Monday, July 20, 2009

Proper 14 Year B

Proper 14 Year B
(Revised Common Lectionary)

II Samuel 18:5-9; Psalm 130


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

The king's generals, Joab, Abishai and Ittai, persuade David to remain in the city while they go out to battle. He gives them a special order, Deal gently with my rebellious son, Absalom. Despite Absalom had mangled his family relationships and started a coup against his father, David retained his complicated feelings toward his son. The battle took place in a densely wooded area. Absalom's head gets wedged in the branch of a tree and his cousin, Joab, orders his men to kill David. The first report David receives about the battle is about the glorious victory of the King's army. When David hears of the death of his son, he is crushed and agonizes and mourns without inhibition. (The words of the prophet Nathan, that violence would overwhelm David's family are fulfilled.)

Speaking in the first person singular, the psalmist realistically asses his situation, From the depths I cry to the Lord/if You keep careful track of every one's sins, no one will survive/therefore I hope in the Lord's legendary forgiveness/for which I wait with the same eagerness I look for the dawn after a restless night. Then the psalmist addresses the whole nation to wait and watch expectantly for the Lord's steadfast grace and redemption.


Fleeing for his life after what had been a victory celebration, the prophet Elijah pleads to the Lord to just leave him alone and let him die. Exhausted he falls asleep under a "broom tree," but is awakened by he touch of an angel who instructs him to "get up and eat." He ate and drank, went back to sleep and an angel touches him again to wake up and eat some more of the cakes and water, which had miraculously appeared. After that, he went forty days and nights before he needed to eat again!

The psalmist praises the Lord "at all times" because the Lord hears and sends "messengers" to surround "those who fear the Lord" and to "set them free."

After reviewing several conventional admonitions about how to live one's life, the writer to the Ephesians provides two powerful motivations to follow them. First, treat others as Christ has treated you with forgiveness and generosity. Second, "be imitators of God," "live in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us...."

John's substantial monologue continues after Jesus after fed 5,000 people with generous leftovers. He now takes up seminal memories of God's people-- in particular God's miraculous feeding of God's people in the wilderness (Proper 13 B)-- and Jesus declares he is that "bread that came down from heaven," "I am the bread of life," "I am the living bread, whoever eats of this bread will live forever," "that bread "is my flesh." But some of those hearing him that day objected, We know his family! But Jesus insists that "Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father..." will grasp what he is saying, because I have "seen" the Father.

Walter Brueggemann regards the miraculous feeding of God's people in the wilderness "an action on a par with deliverance from Egypt." And he notes that the verbs "eat" and fully "sated" are linked to emphasize "Yahweh's extravagant generosity, which gives abundantly beyond Israel's need, and Israel's complete delight in Yahweh's abundance." (Theology of the Old Testament, p. 203)

John the evangelist does not invent the meme of abundance, but he deepens it in his dramatic application to Christ. In John's narrative, Jesus first calls himself "the bread of life." Then John goes further, "Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, and they died, but, "Whoever eats this bread will live forever." He pushes further, No one can make this claim except someone who has "seen" the Father and I have seen the Father. This pile up of claims reaches its climax, "the bread that I will my flesh." John advances the core theme of his narrative: God sent Jesus motivated by love to love all so that God's love is finally seen in all its dazzling glory on the cross and in the empty tomb-- God's love "in the flesh."

In some introductory comments at one of those now-famous Villanova conferences, Michael Scanlon made this observation as he was about to moderate a dialogue between Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Marion," One of [St.] Augustine's words for the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, is God's gift, the
donum Dei. Augustine puts it very nicely, 'God gives us many gifts, but Deus est qui Deum dat' (God is He who gives God')." (God the Gift and Postmodernism, p. 54)

The miraculous feeding of God's people in the wilderness is "on a par" with God's deliverance of Israel out of Egypt, according to Brueggemann; the only event described in all four gospels is Jesus' miraculous feeding of 5,000 for which John also provides a lengthy, crucial monologue in the arc of his narrative about Jesus. The bright thread that runs throughout the biblical narratives "old" and "new," is that God operates motivated and through generosity and we can, too! (Be imitators of God, the writer to Ephesus boldly insists.)

Jean-Luis Chretien figures the realization that we live off all that has gone before us and have the capacity to give to others as nothing less than the birth of one's spirit! He writes, "Spirit becomes mine only when something in me shatters and loses itself in gift." (
The Call and the Response, p. 44) All pretenses that "I'm on my own," or "I don't owe anything to anyone" shatter like cheap glass when we admit our status as beneficiaries and release our capacity, or rather now more like a need, to give to others, as we have benefited. It may come as light as the "touch on an angel," as it did with Elijah, but it will feed/sustain us for the rest of our life.

The biblical narratives could not be clearer or more basic: We were born, live now and will die as the beneficiaries (in the debt) of others; we, too, can benefit others in our own unique ways. God set this pattern in motion and, just when ti was needed, sent the most unforgettable reminder of the power of generosity that could be, Jesus "in the felsh." Its the only thing that sustains life on this earth!