Brueggemann's Narrative of Totalism

A reading for Wednesday, March 18, 2015: John 6:27-40.

Walter Brueggemann writes about the "narrative of totalism." It's the idea of an empire that "monopolizes the political economy, all technology, and all imagination via control of the media." Nothing is outside the control of "totalism," and the Biblical image we are given is that of Pharaoh from the Old Testament. Scarcity is Pharaoh's greatest anxiety. So he accumulates all he can, and then creates a monopoly that only he controls, and is willing to use even violence to keep it.

Everyone living under the influence and control of Pharaoh come to believe there is no alternative. Everything outside of Pharaoh's control is simply the wilderness, where there is no support system and no way to survive. That's how Pharaoh and empire stay in control. Nobody can imagine surviving in the wilderness.

Then come the people of God, under the leadership of Moses, who resist Pharaoh and interrupt the narrative. For them the wilderness is their freedom. The wilderness is the place, again according to Brueggemann, where "inexplicable ways for life are created." God provided bread from heaven, manna, as a way to sustain God's people in the wilderness. So they could continue to interrupt the narrative of "totalism" with something different. God's way for life is that interruption. God's way is how they survive and even thrive in the wilderness.

This is what Jesus is telling his disciples in today's lesson. That He too is a continuing alternative, perhaps the interruption, to the narrative of "totalism." "The work of God, (is) that you believe in him whom he has sent." Our work is to believe that there is an alternative to empire when nobody else can see it. Our calling is to seek the "bread of heaven" that only God provides as an interruption to the empire's vision of how the world works in order to survive and even thrive.

The truth is even though Pharaoh is long gone, the empire's "narrative of totalism" is alive and well. We are still anxious about scarcity. We are still told to accumulate all we can and protect it by any means necessary, even violence. Our media tells us it is futile to resist, and because we have been raised immersed in this narrative, even our own defaults tell us there is no alternative. Something deep inside us tells us there is no way to survive in the wilderness, outside the empire.

But then Jesus says, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." Jesus invites us to resist and to interrupt the "narrative of totalism," and to survive and even thrive in a different way for life.

And we say, "Sir, give us this bread always."


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