Gnawing flesh; drinking blood

16 August 2016
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 15B (RCL)
1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Psalm 111
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

Our Old Testament reading raises the question, “Who didn’t David sleep with?” But seriously, to read this passage, one would think that David was the most morally upright person Israel had ever seen. I find it intriguing that the editors of the tradition saw fit to keep both aspects of the tradition; pro and con. Even Solomon prays for wisdom at the high place of Gibeon: worship later forbidden. The editors of this tradition could have easily expunged this fact, but chose not to. We are given the history in all its complicated messiness. Neither David nor Solomon is presented as a plaster god.

This week’s Gospel reading makes and interesting shift in vocabulary. Up until verse 54, the verb John uses for “to eat” is phagein, which means to eat or devour. A phagos is a glutton. At verse 54, the author shifts to trogein, which is something animals do. We might translate it as “to gnaw” or “to munch.” I think John is shifting to this verb precisely to be offensive. We might be tempted to spiritualize the idea of eating Jesus’ flesh, to read this as hearing his teaching, or a spiritual communion. Just as Thomas insisting on touching the wounded flesh of Jesus, this verb throws the physicality of what is imagined in our faces.

Jesus is present in the middle of the messiness of human community, the messiness of human eating. Equally offensive is the idea of drinking blood. The Old Testament makes an absolute prohibition of consuming blood. Even the meat of a strangled animal is forbidden, because the blood is still in it. The blood is the life of the animal which belongs solely to God. So the blood of Jesus is the life of Jesus, and we are to consume it, to be vivified by the life of Jesus. Thomas refuses to believe in an un-wounded Jesus; refuses to see a gnostic community, living its life above the messiness of human wounds as incarnating the Christ. Here, Jesus insists that to receive his life, we have to deal with the flesh.

When Jesus breathes on the disciples in the locked room and authorizes them to forgive or hold the sins of whoever they will, he replaces the holy of holies, and the ministry of the high priest with the Christian community. The community is the place where God is encountered and sins forgiven (outsiders incorporated); but this is not a spiritualized, idealized community. It is the real, messy community where we live. We must deal with one another’s real, embodied lives, if we are to have the life of Jesus in us.

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