For August 19, 2012: Proper 15, Year B

The Reading            1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14

Today’s reading begins with the accession of Solomon to the throne of King David. Solomon’s dream can be taken as political packaging—of course the anointed king should have a confirmatory dream from God—but Solomon’s request for wisdom with which to govern is one that we can hope all leaders in all places will emulate.

 

The Response            Psalm 111

 

The Epistle            Ephesians 5:15-20

The good advice for the people of Ephesus continues to be good advice for us: at all times and in everything, give thanks to God.

 

The Gospel            John 6:51-58

 

Further thoughts

What a set of contrasts in today’s reading! Wisdom is opposed to… cannibalism?

On the one hand, there’s the dream in which, to launch Solomon’s reign, God offers a divine blank check and Solomon surprises not only the chronicler but us in bypassing power, honor, and long life in favor of wisdom. There’s the psalm’s commendation of the glory of God and of the wisdom of holding God in awe. There’s the advice in the book of Ephesians to life wisely in this world while giving thanks for everything.

On the other hand, there’s “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). This verse is difficult for those of us in the 21st century with a taste for a nice rare steak. A first-century Jewish audience would have found it downright indigestible. The word in the Greek for “flesh” is σαρχ sarx (as in sarcophagus ‘flesh-eater’), so it is either ‘raw meat’ or ‘dead meat’; the Law expressly forbade Jews to consume raw meat and blood and to touch dead bodies, so Jesus has given orders to perform acts of eating and drinking that are about as ritually impure as it is possible to be. Jesus uses two verbs for ‘eat’ in this passage; one of them just means ‘eat’, but the one in John 6:53, τρώγω trogo, has been glossed as ‘chew’ or ‘gnaw’ (Davis) or ‘chomp’ (Ewart): vivid words for messy eating, and therefore claimed to be very literal.

It is important not to make the Good News less shocking than it really is. The fact is, however, that, in most languages, words for eating are commonly used metaphorically as words for learning and thinking: to ruminate, from Latin rumen ‘cow’s stomach’ is literally ‘to chew one’s cud’. A slightly different reading of trogo may be justified, along the lines of ‘chew really thoroughly, so as not to lose a single bit of the goodness’.

Think about a really enjoyable meal with some delightful surprises for the mouth, in the best of company, and with time and space to savor them and to be refreshed by each other’s time and attention. It is simple wisdom to eat, drink, and commune mindfully, noticing what one is taking in. In such a meal, everything comes together to satisfy needs of body and of spirit, needs one may not even have known that one had, and in it we catch the slight but unmistakable whiff—a foretaste, if you will—of how Jesus feeds us.

And what if—minus the matter of salvation, of course—we are similarly called to do what we can to feed each other?

 

D. Mark Davis, “From ‘Bread of Heaven’ to ‘Gnawing on Flesh’”, Left Behind and Loving it, http://www.leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/2012/08/from-bread-of-heaven-to-gnawing-on-flesh_14.html.

David Ewart, http://www.holytextures.com/2009/07/john-6-51-58-year-b-pentecost-august-14-august-20-sermon.html.

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