Saturday, August 25, 2018

Sunday 2 September 2018 - 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Theme(s): Clean heart versus clean hands / Inward and outward religion / What is true religion? / Avoiding hypocrisy / God's commandments and human traditions

Sentence: Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves (James 1:22).


Gentle Father,
show us our sins as they really are
so that we may truly renounce them
and know the depth and richness of your mercy. Amen.

Readings (related):

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Psalm 15
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15


We return to Mark - the Gospel of Year C - and dig into a challenging chapter because it takes us into crucial debates between the Jesus movement and those Jews who resisted the advance of that movement, while also raising the question, why does Mark give such prominence to these debates when - in all likelihood - he was writing his gospel in Rome and with a Rome-based audience in view?

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

Deuteronomy is a 'second giving of the law'. In this version of the divine Law mediated to us by Moses, the purity and perfection of the Law (as given) is emphasised, along with the importance of obedience to the Law. With respect to our gospel reading today we especially notice verse 2: nothing is to be added to or subtracted from the Law.

Psalm 15

I was once told, and have never forgotten, in my all boys' school, that Psalm 15 sets out the character and characteristics of the perfect gentleman!

In the context of today's readings, we note that the person who may fellowship with God (1) is the person who is both walking blamelessly, i.e. obeying the Law (2) and living an outwardly blameless life with a heartfelt motivation to do the right thing (2b, 4b, 4c).

Such a person is stable and solid, a pillar in the household of God (5b).

James 1:17-27

We are moving on from Ephesians to James.

The Epistle of James (the brother of Jesus?) complements the Pauline epistles which emphasise the importance of faith to appearance of neglect of the importance of good works which express that faith. The general problem over the centuries has been the thought that in the James' epistle the importance of good works is emphasised to the point of apparent neglect of the importance of faith in Christ (see James 2:14-26).

In today's passage - after the introduction in verses 1-16, focusing on testing of faith, wisdom, humility, resisting temptation - the writer continues a vein of exhortation which is coherent with the introduction. Our passage would not be out of place in the wisdom literature of the Bible, in the exhortation passages in the Pauline epistles, and it is reminiscent of Jesus' own teaching (as, indeed, most of the letter is).

The centrepiece and effective summary of the passage is verse 22:

'But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.'

With an eye on the gospel reading it is not hard to think that James is commenting on aspects of the passage: the true state of the heart comes from both being undeceived as to what is really going on within ourselves (26) and being filled with the word of truth (18, 21, 25).

Typically of James' Epistle, there is a strong emphasis throughout the passage on 'practical religion'. And if for some of us the word 'religion' is something we are not so keen on using to describe 'the Christian faith', then we confront the fact that James' himself uses the word (26-27).

And the note he strikes is sobering and challenging: pure and undefiled religion is practical care ahead of pure practice of worship in the liturgy: 'to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.' (27)

We may need to translate 'orphans and widows' in relation to the world today (migrants and beneficiaries?) but we cannot and must not avoid the challenge to reach out with practical care to those less well off than ourselves. From that perspective, today's passage is an exposition of the commandment, "Love your neighbours as yourselves."

Note, incidentally, that the emphasis on 'doing' in this passage is not an emphasis on our actions and practical works in order to elicit God's favour towards us. Verses 17 and 18, for instance, speak of God's initiative in giving to us that which makes us generous and that which makes us 'first fruits of his creatures' 'in fulfillment of his own purpose.' Verse 21 speaks of ridding ourselves of 'sordidness' and 'rank growth of wickedness' so that 'the implanted word' (i.e. given by God to us) may be welcomed, the word which 'has power to save your souls'. We do not save ourselves by our good works but our good works tell the world that God has begun and continues a saving work within us.

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15

We need to read the first verses carefully to discern what Mark's agenda is here.

Recalling our foray into John 6, we see there the sequence of Feeding Five Thousand and Walking on Water followed by an extensive discourse about the meaning of bread. Here Mark frames a quite -different direction: Jerusalem-based Pharisees and scribes gather around Jesus and ask him about ritual cleansing (1-5).

But is the passage about (so to speak) a Christian response to Jewish rites of cleansing or something else?

