August 8, 2021
A New Identity
In an increasingly polarized world, demographics are everything. Many of us rely on information about a person’s hometown, family, alma mater, or workplace to make assumptions about their politics, social concerns, or lifestyle. Internet algorithms make inferences based on our age, gender, and relationship status to market products, services, or ideas to us. At times it feels like our lives are reduced to a statistic or a political party affiliation.
The crowds following Jesus knew who they were, and they thought they knew exactly who Jesus was too. They knew who his ancestors were, and they knew the stories of faith they all shared.
After all, Jesus was the neighbor boy—the carpenter’s son. They had known him since he was just a kid. He was a simple Galilean peasant. He walked the same streets, fished in the same waters, and ate the same food as the rest of them.
And yet, he dared to claim a different identity: he was the bread of life, the living bread come down from heaven. His roots were not just in this rocky terrain of the Middle Eastern soil, but in the God of the cosmos.
This is not what God was supposed to look like. This is not the powerful king they were waiting for. This was just Mary and Joseph’s son. He was supposed to be one of them!
But this is the great mystery of our faith: God cannot be reduced to an algorithm or a stereotype. God dwells in the people we least expect, in the most ordinary places, in people scandalously like us and outrageously different than us. God abides with us, defying our expectations, challenging our self-proclaimed identities by offering us the bread of life in Jesus Christ. In this holy bread, we are given a new identity more powerful and enduring than any other in this world: child of God, beloved and whole; in God, of God, and with God for all of eternity. Thanks be to God.
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The Readings in the Bible
Mark’s gospel is constructed as were other writings in antiquity, with the weightiest part being, not at the ending, but in the center of the book. This excerpt is from the gospel’s center and includes the second passion prediction (last week was the first). The early Christian movement needed repeatedly to face the horrific fact that their Messiah had been executed. More life-altering news is that hierarchies, which religious communities usually erect, are to be rejected. In the first century, children were considered vulnerable, with no status or power.
Jeremiah lived during a turbulent time of continuous warfare in the Middle East. Speaking and writing the words of God between 626 and 586 bce, Jeremiah proclaimed that the people of Israel and Jacob were suffering because God was punishing their unfaithfulness. His unpopular message was rejected. In today’s poetic excerpt, Jeremiah likens himself to a lamb led to the slaughter, but he trusts in God’s eventual vindication.
Written in the name of King Solomon but actually dating from near the time of Christ, this book is addressed to the Jews outside of the land of Israel, providing a message of encouragement. This reading comes from the first section, which puts forward a contrasting vision for the righteous and the wicked.
In the middle of James’s early second-century letter, written in a startling conversational style, is this passage reminiscent of Jewish Wisdom literature, lauding a life guided by wisdom and tying God’s presence to the believers’ devotion. The book of James does not indicate the communal disputes that incited the author’s indignation. The references to murdering and coveting recall the Ten Commandments, and the comment about asking wrongly suggests that the intentions in some intercessory prayers are inappropriate.