Gnawing on Jesus

16 August 2009
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 15B (RCL)

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Psalm 111
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

What are we to make of Solomon? We are told that he walked in the statutes of his father David, and God assures Solomon that if he walks in God’s ways as did David, God will be with him. David walked in God’s ways?! We are told Solomon loved the Lord, only he sacrificed at the high places, habitually offering thousands of burnt offerings at the high place of Gibeon. In later times, offering at the high places would be seen as one of the worst possible sins. So, did Solomon love God or not? It must be that at the time of Solomon, offering at the high places was not seen as a sin. It was something read back into history by the post-Exilic editors, as a way of explaining why bad things happened. As long as we are large and in charge, we tend to think God is with us. It’s only when things go south that we start to wonder where we messed up. So, in his day, Solomon was a good king.

The Ephesians passage has to do with conduct at banquets: don’t get drunk, and don’t employ outside entertainment (flute girls, for example). Sing spiritual songs yourselves. These would have been very modest and moderate banquets.

And then, Jesus in John: Whoever does not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood has no life. The word that Jesus uses for “eat” in this passage is the Greek trogein. It means to gnaw. A hole gnawed by a mouse is called a trogle and one who creeps into such a hole a troglodyte. The imagery is graphic. We are to gnaw on Jesus’ flesh the way a mouse gnaws on wood. And drink his blood — a horror for any Jew. Drinking blood was forbidden, because the life of an animal was in the blood, and life belonged to God. So, we are not to eat Jesus just as food, but to ingest his very life, which belongs to God. And, it’s not just simple swallowing, but gnawing.

Maybe eating Jesus doesn’t happen quickly or easily. Maybe we have to work at it. It’s not just swallowing a wafer, but changing a way of life. If we, collectively, are the body of Christ, then perhaps individually, we are particles of flesh. We are being instructed to ruminate on each others’ lives. Savor them, extract every bit of life we can from them. The people who frustrate me, what can I learn by ruminating on their lives? Can I learn to appreciate them by gnawing on them? What makes them who they are?

In the recent debate of health care, we seem to have lost the ability to listen and hear. Those shouters at town hall meetings, what are they afraid of? What would we learn if we chewed on their lives for a while? Do we savor the lives of those without health care? If we took their lives into ours, what would change?

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