Then they said to him, what must we do, to be doing the works of God? John 6:28
To get the full meaning of this piece of Scripture from John’s Gospel one really has to go back to verse 28 and not start at verse 37 like our lectionary. When you do that, that is, read the whole of Jesus’ discourse on the Bread of Life, a few more things come to light. Two questions are answered for us. One is, “What we are supposed to be doing here in the world?” The other question is, “How are we going to stay alive and function productively in the world?” Wouldn’t you like to know the answers to these questions? Wouldn’t you find the answers to these questions truly helpful?
So many people wonder about their purpose in life. What am I supposed to be doing? What is it all about? Or even ponder questions as serious as, “Why is God keeping me alive?” Time and time again I find that Christianity provides good answers to these questions and that is part of the reason I am a Christian and part of the reason for my conversion. Here again, if you are wondering what you are supposed to be doing as a Christian, or as a human being for that matter, just read or reread this discourse on the Bread of Life and you will be given a wonderful answer. As I said, the key is to read the whole thing.
Back up just a little bit and read from verse 22 all the way through to the end of Chapter 6. In those verses you will discover the people who had seen the feeding of the five thousand followed Jesus to where he had landed in the boat. Wouldn’t you follow someone who had just done that? I would want to see the next amazing trick he had up his sleeve. They asked him a probing question that has more to do with God’s purpose for them. They asked him about what they should be doing with their lives. What must we do to be doing the works of God? They seemed to have a sense that Jesus was intimately related to God; that he would know what God wants them to do for work.
The answer is good for us too. This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent. Get that? The work that must be done to do what God wants us to do is believe in Jesus Christ. Believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that he is the one who will save your soul. Isn’t that helpful to know? What should we do? We should “believe”. That is our life’s calling. Once that is the top priority in our lives evidently other works fall right into their proper place.
We do tend to get things rearranged. We do tend to think that our first work ought to be to put things right as Christians. Some of us see that when there is an injustice we are the ones who righteously and even self-righteously ought to be the ones in the forefront of bringing down the people or institutions whom we proclaim are the source of the injustice. That may be right and good in some cases, but it cannot and should not be the main calling for the Christian. The main calling and work for the Christian is to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and if that is the top priority, then there will be Christians called to right social and political wrongs. The main work, according to Jesus, is belief in him.
The second important question; “How are we going to stay alive and function productively in the world?” is also answered by this discourse on the Bread of Life. Wouldn’t it be nice to know a source of strength and life for all of us? So many times we depend on our own desires, our own wills, to get through life. The result can be discouraging or it can be downright destructive. The answer Jesus gives is to feed on him. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever: and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.
There is no other source of strength and health for our lives than Jesus Christ. Even the bread that fell from heaven and preserved and strengthened the Israelites on their escape from Egypt is inadequate compared to this bread of life. The bread for the Israelites preserved them temporarily. They still eventually died. This bread of life is not just from God. It is God. God in Christ will sustain us, strengthen us and bring us to eternal life.
The people hearing this explanation seem to desire this bread because they say, …Lord, give us this bread always. Jesus still knows that they are on the right track, but fall short. He tells them but I said to you, that you have seen me, and yet do not believe. Evidently it must be both. We have to believe and continually draw our life from Jesus. In other words we must be in communion with him as well as believe. Maybe, just maybe, that is why it is God’s will to give us the Sacrament of Holy Communion. We are to continually feed on his Body and drink of his Blood because we take the grace of God into ourselves in that sacrament. We need the love and forgiveness and strength from Jesus in the Sacrament of the Altar to live in this world. We will need it until we are in heaven.
There is no greater way to function and have a productive life, evidently than to serve the Lord. First believe, then remain in communion with him by worshipping him and taking part in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. With these two priorities, then the other works we do will be discerned by God and He will give us the strength to do them. It will not matter if your other callings are to be single or married, a father or a mother, or any other vocation because you will be doing what God has called you to do and then He will give you the gifts to do it. You will have these basic questions answered because they will be the Truth.
We were created to believe and be sustained, forgiven and loved by Jesus Christ as the Son of God. With that direction and purpose, we are on the road to our ultimate end and that is eternal life. Because Jesus says, If any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever: and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. And he did.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.