Island Lagoon, SA 2016

One Man's Web

"Meet the Ferrones... this everyday Australian family has set out on an extraordinary time travelling adventure." So begins each decade of Back in Time for Dinneran infotainment-reality-TV-cooking-show blend which, nonetheless, displays moments of startling humanity. In the 1990's episode, the family are the guests of Chef Michael Tai, whose own family were refugees from Vietnam.

Michael takes Olivia, a delightfully unfiltered ten year old, to choose a fish, which he nets for her from the restaurant tank. She returns to the table, full of glee: "I got to pick a fish! I decided I would name it Jeff!" And then Jeff comes to the table, neatly sliced. "I'd like to take a moment to say a few words about our friend Jeff who sacrificed his life for our dining pleasure," says Mum Carol, discomforted, yet inured to life as we live it. (25:50 minutes in. A very small and poor quality clip)

But Olivia is horrified. Deeply shocked. Unable to laugh off the horror of what has been done. The family watch as Michael spoons the fish into the soup— "He'll taste delicious!" someone cries. No one notices Olivia's whimper, or sees the trauma on her face, and the hands over her ears: Horror.

What is our Olivia moment? When do we see; when do our faces contort in grief and horror at what we have done? Life all comes together for Olivia at that moment; this is revelation... Read on >>>>

and all the men and women eating bread... (Shakespeare, mostly)

From Max's funeral:

A while back, Max said to me that he had realised a few nights previously that this was the night he would die. He had felt terribly ill—the worst he had been, so he got up, wrote some messages on the little whiteboard in his room in the nursing-home and went back to bed, and waited.

"In the morning," he said, with that classic Max smile, "I realised I was still here, so I got up and rubbed out the whiteboard, and got ready for breakfast."  Something about death had lost its power over him.

You can listen to this sermon here.

Gospel: John 6:35-51

It says that when Jesus fed the people in the wilderness, the Passover was near. (6:4) And now, at the end of our reading today, we hear that, "Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." (6:51)

We have a mixed metaphor, if you like; meat and bread. Way back in Exodus, Moses gave people the word from God that whoever killed the lamb, and spread its blood upon the door posts and the lintel of the house, and ate its flesh, would have the angel of death pass-over... their house, and their first born child would not die. (Exodus 12) So eat of the Passover lamb and you will not die, death will not touch you. And Jesus says we can eat of the bread which comes down from heaven and not die. (6:50) And the bread from heaven is his flesh. (51)

So, of course, if you take this literally, somehow the bread on the table today turns into his body, and then we are literally eating him. It's no wonder that there were accusations of cannibalism made about the church!

Or are we being invited to step into a metaphor? ... Read on >>>>

Listen to the podcast.

There's a large billboard around the corner from our church. One of Australia's richest men, still hungry for something more from life, smiles down on us, hoping his populism will buy him votes at the next election. His beaming face is no match for that of Max, who used to meet us at the church door each Sunday. Max was not hungry. Instead, Max had the ability to be content wherever he found himself. He would greet people at the door, and sit with them for morning tea. His good humour and storytelling was gentle and respectful— he knew when to listen. He built people up. He built up the church garden, and spent long hours in the Op Shop and its store shed, politely listening to the concerns of his family, and the congregation, about working too hard, and then ignoring us all.  His son said, "Dad figured he may as well die in the garden instead of sitting at home on his own."

Jesus said ... ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Max lived that. He had seen and believed. And it made him an ordinary and, therefore, profound, example of the grace of God in flesh. All the richness of God is for ordinary people like us.

How did Max get to this place? What made him a person characterised by graciousness rather than bitterness, a person generous rather than grasping, a person at ease instead of despairing?... Read on >>>>

The people of Jesus time expected that God would send another prophet like Moses. Indeed, Moses himself had once said, " The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet... I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command..." (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18)

And the people at the Feeding of 5,000 understood this. It says that "When the people saw the sign that [Jesus] had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’" (John 6:14)

And yet the part of that crowd which came across the lake in the boats from Tiberias seem curiously blind. They have seen the feeding, they have eaten, and they want more food. And like Jesus, they know what God has said: "one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." (Deut 8:3)He's quoting the Old Testament, after all; Deuteronomy Chapter 8. And we expect they knew the tradition, the midrash on scripture, that said  "As was the first redeemer so was the final redeemer; as the first redeemer caused the manna to fall from heaven, even so shall the second redeemer cause the manna to fall." (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 1.9)

So how could they not see that Jesus had done something even greater than Moses!?? In the old stories of Moses, the manna would decay if you took more than you needed. In the sign that Jesus had done, the bread was collected up in baskets so that nothing would be lost. It did not spoil and, what's more, there were twelve baskets, a sign that the broken 12 tribes of Israel— only two were left— would be restored!

How could these people who had been there, who had eaten— how could they not see!? What was making them so blind?... Read on >>>>

The crowd who follow Jesus to the other side of the lake are ordinary people seeking satisfaction for their hunger. But those who get into the boats from Tiberias end up becoming what John calls οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι. This text has been translated, disastrously, as "the Jews."   The scapegoating and murder of millions of Jesus' people demands we do not use this translation.

