Eat.Pent7B.2003

Pentecost 7B, 2003
John 6:1-21

A Liturgy is also available

BREAD AND WORDS ARE GOOD TO BE EATEN

Jesus often talked about food.
And gospel writers such as this morning’s storyteller we call John,
often put words in the mouth of Jesus 
to have him speak about food and eating.

But from all the studies that have been undertaken on the ‘historical Jesus’,
one thing seems sure - Jesus was not a literalist.
He spoke so words would be eaten.

When bread and wine are eaten, they become body and blood.
When body and blood are eaten, they become compassionate deeds.
When compassionate deeds are eaten, 
they become as the Holy One in our neighbour.

Jesus often talked about food.
As he moved from place to place he would seek rest in a house.
He would make his way to the cooking space
because there he knew he could find food
to transform his weariness into new energy and purpose.

For it is the cooking space which is the place of transformations...

So let me play with this suggestion for a moment,
first offered by Brazilian Rubem Alves.

In the cooking space nothing is allowed to remain the same.
Things come in raw, as nature produced them.
And they go out different, 
according to the demands of taste and pleasure.

The raw must cease to exist for something different to appear.
The hard must be softened.
Smells and tastes which were dormant inside are forced to come out.
Cooking is a magic kiss which wakes up sleeping pleasures.

In a cooking space everything is a new creature.
Everything is made anew.

Mouth is the place of eating and drinking long before it is the place of speaking.
Companions are those who eat bread and drink wine together.
We are what we eat.

oo0oo

John, our gospel storyteller this morning, 
consistently takes stories from the oral and written traditions about Jesus 
and moulds and reshapes them 
so they make new statements and suggestions about who Jesus was.

Bishop John Shelby Spong suggests that these statements
show evidence of a long theological development, 
and are so poetic and skilfully crafted, they
“can not possibly have been the literal words of the historic Jesus” (Spong 1991:186).

While William Loader suggests that what John wanted to say was important,
was that Jesus is intimately linked to God.

So for storyteller John, Jesus so much represents God,
that divine attributes easily transfer to him,
in this the most symbolic of Gospels in our religious tradition.

In this particular story, often called ‘The feeding of the 5000’,
storyteller John continues to have 
little sympathy for the crowds who follow 
because of the so-called ‘miracles’.
For they fail to see this story is a sign of something more.

When bread and wine are eaten, they become body and blood.
When body and blood are eaten, they become 
new energy and new purpose,
transforming weariness into compassionate deeds.
When compassionate deeds are eaten, 
they become as the Holy One in our neighbour.

Those of you who are familiar with many of the biblical stories
will recall that various versions of this story
also appear in all the synoptic Gospels - Matthew, Mark and Luke -
with a double whammy in Mark.

While Mark’s story is probably the earliest
each storyteller tells his or her story just a bit differently.

But we would expect this because each story is told 
in a different context,
to a different audience,
with different purposes in mind,
by a different storyteller,
using different resources - both oral and written.

And then there is our different situation and stories and life experiences...

Mark’s second story suggests a compassionate response by Jesus 
as the ‘shepherd’ of the people.

Matthew’s story suggests everything depends on Jesus’ words and authority.

Luke’s story suggests the disciples are expected to initiate action.

While John suggests to relate to Jesus was to relate to God
as the symbolic ‘bread of life’.

oo0oo

Today we celebrate St James Day.
And already we have heard in our story from the Early Church
that James, our James, one of the sons of Zebedee,
became the first of the apostles to be martyred.

James had a brother, John.
The Book of Acts also confirms that John
was active in Jerusalem and Palestine.

He was one of the so-called ‘pillars of the church’,
and exercised a powerful leadership role in the Christian community.

So, was John Zebedee, brother of James Zebedee, our James,
the so-called “author” of this collection of writings we call John’s Gospel?
Bishop John Spong suggests that it is a high probability.  He says:
“There was obviously a theological giant in this process somewhere, a genius of rare spiritual depth who could weave together this profound narrative” (Spong 1991:195).

To use a Gregor Henderson (colleague) phrase: this is fascinating stuff!
Even though I personally have some doubt about Jack Spong’s conclusion.

oo0oo

In times of high anxiety and stress, many so-called religious people
seem to narrow their focus and become more rigid.
Such is what has happened over the past week by many people,
according to the media,
over the decision of the (Uniting Church) National Assembly
to reaffirm that Presbyteries must deal
with each candidate for ordination on their merit,
exploring gifts and call.

But the storyteller John, John Zebedee, brother of James Zebedee, our James,
will have none of that crude, narrowing focus.
He paints a big and broad and colourful picture
of the one called Jesus of Nazareth, identified as the Christ.

Through his life experiences he had found a unique way
to tell this Jesus story that contrasted sharply with
and separated it from, the other Gospel stories.

Through sign and symbol, beyond literalism, and fired by imagination,
John the storyteller invites his listeners
to sense the very real presentness of God in Jesus.

For John, Jesus is “the doorway into God” (Spong 1991:207).

It is a pity that those who seek to defend biblical truth,
be it on matters of food, Jesus, or human sexuality,
“so often fail to comprehend its message” (Spong 1991:207).

Notes:
Spong, J. S. 1991. Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism. A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture. NY: New York HarperSanfrancisco

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