Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

by Crossings

A Sign
John 6
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
analysis by Ed Schroeder


The Gospel in the Revised Common Lectionary for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost (July 27) is the first of five in a “lectio continua” series taking us through the entire sixth chapter of John’s Gospel–from Pentecost 10 to Pentecost 14. The reflections below are on the whole of chapter 6.

Tricky is the translation and interpetation of John’s word “sign,” a term crucial throughout John 6. Some translations render it with the term “miracle,” but that mis-fosuses the reader on something supernatural. What John patently means with the term is a “sign” in the sense that Jesus’ Jewish compatriots were “looking for a sign,” namely, a sign that this one was God’s end-time messenger, to wit, the Messiah. The miraculous is not the point here. Primary in John’s use of “sign,” are the signals which Jesus gives that in his own words and deeds God is filling full–and then–as John always adds throughout his Gospel–also exceeding–God’s saving actions in Israel’s earlier history. In Jesus signs are given that are a quantum leap beyond the OT precedent.

But that then raises the question: just what was God doing with Israel in the Old Testament? And here opinions differed. There were two alternate lenses, two differing hermeneutics, for reading that OT history, and therefore for “reading” Jesus and ths signs he supplied. Was it the lens of “the law” or of “grace and truth” (Jn 1:17) that you used to “read” Jesus? Was the OT seen as centered in Moses or in Abraham, in Sinai or in the Suffering Servant? Whether or not Jesus’ “signs” were convincing depended on the lenses people used to read the OT. No wonder John 6 is so full of controversy about the sign Jesus gave of feeding the people in the wilderness–even to the point that “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (6:66) when it was all over.


 

INTRODUCTION

  1. In Sabb. theol. #42, we had a Crossing matrix for Advent III (Year C) where the lectionary Gospel was John’s prologue, chaptrer 1. I designated that prologue and its matrix as fundamental to John’s theology throughout his entire Gospel. Here’s the pattern: Stage 1 – Mis-prioritizing Jesus. Stage 2 – Lightless, Lifeless. Stage 3 – Disinherited. Stage 4 – God’s Word in the Flesh, Flesh that is Crucified. Stage 5 – Believing is Living. Stage 6 – Living is Witnessing.
  2. What follows is a matrix I worked out from that theology of the poorlogue for John 6. It was done in 1994 together with people from Crossings Australia during my yuear ‘s teaching there. It takes the pattern of a do-it-yourself study–asking questions, giving prompts. The Aussie accent surfaces here and there.
  3. After Jesus feeds the 5000 the entire rest of the chapter is a dialogue sermon between Jesus and those he had fed the day before, including his disciples. The topic is bread, what it takes for people to live. In Aussie slang we say: “What do you do for a crust?” The alternatives in John 6 are an either-or. It is either Moses’ bread (= God’s law) or Jesus’ bread (= God’s grace and truth). This contrast comes already in John’s opening chapter (1:17). In our text, what’s the people’s bread problem? What’s the solution?

DIAGNOSIS OF THEIR SICKNESS: LIVING ON MOSES-BREAD

STAGE 1: The Symptoms–Confused Priorities about the Crust we live on. The crowd is initially attracted to Jesus. Why? (v.26) As the dialogue develops they move away from him toward “Moses” and the law’s focus on “doing” (v.28). What makes “doing” so attractive as a way of getting your crust? Jesus says (v.26) that they missed the “sign.” Even though they saw the feeding-miracle happen, what did they miss? How do disciples today do the same? What is there about the law (doing in order to get) that confuses us too in prioritizing Jesus?

STAGE 2: The Deeper Infection–Feeding on Moses = missing out on the Bread that lasts for eternal life. “Doing the work of God” when Jesus is on the scene is clearly stated. See v.29. The opposite is to be working for Mosaic crusts (=”believing” someone else). How tragic is that? What do you miss out on? We hear the answer over and over again. See vv. 27, 33, 35, 40, 44b, 47, 50, 51, 52-58. When Christians (we too) get pulled away from Christ to work for any other “crust,” we suffer a big loss.

STAGE 3: Where Such Sickness Winds Up–Perishing Any bread other than Jesus “perishes.” So it is no surprise what happens to us who try to live on such bread. See vv. 49 & 58. What makes law, even God’s law (Moses) powerless to keep people alive forever? See v. 27 (2nd sentence) for a hint. Another hint is in v.40, the “will of the Father.” If it was not God’s will to give sinners life by Moses-bread, what was that bread for? See v.45b. What dietary information was Israel supposed to “learn from the Father” when they received the Moses-bread? If we don’t learn that, what happens?

NEW PROGNOSIS, NEW HEALING: LIVING BY JESUS, THE BREAD FROM HEAVEN

STAGE 4: Christ Takes our Sickness to Heal Us–Life from the Bread that came down from Heaven Why does Jesus’ bread work to give life where Moses-bread could not? One factor is his better credentials (27c), his better connections (32b, 37, 40, 44, 45, 46), but most of all his actions as we read in the last line of v.51. It is finally Jesus’ work on the cross that does what law cannot do, and that is give sinners life. He rescues us from our own “perishing” by taking our death as his own. That “bread” of his own self that he gives is “life for the world,” life for us.

STAGE 5: Healing the Deeper Infection–Believing = Having Life that Lasts How does the life that lasts get to us? Our text has a variety of ways of answering that. See vv.29, 35b, 37, 40, 47, 51b. And then comes the language of Holy Communion: v. 53-58. Put these many word pictures into your own language to answer: How does the Life-Bread of Stage 4 become the “crust” that I too live on?

STAGE 6: Living With New Symptoms–Living Daily Life with Priorities Straight: Christ as my Crust to live on. Read the text again with this question in mind: What can/does daily life look like when people live from Jesus-bread instead of Moses-bread? Check again the Moses-items in Stage 1 above and describe the Christ-bread alternative(s). Some suggestions are in vv. 26, 27. Or again in 35–coping with life’s recurring hungers and thirsts. What’s the long-term economics of Jesus’ food program? What’s the good news for daily life in the three-part sequence of v.57?
So much from once upon a time Down Under. Peace & Joy! Ed

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