Jesus told the men and women who’d found him in Capernaum after the miraculous feeding , that he knew they were following him because he’d fed their physical hunger. He went on to tell them that they shouldn’t follow him because he could do this, but instead, they should do God’s work, and then Jesus would reward them with food that lasts for ever.
And when they pressed him to tell them what this involved, his answer was, to say the least, absolutely amazing.
He said “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent”
Now, a lot of people believe that in order to inherit eternal life ,you have to be a fairly good kind of person.
Most people who aren’t Christians and, unfortunately, many who are, believe that God rewards good deeds by giving away places in heaven to those people who’ve shown that they’ve worked hard enough to deserve such a place.
And they would go on to say that the other place, which is a bit warmer, is where you go when you’ve been pretty bad , because at the last judgement God will sort out the sheep from the goats. And if you haven’t made the grade; well, “Off you go, then”
This way of looking at “salvation” is very, very common. It’s the teaching of Islam , and indeed, of most world religions And it’s a great tragedy when Christian people believe it to be true, because it’s wrong.
The whole Christian Gospel can be summed up in these words:
“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that all who believe in him should not perish, but might have everlasting life”
This means that we are forgiven people. Yes, from the very beginning.
There’s no good work that we can do which will make us right with the Holy God. He accepts us just as we are. That’s what Jesus was all about. It’s not as though God loves us; then we sin, so God stops loving us, until we say, “sorry God” and God replies by saying: “OK, then, I’ll forgive you and love you again, but just watch yourself in future.”
It doesn’t work like that. God’s love and forgiveness are unconditional.
We need to accept this, of course. We need to appropriate it to ourselves. We need to stop struggling to prove either to God, to ourselves or to other people, that we really are good enough because of our own puny efforts, because, you see, we just aren’t.
The Good News is that it’s all been done in Jesus. That’s what he said in the gospel passage which we’ve just heard.
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst”
It’s when we recognise this truth, and join our lives to the life of Jesus through the sacraments of the church, that he begins to live in us more and more. It’s then that his life begins to be expressed through our lives and our good works become a response to the love of God, instead of a silly attempt to gain credit.
There are many ways of looking at the crucifixion, but one which I find most helpful is the one which says that on the cross we see the love of God fully displayed.
An unconditional love. A total love. A love which asks nothing of us except that we accept it as God’s gift.
We will probably need help in being brought to this point, and that’s where the sacrament of penance, or confession can help. But the danger is that we may even begin to see this as a way in which we win God’s approval instead of a recognition that, we are brought into a right relationship with God simply by accepting his freely offered forgiveness. An offer which is made plain to us when we hear the Lord’s words of absolution spoken through the priest. And then those words of Jesus will set us free from all of the burdens which religion can place on the backs of God’s children.
For this, Jesus died. Amen.