The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
E. Bevan Stanley
August 1, 2021
Proper 13, Year B, Track 1
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
In the name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
In reading from the Hebrew scriptures and the reading from the Gospel we see two confrontations with God. In Second Samuel we hear part two of the sordid story of David and Bathsheba. When David should have been out leading his army, he stayed home. There he saw a beautiful woman. He used his power as king to have sex with her. Then he had her husband killed and married her. In today’s reading we hear the greatest understatement in the Bible: “The thing that David had done displeased the LORD.” God sends the prophet Nathan to confront David. Nathan tells David a story about a rich man who steals the pet lamb of a poor neighbor to feed a guest. David says, “That man deserves to die!” Nathan responds, “You are that man.” David sees the truth and repents.
Last week we heard about Jesus feeding the five thousand and then stilling the storm. Now we hear about what happened when he returned to Capernaum and the conversation he had with the crowds there. Jesus starts by saying, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” These were not two different events the crowd chose between—seeing signs or eating bread. Rather, Jesus is raising the question of meaning. The feeding of the five thousand was not just about filling hungry bellies. It was a sign. It was God signaling that Jesus is the Son. That the food in the mouths was food from God.
Jesus continues with, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” To this the crowd asks, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answers them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they say to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” At this point Jesus must have been tempted to say, “You idiots, what do you think just happened?” Instead, Jesus points away from himself and to the Father. “It is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” When the crowd asks for this heavenly bread Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
The passage is about meaning and seeing a deeper reality. The bread they ate is not just bread, it is God nurturing us. Jesus is not just a purveyor of nutrients; he is the source of life. When the people ask for a sign Jesus does not say, “You just saw one.” He says, “I am the sign.” Jesus is not the means to life; he is life.
Before I left for vacation, our bishops sent out communication to the clergy commending an article by a United Methodist pastor named Jenny Smith. In that article Pastor Smith wrote that our situation now is like a runner who has just finished a marathon. But instead of collapsing with fatigue and getting a drink of water, someone slaps another bib on them says, “Now you have to run another one.” We have been through a year and half of COVID. We are tired. We are fed up. We have been changing how we worship as the guidelines for safety keep changing. We have learned new technologies. We have adjusted and adapted. Now as we seem to be getting past the worst of it, new strains of the virus are coming. Vaccinations have slowed down when we have not yet achieved herd immunity. And now it is time to gear up for another program year. We need to recruit people for all the jobs that we did not have to do when we were staying home. We need to organize another stewardship season. And so we start another marathon.
The plea of our bishops is that we be gentle with ourselves and with each other in this time of change and transition to whatever our “new normal” will be after COVID. Take time to breath. Take time to rest. They write, “In the midst of these trials and tribulations we invite you all to stay centered in Jesus who knows the pain and death-dealing realities of this mortal life, and yet triumphed over death and offers us new life in the Resurrection. As much as you can, we encourage all of you to have time off this summer to find time for rest, refreshment, and re-creation.” Although they are writing to the clergy, the message pertains to all of us. We all need rest and nourishment from God. We need the bread of life that Jesus offers. We need each other. This is our program for the coming months—taking care of each other.
Jesus still says to us, “I am the bread of life.” He does not say, “I will give you the bread of life. He says he is the bread of life. We don’t go to Jesus to get bread. We go to Jesus to get life. This is what we do at communion. We don’t come to the altar to get food. We would all starve on the little wafer we get. We come to the altar to get God’s life. We come to the altar to get Jesus.
The stories of Nathan confronting David and of Jesus probing the motives of the crowd both show us how we need people to help us see our priorities and to see our own behaviors and motivations. The bread of life helps us swallow the bitter pills of our own shortcomings. And an honest appraisal of our shortcomings shows us the need for the bread of life. God is pleased to provide us with both.
Jesus said, “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”