James Alison speaks of "the return of the “Judahites” from Babylon."

It is these “Judahites” – that is an observant religious party, that gives its name to the subsection of the Hebrew people known as the “Ιουδαιοι” to whom St John refers, and which we typically translate as “The Jews”. We thus confuse a modern ethnic term with an ancient term closer to a partisan ideological grouping, one that was originally a subsection of the ethnic group of the “Εβραιοι”. 3 Cf John 10, 36. (James Alison "What sorts of difference does René Girard make to how we read the Bible?")

Quoting this article last week I noted that "the iudiaioi read Exodus differently to Jesus." Throughout John we are dealing with arguments between "partisan ideological groupings" within the one people.

While working my way through the verses for the week in the commentary below this reflection, I have remembered the grief of finding myself far distant from some friends and family. Once, we were "one people." These are good people who see large parts of the world in ways which seem an unbridgeable distance from the way I see the world. It is difficult not to let these differences harden into what James Alison called a "partisan ideological grouping," demarcated by walls of scorn and contempt. These are the groupings which are shown, blind to compassion, in John Chapter 5.... Read on >>>>

This post contains material about a method for Bible Study. It may be followed up by more reflection on John 6:1-21

Stargate was mandated TV viewing by the teenagers in our house. In one dire situation, one of the team cried out to Col. Jack ONeil, "How will we get out of this, Sir?" To which he replied something like, "How do I know; it's not like I can fix it with a pocket knife!" I asked why my son was so amused by this,  and was told with that eye roll known to all parents of enlightened teenagers: "It's Richard Dean Anderson." Such replies seem designed to show up parental ignorance— don't answer Bible Study questions in this way— so I buried my pride and asked, "So?"

Sigh— "He's the same actor who played MacGyver."

Well, even I knew MacGyver can escape from any situation with a box of matches and a pocket knife, so I finally got the joke. We know that literature is written for a purpose. If we were given Animal Farm in High School, we will have learned how the surface story of the animals is, at least, an extended allegory about Russia from the time of the Revolution through to Stalin. But somehow we seem to forget that the biblical writers might have their own literary style. It does not seem to occur to us that the stories are not simply facts, but are interpretations. They might even have the equivalent of MacGyver jokes!

The "whole style of biblical literature is that the numbers and details are not simply a description, but a hook on which to hang meaning,"  (see below) yet we too often fail to look for the meanings dangled before us or, worse, get into arguments about the literal truth beyond which we may not go.

We need "to go beyond the literal,"

 we need to go beyond reading the story like children who correctly hear that something marvellous happens— and begin, also, to read the symbols[; for example, Jesus ] asks them to start feeding with what they have— What have they got? Five loaves. Five... is the number of the books of the Law. They have the words of God to feed the crowd. (What will you see?)

And we need to give the text time to work on us! ... Read on >>>>

There is a long tradition in the synagogue and the church  that when Moses saw the burning bush, there were other people with him who did not see anything! In fact, the bush was always burning; (eg Jeremiah Whitaker C16th) it is a symbol of God who simply Is, without beginning or end. The only question— always— is whether people will see, whether we will perceive that which is before us and around us, or whether we will walk, un-noticing, past the holiness that always burns, and which gives the universe warmth, and light, and being.

God is. God loves. But what we will see will depend upon our perspective.

In the Gospel of Mark, the author has shown us two feasts; two stories of life. Last week the Lectionary directed us to The Feast of Herod the King, a luxury feast in a palace. This week, we have arrived at the other feast, The Feast of Jesus, out in a desert place... Read on >>>>

The panorama: I say to myself, "Surely you can make this shorter!" But there is a panorama here which is too important to ignore, and our reading is at its centre...
The centre: I want to sharpen the problem of being too busy to eat. We have contrasting feasts in the text of Mark; those of Herod and Jesus. If we do not eat of Jesus' banquet ourselves, we will inevitably find that we are sitting at Herod's table... Read on >>>>

Suddenly the death of John the Baptist is injected into the story of Jesus. It has always felt slightly out of place to me. Just as the disciples begin to succeed, we are told of John's death. And the story "is the one scene in all of Mark's Gospel in which Jesus makes no appearance." (Lohse)

I first began to understand John's death as the one of three feasts; a feast which stands in appalling contrast to Jesus' two feasts with the crowds in Mark 6:30-44, and Mark 8:1-10. Jesus' feeding of the crowd is everything Herod's banquet is not. His feasts are for the common people rather than the top end of town; all people, even Gentiles, are included.  His banquets are not characterised by violence and murder; rather than the coveted place to be, they are an image of blessed life in the presence of the shepherd of Israel, in green pastures far from any palace. In those two feasts, Jesus is a shepherd rather than a Herod.... But Mark's artistry and inspiration goes far deeper than this beginning. He contrasts the feasts of the kingdom with something at once ordinary and terrifying. And seemingly inescapable.... Read on >>>>

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