As the story continues to be heard, and as the audience finds itself duly impressed with the structure and flow of this Gospel, it is not possible to move much further along without again being struck by what it is that the author is presenting. Still in the sixth chapter, and following Jesus’ comparative mention of Moses and the giving of bread from heaven, Jesus is heard to say “For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (6:33). Again, this serves in the role of 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 the Creator 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.
One must never lose sight of the fact that the presence of the kingdom of the Creator God on earth, with the restoration of that 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 not 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 the Creator, which, according to this Gospel presentation, involved His stepping into His creation, in contemplation of and intending a supreme act of love and self-sacrifice, in order to redeem it whole and to set things right.
This time, 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 one is 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, this should serve as an alert to something that has already been heard.
Remember, it has been said to Jesus, after He had 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 has been seen, Jesus took this as a reference to Moses. Of course, also already established was the direct reference to Moses through the citation from Deuteronomy, in regards to the “Prophet who is to come into the world” (6:14b). Why bring this up again? Of what should the hearer/reader be reminded by this portion of the 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. As those parallels are considered, one does well to keep in mind what it was that was learned about love and the community that was being addressed with this Gospel, in that it gave an insight into concerns with Gentiles, the role of women in the church, and the way that a mixed community of disciples were supposed to treat each other. Likewise, it is not at all surprising to find yet another parallel, as the story of the Samaritan was found to nicely parallel the story of Mary Magdalene, her encounter with the resurrected Christ, and what stemmed from that encounter.