Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine
I've told you the entire story that John tells, beginning in verse 22, which is not included in the lectionary (it starts with verse 24). In my opinion that's a mistake on the part of the authors of the lectionary. They left out those verses because they seemed to them unimportant but they are a very important foundational pattern that will be present in all the stories of John 6. The pattern is that Jesus says or does something that is puzzling or provocative. What follows in the discourse or in the actions explains or works within that puzzle. In this case, the puzzle is that they are looking for Jesus but they don't find him.They didn't know about his walking on the water, but they saw him get into the boat. It establishes the mystery present for those who had eaten the bread Jesus gave them in the wilderness. Without the puzzle, the rest of the story doesn't have the same degree of energy. Therefore, I would highly recommend that you tell the whole story.
The puzzle at the first level is how Jesus got where he was. They had looked for Jesus,and when they didn't find him, they got in the boats and went across the sea to Capernaum looking for him. When they found him there on the other side of the sea they asked him, "How did you get here?" We as the listeners know how he got there—we know that he walked across the water. That fact is never identified in this story, but it is in the background as something that the audience knows because they had just heard the story. This establishes that Jesus is divine, that he has the power of God to walk on the water.
Their question is then, "How do we do the works of God?" Jesus tells them that they should not work for the food that perishes, but rather for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give them. The motif is established right here at the beginning that this bread that Jesus gives is the bread of eternal life and their question is how we do the works of God. It is a question that grows out of the tradition of Moses,which is how do we do the law, how we do the works of God that will in turn be the basis of our salvation?
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