John 6:16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.
22 The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. 23 Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.
25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
Why does Jesus walk on water? Perhaps it was just a conveniently quick transit across the lake after the disciples got in the boat and left without him. If so, why not fly? Or some other mode of transport? Perhaps Jesus just walks on water because he can.
Jesus’ miraculous transit is given no significance by the gospel writer other than a rebuke to the crowd in verse 26. We do not read here about Jesus’ time of prayer with his Father. His super-natural power to defy the laws of nature is not commented upon, other than Jesus comforting his frightened disciples in the boat. This is not a ‘sign’, as such. Instead, giving the crowd ‘the slip’ allows Jesus in verse 26 to make his diagnostic comment– ‘you only want free food.’
Jesus warns the crowd that they have ignored his other signs, which point to God’s kingdom and its king. They seem only to be self-interested– they like the free food. Instead, they should be ‘working’ for the food that endures to eternal life.
This ‘free bread’ versus ‘toiling for bread’ has an echo of John 4:13-15. Jesus engaged the woman at the well by promising her a source of water that would well up into eternal life. Here the crowd are engaged with food that will not spoil (like yesterday’s manna) but will endure into eternal life. So throughout John 6 Jesus repeatedly refers to ‘bread’ as the staple of life. It’s what we need to live. We hunger for it. We toil for it because, without it, we starve. And Jesus wants us to know that he is ‘the bread of life’.
Lord Jesus, I spend my energy chasing many things. My life is crowded with many competing priorities. Please change my thinking so that I recognise you as the bread of life. Without you, I will starve. Give me an attentiveness to the spiritual hunger that you put within me. Give me a desire to feast upon you– the bread that endures to eternal life– so that all the priorities settle below you, in their proper place. Amen.