Saturday, May 10, 2008


In today's New Testament reading, Jesus has a ships-passing-in-the-night conversation with a crowd that saw him feed the 5,000. Let's look at one part of this:
Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval."

Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?"

Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."
John 6:27-29
Verse 27 reminds me of an Old Testament passage -- which I see the NIV editors also marked as a cross-reference:
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
Isaiah 55:2
I'm pretty sure this crowd would have recognized the allusion. In that Old Testament passage, God is telling the Israelites that they're fundamentally on the wrong track, that they need a major course change. Jesus, of course, is telling them the same thing.

But they don't ask him how their hearts need to change; instead, they ask "What must we do to do the works God requires?"

I don't know why they asked it quite that way -- are they asking about prerequisites or qualifications? Or were they being oblique for some other reason? In any case, Jesus doesn't quite answer them. Rather than saying, "You have to do this (in order to accomplish what God desires)," he says: "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."

The crowd continues to miss the point, but I want to stop here. What does he mean that the work of God is to believe in Jesus?

It's not an accident of wording; I believe Jesus is turning their question on its head. What he's saying, i think, is that God requires only that we believe in Jesus.

What would happen if I really believed in him? What does that mean?

If I really took Jesus as proof of God's great love for me, I wouldn't seek validation through other people. That is, I wouldn't try to use people to make myself feel good. I'd spend more effort in blessing them, and less effort trying to trick them into admiring or respecting me.

If I really took Jesus as proof of God's promise of eternal life, I'd be less anxious about seeking pleasure here in this life. I'd be more generous, and I'd indulge myself less.

And so on. So what am I saying then? That I don't believe?

I'm saying what the distraught father in Mark 9:24 said:
I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!
That father had it right -- help comes from God through Jesus; faith isn't something we can manufacture ourselves.

And so I agree with the old song:
    I need thee, O I need thee
Ev’ry hour I need thee.
There really is nothing of value I can do apart from Jesus. A good thing to remember.

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