John chapter 6 is a heartbreaking chapter. It begins with one of the most famous miracles. Jesus was overtaken by a large crowd, probably families on their way to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. He had compassion on them, and healed those who were sick. Seeing their hunger, He chose to feed them. Taking a young man’s lunch — five barley loaves and two small fish — He blessed and broke it, commanding the disciples to distribute it among the five thousand men and their families. These people were happy to follow one who could meet their physical needs so readily and with so little effort on their part. They were so excited, the crowd sought to force Him into kingship. Who doesn’t want a government that provides free health care and food?
In verses 26-27, Jesus, as always, redirects their attention from the immediate to the eternal. “ Jesus answered them and said, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.'” What does He mean, “not because you saw the signs, but because you ate … and were filled”? Isn’t eating more convincing than seeing? Isn’t being filled more important than understanding? Isn’t satisfaction a more worthy goal than commitment?
What a clear example of what Paul meant in Philippians 3:19, when he says “whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things.” These people had been on their way to a glorious celebration of God’s grace, love and redemption — a festival of renewing the covenant God had established with His people and recommitting themselves in worship and consecration. After one meal, they changed their route completely, traveled around the lake seeking a free meal. It is our way to let our bodies control our decisions. We serve our desires, and seek Christ mainly as an easier way to earthly satisfaction.
Jesus urges them to seek a higher life. His imagery is bloody, stomach churning and demanding. He tells us we can’t just enjoy the benefits of a relationship without partaking in who He is. We must consume Him.
In the cafeteria of my middle school, there was a large banner across the wall with the food pyramid, and slogan, “You Are What You Eat”. It reminded us that our choices of food determined much of our life course. If we ate well, we would have health, strength and energy — that our food provided the building blocks of our body. We literally lived in a shell of our consumption.
Spiritually, the same principle holds true. Christ calls us not to simply acknowledge Him, but to partake of Him. If we are to have life, it must be His life. We must build our lives from His life. We cannot simply accept Him for what He offers, we must submit to who He is.
This call to commitment was too much for the crowd. Even some of the disciples refused this level of surrender. A king who provided was one thing, a king who commanded is something else entirely.
I’m sure it was with a broken heart and disappointment that Jesus saw them leave. I think we see this in His words to the Twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” These men, though, had not only eaten, but had seen. They were not simply looking for bread, but for Life. Peter’s answer is a challenge for us, and when the demand is hard and commitment is tested, we must ask with him, ““Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”