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Wrestling with the Word, episode 33: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (August 9, 2009) August 1, 2009

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Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Meals play many important roles in our lives. Primarily, meals of food and drink sustain our bodies from day to day, giving us strength and health to participate in the world. Meals also become the means by which we celebrate various events like birthdays or anniversaries or holidays. Sometimes meals are just a good excuse to get together with family or friends or groups of like-minded people. The Bible contains at least as many reasons for eating and drinking, particularly when God is serving or is otherwise the cause for celebrating. Three of our four lessons for today have to do with diners, servers, or menus to live for.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 33: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.


Psalm 34:1-8
This acrostic psalm is a “thanksgiving” that a worshiper might have used following a situation that led an individual to use a “psalm of lament.” The whole psalm will be used over three consecutive Sundays, and so the first 8 verses comprise our reading today. This section seems to have contributed to the collection of blessings we call the Beatitudes of Jesus that appear at Matthew 5:1-12. (See the words “humble” = “meek” in verse 2 and the “poor” in verse 6 and the “happy are” or “Blessed are” at the end of verse 8.) These first eight verses are appropriate for the day because they conclude with a reference to tasting and eating: “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” The first verses indicate that the worshiper’s whole life belongs to God and that the praise of God provides the purpose for this person’s life. The interplay between the individual and the community of believers is obvious as verses 4 and 6 speak of the psalmist’s experience of deliverance and vv. 5 and 7 relate the general experience of those who fear God. The reference in v. 8 to “taste and see” sounds like an invitation to participate in a todah (thanksgiving) meal that celebrates the Lord’s salvation following the cry for help (v. 6). For other such references to todah meals, see Pss. 22:26; 116:13-17. For the law that establishes the “thanksgiving” offering of food, see Leviticus 7:11-18. For the use of v. 8 in the NT, see 1 Peter 2:3.


1 Kings 19:4-8
To the weary and frightened Elijah, God provided food in the wilderness so that the prophet might continue his journey toward Mount Horeb.

The Elijah cycle begins at 1 Kings 17:1 and continues through 2 Kings 2 when Elijah ascends in the chariot of fire. Elijah is introduced with a story about the ravens feeding him by the brook Cherith, east of the Jordan (17:3-7). When that food supply dried up, the prophet went to Zarephath where he met the widow of Zarephath and her son, and because of his presence with the family, their oil and meal supply never ran out (17:8-16).

Key Words
V. 4.  bammidbār = “into the wilderness/desert”:  Since Elijah is now only a day’s journey from Beer-sheba (v. 3), we must assume he is somewhere in the Negeb.

V. 6.  ‘ugat retsāphîm = “bread of hot stones”: Not that the bread is hard as a rock but bread that has been baked on hot stones, the way Bedouins bake bread;  wetsappachat mayim = “and a jar of water”: Obviously, water is essential for life, even for a short time in the desert.

V. 8.  bekôach hā’ akîlâ hahî’ ’arbā‘îm yôm we`arbā‘îm laylâ = “on the strength of the food forty days and forty nights”:  The number 40, of course, defines the years that Israel spent in the wilderness where the Lord fed them with manna (see Deut. 8:2-3). The use of forty in the context of no food might be the background for the tradition about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Note the words “ate and drank” in verses 6 and 8.


Ephesians 4:25–5:2
On the basis of God’s own nature and the love revealed in the death of Christ, God calls the Christian community to a new life of love and gentleness.

Having established the basis for Christian ethics in God’s call to unity, peace, and love, and citing the spiritual gifts God gives to the church, the author now moves into a discussion of personal morality. This morality is not simply a list of virtues but a list of behaviors appropriate for those who have “put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:24).

Key Words
4:25. laleite alētheian hekastos meta tou plēsion autou = “let everyone speak truth with his neighbor”: The words are a quotation of Zech 8:16 where they address the behavior appropriate for the people of Israel to whom God makes the promise to do good to them. The motive for this instruction is clear: “for we are members of one another.” Truth-telling is essential for life in community.

V. 26. orgizesthe kai mē hamartanete = “Be angry but do not sin”: The words quote Psalm 4:4 (LXX v. 5) where they represent the psalmist’s instruction to the people to honor God by appropriate behavior. The Hebrew word used here refers more to “quiver” and “quake” than to anger, maybe even “perturbed” or “disturbed” (see NRSV).

