IX Pentecost, Year B
2 Sm 11:26-12:13a or * Ex 16:2-4,9-5
Ps 51:1-12 * Ps 78:23-29
(2 Samuel 11:26-27)
When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD,
(2 Samuel 12:1-13a)
and the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, "There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him." Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, "As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall
restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity." Nathan said to David, "You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the LORD: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun." David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD."
* (Exodus 16:2-4)
The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, "If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger." Then the LORD said to Moses, "I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.
* (Exodus 16:9-15)
Then Moses said to Aaron, "Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining. ‘" And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. The LORD spoke to Moses and said, "I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’" In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another,
"What is it?" For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, "It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, "When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people." (When it says, "He ascended," what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?" Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal." Then they said to him, "What must we do to perform the works of God?" Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." So they said to him, "What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’" Then Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Furthermore, as far we are concerned, there is scant evidence for Gentile authorship of any New Testament document (Luke-Acts having the best chance); the New Testament is a collection of literature written by Jews for both Jews and non-Jews. This is readily apparent in the letters of Paul or the Gospel of Matthew but has not been quite so visible for scholars with the Fourth Gospel. We have followed those who see in this Gospel a very Jewish hand and thus have little or no need to place the Fourth Gospel into a Hellenistic context.
Some clergy have acquaintance with modern Judaism. The Shoah (the Holocaust) has taught us Christian clergy to be very careful with what we say about Judaism and also how we say it. Unfortunately, clergy tend not to have such a solid understanding of the life and times of ancient Judaism, often utilizing resources that are anti-Semitic. We must, if we are to do ecumenical theology, do theology that not only embraces the heart of the Christian faith but also respectfully acknowledges the place and role of other human religions and faith traditions. This is nowhere more true than Judaism. Christianity is either rooted and grounded in Jewish faith or it is not Christianity at all.
What do we mean? Are we saying that Christians should become Jews? No. We have read Paul’s letter to the Galatians. What we are saying is that Christianity which does not do right by Judaism but sets Judaism apart as a renegade or false religion is itself both renegade and false. It has foresworn the covenant God made with both Abraham and Jesus.
That is to say: The Creator of heaven and earth has a specific people, the Jewish people, with whom God has covenanted and it is through these people, their history and their literature that we can begin to understand our own Christian literature. We must always be mindful of the fact that Jesus was not a Christian, he was a Jew, he thought like a Jew and his teaching is thoroughly Jewish. Anything other than this and we will not be able to preach real peace for we will have scapegoated Jews and Judaism. And as we have been reminded by Karl Barth, “anti-Semitism is the sin against the Holy Spirit.”
This necessary preamble to our reading today reflects our major concern as we read John 6. For in John 6 there is a contrast between the sign that Jesus does with the feeding of the Israelites in the desert when God ‘rained manna from heaven.’ If, at this point we think super-secessionistically as though Christianity replaced Judaism as a way of faith we will have missed a good part of what our author is saying. What hermeneutic then shall we apply?
The New Testament in general and the Fourth Gospel in particular do not reject the faith of the Jewish people. Instead, when comparing the revelation in Jesus Christ with God’s revealing activity in Judaism, there is always implicit (if not explicit) the theme of fulfillment of the promises made by this gracious covenanting God. In Jesus, something has occurred that has been pointed to over and over again in the history and literature of Judaism that we call the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament). This something is a fulfillment, a completion of all God has been trying to say and do. Fulfillment is quite different than replacement. We must say No to Marcion once and for all.
