In the passages this morning we see a progression of the salvation that is found in Christ. First in the Old Testament reading we have the record of Nathan’s confrontation of David’s sin and his subsequent confession and repentance. In this we can all identify, we have all been confronted by someone or by God of our sin and chosen repentance. In David’s case this was a returning to God, but in a more general sense this is the beginning of following God. It is interesting how the Prophet Nathan chose to confront David. He took the thing that we as humans have a propensity towards i.e. judging. He brought David to a place of harsh judgement on another man for what we would call a lesser sin. Nathan very beautifully uses the truth that Jesus would later expound in Matthew 7.
Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
In this instance we see Nathan judging King David with the same judgement that he meted out. He did not allow the harsh judgement time to grow cold, but immediately confronted him for his hypocrisy. Let us hear what St. Chrysostom says about David’s reaction,
What did the king say? “I have sinned against the Lord.” He did not say, “Who are you who censures me? Who sent you to speak with such boldness? With what daring did you prevail?” He did not say anything of the sort; rather, he perceived the sin. And what did he say, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Therefore, what did Nathan say to him? “And the Lord remitted your sin.” You condemned yourself; I [God] remit your sentence. You confessed prudently, I annulled the sin. You appropriated a condemnatory decision against yourself; I repealed the sentence. Can you see what is written in the Scripture was fulfilled; “Be the first one to tell of your transgression so you may be justified.1” Isaiah 43:26?
Confession brought about restoration. As I was studying this passage these verses kept coming to mind.
But to the king of Judah which sent you to enquire of the Lord, thus shall ye say to him, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, As touching the words which thou hast heard; Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the Lord, when thou heardest what I spake against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and hast rent thy clothes, and wept before me; I also have heard thee, saith the Lord. Behold therefore, I will gather thee unto thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered into thy grave in peace; and thine eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place. And they brought the king word again. – II Kings 22:18-20
God is merciful to those who repent. An exalted King heard a prophet, may we humble people hear the call of Christ. Turning our attention now to Psalm 51, we see David’s song or prayer of confession for this sin. In the first line he calls upon God to be merciful. Mercy is the most characteristic attribute of a Christian. This is what defines us and it is because we so often find ourselves in need of the Lord’s mercy and we like David before us call out, “Have mercy on us according to the greatness of your mercy.” We show mercy since the Lord shows us mercy. As we have his mercy we are able to extend it to others.2
David asks for cleansing with hyssop. St. Augustin tells us that hyssop is a humble herb but it has healing properties. It grows in rocks and its roots cling to the rocks. He then tells us, “Thence in a mystery the similitude of cleansing the heart has been taken. You also take hold, with the root of thy love on your Rock: be humble in your God, in order that you might be exalted in your glorified God. You shall be sprinkled with hyssop; the humility of Christ shall cleanse you.”3 When we entreat the Lord for cleansing in all humility he will do it. To conclude this psalm let us listen to the words of one of the Fathers.
We believe without hesitation that both the priests of the Lord and other believers may return to their place of honour after a proper satisfaction for their error, as the Lord testifies through his prophet: “Shall he who falls not also rise again? And shall he who turns away, not return?” In another passage the Lord says, “I desire not the death of the sinner, but that he may turn and live.” The prophet David, on his repentance, said, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with your Spirit.4
We have read the plea for restoration and we are confident in Christ that all who ask will receive it. Let us now turn our attention to the Gospel reading. We pick up just after Jesus has fed the multitudes and walked across the sea. The multitudes will ask him a series of questions. In his responses, with sharpness and gentleness, Jesus will attempt to guide them from looking at the physical benefits of the miracles to the truths that lie beneath. He is looking for one thing only for them, the same thing that David was looking and pleading for – salvation. To them, he says, I fed your bodies so that after this you might seek that other food that endures, which nourishes the soul. Let us not walk in their steps but instead let us partake of the food that will nourish our souls as well. It is through this partaking that we receive the gifts of the Spirit which are our pledge of our eternal life. We’ll talk further of this when we turn our attention to the epistle.
