Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (proper 14): 13 August 2006.
John 6:35, 41-51
Perhaps the most important word in this Old Testament reading is the very first one. It's just a conjunction, the construction we call a "waw-consecutive," not even a word by itself in Hebrew, which can be translated "and" or "but." Both the NRSV and RSV translate the conjunction "but," and this translation sets what comes after the conjunction decidedly against what comes before it. What all of this grammatical talk means is that, while it appears the Sidonian (1 Kgs 16:31), Jezebel, has the last word, she has not been able to defeat the Word of Yahweh. Elijah may be spent, but he is not broken. Yahweh strengthens him to stand, even against the queen.
Psalm 34 also relates a story of deliverance by Yahweh (34:4) and calls on the assembled congregation to "Magnify the LORD" (34:3). Like Elijah, refreshed by the divine gift of food, we are invited by the psalmist to "taste and see that the LORD is good" (34:8).
Perhaps these Old Testament texts can "refresh us" (and give us a break) as we move through the continuing story of John 6. Here Jesus calls himself "the bread of life." The complaint of "the Jews," Jesus' opponents, that Jesus claims to be heavenly manna is answered by Jesus' repetition of that claim (John 6:35, 48). Moreover, Jesus claims to be greater than manna (6:49-51). The one who eats from the "Bread of Life" will not die. Although this statement is offensive to "the Jews," Jesus' opponents in John's Gospel, it is life for those who believe Jesus' words.
Often in the New Testament epistles, the later chapters of a letter give practical counsel and encouragement, based upon the message of Jesus' sacrifice for sinners, the forgiveness of all sin. Here in Ephesians the writer encourages speaking the truth, working hard and honestly, and using the tongue to "build up," not "tear down." This last counsel, especially, is much needed and worth repeating in our day.
It is probably easier for us to imagine ourselves to be "imitators of Elijah" than "imitators of God" (Eph 5:1). The Greek word used commands us to "mimic" God. It is a word that comes out of the context of Greek theater. However, the writer is not urging "playacting." The writer, recognizing that her/his readers are baptized ("sealed," v. 30), expects that behavior will change. "Put away ... and be kind to one another ..." marks the difference in the baptized. "Put off," "put on" is a formula often used in the New Testament to describe the baptized. This reflects the custom of taking off one's robe to be immersed in a pool of water for baptism, then receiving a new, white robe, symbolic of forgiveness and new life, when one came out of the water.
Does baptism make a difference in people? If so, what difference does it make? Are we as the baptized different than others? If so, how? "Put off, put on" is not just a phrase that refers to the new robe one received. It also refers to the way we act, the way we live, the way we now reflect the love of Jesus in our hearts--we, who have been baptized into "new life."
Jesus talks about "bread from heaven" and "the bread of life." How can we help others understand that we are fed, to use a Matthean phrase, "not by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt 4:4)? The "Bread of Life," Jesus' own Body and Blood, sustains us. In the Sacrament we receive again the promise of the forgiveness of our sins. That promise gives us strength through each new day, sure as the bread we share on our tables (also God-given!). TCG
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|Title Annotation:||Preaching Helps|
|Publication:||Currents in Theology and Mission|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2006|
|Previous Article:||An ecclesiology of preaching.|
|Next Article:||Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (proper 15): August 20, 2006.|