And, welcome to the Bread marathon...
2 Samuel 11: 26 – 12: 13a
So, what we find this week - in what the lectionary has set up as David and Bathsheba, Part II – is the confrontation between Nathan and David in the wake of his appalling behavior concerning Bathsheba and Uriah. It is interesting to note that neither the Samuel passage nor the Kings handling of David’s reign are necessarily flattering, but again, the point of these histories is not to glorify the Kings – particularly David and Solomon. Instead, it is to illustrate how Israel and finally, the two kingdoms, fell to disaster because of their failure to honor the covenant established with Yahweh. (Did you miss that passage where David sent the surviving grandsons of Saul to be sacrificed on the altar?
Of course, there is also more going here than meets the eye. Nathan comes as the accuser of David, but not to be lost is his advocacy for Bathsheba, which becomes more evident in the opening chapters of 1 Kings. She has been largely silent and a seemingly passive pawn in this story to date, but she and Nathan will concoct a revenge upon David for all of his misdeeds. (Nathan proclaims to David that the sword will never leave his house because of this sin. He knows more than he is telling). It is the Bathsheba – Nathan – Solomon clique that systematically eliminates all of David’s other sons in order to assure that Solomon will reign as David’s successor, their crowning effort involving the death of Adonijah. (Nothing short of brilliant; 1 Kings 1 & 2)
And, now, for the really obscure detail. The bad press that David receives – which again, depends on what source you are reading – may be tied to the struggle between those who viewed the founding myth of Israel as belong to Joshua and the conquest of the promised land, as opposed to those who laid that myth to David and the kingly covenant. (Reminiscent of the Gospels controversy – who is the messiah, John or Jesus (Joshua). Sometimes it is easier not to dig too deep, I suppose. We will remain on the tip of the iceberg for now.
Ephesians 4: 1 - 16
All of this talk about ascending and descending echoes the doctrinal reflections of Philemon 2, in which Jesus – though he was equal to God – lowered himself to the form of the servant, even to dying on the cross.
This plays well with the John text – and stands in counterpoint – once again – to the antithetical story of David and Bathsheba. Jesus is the one who empties himself for us, and showers all manners of gifts upon us in the process. The one who ascends in such a matter overturns the usual power schemes and makes captivity a captive. And the greatest gift that he gives is a new manner of oneness that is no longer at the expense of the enemies (scapegoats) that we create. Notice, too, that freedom and oneness are given together. Freedom is not the freedom to be a solitary individual; it is the freedom to be joined to the life-giving body of Christ.
John 6: 24 - 35
As we noted last week, John’s Gospel is missing something that is found in the synoptics (Mark, Matthew and Luke) – a last supper. More precisely, a last supper where the focus is placed on the broken bread and the wine spilled out – body and blood, and the violence of sacrifice. John’s last meal is not even a Passover meal. Still, something happens. Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. An act of humility and a sign of a different kind of sacrifice – sacrificial living, aimed at the needs of the other.
Whenever I read this text, I cannot help but think of one of the last scenes from the documentary about Woodstock. There is debris and mud everywhere. Most of the crowd has gone. The few who remain are hanging around, hoping for that last thrill. The crowd in the text today is much the same way. And, when it dawns on them that the show is over in this venue, they take off across the sea, looking for their rock star, hoping for another, better show.
They will always be hungry, and never be satisfied. No sign will ever be enough for them, because their desire is grounded in their own story; their satisfaction is dependent on the reaction of others, and the value that they place on the experience. Gil Bailie, in The Famished Craving, puts it this way,
“The crowd came to Jesus that day and asked him, ‘Where do we get this bread that satisfies?’ Notice Jesus’ answer. He knows that the problem is that we get our desires from each other and that that is the problem. But does he tell them this directly? No, he simply answers, “I am the bread of life.’ In other words, if the problem is catching our desires from each other, then the only way out of this loop of stumbling into unsatisfied desire is to finally find some person who can suggest God’s desires to us. Jesus is that person. He came to do his Father’s will, to do his Father’s desire. He is the bread of life that can finally satisfy us. He came to show us the desires of love and compassion that we might finally follow.”