Bread and Words are Meant to be Eaten

Posted: July 7, 2021 in Uncategorized

John 6:1-21

Bread and Words are Meant to be Eaten

What is hospitality all about? What do we seek to emulate by taking communion together? Why do we place so much importance on eating together? What is it we think we are contributing to?

I wrote this poem as a possible answer. What if we are  ………….

Entertaining Angels

When people flee from scenes of war and carnage,
when people know terror because of violent rage,
where is the place of sanctuary?

When families are split by conflict,
when wounded victims escape from bloodshed,
where will they find a refuge?

Where else but in the wounded healer,
inspired to welcome the asylum seeker,
encouraged to transform the stranger

When we offer sanctuary to such as the other,
we open the door to the child

To know our heart and home

Jesus often talked about food and gospel writers such as this morning’s storyteller we call John,
often put words in the mouth of Jesus to have him speak about food and eating. But from all the studies that have been undertaken on the ‘historical Jesus’, one thing seems sure – Jesus was not a literalist. He spoke so words would be eaten. When bread and wine are eaten, they become body and blood. They are more metaphor than fact. When body and blood are eaten, they become compassionate deeds. When compassionate deeds are eaten, they become as the Holy One in our neighbour.

Jesus often talked about food. As he moved from place to place he would seek rest in a house.
He would make his way to the cooking space because there he knew he could find food to transform his weariness into new energy and purpose. For it is the cooking space which is the place of transformations…

Brazilian Rubem Alves. suggested that; In the cooking space nothing is allowed to remain the same. Things come in raw, as nature produced them. And they go out different, according to the demands of taste and pleasure. The raw must cease to exist for something different to appear.
The hard must be softened. Smells and tastes which were dormant inside are forced to come out. Cooking is a magic kiss which wakes up sleeping pleasures. In a cooking space everything is a new creature. Everything is made anew. Mouth is the place of eating and drinking long before it is the place of speaking. Companions are those who eat bread and drink wine together.
We are what we eat.

John, our gospel storyteller this morning, consistently takes stories from the oral and written traditions about Jesus and moulds and reshapes them so they make new statements and suggestions about who Jesus was. Bishop John Shelby Spong suggests that these statements
show evidence of a long theological development, and are so poetic and skillfully crafted, they
“cannot possibly have been the literal words of the historic Jesus”

(Spong 1991:186).

While William Loader suggests that what John wanted to say was important, was that Jesus is intimately linked to God. So, for storyteller John, Jesus so much represents God, that divine attributes easily transfer to him, in this the most symbolic of Gospels in our religious tradition.

In our particular story, often called ‘The feeding of the 5000’, storyteller John continues to have 
little sympathy for the crowds who follow because of the so-called ‘miracles’. For they fail to see this story is a sign of something more. For John it seems that when bread and wine are eaten, they become body and blood. When body and blood are eaten, they become new energy and new purpose, transforming weariness into compassionate deeds. When compassionate deeds are eaten, they become as the Holy One in our neighbour. This is akin to the Hebrew understanding of the Passover as an event relived in real time. Each Passover is the liberation of people from bondage. The Passover meal becomes mre than symbol, more that mirackle, it is a new reality.

Those of you who are familiar with many of the biblical stories will recall that various versions of this story also appear in all the synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – with a double whammy in Mark. While Mark’s story is probably the earliest each storyteller tells his or her story just a bit differently.

And this is not startling because we would expect this because each story is told  in a different context, to a different audience, with different purposes in mind, by a different storyteller, using different resources – both oral and written. And then there is our different situation and stories and life experiences…

Mark’s second story suggests a compassionate response by Jesus as the ‘shepherd’ of the people. Matthew’s story suggests everything depends on Jesus’ words and authority. Luke’s story suggests the disciples are expected to initiate action. While John suggests to relate to Jesus was to relate to God as the symbolic ‘bread of life’.

There is still much debate as to the author of John’s Gospel and perhaps the nearest to knowing is a comment by Bishop John Spong who suggests that it is a high probability. that “There was obviously a theological giant in this process somewhere, a genius of rare spiritual depth who could weave together this profound narrative” Rightly or wrongly it is safe to say that this is fascinating stuff!

We also think that in times of high anxiety and stress, many so-called religious people
seem to narrow their focus and become more rigid. The decline in Church attendance seems to bear this out as the fundamentalists seem to attract more attention. But despite the narrowing down and the fervour for a metanarrative or single story the storyteller will have none of that crude, narrowing focus. He paints a big and broad and colourful picture of the one called Jesus of Nazareth, identified as the Christ. The author, through his life experiences found a unique way to tell this Jesus story that contrasted sharply with and separated it from, the other Gospel stories. Through sign and symbol, beyond literalism, and fired by imagination, the storyteller invites his listeners to sense the very real present-ness of God in Jesus. For him, Jesus is “the doorway into God”.

It is a pity that those who seek to defend biblical truth, today be it on matters of food, Jesus, or human sexuality, “so often fail to comprehend the gospel’s message” and distort the story by literalizing it and claiming a factual truth that traps it in historic calcified thinking which affects its authenticity and contributes to further decline in attendance. Gospels by their very nature are living dynamic evolving expressions of truth and should never become and ossified institution.

In the words of Yuval Harari, who wrote The Sapiens ‘A brief history of Humankind’ ‘I encourage all of us whatever our beliefs, to question the basic narratives of our world, to connect past developments with present concerns, and not to be afraid of controversial issues”.

To leave you with a question yet to be answered. Did the first cooked meals help fuel the dramatic evolutionary expansion of the human brain?

Becoming Angels

When people flee from imagination and symbol,
when people choose apathy over engagement,
where is the picture of a new tomorrow?

When humanity is split by difference,
when wounded minds escape from responsibility,
where will they find a future?

Where else but in the wounded healer,
inspiring the welcome of the mind seeker,
one is encouraged to transform today

When feeding the mind of the other,
we open the door to the angel of development

feed our hearts and our sanctuary

Amen.

Notes:
Spong, J. S. 1991. Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism. A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture. NY: New York HarperSanfrancisco

Harari Y N Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind  Penguin Press 2011

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