AUGUST 19TH, 2018: TWENTIETH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
Wisdom has built her house,
she has set up her seven columns;
she has dressed her meat, mixed her wine,
yes, she has spread her table.
She has sent out her maidens; she calls
from the heights out over the city:
"Let whoever is simple turn in here;
To the one who lacks understanding, she says,
Come, eat of my food,
and drink of the wine I have mixed!
Forsake foolishness that you may live;
advance in the way of understanding."
Brothers and sisters:
Watch carefully how you live,
not as foolish persons but as wise,
making the most of the opportunity,
because the days are evil.
Therefore, do not continue in ignorance,
but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.
And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery,
but be filled with the Spirit,
addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts,
giving thanks always and for everything
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.
Jesus said to the crowds:
"I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world."
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
"How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"
Jesus said to them,
"Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day.
For my flesh is true food,
and my blood is true drink.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me
and I have life because of the Father,
so also the one who feeds on me
will have life because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven.
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died,
whoever eats this bread will live forever."
It’s important to understand that different biblical authors not only disagree with one another, sometimes they actually debate the contradictory characteristics of their various theologies. This is certainly the case with Scripture’s well-known “wisdom debate.” On one side we often have the author of Proverbs; on the other, the author of Job.
Biblical wisdom is usually defined as the knack of surfacing the predictability of God’s actions. In other words, if I, or God, do such and such we can count on God following up with a logical specific action. He/she always maintains the same patterns. We can put our money on it. Our task is simply to surface which actions cause these predictable divine actions. For instance, if I find out what Yahweh’s laws are, and faithfully work at carrying them out, Yahweh will always give me everything I need, especially a long, meaningful life. On the other hand, should I ignore those specific rules and regulations, I (and/or my descendants) are certain to live miserably and die young.
But on the other side of the picture are books like Job. No matter how well this just man adheres to God’s laws, he always gets the dirty end of the stick. Everything goes against him. He and his family are constantly punished. There’s no predictability in God’s actions. Even when Yahweh eventually appears to him, his questions are never answered. God just haughtily says, “I’m divine and you’re not. You’ll never understand why I do what I do. So stop worrying about it.”
Obviously today’s three readings come down on the Proverbs side of the debate. The sacred author paints a symbolic picture of wisdom as a terrific banquet, providing food and drink that takes care of our thirst and hunger for a lifetime. John puts some of the same wisdom elements in the mouth of his Jesus when he speaks about the Eucharist. But he significantly takes the effects of that food and drink beyond this life into eternity. Even the Pauline disciple responsible for Ephesians seems to assure his readers if they revolve their lives around doing the will of the Christ things are guaranteed to go well with them for the rest of their lives. Most of us build our lives on these assurances.
But in spite of this confidence, lots of believing people still bought Rabbi Kushner’s bestselling 1981 book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. No matter how much they trusted in their Proverbs theology, they also kept hearing Job’s complaints. Their faith wasn’t simply a matter of black and white.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons the earliest biblical Eucharistic theology wasn’t John’s but Paul’s. The Apostle didn’t hammer away at Jesus’ presence in the sacramental bread and wine; he constantly stressed his/her presence in those around us. Such an emphasis is much more “touchy” than just surfacing the risen Jesus in a piece of bread and a sip of wine. I presume there are people comprising Paul’s Body of Christ with whom we don’t agree, or individuals who’ve hurt us. The second half of I Corinthians 11 revolves around those unexpected situations and unpredictable people. Considering our biblical authors wrote because of problems in their communities, Paul had a field day.
It’s rather simple and easy to go to church and receive the body and blood of Christ. Except for believing in “transubstantiation,” there are few problems. It’s another thing to actually be church and experience the body and blood of Christ all around us. No wonder Paul’s theology eventually fell by the way.
Perhaps one of our life’s task should be to keep debating with those who follow John’s Eucharistic theology. It’s the biblical thing to do.