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Proper 14, Yr B, Tr 2 (Trinity 9), 9.8.09, St Mark’s
1 Kings 19.4-8: Elijah fed on Mount Horeb
Ps 34.1-8: Taste and see that the Lord is good; trust in him
Ephesians 4.25-5.2: Put away lying, anger, stealing, evil talk; live in love as Christ loved us and  ....
John 6.35, 41-51: Bread of life, living manna  (1250)

Gracious Father,
revive your Church in our day,
and make her holy, strong and faithful,
for your glory’s sake
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

(Christ is our food for the road of life.)

            From Psalm 34: ‘Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.’

          Shades of “Oliver”!  Food, glorious food.  This might be said to be the theme of our passages from 1 Kings, Psalm 34, and the Gospel of John.  Without nourishment we die.  One way or another, the theme of food, eating and nourishment is mentioned hundreds of times in the scriptures of the Old Testament.  As you might expect, it is often a metaphorical use, as when Jeremiah is told to eat the scroll of God’s words which he is then to speak out to the people.  What kind of food will make us flourish as Christians?

          “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God “ (Deut 8.3).  This is a passage from Deuteronomy, quoted by Jesus in Matthew’s version of the temptation narrative.  In the story of Satan tempting Jesus, each time Jesus replies with a passage from Deuteronomy.  Why, you may ask?  And the simple answer is that for Jews the Torah itself is the best defence against temptation.

          And so, I repeat, what will nourish us and make us flourish in our calling as Christians, that is, as disciples of Jesus?  The simple answer is that we must know about Jesus, for, in the words of today’s Gospel, Jesus is presented as saying, “I am the bread of life.”          

          So what do we know about Jesus and how do we know it?  Only what the writings within the NT tell us.  Each author wrote from his own perspective and understanding.  For example, it was a recognized practice of historians of this period to put speeches into the mouths of their characters, phrased in terms that might well have been appropriate in the circumstances.  So, at the least there might be a bit, or more than a bit, of poetic license in some of the materials presented as coming from Jesus.  This is most obvious in the case of the Gospel of John, where the whole tenor of the gospel is quite different from the other three gospels in the way that it keeps centred on the person of Jesus himself. 

          So, if this is the case, then how can we be sure that we really know anything about Jesus?  I would suggest that our confidence rests precisely on the fact that we have four accepted canonical gospels:  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, each of which has its own distinctive witness to what God has done in Jesus.  This gives us confidence that we can have a true and reliable understanding of and relationship to Jesus of Nazareth, as he was, as he is, and as he ever shall be for us.

          And then the witness of Paul and the writers of the other epistles give us examples and further insight into how this knowledge of Jesus has real relevance to the various situations that they faced.  Today’s reading from the letter to the Ephesians is a good example of this.

          But back to the Gospels.  In the second century a Syrian Christian named Tatian took all four of our gospels and merged them into one.  It was called the Diatessaron, that is, dia, ‘out of’, tessaron, ‘four’, ‘made out of four’.  He wrote it in Syriac, and it became very popular, so popular in fact, that for the next two or three centuries it was the gospel used in the Syriac-speaking churches until the fifth century.  And when the Church in Syria finally replaced it with the four gospels, it was still so popular that Theodoret, a bishop in upper Syria, ran around his diocese collecting and destroying over 200 copies of the Diatessaron in order to get it out of use.

          Now Tatian’s Diatessaron is like homogenised food.  And, frankly, who wants anything that bland?  Far better to have a diet of the distinctive witness of each of the four gospels, something totally obliterated in Tatian’s Diatessaron.

          Think about it.  If we want to know about someone, then we will talk to various people who have known him or her.  And the more people we interview, the fuller our picture of the person will be, for each one will have seen at least slightly different aspects of the person, and they will have known him from their own standpoint.  

          It is the same with the four gospels.  Each of them helps us to see Jesus from a different angle.  Here are some simple examples one can draw from each of the gospels.

          Mark clearly stresses the need to follow Jesus in a one-to-one relationship, in living out that relationship with our brothers and sisters in the church, and in our relationship to everyone we meet.  And we are to do this in terms of going in the way of the cross, that is, in letting ourselves go for the sake of others, for this is the only way that we shall truly know Jesus.

          Matthew stresses that we may well know all about Jesus so that we can recite the creed forwards and backwards, so to speak, but what is required is total trusting obedience to his way.

          Luke stresses Jesus’ openness to all kinds of unlikely outsiders and invites us to welcome that, to rejoice in it, and to go and do likewise.

          John uses rich Jewish imagery drawn from the scriptures  to keep us focussed on Jesus as the way to go, the truth to be lived, and the life that is God-given.  This is summed up with the all-encompassing single command given at the last supper.  It is both a command and also an enabling possibility, namely, to love one another as I have loved you.  We love because he first loved us.

          We are called to be disciples of Jesus of Nazareth.  If we are to do so, then we need to know Jesus.

          Let me end with a very wry American story.

          As a man was driving along a busy boulevard he was being tailgated by a stressed out woman.
    Suddenly, the traffic light turned yellow, just in front of him. He did the right thing, stopping at the crosswalk, even though he could have beaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection.  
          The tailgating woman was furious and honked her horn, screaming in frustration, as she missed her chance to get through the intersection, dropping her cell phone and makeup.  
          As she was still in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her window and looked up into the face of a very serious police officer.
The officer ordered her to exit her car with her hands up.  
          He took her to the police station where she was searched, fingerprinted, photographed, and placed in a holding cell.
After a couple of hours, a policeman approached the cell and opened the door.
She was escorted back to the booking desk where the arresting officer was waiting with her personal effects.  
          He said, 'I'm very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping off the guy in front of you, and cussing a blue streak at him.'  I noticed the 'What Would Jesus Do?' bumper sticker, the 'Choose Life' license plate holder, the other sticker saying 'Follow Me to Sunday-School’, and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk; naturally...I assumed you had stolen the car.'             

To use a phrase from St Paul, let us learn Christ better than that.