The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” – John 6:22-27
Searching for God is a good thing, but I think this passage is making the point that we can be looking in the right place but for the wrong reasons. The crowd that ate the miraculous meal with the Messiah and His disciples the day before is searching for Jesus. They seem like a pretty observant lot noticing that only one boat had been present the previous night and Jesus had not entered it with the disciples.
They seem a bit puzzled about where Jesus is because they saw the disciples set off alone in the boat the previous night. I suspect they are looking around expecting Jesus to stroll out of the mountains instead of strolling on the lake in a squall the previous night. I guess since Jesus is not showing up they assume He must have taken a different boat and went to Capernaum across the lake on His own.
Some boats arrive from Tiberias and “the crowd” hitches a ride to Capernaum to search for Jesus. They are motivated to find Jesus, but for the wrong reasons as Jesus will soon point out. They eventually find Jesus and ask him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” What some of them were probably thinking was “where are those magical fish and loaves we had yesterday”. Instead of directly answering their question Jesus does what He often does, He got right to the “soul of the matter“. Were these people looking for Him wondering souls or merely wandering people looking for fish and loaves?
Many in the crowd clearly came because their stomachs were empty. Jesus says “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” What Jesus wanted them to realize was that they were largely oblivious to a far more important emptiness with eternal implications, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
Jesus wanted these people to be in search of “soul food” not merely their next meal. He knew that no matter how hungry or thirsty our bodies get there is a more important hunger and thirst that we should be paying attention to as we go about our lives. This is hard because our bodies are much more attuned to the physical needs. When we are hungry our stomach begins to growl and remind us that we need more sustenance.
Does our soul do something similar? What does it look like when our souls get “hungry” or “thirsty”? It seems to me when our souls are hungry we tend seek answers to life’s big questions. We seek out “purposeful existence” as one of my favorite farmers, Joel Salatin, puts it in his book “Folks, This Ain’t Normal, A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World”.
I think the action that the crowd took was the right one, they went looking for Jesus. The problem was their search for Jesus was being driven by the wrong steering wheel. Their stomachs were driving when in fact their souls should have been at the helm. Jesus wanted them to seek Him first for the spiritual nourishment only He could provide. Only He could give them what they were really looking for when they crossed the lake in search of Jesus – eternal life. Those with the right posture and perspective found Him and began their journey home, while others probably just kept searching for endless fries.
Prayer: God help us to seek You first and hunger and thirst for the spiritual nourishment only You can provide.