VIII Pentecost, Year B

Main Text

Gospel Anthropological Reading
Gospel Historical/Cultural Questions
Gospel So What?

Epistle Anthropological Reading
Epistle Historical/Cultural Questions
Epistle So What?

Main Text

2 Sm 11:1-15 or * 2 Kgs 4:42-44
Ps 14 * Ps 145:10-18

Eph 3:14-21
Jn 6:1-21

(2 Samuel 11:1-15)
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, "This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite." So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, "I am pregnant." So David sent word to Joab, "Send me Uriah the Hittite." And Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, "Go down to your house, and wash your feet." Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. When they told David, "Uriah did not go down to his house," David said to Uriah, "You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?" Uriah said to David, "The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing." Then David said to Uriah, "Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back." So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house. In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, "Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die."

* (2 Kings 4:42-44)
A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, "Give it to the people and let them eat." But his servant said, "How can I set this before a hundred people?" So he repeated, "Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the LORD, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’" He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the LORD.

(Ephesians 3:14-21)
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

(John 6:1-21)
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, "Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?" Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world." When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

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Gospel Anthropological Reading

For the next five Sundays we will be occupied with John 6. We wished we had time to comment concurrently on the Ephesians text that runs alongside in the liturgy. Alas! Nevertheless, the Johannine text is rich in both meaning and significance for the church today, not the least, in its understanding of the relations that exist between the politics of God and what Robert Kysar calls the ‘separated community.’ (Stumbling in the Light).

Mimetic theory will help us as we discern the pattern of thinking that is occurring in our text. We will note in the following weeks several important elements in the politics of God. In the Historical/Cultural section for today we will explore juxtaposing the theses of C.H. Dodd and Peder Borgen regarding our text. The larger question of sacraments will occupy us later, and we will find sacramental meaning enlarged by juxtaposing the theory of Girard with creation-spirituality. Cullmann’s thesis regarding the sacramentality of the Fourth Gospel (also endorsed by C.F.D. Moule) will offer another window into reframing eucharistic meaning and therefore practice. Breaking bread is far more than we think or imagine in the language games that are played in theology. We will see that celebrating the eucharist is the most destabilizing influence in ‘the world.’

John 6 evokes a theology of the cross through and through. From the crowd’s reaction to the miracle to ‘eucharistic allusions’ of flesh and blood, the entire narrative is suffused with the violence of the cross. It is not too much to say that ‘the gospels are passion narratives with extended introductions.’ The Passion runs through the entire life of Jesus. The crowds would place Jesus in mimetic competition with Herod. Even though Jesus refuses their desire by going alone into the wilderness (behavior consonant with a prophet), he has now come to the attention of one who has no problem slaying the prophets of Israel (as Mark observes). The common people had cast Jesus into a role in which he wanted no part, namely, warrior-king.

We do ourselves a disservice when we do not consciously ask this particular question: How seriously did Jesus take his commitment to non-violence? If, as we have sought to show this Year B, there is a direct relationship between Jesus experience of the Creator as his ‘abba’, his teaching on non-retaliation and active non-resistance, and his own actions and responses, then it can be appreciated that for Jesus, doing the Creator’s will means that the Creator is non-retaliatory, and hence, forgiving. This systematic theological conclusion cannot be avoided. And isn’t this the gospel anyway?

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Gospel Historical/Cultural Questions

Unlike the Markan text, the Johannine text is very explicit concerning the political reality behind our narrative. However, like Mark, John 6 shares a larger pattern of thought, a similar structure which would seem to indicate that the juxtaposition of the stories in our lesson today is in probability, historical (C.H. Dodd: Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel). Having said this it is absolutely incredible that after witnessing such a display of power, the disciples are basically still clueless and the multitudes have got it all wrong. What should we say for ourselves today?

John 6 has given rise to many theories. Displacement theories argue that the chronology of John 5 and 6 should be reversed and that John 6 originally came before John 5. Source theories argue for several sources and a plurality of editors (e.g., Bultmann). As we have been exploring the Fourth Gospel, we have seen the value of reading this document through Jewish eyes. John 6 is no exception. One does not need to read this chapter as though it was Platonically oriented. This does not mean that our author was not clever enough to use language and terminology that resonated both within and without the synagogue. He or she certainly was capable of this, as we have also seen. Peder Borgen (Bread From Heaven) in the early 1980’s articulated a thesis that has stood the test of time and vitiates the need to speak of John 6 in the context of alleged sources, editors or displacements. Borgen is able to demonstrate a specific homiletic pattern that occurs in Philo, some Palestinian midrashim and John 6. The similarity of structure and form are obviously apparent as well as the use of biblical texts, commentary style and subject matter. We are dealing here with a very Jewish thought process.

Now it might be objected that we are going to argue that the discourse of John 6 comes from the historical Jesus (sic). This is not the case. The author of the Fourth Gospel did not know a historical Jesus, he or she only knew that Jesus had not been there for three days and after that he was there again. Our tradition is from an eye-witness, remember. Now, if Borgen is correct, then this means that our author was also familiar with the way in which the story of the feeding in the wilderness has a common tradition of commentary. This would indicate that our author was not afraid to think through this momentous time in Jesus’ ministry, the only demonstrable turning point in his ministry. And that which initiates the connection is the manna/wisdom tradition. This entire narrative unit has, as Dodd has shown, a remarkably similar structure to that found in Mark 6 and 8. Thus it is highly probable that while the discourse is more than likely Johannine, the narrative sequence of events provides a viable context in which to place both the Markan as well as Johannine understandings. And once again, just as in Mark 6 so in John 6 there runs blood. The politics of mimesis have been engaged, the (perceived) rivalry is on and there is only one outcome. Neither fight nor flight are options. It’s a no-brainer, the Son of Man is going to suffer. The masses have got it all wrong and the disciples are barely cognizant. It’s the critical turning point in Jesus ministry.

And this turning point is a shift away from the masses and to the disciples as a group. It will also channel Jesus into the stream of the suffering servant, it is at this point in the ministry that the disciples are told that ‘the Son of Man must suffer many things..’

So what occasioned this crisis, this crucial turning point? Why was this sequence of events remembered? Of all the events in Jesus’ ministry, why do we see confluence at this point? Perhaps John 6 is more significant than that. Perhaps one could argue that the entire Gospel is structured in a giant interlocking chiasmus and at the center of that great chiasm stands John 6 (Peter F. Ellis). In short, this Johannine community homily, reflects both the historical significance of these events and sequences as well as the continued developing relationship that this author has with one and the same Jesus only now Jesus known through the Spirit. If such is the case, then it is proper to read this text on both of the levels that J.L. Martyn spelled out for us, the historical and the contemporary Johannine perspective. In fact, we would expect to find both woven together throughout this Gospel like a fine fabric and we do. “Did Jesus say this (John 6:25-70) or did the author make it up?” is a false question for it separates the earthly Jesus from his risen Spirit-self.

Furthermore, as we shall see, the reading gains when this text is read through the lens of the notion of agency found in Jewish law, not through some amplified Platonic scheme. If our author does anything brilliantly, he is able to completely deconstruct both Judaism and Hellenism in one stroke and lay to rest the dualism of apocalyptic and covenantal exclusivity as well as that dualism nurtured in Oriental and later Mediterranean cultures generated by the mechanism of sacred violence. Girard has shown this is the case for the ‘Logos,’ we believe that it is also the case for much of the author’s ‘apparently limited vocabulary.’ No matter how you slice or dice the gospels they will always point you to the cross, to the place of violence.

Historical, exegetical, hermeneutical, christological and ‘sacramental’ understandings are woven into a common pattern. Those who insist on separating the garment into this or that patch or source or redaction must first of all falsify Borgen’s thesis. If that cannot be done, then it is possible to see the author’s connections in how he uses a theme and a tradition, and has more historical credibility that putative authors, redactors and sources.

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Gospel So What?

If Jesus and the gospels give us a critical hermeneutic, it is this: the Creator is not like all the other gods. The Creator is beneficent and kind, merciful and compassionate, long-suffering and full of joy. The Creator is neither vindictive nor retaliatory. This is the singular theological presupposition that begins the differentiation of Jesus experience and understanding of the Creator. This is the point of the cross. This is the point of the resurrection. Life is just an endless stream of opportunities to ‘repent and believe.’ Back to top

Epistle Anthropological Reading

“What the world needs now, is love, sweet love.” – Jackie DeShannon

“All you need is love” – The Beatles

“People can you feel it, love is everywhere.” – Allman Bros.

“Love is a many splendored thing.” – The Four Aces

Remember the 60’s? A fair of number of readers do and they remember that talk of love was in the air. So where has this love gone? I think it is no coincidence that not only was talk of love in the air but the roots of the Jesus movement can be found here as well. Whenever the church has turned to Jesus, it has begun to express itself as a community of love.

Our text today is a clarion call to our contemporary Christianity to stop, not to smell the roses, but to pray. An essential aspect of positive mimesis, from a gospel perspective, is prayer. What is it we are to pray for? The salvation of sinners? To become healthy and wealthy? For the President and the military? For peace and justice? All of these might be worthy causes but they are not our preoccupation in prayer. Our focus, our orientation, our priority is the love of God in Christ. It is only by dwelling on this wonderful and revealed mystery that we, as church today, can ever hope to find the strength to do the work of the ministry.

The writer (perhaps Paul, perhaps not), does not ask the ‘Ephesian’ (the word is most likely inauthentic according to the manuscript tradition at 1.1) church to come and protest for his release, nor does he ask them to bring a covert operation to free him. Instead he encourages them not to be discouraged because of his imprisonment; they are not to become weary with the situation. It is precisely his suffering which motivates the author to seek the face of the God who:

  • Has blessed us in the heavenly places 1.3
  • Chosen us in Jesus 1.4
  • Predestined us in love 1.5
  • Adopted us as children 1.5
  • Gives the Spirit 1.17
  • Raised Jesus from the dead 1.19-20
  • Placed everything under Jesus feet 1.22
  • Rich in mercy, made us alive 2.6
  • Shows incomparable riches of grace 2.7
  • Is accessible 2.18
  • Dwells among the faithful 2.22
  • Called and revealed the gospel to Paul 3.3
  • Created all things 3.9
  • Intends to make known Wisdom through the church 3.10
  • Can be approached in freedom and with confidence 3.12

This is the kind of God to whom Paul prays. It makes a difference how you view God; if you have a Janus-faced god you can never really know where you stand. But the God and Father of Jesus, rich in mercy and forgiveness, is easily accessible (and modeled 5.1!).

‘Paul’s’ second prayer is like his first (1.15-19) in that both are oriented to hermeneutics, that is, Paul is asking God to help the Ephesian church see the extent of grace, mercy, and love. This is especially the case in 3.18 where the multi-dimensionality of this love is expressed, ‘wide, long, high and deep.’ These adjectives are not just rhetorical but point to the lack of limitations when it comes to God’s love for us in Jesus. The mimesis that will be enjoined in chapters 4-6 is grounded in the theological model of God found in chapters 1-3. In other words, the ethics of 4-6 cannot be separated from the theology of 1-3.

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Epistle Historical/Cultural Questions

Verse 19 has an interesting textual question: Are we to be filled with the ‘fulness of Christ’ or the fullness of God’ and is it the person (sing.) or the group/church (pl.) that is filled? All four readings occur

  1. ‘that you (pl) may be filled with the fullness of God’
  2. ‘that you (pl) may be filled with the fullness of Christ’
  3. ‘that you (sing) may be filled with the fullness of God’
  4. ‘that all of the fullness of God may fill you (pl)’

The first reading has the majority of the manuscript tradition, the second one significant manuscript and the last one manuscript; it is the third reading that is interesting (p46, B, copsa). While I tend to go with the editors of the UBS text and prefer the first reading, nevertheless, the second reading could have made its way into the manuscript tradition in ascetic localities (as found in Egypt). In other words, the church gathered as community (the body of Christ) is filled with God, later as the ‘corruption of the church set in, that filling shifted to the individual.

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Epistle So What?

At the church I attend I estimate that of a service usually 75 minutes long, prayer takes up about 5 minutes (the rest includes announcements, singing, responsive reading, and a sermon). The prayers are usually pretty generic and usually are about people in need. Is it possible that one of the reasons that American Christianity has lost its vitality is that it no longer prays and when it does pray, it prays to a God that is not rich in mercy?

If as some say (notably our Eastern Orthodox friends) that worship is theology and theology is worship, might it not also be the case that we have lost our theological way because we have also lost our liturgical way? Could we survive any relationship where we talked once a week and then that was usually asking for the car keys or when dinner was to be served?

We, who so desperately seek to be loved, will we ever really find it in our technological world? Or perhaps, should we spend more time learning about the God of Jesus as we spend time with God together?

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