Recline and receive: lessons from the Gospel of John

“…when we give ourselves to Him, when we let Him come to us in this imperfect way, He shows His faithfulness to us so that we can start to trust Him more and give Him a little bit more next time.

That is sanctity.”

I’ve been spending the past two days in the Gospel of John, reading the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes (John 6:1-15). There’s a particular set of verses that capture my attention this time:

“Jesus said, ‘Have the people recline.’
Now there was a great deal of grass in that place.
So the men reclined, about five thousand in number.
Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks,
and distributed them to those who were reclining,
and also as much of the fish as they wanted.” John 6:10-11, NAB

I was really struck by the use of the word “recline.” It appears three times in two verses, as if to emphasize the importance of this posture. I was amazed that Jesus asks the people to recline. He didn’t ask them wait. He asked them to recline, to sit and rest and let themselves relax. And why? Because He wanted to feed them. He wanted to take care of them.

I’m uncomfortable with the idea that Jesus wants me to recline. I’m uncomfortable with the idea that He wants to take care of me and that He doesn’t want me to do anything. I’m uncomfortable because I’m used to taking care of things myself. I’ve spent most of my life operating under this idea that I need to take care of myself, do everything on my own, and never need help. And deep down I know that I’ve lived this way because I’m scared that no one else wants to take care of me. I’m scared that if I really let go of my needs and desires and stop trying to find a way to fulfill them myself, that they won’t be met. I’m scared that if I need love, if I really need it, there will be none to be found.

I’m uncomfortable with Jesus’ request because I don’t yet trust that this narrative of being loved and taken care of applies to me.

But here’s the thing: Jesus went out to all the people there and distributed the bread and fish to those who were reclining. It doesn’t say anything about these people all being in a perfect place to receive that gift. Some may have been fidgeting. Some may have been wondering if there was going to be enough for all of them. Some may have been annoyed that it was taking so long. And yet Jesus came to them anyway and offered them as much as they wanted. He offered the miracle to everyone who stayed to receive it, whether they were perfectly ready to or not. And so I know that, even if I’m uncomfortable with this situation, if I’m not ready to fully accept that He will take care of me and that there’s nothing I need to do to bring it about what I desire, as long as I am faithful to stay and rest and wait, He will do what He promises to do.

Is this not the way we receive Him every week in the Holy Eucharist? We do our best to not be in a state of mortal sin. We want to receive Him well. We want to be ready for Him. And yet there are a thousand little places in our hearts that we’ve kept to ourselves, that we haven’t fully surrendered and that we’re scared to give up. Yet He gives Himself to us anyway. He gives Himself to us even though we’re not able to fully give ourselves back. Because the beauty of it all is that when we give ourselves to Him, when we let Him come to us in this imperfect way, He shows His faithfulness to us so that we can start to trust Him more and give Him a little bit more next time.

That is sanctity.

I’m not totally ready to accept that Jesus will take care of me. I have a lot of dreams and a lot of needs and years of looking after myself has made it hard to receive the love He freely offers. I don’t understand how He can possibly love me, that being loved is my baseline and not the result of something that I have done. Like most of us, I’ve spent my life living like love is earned. But there’s a lot of pressure in living like that because if love is earned, then I have to perform. If love is earned then I have to get it right. Because if I don’t, the one need I have, the deepest need of every human heart, will be ripped out from under me.

But if love is given, if being loved is my core identity and the basis of my relationship with my Creator, then suddenly all the pressure is gone. I don’t have to do anything. I don’t have to prove anything. I can just be beloved. This is the hope that this gospel passage promises me.

I’m so tired of living like love is earned. The past three years have been really hard ones for me. I’ve suffered deep emotional distress and bouts of anxiety and panic. I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself to perform, in graduate school, in my church schola, and even in my religious practices. I was living fearfully out of this place of believing that love is earned and I was terrified of getting it wrong. I’m happy to be in a much better and calmer place now. The winds of this storm have died down and I can recognize that I am loved and I can begin to rest in that. The fears and anxieties aren’t all gone. I’m still dealing with self-induced work pressure and self-condemnation in prayer. But now I can recognize that it’s happening and start to recall the truth that I am loved even now. Every moment the Father is looking at me and loving me. There’s nothing I need to do to earn that gaze and nothing I can do to take it away. I don’t believe this perfectly, but it’s better and I’m so happy about that.

So, I’m going to do my best in this season to live deeper in this reality, to let myself recline and let Jesus show me that He will take care of me. It’s hard and uncomfortable and dealing with that brings up a lot of wounds and weaknesses that need to be sorted out. But there’s a lot of peace in trying, in letting go and letting it be okay that I don’t understand and that there’s nothing I need to do.

I am loved. I am okay. It’s not up to me. It never has been.

I pray today that if you struggle with feeling like the world is on your shoulders, like everything is up to you and that love is earned, that you’ll sit with this gospel for a little bit. Can you hear Jesus telling you to rest? Can you hear Him blessing the bread and see Him bringing it up to you? Do you see the look in His eyes as He hands you the Food of Life? It’s okay if you don’t. Take it from His hands anyway.