“But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:31)
The Gospel of John is a wonderful gospel, rich in language, theologically vibrant and deep, and written, as it says. “…that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God…” That you may come to believe…
Our reading today is from John 6, where his encounter with the crowd is similar to those with Nicodemus and the Samaritan Woman at the well. In Chapter 3 Nicodemus comes to Jesus who tells Nicodemus that if he wants eternal life he must be born anothen. An interesting Greek word, anothen. There are two equally valid ways to understand this Greek adverb: “again” or “from above.” Nicodemus is faced with a choice of how to understand Jesus’ statement. Belief always brings us to these moments of choosing. Nicodemus chooses the more earthly meaning – “again” – and goes on to ask Jesus what he has to do… again… what he has already done. It is a response that clearly leaves Nicodemus in control.
Had he chosen to understand the meaning as “from above” then he would not have to do a thing, he would not have to work at all, it would have all been gift, the work of the Spirit in the waters of baptism. All he had to do was to trust the person of Jesus. And in that act of trust is the seedling that can grow to belief “that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief [receive eternal] life in his name.”
In John 4, during the dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus offers her zāo waters. The word zāo can be understood to make the phrase read, “flowing waters” or “living waters.” Unlike Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman understands that the things of God are at work, that there is an offering of the gift of the very waters of life. And so she trusts, and says, “Sir, give me this water.” The water Jesus has described as welling up to eternal life, echoing the words “so must the Son ofMan be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:14-15). She has chosen the higher meaning, trusted in the person, trusted the gift. It is a choice which forgoes control and “doing” and begins to focus on belief in the person of Jesus, and. “through this belief [receive eternal] life in his name.”
In today’s Gospel some of these same issues appear again – control and the question of trust. Last week we heard the Johannine account of the miraculous feeding of the 5,000. For the people it was like the story of Moses and the manna in the desert again coming to life – and that is understandable. The Jewish expectation was that the Messiah would come on the Passover and cause manna to descend from heaven as in the first Exodus (cf. Midrash Mekilta, Midrash Rabbah, Midrash Tanhuma and others). The miraculous sign of Jesus fits
their expectations. And so they want to control Jesus within that expectation – and thus carry him off to make him king.
The Exodus manna sustained earthly life; what is at stake here in eternal life. Jesus is very direct: “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son ofMan will give you.” (Jn 6:27) Like Nicodemus, the crowd wants control: “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” (v.28). Do? They did not have to do a thing, it was always pure gift.
Jesus asks them to look beyond the bread which they can eat and earn by the work of their hands; to look for the mystery and meaning of his person. Jesus tells them “This is the work of God, that you believe into the one he sent” (v.29).
But they are not quite ready to trust, much less believe. Just to be sure they want some sign greater than the one Jesus has already given them; a sign that will remove their doubts while letting them “know for sure.” So they ask for another sign, one like Moses and the manna in the desert. They trust Moses after all. So they set the measuring rod as Moses. Again the crowd wants control, they placed their demands upon God – do this, do this now, and do it well enough that we will know. But then it never was about “knowing” – it is about trusting and believing in the One whom God would send, the one who would know the mind of God, the one who would do the will of God.
Again, Jesus points out this isn’t about you, its not about Moses. This is about God. God who has already given you his only Son, who is willing to send his Spirit from above to help you believe. God who is willing to lift up his Son on the cross that the living waters of eternal life might well up in you – if only you will believe into Jesus. God who has sent the true bread from heaven, bread which gives eternal life to the world. It is not about us, our wants, desires and things so often mired in the earthly. It is about the free gift from God, the one upon whom God’s seal is set, the one who will pour out his life for us on the cross. It is all gift… all gift
The people response is, “give us this bread always” (v.34) – and Jesus tells them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” You will have life eternal. All one has must do is believe. There it is – short, sweet and to the point.
In the story of Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, and here today, St John paints in high relief one of the core tipping points of our journey of faith: the little choices. Again or from above; work or gift; control or let go; know or trust. “But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:31)