X Pentecost, Year B
2 Sm 18:5-9,15,31-33 or * 1 Kgs 19:4-8
Ps 130 * Ps 34:1-8
(2 Samuel 18:5-9)
The king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, "Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom." And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom. So the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. The men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword. Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on.
(2 Samuel 18:15)
And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him.
(2 Samuel 18:31-33)
Then the Cushite came; and the Cushite said, "Good tidings for my lord the king! For the LORD has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you." The king said to the Cushite, "Is it well with the young man Absalom?" The Cushite answered, "May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man." The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!"
* (1 Kings 19:4-8)
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: "It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, "Get up and eat." He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, "Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you." He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." They were saying, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?" Jesus answered them, "Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The philosophical tradition of the West has undermined the value of personal perception since Plato, and most of the arguments as to what constitutes rationality, and hence scientific understanding, have been limited to discussions that have their questions formed at dawn of Greek civilization. Even the modern conversation from Kant through Heidegger and our own post-whatever era betrays our self-understanding and self-perception. Because we no longer trust ourselves, the need for a religious hierarchy has grown until we do not make a move without the blessing of religious authority. (Colin Gunton, Enlightenment & Alienation)
Some might think here that we (or the author of the Fourth Gospel) are espousing some form of gnosticism. Actually quite the opposite is the case. At stake here is ecclesial henosis. The omitted verses 36-40 tell the story: Jesus is the agent or ambassador of God, he is “sent by the Father.” This saying is not an ego speculation on the part of Jesus regarding his divinity. It is a description of how he perceived his mission. What is bothersome to us was bothersome to those in his time: How can this person, this human being, have such a relationship with God, this just doesn’t happen to humans. His reply: “we are all taught by God.” The door is wide open, in other words, for each of us to share in the wonderous love that is Jesus’ abba. There are no conditions, no restrictions, we are “all” taught by God.
It is imitation that is being discussed here, for to be taught by God, is to learn the way we learn anything, by imitation. But what exactly does the Creator teach? The creator teaches that in the end one can look at a human being and in the end confirm that which is experienced in the spirit. It means that a new form of imitation is here, a real imitation of the Creator. Jesus is the prime human example of God’s interactivity with humans but we all acknowledge the Creator when we acknowledge God. It is only our lack of awareness that keeps us from seeing in Jesus the truly non-sacralized revelation, the truly transformative messenger whose message was and is his life, how he lived and how he lives forever.
Our mimetic understanding of this context is confirmed by the Son of Man saying in verse 53. It is the violent death of the true human that is envisaged here, a death brought about at the hands of an angry and hateful humanity. The newspapers prove that we continue to do it every day. We still haven’t gotten it. But the author is not content to stop his exegesis at this point. He takes it one step further. He connects all of this with the Christian practice of the Eucharist. The difficulty of the sayings in verses 51-58 is that they are so literal. They refer to a cannibalizing mob, sacrificing and then eating their god to gain their immortality or divinity. Or to the scapegoat as the founding mechanism of religion. The point of the eucharist is then this: Jesus, his life and his teachings have been taught to him by God, for God teaches all. But we reject God and the unveiling of all our religious folly and the proof of this rejection is the cross of Jesus. We are murderers; this is our confession at eucharist but we live with a forgiving God. How do we know? We have learned to see all of the little ways we too participate in negative mimesis culminating in our own fights and arguments, let alone nations going to war. And we have learned that “God so loved the world that he gave his son,” that is, we stand forgiven and our acknowledgement of that is when we take the body and blood of a broken innocent human and consume it, naming ourselves children of Cain so that we may become children of God and stand forgiving in a world in desperate need of God’s love.
What does Jesus ask of me? That I consume his flesh, drink his blood. At least the early critics of Christianity who described the faith as cannibalistic got it right! Jesus asks me to take my embeddedness in the web of mimetic reality seriously. He asks me to be saved not by rejecting my role as murderer, but by feeding on it. He, in his sacrifice turns my murder into the means of my redemption, but He requires that I live my role as murderer/cannibal fully.
As Michael and I have worked through this wonderful portion of John, my own experience of the Eucharist has changed dramatically. Now I stand at the altar and break the bread, declaring “Alleluia, Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us,” and I stand there as the Centurion who drove the nails through his hands, as Pilate who chose my own political survival over justice, as Caiaphas, claiming that it is better for one man to die than the whole people. And I say, “Alleluia” to it all, every week. (Well, okay, we leave it off during Lent, but I’m beginning to question the wisdom of omitting it at that point!)
The mystery no longer centered on the magical transformation of the bread and wine into Body and Blood, but is now focused on God’s miraculous transformation of me from killer to beloved child. And I hear the truth of Jesus’ claim that, if I do not eat of His Body and Blood I will not have life in me. This isn’t a claim to Christianity’s exclusive hold on Truth, but an expression of the reality that Girard has pointed out: the scapegoating process is only effective to the extent that it operates below the level of consciousness. God lifts us from this entanglement in sin when we know ourselves truthfully and fully, when we know ourselves as murderers.
We find this image of ourselves as killers no less repugnant than the literal imagery of consuming Body and Blood. We prefer to see ourselves as basically good folks who just mess up from time to time. We (in the West, at least) continually overlook the human costs of our consumption and economic oppression of the rest of the world, the death that we wreak daily for the sake of lower gas or clothing prices. Jesus, as he offers us Himself in all His corporeality, asks us to embrace our murderous natures fully so as to be delivered from them.
“Alleluia, Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us!”
“Therefore let us keep the feast! Alleluia!”