the penultimate WORD
Series 1998 - October Canon Jim Irvine
"What must we do… to perform the works of God?" 


 "What must we do… to perform the works of God?"
"This is the work of God, that you …believe in him whom he has sent ."
John 6:28f. New English Bible

Jesus had been instrumental in feeding the multitude that had followed him by the Sea of Galilee. They had had a need. They were hungry. And Jesus recognized that need, and made an appropriate response. Instructed to sit, they sat. And Jesus’ closer disciples, Philip and Andrew and the others had distributed food to them all. They ate enough and still there was food left over.

He then left their company, but they followed him, eager for more.

"Very truly, I tell you," said Jesus, "you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves."

Jesus had presented a sign. They saw only a loaf. Jesus had worked a miracle. They saw only bread. Jesus had given them something that pointed beyond itself to something greater in their lives. They savoured only the flavour of barley bread. Bread had filled their stomachs and they were no longer hungry. They wanted more.

"Do not work for the food that perishes," added Jesus, "but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you."

Having missed the sign, they had missed what it had signified as well, and they did not understand. They knew their experience. They knew hunger. And they had received bread, somehow, from the Rabbi from Nazareth, they knew that much. And if they followed him, they might have their hunger satisfied again.

Jesus went on to say, "For it is on him – the Son of Man – that God the Father has set his seal."

Confused, startled, taken aback, they asked Jesus, "What must we do to perform the works of God?"

Their question has been on the lips of men and women generation after generation. Confused, startled and taken aback, we continue ask what it is that we must do – to perform the works of God? We feel we need to do something… to work out our salvation. And Jesus’ answer, now, as then, leaves us no less confused.

Jesus answered them "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent."

That seems too little, too easy, too simple: that the work of God would have us be in him… that the work of God would have us live in him!

Not seeing the sacramental grace of Jesus’ gesture, those that followed him then, as those who follow him now, feel an urgency to effect their own salvation. There has to be something that we can do. There has to be something that we have to do!

Jesus distributed bread to men and women in need then, as he continues to address our need now. And, blinded by their immediate need, they failed to see his greater purpose to give and satisfy a hunger of the whole being, body and soul. We are no different. Our insatiable appetite limits our self consciousness of thanksgiving to the craven worldliness that we prize so much.

Later, John would recall the salvific words of Jesus in his High Priestly prayer, as he knelt in Gethsemane, "And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent."

The work of God… leading to eternal life: this is our gracious blessing eliciting our response of heart-felt thanksgiving.

Copyright © 1998 James T. Irvine

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