Old Testament: Kings (2:10-12, 3:3-14)
David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David. The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established. Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.”
The Response: Psalm 111
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, *
in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.
2 Great are the deeds of the Lord! *
they are studied by all who delight in them.
3 His work is full of majesty and splendor, *
and his righteousness endures for ever.
4 He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; *
the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.
5 He gives food to those who fear him; *
he is ever mindful of his covenant.
6 He has shown his people the power of his works *
in giving them the lands of the nations.
7 The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice; *
all his commandments are sure.
8 They stand fast for ever and ever, *
because they are done in truth and equity.
9 He sent redemption to his people;
he commanded his covenant for ever; *
holy and awesome is his Name.
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; *
those who act accordingly have a good understanding;
his praise endures for ever.
The Epistle: Ephesians (5:15-20)
Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Gospel: John (6:51-58)
Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Nearly 200 years ago, French lawyer and author, Anthelme Brillat-Savarin remarked, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are” (“Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es”). His observation continues to be embraced by some people today in its more contemporary form: “You are what you eat.”
Contemporary medical research confirms more and more the truth of that statement. Our choice of the food that we ingest affects not only our digestive system, but also our cardiovascular system, and the likelihood that we will develop diabetes and certain types of cancers. Current studies are gathering more and more evidence that what we eat is likewise a significant factor in determining whether or not we will develop dementia or other cognitive issues. We clearly are, and clearly will become what we eat.
“You are what you eat” could well serve as a title for chapter 6 of the gospel according to John, from which our Sunday gospel readings are currently taken. In the selections that we heard last week and this week, Jesus’ critics point out that God, through Moses, had given them manna in the wilderness to be their food. But Jesus counters with the observation: “And where did it get them? They’re all dead, aren’t they?” Then the chapter builds to its climax as Jesus proclaims to the crowds that he is the true bread from heaven, that he is the food that God gives them for the fullness of life and for eternal life.
Those who participate in our Adult Forum know that John, chapter 6, has a complex history. In the form in which we have it, the final verse of today’s reading together with all of next Sunday’s reading focuses on the early church’s belief in Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist, or Holy Communion. But the first two-thirds of the chapter portray Jesus as the bread given to the world in the sense of Jesus being God’s Word, God’s self-revelation to the world.
We are all familiar with the temptation scene in the early chapters of Matthew and Luke in which Jesus responds to the devil by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” The scriptures often portray God’s word as the food that satisfies our deepest hungers. And, in John’s version of the gospel, he envisions Jesus as that life-giving word of God made flesh.
But in order to be fed by him and his word, we need come to know Jesus and listen to Jesus attentively without trying to remake him in our image, without trying to shape him into what we want him to be. That’s not an easy thing to do. From the very beginning, people have tried to do that.
In the church’s early centuries, for example, there were some Christians who attempted to portray Jesus as a purely divine being, with his humanity being only a façade. The result was an image of him as distant from the life and the world in which we live, one who never would have shared in the experiences, sufferings, and limitations that are an integral part of our lives and of the lives of every human being. This was clearly not someone with whom we could identify or whose example we could follow.
In the Middle Ages, Jesus was frequently portrayed as a somber judge, waiting for us at the end of our lives and at the end of time, ready to condemn those who had not followed his commanded way of life. Out of fear, Christians in Europe focused their attention on praying to Mary and the other saints, asking them to intercede on their behalf so that they would survive Christ’s stern judgment. The image of him that seems to have dominated was one that would not have made anyone want to follow and emulate him.
By the nineteenth century, the pendulum, at least in the church in the west, seemed to have swung the other way. Prayers and hymns and popular devotions came to portray him as the “Sweet Jesus,” whose only concern was for me and for making sure my life was free from sufferings and difficulties. Some popular church hymns reversed direction from picturing Jesus as the formidable judge of the medieval “Dies irae” to imagining him as a totally innocuous and sickeningly saccharine figure who would challenge no one and who asked nothing difficult of us as his followers. The message of the gospel and the example of Jesus no longer had to do with us building up the kingdom of God and giving of ourselves for that divine endeavor. It was all focused on making life as trouble-free as possible for the pious believer as an individual. For many people, that is still their distorted view of the gospel message.
If we really want to allow Jesus to be our “living bread,” revealing God to us and nourishing us with the life of God, then we need to find a way to see him, not as we want him to be, but as he is portrayed for us in the various writings of the New Testament, our standard of faith. Like Solomon in today’s first reading, we need to ask God to open us up to God’s own wisdom and insight instead of trying to find a way simply to reinforce what we already want to believe.
That’s not an easy thing to do. First of all, there are multiple portrayals of Jesus in the New Testament, not just one. Its books view him, and the first Christians’ beliefs about him, from a variety of different perspectives, highlighting first one aspect and then another. Second, while those believers in the three time-periods that I mentioned portrayed him in the culture of their time and in ways that they wanted him to be, so do we. To a certain extent, that is unavoidable. Our understanding and perspective, like that of all human beings, is necessarily colored by our experiences and our culture and our times. The approach of those who claim to interpret the Bible literally, for example, is a creation of a worldview that emerged in the early 20th century; it is not “traditional” in any genuine sense of tradition; and it would have been incomprehensible to many generations of believers in the past. Despite their claims of being objective, they are just as locked into a narrow perspective as anyone else is, and their claims about God and the message of the scriptures tend to be just as skewed as those of the people whom they criticize.
That is why we need to return over and over again to our shared listening to the word of God in the scriptures, to take an intelligent and critical approach to it, to probe, to question, to try to understand. We need to be skeptical. And we need to be skeptical especially of any image of Jesus that looks and speaks and acts too much like us.
We need to be open to different and deeper and more faithful ways of reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting God’s word. For by allowing God to feed us with its riches, we might just find that increasingly we are becoming what we eat.