The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13, 2 August 2015

II Samuel 11:26-12:13a
Psalm 51:1-13
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
Psalm 78:23-29

Ephesians 4:1-16
St. John 6:24-35

Background: Bread
We have known bread from around 28,000 BCE until this day. Before grains were used the starches of plants (ferns, cattails, and roots) were baked on rocks. Grains enter the picture around 10,000 BCE. Leavening occurred naturally with airborne yeasts providing the leavening agents. Actually bread and beer are forms of the same food, both involving grain and fermentation. Other cultures used wine to produce leavened bread, while some began the practice of saving a lump of starter to leaven the next batch. Various grains and parts of grains were used in the production of bread: wheat flour, barley flour, wheat germ, rye, and hemp. In the bread stories in John, we are referring to bread made from barley, the bread of the poor.

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.

But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD, and the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, "There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him." Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, "As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity."

Nathan said to David, "You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 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." David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD."

This story begins with a sense of urgency that is not borne of lust but rather honor. Bathsheba observes the grieving customs, and then immediately comes to the House of David to cover her pregnancy with a sense of honor. These precautions, however, are not enough. Soon there will be other judgments that will have to be taken into account. We experience God’s anger over this situation in the appearance of Nathan, the prophet. The sins are multiple, compounding adultery and murder. Here it is not David who sends, but rather God who sends Nathan. He tells a parable, or really a morality tale. We know its folk character from the initial words, “There were two men in a certain city.” The words that describe these men are contrastive, “poor”, “rich”, and we meet the “wayfarer” the precipitation for the cause of the story. Other words will connect us to the Bathsheba story, “eat”, “drink”, “and lie” – the activities that David expected of Uriah in order to cover up David’s sin. The words also impart an intimacy, especially the phrase “and lie in his bosom” which is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. That the lamb is slaughtered and eaten only points to the irretrievable nature of the situation. There is no ability to return to the situation of the past.

Nathan’s story engages David and he is angry with “the man” of the story. Of course, David is that man. David’s condemnation of the man, “(he) deserves to die”, connects him once more to the deadly reality of what he has done to Uriah, and in a sense to Bathsheba. Now the table turn, and the terrible words of judgment fall from Nathan’s lips, “You are the man.”  What follows is God’s recounting of God’s mercy given to David, and of David’s treachery. If there is karma in the Bible, it is here. The House of David is now infected with violence and the sword, with sexual infidelity that is made public, and with a sense of doom and death, I am about to raise up evil against you from your own house.”

Breaking open II Samuel
  1. What is Nathan’s technique?
  2. What are all of David’s reactions?
  3. What is the karma that David experiences?

Psalm 51:1-13 Miserere mei, Deus

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; *
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

Wash me through and through from my wickedness *
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, *
and my sin is ever before me.

Against you only have I sinned *
and done what is evil in your sight.

And so you are justified when you speak *
and upright in your judgment.

Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, *
a sinner from my mother's womb.

For behold, you look for truth deep within me, *
and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; *
wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

Make me hear of joy and gladness, *
that the body you have broken may rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins *
and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, *
and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from your presence *
and take not your holy Spirit from me.

Give me the joy of your saving help again *
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.

It is unfortunate that the liturgical selection of the psalm leaves out the opening dedication: “For the lead player, a David psalm, upon Nathan the prophet’s coming to him when he had come to bed with Bathsheba.”  There is a pun in the introduction for both David and Nathan “come to”, the one into David’s presence, and the other in to Bathsheba. The introduction was most likely added a penitential psalm at a later date. You might want to look at the ending verse of the psalm, which is not used here, but which mentions the rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, thus placing the psalm sometime after 586 BCE, the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar.

This is one of the seven penitential psalms used in the Liturgy, and it is also used as a part of the penitential prayer in the Jewish liturgy as well. We understand the breadth of condemnation in the words, “Indeed I have been wicked from my birth.” Some will see in this usage a reference to Original Sin, while others will see it as a thorough phrase describing the human condition. The phrase of verse seven, “For behold, you look for truth deep within me,” along with its accompanying versets describing “wisdom” seems confusing. Robert Alter translates it as, “You desired truth in what is hidden,”[1] and describes the general confusion around the text. He comments that some commentators refer to the inner organs, thus leading me to conclude that this may be about emotions, and the biblical phrase “his bowels were moved,” sort of the sense of the Greek splanchna.

