In today’s Gospel, Jesus says “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” We find teaching along these same lines in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6, Jesus says “So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear? All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness,* and all these things will be given you besides.”
In one sense, these teachings seem at best slightly analogous. One pertains to how we wrongly prioritize our lives and fritter about in needless anxiety. The other begins an extended discourse on the bread from heaven, the Lord Jesus. But there is an important connection. The food that endures for eternal life, the food that Jesus gives us, is Himself. We trust in God to provide it, knowing how limited our control is over our circumstances. Knowing that we cannot build or make it ourselves. We must look to God for it. Our daily anxieties can be addressed only by yielding our wills to God.
How do we ‘work’ for Jesus, though? Wouldn’t such work go against faith? Only if we maintain a false dichotomy where nature and grace are at odds. We can look at our passage today in John 6 and make a connection to Matthew 6. We must seek the Kingdom of God. We must align our lives with Christ, becoming full participants in His Kingdom. The ‘work’ we do is not a work-based salvation whereby we do enough good things and come out on the right side of the scale. Rather, in submitting to the Lordship of Christ, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we pattern our lives after Jesus. We love the things God loves, and do the things God loves to do. We seek to have the Lord Jesus in all ways possible, desiring God above all. The summit of this union in the temporal, earthly realm, is the Holy Eucharist. The imperishable food of Christ endures for eternal life because each time we partake of it we are in a very real way ‘divinized’ - made partakers of the divine life through the mystery of grace in the Sacrament.
Jesus says "This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent." The term ‘believe’ in this context does not merely entail mental assent to the truth of a proposition. It means a radical reorientation of life. It means repentance, turning away from, the things of the world. Turning away from world systems of money, power, lust, greed, and corruption. It means total trust in the provision and providence of God. Depending upon His guiding hand in every aspect of life. It is to look at the Son and see the Father. It is to live indwelled and sealed by the Holy Spirit, guided to eternal truth and life. It means to follow in the footsteps of the Son, which means hardship in this life. It means caring and loving when no care or love is reciprocated. We believe in Christ, the One sent by God, by faith working through love. In this, we accomplish the work God has for us in this life as we prepare for eternal life.