Proper 14 (19) | John 6:35-51
Lectionary Project—Part of an ongoing three year project of weekly posts based on the Gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary. A study in practical theology.
Bread. Water. These are the central images in the Gospel of John. Did you ever wonder why?
The most striking thing about the elements composing our bodies is how common they are. We are life forms based on carbon, scientists tell us. Here on earth, carbon is everywhere. It’s the dust of the universe. Nature builds with what is on hand, what is abundant.
We should not be surprised that our lives are housed in the commonplace.
Some carbon is special, like the compressed chunks we call diamonds. We treasure these bits of hard shiny crystal, but a diamond has no real value to organic life. The carbon trapped in a diamond no longer combines in any of the myriad ways that support life on our planet.
It is ironic that we have come to value things so rare that they cannot help to sustain our lives, but we’re not consistent in our treatment of common things. If we find something that we agree is valuable, like a diamond, we’re glad. If we see something common, though we are made of it and it keeps us alive, we are not impressed. If only we measured ideas the same way, but in our thinking we treasure the commonplace, and we reject rarities of insight. We would rather be right in our closed minds than have the clamshell of our thoughts pried open by the rare and unexpected.
The audience in this Gospel’s story were angry with Jesus. They were in the synagogue of Capernaum, the place where Jesus made his home, and he was commonplace to them. They saw him on the street. They knew his family. So long as he walked their streets and did not disturb their commonplace thoughts, they accepted him. When he made the claim that he brought them something of God, they scoffed and grumbled and grew angry.
We would do the same.
In fact, we are doing the same. We walk past the commonplace landscape, breathe the commonplace air, taste the commonplace bread of our meals, drink the commonplace water, and we do not appreciate the value in them. We do not appreciate that these are the things that sustain us. We would trade away the common things in our lives, only to be left with the cold sparkle of crystallized carbon, a handful of diamonds that we cannot eat or drink or breathe.
If we would see something of great value, we need only look around us. Life is in the taste of bread, the sparkle of water.
In this Gospel, we hear that Jesus raised the commonplace to the divine, and that he brought the divine into the commonplace. God is in the stardust at our feet.