As we situate ourselves with the original audience and hear the continuation of the story of the Gospel of John, we should find ourselves duly impressed with the structure and flow of this Gospel. We should be continually struck by what it is that the author is doing and presenting. In the sixth chapter, following Jesus’ comparative mention of Moses and the giving of bread from heaven, we hear Jesus say “For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (6:33). This serves in the role of a comparison and contrast with Moses and the manna, in an exile and exodus framework, in which eternal life is equated with the kingdom of heaven, the presence of which is connected to Jesus’ presence, that belief in Him as the foundation of that kingdom, and that the love of God that is the tool to be used in the founding and spread of that kingdom is on display by and through Jesus and His disciples.
We must never allow ourselves to lose sight of the fact that the presence of the kingdom of God on earth, with the restoration of God’s creation, is always a front and center, primary concern for Jesus and for His church, as it was for the Jews. The primary concern was and is never, ever escaping earth and going to heaven, or its antecedent---seeking heaven to avoid hell. If this becomes the motivating force underlying the Jesus movement, then it stands somewhat in opposition to the ideal to be realized by action of God, which, according to this Gospel presentation, involved His stepping into His creation, in contemplation of a supreme act of love and sacrifice, in order to redeem it whole and to set things right.
The response of the people to the words of Jesus concerning the bread from heaven is “Sir, give us this bread all the time!” (6:34) This is a good response. Jesus does not appear to be displeased with this response, as His reply is “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to Me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in Me will never be thirsty” (6:35). If we are paying careful attention to the narrative on offer in John, these words, and the entire scenario that has brought forth this portion of the recorded exchange, should alert us to something that we would have already heard. It has been said to Jesus, after He has spoken about what God requires, “Then what miraculous sign will you perform, so that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” (6:30-31) As we have seen, Jesus took this as a reference to Moses. Of course, we would have already heard about Jesus making a direct reference to Moses through citing Deuteronomy, in regards to the “Prophet who is to come into the world” (6:14b). Why is Jesus bringing this up again? Of what should we be reminded when we hear this portion of the Jesus story?
All of this sounds remarkably like the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Though that conversation begins with Jesus saying “Give Me some water to drink” (4:7b), rather than with the woman requesting water in the manner of the people requesting bread with their statement of “Sir, give us this bread” (6:34), the parallels are fascinating. The Samaritan woman replied to Jesus by saying “How can you---a Jew---ask me, a Samaritan woman, for water to drink?” (4:9a) How did Jesus respond? He said “If you had known the gift of God and who it is who said to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (4:10). The response of the woman at the well was “Sir…you have no bucket and the well is deep; where then do you get this living water? Surely, you’re not greater than our ancestor Jacob, are you? For he gave us this well and drank from it himself, along with his sons and his livestock” (4:11-12)
Is this talk of Jacob and his giving us this well and its water not echoed by the people’s mentioning of Moses in the sixth chapter? What was Jesus’ reply? He said, “Everyone who drinks some of this water will be thirsty again. But whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life” (4:13-14). What is it that Jesus says in the sixth chapter, after the bread-seeking response of the people to Jesus’ talk of bread from heaven and the connection to Moses (similar to Jacob and the well) implied by such words? Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to Me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in Me will never go thirsty” (6:35).
The Samaritan woman’s response was “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water” (4:15). With this, we find the comparison with the record of the sixth chapter rather obvious. A short while later, after Jesus tells the woman something about herself that He could not possibly have known, the woman said “Sir, I see that you are a prophet” (4:19). This calls our attention to the talk of Jesus as the Prophet like Moses that was to come. The encounter with the woman closes with Jesus saying “I, the one speaking to you, am He” (4:26). In chapter six, Jesus speaks words that take much the same form, when He says “Everyone whom the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will never send away” (6:37). What happened in the fourth chapter? The woman went and told people about Jesus, many came to see Him, and many believed in Him (4:39). Continuing in the sixth chapter, Jesus said “For I have come down from heaven not to do My own will but the will of the One who sent Me… For this is the will of My Father---for everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him to have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (6:38,40). With the story of the Samaritan woman, it is a chorus of Samaritans (telling us something about the community for which this is written and the issue of Gentile inclusion in the church) that says “for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this one really is the Savior of the world” (4:42b).