The people need Jesus and look for him. There’s something in him that attracts them, but they still don’t know exactly why they seek him or for what. According to the Gospel writer, many do it because the day before he had given them bread to satisfy their hunger.
Jesus starts to talk with them. There are things it behooves him to clarify right from the start. Physical bread is very important. He himself has taught them to ask God for «daily bread» for all. But humans need something more. Jesus wants to offer them a food that can satisfy their hunger for life forever.
The people figure out that Jesus is opening up a new horizon for them, but they don’t know what to do, or where to begin. The Gospel writer takes up their questions with these words: «What must we do if we are to carry out God’s work?». They have within them a sincere desire to be certain. They want to work at what God wants, but being used to think about all this from the perspective of the Law, they ask Jesus what new works, practices and observances they need to keep in mind.
Jesus’ answer touches the heart of Christianity: «This is carrying out God’s work (singular!): you must believe in the one he has sent». God only wants them to believe in Jesus Christ since he is the great gift that God has sent to the world. This is a new demand. It is in this that they need to work. Anything else is secondary.
After 20 centuries of Christianity, don’t we need to discover again that the Church’s whole power and originality is to believe in Jesus Christ and to follow him? Don’t we need to move on from having the attitude of those who follow a religion of «beliefs» and «practices», to that of living as Jesus’ disciples?
Christian faith doesn’t consist principally in going around correctly fulfilling a list of new practices and observances, better than those of the Hebrew Testament. No. Christian identity is in learning to live a way of life that is born of a living and trusting relationship with Jesus the Christ. We make ourselves Christian to the extent that we learn to think, feel, love, work, suffer and live as Jesus does.
Being Christian today demands an experience of Jesus and an identification with his project that doesn’t require a certain number of years in order to be good at it. In order to survive in the midst of our secular society, Christian communities need more than ever to care for a vital adherence and contact with Jesus the Christ.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf