Joseph Khalil, Ph.D. candidate in Old Testament studies
Earlier in John’s Gospel, a crowd following Jesus experiences one of his many miracles when he turns a small amount of food into a portion that satisfies every single one of them. Awestruck, they try to make Jesus their king, but he quickly retreats from them.
Not too long after that, the people rush to Capernaum to see what Jesus is doing. Jesus can tell that they are looking for him because they ate their fill, not because they saw signs, and he tells them so. What he means is that while it is all right to seek miracles, it is far more important to seek him, and to focus on him.
That doesn’t seem to sit well with everyone, as some of the people yell out, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” They either ignored Jesus’s words, or were confused about what he meant.
Jesus takes the opportunity to tell them that true satisfaction comes only from God. The ancient Israelites learned in the wilderness that fulfillment does not just include physical nourishment, but also God’s own word (see Deuteronomy 8:3). The same point is illustrated in Nehemiah 9:20, which states that along with manna and water, the Israelites also received God’s own Spirit to instruct them.
Jesus’s message is thus: true satisfaction, and full nourishment, entails not only a basket of food, but also himself. He is the nourishment we need; it is he whom we must seek.