The Bread of Life and the “Ick” Factor   1 comment

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(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Eucharistic_Miracle_of_Lanciano_-_rear-lighted_panel_-_side.JPG)

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Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 (New Revised Standard Version):

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them,

If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.

Then the LORD said to Moses,

I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.

Then Moses said to Aaron,

Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, “Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.”

And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. The LORD spoke to Moses and said,

I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.”

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another,

What is it?

For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them,

It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.

Psalm 78:23-29 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

23 So he commanded the clouds above

and opened the doors of heaven.

24 He rained down manna upon them to eat

and gave them grain from heaven.

25 So mortals ate the bread of angels;

he provided for them food enough.

26 He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens

and led out the south wind by his might.

27 He rained down flesh upon them like dust

and winged birds like the sand of the sea.

28 He let it fall in the midst of their camp

and round about their dwellings.

29 So they ate and were well filled,

for he gave them what they craved.

John 6:24-35 (New Revised Standard Version):

The next day, when the people who remained after the feeding of the five thousand saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him,

Rabbi, when did you come here?

Jesus answered them,

Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.

Then they said to him,

What must we do to perform the works of God?

Jesus answered them,

This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.

So they said to him,

What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”

Then Jesus said to them,

Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

They said to him,

Sir, give us this bread always.

Jesus said to them,

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

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Some Related Posts:

Exodus 16:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/week-of-proper-11-wednesday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/proper-20-year-a/

John 6:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/sixteenth-day-of-easter/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/seventeenth-day-of-easter/

Humbly I Adore Thee, Verity Unseen:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/04/14/humbly-i-adore-thee-verity-unseen/

Break Thou the Bread of Life:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/29/break-thou-the-bread-of-life/

I Come with Joy to Meet My Lord:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/01/23/i-come-with-joy-to-meet-my-lord/

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There is an obvious link between the Exodus and the John readings.  The Israelites, needing food in the desert, received from God a sufficient amount of manna and quail.  Many people have wondered what manna was, in a scientific sense.  It was probably the crystalized excrement of scale insects and plant lice who had injested the sap of tamarisk trees.  (The Jewish Study Bible, page 140)  There is an “ick” factor to it.

There is also an “ick” factor to Jesus as the bread of life.  John 6, to Jewish sensibilities of the time, contained objectionable material, for consuming a person’s flesh and blood was (and is, in most cultures) taboo.  This being the Gospel of John, there is a highly symbolic layer to the text, but the text is not entirely figurative.  There is manna symbolism, indicating that God is the source of this bread of life.  Yet the manna was, as Father Raymond E. Brown wrote in hisAnchor Bible commentary on the Johannine Gospel,

a foreshadowing of the real bread from heaven, which is Jesus own teaching.  (Volume 1, page 266)

So this bread of life is spiritual sustenance.  And Jesus himself, God incarnate, the living embodiment of these teachings, identifies himself as the bread of life in verse 35.  If one reads verses 51-58, one reads a text which identifies the flesh of our Lord as the bread of heaven itself.  Yet, as Father Brown documents in great detail, there has been disagreement about the precise meaning of “bread of life” in Christian tradition since the Patristic Era.  (Volume 1, page 272)  Should one focus more on the physicality of Jesus (as in the Eucharist) or on his teachings?  Or should one consider both equally?

I favor the latter option.  There is much playing out in the Greek text of John 6.  There are Passover and manna references, allusions to different types of bread of life, and a host (pardon the pun) of other details which brilliant scholars have poured over with excruciating attention.  The text is, simply put, subtle and rich in meaning, capable of meaning more than one thing simultaneously.  Being more of a “both and,” rather than an “either or” person much of the time, I ask,

Why not focus on both Jesus (as present in the bread and wine of Eucharist) and his teachings?

One misses a critical element in the absence of the other.

Jesus–the historical human being–was a great moral teacher.  He was more than that, of course, but he was that.  His teachings remain pertinent today.  It is also true that I encounter the Christ of my ftith every time I take communion, which I consider to be the transubstantiated body and blood of Jesus.  As a Eucharistic Minister in The Episcopal Church, I hold a chalice containing consecrated wine.  I say,

The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation,

to those who come forward.  I mean it literally.  If I am what I eat and drink, may I become more like Jesus through the Eucharist.  And may you, O reader, do the same.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 1, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ANTHONY ASHLEY COOPER, LORD SHAFTESBURY, SEVENTH EARL OF SHAFTESBURY, AND BRITISH HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT THERESA OF LISIEUX, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

THE FEAST OF SAINT REMIGIUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF RHEIMS

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on October 1, 2011

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/01/proper-13-year-b/

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Posted October 1, 2011 by neatnik2009 in Exodus 16, John 6, Psalm 78

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One response to “The Bread of Life and the “Ick” Factor

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  1. Pingback: Proper 13, Year B « ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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