So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”
Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”
"Love, love, love," the Beatles sang, "All you need is love." It was an ironic song though some people didn't get the irony; they really thought all you need is love.
But Jesus makes a similar claim, "Believe in me! That's all you need." Time again, in the gospel of John, he makes that demand of friend and foe. They should accept his word like the royal official who begged Jesus to come and heal his son. Jesus said to him, “You may go; your son will live.” The man believed what Jesus said to him and left."
The Gospel ends with that same appeal from the Evangelist:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of [his] disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
Faith is a persistent invitation that often feels like a challenge; it commands us to focus our activities and our passivities on the Word of God. There are many things we can do in service of the Word, and many things we must let happen without our control or direction. And we ask for the wisdom to know the difference.
Discernment, that Jesuit discipline encouraged by Pope Francis, helps us to discover which is called for. Often we must wait for the right moment when the Spirit says, "Now!" Doing "the right thing" may be futile if it's done at the wrong time. And, very often, we don't even know what that action is, or that word, until the moment when the Spirit prompts.
Belief in the one he sent abides with the Lord. It accepts that invitation to "Come and see." We will live with God in the house of Jesus and Mary, and go with him to Cana, Samaria, Galilee and Jerusalem.
We do that by our practice of the sacraments, especially Eucharist and Reconciliation, by our daily prayers and continual study of our faith, and by remaining in the communion of church.
We follow him as the Hebrews followed the column of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, neither rushing ahead ("Liberal") nor falling behind ("Conservative"). We move when he moves and stay where he stays. Faith sternly reminds us that whatever we might try to accomplish on our own, beyond obedience to God's spirit, must fail; and might make matters worse. But that which is done in the Lord must succeed; even if, like the crucifixion, it appears to fail utterly.
In today's first reading we hear that Saint Stephen, "filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people." His success seemed to end in catastrophe when he was stoned to death by an angry mob. But the savagery apparently disturbed a young man of Tarsus -- who "was consenting to his execution" -- so much that he was spiritually ready when the Lord spoke to him on the road to Damascus, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
The crowd asked Jesus, "What can we do to accomplish the works of God?" The answer begins not with a formula, protocol or technological gadget but with belief in Jesus.