As we hear the opening verses of the Discourse on the Bread of Life that will dominate the week’s Gospel readings, I cannot help but notice that St. John’s purpose is once again highlighted. You will remember that St. John told us his purpose in writing at the end of chapter twenty of the Gospel. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of [his] disciples that are not written in this book. 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.” (John 20:30-31)
I have said it before as have many others. Each time one reads the Gospel, one usually hears something that they have never heard before. For some reason, as I make my way through the Gospel once again, I have been struck over and over again about the primacy of faith in St. John’s Gospel. So I was not surprised when today’s Gospel reading ends on this note: “’Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.’ So they said to him, ‘What can we do to accomplish the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.’” (John 6:27-29)
St. John’s Gospel is one of the latest documents in the Christian Scriptures. It was written toward the end of the first century or beginning of the second after Jesus returned to the Father. The three other Gospels and all of the letters of St. Paul have already been written and were circulating among the Christian community before this Gospel appeared. All of us know that St. Paul was insistent on proclaiming that we are saved by faith. Is it any wonder, then, that believing in Jesus has become the most important part of the message proclaimed throughout the then known world. The sacred authors of the Christian Scriptures are well aware of the fact that those who will come after them will not have the benefit of having known Jesus personally. They will not be eyewitnesses to the life, ministry, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. They will come to faith in Jesus through the message that they hear proclaimed. John joins with the other sacred writers in making certain that faith in Jesus and in the One Who sent Him is paramount.
I have also heard it said that the notion that we are saved simply by believing in Jesus is just “too easy.” Yet the evidence around us would seem to give the lie to that. For if one believes, that faith will be evident from the example of their lives. True believers are those who will live the Gospel. Simply knowing what the Gospel says is not enough. If our faith does not inform our actions, then it is not faith at all but knowledge. There is a considerable difference between faith and knowledge.
The Gospel was written so that we would come to believe and would, therefore, repent of our sins. One can be the greatest Scripture scholar alive or who has ever lived. If the knowledge of the Scriptures does not move him/her to conversion of life, then that knowledge has not led the student to faith. It is not enough to “know” the Lord, we must also believe in him and what he says. The first words of the Gospel make that very clear, for the first thing we hear is “Repent.” True faith leads to repentance. Repentance demands that we surrender to God’s will in our daily lives. Faith and repentance are, we know from experience, a life-long process.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator