- 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a & Psalm 51:1-12
- Ephesians 4:1-16
- John 6:24-35
This week’s first reading in the RCL continues the story of David’s sexual liaison with Bath-Sheba, the wife of one of his senior officers. Having arranged for Uriah to be murdered on the battlefront, David is now able to add Bath-Sheba to his collection of wives.
The heart of the story concerns God’s rebuke of David for his sin. This was couched in the famous parable of the poor farmer whose only sheep was taken for the pleasure of a rich neighbor who had many many animals in his flock.
The use of such “case studies” when seeking to gain the ruler’s decision on a particular case is also known from other stories in the OT. A similar device appears in 2Sam 14 when a woman from Tekoa (later the home village of the prophet Amos) is used by another of David’s officials to engage the king on a difficult personal matter.
The punishment that befalls David and Bath-Sheba is harsh and unremitting. The child born as a result of their passion will become ill and die. Worse still, if that is possible, their family will never be free from intrigue and violence:
Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house,
for you have despised me,
and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.
Thus says the LORD:
“I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house;
and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor,
and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun.
For you did it secretly;
but I will do this thing before all Israel,
and before the sun.”
This grim prophecy will be worked out in the narratives that follow in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings.
While the narrative corrects the abuse perpetrated by David, the story still leaves much to be desired as a moral text. There is no hint of challenging the royal prerogative to take other men’s wives, nor indeed to enjoy sexual relations with multiple partners drawn from the harem. We are still very much in an ancient patriarchal society. There is little of the “Kingdom values” proclaimed by Jesus in such a story.
Like so much of the biblical texts — including such cultural icons as the Ten Commandments — the social realities reflected here come from, and reinforce, a world made by and for men.
In Eph 4:1-6 we have a number of phrases intended to promote a sense of unity in a Christian community whose unity had been problematic: one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God …
“Faith” here seems to have moved from being a trusting attitude towards God (as seen in Jesus’ own practice and in the authentic writings of Paul) to become a noun, an “object” that is held and treasured. If that is correct, then this may another clue that we are dealing with a late 1C author whose views on this point are not unlike those found in Jude 3 (“contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints”).
These words continue to play a role in today’s church communities through their use in liturgies such as baptism services. That alone would make them words with a remarkable shelf life, and expressions of a deep continuity across the centuries.
The second part of this passage (vss. 7-16), develops the idea of underlying unity so as to include a diversity of gifts and ministries within the faith community.
It is not necessary to see lists such as we find here and in 1Cor 12:4-11 as definitive for church life in subsequent generations. It may be better to see both lists as time capsules that preserve a snapshot of how the early Christian communities associated with Paul organized their own lives together.
One of the interesting things to note is that the earlier snapshot (1Cor 12) tends to speak of functions, while the later document (Eph 4) now speaks of functionaries:
1 Cor 12:4-11
12:4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 12:5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 12:6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 12:7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
12:8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom,
12:11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
4:11 The gifts he gave were that
some would be apostles,
4:12 equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 4:13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
4:14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 4:15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 4:16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
What kind of community is presupposed by the description in 1Cor 12? Does the shift from functions exercised to functionaries—with the God-given authority to act within the Church—reflect a more settled vision of Christian community?
If we tried to describe the ways in which the Spirit of God is manifest in our own faith communities, what kind of list would we develop?
This is the second in a series of five Sundays that draws on John 6 for the Gospel:
- John 6:1-21 – feeding of the 5,000 & Jesus walking on water
- John 6:24-35 – controversy over the bread God gives
- John 6:35,41-51 – controversy over Jesus
- John 6:51-58 – eat my flesh, drink my blood
- John 6:56-69 – Jesus loses many disciples
The author moves from the story of the miraculous feeding to the discourse in which “Jesus” will develop the theme of himself being the Bread of Life that comes down from heaven. The transition is made by reference to traditional Jewish expectations that the Messiah’s appearance would be validated by certain “signs,” including miraculous bread from heaven.
As we noted last week, a rabbinic commentary in the fourth century captures these expectations as follows:
Rabbi Berekia said in the name of Rabbi Jicchaq:
As the first redeemer [Moses] so the last redeemer [the Christ].
As it is said of the first redeemer:
And Moses took his wife and his sons and had them ride on an ass (Exod. 4.20),
so the last redeemer, for it is said: Lowly, and riding on an ass (Zech. 9.9).
As the first redeemer caused manna to come down,
for it is said: Lo, I cause bread to rain down upon you from heaven (Exod. 16.4),
so the last redeemer will cause manna to come down,
for it is said: White bread will lie upon the earth (Ps 72.16, Midrash).
As the first redeemer caused the well to spring forth (Num. 20.11),
so the last redeemer will cause water to spring forth,
for it is said: And a fountain will break forth out of the house of Yahweh. (Joel 3.18).
Central to the author’s craft here is the motif of ironic misunderstanding on the part of Jesus’ protagonists:
So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 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. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said 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.’” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but 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.” 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.” (John 6:24-35 NRSV)
In the Gospel of John we often find that Jesus says something, or performs some “sign” (his miracles are never simply acts of power in John, but always pointers to some deeper truth), that results in confusion and misunderstanding on the part of the observers. In many cases John seems to delight in using irony in these situations, with the uncomprehending opponents sometimes saying things that are more true than they realise.
Examples of this can be seen in:
- Mary and the steward at Cana (ch 2)
- Nicodemus (ch 3)
- Samaritan woman (ch 4)
- Bread from heaven (ch 6)
- Confusion over the Messiah’s origins (ch 7, esp. vss 40-44)
- Caiaphas’ oracle (11:50)
- Pilate and Jesus (see especially the alternative reading for 19:13)
When Jesus challenges and clarifies their misunderstanding in John 6 the crowd responds with a line that echoes the request of the Samaritan woman after Jesus corrects her confusion:
Crowd in 6:34 – “Sir, give us this bread always.”
Woman in 4:15 – “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty …”
It is also interesting to note that up until the end of this section, the group of people engaging Jesus in conversation is simply called “the crowd.” However, as their disposition becomes increasingly hostile to Jesus in the following verses, the “crowd” becomes “the Jews.”
This way of describing the opponents of Jesus is especially characteristic of John. Of the 76 examples of this phrase in the Gospels (including duplicates between the synoptics), 62 are found in John. By way of contrast, the phrase occurs only 5 times in the Pauline corpus, and only twice in the Book of Revelation.
The implicit anti-Semitism of this phrase was perhaps not especially significant in the original context, when most Christians were Jewish. However, even in that context, the phrase still reflected the tensions between followers of Jesus and the Torah-observant “Jews” of the synagogue communities. As time passed, the anti-Semitism encoded within such biblical texts developed into theological stereotyping of the Jewish people, ethnic discrimination and murderous pogroms. The final obscenity was the Nazi holocaust.
- 353 Bread of Life – John 6:22-50
Stratum: II (60-80 CE)
Liturgies and Prayers
For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site
Other recommended sites include:
See David MacGregor’s Together to Celebrate site for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre.