Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Have you ever been completely wrong about something and then suddenly discovered that not only were you wrong, but that other people were aware of your mistaken viewpoint and had said nothing to you? It can be embarrassing. Not that I can remember anything like that, of course! I’m joking. I’ve been known to groan audibly when recalling something embarrassing! We suppress those thoughts as best we can, don’t we?
Something similar to this (but not quite the same) is when you are speaking to somebody and pretending that that is the first time you’re hearing the information, only to realise they actually know that you are aware of it. That happens quite a bit – especially in my position when I am told something in confidence and somebody a little while later starts talking to me about it. I have to pretend I don’t know, but they know that I do know. That is also mildly embarrassing.
But there is another kind of embarrassment that comes from when you are caught out in a conversation because it becomes obvious you are guilty of trying to achieve something by being not altogether honest.
Either someone is telling you about something terrible (you happen to be guilty of) and you pretend you know nothing about it – and then they accuse you of it, OR you’re in a conversation and trying to achieve something slightly dodgy when it suddenly becomes apparent that they have seen through you.
Each of these last two things happened in our readings today.
David is pretending to the prophet Nathan that he is indignant with the rich man who stole the poor man’s only ewe, when Nathan rounds on him and says to David, ‘You are the man! And 9Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?
It is highly unlikely that David did not realise that Nathan was speaking of his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband Uriah. David is found out and his response to Nathan is ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’
David’s focus had been on himself and his own selfish ends. Nathan brings him back to focussing on what is essential and hence his response is, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’
Our problems always originate from our taking our eyes off God.
In the gospel reading we see Jesus dealing with people who were trying to blackmail him into giving them more bread. The essence of the conversation is: You know the Messiah will feed Israel, now if you are trying to convince us that you are the Messiah, you’d better come up with more bread.
But Jesus is aware of their attempt at manipulation. In the words of St Paul he’s not misled by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.
His response is, work for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. He steers them away from looking for a handout, to work. He points them towards the Messiah – to himself.
29Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’
For the punters it’s about the benefits, for Jesus it’s about a relationship centred in him. 35 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.
Jesus knows that our problems always originate from our taking our eyes off God, and so he brings them to focus, not on what they can get from the Christ, but on the Christ himself.
St Paul, in his amazingly rich letter to the Church in Ephesus, draws his readers into just the same conclusion.
He prepares the ground by drawing their attention to the conceptual unity of truth: 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. Truth and in fact all knowledge is held together in God – that’s why they’re called universities (not diversities) but that’s another issue.
Truth is centred in the one true God. 14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, he says.
And then he focuses them in on Christ: we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
What an amazingly organic picture of a unified and functioning system, one that is centred in Christ and one that as a result, builds itself up in love.
Paul builds a beautiful picture of the unity of truth and the unity of the church (the Body of Christ) functioning together under the head, that is Christ. And the outcome, the product of it all, is love.
In conclusion …
As human beings we have the most amazing capacity for hypocrisy. We can be as pious as anything in one compartment of our lives, yet be entertaining sin in another. Paul calls us away from that to focus on Jesus.
Jesus consistently calls his hearers away from trying to feather their own nests to focus on himself. And the wonderful thing is that God is willing to forgive – always.
When we focus on Jesus, things fall into place: forgiveness, relationship, growth in Christ-likeness – which brings peace and joy.
May God help us all, as we meet him in Word and in prayer, to grow in Christ-likeness.
- 2 Samuel 11: 26 – 12: 13a
- Ephesians 4: 1 – 16
- John 6: 24 – 35