At first glance, this is just a confusing conversation, one of many I’m afraid, between Jesus and those listening to him. They want plain talk regarding Jesus and his status among them…Is he the Messiah? Jesus points out that they should already have the necessary evidence to make that determination themselves. “Look to what I’ve done”, he says. The answer is in the works he has performed among them. It’s in the works he has done in the name of God the Father, which should be a clear enough answer to the question, “Are you the One?”
We can identify with these perplexed listeners and their uncertainty; we share it. Once again, questions of faith, of hope, of peace, even of eternal life raise doubts and fears within us when we face the violent and disturbing circumstances in our lives. When innocent people, enjoying a long held tradition in the world of sports, like the Boston Marathon suffer needless injury and death, when our own sense of safety is shattered by such circumstances, we question our faith in God, our faith in Christ, even our faith in the promised peace and hope of a world transformed by Christ’s death on the cross and ultimate resurrection. Where is God in all this? Why wouldn’t we ask the same question; “Are you the One?” We want to believe but, we need plain talk with certain results. It is in our nature to want simple answers to complex questions. But it is also in our nature to seek out a God who will make God’s self, known to us and for the simplest of reasons: the actions of evil seem to outweigh the actions of goodness.
Unfortunately, God isn’t easy to pin down and never promised us certainty in this life. We always live on the edge of doubt struggling with our deeper instinct that we must put our faith into something larger than ourselves. But we do run into the forever problem best described by Biblical Commentator, Gary Jones who puts it this way:
The trouble, of course, is that talking “plainly” about that which is inherently complex, or even beyond our understanding, is misleading to the hearer and demeaning to the subject of the discussion. The trouble with talking plainly about the things of God is that the things of God are anything but plain. When a person begins speaking with unequivocal certainty about God, this is a sure sign that the person is no longer speaking about God. We can speak with unequivocal certainty about things our minds can grasp, but God is not one of those things. God grasps us; we do not grasp God. [i]
There is a deep truth in this passage, a truth that escapes those who wanted so for Christ to “speak plainly”. Instead, they were pointed not to words but to the evidence revealed in Christ’s actions. He healed; he fed; he prayed, and he loved. These are the ways God through Christ lives in us too and it is the way we can put substance behind our words. We believe…because we must. We must believe in something and most certainly in these times when the violence around us threatens to derail our faith; when it is too easy to fall into the attitude of doubt and the practice of disbelief.
Tony DeMello, a Jesuit priest tells a parable about an explorer. The parable illustrates this disconnect between what we want to know about God and what we already know through our relationship with God.
In the parable, an explorer leaves his native village for the Amazon. When he returns he shares his adventurers with those in his village talking enthusiastically about the incredible beauty of the places he saw and visited. He describes the majestic waterfalls, the beautiful foliage and the extraordinary wildlife. He tries to share the way he felt when he saw these sights. Realizing that his words are inadequate to his experiences, he finally says to his listeners, “You must go and see for yourselves.”
He does try and help them find this wondrous world by providing a map. The villagers are captivated. They pounce on the map and immediately make copies so that each will have his or her own. They frame the map and place it in the town hall and in their homes. They study the map and talk about its contents in small groups, but though they know the map, they never make the journey. The beautiful, exotic Amazon remains words on paper without all that real time experience can offer.[ii]
We believe…because we must. In this torn up world of ours, Christ is, for us as Christians, the peace that passes all understanding. We believe…because we must that we can lay our burdens down putting them securely in the hands of our God who loves us. We believe…because we must that we are called to live our faith, a faith that is beyond words, as we take up the work of ministry. And yes, we believe…because we must that in the end, when life finishes with us, there is a promised life free from the violence and evil of this age. And, in the meantime, we are called to follow the Good Shepherd inviting others to make “their own personal journeys [thus] experiencing the living Lord [for] themselves.”[iii] It is a noble task. Amen.