Proper 13, Year B   Leave a comment

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The Bread of Life and the “Ick Factor”

The Sunday Closest to August 3

Tenth Sunday After Pentecost

AUGUST 2, 2015

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FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #1

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a (New Revised Standard Version):

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, 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.

Psalm 51:1-13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;

in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

2 Wash me through and through from my wickedness

and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,

and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against you only have I sinned

and done what is evil in your sight.

5 And so you are justified when you speak

and upright in your judgment.

Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth,

a sinner from my mother’s womb.

7 For behold, you look for truth deep within me,

and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;

wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

Make me hear of joy and gladness,

that the body you have broken may rejoice.

10 Hide your face from my sins

and blot out all my iniquities.

11 Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

12 Cast me not away from your presence

and take not your holy Spirit from me.

13 Give me the joy of your saving help again

and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.

FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #2

Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 (New Revised Standard Version):

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.

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.

Psalm 78:23-29 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

23 So he commanded the clouds above

and opened the doors of heaven.

24 He rained down manna upon them to eat

and gave them grain from heaven.

25 So mortals ate the bread of angels;

he provided for them food enough.

26 He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens

and led out the south wind by his might.

27 He rained down flesh upon them like dust

and winged birds like the sand of the sea.

28 He let it fall in the midst of their camp

and round about their dwellings.

29 So they ate and were well filled,

for he gave them what they craved.

SECOND READING

Ephesians 4:1-16 (New Revised Standard Version):

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 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 from 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.

GOSPEL READING

John 6:24-35 (New Revised Standard Version):

The next day, when the people who remained after the feeding of the five thousand 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.

The Collect:

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Proper 13, Year A:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/14/proper-13-year-a/

Proper 13, Year B:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/01/proper-13-year-b/

2 Samuel 11 and 12:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/06/13/week-of-3-epiphany-saturday-year-2/

Exodus 16:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/week-of-proper-11-wednesday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/proper-20-year-a/

John 6:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/sixteenth-day-of-easter/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/seventeenth-day-of-easter/

Humbly I Adore Thee, Verity Unseen:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/04/14/humbly-i-adore-thee-verity-unseen/

Break Thou the Bread of Life:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/29/break-thou-the-bread-of-life/

I Come with Joy to Meet My Lord:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/01/23/i-come-with-joy-to-meet-my-lord/

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There is an obvious link between the Exodus and the John readings.  The Israelites, needing food in the desert, received from God a sufficient amount of manna and quail.  Many people have wondered what manna was, in a scientific sense.  It was probably the crystalized excrement of scale insects and plant lice who had injested the sap of tamarisk trees.  (The Jewish Study Bible, page 140)  There is an “ick” factor to it.

There is also an “ick” factor to Jesus as the bread of life.  John 6, to Jewish sensibilities of the time, contained objectionable material, for consuming a person’s flesh and blood was (and is, in most cultures) taboo.  This being the Gospel of John, there is a highly symbolic layer to the text, but the text is not entirely figurative.  There is manna symbolism, indicating that God is the source of this bread of life.  Yet the manna was, as Father Raymond E. Brown wrote in hisAnchor Bible commentary on the Johannine Gospel,

a foreshadowing of the real bread from heaven, which is Jesus own teaching.  (Volume 1, page 266)

So this bread of life is spiritual sustenance.  And Jesus himself, God incarnate, the living embodiment of these teachings, identifies himself as the bread of life in verse 35.  If one reads verses 51-58, one reads a text which identifies the flesh of our Lord as the bread of heaven itself.  Yet, as Father Brown documents in great detail, there has been disagreement about the precise meaning of “bread of life” in Christian tradition since the Patristic Era.  (Volume 1, page 272)  Should one focus more on the physicality of Jesus (as in the Eucharist) or on his teachings?  Or should one consider both equally?

I favor the latter option.  There is much playing out in the Greek text of John 6.  There are Passover and manna references, allusions to different types of bread of life, and a host (pardon the pun) of other details which brilliant scholars have poured over with excruciating attention.  The text is, simply put, subtle and rich in meaning, capable of meaning more than one thing simultaneously.  Being more of a “both and,” rather than an “either or” person much of the time, I ask,

Why not focus on both Jesus (as present in the bread and wine of Eucharist) and his teachings?

One misses a critical element in the absence of the other.

Jesus–the historical human being–was a great moral teacher.  He was more than that, of course, but he was that.  His teachings remain pertinent today.  It is also true that I encounter the Christ of my faith every time I take communion, which I consider to be the transubstantiated body and blood of Jesus.  As a Eucharistic Minister in The Episcopal Church, I hold a chalice containing consecrated wine.  I say,

The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation,

to those who come forward.  I mean it literally.  If I am what I eat and drink, may I become more like Jesus through the Eucharist.  And may you, O reader, do the same.

KRT

Published originally in a nearly identical form at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on October 1, 2011

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Posted October 1, 2011 by neatnik2009 in August, Revised Common Lectionary Year B

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