Sunday Reflection

1st August 2021

Proper 13: Exodus 16:2-4,9-15; Psalm 78:23-29; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

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Do we eat to live or live to eat? 

Do we hunger for more than just food? 

How do we find happiness, purpose, understanding, and fulfilment in our daily lives?

The Israelites – migrants seeking a better life – are, according to the Book of Exodus, quickly disillusioned with what their new alternative life offers. The grass is not greener on this new side of the Red Sea, and however constraining life was in Egypt, they feel that their old life had its compensations. What they don’t seem to have realised is that this new life is about following God, being shaped and sustained by God, about becoming God’s people. It is a life that is going to feel different, that will have different priorities and different benefits. It is a life in which they will encounter and know God in new and richer ways. Their need to eat is not just about a daily filling of stomachs. Rather it is about developing a relationship with God in which they realise that God is the one who meets their daily needs, including but not limited to, daily meat and bread. Each day they are going to be invited to meet and give thanks to God as they collect their food. God is offering to be a constant presence in their lives, sharing with them a taste of heaven.,

Today’s Psalm is a recapping of the story from Exodus. The manna, the bread from heaven, is delightfully called the bread of angels. 

The writer of Ephesians (not Paul himself but someone writing as if they were Paul) could well have been writing to the Israelites. Both the migrating Israelites, the Ephesians and we ourselves are being urged to lead a life worthy of our calling – a calling to be the people of God, to be God-shaped people – and the writer lists virtues we should therefore practice. Yet even though we are all called to be one in body and spirit, the writer also reminds us that we equally are all unique, each being recipients of different gifts that will enable us to grow into that one body that unites us all in Christ. That is our vocation, to become here on earth the loving presence of Christ.

Our reading from John’s gospel follows on after the feeding of the 5000. The writer of the gospel describes both this, the turning of water into wine, and Jesus’s various healings, as signs not miracles. Signs point us to new ways of doing things and new ways of understanding things. 

The crowd, still wanting more (although they are perhaps not sure more of what) have continued to keep a tab of Jesus’s movements and to tail him. When they catch up with him, Jesus criticises them – or is he gently teasing them? – that what they are really after is more food so they can fill their stomachs, rather than seeking ways to new life. Jesus suggests that as long as he feeds them they aren’t really bothered about who he is or where he has come from. 

This prompts them to think about their religious obligations and they ask what they should do to perform the works of God. Have they been so busy eating that they have not been listening? When Jesus says they should believe in – ie so believe in what that person does and says, that they too do the same – the one whom God has sent. They  twig that he is talking about himself but don’t put two and two together and realise that having followed Jesus and been present with him, they should have understood this. They ask therefore for a sign as if none had been given so far. Maybe the bread they ate on the hillside seemed too mundane and earthly: not something that was heavenly like manna. 

Jesus tells them that heavenly bread is bread given to them by God, is bread that gives life to the world. And yes, they say, yes that is exactly the bread we want!

I am that bread, the bread of life, says Jesus. I am offering you myself. Take from me – feed on what I teach, emulate what I do, let me feed you daily and fill your every need – then you will never be hungry, never thirst, never go unsatisfied.  

Jesus is the bread of life. By imbibing what Jesus is, we will become the living, loving presence of Christ on earth.

In Jesus we find the meaning of life. With Jesus we find happiness, purpose, understanding, and fulfilment in our daily lives.

Feed on that which gives you life.

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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