6:24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
6:25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”
6:26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.
6:27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”
6:28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”
6:29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
6:30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?
6:31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”
6:32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.
6:33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
6:34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
A Question or Two:
- Why is bread called the “staff of life?”
- No, really, why?
Some Longer Reflections:
It is time that we quit “believing in” God. Or Jesus. Or anyone.
Now that I have your attention (or, more likely, now that my reading audience is suddenly smaller and more puzzled), I should probably explain what I think I mean.
Whenever I hear someone say they “believe in” God, I cannot help myself. I think of the Cowardly Lion in the movie, The Wizard of Oz. You know the scene. The heroes are walking through the Haunted Forest. The Tin Man announces that it is silly to believe in spooks, only to be lifted from the ground and then dropped unceremoniously in a heap. The Lion then begins chanting his mantra: “I DO believe in spooks. I DO believe in spooks. I do, I do, I DO believe in spooks.”
Sometimes when people talk about “believing in God” they could just as well say that they believe in spooks. Or do NOT believe in spooks. It’s all pretty superstitious, and at least some popular atheists are as superstitious as anybody. At least it sounds that way to me. It makes me nervous.
And sometimes it makes me even more nervous when people “believe in” Jesus. Sometimes they mean that they have the only valid way of being a real Christian. They call themselves “orthodox,” which just means that they have found someone who is “heterodox” that they want to be superior to. A long time ago, Kris Kristofferson (in a song he said he owed to John Prine) got it about right:
Cause everybody’s got to have somebody to look down on Someone they can feel better than anytime they please. Someone doin’ somethin’ dirty decent folks can frown on. If you can’t find nobody else, then help yourself to me. (Jesus Was A Capricorn, 1972)
It doesn’t so much matter “Orthodox what?” Far too often we use the term just to identify someone else by slanderous contrast, and thus establish our own rightness.
It is time we were done with that.
The phrase that is translated as “believe in” is πιστεύω εἰς, and that phrase needs a closer look.
First of all, while we are accustomed to the English notion of believing “in,” the Greek εἰς means “into.” Translators explain that as meaning that εἰς is being used sloppily, and dialectically, as if “into” was a synonym for “in.” But that won’t really do, I think. In English, the two words, different as they are, still share the word “in,” and the notion is that they are somehow part of the same process: if you go “into” a place, then that is the place that you are “in.” Problem solved.
Well, not in Greek.
In Greek, the two words behind all this are εἰς and ἐν. The first is a directional word, and renders movement toward and into something; the second can be lots of things, but most just suggest a location, somehow. If the storyteller had spoken (in Greek) of πιστεύω ἐν (“believing in”), it would refer, somehow, to where you were when you engaged in the act of believing. That would be odd to translate. In the scene for this week, the storyteller has Jesus talk about πιστεύω εἰς, about believing “into.” Whatever that would mean.
The difficulty is that “believing” in English (whether you are talking about spooks or Jesus) refers (somehow) to a state, a place, somewhere where you can be somehow right. It is a kind of “stative” verb, and doesn’t exactly express action or movement. And you can tell that by noticing how awkward it is to try to imagine what “believing into” would mean.
But that is what the phrase in the Greek original says.
The problem is with the word πιστεύω. Lexicons will tell you that the word means “believe,” and they are sort of right. But if you dig deeper, you will see that they also tell you that the word means “trust.” This is also sort of right, and many sermons have been written expanding on the idea that “it is not enough to believe that God exists if you do not trust God to save you.” Or something.
The problem with this theology is not with the idea of trusting God, which seems a good thing, all in all. The problem is with the phrase “it is not enough….” Any theology that slides into such language will finally always do its work by killing you first. The dangers of such a notion ought to be clear. Such theologies imagine a God so furious with our “not-enough-ness” that God has to kill us to make us alive. If you begin by wallowing in the glorious fury of God, you will have a hard time trusting the deep kindness and mercy (hesed) that both Jewish Scripture and Christian Scripture see as the truest characteristic of the God who creates and calls.
If you read and reflect further, you will notice that, in Jewish texts, πιστεύω and its associated noun, πιστις, refer to the patterns of Torah observance that students learn from their rabbis. In Jewish texts, πιστεύω refers to the patterns of faithful life that people learn, the patterns that shape them so that everything they do points to the God who made them and loves them intensely. The patterns vary from rabbi to rabbi, but the deep content is the same: it all comes down to a pattern of living that embodies hesed, the deep kindness of God.
The gospel of John is a Jewish text.
Jesus is Jewish, now and always.
That would mean that when people as him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?,” they are asking him, as a rabbi, to identify the pattern of living that he teaches. His answer, then, becomes rather interesting: he says, “This is the work of God, that you shape your lives into the pattern seen in the messiah whom God has sent.”
So, once again, we have a choice to make: does God send messiah to embody the fury of God that burns hot against all human failing? Or does God love the cosmos so deeply as to have sent messiah to embody that love?
There is something in human religiosity that seems to love anger. Anger will drive us apart and kill all hope.
There is something in the gospel that offers life, love, and restoration of the entire cosmos. That is the pattern that we are to “believe into.”