Faith often requires strong spiritual muscles and keen inner sight, especially when life moves in ways we haven’t directed. In such moments, we seek proof that things will work out just as we would wish them. Often we want exact answers and assurance which passes all description and all understanding.
I imagine we in the 21st century want this just as much as people did in the 1st century, as they followed Jesus the Christ, the Wayshower, to hear his wisdom. When they meet him in John 6:30-32, they seek quick, easy answers to their life struggles. In particular, they want Jesus to prove that he is who he says he is and that what he preaches is the Truth. They also want proof of God’s existence.
The people ask Jesus: “What sign are you going to give us then, so we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Jesus replies, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from Heaven, but it is my Father [one of Jesus’s names for God] who gives you the true bread from Heaven.”
Even as the people speak of God and attempt to embrace Jesus’s teaching, they seek proof. At this phase of their spiritual journey, their faith is developing. While they may wish to believe, they aren’t yet grounded enough in their own inner faith to trust that they’ll see some things when they believe them. Not the other way around.
It’s as if this group expects Jesus to perform a magic trick and make manna appear from the sky. As if Moses did it, and Jesus now can replicate it. This is our challenge, too, when we seek assurance from the magic of life, rather than from its awe, wonder and mystery.
Because there’s a difference. One entertains and intrigues, although it never fully assures. After we’re entertained, we still want answers, proof of how the magic trick worked.
Developing faith wants all the answers without doing the prayer work, spiritual study, mental and emotional housecleaning, and personal reflection. It cannot accept the unknown, not yet revealed. “Wave a magic wand, Jesus,” the people seem to say. “Show us God right in front of us so we’ll believe it. Then we’ll know what you say is true.”
Developing seekers can’t completely lay it all down on the altar of faith and trust, which is what Jesus guides those of mature faith to do. They want Jesus to somehow channel God, as if that were possible, and give them the answers to all life’s mysteries and their own personal road map, noting specifically all the twists and turns, with specific directions about how to avoid all the failures, pitfalls, dragons and dens of fire.
In other words, it’s as if the people say: “We’ll believe when you show it to us the way we want to see it.”
If, blessed reader, you’re struggling a bit with this, be comforted in knowing: This teaching isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s an extra-ordinary teaching which invites us to consider the depths of our own inner, personal faith. It invites us to consider that what Jesus tells his 1st century followers is what we’re still attempting to learn in the 21st century: That God is with us and within us, even when we can’t fully see, feel or comprehend it. As if Jesus says: ”God is present and active in your lives. Believe it and trust it, with all the faith already within you. Because when you believe it, then you’ll see it.”