[A version of this post appeared originally at xanga.com/godsbooklover on January 10, 2008]
One day Jesus was teaching, and the crowd was tired and hungry, and He fed them. No calls to a caterer, no frantic trip for take-out Chinese. He gave them bread…5,000 of them (or 10,000…or more–since only the men were counted, but the women and children ate, too).
So the crowd followed Jesus. And when they caught up with Him, they smiled and shuffled their feet and cleared their throats a lot. Their eyes darted everywhere, looking for promising baskets or sacks or…where did he keep all that stuff, anyway? They were not subtle–not that it mattered to One who could see right through them.
JESUS: “You’re looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Don’t work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life…”
CROWD: Oh. There’s even better stuff? Well then, how do we get some? What is this work of God? If the bread’s better, then sign us up to work!
JESUS: (Can you hear Him sighing here?) “The work of God is to believe in the One He sent.”
CROWD: “Ummm.” (Sly look in the eyes) “So–what sign can you give us so that we believe in You?” (Under their breath, they add, “How about some bread?” and then poke each other, grinning. Yeah! Good one!)
JESUS: “I AM the bread of life. He who comes to Me will never go hungry, and he who believes in Me will never be thirsty.”
CROWD: Sounds good! Count us in!
JESUS: “The bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
CROWD: (scratching their heads, muttering to each other) I thought he was from Nazareth. Isn’t he a carpenter? He’s not a baker, that’s for sure! What’s he talkin’ about?
JESUS: “I AM the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
CROWD: Huh? What’s he sayin’? (snicker) How can someone give us his flesh to eat?
JESUS: (thinking: It’s not about the bread, it’s about Me. It’s about taking My words into your hearts and really living. Why can’t you see that? Why do you keep obsessing about food?) (speaks sadly) “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you.”
CROWD: OK, now that’s just gross. So…there’s no bread then? Right. We’re outta here.
It’s not about the bread. It’s not about feeding a physical appetite. In fact, feeding that appetite–even miraculously– tends to numb us to what Life is really about.
So–we’re in the midst of a season when it’s traditional to observe the spiritual discipline of fasting. It’s a great discipline and also helpful for discovering the hidden idols of sensuality in one’s life (OK, in my life). But it occurs to me that it’s not about the fasting, either. In and of itself, NOT eating is no more spiritual, no more about Jesus, than eating is. “Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility, and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” (Colossians 2:23)
It’s not the bread that’s blessed or cursed, it’s our own hearts and motives. Am I eating with a thankful heart, worshiping my Provider? Am I fasting with a humble heart, worshiping my Sustainer? Do I love God more than the feast I’m enjoying? Do I think He’ll love me more because of the times I’m abstaining? It’s not about the bread. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (I Cor. 10: 31)