Note in verses 3 and 4 that Mark takes great pains to explain the issue: there are washing rites which obedient Jews should be observing, but the disciples were not observing them (v. 2). But that only raises the question why Mark bothers to tell this particular story many years later.

One possibility is that Mark is indirectly tackling a current issue of different practice between Jewish and Gentile Christians in his local church community (likely Rome, see also Romans 14-15 for another mode of tackling such difference in the Roman church).

Another possibility is that he is simply building up to a particular point in the teaching of Jesus which has universal applicability: the source of evil in respect of people is from within themselves and not from outside of themselves (17-23).

Along the way (and returning to the passage set down for this Sunday), Jesus makes a different point, about the state of the human heart in relation to worship of God (6-8). That point is that it is possible to act outwardly correctly (e.g. washing hands) while inwardly being wayward and far from God. This is a form of acting out one reality while living another, that is, a way of life which draws the charge 'you hypocrites' (6).

In saying this, Jesus reaches back to Isaiah 29:13 (verses 6b-7), to the scriptures of Israel from one of the great prophets. Thus he aligns himself with the great prophetic critique of Israel's mischievous approach to obedience to the Law, one in which the minimum one needs to do is done.

(Your Bible may have a footnote which tells you that it is "Isaiah 29:13 LXX" which is cited, that is the Greek version of the Old Testament. While it is true that that raises questions about the extent to which Mark is interpreting what he has received about what Jesus said, because Jesus almost certainly did not ever refer to the Greek Old Testament in his own speech, it is also true that we do not know exactly which Hebrew version of the Old Testament Jesus used. What we call the Hebrew version of the Old Testament (i.e. Masoretic text) is one version of the Old Testament. There may have been other versions in Jesus' day, reflected in the Greek translation which Mark uses.)

Verse 8 is just a little bit puzzling (especially if we do not go on to read the next verses). On the face of it, there are plenty of regulations in the Mosaic Law about washing rituals which are divine 'commandment' and not human 'tradition'.

But verse 8 is a pivot from the general problem in verses 5-7, whether one pleases God by outward obedience or by inward attitude and desire for fellowship with God, to another problem. That problem is whether the commandments of God in Scripture are being diminished in importance by the development of later custom endorsed by the scribes and Pharisees, i.e. by 'human tradition.' Verses 9-13 then set out an egregious example of such tradition trumping God-given commandment.

If we go back to the starting issue, washing hands or not before a meal (5), verses 14-15 then become the definitive response of Jesus. (This response, we should note, was not one which biologically considered whether or not it was necessary hygiene to wash hands before a meal). In that response Jesus justifies his disciples' ritual slackness. People are not defiled by lack of ritual cleanliness but the state of their hearts. An unwashed hand may place both food and something else alien in the mouth. But this is not defiling. What is defiling is what comes out of the mouth by way of words which give expression to the state of the heart. His disciples might be technically ritually unclean but their hearts were good.

Lessons for ourselves in a different time, place and context are not hard to find.
(1) Do we honour God with our hearts? Or are we going through the outward motions of pleasing God? (6)
(2) Do we by teaching, whether with words or by example, encourage people to follow human custom/entrenched tradition which - on closer examination - is unsupported by the commandment of God? (8)
(3) Have we heard ourselves speak lately? Does our language express a defiled heart? (14-15)

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Sunday 26 August 2018 - 21st Ordinary Sunday

Theme(s): Choose whom you will serve / Costly discipleship / Spiritual warfare / God's protection

Sentence: 'Choose this day whom you will serve' (Joshua 24:15)


God of Israel old and news,
write in our hearts the lessons of your law;
prepare our minds to receive the gospel
made visible in your Son Jesus Christ.

Readings (related):

Joshua 24:1-2a,14-18
Psalm 34:15-22
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69


Joshua 24:1-2a,14-18

This passage highlights and underlines one of the great questions for all who follow the God of Israel:

"choose this day whom you will serve" (15).

In Joshua the question is posed in terms of serving the Lord (YHWH) or the gods of surrounding nations. The same question is effectively asked of his disciples by Jesus (= Joshua!) in our gospel reading.

