We continue this weekend with Jesus’ sharing with us the Bread of Life – not only His Word, His miracles, and His healing, but also His very Self. The journey that we are invited to take with our Lord these few weeks in St. John’s gospel is an important one that every disciple must take. Discipleship brings with it the rewards of being fed by Jesus, but it also carries with it a challenge of faithfulness, and it cannot be taken on lightly.
Last year, Fr. Greg, Deacon Herman, and I read a book that has become quite popular among evangelists and Church leaders. It’s called Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus. In the book, the author, Sherry Weddell, shares research into trends in the Church, and presents a vision for reaching out to others (and to our own) in sharing a relationship with Jesus. If you’ve noticed our deliberate language about “personal relationship” with Jesus and “intentional discipleship,” it’s from this book.
Weddell outlines what she calls “thresholds” that people go through in their journey with Christ toward becoming an “intentional disciple” and an effective sharer of our Lord’s love and life. It is a journey from an impersonal or no relationship with God to fully-committed discipleship. This journey begins with a person trusting someone else to share their story and journey with them. This trust brings them into regular contact with the story of Jesus Christ. A person may then move through other thresholds on their way to deepening their relationship with Jesus. Beyond trust, a person can then express a new spiritual curiosity about the person of Jesus and what He can do for and in them. Curiosity leads to openness; openness leads to active spiritual seeking for Jesus and His action in their lives. Finally, having truly encountered the Lord, these journeyers come to a decision to fully give themselves to Jesus and to be “intentional disciples” – capable of making disciples themselves. These are not "optional" steps - that we could settle into wherever we feel comfortable. Rather, they are the necessary stages of a Baptismal journey toward fully-engaged faith.
Our gospel journey these few weeks does a good job of illustrating the dynamic of coming to a deeper sense of following Christ. Last week, Jesus, who has seen the need of the crowd, fed them with the five loaves and two fish. He has established a sense of trust with the community gathered there. After He moves on, they follow Him; they are looking to know more about Him – to receive more from Him. Jesus knows that they trust Him, and so He teaches them further – a deepening of the sign that He has performed for them – so they can come to fully know Who He is and respond to Him.
We, too, are invited to encounter Jesus as He feeds us here. There is more than just a multiplication of loaves and fish; there is the promise of the true Bread that comes down from heaven. An encounter with Jesus always draws us deeper into a relationship with Him. I asked you a month ago to consider what your relationship with Jesus was like. Are you ready to go deeper? Are you ready to open yourself up to the transformative power of that relationship and drop everything to follow Him?
This encounter in the gospel will soon prove to be a challenge to those who listen to Jesus. Many will not be able to handle His call, and they will walk away. Jesus does not let His disciples off the hook either. They are also given the choice to stay or walk away.
If you have found in this place nourishment for your struggling soul, then now Jesus is inviting you to seek Him out with even greater fervor. The crowds who heard Jesus asked Him to “give us this bread always.” (Not just now and then, but always) The prospect of true heavenly food is attractive. It does, however, have a price – the price is discipleship: a clear decision to follow Christ and to share Him with others.
This journey has to start with an act of trust. Do we trust God to give us what we need? Are we ready to begin the adventure of faith that brings us into full relationship with this God who loves us beyond words? If we are, then we cannot continue to be passive receivers of this food that Jesus provides. Rather, we are called to grow in our faith and more and more deliberately follow Jesus as He calls us in our own lives.
Discipleship does not happen by accident. It requires engagement of Jesus’ invitation to follow Him. His loving action of feeding the crowds now begins to demand a response from them. They have started asking Him questions, and He has started to deepen their encounter with Him. Ultimately, this is what we are called to do. Pay attention to this dynamic conversation that Jesus has over the next four weeks. Read and reread Chapter Six of John's Gospel each week.
He is that true Bread that gives us the Father’s gift of eternal life. It is a journey worth taking.