"If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me"

"If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
(Jn 10:37-38)

In his confrontation with the crowd in the Temple in today's readings, Jesus holds his claims about who he is to the same standard to which he holds others, namely the standard from Matthew's Gospel:
A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit (Mt. 7:18)
He challenges those who don't believe to examine not his words, but his actions. If we are really his followers, this has some important implications for us as well.

The Man from Galilee

First, the Lord that we worship isn't an idea, concept, creed or set of doctrines. He is a real person--one who took on human flesh and lived as a poor Galilean for most of his life, before going out and preaching the Kingdom with powerful works and signs.

He did things.

As Christians, we believe those things are facts of history, not merely metaphors, fables or parables. Jesus is making an extraordinary claim: the claim to be God. He recognizes that this claim requires extraordinary evidence...evidence he provides to those around him in the form of miracles.

As Christians, we either believe in the testimony of those that witnessed those works, or we are deluding ourselves. Christianity is not a philosophy...it is a faith rooted in historical events. Of course, the greatest of those historical events is the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Either it really happened, or we are all hoping in vain.

There can be no compromise with this...no turning the faith into a kind of neutered, idealized moral program. Yes, the scriptures are nuanced in many ways. But when they say that Jesus died and rose again bodily three days later, they are being quite literal about that.

This is a stumbling block for many people. It was then, and it is now.

It is easy to get behind a moral program or a philosophical movement. We can think our way into those. We cannot, however, simply think our way to Christ. We have to believe that a man, who was also God, rose bodily from the grave.

To do that requires two things: Grace from God, and a leap of faith on our part.

God will give us the gift of experiencing the truth of the Lord's claims in our own life in powerful ways, convincing us first-hand of the truth of who he is. But this only works if we take the leap of faith in accepting his offer of a new life first.

As St. Paul says in the letter to the Romans:
Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind (Rom 12:2)
We have to be willing to accept that transformation...then we will see more evidence than we require. Evidence that Christ is not just a literary figure, but a real presence here and now--evidence that his Kingdom is not just a concept or a metaphor, but a blazing light that is, even now, breaking through the cracks in the veil and flooding the earth with its power.

That's the first implication: that the object of out faith is something real and tangible.

Faith, Works and Grace

The second implication is that what we do also matters. Without delving too deeply into the theological arguments about faith and works, it should be clear to every Christian that if we are really living a life of grace, then our faith will not just be some purely mental beliefs that we have about Jesus...it will be something that flows through in our actions.

This one probably isn't a big surprise to you. You've heard it hundreds of times: practice what you preach.

But I think it goes deeper than that. It isn't just about keeping the commandments and the precepts of the Church, though that is certainly part of it. It is about living as if grace is a reality, praying like miracles are a possibility and trusting that the gifts of the Holy Spirit that the Lord promised us actually exist...and that we actually have them.

Let me illustrate with my favorite story from the Desert Fathers, an early group of Christian monastics in the Egyptian desert:

Abba Lot went to Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”
The question is: do you believe that you can be all flame?

The New (and Old) Evangelization

The third, and final, thing is this: if we want to bring souls to Christ, it will be what we show in our actions that brings them there. We can develop all sorts of programs and curricula. We can speak eloquent words. But if we don't do the works of the Lord, no one is buying it.

Jesus says in the Gospel reading "if I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me": the same goes for all of us. If we don't perform the Father's works, they won't believe us either...nor should they.

The secret to the New Evangelization will be the same as the secret to the old evangelization. To paraphrase a statement I once read from a patristic scholar: early church fathers didn't have the great success that they did in bringing young people to the faith by having pizza parties...they had success because they offered persecution and the sword. They demonstrated it in their own lives. Sincerity is impossible to fake, especially with teens and young adults.

So, go out and evangelize...but make sure that flame is alive in you before you do.

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