The story of Joshua both completes the Exodus of Israel from Egypt and begins the settlement of Israel in Canaan, its Promised Land. So this question coming at the end of Joshua tests the direction of Israel in its relationship with the LORD God. Will it faithfully and singlemindedly serve the one God who has brought them out of Egypt into the Promised Land? Will it continue in relationship with this God as it settles and remains, generation after generation?

Unfortunately the succeeding historical books in the Old Testament show that the clarity of conviction in the answer given in Joshua 24 was not always upheld by either the people of Israel or its rules.

Psalm 34:15-22

The portion of the psalm read last Sunday emphasised the Lord's provision for the needs of his people.

This week's portion emphasises the protection of the Lord for his people. The righteous have many afflictions, 'but the Lord rescues them from them all.' (19)

Ephesians 6:10-20

This passage is much preached from on the subject of 'spiritual warfare.'

Paul moves from an initial instruction concerning standing 'against the wiles of the devil' (11) (which could mean no more than resisting temptation) to a general statement about the larger battle in which the saints are involved:

'our struggle ... against rulers ... of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places' (12).

Initially we might interpret this as an almost bizarre change from the domestic concerns of the preceding verses (about husband/wife, father/child, master/slave relationships). But Ephesians began in chapter one with an amazing vision of God's eternal purposes being worked out in both physical and spiritual worlds, in both earth and heaven. So Paul is taking us back to where he began. But in this practical second half of the book, he sets out our role in the great battle between good and evil as it is fought in both the world we see and in the world we do not see.

We'll come back to verse 12 below, re the principalities and powers, but let's press on for now with where Paul heads. In verse 13, after his introduction, there is a sturdy and directional, 'Therefore.'

What is an Ephesian Christian to do about resisting the wiles of the devil? 'Therefore take up the whole armour of God' (13). But the whole phrase is puzzling. It is 'Therefore take up the whole armour of God on that evil day'. To what day is Paul referring? Is he looking ahead to the great and final Day of Judgement (when the ongoing battle between good and evil reaches some kind of climax)? Or is he using 'day' in a more general sense of 'the present age' (see 'this present darkness' in verse 12)? That it might be the latter is suggested by the next phrase, 'and having done everything to stand firm' because that suggests that we put on the armour now and keep it on, fighting the battle and whenever we think we have won, remaining resolute and firm and ready to fight the next battle.

Verses 14 to 17 are then an absolutely easy to grasp picture of the spiritually armoured Christian in the light of the standard armour worn by the typical Roman soldier. Our difficulty in the 21st century may be that we are not as familiar as we once were about that armour (e.g. in the days when learning Latin was spread throughout many schools), and not as familiar as Paul's readers would have been.  (I won't go here into the details of that physical armour - a decent commentary or Bible encyclopedia may assist you - even Wikipedia).

The general point, the point which unites the details of these verses, is that in this particular spiritual battle, it is the basics of being a gospel Christian that count: truth, righteousness, proclamation of the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the Spirit and the word of God. Why? One reason is that a wile of the devil is to distort the truth of God. Another wile is to undermine the gospel (e.g. by getting Christians to believe less than or more than the gospel itself requires). A further wile is to lure Christians into standing on their own two feet, independent of God, rather than standing on the promises of God in the power of the Spirit, trusting God for protection (see above, Psalm 34).

Another reason for Paul setting out the response Christians are to make is that in a context of 'principalities and powers', questions of allegiance arise in the battle for hearts and minds of humanity. The basic signs of our allegiance to the God of Jesus Christ are our commitment to the truth of the gospel, to proclaiming that truth, to faith, righteousness, salvation, the Spirit and the word of God.

From this exposition on spiritual warfare Paul both moves on to the topic of prayer and also connects prayer with that exposition (since praying for Paul will help him in his particular current battle, 19-20). Prayer, Paul says, is to be both continual ('at all times') and persistent ('always persevere') (19).

Now back to a tricky topic in verse 12.

Paul distinguishes between two sets of opponents for Christians: 'enemies of flesh and blood' and 'the rulers ... the authorities ... the cosmic powers of this present darkness ... the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.'

The former are clearly fellow human beings and could include (in his day) opposing Jews and Gentiles in the cities and countryside in which Christians lived and worshipped, as well as the Roman authorities, both local and the Emperor himself in Rome.

