Today’s Gospel from the sixth chapter of John (6:22-29) picks up not long after Jesus had fed the multitudes. Some of the crowds have returned to the site of this miracle meal seeking Jesus and looking for what wonderful thing he might do next. When they finally find Jesus, he admonishes them for their misplaced motivations in searching for him. They want more miracles like the meal. They want to be comfortable and entertained.
Jesus answered them and said,
“Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me
not because you saw signs
but because you ate the loaves and were filled.
Do not work for food that perishes
but for the food that endures for eternal life,
which the Son of Man will give you.
For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”
It can be tempting to seek miracles and the kind of comfort the people in the Gospel desired; to imagine a God whose purpose is to verify the existence of the Divine by acquiescing to our individual or collective demands. In an age that celebrates a limited sense of scientific rationalism, we demand signs — “evidence” — to confirm our beliefs. And when we slip into that sort of mentality, we can miss the ways in which the Spirit reveals God’s Self to us in the ordinariness of the everyday (and not necessarily in accord with our imagined definition of what a miracle looks like).
When the people demand signs in today’s Gospel, Jesus responds with a call to look at how God’s will is enacted in the world. We might paraphrase Jesus’s message in a popular idiom by saying: “You want proof? You want real signs of God? Examine your words and deeds to see how God is made present in the world through you and those around you.”
If we want assurance of the presence of God in our world, the seemingly extraordinary acts of divine intervention in nature should not be the focus of our attention. Real miracles, real signs, the affirmation of God’s Grace active in our world — these unfold in the little and big ways that people live the Gospel and do God’s will in lieu of their own self-interest.