12 August 2012
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 14B (RCL)
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
Ephesians 4:25 — 5:2
John 6:35, 41-51
In the reading from 2 Samuel, David gets just exactly what Nathan said at the end of last week’s reading. Of course, we leave out all the naughty bits: Amnon’s rape of Tamar, Absolom’s murder of Amnon, Absolom’s revolt against David (and sleeping with his concubines on the roof of the palace). So, while Joab’s actions may seem precipitous besides being contrary to the royal will, Joab knew full well that if Absolom lived, the kingdom would be ungovernable. So, the moral of the story is, if you want to be king, expect opposition and violence. I suspect the deuteronomistic editors intended exactly that moral.
And in John, we get more bread (and more and more in the weeks to come). In this week’s reading, we move from misunderstanding (Sir, give us this bread always) towards the beginning of opposition (we know where he is from!). So, we can expect that we will move into open opposition and a split in the next paragraphs.
To begin to explain the opposition, Jesus says that only those drawn by the father come to him (the word in Greek looks a lot more like “dragged” than “drawn”). Only those who believe in the Son will gain eternal life from eating the bread.
All of this is really a midrash on Exodus 16. The people in the wilderness grumble, first about water and then about food. “Would that we had died by the fleshpots of Egypt where we had our fill!” Compare that with, “You are following me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” And the people begin to grumble about Jesus.
Moses upbraids the people for their lack of faith in God in the wilderness, and Jesus does the same here. So, grumbling, not doubt, must be the opposite of faith. I think the use of the word “faith” (pistis) by the writers of the New Testament means something like “to go all in.” A pistis was a trust document, given by a banker to someone who deposited money. We might call it a passbook, or a deed. In the desert, the people hadn’t gone all in with God’s dream for them. To eat the bread and have eternal life, one has to go all in with the Jesus community. By the end of chapter six, a whole group of people will have turned back (presumably to Egypt), while the disciples will stay.
In the Ephesians, the author is making something like the same point. You are part of one another, you are all in, there is nothing held back. It is a little surprising that he uses as the one concrete example of what this means, “Thieves should no longer steal, but work the good with their own hands, in order that they might have something to share with those who need it.” Looking at a situation to see what I can get out of it is stealing. Working with my hands in order to share is how communities work. The English translation says “Forgive one another as God has forgiven you.” In Greek it says, “Grace one another as God has graced you.” That means something completely different in my mind. That’s the life that lasts. Whoever believes, whoever goes all in, will have eternal life.