With the psalmist,
we sing of God providing food enough. (Psalm 78:25)
Food enough for the nettlesome Israelites
wandering in the wilderness in those 40 years
between crossing the Nile River
out of captivity in Egypt
and crossing the River Jordan
into the freedom of the Promised Land.
Food enough for a similarly nettlesome crowd
fed by Jesus on one side of the Sea of Galilee
and now seeking him on the other.
Food enough for
-- lets be honest --
nettlesome people like you and me
this side of our own journey
to the great and beautiful river flowing by the throne of God.
The Scriptures tell us that
"food enough" is God's enduring concern, God's promise
for all people and for all creation.
God's concern, God's promise
is especially before us
these warm weeks of summer.
Before us in record high temperatures.
In increasing awareness of the fragility of Earth's ecosystems.
And our exploitation of them.
God's concern, God's promise
of food enough
before us in five weeks of
Elisha fed 100
with twenty loves of barley and fresh ears of grain.
And Jesus fed a crowd
-- 5,000 according to Saint John --
with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish.
Our English translation of Saint John's Greek
said the crowd Jesus fed had been "satisfied."
A more precise rendering would say they had
"had enough." (Saint John 6:12)
Enough, just like the crowd Elisha fed.
Enough, for themselves.
And enough, with plenty for others.
In the case of Elisha, an untold amount left over.
In the case of Jesus, twelve baskets full.
God provides food enough,
and yet, as we face this week,
God's people remain dis-satisfied.
Dis-satisfied by the mana in the wilderness.
Dis-satisfied by the food on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus' response to this dis-satisfaction is particularly pejorative.
You seek me "because you ate and had your fill." (6:26)
Jesus points to a fine, but sharp difference,
between enough (Greek: empiplasthai) and
being filled up (Greek: chortazesthai).
Moses' response to his own people
in the Exodus narrative is similarly sharp,
and in the parallel account in the book of Numbers,
There Moses detests the nettlesome Israelites
as their dis-satisfaction turns to belligerence.
If we were to sing a bit further with the psalmist,
we'd recall of those fed by God with enough, that
"in spite of all this, they went on sinning
and had no faith in God's wonderful works." (Psalm 78:32)
Filled, and seeking after more.
We know what such dis-satisfaction
and seeking after more looks like in our own day.
We live in a time overflowing with plenty.
Yet, the search for more leaves so many hungry.
A time with so much possibility.
Yet, power grabs by a few leave so many powerless.
A time with unparalleled awareness of the plight of our neighbor.
Yet, so many kept voiceless and ignored.
A time when every human need can be met.
And yet, so many are always left in want.
Of food such as this,
Jesus minces no words.
"Do not work for food that perishes."
Or, put more directly,
do not do those things which perish,
which cause people to perish.
Communities to perish.
The planet to perish.
"work for food that endures for eternal life,
which the son of Man will give you."
By this Jesus does not mean food that lasts forever.
But food that is imperishable
precisely because it gives something
in the very act of giving:
gives eternal life.
And not only food.
Water, given to become a spring of water
gushing up to eternal life (Saint John 4:14)
The life of the Son of Man
given for the sake of the life of the world.
"For the bread of God
is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world." (Saint John 6:33)
Food enough, bread enough, water enough, life enough
for the life of the world.
This notion of food enough
as food that gives life
is one of several crucial teachings offered
by Jesus in Saint John's Gospel.
But this one, especially so.
It is one of the longest.
It is one of the few times Saint John
reworks material appearing in the other Gospels.
Especially important because there is no
so-called institution of the Lords Supper in Saint John,
but instead the washing of feet
and this feeding at the time of the passover.
Especially important for at least one other reason.
The reason is first cued by Saint John
turning away from addressing Jesus
as "prophet" in verse 14 and "king" in verse 15
and speaking of him here as Rabbi (Saint John 6:25).
A Rabbi doing what Rabbi's do best:
offering a teaching on Torah.
And not simply this, but offering Torah, itself.
Because for Jesus and Jesus' contemporaries
bread was understood to be a symbol of Torah.
And then, Saint John does what Saint John does best:
he creates an inseparable,
are one in the same in Christ Jesus.
And in creating this inseparable,
are one in the same in Christ Jesus,
Jesus teaches what Moses teaches.
In the book of Deuteronomy,
itself considered Moses' pre-eminent legacy,
and the interpretive key to the the entire Pentateuch,
Moses puts it this way:
"The Lord your God humbled you by letting you hunger,
then by feeding you with manna,
with which neither you nor your ancestors were
in order to make you understand
that one does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes
from the mouth of the LORD." (Deuteronomy 8:3)
God's will for the life of God's people
-- the reliable and trustworthy word of God --
consistent with Moses,
and spoken by Jesus, the Word made flesh
is the promise of food enough.
The crowd in the wilderness doesn't understand Moses.
They carry on for a while and wander about a few more years.
And this crowd doesn't understand Jesus.
But we do.
For it is finally in the shadow of the cross that
the act of gathering up 12 baskets,
the act of gathering up what is left over after the feeding of Elisha's 100,
the act of gathering up enough manna for today becomes clear:
gathering up and sharing with others
not simply so it does not perish,
but so that our neighbors,
indeed all creation
-- that we --
will not perish but have eternal life. (Saint John 6:12)
How does the prayer after communion put it?
"Strengthen us to serve all in need
and to give ourselves away as bread for the hungry."
Which leads me to a final and important point about works.
Saint John is not Saint Paul.
Nor is Saint John James.
Meaning, Saint John's concept of works
is not quite reflected in the debates of the Reformation, either.
Let me borrow an explanation
of Saint John's perspective on works
from New Testament scholar Raymond Brown:
"Obtaining eternal life is not a question of works,
as if faith did not matter;
nor is it a question of faith without works."
"Rather, having faith is a work" in the sense that
"it is the all important work of God."
Put another way:
God does not ask any of us to give the world eternal life,
does not ask any of us
to give our lives for the salvation of the whole world.
God accomplishes that work in Christ Jesus solely and as a gift.
As people given eternal life as a gift from God,
as people fed by God who came down from heaven,
as a world saved,
we simply and wondrously
share in this this wonderful work of God.
Share in it each time we give ourselves away.
Food enough for all.
Living bread offered to the hungry at our breakfast program.
Living bread enjoyed by many at our Senior Center.
Living bread accompanying God's children
in immigration proceedings.
Living bread advocating for climate justice.
Living bread of racial equality.
Living bread for LGBT people long denied fullness at God's table.
Living bread placed on our own tables and shared with others.
Living bread on hospital bedside tables.
Living bread visiting the imprisoned.
Living bread at this table, which is the bread of life.
Enough for all.
Enough for you.
Enough for me.
Enough, for the life of the world.
Jared R. Stahler
Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York
TENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
Sunday, August 2, 2015
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
Saint John 6:24-35