A reflection on Proper 13B: 2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a, Ephesians 4:1-16, John 6:24-35
At various times I find myself in conversations with people on the topic of “Comfort Food.” Sometimes it comes up because someone is sick, and comfort food is, well, comforting. Other times it comes up because we are a culture of people who love to eat and have the luxury of having many options to choose from. Sometimes it comes up because a particular comfort food is on the menu – chicken pot pie, for example.
If I had to name a particular food as “Comfort food” I would probably choose bread and butter – particularly freshly baked bread right out of the oven, slathered in real butter.
One of my childhood memories is going on a tour of the Wonderbread bakery in Salt Lake City. We got to see the entire process of making and baking bread, and then at the end we each got a small loaf of freshly baked bread, still warm from the oven.
For many years my mother baked bread and I have fond memories of her slicing a still warm loaf and giving each of us a piece. I have made many loaves of bread myself. In college homemade bread was all my roommates and I would eat. We took turns making it, and we became quite good at making homemade pizza crust too. In seminary we were taught how to make communion bread. Each student had to make a week’s worth of communion bread for the daily Eucharist. It was a delightful and delicious shared ministry.
Comfort food soothes us when we are tired, helps to heal us when we are sick, and reminds us of what it feels like to be loved.
Our scripture readings this morning are not so much like comfort food, but rather like a mixed stew, with some veggies we love and some veggies we disdain. From Second Samuel we continue the saga about David following his taking of Bathsheba and arranging to have Uriah killed.. David, so full of himself, fed on pride until he is fat, blinded by his own gluttony. We hear how Nathan has come, like commercials for a diet company, to set David straight and point out that his actions have consequences: God is betrayed and hurt. People are betrayed and hurt. We all know the consequences of too much bread and butter.
Nathan levels David with a dose of reality – and David is suddenly awakened to the full reality of his actions. He has hurt God. He has hurt others. Suddenly his remorse is deep and uncomfortable – like a cleansing fast for his diet of power and pride.
On the other hand Jesus has been pouring himself out feeding people who are hungry. And the people keep coming. They want, they need this food that Jesus offers. The risk here is not that people will be over fed, it is not a risk of gluttony. Instead the risk here is that people will think that the food is something it is not. The bread they eat is not what they are really craving, just like comfort food is not what we are really craving.
“ 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.
How it is, that Jesus is food and drink? The risk is one of confusing the sign with what is really wanted. What the people want, what we want, what our hunger yearns for is love. And Jesus says he has it. It might look and taste like bread, but in reality it is the love we crave.
Again, Paul in the Letter to the Ephesians helps to flush this out:
“… lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace…”
This food and drink is not what it appears. Unlike comfort food which is a sign of love, this food and drink of God actually is love.
The amazing thing is that it has the capacity to nourish us in deep and satisfying ways. As the love of God courses through our veins and oozes through our pores we become…” one body and one Spirit…. one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”
Becoming one Body, one blood, through the love of God, is a prime example of people becoming what they eat. Becoming an expression of God’s love is like moving from a table set for one to a buffet brunch – all because we share the grace of God’s love acting in and through us. For…” each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”
Building up the body of Christ means that we are called to feed others as we are fed, on the love of God poured out in Christ. Nikolai Bordyaev, a 20th century Russian philosopher puts this squarely on the table: “The question of bread for myself is a material question, but the question of bread for my neighbor is a spiritual question.” It is this concept that causes David to regret his actions and repent from his self centered ways. David’s remorse redirects him, and therefore us, to God.
Christ offers us food that seems as though it is intended to fill out stomachs but it’s meant to fill our souls with love. It’s a love that redirects us from self to others. And when our souls are filled with this love we, “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…”
So we can’t buy this bread, this love, in a plastic bag in the grocery story. And we can’t slice it and eat it still warm and slathered in melting butter. But this bread, this love, is what we really crave. And we can never have too much of it because it has a tendency to fill up and then pour itself out. This love/bread pours out of God into Christ, out of Christ into us, out of us into others. As a result the “whole body (is) joined and knit together …building itself up in love.”