CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: The Jesus Diet
The next day, when the people who remained after the feeding of the five thousand saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
- John 6:24-35
There are basically two kinds of diets: the ones that work and the ones that don't. Diets that don't work are called fad diets. They promise fast results with little effort. A plague of them shows up every spring, promising to make you a slim sensation by summer. Results, if any, are almost always temporary (and pretty soon you're right back where you started).
Diets that work promise gradual results with considerable commitment over a lifetime. Their premise is not to lose anything but instead to gain good nutrition based on an acceptance of healthy choices. The objective is not to transform chubby couch potatoes into skinny couch potatoes; the objective is to transform unhealthy bodies into healthy ones. And, to get there, you must put your good nutrition to work. That means having the discipline to faithfully follow up with an appropriately rigorous program of exercise.
This week's gospel is promoting "The Jesus Diet." It's all about healthy choices--making a lifetime commitment that guarantees results. That’s because it comes with a personal trainer. Jesus is with us every step of the way: feeding us, leading us, ever by our side to get us in shape for eternity.
In this week's gospel, it is the day after Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes. The crowd thinks they’ve caught the gravy train, and they don't want this party to end. After some probing, they put in their order: Give us a sign to believe in you. How about a regular diet of manna raining from heaven? Jesus seizes on their opening to explain exactly who he is and why he's here: I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.
To their disappointment, Jesus is not promising an endless buffet of material goodies. He is offering himself as the spiritual food that will fill our deepest needs.
Previously in John’s gospel, Jesus has been referred to as the Word made flesh. But the metaphor used in this gospel calls for a much more intimate relationship. We are not only to follow Jesus as the Word of God; we are to consume him as the Bread of Life. He wants to become part of us, to shape us to his purpose, to live in all that we say and do.
Jesus is the Bread of Life, the manifestation of God’s love in human form, the vessel of redeeming grace. In Christ we are not separate individuals experiencing something that is strictly private and unique to us. The Bread of Life is not an à la carte offering we get to order and consume to our individual tastes. It is a common feast, one that unites all of us. We are fed and fueled by the same bread, the same faith. That is what makes us Christians and makes us Church, no matter our sectarian or doctrinal differences.
St. Augustine writes, “Bread is not made from one grain, but from many. It’s as though you, who were many were ground into one. When you were baptized, it’s as though you were mixed into dough. And when you received the fire of the Holy Spirit, it’s as though you were baked. So, be what you can see and receive what you are.
"Just as many grains are mixed into one loaf in order to produce the visible appearance of bread, holy scripture says that’s what happens to the faithful: They had one soul and one heart in God, so too with the wine. Brothers and sisters, just remind yourselves what wine is made from; many grapes hang in the bunch, but the juice of the grapes is poured together in one vessel.”
My friends, we are not Christians because we call ourselves Christians. We are Christians because we are baptized into grace, nourished and strengthened, body and soul, fully committed, fully absorbed in the love of Christ. In that context, we start each day. We live each day. We end each day.
The Father did not send us Jesus, the Bread of Life, to work wonders, to preach and to teach, to die for our sins all so we could become spiritual free-loaders. Yes, grace is a free gift from God. But it is unlike any other gift we have ever received. It has a transformational purpose. In his grace, we are here to do God's work in the world. We are here to share the Bread of Life with a world that is stuffed with sin and starving for love. It's a tall order. But we have a personal trainer to show us the way.
Stay close to Jesus. He'll help you make healthy choices. Keep pace with him in prayer and in scripture. Work out with him in ministries of worship, outreach and fellowship. Get on the Jesus Diet. It's not about losing; it's about gaining: gaining purpose and direction in the way of love, gaining serenity in this life and gaining the joy of eternal salvation in the next.
The Rev. Canon David Sellery is the canon for congregational mission in the Diocese of North Carolina.
Tags: Caminando with Jesus