You Are What You Eat
By Rev. Dr. Fritz Ritsch
John 6: 51-58
Margaret and I decided to become vegetarians about a year and a half ago. A few months in we decided to add seafood to our diet, but otherwise, we don’t eat meat. We eat a ton of veggies—more than I at least ever ate before. I’m not an evangelist for this diet by any means—I ate meat most of my life and completely get why people eat it. But you may be surprised to learn that actually I don’t miss it at all. I admit it helps that there are great vegetarian hamburger substitutes these days! And more restaurants serve vegetarian and vegan fare. It also helps to have added fish, but honestly before this about the only seafood I liked was salmon. Since then, I’ve really mixed it up.
And I feel great. I feel stronger, fitter, my endurance when exercising is better, and over all I feel less tired and more energetic. I even feel happier and less anxious. How much of that is diet? I can’t say for sure. But those are certainly benefits I was looking for and I’m glad to have them.
In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus is advocating that people change their diet. There are health benefits to the Jesus diet plan—long life: EXTREMELY long life. And he’s very, very absolute about the Jesus diet plan. Basically he says that your present diet is killing you; in fact, he says that unless you get on his diet, you’re already dead.
Jesus says the diet is his body and blood. We all know that’s metaphorical, just as we know when we take communion that the bread we eat isn’t literally Christ’s body and the wine we drink isn’t really Christ’s blood. We even have a pretty good understanding of what these metaphors mean. To be part of Christ’s body is to be part of him—and also part of the church. It’s a symbol of the unity of Christ with us and of us with each other. The blood refers to his sacrifice, how he died to give us life. As he says, he gives his body “for the life of the world.” His blood courses in our veins. His life gives us life. His life was given for the whole world.
His death and resurrection are very physical, but these benefits are spiritual, not physical gifts. The point is that the spiritual in our lives is real. It is as real as the physical—actually, it is more real than the physical and material because it is eternal. It’s what connects us to God, the ultimate reality. As we say in one of our great prayers, it is a lifting of the veil, thin as gossamer, that separates us from the true world.
There are deeper truths than what the world tells us is true, than what world leaders tell us is true, than what our own senses tell us is true. These deeper truths are our true food. These are what our diet ought to be.
These deeper truths challenge our sad assumptions about reality. The world tells us that love is risky, even dangerous. Love allows strangers to control our lives and to take what is rightfully ours, the world tells us. But the spiritual world of Jesus’ body and blood tells us that love is actually the ruling framework of the universe. There’s no other way to understand Jesus’ body and blood than understanding this. Jesus is God giving God’s self freely out of love and without fear that if we take this gift, God will be consumed, minimized or destroyed. Jesus’ death and resurrection, real concrete things in history, are God literally and also symbolically giving God’s self up freely without resentment, suspicion or holding back—without, in short, doing what the world teaches us to do. Not only that, Jesus is showing us that the only way he can truly be himself is to give himself to others—as he says he gives himself for the world–another non-sequitur in the “dog eat dog” diet of our world. In the dog-eat-dog world, giving of yourself is giving in or giving up. But in the world of Christ’s body and blood giving yourself is finding yourself, finding your neighbor, and finding God.
One way to look at our spiritual lives is to see ourselves with two diet choices. One is the “dog-eat-dog” diet of the way the world operates. We’re fed it from our friends, our jobs, our political leaders, even our spiritual leaders. It makes us mean, suspicious, petty, selfish, afraid. It makes us small as our world collapses into itself so that we can only trust a few people and the world looks dark and foreboding.
The other is the “body and blood” diet of Jesus Christ—a diet that calls upon us to find oneness with God and our neighbor, to love to the point of sacrifice, to believe that love is a practical solution to the world’s problems, to seek to serve others rather than to have our own way, that tries to live into Jesus’ incredible ethic—an ethic he not only believed was humanly possible but that he actually lived into when he died—that incredible ethic to “love your enemy.”
The body and blood diet is like any diet. You don’t get all the spiritual health benefits at once. And if you vary from it on a regular basis, you start to lose those spiritual health benefits. But the more you live into it, the easier it gets—the more natural it gets—the more you derive all the spiritual health benefits God wants you to have. And the more the world benefits from the changes this diet makes in you.
As someone who deeply believes in the Gospel and who has tried to love Jesus well ever since I was fourteen years old—as someone who has evangelical roots myself–I am deeply frustrated and pained—in fact furious—at the way that professed Christians have perverted the true diet of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. I am especially frustrated by the lies of Fundamentalism. Fundamentalists claim to believe the Bible. But what they really believe in is a kind of Biblical materialism. They have flipped the message of the Gospel. The Gospel is that in Jesus Christ, God has invaded the material world and has shown us how to live into the values and truths of the Kingdom of God in a world that doesn’t believe that truths like love and self-sacrifice are actually practical or real. But Fundamentalists have turned that dynamic around. They believe the only way the spiritual world can be real is if it is materially manifested. Essentially they’re saying if it’s not material it’s not real.
It makes them unable to read the Bible spiritually but only literally. So evolution must be a lie because the Book of Genesis has to be literally true—which leads to believing you can’t trust science, which leads ultimately to not taking the Covid-19 vaccine, which has led to the resurgence of Covid via the Delta Variant, with 1700 new cases in Tarrant daily and less than 400 ICU beds available across the whole state of Texas.
They take the concept of God’s spiritual kingdom so literally that it has to actually be a literal political reality on earth; so they imagine flawed earthly political parties are really the Kingdom of God. Y’all this is true of democrats and republicans, conservatives and liberals. They take the biblical idea of Satan so literally they imagine that there are literally human beings who are demonic and cannot be loved but only hated and despised.
In the process they pervert the real, spiritual meaning of the Gospel. In a lot of ways our passage from John today is an attack on literalist thinking. In the story, Jesus claims that his followers must eat his Body and Blood and the Jewish leaders take him literally and are confused and offended by the idea. So Jesus says, dudes, this is a metaphor! But it’s meaning is real. Without understanding God’s love, without understanding God’s sacrifice, you are dying a spiritual death.
This is your spiritual food. If you feed upon it, you will, amazingly, start to become one with God through Jesus Christ. You yourself will be loving, forgiving, merciful, just, and self-sacrificing, as Jesus was in his life and on the cross. You yourself will see Christ in neighbor, stranger and enemy; you will know that whatsoever you do for the least of these you have done for Christ. That person may not look at all like Christ, or act like Christ, or be anything at all like Christ—but you don’t take that person materially. You take her spiritually—so you know that she is Christ because that’s what Christ has told us.
In the process, you will become like Christ. You will take on the dimensions of His body and blood. Because we are what we eat. We are what we eat.