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25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.
Please, make sure to read prior section “Jesus and his strange movements around the Sea of Galilee” (Click, here). Jesus puts off the excitement and zeal of the crowds once again, strongly letting them know they are not “getting” him. Contrary to how the situation appears, Jesus does not accuse the people here of simply having their physical needs met (food) rather than being interested in spiritual content (salvation). In my opinion, such interpretive dichotomy is simply incorrect. It is definitely foreign to the Jewish context in which the Gospel was originally authored. There is, however, a true dichotomy present. It is not the dichotomy between physical and spiritual, but rather the dichotomy between miracles and signs.
Surprisingly, Jesus says that the people were only able to see his miracles, which was not enough. They needed to see the signs. A sign always points away from itself to the thing or person that is signified – in this case, Jesus (the Son of Man in vs. 27). A sign can also be a miracle but its primary function is to point to something other than itself. In this passage, the sign showed and sealed the Father’s approval.
In ancient times, people were not only paid for their work with coin; they also used the fair-value exchange system. Sometimes workers were paid in goods; and at other times they were paid by a combination of goods and money. Jesus is using the familiar to imply something similar to, “Imagine yourself working, but only getting paid with perishable goods? Would your work be worth your while? Would you even be able to save anything, or put something aside?”
The answer is implicit in this question – it is a simple no. Jesus calls the workers not to settle for less. He wants them to receive fair wages, not with something that perishes, but with something that lasts. In this case, he intends something that lasts forever. It is in this context that rejecting Jesus’ authority can only be compared to “working for the food that perishes,” while believing him equals working for the kind of pay that endures to eternal life.
It is an interpretive error to read this passage in the context of a religious polemic of a “Christian Jesus” (Christianity) and “Jewish Jews” (Judaism), instead of in the original context of an inter-Israelite polemic. An inaccurate assessment, made by many Christian theologians regarding Judaism, has held for many centuries. This assessment concerned itself with so-called “Jewish literalism” as well as with “Jewish deficient understanding” – seeking the material things at the expense of the ultimate, spiritual revelation of God.
Perhaps now you can see my point. Our almost automatic interpretation of vs. 26-27 is along these lines and shows how conditioned we are by the long history of such interpretation. It seems so obvious that we have a hard time seeing it as simply “imposed later theology” on the ancient original line of thinking – the text itself.
I wish to be clear that the type of interpretation that associates Judaism with the literal/corporal and Christianity with the spiritual/ultimate is not necessarily anti-Semitic in nature. This, however, does not make it accurate.
It is important that we critically question our patterns of thinking and also the thinking that led to our current patterns of thought. Surprising discoveries may emerge when we become conscious of blind spots like this one.
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