Reading Ramblings for August 5, 2012

Date: August 5, 2012,
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts:
Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 145:10-21; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:22-35

Contextual
Notes:
We remain in the longest season of the Church
Year, the non-festival season of Ordinary Time. Except for a few
other festival Sundays, Ordinary Time will continue until the
beginning of Advent. This time of the liturgical year focuses us on
the work of the Holy Spirit and the Church in light of the
resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. The readings will not
always neatly line up together to form a common theme, but the Gospel
and the Old Testament readings will normally support one another.

For the next few weeks, the
lectionary takes readings from John rather than the appointed Gospel
for
the year, Mark. These out-of-sequence readings are not
really out of sequence – they are the latter 2/3 of John 6, in
which John records the conversations and events following the feeding
of the 5000 and the walking on the water that we have read the past
two weeks in Mark 6. The lectionary allows us to follow more deeply
what the significance is of Jesus’ feeding of the 5000, and the
teachings that followed from it.

Exodus 16:2-15: Here is
another feeding text, one which would have been forefront in the
minds of Jesus’ followers (at least after his resurrection and
ascension). Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 in Mark 6 is not the first
time that God has miraculously provided for the hunger of his people.
Hunger is nothing new, and God is fully capable of providing for the
physical needs of his people. In this text from Exodus, He does so
directly, without using any human agents. The text from Ephesians
hints at a different means at work in the world now, where God uses
his people to provide for the needs of the world. The effect remains
the same – the hungry are fed. Yet in each instance of providing
food – whether in the desert with manna or on the hillsides with
loaves and fishes or with the humanitarian efforts of Christian aid
organizations, the filling of a belly is also primarily an
opportunity to point to the God who has provided in each circumstance
and by varying means. We feed the hungry because they are hungry –
we do not hold them hostage with their hunger until we have preached
to them. But failing to preach to them, we are guilty of satisfying
a temporary need and ignoring an eternal one. God the Father and the
Son of God do not make this mistake, as Jesus makes clear in the
Gospel reading for this morning.

Psalm 145:10-21: God is
to be praised. Always. Because of what He is constantly doing and
because of what He has already done. We do not predicate our praise
on whether or not God is meeting our needs of the moment in the way
we expect or desire him to. We praise him because He is the creator
of all things, and the sole power behind the fulfillment of our needs.
Not only this, God is always righteous in this. If we seek to blame
God for perceived injustices, for hunger and starvation in parts of
the world for instance, we need to be very clear. A righteous God
has indeed provided for the needs of all. But sinful men and women
interfere, diverting the bounty of the earth for their own gain, for
the control of others, for blatantly unGodly purposes. We must
remember to look in the mirror before we declare that the Lord is
unrighteous or unjust. Odds are, God is not to blame!

Ephesians 4:1-16:
I suspect we all have the tendency to think to ourselves that if we
only experienced the direct presence and care of our God the way the
people in the Bible did, we would have such strong faith! If only we
could experience the burning bush, or taste mana fresh off the
ground, or follow behind the pillar of cloud and fire, we wouldn’t
struggle in our faith and obedience. Paul indicates otherwise here.
Those who experienced those very things struggled mightily in faith
and obedience. God does not generally directly lead his people the
way He did the Israelites in the desert, but He does still lead. He
still provides for the needs of his people, but He does so as He has
from the beginning – through our vocations, through each of us
doing the work we are called to do to the glory of God and the
blessing of our neighbor. In doing so, all of creation works closer
to the way it was designed to. The hungry are fed. The weak are
strengthened. The confused are brought to greater understanding, and
God is glorified in all. What a gift we have been given in Jesus
Christ, that his Spirit is still at work among us!

John 6-22-35:
What
happened after Jesus calms the waters and they arrive in Capernaum?
John picks up on details that Mark passes over. The crowds find
Jesus again at the sleepy port town of Capernaum. They ask him why
he left them, and Jesus cuts to the heart of the matter – they seek
him because he fed them food, and that is the wrong reason to be
seeking after him.

Notice his response when they ask what they ought to be doing if they
are to do the works of God. He doesn’t give them a list of things to
do or not do. He doesn’t even refer them to the Ten Commandments.
He simply says to believe in the Messiah, the Son of God, the one
that God has sent. This is the extent of what we contribute to our
Christian life. Everything else we do and say is secondary, not even
worthy of mentioning. What matters is our faith in Jesus Christ,
because from this will flow the Holy Spirit’s power that transforms
our lives and increasingly guides our other actions and thoughts and
words.

The confusion remains, however. They want the bread from heaven,
assuming it to be the bread that they were filled with the previous
afternoon, or similar to the bread their forefathers ate in the
desert – food without cost or effort. They want this food always.
But Jesus continues to speak in roundabout ways. He is the bread of
life, and He is the source of total and complete fulfillment. His
hearers most likely would have understood this in terms of his
miraculous ability to feed huge crowds of people, but this is not
Jesus’ point. Our physical hunger and thirst will one day end with
death, but until then they always remain. True satisfaction of our
needs is larger in scope than just how full our bellies are. True
satisfaction is only achieved when we have been reconciled with God
the Father, when we are no longer at war with him and therefore no
longer subject to the curse of Genesis 3 that plagues us with little
deaths of hunger and thirst each day before our actual death.

We’ll continue reading Jesus’ teaching in the coming weeks. But for
now, we need to be clear that our God does tend to our needs, but it
is not only the tending to our temporal needs that we praise him for. We
praise him that He is rather bringing all of creation back into
proper relationship with himself. In doing so, He will completely
satisfy the hunger pangs of all creation with his own presence for
eternity.

In the meantime, we do what we are called to do, and in so doing, we
become the hands and feet of God in this world, we become his
provision for others. We do so not out of obligation but out of
joyful response, because it is what we were designed to do and to be.
How could we choose otherwise? And how can we sit by and allow
others to subvert the good gifts of God for their own personal gain
even as others hunger and thirst and die? The grace of God which
frees us from all obligations drives us to take up obligations to our
neighbor very seriously. In doing so, we feed not only their
bellies, but more importantly we create the opportunity to share the
good news of Jesus Christ, which will sustain them regardless of what
else happens in their life.   

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