Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life (John 6:47).
Whenever I run into a statement like this, I am startled. Once again I am reminded that St. John's purpose in writing the Gospel was different than that of the other three evangelists. They wrote to "remember" Jesus and his story. St. John's purpose for writing is stated quite clearly: 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).
Throughout the Gospel, St. John includes reminders us of his purpose. This particular reminder is part of the discourse which Scripture scholars have named "The Bread of Life Discourse." It is preceded by two signs: the feeding of the 5,000 (John 6:1-15), and Jesus walking on water (John 6:16-21). (Throughout this past week and continuing through Saturday, the Gospel for our daily Eucharist has asked us to spend time with this discourse and the two signs that preceded it.)
The Eucharist has been called the "source and summit" of our faith. So we should not be surprised to find the statement linking eternal life to faith in Jesus as the Bread of Life. At the same time, there are those who have stated, "This is simply too easy." They look at the issue from the perspective of human endeavor where everything must be earned. They point to the Letter of St. James which teaches us that faith must be expressed in good works. They cling to the Baltimore catechism illustration which shows a person newly arrived at the pearly gates watching as St. Peter's weighs his merits and compares them to the weight of his sins. Unfortunately this kind of thinking has led many to believe that gaining eternal life is a job to be done and completely dependent upon one's behavior. For instance, when asked why one has chosen religious life or the priesthood, why one regularly fasts and abstains from meat, why one attends daily Mass or prays the rosary daily, or any of dozens of other religious activities or life styles, a familiar response has been: "To save my immortal soul." Without question, that has already been accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus. All we need to do is to believe that it has been accomplished, to place our faith in Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God. Yes, it seems to be "too easy." However, human history teaches us that holding on to our faith is anything but. This is one reason why the Church places St. John's Gospel before us throughout this Easter Season. We need to remind ourselves that our faith in Jesus is a precious gift that needs protecting, nurturing, and a constant sense of gratitude.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator