Year B, Pentecost 11
August 12th, 2012
By Thomas L. Truby
John 6:35, 41-51
Could It Be Forgiveness Is The Bread of Heaven!
The locals in Capernaum complained about Jesus because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” Who did he think he was claiming that he was “the bread of heaven,” whatever that means? Did he think he was manna like God provided a thousand years before when the Hebrew tribe migrated through the Sinai dessert?
Besides, they knew where he came from. They knew his father and his mother. He came from broken-down Nazareth, an impoverished hill-town, twenty miles southwest of Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee. Compared with Nazareth, Capernaum was quite prosperous and on the interstate that connected the east with Egypt. When Jesus made his headquarters in Capernaum he was moving up. Now he says he’s “the bread that came down from heaven”.
Knowing where he came from they assume they know him. That makes sense. Ordinarily people are formed by their parents and the environment from which they come. We often say “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” But is that true with Jesus? This apple claims to be coming from a different tree entirely; in fact, he claims to be coming from heaven.
“Come down from Heaven” points toward the system of relationships that formed Jesus. All of us are formed by our network of relationships. We are the symptom of our relating. But Jesus is not coming from Nazareth or Capernaum. They didn’t form him. He is coming from a different place. He was formed by a different matrix and this formation makes him “bread that came down from heaven.”
Jesus heard them complaining and said, ‘Do not complain among yourselves.’” Why not? Is he just against complaining? Yes, but there is a deeper layer. When they complain, they falsely bond with each other by being against an outsider. Jesus tells them to stop forming friendship by “dissing” an outsider. This is the social form of the same thing acted out at the crucifixion when everyone found unity in condemning Jesus. Rivalry with each other is the truth no one wants to admit. If they weren’t rivals they wouldn’t need to “diss” Jesus (diss is a slang expression and short form for disrespect). Ironically, the different place that Jesus came from is a place without rivalry.
Let me pose a question. In Heaven is it possible to envy another? Is it possible to have a rival there? Instinctively we say, no. Rivalry can’t exist there. Heaven is a place without jealousy, rivalry, envy and resulting violence? Maybe this is what makes heaven, heaven! How would bread come down from this place be different?
Growing up I was envious of my sister. She was three and a half years younger than me and school came very easy for her. She was valedictorian of her class and never stayed up late studying. She learned Spanish from my dad while milking the cows after quizzing him on the somewhat limited vocabulary he could remember from his high school days in California. Mary remembered all the grammar rules and spelled instinctively. It wasn’t fair!
Jesus said “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.” I think he is saying you can’t come to God if you are rivalrous. Rivalry is driven by an attempt to grasp and hold what another has or you think they have. Things driven from this direction can’t work when you want to draw close to our non-rivalrous God. No, you have to be drawnby the Father who sent Jesus.
I can’t do that! I am rivalrous to the core. I am sixty-five years old and I am still aware of rivalry with my sister. What draw could be powerful enough to overcome my rivalry?
Maybe the answer is found in the final verse of our gospel reading. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The bread that came down from heaven turns out to be Jesus’ flesh! It’s the bread we share when we take communion. Our rivalry with each other and God causes us to break Jesus’ body and Jesus allows it. He wants us to see what our rivalry does to us and the whole world. And then, in an act beyond our comprehension, God takes Jesus’ broken body; broken by us, and gives it to us as forgiveness! The bread that came down from heaven is the bread of human forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is the one power strong enough to overcome our rivalry and the rivalry rampant in the human species!
In view this I want to share portions of this week’s correspondence with my sister, the one with whom I was in rivalry in childhood (It may have been one way. I am not saying she was in rivalry with me). In recent years we have hardly communicated.
I am sending you a birthday greeting. Hope this address is current. It pops into my head that the date is August 9th. Do I have that right? Laura has it written down but she is away for the day and I want to do this now.
I hope you don’t mind my sending you my sermons. If you don’t want to read them just let me know or delete them. I send them because I find my life being changed and it is quite exciting to me. I no longer suffer from depression and find myself feeling like a young man. Somehow coming out here to Oregon was very important to me and at roughly the same time I discover a new way of understanding everything that appears to me to be fully inline with Jesus’ message. For me, it combines some of the best elements of my evangelical past with some of the latest and deepest findings in science. Classical literature also has a place and so my world feels cohesive to me and I believe I have a way of interpreting the news. A few others are also seeing these things with me and getting excited. The sermons are raw reflections on the scripture as I encounter them. The difference is I have the interpretive lens of the cross and resurrection as the prism through which I view all scripture. This, it seems to me, is quite orthodox.
Mom and dad read the sermons with interest, find them nurturing to their faith I think, but then say the overall themes are to deep for them. I think they are being modest.
I often think of you and Eddie in Montana. Our parents say you are very happy there and I am happy that you are.
Happy Birthday and God’s Peace,
Three days later…I was becoming afraid she would not respond, Mary wrote:
Thank you so much for the birthday greeting! And the 9th is the date. It means a lot that you took time to remember me in this way. I am always delighted to hear from you, big brother.
I read and save all your sermon messages in a file (“Tom’s Sermons”) on my computer. I can see why the depression is being held at bay. After a lifetime of being faithful in reading, studying, and meditating on the Word, the Lord is giving you fresh insight and showing you things you never really delved into before, right? What an experience! I’m so pleased and excited that this is happening for you. I am amazed at the creativity and thoroughness of your insights into Jesus’ story. Please keep sending them and I will continue to read them with great interest.
Eddie and I are having a wonderful time here… (She briefly describes their life in Montana and then goes on):
Eddie and I are always plotting how we can get out that way to see you in your setting and see where Eddie finished his semenary work in San Francisco (She spelled seminary wrong — I notice an evil glee in my heart and immediately confess it), but this year we had to cut down a huge cottonwood next to our house instead. (Talk about a no-win situation! It cost tons of money, and we lost the shade on our house in the hottest summer on record.) So maybe next year.
Thank you again for your thoughtful note.
Immediately I wrote back:
Mary, thank you for responding! Your response heartens me and that you read my sermons and even save them gladdens my heart. I was afraid I had gone too far afield for you and that you wanted nothing to do with me or my thinking. My trust is rather tenuous, I suppose.
I also know I was often mean as a boy, in fact, I think I will talk about that next Sunday in my children’s sermon. You must have forgiven me. Thank you!
On Sunday I will also acknowledge (confess) that I was jealous of you as I suspect many siblings are of each other–either envious or proudly contemptuous. You were so academically gifted and learning seemed so easy for you. Envy, rivalry, jealousy, resentment, and there expression in violence has become the anthropological center of my understanding of sin. We are gradually drawn out of it, I believe, when we model ourselves after Jesus who was the only one not in rivalry with anyone or his father, whom he referred to as his “Abba”.
My life is also very full and so is Laura’s. (I give a brief snapshot of our life in its fullness and then go on): I am sorry that tree had to be cut down so that we are deprived of your visit and you are deprived of your shade. We have cozy space here and would love to see you, talk and show you around.
Again, I am so grateful you wrote me and your letter communicated your love. Thank you!
Could it be Forgiveness is the Bread from Heaven?