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8 after Trinity, Year B, Proper 14, Track 1, 10.8.03, St Mark’s
2 Sam 18.5-9, 15, 31-33: Joab kills Absalom; David weeps
Ps 130: Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord
Ephesians 4.25-5.2: love ethics; "be imitators of God, as beloved children"
John 6.35, 41-51: I am the bread of life: (Wisdom image)
Collect: Sanctify & govern our hearts & bodies in ways of your laws...
Post Communion: "Strengthen for service, Lord, ...(869-88=781)
Summary: In word and sacrament we feed on Christ in order that we may show forth Christ.
This morning’s gospel is from the sixth chapter of the gospel according to St John. In it Jesus says, "I am the living bread".
The Fourth Gospel differs from the three Synoptics, Mark, Matthew and Luke, not simply in style of language but also in its approach to the question of how is one to witness to Jesus.
Let me explain what I mean by telling you something that occurred to me a number of times during the years that I was teaching and doing research on the gospels. When working on Mark or Matthew or Luke, frequently I would detect what I took to be a significant pattern in the gospel at hand. It might have to do with how the evangelist was building up to what I took to be a major element of witness to Jesus through his use of vocabulary and/or how he structured his narrative.
I’ll give you an example of what I mean; it is one that I have mentioned before, namely, Mark’s repeated use of the verb, didaskein, meaning "to teach" and the noun, didaké, meaning "teaching". But when you look to see what these refer to, the only thing in Mark that Jesus is ever explicitly said to teach is the necessity of going in the way of the cross.
Now very often when I thought I had detected an extended narrative structure in one of the first three gospels, and had finally figured out what I thought it meant, quite often I could sum it up with one verse from John.
In the other three gospels Jesus is presented as talking a lot about the Kingdom, but not very much about himself as such, other than his impending denouement in Jerusalem that ultimately leads to the cross. But in the Fourth Gospel, although we have the coming hour when he is to be lifted up in the cross, we also have a series of self-predications that begin with the words "I am". We have one of these this morning: "I am the bread of life."
When I was preparing materials on the background to the "I am" sayings for my students, it became apparent that a number of the images are ones that the Jews applied to the figure of Wisdom, which they took to be represented by the Torah.
This is true of "I am the bread of life" here in chapter 6, "I am the light of the world" in chapter 8, "I am the way, the truth and the life" in chapter 14, and "I am the vine" in chapter 15.
Other "I am" statements in John include Jesus speaking of himself as the "door" or sheepgate, the "good shepherd", and "the resurrection and the life".
When we look at all the "I am" statements in John and the way that they are used, I can do no better than repeat the summary of Father Raymond Brown from his excellent commentary on the Fourth Gospel. He says that when we look at the "I am" statements we can see that they are not basically defining Jesus in himself, but rather they are a description of what he is in relation to all who would be his disciples, and that includes us.
The Fourth evangelist is proclaiming that Jesus in his mission as the "vine", the "life" and the "resurrection" is the source of eternal life for mankind.
As the "way" and the "gate" he is the means through which we find life.
As the "good shepherd" he leads us to life.
As the "truth" he reveals that truth in which he nourishes us as the "bread of life".
The Jews were known in the ancient world as "The People of the Book". Our equivalent as Christians is that we are the people of Jesus, and the more deeply that we immerse ourselves in the witness of the Gospels to Jesus, the more clearly we shall be able to see where he would lead us in the complexities of today’s world.
Today’s gospel can be read as though it were simply referring to the eucharistic bread of which we are about to partake, but it is of much greater significance than just that. In a very real sense, it is akin to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians when talking of the Lord’s Supper about discerning the Body in the eucharistic fellowship, for in word and sacrament we feed on Christ in order that we may show forth Christ.
In the words of the Letter to the Hebrews, let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12.1-2).