We are WHOLE people, aren’t we? I mean, we have all sorts of complex parts and pieces – body, mind, soul, or the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, etc. But whatever the parts, they are inseparable, and they influence one another. As in, maybe the most common reason we sometimes don’t feel our best, is that we’re neglecting one or more part of ourselves. When our whole self is healthy and well, we fire on all cylinders.
Think about our Olympic athletes lately, these prime specimens of people. If they neglected their physical selves, but focused purely on strategy and mental toughness, and even prayed and prayed and prayed, would that ever be enough to medal? Doubtful. Just look at the grief Michael Phelps has gotten for not training like he should. Okay. Situation #2: how about if they’re in their physical prime, even genetically perfect for a particular event, but just don’t have that drive or push or motivation? It won’t do. Okay. Last, how about those who are perfect physically, mentally, and emotionally, but neglect their spiritual selves? You might say, “Wait, bro, plenty of gold medal winners aren’t people of any sort of faith, what does that have to do with it?” My response is that an athlete is missing out on the fullness of life and glory in his/her sport if God is excluded. For all their God-given gifts, the fact they even live and breathe let alone that they perform at the highest level, these Olympians have a huge occasion for thankfulness and for witness. And records will be broken; medals will collect dust, or be pawned, or whatever else. But according to our Christian faith, if they involve their spiritual selves, then their witness to God’s glory will be lasting. We’ve seen athletes do that well.
To live abundantly, we need to involve our whole selves.
And we don’t just need to, I bet we all want to. Don’t we want desperately to be appreciated for our whole selves? Think about relationships you’ve had, friendships or romantic or whatever else. How does it feel when the person we’re in relationship with doesn’t appreciate the fullness of who we are? How does it feel to start to figure out that someone only wants you for your (fill in the blank)… for your mind, for your body, for your wallet, for your name or title or popularity, for what you can do for them, and so on? Some of us say, “Look, it’s just good to be wanted at all!” But, truly, it’s a sinking feeling to only be partly desired. It’s not enough to satisfy us, it never will be, because there’s more to us than one piece or part.
Jesus spent and spends a lot of his time trying to prove it to us. This reading from John 6 is an example of him trying to minister to the whole self of the people. Before you read it, you need to know the whole story starting with the passage just prior to this one. In it, Jesus has doing something huge. We title it, “The feeding of the five thousand,” when Jesus and his disciples find a crowd of people gathering around, and it’s getting close to supper time. The only food to be had is a small boy’s lunch of fish and bread. So Jesus takes it, prays over it, starts handing it out, and everybody in the crowd has enough, plus leftovers. The people are going wild, and are ready to make Jesus their king then and there, but instead he withdraws from them and departs into a nearby town.
Read John 6:24-35 here.
With the whole story in mind, we’ve seen Jesus engage the crowd in a personal way. He was present and available to them. He and his disciples had gone off alone because a lot had been happening for them. Up on the mountainside it was probably a time of debrief and recovery, but the crowds showed up. Jesus didn’t run them off, he connected to them personally. Speaking and teaching. Not only that but he engaged their real, practical, material needs by feeding them. He wasn’t like, “Alright, ya’ll, there’s not enough food so let’s just be super-spiritual and fast and meditate tonight.” No, he cared for their hungry stomachs. And then, when they catch up to Jesus the next day in town, he drew it all together into a deep spiritual moment. He pointed all that other stuff he’d been doing toward the kingdom of God, and toward eternal life in him.
Engaging the whole person. So, it should’ve been “mission accomplished,” right? Job done? Not exactly. Because as much as we need to have our whole selves engaged with Jesus, and as much as he tried to, the crowd doesn’t seem totally willing to let their whole selves be fed by him. They’re so focused on food that they’re overlooking what it means to be truly full.
I can relate. I’m somebody that eats to live… when I don’t eat nonstop during the day I can get pretty hangry (hungry + angry = irritable). It is just an ongoing task, calories in, energy out. Meals are quick sometimes, and they’re just a very brief hiccup in my day before I can get back to the “real stuff” I have to do. But my wife has been trying to help me with this. She read something not too long ago that said that it takes our human bodies/brains about 20 minutes to register that we’re full. Comfortably full. I admit, I take that as a personal challenge; it’s like she’s daring me to see how much food I can pound in the first 20 minutes before it catches up to me. But her point is that to avoid over-eating and being engorged, and in terms of knowing what our body actually needs, we just have to take our time and experience the meal.
My wife’s brother and his wife have taught us that lesson, too. See, they’ve been teaching internationally for something like ten years, among cultures where mealtime is central. In some of those places I guess there’s not always a lot of other forms of entertainment, and there’s no focus on TV and other distractions. So meals are given special priority. When they eat it takes time (some of y’all would get antsy). When they cook, it’s hand-prepared and market-bought, and there’s almost always a large group at table. When we’re around them, almost every meal is that way. It is really good. It takes adjusting to, but it’s really good. Because there’s more to being full than just food, or filling up. There’s a “full” that is actually satisfying.
Like Jesus makes clear, we’re not just talking about food anymore. Jesus says to the people, essentially, “The answer to your questions, to ALL your questions and all your needs, is me. Here I am, right in front of you, God in person, and I am THE way for you to live life to the full, to be satisfied, and to be absolutely whole.” It’s like he invites them, and us, to a real breaking of bread, the kind that takes time and intentionality and relationship.
Jesus, it seems, won’t settle for less.
In the words of Bob Barker in one scene of the film, Happy Gilmore, Jesus doesn’t want just a piece of us, he wants the WHOLE thing. And at the same time, he won’t let us settle for just a piece of him. He’s not interested in us walking away with just one part of the relationship. We can’t get away with only full stomachs, because Jesus won’t let us have just a taste when we can enjoy true satisfaction. As challenging as it is, that is excellent news.
And as much as we sometimes wish he would compromise and let us love him for just his teaching, or for just his miracle-working or whatever else he can do for us, Jesus stands firm. After all, he chose to give every ounce of his whole self, leaving no part out, to reconcile us to him. The fullness of Jesus – body, mind, spirit – endured death so that we could be entirely forgiven and set free. Let’s keep that in mind when we just don’t feel like letting him engage one or more parts of us. Let’s keep it in mind when we outright withhold parts of ourselves and lives from him. And then let’s consider choosing to pursue eternal, satisfying, eternal life in him.