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Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Last Sunday, the Reverend Bob Mitchell, shared his reflections with us on the stories of the ‘feeding of the five thousand’ and ‘Jesus walking on the water’, as told in the Gospel of John which, as Bob told us, have a different emphasis from the versions of the same stories told by the other gospel writers.

Bob pointed out how, in John’s account of the ‘feeding of the five thousand’, the people who had come out to see Jesus responded to this miracle with a demand for more miracles. We see that in today’s gospel reading too when, in response to a question from the crowd regarding what they must do to perform the works of God, Jesus tells them that they must believe in Him, because He is the one who has been sent by God. But the people respond by asking Jesus to perform another miracle, so that they might believe Him, even though, they have just witnessed the feeding miracle for themselves. 

They actually challenge the authority of Jesus by comparing Him to Moses, saying to Jesus that it was Moses who gave their ancestors manna from heaven (which is of course a reference to the time when the Israelites were in the wilderness following the Exodus from Egypt). Jesus corrects them, telling them that it wasn’t Moses who provided the manna, but God. And he goes on to tell them that it is His Father (God) who now gives them the true bread of heaven, which is of course Jesus himself.

When the Jewish people looked back to the experience of the Exodus, they made a connection between Moses and the bread from heaven. From the time of Moses, the bread from heaven came to be seen as the Torah, the law that was given to Moses by God. The Jewish people believed in the life-giving presence of the Torah, which they saw as being God’s nourishment for His people.

So by saying that He is the true bread of heaven, Jesus was now telling the people, that access to God was no longer gained by performing the works of the Torah, but instead by believing in Him, that He was the Messiah. And not only that, He was also saying that whereas the Torah provided nourishment only to the people of Israel, the true bread of heaven, will give life to the whole world. In other words, through faith in Jesus Christ, all the people of the world can now be God’s people, not just the people of Israel. 

That is one of the points that Paul makes to the church at Ephesus in today’s reading from the Letter to the Ephesians. He tells them, “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”. There is one body; which is the Church.

And because the Church is one body, Paul makes another point; which is that the members of the Church should make every effort to ensure they remain in unity. Paul urges them to lead lives that are worthy of the calling to which they have been called by God, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love”.

He reminds them that by God’s grace each of them has received a special gift–some   would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers–and these gifts complement one another so that the church is equipped with everything that it needs to effectively bear witness to God in the world. 

Paul also warns them against naivety, against being led astray by how some people might misuse or misrepresent the doctrine or teaching of the church: “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.”

I want to focus on that last phrase: “craftiness in deceitful scheming”. Because we have a perfect example of it in the story of David and Bathsheba, from our first reading today. David acted craftily in deceitful scheming, when he arranged for Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, to be killed in battle, which cleared the way for David to marry Bathsheba, whom he had already gotten pregnant. 

God sends the prophet Nathan to David to make David aware that God is displeased with him for his deceitful actions. Nathan uses the story of a rich man (who selfishly takes the pet lamb of a poor man to use as food for one of his own guests) to highlight to David what he had done by his own actions towards Bathsheba and Uriah. 

My immediate thought on reading this passage, was the notion of taking something that doesn’t belong to you, simply because you have the capability and/or the resources to do it. David was the king, and he exploited his position of authority and power, firstly in seducing Bathsheba, and secondly by having Uriah killed. David wanted Bathsheba for himself, and because he had the means at his disposal to make it happen, he chose to do it, even though it was wrong on so many different levels. 

How often do we see or hear of similar such situations today? Whether it be a rich, first world country exploiting the natural resources of a poorer, third world country; a business owner exploiting employees who works for them; or politicians exploiting their positions of influence for their own financial benefit? It’s a stark reminder of the unsavoury traits of human beings: desire, greed and selfishness.

Contrasted with this though, is the reminder from John’s Gospel that God provides us with everything that we truly need. Our faith in Jesus Christ provides us with access to God. We are reconciled to God, both here and now in our mortal lives on earth, and also in the eternal life that we will share with Jesus Christ. And we are reminded that we too, like the members of the church at Ephesus, are urged “to lead lives that are worthy of the calling to which we have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love”.

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