The latter are less easy for us on earth to envisage: they are not experienced as flesh and blood but they are real in the other world, the world beyond this world which they inhabit. To a degree we can envisage them by reading books such as Daniel and Revelation with their visions and their talk of angels, fallen angels, of demons, of beasts and so forth. But only to a degree because those visions tend to convey an impression of battles being fought in that other world between the forces of light and darkness but do not tend to convey an impression that we take part in such spiritual or heavenly battles. Here, by contrast, Paul says that the real battle we are fighting is not against the opponents we can see but against opponents we cannot see.

That raises the question of who these principalities and powers are. I am not going to take a stand on the matter here, and refer you to commentaries for more comment than I will give here.

On the one hand I observe that some interpreters concentrate our attention on understanding that there are spiritual forces of evil (e.g. demons) which being spiritual can inflict themselves on us earthly creatures and against them we stand by way of the recipe in verses 13 onwards.

On the other hand I observe that some interpreters - no doubt wary of invoking demons as explanations for evil deeds committed by human beings - commend to us an understanding of these principalities and powers in sociological (or perhaps political terms): every human organisation (be it a club, society, nation or culture) takes on an inner life, an ethos which affects (and even inflicts itself on) individuals. Against this 'thing' which is hard to explain, but which is definitely experienced by us (e.g. we walk into, say, one school or clubrooms and experience it in terms of warmth and welcome and walk into another and experience it in terms of aggression and alienation), Paul invites us to stand with basic gospel values and commitments.

Obviously much more is to be said here. My final thought for now is this: what if the principalities and powers are both spiritual and sociological? (!!)

John 6:56-69

Verses 56-58 sum up and conclude Jesus' teaching on eating and drinking: his flesh and his blood in order to abide in him (56-57) and the bread which came down from heaven in order to live forever (58). This is extraordinarily provocative teaching because  (a)  blood was forbidden to Jews (Deuteronomy 12:23) and (b) Jesus was claiming that the bread he offered was better quality than the manna God supplied in the desert. Note, however, that Jesus is not so much asking his followers to do something forbidden by drinking his blood but asking them to believe that in him true life - represented by blood - was to be found. (That, is Jesus agrees with the Mosaic Law, the life of the creature is in the blood; but says what is prohibited of animals is not forbidden of his blood.)

But verse 59 is a bit puzzling. John says that Jesus said these things 'while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.' On the one hand, this is a place where Jesus teaches according to the gospels (Mark 1:21; Luke 4:31). On the other hand, although earlier in John 6, Jesus has been heading towards Capernaum (17, 24), we the readers have not been told that Jesus has been giving this discourse in the Capernaum synagogue. By locating the teaching in the synagogue at the end of the discourse, John may be hinting that Jesus' teaching was extended over time, from, say, an initial delivery at the lake's edge to a final delivery in the synagogue. Specific mention of the synagogue as location for the teaching also underlines that Jesus is offering a reading of Israel's scriptures (which were routinely read in the synagogue).

John is also highlighting that Jesus was engaged at a teaching centre of Judaism (albeit in Capernaum and not in Jerusalem) when he delivered this 'alternative' teaching in Jewish terms about what gives life to God's people.

That the teaching was provocatively controversial to his Jewish audience is heightened in verse 60 where we read that even some of his disciples  found it 'difficult.' (The New English Bible has a wonderful, punnish version - sadly not continued in the Revised English Version: "This is more than we can stomach.")

Jesus then makes life very difficult for his disciples by being frank and robust about who he is (61-64). If they do not like his teaching on bread, flesh and blood, they will not like the thought of his 'ascending to where he was before' (62). Why does he say this? Presumably to make the point that those who believe in him must not only believe that he has come from God (Incarnation) but also that he returns to God (Resurrection and Ascension). Yet Jesus goes further and for a moment seems to undermine his teaching on bread, flesh and blood when he says,

'It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless.'

But he also says in the next breathe, 'The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.' (63)

Cleverly Jesus is giving an interpretation of what he has being saying: the key to abiding in him, to receiving eternal life is not the eating of any literal flesh or drinking of any actual blood but the action of the Holy Spirit breathing in new life into the one who believes his words.