4:28. ergazomenos … hina echēmetadidonai tō chreian echonti = “let him (the thief) labor … so that he may be able to give to those in need”: The purpose of labor as sharing with the needy is surprising. At 1 Thess. 4:11 work with the hands is  admirable and honorable for the Christian, as Paul himself gave an example (Acts 20:34; 1 Cor. 4:12; 1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Thess. 3:7-10).

V. 30. kai mē lypeite to pneuma to hagion tou theou, en hō esphagisthēte eis hēmeran apolytrōseōs = “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption”: The sealing by the Holy Spirit refers to the baptism of the people gathered as the congregation in Ephesus. That sealing prepares the community of the future day of redemption when they appear before the judgment seat of God. This divine redemption granted to all who are guilty provides the basis for the command to forgive one another, “as God in Christ has forgiven you” (v. 32; see Matt. 6:12).

5:1.  ginesthe oun mimētai tou theou = “be imitators of God”:  This call reminds the reader of the way in which humanity was created (Genesis 1:26-27). Unlike the story in Gen. 3, however, this call to imitate God does not lie in a desire to be autonomous (the words of the serpent) but in the example of love manifested in the sacrificial death on the cross.


John 6:35, 41-51
In response to questions about his origin, Jesus indicates that like the manna in the OT wilderness tradition, he came down from heaven, but unlike that manna which nourished mortals, he is the bread of immortality.

John 6 begins with the miracle of the feeding of the 5000. The rest of the chapter deals with various issues relating to that miracle. The first response on the part of some people is to force Jesus to become their king (v. 15). The second is to ask him about when he “came here,” perhaps an allusion to his origin as well as to his arrival on “this side” of the sea (v. 25). The third response is to question Jesus’ reference to himself as “the bread which came down from heaven.”

Key Words
V. 35. ou mē peinasē … ou mē dipsēsei pōpote = “shall not hunger … will never thirst”: The reference to the prevention from eternal hunger is obvious here, but the allusion to “thirst” recalls Jesus’ discussion with the woman at the well at John 3:13-14. Note the connection to the divine provisions for Elijah that the prophet both “ate and drank.”

V. 41.  egogguzon oun = “therefore they murmured”:  cf. the murmuring of Israel in the wilderness (see v. 31).

V. 42.  The question about his origin is similar to the synoptic question about the improbability that anything good can come out of Nazareth (Mark 6:1-6 and parallels).

v. 44. kagō anastēsō auton en tē eschatē hēmera = “and I will raise that person up on the last day”: The words repeat the end of v. 40, thereby emphasizing Jesus’ promise to take believers to his own true hometown.

V. 45.  kai esontai pantes didaktoi theou = “and they shall all be taught by God”:  The quote from Isa. 54:13 throws the discussion about bread into a block of OT material. At  Isa. 55:1, the invitation to drink and eat without cost reflects Wisdom at Prov. 9:5 who is seeking to teach the way of life. Isa 55:2 combines “come to me” with the promise “that you may live.” Isa. 55:10-11 compares the effective word of God to “the rain and the snow … from heaven.” The quote also calls to mind the new covenant passage at Jer. 31:31-34 where God promises to be the teacher in the kingdom to come.

V. 50.  hina tis ex autou phagē kai mē apothan = “so that someone may eat of it and not die”:  The contrast is to the manna in the wilderness (v. 49). Even though a gift from heaven, the people of that generation died. Once upon a time, there was an opportunity for humans to eat food of immortality—that was the tree of life in the Garden of Eden. Having blown that opportunity by eating instead of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” God blocked the way to the food of life. The “tree of life” will be available in the new heaven and new earth (Rev. 22:2) but the taste and benefit are already available in the one who is the “bread from heaven.”

V. 51. kai ho artos de hon egō dōsō hē sarx mou estin hyper tēs tou kosmou zōēs = “and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh”: The universal scope of Jesus’ sacrificial death  appears once again in John’s Gospel. The word kosmos appears 57 times in the book—sometimes in terms of the reach of God’s grace and at other times of the conflict between God/Jesus and the world.