Year B — Proper 15 (The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost)

Commentary for August 19, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
All good things must come to an end.

So with the life of the great king of Israel, David. Honestly, we have seen David at both his best and his worst over these past few weeks of readings. A great reminder that the people of the Bible’s stories are just like us — imperfect, unholy, obedient, faithful, willing and willful. God loves us and uses us for God’s own good purposes, just the same.

Young Solomon now ascends the throne, and begins his reign well, according to the text: “Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David….” So far, so good. But, we do get a little hint of trouble to come with the rest of that verse: “…only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places.”

Solomon will follow God, and be blessed greatly by God — as the rest of today’s passage clearly indicates. But, he will always have a bit of a weak spot for other ways, other women (lots of them,) and other gods.

As we have learned repeatedly: nobody’s perfect.

Psalm 111
A nice text for worship, we are immediately assured of the virtue of seeking God with our “whole hearts.” Not half-hearted, mind you — God wants and deserves it all!

In an additional nod to the accession of Solomon to the throne, we have v. 10 which echoes the famous words of Proverbs 9:10 — “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” 

Whole heart, healthy respect. These are two of the prerequisites for entering the worship of the God of heaven and earth.

Proverbs 9:1-6
Wisdom is personified in Proverbs, a wise woman who provides counterpoint to the fleeting pleasures of youthful desire embodied in the “adulterous woman.” While it may be a difficult choice to make in the throes of ardent, hormone-induced passion — the mature choice is life and insight, not momentary satisfaction.

Psalm 34:9-14
One of the most poignant questions ever asked of me was by a young college student who had just returned from a short-term mission experience in Africa. Regarding this psalm, she queried me: “Pastor, I don’t understand. I met some of the most passionate believers in Christ I have ever encountered, but they are starving to death! Why does this psalm say, ‘Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing?'”

I’m still puzzling that one out.

She went on to say that the people she had left behind were not the ones who were complaining; it was those who had come from cultures of plenty and more. We decided that maybe a part of her experience was a call to wake up to the wealth with which she was blessed, and to turn that toward sharing with those whose lack was a daily part of their lives. 

Could it be that the “good” that is needed in the life of another faithful brother or sister in the Lord, is currently residing in my own pocket or bank account or other reservoir of the overflowing blessings of God.

Or, as a member of my current congregation said to me recently, “When my cup’s overflowing, I believe I need to let it run into somebody else’s saucer.” 

Ephesians 5:15-20
“Be careful how you live.”

That’s not a statement of fear or restriction, but a call to careful examination. Keep a lookout on your life; walk around it, kick the tires, be sure things are in balance.

Getting drunk? Not your best move for a real purpose in life. Walking around singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs 24/7? Well, maybe that’s not exactly what the apostle is talking about, either!

Give thanks to God at all times…have an attitude of gratitude, as the old saying goes. Not everything that happens to me is going to elicit a “hip, hip, hooray” kind of reaction — but I can be aware and open and observant to what is happening around me. And, I can remember to thank God in my abundance and to ask for God’s help when I encounter need.

John 6:51-58    
See Dr. Chilton’s explication below.

(I can’t really add anything to it…and if you can’t say nothing nice, don’t say nothing at all!)

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Most of us are so accustomed to hearing liturgical language about the bread and wine being the body and blood of Christ, that we no longer really hear the crude, primal, visceral nature of such language. 

At least not the way Jesus’ audience heard it when he 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.”

When the text says they “disputed among themselves” about this that is putting it mildly. The better translation would be “argued violently/angrily.”

As we shall see in next week’s Gospel, many got so upset that they left off following after and listening to Jesus altogether. 

This business of eating flesh and drinking blood was indeed a most offensive thing to say to Jewish people. Many of the laws about keeping kosher have to do with the avoidance of drinking blood, or of eating flesh with blood still in it, etc. 

How are we to understand this? What are we to make of such language? What is John trying to tell us with all these “bread” stories we find in chapter six? 

There’s the feeding of the 5000, the many references to the exodus from Egypt and God’s provision of manna from heaven, Jesus’ claims to be the true bread from Heaven, and now this cannibalistic reference to eating and drinking Jesus himself. 

It’s all a bit much for our modern, antiseptic sensibilities. We prefer our religion neat and clean and appropriately done and appropriately metaphorical if you please. 

And, so did many of the people to whom John was writing when he composed his Gospel several years after the death and resurrection. They were not only offended at this language about eating and drinking Jesus; they were also offended by the very idea that Jesus was really human. They preferred to think that he was a sort of ghost who only appeared in human form, but was really all spirit.

There was an idea about that the body was bad and the spirit was good and that true religion consisted of being really spiritual and escaping the body. Therefore, many who became Christian with this idea decided that Jesus, the ultimate “Spiritual Person,” wasn’t really human; wasn’t “really real” I suppose.

John’s emphasis on Jesus’ fleshiness is meant to counteract this notion. The Greek word used here is sarx. It denotes meat, flesh. The alternate word John could have used is soma, which means body. By choosing sarx John is making it clear that Jesus was a real live human being who ate and slept and went to the bathroom.

This was important then, and it’s important now. If Jesus just appeared or seemed to be human, then his death was not a real death, his suffering was not real suffering and his resurrection was just a show, a trick, an illusion. 

For the economy of salvation to really work, it is necessary that Jesus be a real human being who lived and taught and was tried and suffered and died and went to hell and was brought back to life by the power of God. 

Otherwise, it’s just a nice story and it really doesn’t change anything. In the end it doesn’t communicate anything to us about God’s love and our life. 

Jesus say, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh (sarx)”

In his book Written in Blood, Robert Coleman tells the story of a little boy whose sister needed a blood transfusion. For various reasons, the boy was the only donor whose blood could save his sister. The doctor asked, “Would you give your blood to Mary?” The little boy’s lower lip began to tremble, then he took a deep breath and said, “Yes, for my sister.”

After the nurse inserted the needle into his arm, the little boy began to look very worried, then he crossed himself, finally he looked at the doctor and said, “When do I die?”

Suddenly, the doctor realized that the little boy had thought that to give his blood to his sister meant he had to die, and miracle of miracles, he was willing to do that for his sister.

Jesus did that for us. That’s what John wants us to contemplate. It’s not a metaphor, not a parable, not a mythological construct about dying and rising gods. John is clear about that and wants his readers to be clear also.

This is why we have the language about eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood. John uses a word for eating which is probably better translated “gnaw” or “chew”. Again, he wants to drive home the point of the grounded reality of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection.

As we come to the table, we are called to be mindful of Jesus’ presence in our midst. It was a real presence then and it is a real presence now. 

The Gospel is that Jesus really, truly came down from heaven to live among us as the fleshly love of God.

The Gospel is that Jesus really, truly died upon the cross, giving up his flesh and spilling his blood, to save us from our sins.

The Gospel is that God almighty really, truly raised him from the dead, brought him out of the grave to a new and eternal life.

The Gospel is that God almighty really, truly has just such a future in store for each and every one of us.

Amen and amen.

2 thoughts on “Year B — Proper 15 (The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost)

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