Psalm 117; 1 Samuel 30,31; John 6:25-42

Psalm 117: This shortest psalm (also the shortest chapter in the Bible) summarizes God’s two fundamental qualities succinctly: “His kindness overwhelms us, /and the LORD’s steadfast truth is forever.” Think about it for a moment: God’s kindness is not just a nice thing; it overwhelms us. We are bowled over by God’s blessings–even in the midst of trial. The secret of course, is sometimes knowing where to look.

And God’s truth transcends time and space. Truth exists independent of anything we humans can construct. It cannot be confined into a box of our making. That’s why even those who profess to believe God does not exist still hold to some semblance of virtue and morality. God’s truth is built into the structure of our existence.

1 Samuel 30,31: David and his men come to Ziklag only to discover that the Amalekites had razed it, burned it to the ground and carried off all its women and treasure. David pursues them and with information given to them by an Egyptian (!) servant left for dead by the Amalekites, David and 400 men pursue, find, and kill them all. The women and treasure are recovered, including David’s two wives.

As the party heads home, they come back to 200 Israelites, who had not gone down to fight because they were “too exhausted to cross the Wadi Besor.” David’s men refuse to hand over a share of the booty to these men because they had not joined the battle. But David tells them, “For the share of the one who goes down into the battle shall be the same as the share of the one who stays by the baggage; they shall share alike.” (30:24) As the author points out, this practice of share and share alike “continues to the present day.”  Speaking as a guy who was support staff in the military, it’s reassuring to know that those who stay behind and support the battle front are equal in stature to those who actually fight. And that it is here with David where that practice began.

Saul’s three sons, including Jonathan, are killed in battle with the Philistines. Saul, in despair asks his armor-bearer to run him through with his sword, but the man refuses. Saul then falls on his own sword and kills himself.

What happens next is gruesome. The Philistines cut off his head and “they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan.” (31:10) But when “ the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men set out, traveled all night long, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan.” (31:11, 12) They burn the bodies and bury the bones and mourn for 7 days. To this day, the US Army follows the same practice: “No man left behind.”  So, while Saul was outside the Lord’s favor because he took things into his own hands, he is nevertheless buried with dignity and honor.

John 6:25-42: The crowds find Jesus at Capernaum and Jesus tells them are looking for him “not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” (26) The quest for a free lunch goes back a long way! Then, as usual, John becomes deeply theological, as Jesus says “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (29). The key point here is that it is God and “God’s work” that brings belief in Jesus. This is far different than our human attempts to find God or Jesus via intellectual exertion. It also says to me that attempts to “prove God’s existence” are ultimately futile because belief comes from God, not from our logic.

Jesus then makes his famous statement, ““I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (35). This metaphor is mind-blowing to the crowd. Jesus, this admittedly charismatic teacher can satisfy our daily physical needs? Actually, it’s a pretty mind-blowing metaphor for us because Jesus is referring to spiritual hunger and thirst. For John, the feeding of the 5000 is a giant metaphor; an object lesson, a children’s sermon, about how Jesus can fill our spiritual craving. That famous “God-shaped” hole in our hearts.

But this is abstract for us even though we know the whole story. Imagine how it was for the crowd listening to him. John once again makes his implicit point to his listeners–and us, his readers–that even eyewitnesses won’t necessarily believe– “I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.”–what about those of us who have never seen Jesus?  Will we accept who Jesus is what he says he is on faith, or will we join the skeptical crowd that says, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (42)

Belief is the work of God, but we have the responsibility to accept that belief as God’s gift–to recognize that Jesus is indeed who he says he is. Even when it sounds very strange to us, as it certainly did to the Jews at Capernaum.

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