Wednesday, August 19, 2009
The prolonged discussion of the sixth chapter of John over the past 5 weeks in the readings merits a hard look. In the liturgy, John gets fairly short shrift. Only short passages of John get used in the readings for Sundays. It is a shame because John is a book that is not only very readable, it is also one lush with theological concerns. The only problem with reading John is that it comes from a world-view that is different than ours. And one must read John with a commentary at hand to really glean what the writer meant about Jesus and the community of the Way that followed him.
Feeding of the 5 thousand: First we find Jesus’ miracle of feeding the thousands. It is one of the Signs used by John to give structure to his theology. The signs are not just miracles to entertain the crowds. They are signs of Jesus’ messiahship and his divinity. But it is also to show how Jesus is the new Moses. Jesus gives bread like God gives bread in the desert, the manna. But there is always something more in John. John writes his life of Jesus as if it were an onion—always just one more layer down in order to taste the sweetness.
I have often avoided the Gospel of John because of those layers. They are so hard to preach on. They can only really be “eaten”. The Gospel of John is like the ancient wisdom poets spoke—like honey from the comb. Reading John one must suspend one reality for the next in order to treasure the taste of the gospel.
Reading John is more of a submersion into a multilayered reality rather than the straight historical reading that one can get in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Just the way that John uses the Greek language allows one to savor the levels of meaning. In the passage for Sunday he makes the distinction in the Eucharist from the manna in the desert. The Jews (by this I mean those who were not willing to entertain Jesus as the messiah) ate manna in the desert and John uses a rather normal, polite word efagon to mean eat. But when he refers to eating the Body of the Eucharist, John uses a rather crude word—like an animal eating, trogo. It is as if the Eucharistic meal is primal. The Bread is the source of life. This ultimately is found to be contra-gnostic. But it gives a really gutsy understanding of what the Eucharist is about.
No wonder I have found such a primal understanding of my faith in that little ritual of breaking bread and drinking wine!