Who’s eating whom?

12 August 2018
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 14B (RCL)

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
Psalm 130
Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

In our semi-continuous reading of 2 Samuel, we skip over all the lurid bits – the rape of Tamar, Absalom’s revolt, David’s flight, and return – the whole interesting history of the monarchy of David. Funny that one of the songs he should be remembered for reads, “The Lord repaid me as my righteousness deserved; because my conduct was spotless he rewarded me, for I have kept to the ways of the Lord and have not turned from my God to wickedness” (2 Samuel 22:21-22).

In the reading today, we hear how David’s army treated the young man Absalom. David’s over-the-top grief for his rebellious son shames all those who have stood by David, and Joab has to scold the king, who must make merry at his victory. It’s surprising Shakespeare never treated this story to a stage production. It would make great tragedy.

In the passage from Ephesians, we have a pretty standard ethical teaching. It is cast as a “two ways” teaching, with the repudiated way beginning at 4:17 – you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, and then a list of vices. Then, at 4:25, we turn to the chosen way: Putting away all falsehood, therefore. . . Interestingly, we are encouraged to live this way in imitation of Christ, to “walk in love as Christ loved us, and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice for God.”

In 1 Corinthians, Paul uses a similar device after scolding the Corinthians for bad behavior. In 1 Corinthians 5:7ff he writes, “Get rid of the old leaven and then you will be a new batch of unleavened dough. Indeed you already are, because Christ our passover lamb has been sacrificed. So we who observe the festival must not use the old leaven, the leaven of depravity and wickedness, but only the unleavened bread which is sincerity and truth.”

The appeal is being made to proper conduct at a sacrificial feast. The preparation is not only ritual but moral; we are to prepare ourselves in terms of community conduct, so that we may keep the feast properly, with joy and unity. Paul understands Jesus to be the food of the feast while the author of Ephesians concentrates on the ‘food’ we send God-ward. Jesus is a sweet-smelling savor to God, the smoke that ascends from the sacrifice.

John clearly understands Jesus as the food we share, but taking things a step further than Paul. For John, Jesus is clearly divine, and in his Person, God is offering us the divine self for food. This turns our understanding of sacrifice on its head. Even Paul understands sacrifice as something we offer to God, and then share among ourselves, like the peace offerings in the OT. We offer the product of our labor (which adds value to the gift God has given us) to be shared with others. God participates in the feast.

In John’s understanding, God offers the divine self directly to us in the person of Jesus, slain at the exact hour the passover lambs are slain. God becomes our food, rather than our labor being God’s food. The bread I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. It is God’s self-gift that sustains the cosmos.

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