"Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you."
Today's Gospel reading brings us these amazing words from the Lord just after some disciples seek Him out. This was soon after the crossing of the sea, and after Jesus fed the five thousand.
Jesus is not saying we should never labor for our next meal. Rather, we must prioritize Him - the food that provides eternal life. In giving us Himself, through the sacrificial death and now through His presence in the Eucharist and heavenly intercession, we receive eternal life. Much of what we will read in John 6 is a further exposition from Jesus about how He is the bread of life. The bread that comes down from heaven. The bread by which we partake for eternal life.
Sometimes 'eternal' is a difficult concept to grasp. It has been conceived as an unending duration or a different type of duration. It may even be thought of as durationless, in the sense that God is said to be eternal and unchanging. Duration and the measurement of change and mobile being are intertwined with chronology or sequential passing. However, I think what the New Testament writers have in view is more than just the passing of time. Rather, the 'eternal' term is connected with aiónios (where we get the term aeon). This precisely means age or age-long. Eternal life in the New Testament more closely speaks to something like 'life of the Age'. The life of the Age, the age to come, is one that is qualitatively different than what we now inhabit.
Jesus adjures us to nourish ourselves for the age to come, the age that God is bringing about which will be quite different from this one. It will be an elevated state. It will be a spiritual state. It will be one where our present concerns and limitations will no longer apply. This calling to a higher plane of existence is one we should take seriously. The choice is a stark one, for the god(s) of this age continually try to shackle our souls. They want us to think that what see and experience now is all there is to the story. Although they cannot ultimately succeed, the specter of their activity distracts us from the truth of the Age to come. By filling ourselves with the Word of God and the words of life, our strength is restored, our faculties are acute, and we progress onward.