Here Jesus clearly responds to four specific questions. Often scripture gives us answers to questions, but we rarely do we know exactly what is being asked, and often have to figure it out it. Not here.
Jesus had just fed over 5,000 people with a few loaves of bread and some fish. The disciples then crossed the lake in a boat, Jesus following on foot, walking on the water. We join this conversation after his followers find him. Jesus tells them not to settle for the chasing of their own, small desires. To paraphrase: 'Don't let your perceived needs, your stomach, your narrow worldview be the driving forces in your life. Live for something bigger. Lift your eyes, look beyond your life. Look to life.'
The previous day's miracle of feeding
the 5,000 meant the idea of daily bread and needs fulfilled were
fresh in their minds. Seizing on this, Jesus tells them not to live and work for
food that doesn't last, but for what endures. Don't exhaust
your energies on passing desires, invest them
in the things that matter: relationship with God, with
others, those things which bring life, hope and God to people. Not in things that leave you feeling empty. . . But in this call to live, it seems all the followers hear is the word "work." They immediately ask, "What must we do, to perform the works of God?"
Here is a primal,
often all-consuming quest for us as human beings: "What must we do?" And
it is not usually born out of any desire to glorify God. Jesus
sees through the question, as with all our motives, the need to
prove ourselves, validate our missions, build up our own sense of self-worth and bolster our egos.
Jesus' response is surprising: "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has
sent." So. The work is to believe. But which is it then - work, or belief?
We know this much is true: Honest belief and ego cannot co-exist.
We can't earn belief, we can't prove or truly measure it, and therefore can't compare
our believing with others. We can only believe. And when we believe,
we relinquish control over our lives and others' lives. We simply put ourselves in a position to receive.
And this is where Jesus wants us, because he longs for us to receive him.
To give us life, meaning and purpose - beyond and away from the ego and its limiting, life-draining effects on us.
Belief is an interesting thing. It is a choice, although we canâ€™t make ourselves believe - either we do, or we don't. Yet a choice indeed, the making of which is vital to relationship with God. It is not
passive, nor is it active - at least not in human terms.
Believing makes us vulnerable. When we make the choice to believe, we are putting the purpose of our lives on the line. (What if it isnâ€™t true. . .?) But, again, this where God wants us. Jesus lays it out: He is the one sent from God, and all that is left to do is, vulnerably, believe him.
The followers come back with a condition: if they are to risk it all and believe, then he had better provide them with
constant miracles like their forbears had, wandering in the desert. They basically say, 'If you
feed us like Moses did, every day, then count us in!' They are asking for manna, for hard evidence.
Jesus answers them again, pointing out that it wasn't Moses but his Father who sent the bread from heaven. Just as he sent the true bread of God, which gives life to the world. So they ask, as any of us would, "Sir, give us this bread always."
His response pulls all of this together. It connects the crowd-feeding miracle, all the miracles, to the challenge he is offering. It is a declaration of the truth that gives substance and credibility to everything we are to believe in - a clear picture through which we can begin to grasp the reality of God and all he has for us: "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never thirst."
How can thick-headed, narrowly-focused, ego-driven people understand and believe God? By accessing him through the metaphor of bread and water, the very sustaining force of life as we know it. He says I am the bread, I am the water. In me you will never be hungry, never thirst, never die.
This final answer tells us what believing is. It is like eating and drinking. Food and water are gifts, but we need to take them into our bodies for them to matter. They are not conjured from the human mind, they stand alone as real and life-giving elements, without which we would die. So we take and eat - doesn't seem like a big thing, but it means everything.
Every time we have
communion, we receive Jesus into our beings anew. We eat the bread, drink the wine and act on our belief. We position ourselves for life from above - a miracle.
We need Jesus, every day. So let us eat heartily, let us drink deeply.