Pentecost 8, Year B, The Return and the Feeding

Title:Pentecost 8, Year B, The Return and the Feeding

 Pentecost 8, Year B (full size gallery)

We’re definitely in the middle of summer thought the humidity tapered off for the morning service. It is definitely a high point for the crepes myrtle. They are everywhere in shades of white and purple. The river was beautiful with glistening water and fishermen breaking the service.

It was also a high point for sunflowers as Cookie’s arrangement graved our altar. We had 22 people at the service and another 6 online.

We are moving toward the end of our collection of sanitizer in partnership with Caroline’s Promise. They asked us to collect 250 bottles. We are half way there. At the service we had 124 bottles with 126 to go. Get them in by Sunday, July 25, please.

Today was the celebration of BJ’s birthday as well as her ministry to provide gluten free communion bread each Sunday. What a gift!

The readings focused on the Psalm 23 – God’s care for us physically and spiritually. Ephesians emphasizes the spiritual with Christ breaking down the wall of the law that kept Jew and Gentile apart. In the Church the divided groups of humankind are reconciled to one another and together are reconciled to God.

The gospel was as about the role of the good shepherd in preserving both the spiritual and physical for the disciples. The disciples had returned from their mission described two week ago on July 4 as Christ sending them out “two by two.” Christ taught them to get away to go on retreat and be revived both their physical and spiritual. However, the crowds found them so little time to rest since unlike the disciples they seemed like sheep without a shepherd.

We moved another step toward normality. As Catherine described it . “This week’s worship brings another change. At the Eucharist, we will be gathering once more at the altar rail and kneeling, or standing if you’d prefer to stand, to receive the bread and wine. Small glass cups will be available for those who would like to receive in both kinds. The person filling the role of the chalice bearer will be pouring the consecrated wine directly from the wine cruet into your cup when you hold it out. For everyone to receive wine from one vessel gets us closer to returning to our theology of the common cup.”

Today’s readings remind us of the care that God constantly exerts on our behalf. Jeremiah uses the image of God as a shepherd to describe how God will gather the people. Paul explains the reconciling work of Christ, who is the peace between Gentiles and Jews. Jesus has compassion on the crowds of people, who remind him of sheep without a shepherd.

Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry to Judah began about 627 BCE and ended about 580 BCE. His career thus spanned the period of political turmoil that culminated in Judah’s final defeat by the Babylonians, the destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the temple, and the exile of the major part of the population.

Today’s reading is preceded by oracles against the three immediately previous kings of Judah (22:11, 18, 24). But as Jeremiah comes to Zedekiah, the weak-willed reigning monarch whose treachery brought about the final downfall of Jerusalem (chaps. 37–39), he does not name him directly. Instead he gives the Lord’s judgment on all the “shepherds,” the leaders of Judah (Ezekiel 34).

God will raise up for them a king who will fulfill all the promises of the covenant with David (2 Samuel 7:5-16; Psalm 89:3-4, 19-37, 132:11-18). The “Branch” (v. 5) became a technical term associated with the expected Messiah (Zechariah 3:8, 6:12). Jeremiah makes a play on Zedekiah’s name (which means “the Lord is righteous”). Instead of the unjust Zedekiah, one will come who will accomplish the Lord’s righteousness.

Psalm 23 is probably the most familiar and popular psalm of all. It celebrates God’s loving care for us under the guise of a good shepherd who provides food, security and protection from all dangers. God guides us on our journey through life so that we might “dwell in the house of the Lord.”

Ephesians 2:11-22 reading explains the consequences of Christ’s saving work. The division between Gentile and Jew is as now obsolete and the distinguishing characteristic of circumcision abolished.

The Gentiles are reminded of their former state of separation from God and from Israel. They had no part in the hope of the Messiah or in the promises made to the covenant people. But they have now been “brought near” (v. 13)—a term used by the rabbis for Gentile proselytes—when Jesus freely surrendered his life and sealed the new covenant as a universal possibility for both Jew and Gentile.

Verses 14-18 are a hymn to the peace of Christ, who has broken down the wall of the law that kept Jew and Gentile apart. In the temple at Jerusalem there was an actual stone wall, dividing the outer and the inner courts of the temple, beyond which Gentiles could not go. This is symbolic of the whole system of separation that divided peoples now united in Christ.

Jesus has brought together those “far off…and near” (Isaiah 57:19). In Christ, “one new humanity…in one body” (vv. 15-16) is created—the Church. In the Church the divided groups of humankind are reconciled to one another and together are reconciled to God. Then the image shifts from body to household. The Gentiles are “no longer strangers…but citizens with the saints” (v. 19) built up into the same “dwelling place for God” (v. 22; see 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Peter 2:4), whose cornerstone is Christ Jesus (Isaiah 28:16; Matthew. 21:42).

Today’s gospel (Mark 6:30-44, 53-56) covers the return of the disciples to Jesus and then the feeding of the five thousand. Mark here uses the term “apostle” for the only time. It is not the official title that it becomes in Luke and Acts, but a simple reference to those sent out on mission (6:7).

The theme of rest recalls the entry into the promised land (Deuteronomy 3:20, 12:10, 25:19; Joshua 1:13) and is associated with the image of God as the shepherd of Israel (Ezekiel 34:15; Psalm 23:1-2). This image of the throng like “sheep without a shepherd” (v. 34) also echoes the Old Testament (Numbers 27:17; 2 Chronicles 18:16; Ezekiel 34:5).

The feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels. The themes of wilderness, eating and bread recall God’s provision of manna for God’s people (Exodus 16; Numbers 11). Elisha also, like Moses, provided food for many (2 Kings 4:42-44). Such abundance was expected at the coming of the Messiah who would gather God’s people to the banquet table (Isaiah 25:6-8, 49:10, 55:1-2). Thus Jesus was fulfilling both the law and the prophets. The absence of the usual report of the crowd’s response to Jesus’ act makes clear that the emphasis lies not upon its miraculous nature but upon its revelation of Jesus’ true significance.

In the early Church, the Eucharistic significance of the feeding made it one of the central memories of Jesus’ ministry. The actions described–taking, blessing, breaking, giving—and their order—are the same as for the institution narrative of the last supper (14:22a). The word for “broken pieces” (v. 43) is used in the Didache, an early second-century Church manual, for the bread broken at the eucharist and at the agape meal. The feeding thus foreshadows the last supper and the anticipated messianic banquet in the kingdom of God (14:25).