We continue through our careful reading of John 6 as an intermission from Mark’s gospel, and on Trinity 9 in Year B the gospel reading is John 6.24–35. Having romped through 21 verses last week, which include the Fourth Gospel’s lengthier version of the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water (though in a brief summary), we are slowing down to consider the first 11 verses of the ‘bread of life’ dialogue that, uniquely, follows the feeding in this gospel.
For some reason, the lectionary omits the connective verses John 6.22–23. They begin with a characteristic temporal marker τῇ ἐπαύριον ‘on the next day’, which Matthew and Mark only use once each, but the Fourth Gospel uses particularly in chapter 1 to count through the first seven symbolic days of Jesus’ early ministry. (The work does not occur anywhere in Luke, but frequently in Acts as it tracks the activities of the Peter and Paul.)
These omitted verses also give some careful geographical detail, again characteristic of this gospel, which would have been impossible to include by someone not familiar with the region on first-hand terms (see the section on topography from p 95 in The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple by Richard Bauckham). The repeated references to ‘the other side’ (John 6.22, 25) refer to the north-eastern and north-western shores, rather than suggesting anyone has crossed the centre of the lake, and as well as pointing to topography also assume that we have read Mark’s account of these events.
In the synoptics gospels, Jesus is portrayed as dynamic and active, travelling around and actively seeking out ‘the lost’, especially in the first half of his ministry, in Galilee (‘The Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost’, Luke 19.10). By contrast, in the Fourth Gospel Jesus doesn’t seek people out, but remains a centre of stillness, and at times even elusive (‘You will seek me but you will not find me’ John 7.34), as others seek him.
This question—”Whom do you seek?”—runs through the Gospel of John like a light red thread…The thread started running with the very first words Jesus spoke in this Gospel, which formed a question directed at the disciples of John the Baptist that started to follow after him. To them, Jesus said, “What do you seek?” (1:38). When Jesus utters an even more personal form of this question to Mary Magdalene, it is not the second but rather the third time this basic question has appeared. In between the first and the last is the question of Jesus not to his would-be disciples, not to this first witness of his Resurrection, but to the band of soldiers his betrayer has gathered. To them, too, he asks, “Whom do you seek?” (18:4).
When they find him, there is no suggestion that they thought he had arrived there miraculously. Just as only a few were aware of how the water became wine in John 2, so only the ‘insiders’ knew he had walked on the water.