In today’s passage Jesus is trying to stay hidden (because he is so often surrounded by crowds begging for healing). A Gentile woman finds him and asks for healing for her daughter. He seems reluctant at first, telling her that the children must eat all they want before their bread is given to dogs. She replies that even dogs eat the crumbs under the table that the children don’t eat. He approves of this answer and says that her daughter is healed. It sounds harsh and I think that’s partially a cultural thing that’s hard for us to understand, but the woman seemed to have both humility and assertiveness in her response. Jesus is reluctant, yes, but he does extend his love and healing beyond his own people.
Then Jesus moves on and people bring him a man who is deaf and unable to speak clearly. Jesus leads the man away and heals him quietly. He told people not to tell anyone, but they do not stay silent and spread the word about him.
Jesus in these stories is not seeking out the crowds but his compassion is so great that he continues to heal and help people, even though that makes it hard to keep a low profile. He is continually loving and healing people. This makes me think of the healing ministry of my church that was recently expanded to include individual prayers during or after the Eucharist. It’s a lovely way to follow in the steps of Jesus.
In today’s passage Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees about his followers eating without following particular hand washing rituals. We know from previous passages that they aren’t asking this question casually but are no doubt trying to trap Jesus again. They are angry his followers aren’t following ancient tradition as they think it should be followed. (Am I the only one who wants to sing the “Tradition” song from Fiddler on the Roof every time I think of tradition?)
Jesus claps back as only Jesus can and calls them hypocrites and quotes Isaiah saying they only honor God with words and not in reality. He says they prefer man-made rules instead of God’s commands.
This reminds me of so many Christian leaders today who are vocal in our culture with rules that they think everyone should follow–such as rules regarding sexuality or gender. The hill they will choose to die on is whether or not homosexuality is a sin or whether or not women should be equal to men, rather than to care for the poor and to seek to correct injustice. They choose to follow narrow manmade rules that oppress rather than life-giving abundant rules to work for the good of all humanity.
In today’s reading, Jesus says again that he is sent from the Father and that people must eat his flesh and drink his blood and they will live forever.
He heard his followers complain of this (admittedly weird-sounding) teaching and challenged them. He asks what will they think when they see him go up to where he came from. He tells them it is the Spirit that gives life and the body is of no value. I think this is maybe a clue that even though he has been talking of the physical (body and blood), the key is in the spirit. With this hard teaching, many followers left him and he asked the twelve apostles if they want to leave also.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, where would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.We believe in you. We know that you are the Holy One from God.”
We can choose to turn away when it gets hard to understand or hard to follow Jesus, or we can choose to follow Him, whose words give eternal life. We can choose to believe and live as he would live. What do you choose?
Today’s passage just carries on from the previous week–Jesus expounds on being the “living bread that came down from heaven” and talk more about the bread being his body and drinking his blood. One can only imagine who weird this must have sounded at the time. It sounds a bit weird now if you step outside of a knowledge of church. The people basically wondered if he wanted them to be cannibals.
This is a very challenging passage, and I’m not sure how to explain it fully–I know it is of a piece with recent passages that all deal with the Eucharist experience. It is a mystery and a communing with God and with one another. It is difficult to explain the love and faith and beauty of such an experience. There is nothing simplistic and tidy about it. Our Christian life is visceral and physical even as it is spiritual. God is with us. In him we live and move and have our being.
In today’s story, people begin to complain that Jesus said he was the “the bread that comes down from heaven” but they know him as a local boy, son of Joseph. Jesus tells them to stop complaining. He goes on to talk about being sent from the Father and that anyone who believes has eternal life. He compares the bread of life to the manna sent down for the Israelites in the Old Testament.
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my body. I will give my body so that the people in the world can have life.”
Those of us who participate in the weekly Eucharist are familiar with the imagery of the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, but it can sound strange to people new to it, as it did to the people of that time. It can be a hard teaching–to understand and share the full and loving life Jesus calls us to, and the community we experience together in the Eucharist–a community reaching out to each other and up to a God who loves us and breaks bread with us.
After Jesus feeds the five thousand, he leaves the people behind. Then the people go looking for him and find him on the other side of the lake. He asks why they are looking for him–if it is only because they saw miraculous signs. He tells them they liked that he fed them, but earthly food doesn’t last long. He tells them to work for the food that gives them eternal life. “The Son of Man will give you that food. He is the only one qualified by God the Father to give it to you.”
So the people ask what God wants of them and he tells them to believe in the one God sent. Then they ask for more miracles and talk about the manna God sent the Israelites in the desert.
Again, they seem focused on miracles but also mostly on physical food. As I said about last week’s passage, Jesus does care about their physical well-being, but he also cares about their souls.
I can assure you that Moses was not the one who gave your people bread from heaven. But my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.God’s bread is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
John 6:32-33 (Easy-to-Read Version)
So the people say, “Sir, from now on give us bread like that.” I think they still probably don’t get it.
Jesus responds that he is the bread that gives life, and those who come to him will never be hungry or thirsty. This, again, seems to be about spiritual hunger and thirst, rather than physical. And again, this passage forecasts our Eucharist, when we receive physical bread but also the spiritual bread of Christ and his grace.
