There are basically two kinds of diets: the ones that work and the ones that don’t. Diets that don’t work are often called fad diets. They promise fast results with little effort. A plague of them show 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 from.
Diets that work promise gradual results with considerable commitment over a lifetime. Their premise is not to lose anything, but 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; getting us in shape for eternity.
In this week’s gospel, it’s 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 who he is and why he’s here: I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.
To the disappointment of the idlers, 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 an even more intimate relationship with Jesus. 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 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 individual a la carte offering that we get to pick and choose. It is a common feast that unites us. We are fed and fueled by the same bread, the same faith. That is what makes us Church, no matter what our sectarian or doctrinal differences. 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 end each day. We live 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… so we could become a race of 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. 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. Workout with him in ministries of worship, outreach and fellowship. Get on the Jesus Diet. It’s not about losing; it’s about gaining… gaining serenity, purpose and direction in this life… gaining the joy of eternal salvation in the next.