Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 1st, 2021

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The feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle recorded by all four Gospels. Our year B Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John share as well the account of a fearsome sea crossing, which follows it, and in which Jesus comes to the disciples walking on the water. In John, this mysterious boat-less night crossing of the Sea of Galilee by Jesus leads the well-fed crowds to believe he is still at Tiberias. Searching for him and finding him instead at Capernaum, Jesus launches into a long discourse about spiritual food and the true bread from heaven, which runs the length of the 70 plus verse chapter six. The lectionary has therefore decided to depart from Mark here and thus allow a five Sunday long walk through the sixth chapter of John, which begins as did Mark and then moves into more extended address.

Many of the details, moreover, are the same and shared by the two Gospels. Five loaves and two fish, the command to sit down on the grass, the eucharistic-like blessing and breaking and distributing, 12 baskets of leftovers, fear from the disciples at Jesus approach on the water. In John the reference to Passover likely underscores the eucharistic overtone, especially as the Fourth Gospel provides no Last Supper scene alongside the other synoptic witnesses.

In the continuous reading through the books of Samuel, which Track One presents, we land on the terrible chapter of David’s affair with Bathsheba, the wife of his stalwart mercenary warrior Uriah the Hittite. The heretofore flattering and salutary portrayal of David suddenly shifts to its shocking nadir, with the men in the field defending Israel and David prowling the rooftop in indolent free time. In one episode we witness coveting, adultery and false witness, as well as the first commandments of the Decalogue, in breach. The Psalm summarizes David in this wretched loss of integrity, “The fool has said in his heart there is no God.” But God looks down from heaven all the same, high above David on his rooftop, with the same clear-eyed truthfulness as our narrator. David contriving to cover up his misdeeds and Uriah holding fast to his integrity, frustrating David’s scheme and leading to his own death, left alone on the front lines at David’s command, in the end. In the Annals of the Assyrian Kings there is never a misstep, only flattery and victory without ceasing. Israel’s record of its self allows the horrible light of truth to shine, even on God’s anointed and sustained David, because it is a sacred record guided by the God of Holy Truth, Righteousness, and Mercy.

If read as the OT lesson for this Sunday it is hard to imagine a greater, more stunning contrast with the Davidic King Jesus. Stingy, self-indulgent, conniving, a spiral into Godlessness, where in Jesus is healing, feeding, multiplying, compassionate service. God himself. “O that deliverance would come out of Zion,” our Psalmist cries, restoring the fortunes of a broken people. And there he is come.

Over the coming weeks we will stay with the storyline of David and then Solomon. David’s confession before the prophet Nathan comes next week and alongside it the penitent psalm 51. “Against you, you only have I sinned. And done what is evil in your sight. Create in me a clean heart O God.”

The OT lesson chosen to come alongside the NT’s feeding of the 5000 is the brief account of Elisha’s multiplication of twenty barley loaves and ears of grain. It has likely influenced the multiplication stories in the NT, if not also Jesus own sense of his mission, in showing Jesus to be a prophet greater in spirit than Elijah or Elisha, his predecessors. Elisha is well on the way to becoming a powerful wonder worker. It is a time of famine in the northern kingdom. In the section just preceding ours he has turned a pot of lethal food into healthy and sustaining soup.

Now a man arrives with a sack of food for the man of God. Elisha insists that it will suffice for his hundred fellow prophets and commands it be set before them. His servant, like the disciples, objects that it will only be enough for a few. They eat and as Elisha had promised, there is bread left over after the filling meal. The way is being prepared for the Bread of Life, present there in Israel’s manna and twenty loaves, and present in the flesh feeding 5000 with five barley loaves and two fish, 12 basketfuls left over.

As the grace we said at my parents’ table put it, from the 145th psalm read in response to 2 Kings 4 today. “The eyes of all wait upon Thee O Lord, and Thou giveth them their meat in due season. Thou openest thy hand and fillest all things living with plenteousness.” The LORD is near to those who call on him faithfully, in Jesus and in his prophetic forerunners.

Our Ephesians reading is the soaring pray of Paul for the church, which points to a kind of doxological excess and overflowing, equivalent to twelve baskets left over after starting with but five loaves and two fish; and feeding multitudes. There is a richness untapped and fully on offer, that God the Father is ready to give, due to the work of Jesus Christ, there for the saints living and those gone before. Paul strains to find adequate spatial terms to describe this richness of glory God wants to impart, and thus he must pray and bow his knee. “That you may have the power, Christ dwelling in your hearts by faith, to comprehend what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ surpassing knowledge,” and be filled with the loaves of God’s very life and spirit to basketfuls of overflowing.

As indicated, over the coming four Sundays of August the Gospel reading remains in the sixth chapter of John, and the various discourses on the true bread from heaven found there. I am the bread of life. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. Eucharistic teaching in the manner of the fourth Gospel. Track I takes us from the revolt of Absalom—part of the temporal punishment for David’s sin—and into the reign of Solomon. The next four Sundays will bring us to the end of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. And the OT paired readings focus on feeding and new life as the OT dwells on the theme – manna in the wilderness, the desert feeding of Elijah, the feast of wisdom in Proverbs and the final chapter of Joshua where new life in the LORD is chosen.

In our little village here in France, next to the parish church where you can sometimes hear the bells ring in these podcasts, the long days of August are here. The lovers of holidays, the French, are ensconced in their vacation time in earnest. So too where you are in Canada and the US and elsewhere, during the summer dog days. I, too, will take the month off and return for Pentecost 15, the first Sunday in September.

We have been moving along for 30 episodes now. Do you have suggestions? I will stay with the basic format, which is intended to stay close to the lessons, in their entirety, so as to get you started in your weekly reflections and sermon preparation, or for worshipping with these texts on Sunday. If you have feedback, send it along to our Wycliffe hosts. My thanks to Terry Spratt and Steve Hewko for their excellent studio help and encouragement. Until September then, Godspeed.

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