It is interesting how this Sunday’s readings come together: 2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a with Psalm 51: 1-13; Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 with Psalm 78:23-29; Ephesians 4:1-16 and John 6:24-35
The story of God judging David (through Nathan) for his murder of Uriah is part two of the story of David’s adultery. David faces the moral judgment and life changing consequences of his sin. This is a story of our natural desires overcoming our call to do God’s will. The penitential psalm that accompanies it is one that expresses my confession so well when I find myself turning from what I know is true and right and to the way that gives immediate pleasure and satisfaction. We often forsake the good that seems so distance for the pleasurable that is immediately before us. And we rationalize why we do it.
The Exodus story is one of a lack of trust in God’s goodness. Complaining is immediate; trust is less evident but more fulfilling. “Trust in the slow work of God” says deChardin. It may be slow but it is time-less, eternal. So God gives the Israelites what they want: quail and the famous “manna from heaven.” What are the consequences? This passage does not tell us. “The Lord said to Moses, ‘I will test them, whether they will follow my instructions or not.” Of course, in the long run, they do not. The consequences, according to those who give us the long, sad story of the history of Israel and Judah, comes in the form of exile and subjugation. David took what he craved. God gave the Israelites what they craved. There is no thanksgiving iPsalm 78. Instead, it is re-telling of the story implying that there are consequences.
“I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” Paul pleads to the Church in Ephesus. Live a life of humility and gentleness; be patient; bear with one another in love; make every effort to maintain unity. These are the way of virtue and the path to life in Christ. It leads to the ability to speak the truth in love as Paul also counsels.
This is what promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. Such growth takes time. It is easy to turn to adultery and to sating our appetites rather than exercising restraint and, with a consciousness of God’s grace, focus on building up the Body of Christ.
The connection of the Gospel story (John 6: 24-35) with the Exodus story, namely manna and the bread of heaven, is clear. (The Lectionary editors didn’t want us to have to work too hard.). This is a great Sunday to talk about the significance of Eucharist within the Body of Christ, of the sacrament of manna (yes there are Hebrew sacraments) and our Eucharistic meal and of being one with Christ in the Body’s ability and courage to “speak the truth in love.”
But what do we do if we have been following the Samuel story of the development of the Judaic kingdom? This too can be combined with Ephesians and the Gospel passages. There are consequences when we don’t “do the work,” when we choose to continue as “children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.”
This is truly a Sunday when we can comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. We all need both messages, often at the same time. It is also a great Sunday to preach about the Christian counter-cultural perspective of patience. Christians know that we do not need it all now. Like others in our society, we may want it all now but God’s time is not our time. “Believe in the slow work of God.”