(It is not difficult to understand that Jesus never intended his believers to be cannibals, but a different question arises as to whether he expected them to eat bread (like the manna of old) symbolising his being the bread come down from heaven, a question which is hard to answer on purely Johannine terms because he does not report the institution of the Lord's Supper. We can imagine that John presumed his Christian readers would have been eucharistic Christians and thus would have understood John 6 with reference to eating bread and drinking wine, to eating the body and drinking the blood of Jesus).

(Another aside: "It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is useless" relates to the "epiclesis" in communion, the invocation of the Holy Spirit to come upon the bread and wine that it may be the body and blood of Christ.)

In other words, Jesus is both making it easier and harder for those disciples on the verge of walking out. Easier by making the teaching less objectionable with particular respect to eating flesh and drinking blood. Harder because Jesus is making his words supersede Moses' teaching (see John 1:17) and his talk of the spirit giving life a better nurture than the feeding with manna.

When combined with Jesus' understanding of descent/ascent from/to heaven (62) - an understanding which itself is a point of mystical/apocalyptic difference to the emerging rabbinic Judaism centred on the synagogues and the Temple - Jesus presents a complex and comprehensive teaching which is decisively different to Judaism. Thus this is a moment when those drawn to Jesus need to ask themselves whether they are going on, all the way with Jesus, or drawing back.

Verses 64-65 challenge us further - as if this is not already 'my brain hurts' material - because Jesus says that he already knows the pathways these temporary disciples and Judas will take. The challenge here is the sense that these verses convey that believers are pre-destined to be believers (65).

Thus schism takes place within the disciples (i.e. between the true and faint-hearted disciples), a schism which may reflect schism within the later Johannine church (on which, reading 1, 2 and 3 John will assist).

Simon Peter's response to the question, whether 'the twelve' (only mentioned here and in 20:34 in John's Gospel) will also go, has a distinctive Johannine form while also resembling his confession at Caesarea Phillipi (see Mark 8:28-29).

For us readers we also hear the question of Jesus. Will we go or stay with him? Our answer will depend on whether we agree with Simon Peter that Jesus has the words of eternal life.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Sunday 19 August 2018 - 20th Ordinary Sunday

Theme(s): Bread of Life / Eternal Life / Wisdom / Provision of our needs / Filled with the Spirit

Sentence: Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. (John 6:51)


Living host, call us together,
call us to eat and drink with you.
Grant that by your body and your blood
we may be drawn to each other
and to you. Amen.

Readings (related):

Proverbs 9:1-6
Psalm 34:9-14
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58


Proverbs 9:1-6

Solomon excels himself here with his verbal picture of 'Wisdom' as the hostess with the most-est (house with seven pillars, animals killed for a feast, wine secured, table set, servant-girls sent out with invitations). The feast here consists of food which imbues the feaster with wisdom, insight, and maturity. (By way of contrast, note verses 13-18, where the 'foolish woman' also seeks to invite people to learn of her foolishness.)

On the 'seven pillars' see Job 9:6; 26:11; Psalm 75:3 and Proverbs 8:29-30.

Psalm 34:9-14

These verses express assurance that God looks after those who love God ('fear him', 9; 'seek the Lord', 10). They will 'have no want' (9) and 'lack no good thing' (10).

Verses 11-14 then express the psalmist's teaching on what it means to 'fear' the Lord.

Ephesians 5:15-20

How then shall we live? If we were to boil the answer to that question down to one sentence, vv 15-16 or 17 or 18 could be answers!

15-16 invokes the great tradition of wisdom, a tradition represented in the Old Testament through books such as Proverbs (including our Old Testament passage) and carried forward by Jesus who was a wise teacher. Wise people do not know all the rules but they always know what to do. But Paul introduces the theme of time in respect of wisdom: 'making the most of the time, because the day's are evil.' Some older translations speak of 'redeeming the time', others suggest 'seize the opportunity.' Before we attempt to say what this means, we need to ask what it means that 'the days are evil'?

One thought is that the times we live in are difficult and challenging. Nevertheless they present opportunities to live wisely, to draw close to God and to proclaim the gospel.

17 is, effectively, saying the same as verses 15-16: to be wise is to not be foolish and to be wise is to understand what the will of the Lord is.

