Works vs. Work

The crowd that finds Jesus in Capernaum on the shore of the Sea of Galilee is full of questions.  This seems only right, I mean it was just yesterday that he fed them, at least 5,000 of them, with five barely loaves and two fish handed over by a little boy.  Stranger than that, after it was all over, he seems to have disappeared.  They saw the lightening flashing on the Sea, they heard the thunder, the felt the gale force winds.  Yet through all of that, Jesus seems to have made his way, safely, across the Sea.  Their first question is obvious, “when did you get here?”  It couldn’t have been through the storm.  He couldn’t have walked here in time.  There seems to be another miracle afoot, Jesus, so when, exactly, did you get here.

True to form, Jesus doesn’t answer their question.  John tells us that after walking on the water, Jesus stepped into the boat and “immediately” the boat landed on the other side, but Jesus won’t be telling the crowds about that.  He’s not here to be a carnival show, boiled down simply to a worker of miracles.  No, Jesus has something else that he is about, the Kingdom of God.  In his response to their question, Jesus nudges the crowd in that direction, encouraging them to think not about the material needs of today, but rather the universal needs of the kingdom.  They start to get it, if just barely, and so their second question is much pointed.

“What must we do to perform the works of God?”  Jesus wants to talk about the bigger things of life, and the crowd, acting as appropriate foil, engages him on that level.  Or they try to, but still they miss the point.  Their question, literally, is “What should be do in order to go on doing the works of God?”  They are interested in the specifics of Kingdom living, the sort of things I wrote about yesterday: humility, gentleness, patience, love, unity, and peace; but here again, Jesus calls them to something deeper; something bigger.

It isn’t about works, Jesus says, but about work.  There is a single task through which the Kingdom of God will be made manifest on earth as it is in heaven, “go on trusting in the one whom God has sent.”  As is often the case in these sorts of interactions between Jesus and the crowd, the crowd just can’t quite handle what Jesus is asking of them.  Maybe they can’t see that the very act of chasing him down showed that they already trusted Jesus.  Maybe they couldn’t quite wrap their minds around the fullness of who Jesus really was.  Maybe they just really needed a checklist of things to do.  Whatever the reason, they can’t seem to handle this singular task, the work of God, and so they ask Jesus another question.  “What sign will you do that we might trust in you?”  The Feeding of the 5,000, the seemingly miraculous crossing of the Sea of Galilee, the deep call to discipleship and trust; it all flies out the window with the crowds insatiable need for something to do, something to see, something tangible to hold on to.

The work of God is impossibly simple.  Believing in the one whom God has sent seems to easy, and yet, without the ongoing miracles, the ever present high calling, the engaging preaching and teaching, it can be so hard to maintain.  So we look instead for works, for things to keep us busy, to keep us preoccupied over and against or worries whether or not this Jesus can be trusted.  It happened even as he walked the earth, and heaven knows it happens now.

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