Jesus suggests that the crowd were looking for Jesus because he had fed them, met their material needs, not because the miracle was a sign of who Jesus is.
The two passages are linked with this theme of food, and misunderstanding or maybe a reluctance to engage more deeply with God.
We today, like the Israelites are pretty good at grumbling – and like the Israelites, we could argue we have something to grumble about. Life is not easy, we are anxious, the government maybe is not delivering as we think it should, things are not as good as we would like and even expect. Interestingly the Israelites also began to have a selective memory, they remembered how good things were back then, when in fact they had been slaves – and the same can be true of us: we can have rather selective memories of the past.
The crowd really struggle with who Jesus seems to be; they wanted to make him their leader and King but he slipped away from them. They have seen a miracle which filled their hungry bellies, but they remain unconvinced about what God is saying or requiring- they want a different sign.
Jesus calls on them to believe, believe means put your trust in, follow, commit to, and the crowd are wary of this. They want the perks but they don’t want to commit. They want the bread and they would like the bread each day – when food is expensive or scarce we should not blame them.
In the Old Testament reading the crowd do receive bread, manna, every day and meat too, with flocks of quails landing each evening. We – like the crowd around Jesus – may want the reassurance of the provision of food every day, not just once. Jesus speaks of a bread which will quench hunger and of belief which will quench thirst, but he is speaking of a deeper spiritual fulfilment.
As we read on in the chapter, the crowd – well they are not convinced and they find the commitment too hard and so do some of the disciples.
Like the Israelites we may tend to grumbling, which is not constructive; like the crowd, we may tend to wanting everything on a plate and now, but that is not how life is. There is an invitation – do we wish to take Jesus up on it or will we pass? Do we believe, that is trust and commit to God, or are we just interested?
Rev’d Peter Reiss