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Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: 2 Sam. 18:5–9, 14, 31–33, Eph. 4:25–5:2 & Jn. 6:35, 41–51

Our readings today begin with the story, from the Second Book of Samuel, of the death of King David’s son Absalom. In the previous two weeks we heard how David had seduced Bathsheba, getting her pregnant in the process, and then ordered the general of his army to put Bathsheba’s husband in the front line of the fighting against the Ammonites, so that he might be killed in the fighting, thus clearing the way for David to take Bathsheba as his own wife.  

We also heard that God was displeased with David over his actions, and that God sent the prophet Nathan to express that displeasure to David. Nathan told David that God would raise up trouble against him from within his own house, and that death would never be far from his house, although David himself would not be killed.

Nathan’s first statement foreshadows the rebellion that Absalom will lead against his father David, while the second alludes to the coming death of several of David’s sons, including Absalom. We hear that David is overcome with grief at news of the death of Absalom, and that he wishes it could have been he who died instead of his son.

David’s grief for Absalom is palpable. This is despite the fact that Absalom had tried to take David’s kingdom by force, and even tried to have David killed. It speaks of the enormity of the love a parent has for their child. How much love must God have for us, when we know that he willingly sacrificed His only Son for us? I’ll come back to this question in a little while.

Our second reading, from the Letter to the Ephesians, continues the instruction for Christian living that Paul provides to the members of the church at Ephesus.

Having previously explained to them the need for moral transformation in their lives, he now describes for them what their new life in Christ should be like, and he does so by way of contrast, providing them with a number of ‘don’t do this’ but ‘do this’ scenarios.

For example; don’t speak falsely but speak the truth to your fellow Christians. Be angry if you must, but try to resolve any dispute you might have with someone so that you can let go of your anger. Do not steal, but work honestly. Do not speak any evil, but speak only in a way that improves someone’s mind or character. Do not be bitter, angry or malicious with one another, but be kind, tender and forgiving. 

Paul ends this passage by encouraging the members of the church to be imitators of God Himself. To live in love, as Christ loved them, putting others and their needs first, ahead of their own. Which is just what Christ did, when he offered himself on the cross as a sacrifice for the whole world. 

Jesus himself alludes to this sacrifice in our reading from John’s Gospel, when he tells the crowd that had come to meet him at the Sea of Galilee that the bread he will give for the life of the world is his own flesh. 

Today’s passage begins with Jesus saying, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’. Why does Jesus use the metaphor of bread to describe his own life? 

Well, if you remember last week’s gospel reading, which was also from John’s Gospel, you will remember that the Jews who had come to the Sea of Galilee to meet Jesus, were comparing Jesus and his authority with Moses. They believed that Moses was superior to Jesus, and so they said to Jesus that it was Moses who gave their ancestors manna from heaven. Jesus corrected them, telling them that it wasn’t Moses who provided the manna, but God. And he goes on to tell them that it is God who now gives them the true bread of heaven, which is of course Jesus himself.

As I mentioned last week, 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 was the true bread of heaven, Jesus was 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. 

He expands on this further in today’s passage when he tells those listening that he is the “bread of life”. Their ancestors had eaten the bread from heaven, that is the manna, but they had still died. And the same was true of the Torah. They might follow the Torah, keeping all of its statutes and ordinances, but in the end they would still die. But whoever believes in Jesus will have eternal life, because he is the living bread. 

The bread he will give for the life of the world is his own life. He is the true bread of heaven. The living bread that came down from heaven so that whoever eats of this bread will live for ever. By his death on the cross, Jesus sacrificed himself so that all who believe in him might be saved. 

His sacrifice was a totally selfless act, which speaks to us of the all encompassing love that God has for us. God revealed His abundant love for us when He allowed Jesus to be sacrificed for us. God revealed Himself to us in the person of Jesus, and Jesus provides us with the example of how God wants us to live our lives. 

And we are reminded by Paul this morning that as members of the church we should be imitators of God Himself. Living in love, as Jesus loves us, putting others and their needs first, ahead of our own. Which is just what Jesus did, when he offered himself on the cross as a sacrifice for us and the whole world. 

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