We are making our way through the sixth chapter of John’s gospel. This chapter begins with the story of the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes, which we read as last Sunday’s gospel. As you may recall, immediately after working the sign, Jesus withdrew from the crowd to avoid their misguided reaction to what he had done to feed them. As John says, Jesus “withdrew again to the mountain alone.”
Later that evening, the disciples embarked in a boat to cross the lake. Interestingly, almost every time the story of the multiplication is told in the gospels—and it is told six times in the gospels—some incident is recorded of the disciples getting in trouble on the lake. In John, Jesus simply appears to them walking on the lake just as they are about to land on the opposite shore.
Today’s gospel picks up the story with the events of the next day, when Jesus tries to explain to the unruly crowd how they should understand what they had just witnessed the day before.
John’s gospel story is filled with Old Testament allusions which Jesus uses to explain the sign of the multiplication of loaves, so that the people can understand.
In this regard, to help us bring a proper perspective to the gospel, our first reading from the book of Exodus is perfectly chosen. It tells us how the Lord long ago provided manna for the people of Israel in the desert, just as in the gospel story Jesus himself is offering bread from heaven.
The psalm refrain serves to bring both readings together by pointing to their common theme: “The Lord gave them bread from heaven.”
The second reading repeats a favorite theme of St. Paul, putting aside the old self and taking on the new. This is what transpires in baptism and then repeatedly in our lives if we are open to the grace of conversion, the call to follow Christ that is always new in our hearts.
—Walter Modrys SJ
This week’s readings can be found on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.