Sunday, 15 August 2021

Finding life and wisdom
in the way we respond
to the needs of the poor

‘Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever’ (John 6: 51) … bread on sale in a shop in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 15 August 2021, the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XI).

9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton.

11.30 a.m.: Parish Eucharist, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert).

Readings: I Kings 2: 10-12, 3: 3-14; Psalm 111; John 6: 51-58

There is a link to the readings HERE.

Holy Wisdom as the mother of Hope (left), Faith (centre) and Love (right) … a fresco in a church in Rethymnon, Crete, by the iconographer Alexandra Kaouki

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

In our readings this morning, we are asked to consider where we find wisdom, and we are reminded that ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.’

But the purpose of wisdom, which Solomon asks for alone, is so that good and evil can be distinguished, especially when it comes to the needs of the people.

In recent weeks, we have been reading some difficult stories about King David. In this morning’s first reading, (I Kings 2: 10-12, 3: 3-14), David has died and is buried in Jerusalem.

God appears to Solomon in a dream. Solomon realises he is dependent on God, and asks not for long life or riches, or the lives of his enemies, but for the gift of wisdom or an ‘understanding mind.’ God grants this request, and then adds on riches and honours, and also promises long life if Solomon follows God’s ways.

The alternative reading (Proverbs 9: 1-6) presents a personification of Wisdom as Lady Wisdom, who invites the unwise or ‘simple’ to her banquet (verses 1-6).

OOur Psalm tells us God ‘provides food for those who fear him,’ and that ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Psalm 111: 5, 10).

So, what has all this to do with our Gospel reading (John 6: 51-58)?

After feeding the multitude, Christ describes himself as ‘the living bread’ (verse 51). He has told them, not just once, but three times, ‘I am the bread of life’ (John 6: 35), ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven’ (verse 41), and again, ‘I am the bread of life’ (verse 48).

Now he says: ‘I am the living bread’ (verse 51).

These are emphatic declarations. In this Gospel, Jesus says ‘I am’ 45 times. But he uses this particular way of saying ‘I am’ 24 times. He says ‘I AM,’ ἐγώ εἰμί (ego eimi), explicitly including the Greek pronoun ‘I’ (ἐγώ, ego). This is odd in Greek grammar at the time. It is as though Jesus is saying ‘I I AM.’

In the Hebrew Bible, the meaning of God’s name is closely related to the emphatic statement ‘I AM’ (see Exodus 3: 14; 6: 2; Deuteronomy 32: 39; Isaiah 43: 25; 48: 12; 51: 12; etc.). The ‘I AM’ in these accounts and the ‘I AM’ of Saint John’s Gospel is the God who creates us, who communicates with us, who gives himself to us, who feeds us in the wilderness places.

But what does it mean to acknowledge Christ as ‘the bread of life’?

We had a wedding in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, yesterday (14 August 2021). But another wedding I was at recently was celebrated within the context of the Eucharist or the Holy Communion.

In his sermon, the priest compared God’s self-giving to us in Christ’s body as an expression of God’s deepest love for us with the way in which a couple getting married give themselves bodily to each other … the most intimate loving action to be shown to each other.

Of course, for the love of God and the love of one another are inseparable.

One of the great Cappadocian Fathers, Saint Basil the Great (329-379), is known for his challenging social values. He wrote:

‘The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.’

Christian life must be nourished in our sacramental practice, but our sacramental practice must inspire and feed our practice of Christianity. Doctrine and belief must be related to how we live our lives as Christians.

Some years ago, I stayed in Saint Matthew’s Vicarage in Westminster, where Bishop Frank Weston (1871-1924) is said to have written a key, influential speech.

Frank Weston held together in a creative combination his incarnational and sacramental theology with his radical social concerns, and these formed the keynote of his address to the Anglo-Catholic Congress in 1923.

He believed that the sacramental focus gave a reality to Christ’s presence and power that nothing else could. ‘The one thing England,’ we could say Ireland here, ‘needs to learn is that Christ is in and amid matter, God in flesh, God in sacrament.’

And so he concluded: ‘But I say to you, and I say it with all the earnestness that I have, if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in His Blessed Sacrament, then, when you come out from before your tabernacles, you must walk with Christ, mystically present in you through the streets of this country, and find the same Christ in the peoples of your cities and villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slums … It is folly – it is madness – to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children.’

He declared: ‘Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.’

Something similar was said in a letter in The Tablet some years ago [4 August 2018] by Derek P Reeve, a retired parish priest in Portsmouth: ‘The … Lord whom we receive at the Eucharist is the one whom we go out to serve, and, dare I say it, to adore in our neighbour …’

So sacramental life, and accepting Christ as the ‘Bread of Life’ are wonderful concepts in my faith and in my Christian discipleship. But they are meaningless unless I live this out in the way I try to care for those who are hungry, suffering and marginalised.

And that, for me is a very concise understanding of the wisdom of God and its impact on my life.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Limited visiting hours at the Cave of Wisdom in Crete … but where do we find wisdom? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 6: 51-58 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 51 ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ 53 So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’

The memorial in Saint Matthew’s Church, Westminster, to the former curate, Bishop Frank Weston (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Green (Ordinary Time, Year B)

The Collect:

O God,
you declare your almighty power
most chiefly in showing mercy and pity:
Mercifully grant to us such a measure of your grace,
that we, running the way of your commandments,
may receive your gracious promises,
and be made partakers of your heavenly treasure;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Collect of the Word:

Everliving God,
your Son, Jesus Christ, gave himself as living bread
for the life of the world:
give us such a knowledge of his presence
that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life
to serve you continually;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord of all mercy,
we your faithful people have celebrated
the memorial of that single sacrifice
which takes away our sins and brings pardon and peace.
By our communion
keep us firm on the foundation of the gospel
and preserve us from all sin;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘I am the bread of life’ (Hymn 420) … bread in a Greek baker’s window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

581, I, the Lord of sea and sky (CD 49)
420, ‘I am the bread of life’ (CD 49)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.



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