There is an interesting moment in John 6 that deserves both personal and ecclesial reflection. Jesus has just fed the multitudes by multiplying the loaves and fishes, a miraculous corporal work of mercy. Prior to this, of course, He had taught them at great length. Let’s just say that Jesus had them listen to a sermon before the food was distributed, just as used to be done at the local Catholic shelter or the gospel mission; the sermon preceded the soup!
On the evening after the multiplication of loaves and fishes, Jesus withdrew and sent the disciples in a boat across the Sea of Galilee. Some in the crowd seemed to like the idea of a free meal and wanted more. Here is where we pick up the story.
So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal” (Jn 6:24-27).
In other words, Jesus admonishes them not to be concerned with food for the belly but also food for the soul, which He really wants to give us so that we make it to eternal life. In this case, the true bread He wants to give them is the Eucharist, but we can extend the notion and understand that God wants to give us spiritual graces even more than mere earthly bread.
In the passage above, the people pay little heed to His summons that they should seek that which endures unto eternal life. Rather, the people persist in asking for the belly-filling bread. “Give us this bread always … like Moses once did,” they cry out. Almost in exasperation, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35).
You can see that there is in them a dismissal of the needs of the soul and an emphasis on the needs of the body. They prefer the food that perishes to the food that nourishes unto eternal life.
The Lord admonishes, Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you (John 6:27).
As individuals we ought to ponder where our own focus lies. We are often quick to pray when we have financial problems or a health scare, but are we as quick to pray when spiritual troubles or threats come near? We almost never miss a meal, but missing prayer is all too common. Various medicines often crowd our shelves, but how about spiritual books? The doctor, dentist, and lawyer will quickly get our time (and money), but often our confessors, catechists, and God Himself have to wait. Would that we were more urgent about our souls than the things that perish.
As a Church, too, we run the risk of being reduced to a social service agency. The corporal works of mercy are good and should certainly be performed. The care of the body is important, but what of the souls we are called to care for? Having a coat drive or donating canned goods is proper, but are we as effective and dedicated at instructing the ignorant, calling sinners to repentance, or evangelizing? When we give food to the poor or pay their electric bill, do we inquire as to the state of their souls? Are they being spiritually fed? How? Are they spiritually in the light or in the darkness? Monetary debt reduction is a fine thing, but what about the debt of sin some of the poor are under? Do we ask about these things? Do we invite or really even care about their souls? Are we content merely to give the bread that perishes? Is not our greatest glory to give the food that endures unto life eternal? How effectively are we doing the primary job of the Church? The poor have souls too.
These are just some things the Lord leaves us to ponder as individuals and as the Church.