18 invokes the great tradition of living empowered by the Spirit of God. Humanity has tended to prefer the spirit of alcohol to the Spirit of God. Paul says No to the former. Rather 'be filled with the Spirit.' The sense of the verb is continual filling with the Spirit rather than a one off experience. When we are filled with the Spirit we will be directed as to how we are to walk in the Spirit. Verse 19 then paints a picture of what the Spirit-filled life looks like: it is marked by a joy which spills out in song, motivated not only by the Spirit but also - verse 20 - by thanks for all God has done.

But verse 20 goes a bit further because it instructs the Christian community to give thanks 'at all times' - even in the 'evil days' we are to give thanks to God. Why? One reason is that all time, all days, good and bad, are ultimately subject to God's control and direction. In the end, all will be well for those who trust God - a trust which is exemplified when we give thanks at all times.

John 6:51-58

Verse 51 (which concluded last week's passage) connects Jesus the 'living bread that came down from heaven' with the eucharistic bread of the Last Supper, 'the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.'

'The Jews'* dispute what this means among themselves (52) with more than a hint that a hint of cannibalism in the conception of eating Jesus' flesh is unacceptable. Jesus does not back off. In verses 53-56, Jesus he un-embarrassingly talks about the eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood. Yet only the perverse would think that he means for his flesh literally to be eaten and his blood literally to be drunk. So what does he mean?

On the one hand (taking into account the whole dialogue through chapter six), Jesus is clearly referring to the spiritual union between himself and believers, a union in which Jesus gives life (eternal life) to those who believe in him and who receive and follow his teaching (e.g. 35, 36, 44, 45, 47, 63).

On this understanding the eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood is the in-taking of the life of Jesus (recalling the Mosaic Law's injunction not to drink/eat the blood of animals because the life of the animal is in the blood).

On the other hand (also taking into account the whole dialogue through chapter six), Jesus is less clearly referring to the eucharistic bread and wine - see note above on verse 51 - the bread and wine, that is, which he has signified, according to the Synoptic Gospels, is his body and his blood. Thus some scholars argue that these verses have nothing to do with the eucharist, while other scholars argue that they have everything to do with the eucharist.

A point in favour of a eucharistic understanding of Jesus' talk here of eating his flesh and drinking his blood is that it makes little sense for him to pursue this imagery of eating and drinking if no eating or drinking of anything is in view. Whereas the eating of bread and the drinking of wine has potential to be understood as the symbolic eating of his flesh and drinking of his blood, especially when we reflect on the connection made in verse 51 re 'eats of this bread'. But honesty does demand that we acknowledge that no reference is made to drinking of wine in this chapter.

A further point in favour of a eucharistic understanding goes like this:

later in the gospel, John will depict Jesus' death as occurring at the same time as the Passover Lambs are sacrificed (19:14).**

But already in chapter 1:29, 36 Jesus has been hailed as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Passover Lambs were sacrificed and their flesh was eaten as part of the remembrance of when God saved Israel from the Angel of Death (Exodus 12).

Here in chapter six, Jesus is thinking of himself as the Passover Lamb who will be sacrificed and eaten (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7). But what meaning does eating Jesus the Passover Lamb have if his actual muscular flesh is not eaten? The only meaning we can give to 'eating' being an actual ingestion is if we think of the eating of bread which 'is' his body. In verse 51 Jesus himself equates 'bread' with 'flesh' and thus it seems logical to conclude that a similar equation is at work as in the Synoptic Gospels (as well as in 1 Corinthians 10-11).

*'The Jews' is always a tricky subject to discuss in John's Gospel as 'the Jews' always seem to be disparaged as those who are consistently against God and against God's Son. One line of argument is that 'the Jews' refers to (naughty, corrupt) leaders of the Jewish people, but in this chapter it makes sense to think that 'the Jews' are the crowd of ordinary people that have followed him around the Lake of Galilee. Nevertheless, 'the Jews' here seems to mean "fellow Jews of Jesus (the Jew) who are antagonistic to Jesus". By contrast, 'disciples' seems to mean "fellow Jews of Jesus (the Jew) who follow Jesus (at least until they choose not to follow him)."