“Do not work for food that perishes” St. Chrysostom is concerned that we may miss the point here. This statement and again in the Sermon on the Mount we have the statement “take no thought for the morrow.” There was an issue in his time and again in the time of the Desert Fathers which was mentioned when I was studying Psalm 51 of turning to idleness. “Some monks called Euchites, or ‘men of prayer’, once came to Abba Lucius in the ninth region of Alexandria. And the old man asked them, ‘What work do you do with your hands?’ And they said, ‘We do not work with our hands. We obey St. Paul’s command and pray without ceasing.’ The old man said to them, ‘Do you not eat?’ They said, ‘Yes we eat.’ And the old man said to them, ‘When you are eating who prays for you?’ Again, he asked them, ‘Do you not sleep?’ They said, ‘We sleep.’ And the old man said, ‘Who prays for you while you are asleep?’ They would not answer him. And he said to them, ‘Forgive me brothers, but you do not practice what you say. I will show you how I pray without ceasing though I work with my hands. With God’s help, I sit and collect a few palm leaves, and interweave them and say, “Have mercy on me, O God according to your great mercy: and according to the multitude of your mercies do away with my iniquity.”‘ And he said to them, ‘Is that prayer, or is it not?’ They said, ‘It is prayer'” 5. You may know of more modern examples. St. Chrysostom emphatically tells us that this is a slander on Christianity. Their idleness, causes us to be ridiculed. He cites what the apostle Paul says about work in Eph 4:28 and I Thess 4:10-12. The basic gist is that St. Paul is calling us to work so vigorously and laboriously so as to be able to share with others. To take no thought doesn’t mean to stop working but not to be tied to the things of this life. Not working for the food that perishes, does not imply that we ought to be idle, rather that we ought to work so that we have something to give to others. It means not to be concerned about ourselves6.
The work of God is to believe in the one he sent. St. Augustin saw an objection that we might have here since St. Paul states that a person is justified by faith apart from works7. However, Scripture also states that the end of the law is Christ, unto justice to everyone who believes. Therefore, he didn’t wish to separate faith from work, but said that faith itself is a work. For this is the faith that works by love. Faith as we learn from the apostle James does not live in a vacuum. It actually has to do something if it is truly faith.
Now we get to the bread of heaven, the bread of life, the salvation that King David longed for and hoped in. Jesus through feeding the multitudes hoped to draw them towards understanding that he would give them his very body and blood to partake. He gave them a superabundance of transitory bread and wine so that they might expect a superabundance of his living body and blood. He enticed us with things that were pleasing to the palate to attract us towards those things that make the soul alive.
In the final verses of the gospel reading, Jesus reveals that he was the true bread from heaven. The bread given through Moses was merely a type to point towards him. Bethlehem from where Jesus was born is by translation house of bread. He is the bread of life that proceeded out of the house of bread. He the only begotten of God the Father is the bread of heaven recovering the souls of the believers by his words of life and procured real life for all the world.
St. Paul, in this passage, calls us to both walk in worthy manner and yet at the same time with all humility or in another translation with all lowliness. How is it possible to do both? Meekness or humility is the foundation of all virtue and as we remember our limits and how we were saved, we will have the motive for every excellent behaviour. We will remember that all is of grace and so walk humbly both in our words and deeds, and even in the tone of our voice. We are to walk this way to great and small alike, enemy and friend, in short we are to act humbly to everyone in our lives. Continuing on in humility we should not be envious of the gifts that another brother or sister has, nor on the other hand should we refuse to use the gift that God has given to us. We must live and act according to the gift that God has given to each one of us.
Let us then confess to God any way that we have erred from him. May we plead for his abundant mercy as David did before us. As we receive his mercy, we must remember to extend it to others. Let’s purpose to walk in humility remembering that it is only through God’s grace and pleasure that we are saved. May this be a motivation to walk in a manner worthy of his calling — giving place and honour others, using our gifts to build each other up, whether we think our gift is small or great. Finally, let us purpose in our every action to encourage one another. In this way we will mature until we attain to the unity of the faith.
~Dn. Fr. Matthew
1 John R. Frank and Thomas C. Oden Editors, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Old Testament VIII (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 359
2 Philip Schaff, D.D., LL.D Editor, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series Volume 14, Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Hebrews, originally published in the United States by the Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1889 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickoson Publishing Marketing, LLC), 513
3 Philip Schaff, D.D., LL.D Editor, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series Volume 8, Augustin: Expositions on the Psalms, originally published in the United States by the Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1888 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickoson Publishing Marketing, LLC), 193-194
4 Quentin F. Wesselschmidt and Thomas C. Oden Editors, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Old Testament VIII (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 10
5 Quentin F. Wesselschmidt and Thomas C. Oden Editors, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Old Testament VIII (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 2
6 Philip Schaff, D.D., LL.D Editor, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series Volume 14, Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Hebrews, originally published in the United States by the Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1889 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickoson Publishing Marketing, LLC), 157-158
7 Philip Schaff, D.D., LL.D Editor, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series Volume 7, Augustin: Gospel of John, First Epistle of John Soliloquies, originally published in the United States by the Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1888 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickoson Publishing Marketing, LLC), 164