Thursday, July 2, 2009

Proper 12 Year B

Proper 12 Year
Revised Common Lectionary)

II Samuel 11:1-15; Psalm 14
OR II Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-19
Ephesians3:14-21; John 6:1-21

Favored from his youth by the Lord and known for his bravery, David devises his decline. He sends his army out to battle while he stays safely at home in Jerusalem. His wandering eye lands on a beautiful woman, Bathsheba. Although she is married, David summons her and has sex with her. He then has her husband, Uriah, sent to the front lines and instructs his officers "draw back then from him, so that he may be struck down and die."

The psalmist mocks the individual who boasts that he can act with impunity because, as she says, "there is no God." He then ridicules any society that "plots against the poor." He concludes with a confident assertion that "the Lord will restore."


The custom was to bring the first tenth of the harvest to the Lord in the persons of the priests and prophets. On this occasion, the prophet Elisha instructs the donor instead to give it "to the people and let them eat." The donor objects. But the Lord's prophet insists: "Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, 'They shall eat and have some left.'" Which is exactly what happened.

The psalmist blesses the Lord: "the eyes of all look to You in hope/You give them their food in due season." The Lord is just and generous, "opening Your hand/and sating to their pleasure all living things."

The writer of Ephesians offers an inspiring doxology/intercession for the recipients of his letter: "I pray that you may have the power to comprehend... the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge...." And to be ready because now God will be "able to accomplish [in you] far more than we can ask or imagine...."

(The story of the feeding of over 5,000 people with the episode that follows when Jesus comes to his disciples over troubled waters and utters a crucial message is the only such incident that appears in all four gospels. We can infer its precious centrality in the preaching and teaching of the early church.) John immediately sets the place and time; the shore of the Lake of Galilee at Passover. Jesus sees the large crowds gathering and asks Philip, Where are we going to buy enough to feed all these people? Philip estimates that not even a half-year's earnings would be enough. Another disciple, Andrew, reports he has seen a young boy in the crowd with five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus instructs all to sit. After they settle down, Jesus blesses God and begins to distribute the food. After everyone has eaten all they want, he instructs that the leftovers be gathered up. The leftovers fill twelve baskets! The crowd immediately recognizes that they have witnessed a miracle (Perhaps they are reminded of those ancient accounts when Moses produced food in the barren wilderness or the prophet Elisha fed another large crowd with more leftovers than they began with.) They want to make Jesus their "King." But Jesus fled. That same night, the disciples got back in their boat and set out for Capernaum. After three or four miles of rowing, "they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat and they were terrified." But Jesus said, "It is I; do not be afraid." They reached their destination.

Consider again Heidegger's request to re-imagine ourselves, one another, the big questions of life, as well as daily living quite differently than we have for the past 2,500 years. (Coincidentally [?], understand how this shift puts biblical narratives in a new [original?] light.) Rather than imagining we can "master" existence with our own conceptual constructs and flatter ourselves that these constructs match the transcendent, the gods or God, imagine that we are "recipients" of gift, the gift of existence in all its splendor and awe, its glory and resistance to human domination. Instead of "defining" we "describe." We explore ourselves and the entire common existence we share with others and all creation with enthusiasm, but we expect that we will reach some point/ledge/boundary that exceeds our capacities to "master." When we reach that point, we "see" a new "horizon," which Jean-Luc Marion describes this way, "I think of the gift as a kind of issue reaching to the most extreme limits, that should be described and be thought and neither explained nor comprehended, but simply thought--in a very radical way. I suggest that, in order to achieve description, if any is possible, of the gift, we can be led to open for the first time a new horizon, much wider than those of objectivity and being, the horizon of giveness." (God, The Gift and Postmodernism, p. 61)

The number 5,000 and the statement that everyone ate and there were leftovers that totaled more than the food with which the feeding began is meant to stagger our imaginations, to transport us to that same point described by Marion. It is meant to alert us to the magnanimity of a Gift and the generostiy of a Giver. "The presence of Christ," Marion writes, "and therefore that also of the Father, discloses itself by a gift: it can therefore only be recognized by a blessing. A presence, which gives itself by grace and identifies itself with this gift, can therefore be seen only in being received, and be received only in blessing."
(Prolegomena to Charity, p. 129)

If we acquire this "horizon of giveness," the biblical narratives make total sense on their own terms as the record of God's unrelenting generosity and our status as recipient. How do we achieve this "horizon of giveneness"? Heidegger writes, "the purest form of acknowledgement is simply the acceptance of the gift, assuming it acquiescing in it, yielding to its demands. Acceptance, then, is the most original form of thanks." (Quoted in Robyn Horner,
Rethinking God as Gift, note 76, p. 37)

This new perspective links Gift, Giver and recipient in a distinctive relationship which Robyn Horner descibes this way, "Faith can only be faith, as much faith in the gift as faith in God."

Now it is clearer why John attaches the incident that immediately follows the feeding of 5,000 with the experience of the disciples in the boat on their way to Capernaum. Out of nowhere Jesus appears. Gift/ God's gift/ God as Gift/ Chirst as God's Gift, appears out of nowhere, surpassing all human expectations and possible explanation, approaches us and reveals the identity of the Giver/Gift: "It is I; do not be afraid."

Living life as if it is filed and overflows inspires the opposite of living as if life is meager and can be "mastered." Understanding myself to be a "recipient" and identifying the Giver and the Gift redefines how I see myself, others and indeed all creation.

"...I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fulness of God."