Where's the Belief?
You probably won’t remember Clara Peller by name, but anyone born before 1980 will certainly remember her for what she had to say. The silver-haired, four-foot, eleven-inch octogenarian spokeswoman for Wendy's Hamburgers was seen nationwide in 1984-85 in a series of popular commercials. Clara played a crusty old lady who slapped the counters of neighborhood hamburger joints and loudly asked the probing question "Where's the Beef?" which implied that the only place in town where Ms. Peller could get a hamburger with an ample portion of "beef" was at Wendy's. Emphysema kept her from long lines of dialogue but the disease also made her raspy voice memorable. At the end of the commercial, after asking the question “Where’s the beef?” Clara declares “I don’t think there’s anybody back there!” Unforgettable.
Her catchphrase was soon echoed by millions in jokes and merchandising endeavors, including T-shirts and underwear. Walter Mondale even used the phrase "Where's the Beef?" in his 1984 presidential run against his rival Gary Hart. I had the opportunity to meet Clara in the winter of 1985 at a Western Kentucky University basketball game when Wendy’s brought her to town as part of the advertising for the “Wendy’s Classic Basketball Tournament.” She looked to be failing in health even then, and she died only two years later in 1987.
Clara and her catchphrase are forever etched in the memories of my younger years even though I haven’t thought about her and that hilarious commercial for a long time. That changed as I was probing along through the gospel of John for our current sermon series. We come to chapter 5, and the omission of belief on both the part of a man healed and the religious leaders who confronted him is glaring.
“Where’s the belief?” I uttered under my breath. And yet, it had to happen sooner or later. Jesus predicted that He would be rejected. John warns us in his prologue: “He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.” (John 1:10-11)
Hopefully, by now, you are starting to look for John’s favorite elements to use in presenting Jesus to us. Remember as you read along that genuine belief is at the core, the very purpose, of why John is writing his gospel. These signs that Jesus performs are not only about His mercy and compassion. John points to a very personal reason behind the work of Jesus. The signs are there to attest to His person. He is the only begotten Son of God who has come down from heaven. The gospel depends entirely on who He is. If Jesus is not who He says He is, then John has no gospel and neither do we.
The part of John’s gospel that we call chapter 5 demonstrates the absence of faith even after the signs are performed. Where’s the belief? There isn’t any. It’s all bun and no burger.
The shift from chapter 5 through chapter 7 should confront us with our own questions. What do you have to say about Jesus? Where are you looking for salvation--if you’re even looking for it at all? Thankfully the coming of Jesus isn’t all about rejection. For John says that there are some who will believe: “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
Are you a part of the some who will believe? What does your testimony say about the person of Jesus? What would Clara Peller say if she walked into the restaurant of your life?