I have a friend who is an adult convert to Christianity. She was raised in a home that was somewhere between atheist and agnostic. She said one of the hardest things about this was in high school when she did not get the Christian references in Shakespeare. Christianity is in our cultural fabric. Shakespeare was hard enough, but to have to look up all the Biblical references, made it that much harder.
We may not realize this, but this referencing back also happens within the Bible itself. I had an Old Testament professor who likened this to the concept of Remixing, when a popular artist remixes an older familiar tune. Most of the time, we, members of a denomination who do not quote scripture: chapter and verse, are unaware when it happens. Sometimes we hear a remix in the New Testament readings, as a reference to a prophetic Hebrew text, “as it was foretold in scripture…” And sometimes the quote that follows is the same as the original, and sometimes it is adapted or modified. (But on the other hand, back then no one could Google, font of all knowledge, said tongue in cheek, to see where it came from.)
I do recognize that sometimes more information around scripture is helpful and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes we want to hear a message at church that will call us to action, sometimes we need something that is spiritually soothing. The world is messy, and church is often a touchstone, a safe-haven, and a place of friendships.
All that said, in what at first glance seem like straightforward texts, there is a lot to unpack today. So this may be one of those days where a little information drawn from scholarship may be helpful, so let’s turn to that.
As I alluded to last week, we are in the middle of the Gospel of John’s summer “breadbasket”. In other words, Year B is typically Mark, but Mark is short and so we get some long stretches of the Gospel of John, which in the summer have to do with feeding or bread.
The passage for today is essentially the lyrics for thy hymn we just heard, “I am the bread of life.” It is fascinating that there is a very old debate (from at least around the Reformation) that hinges on whether Jesus is being self-referential around the Eucharist or not—in other words when he states that he is the bread of life, is Jesus pointing to the Last Supper or not?
So, let’s remember a few things…
1. This is the Gospel of John, not Matthew, Mark, or Luke. So, the Gospel of John doesn’t have a Passover meal; instead, at a supper, there is a foot-washing..
2. The Gospel of John is unusual, to say the least. It is an outlier, truly… it is NOT one of the synoptic (shared narrative framework) Gospels. As an aside: it is remarkable that with four different Gospels that recount Jesus’ time with us, we end up with a coherent story in which you recognize Jesus in each of the Gospels. This is amazing given that the stories are written as early as 60 AD for Mark, and as late as 120-130 AD for John, and we still recognize Jesus in each of the Gospels. Mark and another source seem to be the main sources for Luke and Matthew. And even with material that is not shared, Jesus behaves and speaks decidedly Jesus-y. But still, each has its own vision. In John, Jesus’ teaching is presented as wisdom teaching, often in the form of “I AM” sayings. Remember this is the Gospel that doesn’t have a birth narrative and instead gives us, “in the beginning was the Word (or idea, or concept) and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The Gospel of John just words things differently.
3. OK, so back to our main concern: today’s Scriptures. In the Gospel of John, we see a particular type of rhetoric, which is a remixing of what we heard in our reading from Proverbs this morning. What they don’t tell you, is that “Eat of my bread and drink of my wine” is a metaphor for the acceptance of the teaching of Wisdom. And this reading from Proverbs also harkens back to Isaiah, specifically Isaiah 55 (which we heard last summer):
“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.”
Just as food and drink nourish physical life, the teaching of Wisdom feeds spiritual and ethical life. In each of these “eating” and “drinking” is not the plain meaning of the words. This is not food to eat and nor is it wine to drink. This nourishment is what will always satisfy. This is the same living water that doesn’t come from a well. This nourishment is the knowledge or wisdom to live as God would have us live. And it is the mercy of God when we don’t live up to what God would wish. We hear how God would have us live, this very wisdom, in the psalm we sang and in Ephesians reading.
In the psalm we heard:
11 Come, children, and listen to me; * I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12 Who among you loves life * and desires long life to enjoy prosperity?
13 Keep your tongue from evil-speaking * and your lips from lying words.
14 Turn from evil and do good; * seek peace and pursue it.
And in Ephesians:
“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. ….giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Don’t speak evil, try to pursue peace, give thanks to God, be frosty, be wise about how you live, let it resonate with the remix. And don’t confuse the message: wine itself isn’t evil, or it wouldn’t be offered so readily, but how people can be unwise and hurtful when drunk, that’s the problem, that’s where evil can lie.
And even if Jesus were referring to the Eucharist in John, if he were being self-referential, it isn’t food to eat or wine to drink either. No one is going to consume anything close to their caloric intake for a day or even a meal at the Eucharist, even when it was an Agape meal that had many more foods on the table. But “consuming Jesus” taking the wisdom he offers, his way of life into our very way of life: this is wisdom. If we come together, in the enactment of ritual, to remember Christ, to re-member Christ as we are all the body of Christ, to eat, to share good words, to share wisdom, to share love, then we partake of the bread of heaven, of Christ who has come to us on this Earth to bring us closer to God.
The stakes are high, the line in Proverbs “And live,” makes it clear that what is at stake in accepting or rejecting Wisdom’s invitation, is the flourishing of LIFE ITSELF.
And Jesus remix: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.” The stakes are high in accepting or rejecting Jesus’s invitation. God grant us the grace to say YES to that invitation; to say yes, is the highest of Wisdom.
Proverbs 9:1-6 Psalm 34:9-14 Ephesians 5:15-20 John 6:51-58