On a youth ski trip, eating habits are conspicuous. Some of our girls, subject to a culture that praises thinness, pick at their food, only eating substantially when they are urged to by an adult. Some of our boys (and adult advisors) eat the equivalent of two meals every time they sit down at the table because they’re burning so many calories while skiing. All of us, living on the road, are eating relatively unhealthfully—fast food, snacks, sodas, and candy. But, as is true for some many different circumstances in youth ministry, food plays an integral part in bringing our group together.
In this morning’s gospel reading from the Daily Office (John 4:27-42), this disciples come to Jesus and encourage him to eat something. “I have food to eat of which you do not know,” he replies. Isn’t that just like Jesus—to take an innocent, well-intentioned question and turn it into a lesson? “Wait a minute,” the disciples continue. “Does he have some food we don’t know about?” Actually, as Jesus explains it, he does have some food they don’t know about, but it’s not the kind of food that they (or most anyone but Jesus) have in mind.
Jesus says, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.” In terms of circumference, I am certainly not the “least of these,” so it should come as no surprise that I find Jesus’ words frustrating. Like the friend who can eat and eat without gaining a pound or the newly minted mother of three who lost all her baby weight in 6 weeks—Jesus is taunting me with his ridiculous faith. If I were one of the disciples, Jesus probably would have heard me mutter under my breath, “Dude, I’m hungry. ‘Doing the will of him who sent me’ isn’t going to satisfy my appetite.”
But, of course, Jesus isn’t asking us to subsist only on the zero-calorie diet of aligning our wills with that of God. Instead, he’s pressing me to acknowledge that all of my needs (both physical and spiritual) are provided for by God and that allowing my personal needs to distract me from that fact diminishes my capacity to comprehend that truth. In other words, if the grumbles in my belly become louder than my prayers, I’ve strayed from God’s will.
Theologically speaking, I don’t think it’s right for us to look at Jesus’ model and set that as the standard for our behavior. (Thus, I conclude that the “WWJD” phenomenon is fundamentally anti-gospel.) But I do believe that Jesus chose frustrating moments like this one—when the disciples were trying to get their master to eat—to teach us that following him requires sacrifice. I might not want to give up my meals (or anything else), but how often does my love of earthly sustenance interfere with my ability to receive heavenly bread?