WORK NOT FOR THE FOOD THAT PERISHES BUT FOR THE FOOD THAT ABIDES UNTO LIFE EVERLASTING. These words of Jesus were addressed to the crowd of his fellow Jews whom he had recently fed with the barley loaves and fish he had miraculously multiplied. As we hear them this morning, we, like those to whom he spoke at the time, quite naturally ask the question: " What shall we do so that we might perform the works of God?" For the works of God are the food of which our Lord speaks here. The answer that he gives remains for us somewhat perplexing to our understanding as well as challenging to our spirit: "This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent." We are not accustomed to think of belief as a "work" but rather as an interior decision, a mental and spiritual act. True it has exterior consequences, often enough highly significant ones. What and whom we believe regularly proves decisive in influencing our goals and the means we choose to attain them. Our beliefs also exercise a large role in determining the friendships we form and the company we keep.
Still, in spite of this practical consequence of faith we do not find it natural to consider it "a work of God." We know how Luther contrasted violently faith with performance of works. This opposition strikes us today as quite artificial and arbitrary; it is certainly a needless human construct. No one with the most basic understanding of Catholic faith maintains that human works supply for faith in Jesus which the Lord calls for in this passage. The very contrary is true: for the fundamental work demanded by God is called "the work of God' precisely because faith IS a work, an ergon, as the Greek text here puts it, that is to say, an act effected by God within us and with our cooperation. It is not only pleasing to God, it is something he makes possible by his grace. The works of God that contribute to salvation include faith in the one he has sent into the world as our savior.
It is significant that when speaking of faith in this connection, Jesus uses the present tense in its connotation of continuing action: we are not only to make a single act of faith at some point of time, but to go on believing in Jesus day by day, throughout the course of our life. He is God's messenger conveying to us the gift of knowledge of what pleases the Father to such an extent that he bestows on us eternal life.
Anyone who has attempted to live this true evangelical faith, a faith that governs daily living in all its concrete decisions and actions, is keenly conscious of the need for continuous assistance from God. The faith that is the work of God as Jesus taught, includes an adherence to him in the person of his Son and so has a mystical dimension. This is what Luther failed to discern in the Catholic tradition, misled as he was by the practice and presentation of those many believers who themselves distorted the meaning of the works of God".
As we offer this Eucharist this morning and receive the bread of life that mystically unites us, in faith, with the risen Lord Jesus, may we renew and deepen our adherence to his person. And may our lives this day and always be so many "works of God" effected in faith and wrought in intimate union with the one sent by the Father. In this way his grace will increasingly purify our hearts and enable us to be pleasing to him by the great work of a living faith in which we trustingly give our very self over to him as children of the kingdom.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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