Yet in today’s Gospel reading John takes this search for proof a step further. Even when the crowd have seen signs they do not perceive their full significance. In the verses that precede today’s reading we learn that the crowd regarded the healing and feeding work of Jesus as signs that Jesus was ‘a prophet that has come into the world’ and want to make him king because he has healed and fed them in the feeding of the five thousand. This is a very understandable response to someone who has healed and nurtured you.
Why then, would Jesus call for anything more?
In today’s Gospel reading John gives us the answer. Jesus wants the people to understand the spiritual significance of bread that he gives them as ‘food that endures for eternal life’. Jesus explains to them that when their ancestors ate manna in the wilderness it was not Moses who gave it to them but God ‘who gives the true bread from heaven’. It is this bread ‘that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world’. Jesus reveals to them that he is ‘the bread of life’ and whoever comes to him will never be hungry and whoever believes in him will never be thirsty. Hearing this, the people comprehend now the full significance of the bread.
We do not have to conclude from this spiritual significance that John was steering us away from earthly reality. We do not have to reach that conclusion because in John’s Gospel we have a ‘realized eschatology’. By this I mean John invites us not to consider the end of the world but its rebirth instituted by Jesus and continued by his disciples. In the Johannine literature the setting of God’s activity is one in which earth and heaven, time and eternity have been conjoined. By this means eternal life can become a reality in the present as the worlds ‘above’ and ‘below’ intersect. Jesus wants the people to understand the full spiritual significance of the bread but the bread is actual bread given to the five thousand. Actual bread is given in John’s Gospel by Jesus to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, just before Judas betrays him and this makes the betrayal of Jesus by Judas so devastating because John has given us Jesus as ‘the bread of life’.
So an earthly reality is there in John’s Gospel that conjoins with the sacramental quality of life in Christ. There is also reference in today’s Gospel reading to a seal. Jesus says: ‘Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal’. Here the reference is not primarily to the bread of the Eucharist but to Jesus’ word of revelation. This is an example of John’s realized eschatology as Jesus in the present moment is telling the people that God has set his seal upon the Son of Man whilst the word ‘seal’ is also in the language of the Book of Revelation which is concerned with the end time. In Revelation there are the seven seals, the first four of which depict the imminent eschatological future in which the salvation of the faithful is a major theme.
Let us come down to earth again from the awesome heights of Revelation. The words ‘sign’ and ‘seal’ in our present day earthly reality bring to my mind the postal system. We use the expression ‘signed, sealed and delivered’ when describing the finalising of post, its despatch and arrival at its destination. So we might say that the signs revealed in the New Testament by Jesus and the seal set upon Jesus by God are there in John’s Gospel to deliver his message. In this message Jesus provides the living water and the heavenly bread which develop the Christology of Jesus as the Mosaic prophet king.
This Christology is a “high Christology” of Jesus as divine, pre-existent and identified with the one God talking openly about his divine role. Yet John gives us a realized eschatology because unlike the remaining Synoptic Gospels where the chief theme is the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven, in John’s theme Jesus is the source of eternal life and the Kingdom is only mentioned twice. Nevertheless there is an identification again with the Book of Revelation because Jesus as the living water in John’s Gospel is echoed in Revelation where it is written: ‘I will give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life without payment’. Again, in Revelation, ‘the river of living water will flow from the throne of God and the Lamb’.
Moving forward once again through time to our modern world, in the lyrics of the song dedicated to his girlfriend, Stevie Wonder sings that he said goodbye to his girlfriend but he now realises that she is his heart’s only desire and so he presents himself to her again in the words ‘here I am, signed, sealed, delivered I’m yours’.
I believe that John invites us also in his Gospel to turn to Jesus as the seal set by God who has offered us signs offering us eternal life and that we can return the compliment by seeking God through Jesus by saying the words to him: ‘signed, sealed, delivered I am yours’.