**Until reading Brant Pitre's book Jesus and the Last Supper, I had assumed that the John 19:14 reference was to the lambs being slaughtered for the Passover meal (i.e. the meal at the beginning of the feast of the Passover) and thus John places Jesus' crucifixion a day before the Synoptics do, and the "last supper" in John 13 is not the same meal depicted in the Synopics as Jesus' Last Supper: thus and hence a difficulty over who is telling us the history of Jesus' death most accurately. I am now convinced by Brant Pitre that we have read too much into John 19:14. That is, that verse is a reference to slaughtering of lambs for meals during Passover week and not to the initial meal of that week. And thus and hence John's "last supper" is also "the Last Supper" [Thursday night] and Jesus dies on Friday, as depicted in the other three gospels.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Sunday 12 August 2018 - 19th Ordinary Sunday

Theme(s): Bread of life, Bread which gives eternal life, God nourishes us, Jesus came from God, live in love.

Sentence: "Live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God' (Ephesians 5:2).


Merciful God,
you gave your only Son
to be both a sacrifice for sin
and an example of godly life;
help us gladly to receive
all that he has done for us
and follow in his footsteps;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

Readings (related):

1 Kings 19:4-8
Psalm 34:1-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51


1 Kings 19:4-8

Elijah has striven mightily with the prophets of Baal and won. But his strength is expended and he asks that he might die. God sends an angel to nourish him with food and drink. Not once but twice. That food sustains him for his long journey to Horeb.

God always sustains God's people for God's work along God's way. In a different way, Jesus will nourish his followers, according to our gospel reading today.

Psalm 34:1-8

When we consider what Jesus offers us as the living bread, this psalm assists us as we praise and exalt God!

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

We are in the 'application' chapters of Ephesians. But the theology is never faraway. Paul's first instruction here, about speaking truthfully, is: 'for we are members of one another' (25).

Later, still on the theme of speaking, Paul wants wholesome, edifying talk to come out of the Ephesians' mouths 'so that your words may give grace to those who hear' (29).

In 30 the Holy Spirit is invoked and in 32 being forgiving is 'as God in Christ has forgiven you.'

In the end, the whole living of a holy Christian life (including verses not mentioned above, 26-28, 31) is imitative of God (5:1) and summed up - as elsewhere in Scripture with 'live in love' (5:2).

Love here being the love with which 'Christ loved us and gave himself up for us' (2). We also meet this language of giving himself up for us in the gospel reading.

John 6:35, 41-51

You have got to feel for Jesus. The people who want to make him king are always complaining (41).
But their complaint is rational. They know Jesus as an ordinary human being, 'Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?' (42). So how dare he say 'I am the bread that came down from heaven'? (41, 42).

Jesus says that they should not complain among themselves (43). As complainers, they are rather like their ancestors in the wilderness who complained about the lack of food and then complained about the lack of variety in the food (Exodus 16:2; Number 11:1). So Jesus saying that they are not to complain is to attempt to steer them out of the tradition of grumbling against God.

If they grumble against God, might God refuse to draw them to himself? (44a) If they are not drawn by God to him, they will not be raised up on the last day (44b). What is at stake is not what Jesus is daring to say but what Jesus is offering, which they might miss out on.

In what Jesus' says, there is a strong sense of the initiative of God in salvation. This continues in verse 45 when Jesus quotes Isaiah 54:13 and interprets this as 'Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.' Implicitly this is critical of his hearers: as Israelites, they should know the Father, but their attitude to Jesus suggests they do not.

Yet Jesus himself is the key to knowledge of the Father since he has come from God (46). With this stated, Jesus can return to a recurring theme in his discourse, 'whoever believes has eternal life' (47, cf. 29, 35, 40, 50, 54, 58, 68). When the Israelites ate the manna, they died (49). But the bread of life (48) is 'the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die' (50).

All of this teaching is summed up in v. 51: Jesus is the living bread that comes down from heaven, whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread for the life of the world is Jesus' flesh.

Here Jesus' connects his coming to earth from heaven with his death. It is not his coming per se which makes him the life-giving bread but the giving up of his flesh for the life of the world.

With this statement we have to reckon with Jesus not generally talking about himself as the bread of life but specifically talking about himself as the eucharistic bread of life and thus John is offering to his readers his understanding of the eucharist: Jesus' body is the bread (compare with the Synoptic gospel accounts of the last supper: the bread which Jesus breaks is his body).