DISTASTE (John 6:41-51): 09 August 2009 (Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
I think you know what I mean when I say that today’s Gospel reminds me of Stephen Sondheim’s musical, “Sweeney Todd: The Devil Barber of Fleet Street.” All this talk about eating your blood and drinking your blood made me think of Mrs. Nellie Lovett’s meat pies, whose secret ingredients are–of all things–the body parts of rich people murdered by Sweeney Todd.
Usually, when we hear you talk about us eating your body and drinking your blood, as you do in today’s Gospel, it is–at the very least–an acceptable, if not, lovely and pious, thought that we have grown accustomed to. But for some reason today, it all strikes me differently. And maybe to those who heard you the first time, those were pretty scandalous symbols you used too.
According to biblical scholars, “eating your body and drinking your blood” aren’t exactly a faithful translation of what you said. “Gnawing on your body and guzzlingyour blood”–that’s more like it. Now, even for us moderns, the thought of munching on the Messiah is one bloody symbolism. So I’m sure that for your audience then, especially the Jews who religiously observed the dietary laws, your little sermon on the Bread of Life must have left a pretty bad taste in the mouth.
I wonder: If all you want to tell us is that faith in you gives us eternal life, why not say just that? Why insist on the distasteful metaphors? Is it possible that it was precisely your intention to shake up your audience? Maybe by slapping this scandalous symbolism on their collective faces–and ours!–you wanted to convey some shocking truth. Surely, it can’t just be about the eternal life that results from believing in you. There must be something more…
Here’s my guess: When we eat (or drink), what we take nourishes us, but it does soonly by seeping into our system. So when I think about it, there’s something uncomfortably intimate about ourselves and what we eat. Could it be that this is exactly what you want to tell us through this reference to cannibalism–that you want to be uncomfortably intimate with us?
Also, eating and drinking are pretty messy processes: All that mastication is really just the beginning; thanks to biology, we know so much more about the digestive process today–all that enzyme and acid, etc.–it’s really too much visual, if you ask me. Could it be that you’re telling us that this process of believing in you, which as we know, also involves the following of you, like eating, like digesting, can be quite messy too?
Lord, how do I feel about what you’re telling me today? First, you want to be uncomfortably close to me? Do I have the same desire? Or do I secretly prefer to keep you at arms’ length because I don’t exactly want you penetrating–and changing!–every aspect of my life right now?
Secondly, you’re also telling me that it’s not easy and neat to believe in you, much less to follow you and become like you. You’re warning us that it can be a pretty complicated, messy–and bloody–process. Am I willing to go through this process with full cooperation? Do I even have the taste for it?
These are disturbing questions to pray about, Lord. Thank you, and help me find my answers to them. Amen.
How about a Quick Prayer that you may want to share here?