What follows will be familiar with most readers, the washing with hyssop, used to sprinkle the people either with the blood from the sacrifice or with water. Descriptive phrases describe the intent of the psalmist: “wash me”, “whiter than snow”, the “clean heart”, “do not cast me away”, and the life saving one, “do not take your holy Spirit from me.” Often sung as an Offertory in the Lutheran liturgy, this will be quite familiar to those readers.

Breaking open Psalm 51:
  1. What emotions does this psalm bring to you?
  2. Do you feel sinful? How?
  3. How does God redeem you?


Exodus 16:2-4,9-15

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, "If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."

Then the LORD said to Moses, "I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not."

Then Moses said to Aaron, "Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, `Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.'" And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. The LORD spoke to Moses and said, "I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, `At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'"

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, "It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat."

This story follows immediately after the incident at the Reed Sea. The miracle there and the victory over Pharaoh is short lived, for the people immediately have second thoughts and begin the pattern of murmuring complaint.  They think longingly of the “fleshpots of Egypt,” and the abundance there. It is early on, and God seems quite amenable. There is an immediate response to their complaining for soon manna and quail are provided as food. This is an excellent accompaniment to the Gospel reading for this morning as we continue with St John’s consideration of Jesus as the Bread of Life.

Breaking open Exodus:
  1. What does the timing of Israel’s complaint tell you?
  2. What does God’s timing tell you?
  3. How satisfied are you in life?

Psalm 78:23-29 Attendite, popule

So he commanded the clouds above *
and opened the doors of heaven.

He rained down manna upon them to eat *
and gave them grain from heaven.

So mortals ate the bread of angels; *
he provided for them food enough.

He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens *
and led out the south wind by his might.

He rained down flesh upon them like dust *
and winged birds like the sand of the sea.

He let it fall in the midst of their camp *
and round about their dwellings.

So they ate and were well filled, *
for he gave them what they craved.

You might want to read the entirety of this psalm that recounts the plagues of Egypt. The verses from our liturgical selection center on the gift of manna, which is “rained down” upon them. The phrase, “the bread of angels” is especially lovely. Likewise the quails are given, and “so they ate and were well filled.”

Breaking open Psalm 78:
  1. When have you been hungry?
  2. Does your neighbor eat as well as you do?
  3. What do you do for the humgry on the streets?

Ephesians 4:1-16

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it is said,

"When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people."

(When it says, "He ascended," what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 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. 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. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 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.

With this pericope, Ephesians begins a series of ethical exhortations; how those who follow Christ should live a worthy life. It follows upon the previous section, not only thematically but logically as well, “I therefore beg you.”  On the basis of what God has done for both Jew and Gentile, Paul then moves on to describe how life should be lived by those who are a part of that unity. And less we think that this is something of a monochromatic portrayal of a common people in Christ, Paul brightens it with a sense of the wide diversity of gifts that are present among those who follow and give thanks for Jesus. What is important here is “the work of ministry,” for that is what life, especially life in Christ, is. Paul compares the way that we receive the gifts of Word and talent by making a comparison to Moses, “When he ascended.” You may want to compare that text to Psalm 68:18. The body which has its problems in the Track 1 readings (David’s lusting after Bathsheba) is here seen as sign and symbol of the mystery of the Body of Christ.

Breaking open Ephesians:
  1. What gifts for ministry do you have?
  2. How do you use them?
  3. Why?

St. John 6:24-35

The next day, when the people who remained after the feeding of the five thousand 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."

We are still in a section of John that is placing Jesus at events that are reflective of the festivals of Judaism, here Jesus and the Passover – a series on the Bread of Life. Last Sunday it was the feeding of the 5,000, and today we have a dialogue in which Jesus unpacks what has just happened. The first question is not about what happened or how it happened, bur rather the “who” of the happening. Who exactly is this Jesus? They call him Rabbi, so they sense a teacher - but of what? Jesus questions their intentions. Was it the bread and satisfaction that drew them to him, or could it have been something quite else? Jesus has them look beyond the bread, beyond the full belly, beyond satisfaction. Jesus points to the work of God. The people wonder what that work might be for them. They however want a sign, and they struggle to see it comparing what had just happened to the miracle in the wilderness of Sinai. Finally the people mirror the woman at the well – “give us this bread (water) always.” John leaves them in their wonder and then assails them with Jesus’ truth. “I am the bread of life.”  Jesus is both priest and victim, both giver and the gift.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What is your understanding of the Eucharist?
  2. Where do you find the bread of life?
  3. How is Jesus the bread of life for you?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2015, Michael T. Hiller

[1]Alter, R. (2007),  The Book of Psalms, A Translation with Commentary, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, Kindle Location 4425.


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