Friday, July 24, 2009

Proper 15 Year B

Proper 15 Year
(Revised Common Lectionary)

I Kings 2:10-12,3:3-14; Psalm 111


Proverbs 9:1-16; Psalm 34:9-14

Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-5

The nine Sundays of highlights from David's life and reign concludes; the story of reign of the son David had with Bathsheba, Solomon, commences, now according to the narrative from Kings. David "sleeps with his ancestors" in Jerusalem, which henceforth will also be know as "the city of David." Although he is now King, Solomon continues his custom of worshiping in the "high places," which were considered rival places for sacrifice to Jerusalem. On this occasion in Gibeon, the Lord appears to him in a dream and initiates a conversation by asking Solomon what does he want as he begins his reign. Saul begins his response with an idealized memory of his father's "faithfulness, righteousness and upright heart." He also recalls the Lord's abiding love for his father, including the fact that it is now David's son who follows him in succession. Solomon asks for "an understanding mind to govern Your people, able to discern between good and evil...." The Lord is so pleased with Solomon's request for wisdom rather than wealth or a long life or the defeat of his enemies that the Lord grants him wisdom as well as the things he did not request.

The psalmist articulates the Lord's "deeds"-- bounty, grace, mercy, sustenance, the promised land itself, truth, justice, precepts that endure for all time, redemption. Given this astonishing list, the beginning of wisdom is "fear" [appropriate awe] of the Lord and comprehensive knowledge and implementation of the Lord's ways.


"Wisdom" is portrayed as a gracious hostess of a large, imposing home who has the means to put on a lavish meal with superb wines. She sends her servants into the streets to announce to any and all: the "simple" and those "without sense," "come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live and walk in the way of insight."

The psalmist provides a compilation of conventional admonitions, but then uses a captivating metaphor. The admonitions are to fear the Lord and do not speak evil or deceitfully of others. If one follows these admonitions, they produce a sweet taste and sated feeling in the gut. Otherwise, one's needs are like a ranging, ravenous lion.

The letter writer to the Ephesians calls for God's people to be "wise." Do not find your natural need for release and fun in getting drunk, but join in "singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."

John's long discourse by Jesus, which follows the miraculous feeding of 5,000, continues and becomes more specific and more intense. Jesus has just declared that the "bread" he gives is his "flesh." John's usual protagonists, "the Jews," are shocked at such a claim. But the discourse relentlessly pursues this image of eating flesh and drinking blood! "The flesh and blood" here is, of course, Jesus' voluntary torture and execution (remembered by the church in the Eucharist) as the singular and unforgettable display of God's love! One 'ingests' this act of love and "will live forever."

Religion still infatuated with Modernity is uncomfortable or just does not get biblical sensuality. Yet, biblical narratives and poetry engage all the human senses vividly and frequently. The reading from Proverbs depicts the quest for Gods ways by engaging sight, smell and taste as the reader is invited to an extravagant feast accompanied with the best wines. The writer to the Ephesians suggests that the 'high' of getting drunk be replaced with another mind/mood altering activity, singing together God's praises. But most dramatically, John the Evangelist evokes taste.

We already know the expression, "I want something so bad I can taste it." So we already are familiar the experience John is referencing: that ecstatic moment when something or someone we long for becomes so intense it becomes palpable. (And since Proust, we also know the reverse; when a taste remembered from childhood sets off a lifetime of memories with their attending emotions.)

In the final pages of
The Call and the Response, Jean-Louis Chretien describes the role of ecstatic touch-- when longing extends physical touch into the powerful realm of memory and emotion that we feel as certainly as physical touch-- in religious experience, specifically Christian experience. "Only the thought of love, however, gives the flesh it's full bearing of intellect and leads touch to its highest possibility. Quite obviously, when passing from the finite to the infinite, all continuity explodes. Discontinuity increases exponentially, and any initial similarity blossoms into an ever-more intensely luminous dissemblance. Contact with the infinite must necessarily involve a whole other order beyond contact with the finite. Yet touch, in its finitude and based on it, is already open precisely to a presence without image or representation, to an intimate proximity that never turns into possession, to a naked exposure to the ungraspable. The excess over me of what I touch and of what touches me is endlessly attested in the caress." Then exhibiting an affinity with pre-Enlightenment spiritual and theological writers that many postmodern writers share, Chretien cites St. John of the Cross, the sixteenth century Spanish mystic and poet. "The greatest mystic of the touch is the mystic of the Dark Night John of the Cross. He speaks indeed of 'God's touch' (toque de Dios), foretaste of eternal life since it is the highest encounter with God." " The 'merciful hand of the Father' with which he touches us is the Son. It is therefore the 'Word who is the touch that touches the soul' (el toque qua toca al alma). To be touched in one's very substance by the Word, beyond all image, is, properly speaking, to listen with one's whole being, body and soul... thanks to the gracious transfiguration accomplished by this very touch. Nor does the ear alone listen; the eye also listens and responds. The possibility of their listening, however, ultimately takes root in the totality of the flesh. The flesh listens. And the fact that is listens is what makes it respond." (pp 129-130)

John's evangel is that the love of God is now "in the flesh" And it is so vivid, so unforgettable, it touches our flesh and we "respond." Each nail that punctures his skin, each lash of a whip, thorn buried into his forehead, every slap and punch and the spit that smears his skin bears enduring witness to God's love for us. We have gotten a "taste" of God's love. We never get enough because when we "ingest" it we experience a healing of leftover hurts and emotions on the loose unlike we experience in life any other way. And once we have developed this special taste, we relish each opportunity to taste again. This is my body/this is my blood/eat and drink and live forever.