Now let us acknowledge this: The history of Christianity does not lend itself to a positive interpretation. If Christianity is better than Judaism or replaces Judaism, then we must say it has utterly failed in its task for Christian history continues in the same vein as that found in the prophets when the prophets chastised the unrighteous and unruly people and leaders, particularly for their continued participation in victimage on all levels (political, religious, economic, etc). The Church as an institution is replete with sin. If we have not yet learned anything from the 20th century let us learn this: the chasm that exists between Jesus and the life of the Church is substantial. Thus, when we read this text unless we see ourselves from the perspective of the crowds and the disciples we shall not begin to either understand or experience the reality of the text. Unless and until we Christians acknowledge we are indeed those who prefer ‘other bread’ than that given in Jesus we cannot take the first step and follow Jesus. We are not invited to come at this text from Jesus’ perspective, from the viewpoint of revelation. We are those who clamor for miracles and proofs that are ultimately self-serving. Or as we might say in terms of mimetic theory, we must interpret our text ‘from below’, from the perspective of those who do not get it. Only then will we have earned the right to see Jesus’ perspective. And after all, isn’t this the theology of the cross we have seen over and over again in the Fourth Gospel?
The author of the Fourth Gospel has reflected on a piece of haggadic tradition complete with texts which are exegeted. This tradition has its place in teaching and preaching in the synagogues. Rabbi’s shared a common tradition much like preachers today might use websites like textweek.com. The author of the Fourth Gospel has chosen to reflect on that tradition in the light of Jesus feeding of the 5,000.
Breaking up this contiguous Johannine homily over four weeks makes it difficult to make any Historical remarks other than to ask the reader to read both Borgen and Dodd (Historical Tradition). The real rub of the narrative comes next week and the temptation for clergy this week will be to prove christological superiority over Mosaic tradition. If we follow the lectionary, we might find ourselves hermeneutically inclined to discern what ‘the bread’ is. Or we might focus on the incomprehension of the disciples and the modern church. Or we might just find ourselves asking what kind of a God is it that feeds his people as they wander together in the wilderness? What kind of God is revealed in Jesus? “The one who does not have the Son does not have the Creator abba.”
As we noted last week, we do not feel compelled to engage in any source or redaction analysis. Peder Borgen has persuaded us that the homily found in John 6:25-59 is a whole unit. Therefore we will treat it as such, only breaking off our remarks as we stick with the lectionary. (Sadly, the lectionary does not utilize verses 36-40, but we encourage preachers to include them.)
One of the merits of Borgen’s thesis is that he is able to demonstrate that in the Philonic and Palestinian midrashim, the manna tradition is to be connected with the heavenly wisdom (sophia). Thus it should not surprise us to find the same thing occurring in the Fourth Gospel. This ‘wisdom’ is simply personified in the character of Jesus. We recall that the Moses/Torah tradition in Judaism found a home in the wisdom tradition of Judaism (Proverbs 8, Wisdom of Solomon). There, Torah is equated with Sophia who comes among the Jewish people to dwell with them and to teach them. The author of the Fourth Gospel is simply asserting that this Wisdom has found personal expression in Jesus.
The personal character of wisdom is crucial for understanding the Fourth Gospel’s frame of reference. It says that in this human being, life is lived as God would live life if God were present. It acknowledges that the Rabbi from Nazareth was saying something about the character of the Covenant Creator that can be found in the stream of a prophetic reading of the Hebrew Scriptures. It asserts furthermore that we too can become ‘persons’ only as we are in a positive relationship to this wisdom, to Jesus. The Fourth Gospel develops what Girard would call ‘inter-dividuality.’ It can be seen most clearly in that the disciples relationship to Jesus and thus to God are of the same structure as his is to the heavenly ‘abba.’ There is no distinction, and here it is the mimesis of love which rules.
Because Jesus is our Peace (2.14), we who pray together are to live peaceably with each other (4.3). This peace comes not from victimizing or sacralizing a scapegoat, that is the way of the world; rather our peace comes through the recognition that God has broken the back of this mechanism, it no longer has any authority in our lives (1.19-22, 2.14-16). In both the cross (2.14-16) and in the resurrection (1.19-22), God’s work in Christ is reconciliatory; Salvation is both theological (1.7) and sociological (2.14); there is no salvation expressed as ‘getting to heaven.’ It is all about transforming the way we relate to each other.
