One thing more from last Sunday
28“What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
The texts from last Sunday continue to rattle around in my head but, amidst all the talk about bread and manna, this verse shouldn’t pass by unnoticed. “What must we do to perform the works of God?” What is it that God requires of us? What do we need to do to serve him? What is God’s will for us?
I remember the struggle with the question of God’s will beginning my senior year in high school as I was in a formative period for my faith and wondered if and where God wanted me to go to college and what I should “do” with my life. I spent one summer hitchhiking around the country convinced this was God’s will for me. It didn’t turn out the way I expected, though I won’t say that it wasn’t Spirit led – or, perhaps more accurately, Spirit protected and used.
There were those around me who thought God had a very specific plan for their lives: what they should do, where they should go, whom they should marry, but finding that plan was not simple for me. And then I came upon this verse: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” which, for a long time, I remembered as saying “This is the will of God…”
Americans derive so much of our identity by what we do. It’s the first question we tend to ask a new acquaintance. But the ancient world would ask to whom we belong. What is our family? What is our clan? Americans don’t memorize their genealogies back to Abraham, but in the Biblical world, who you are is revealed by those with whom you are connected.
So while we think about the will of God as what we should do, Jesus answers in terms of those with whom we are connected. The will of God is that we be connected to Jesus (and his community). And the ‘work’ of God – of the work for God – is not answered in terms of ritual obligations but trust and allegiance.
This is not a small conversation. What does it mean to show allegiance to Jesus (and his community)? There are, in fact, lots of things that that we are to do – feed the hungry, shelter the poor, do justice, love one another, love our enemy. But it is the way we embody Christ to one another that is at stake, not whether we become a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker. We are to live our gifts, to follow those passions God has given us – whether it for law or dance of family. But whatever we do, our trust and allegiance is in Jesus and God’s reign of grace and life in and through him.
“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
The crowd is not quite ready for this. They are attached to their temple (as we are attached to ours, whether temples of stone or ideas.) But in this verse lies a very important and profound element to the question of God’s will for our lives: it is about trust in and allegiance to Jesus.