (Jn 4: 13-15). In our passage we find the same structure: on the one hand the people seek material bread and on the other Jesus gives them a long spiritual discourse on the bread of life. The witness of Jesus who eats the bread of God’s will (Jn 4: 34) echoes the teaching of the Master in this Gospel passage (Jn 6: 38).
At the last supper, Jesus takes up this discourse again in chapter 17. It is he who gives eternal life (Jn 17: 2), preserves and watches over all those whom the Father has given to him. Of these none is lost except the son of perdition (Jn 17: 12-13).