Thought to be extinct for over 60 years, the ivory-billed woodpecker was recently sighted in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Arkansas, a few miles from my hometown of Paragould. The sighting generated great excitement, so much so that the U.S. Secretary of the Interior called a news conference to celebrate the moment.
Now to save the woodpecker! The local newspaper report indicated that $10 million in federal funds will be used to preserve the area in an effort to protect the woodpecker and permit it to flourish.
The sighting charged many people with a sense of mission and purpose.
The church of Jesus Christ needs that same clarity of mission and sense of purpose. And there’s no better way to acquire it than to look at Jesus’ declarations of why he came to earth.
He makes one of these declarations in John 4:34. A preposition occurs in the original Greek text that does not show up in English: “hina,” which means “for, in order to.” By the use of this preposition, Jesus declares the purpose of his existence.
“My food is [in order] to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.”
The comparison of Jesus’ purpose to food suggests to us several truths.
Jesus skipped a meal in order to teach someone. His disciples had gone into the city to buy food while he waited at the well. While they were gone, a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and he engaged her, against all cultural taboos, in conversation. He reveals himself as the Messiah to her, and after she runs to her town to inform its inhabitants, the disciples urge Jesus to eat. But he refuses. He looks over to the crowds pouring out the gates of the city and urges them to lift up their eyes and catch a glimpse of the great opportunity arriving shortly. Who can think of food at a time like this?
This priority was always evident in his life. Once, he was teaching, surrounded by crowds, so busy he had no time to eat. His friends and family thought he was “beside himself” or “out of his mind” (Mark 3:20,21, 31-35). But Jesus had food that they weren’t aware of.
Time-management specialists have taught us to distinguish between the urgent and the important. In this case, however, Jesus shows us that the important is also urgent. This is not something we can do when we get around to it, when we feel like it, in our spare time. This food, doing the Father’s will, is priority.
Physical food satisfies for the moment, but tomorrow we must eat again. Doing God’s will satisfies eternally. Saving whales or woodpeckers may be a fine mission, but it is too limited. If all the whales or woodpeckers die, the mission dies with them. No physical purpose can truly satisfy the human soul. Only an eternal and spiritual reason can involve the entire person and all of humanity.
This is what Jesus meant in his conversation with the Samaritan woman.
“Every one who drinks of this water [from Jacob’s well] will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).
Comparing his (and our) purpose to food means that doing God’s will truly satisfies.
(To be continued next Monday)
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