It is the grandeur of the love of God (3.14-21) that becomes the basis for the apostolic urging: that this love be expressed, not as envy, rivalry or violence, but as humility, gentleness and patience (4.2). Mimesis grounded in jealous desire is replaced in the new life (as imitators of Jesus) with a transformed desire that seeks the benefit of the other. The new unity is to be found ‘of the Spirit’, it is the unity created by the Spirit (and so we sing ‘Veni Creator Spiritus’). This unity has as one of its manifestations a confession that begins as ecclesiology and moves to theology; from ‘one body and Spirit’ to ‘one God and Father over all.’ This ‘all’ is not exclusive but inclusive, that is, it refers to the ‘all’ of 2.11-22.
There follows from this confession that Christ has both descended and ascended and in so doing has given certain gifts to the church. If this descent/ascent is similar to the ‘U’ pattern found in other Christological formula (e,g, Phil 2:5-11), we might think of incarnation – ascension, although some have wanted to see here a reference to the descensus ad infernos. There seems to be no reason though, to see some kind of Christus Victor theory of the atonement here. Even the κατωτερα of verse 9 need not imply ‘regions’ below the earth but refers to the earth as an antonym of heaven.
Christ’s descent and ascent are then ways of speaking of how he ‘fills the whole universe.’ There is nothing left out of his lordship (cf. 1.21-22). As Lord of the Universe, he provides certain types of human leaders (εδωκεν) for the purpose of getting the church ready (προσ τον καταρισμον) for works of service, that is, the church is prepared to serve the whole of humanity. The church’s existence is diakonal, not authoritarian, and thus the gifts given (apostles, prophets, etc) should not be seen as hierarchical offices as much as roles played by household servants. All of this is to assist the church in ‘growing up.’
The two-fold marks of the mature church are 1) unity in the faith and 2) the knowledge of Jesus. There can be no unity of Christian faith apart from an explicit knowledge of Jesus. This knowledge is not simply privy information (γνωσισ) but enfleshed, experiential awareness (επιγνωσεωσ); Jesus is more than Christological doctrine, as Lord of the universe, he is heard and obeyed in the body of which He is the head.
All of this is another way of speaking about human community that is grounded in something other than the retributive spiral of violence we call scapegoating. It recognizes that our role as church is not to be self-serving, but to serve the world (‘works of service’ 4.12). But we accomplish this when we first acknowledge that Jesus is the center around which all of our thinking and doing revolves (we recall the Christological focus here of 1:3-14). Any other focus and the church loses its identity, purpose and mission.
The point is that we would ‘no longer be tossed about as infants’, back and forth with every new theological fad that comes on the scene. And this is exactly what we are experiencing today. Every book that touts the ‘secret’ of the Christian life, or the ‘new evidence’ of Jesus’ long lost childhood years, or the latest integration of theology with some social philosophy throws preaching into a tizzy. Our world today is a lot like that of the apostolic period with many hundreds of mystery religions, gods and goddesses, and multiple variations of both Christianity and Judaism not to mention Empire and civil religion. Who can know the truth in these times? Who has the audacity to stand up for just Jesus?
Finally, whatever we do, it is to nurture and develop our relationships in a holistic manner in love.
No significant issues today.
Christianity can be looked at through two lenses, the ideal and the real. It is possible to look at church history and see nothing but trouble. It is also possible to see the positive impact that the church has had and continues to have all over the world. We would be remiss if we did not have this double lens, for looking at the church only through one lens or the other gives a distorted picture at the way God, through the Spirit, in the Lordship of Jesus, has been incarnating God’s life in bodies of believers throughout the last two millennia.
Our text today is both an encouragement and a call for repentance. It is a call to repent for we have often experienced church to be a place of exclusion, hierarchy and pain. It is an encouragement when we recognize that, as the body of Jesus in the world today, we can and may live in such a way as to manifest His life in our midst.