Gospel: John 6:24-35
Epistle: Ephesians 4:17-24
Lesson: Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm: Psalm 78:23-29
CLB Commentary – Dr. Richard Erickson
(Originally published in 2012)
Because it is so important to read a text in its literary and historical contexts if we want to understand it and because I keep getting assigned passages from John’s Gospel, I repeat here a couple paragraphs from previous comments on texts from John.
As with every other pericope from John’s Gospel, this text also forms one integral part of a complete Gospel narrative, a narrative for which the author’s goal is clearly stated at the end: “These signs are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (20:31). All parts of the story—including this segment of dialog between Jesus and curious, skeptical, puzzled Galilean Jews—must be read in terms of this goal statement. What is John trying to tell us through this text?
The “signs” John refers to (20:30–31) begin with the wedding at Cana (2:11). Altogether John narrates only seven signs, or perhaps eight, among many other signs that Jesus did (20:30). The Gospel pericope for this eleventh Sunday in Pentecost forms part of a longer stretch (6:22-71) in which John unpacks the sign of Jesus’ multiplying the bread in his role as the Bread of Life. The next major sign in John’s story of Jesus is the healing of the man born blind (chap. 9).
We need to keep in mind not only the wider context of this extended conversation that Jesus has with crowds, Pharisees, and disciples (vv. 22-71) and the even wider context of John’s entire Gospel story. But in addition we need to see all of this within the absolute widest context of what God is doing in human history and why he is doing it. God faces a dilemma: on the one hand he must remain righteous, faithful to himself, by judging sin and eradicating it from his fallen creation; on the other hand he must find a way to rescue his beloved creatures from that judgment and preserve them for his re-creation in the New Heaven and the New Earth. His plan involves forming from fallen humanity a people for himself, the People of God, epitomized in Jesus, through whom God will bring his blessings upon his enemies. This People of God, the nation of Israel, has now evolved into the “nations,” plural, including Jews and Gentiles together in the Church of Jesus the Jewish Messiah.
Jesus’ mission, portrayed in John’s story, is to give renewed shape to Israel and bring them back to their ancient mission. His purpose is to recreate Israel just as God intends to recreate all humanity according to his original design. This extended conversation in John 6:22-71 depicts the people’s struggle to understand this. They have their history with Moses, which they mistakenly think is what gives them their significance. They cannot make sense out of Jesus’ claim to be the manna they once ate in the wilderness. They don’t understand that it wasn’t Moses, but God, who gave them that manna, and gives it to them now once again.
This struggle to grasp what is really happening lies at the core not only of this conversation, but of John’s entire Gospel. We saw it in Nicodemus, a “teacher of Israel,” and we saw it in reverse in the Samaritan woman at the well. We see it again at the end, in Peter’s perplexity (chapter 21).
The passage assigned for this Sunday runs from v. 24 to v. 35, ending on a very cheerful note (vv. 34-35). But we must not let this distract us from the tenor of the larger conversation, a hint of which comes in v. 36: “But I said to you that you have seen me and do not believe.” We will not be faithful to this text unless we read it in the context of the entire conversation, right down to v. 71 and its allusion to Iscariot’s betrayal. Life is not as uncomplicated as we might wish it were, not even within the Church itself. God is still forming his People, and forming them for a purpose.