“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do”? Interesting isn’t it, one day after they had witnessed Jesus feeding 5,000 with a few loaves they are asking for something to help them believe in him. They had witnessed the power of God and one day later that miracle has not only been forgotten; it has had no impact on their belief at all.
You see the same reaction in the first reading where we find the Israelites who had witnessed the power of God parting the sea so they could escape the Egyptians pursuing them. Three days later they witnessed the power of God making fresh water out of a polluted pond. But none of that seems to help them maintain their faith in God. For now they wish they had never left Egypt because they are hungry. They have quickly forgotten the miracles God worked to free them and to sustain them.
How can anyone witness the power of God without it impacting their faith? How can witnessing a miracle not change anyone? Do we need constant signs so we can believe? What is the hunger that compels us to demand a sign instead of us believing and trusting God?
In both of these stories we heard today, we see God overlooking our human weakness of needing constant reassurances. Instead of rewarding only those with faith, we see God providing blessings for the doubters as well as the believers. The fact that God does not hold back blessings because we fail to trust should be comforting for each of us. Yet it is this act of mercy that seems to confound us.
We do believe in justice but a justice that is founded on a premise that you get what you deserve. The guilty must pay and those who do the right thing should be rewarded; there is no other way that is fair. But God’s justice does not work that way. Scripture tells us that God “…makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Mt. 5:45).
What God desires us to know and believe is that mercy means that even when we fail; even when we do not believe; even when we struggle; even when we seek signs instead of Him we will always be recipients of his love? God has shown us that aspect of his nature time and time again in the scripture stories.
Everyone is able to be receivers of God’s mercy no matter how we have failed; even denying him is pardonable. Today’s Exodus story shows that is God’s nature. The scoffers looking for another sign in John’s gospel today shows us that. The Samaritan woman was told that her thirst would be satisfied by “living water” if she would just ask him. The prodigal son receives mercy by simply returning to the Father. The woman caught in adultery was freed from death by standing before Christ. The thief on the cross joined Christ in paradise by acknowledging him.
It is a simple yet powerful thing we are offered. The blessings of God are ours for belief in his Son. Is this an oversimplification of the life, death and resurrection of Christ? Is it naïve to think that “…whoever comes to me will never hunger and whoever believes in me will never thirst?” It seems so simplistic and yet it is the hardest thing we will ever have to do. In order to do that means we must allow the Holy Spirit to change our nature as it did the disciples on Pentecost.
Jesus knows how hard it is for us to change. Just listen to his words in today’s gospel Immediately after telling the crowd whoever believes in him will never thirst says something remarkable. He says, “…but I told you that although you have seen me you do not believe.” There it is words of truth about our nature from God’s own son. We have trouble believing in him.
Yet Jesus knowing our nature continued his journey to the cross for us to be reconciled to the Father. He would die for our sins and our weak faith. He only asks in return that we just acknowledge our thirst and our hunger for what he offers. Oh we will acknowledge a belief in him by our reciting the Creed today. We will acknowledge it by standing before him and receiving the Eucharist today. We will acknowledge it by corporal and spiritual works of mercy this week. But will we acknowledge that our hunger and thirst can only be satisfied by acknowledging him as savior and lord?
Acknowledging him by “…confessing with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, knowing by doing that we are saved” (Rom. 10:9). For us to do that is an action of utter dependency on the works and life of Christ and the gift of love from God. It is an act that allows the forgiveness and love of God to enfold us with his embrace. It is an act that allows the Holy Spirit to guide us deeper and deeper into living a life that acknowledges God in all we do and say. It is an act that allows us to be human, to grumble, to fall and to doubt knowing he will continue to bless us with forgiveness and mercy; setting us free.