Most people know the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand, so I won’t repeat it here. (You can click the link above if you do want to read it.) Instead, I’ll just talk about what it shows us. First, it shows us how large the crowds were following Jesus. People were hungry for what he was offering–healings, teaching, hope, love, grace. Second, it shows that Jesus had concern for people’s physical well-being as well as their spiritual well-being. He wants people to be fed. Third, it shows that he saw the value of one child’s contribution–so little could mean so much. Fourth, the miracle shows his great generosity–not only did everyone get fed, they even had leftovers. As another passage said, he came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. This is a great story of abundance. Fifth, it shows that when he thought the people wanted to make him king, he left as he wasn’t seeking an earthly kingdom. He spoke a lot about the kingdom of God and about the evils of the domination system of his time, but he did not seek to be a king of that sort. Sixth, it is a precursor to the Last Supper and our Eucharist–breaking bread together in the presence of Christ.
The disciples Jesus sent out in the previous passage have returned to him. They eagerly tell him all they had done. But it is so busy with people that they don’t even have time to eat. Jesus tells them they will find a quiet place to rest. So they go on a boat to a place where they expect to be alone, but people follow them there. So many people come that a large crowd is waiting when Jesus gets off the boat. He takes pity on them so he stops to teach them.
The lectionary passage here skips ahead to another landing of the boat. They get out of the boat again and people recognize Jesus and people come in from all over the area bringing the sick to him. Wherever he goes people bring sick people to him and beg that they might just touch even the edge of his cloak. Anyone who touches it is healed.
This is very timely for me (even though I am doing it a couple weeks late). I happen to be sick this weekend and unfortunately I was too sick to serve on the healing prayer team today at church as planned. Our church has had healing services on some Wednesday nights for a while now, but we recently started a ministry of healing prayer during Sunday morning services. A couple of us stand to the sides during the Eucharist and people can come up to us after receiving communion for an individual healing prayer and anointing with oil. We discussed in our Adult Spiritual Formation commission that healing is not just about physical healing and that healing isn’t synonymous with curing. I’ve been reading a book called Healing in the Landscape of Prayer that has some great stories of people being cured after prayer, however, so it can happen. It’s lovely to be involved in a ministry that was so much a part of Jesus’ ministry in his lifetime.
I have spent some time in hospitals with my youngest son, who has a rare genetic disease, KBG Syndrome, which causes a few physical issues as well as some neurological ones. I know the great comfort I’ve had when visited by an Episcopal chaplain or our own priest while my son is sick. He may not have been cured, but we felt a healing effect and the love of Jesus.
King Herod heard rumors about Jesus. One of the rumors was that he was John the Baptist raised from the dead. He was disturbed by this one because he had executed John the Baptist.
He had first just put John in prison to please his wife, Herodias (because she had previously been married to Herod’s brother and John condemned their marriage). Herodias wanted him dead but Herod protected him because he knew John was a holy man and he liked listening to John.
Then Herod had a big birthday party for himself with all the bigwigs from the government and army. His wife’s daughter (seems like she was not his daughter but rather his stepdaughter but then also his niece since his wife was previously married to his brother) danced what was probably a sensual dance, because Herod was so pleased with her that he offered her anything she asked for after her dance.
The girl went to her mother to find out what she should ask and her mother said she should ask for the head of John the Baptist.
So she asked for John’s head on a plate. King Herod felt bad, but felt he couldn’t break the promise he’d made in front of his guests. So he sent a soldier to the prison to cut off John’s head and bring it to him. So the head was given to the girl on a plate and she brought it to her mother. John’s disciples heard about it and came to take his body and bury him.
I find it interesting that this rather horrific story is nestled among stories of healing and miracles. This kingdom of Herod (not even a real kingdom as he is a tetrarch ruling on behalf of Rome–a collaborator with the oppressive conquerors) is in stark contrast to the kingdom of God presented by Jesus–a kingdom of healing, acceptance, and love. It’s a kingdom that will be hosting a picnic for 5,000 in the very next passage. It’s a dark foreshadowing of what happens when someone proclaiming the kingdom of God comes into conflict with the earthly powers of Rome as well as a contrast of the kingdoms of men with the kingdom of God.
Even today proclaiming the love of god can be in conflict with the domination system of our day. We must stand up to the domination system and proclaim that there is a better kingdom of mercy and love, and stand against hatred and bigotry.
Jesus goes back to his hometown with his followers. He teaches in the Sabbath and people are amazed by him, questioning how he got such wisdom and power to do miracles. They know him as the local carpenter, so they can’t accept him as more than that.
Jesus says that “People everywhere give honor to a prophet, except in his own town, with his own people, or in his home.” He isn’t able to do miracles there other than a few healings, because his local people lack faith.
Then he calls his disciples together and sends them out in groups of two to minister. He tells them to take nothing but a stick for walking–not even spare clothes. They are to rely on others for any needs, but if a town refuses to accept them or to listen, they are to leave and “shake the dust off your feet as a warning to them.”
The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible says that “Proper hospitality included offering water for guests to wash their feet; here the travelers’ feet remain conspicuously unwashed.” Shaking the dust off their feet was significant symbolism and a kind of rebuke.
So they headed out to talk to people and call on them to repent and change. They cast out demons and anointed people with oil and healed them.
Here we see Jesus making a major change in his ministry. Prior to this he has been traveling all over and preaching and healing, with his own entourage in tow. Now he sends his disciples out without him to extend his ministry to more places at once. In previous weeks we’ve read about the kingdom of God and how quickly it grows–this is how Jesus began to encourage its growth.