Flesh and Spirit

26 August 2012
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 16B (RCL)
1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43
Psalm 84
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69

Our last week of bread for a while! In this Gospel passage, it seems like John takes back everything he has said for the last few weeks: The Spirit gives life, the flesh is useless (or in Greek, owes nothing). Wait, what? Whoever does not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood has no life — but now the flesh is useless?

If this chapter is a midrash on Exodus 16, then we should probably have the quails in mind. God is going to give the people so much flesh to eat, it will be coming out their noses! It’s not just any flesh that we have to eat to have life among ourselves, but the flesh of the son of man. Flesh in itself is useless, but flesh which incarnates the divine by the presence of the spirit is what we are to eat.

Jesus taught these things in the synagogue at Capernaum, and left from there to go to Jerusalem. This is the last episode in the Galilean ministry. Some of the disciples (and most of the synagogue Jews) turned back from following him, at this stage of the ministry. I wonder if this stage is marked by the destruction of the Temple. The Johannine community might then begin talking about Jesus as a replacement for the Temple, for sacrifice (and therefore flesh) and the altar.

So, some crude understanding of the eucharistic presence isn’t what saves us. It’s the spirit in which we participate. If drinking the blood of the son of man implies the community putting itself on a par with God (blood being sacred to God), and consuming the life of the son of man, then in eucharist we take in each others’ lives. But it’s not just at the level of the flesh. Through our sacramental life, we are to become so identified with one another that the boundaries blur, just as they do between God and Jesus in John’s Gospel, and between Jesus and the believer.

Ephesians talks about our struggle being with spiritual forces, not flesh and blood. For the Pauline school, flesh is the arena of distinction, where we cut each other off, and divide humanity into classes. This is the besetting sin of our politics right now. We divide between red and blue, and want to grind the other party in the gravel. What would it mean to take on the spiritual forces in this discourse, rather than the fleshly? To listen to each other, to see the common problems and goals. It might take some chewing to get there. We might have to swallow things about ourselves and others we don’t really like.

Solomon has this wonderful image of God’s house as a house for all people. Maybe we could try it again.

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