Rolheiser’s Nugget on the Body of Christ

 

I’ve just finished Ronald Rolheiser’s The Holy Longing. I enjoyed the read and have many things to consider. There are tons of pages “dog-eared” for future reflection. One of his strongest arguments is why one should be a part of a church.

He notes that a pattern exists in Jesus’ ministry. At first, Jesus is wildly popular, drawing crowds who are wowed by his goodness and power. “However,” Rolheiser says, “eventually something happens, a different understanding of his message seeps through, and his popularity degenerates and sours to the point where people want to, and do, kill him.” (96)

On one occasion, in John 6, Jesus tells the large-yet-“discerning”-crowd that if anyone wants to be a part of him, each must “eat his body and drink his blood,” a reference to the Eucharist, perhaps. Jesus isn’t referring to cannibalism, a literal eating of flesh and blood. Scholars suggest that Jesus is calling people to be a part of the life of the the community that bears Jesus’ name.

What is interesting, however, is Jesus’ use (through John writing) for “flesh.” There are several words for “flesh” or “body” in the NT text. Soma, in Greek, is the general word used to refer to a material body while sarx is a pejorative use of flesh, a description of a subhuman and depraved bodily experience.

Jesus uses sarx in this passage.

Jesus says, “If you want anything to do with me, you must embrace imperfect people within the community that bears my name.”

Rolheiser continues,

“By using sarx, Jesus is referring to his body precisely insofar as it is not simply his sinless, glorified body in heaven, nor simply a sterilized, white communion wafer in a church. What we are being asked ‘to eat’ is that other part of his body, the community, the flawed body of believers here on earth…

In essence, Jesus is saying: You cannot deal with a perfect, all-loving, all-forgiving, all-understanding God in heaven, if you cannot deal with a less-than-perfect, less-than-forgiving, and less-than-understanding community here on earth. You cannot pretend to be dealing with an invisible God in you refuse to deal with a visible family. Teaching this truth can ruin one’s popularity in a hurry. People then found it to be ‘intolerable language’ and it meets with the same resistance today.”

Go ahead, Ronald. Say it plain, brother.

 

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The Spooky Jesus

This past week, I was invited to teach a Sunday School class that has been making their way through Luke’s gospel. I was asked to cover the “Rejection of Nazareth” narrative in Luke 4. Although I was familiar with the passage, I wanted to take extra time to observe something about the text that I hadn’t captured in prior readings.

Comparing Luke’s use of the parable to the other synoptic writers proved to be important. Luke places this scene earlier in the gospel than Matthew and Mark. Unfortunately, we cannot interview Luke to discover why he does this, but can play with some thoughts why. If you’d like to hear mine, let’s get coffee sometime.

What preaches or “spooks” in this story is the sheer irony of it all. Jesus is least welcome in his hometown. Perhaps the local crowd is a bit put out by Jesus’ great claim: that God’s wonderful season of Jubliee, that great celebration awaiting ahead in their future is at last bursting into their present. I’m sure some of the local folks were skeptical, the local village didn’t even have a bath, after all, and there seemed to be a gnawing embarrassment to be a Galilean in general and a citizen of Nazareth, in particular. Just ask Nathaniel (see John 1).

Perhaps the reason for the rejection was that Jesus didn’t seem to be interested in showing his miracle signs in his hometown as he did in neighboring villages. That’s at the heart of Jesus’ counter-critique to the crowd. A critique so strong that they were inches away of throwing Jesus of a nearby cliff.

As someone familiar with his setting, Jesus was able to diagnose a hidden cynicism within his culture. His diagnosis was powerful, it seemed to hit the nervous system.

Jesus’ reference to Isaiah should have been good news: God’s delightful mercy would be extended to all, especially the vulnerable. The folks from Nazareth, however, wanted it all for themselves.

Here is how Biblical Scholar George Caird summarized the sad encounter in Jesus’ hometown:

 “The people of Nazareth felt that, if the son of Joseph had anything to offer, his own home town should have had the first benefit of it. But those who stand upon their rights and insist on preferential treatment are not likely to appreciate one who offers the chance to spend and be spent in the service of others and a gospel which leaves no room for privilege. The stories of Elijah and Elisha should, indeed, have taught them that with God charity begins wherever there is found human need to call it forth and faith to receive it, irrespective of class or race.”

Jesus spooked his home crowd, exposing the ghosts that they had hidden among them. It’s a ghost that we must wrestle with, too, as people seeking faithfulness to Jesus. If the gospel is going to be good news, it needs to be good for others, not just for us. And we have to do the extra work of examining whether or not even our best intentions are power plays or are shaped with elitism that refrains from looking across the room towards those still sitting in shadows.

Do we have the guts to face those ghosts like the early Church did, over and over again? Or, would we rather “throw the prophet” down a ditch so we don’t hear his voice?

May we call the Good News that which is both “good” and “news” to all.

Exposure to the Unconditional

For me religion means living in constant exposure to the unconditional, open to something excessive, exceptional, unforeseeable, unprogramable, something slightly mad relative to the rationality of means-and-end thinking. 

To lack the religion of which I speak is to allow the series of conditions to surround and submerge us. We would see no further than our noses, have a nose only for good investment, for making a profit, so that our lives would be consumed by consuming, swallowed up by winning, where everything has a price… 

There are times when we try to measure and foresee, seeking some assurance about outcomes, and then there are things whose immeasurable mystery and obscurity bring us up short and give us pause. These are not actually different things, but different ways of living with things.
– Jack Caputo, Hoping Against Hope, 37

Icon or Idol

“An icon is an image for contemplating a reality that transcends the specific image; the image leads the mind, through the senses, to direct communion with the intelligibles. An idol is an image to which we are attached for the sake of the image per se. Obviously one and the same object can be an idol or an icon – our approach to it is what makes the difference.”

– Dante, Vita Nuova

Marriage 

“Your partner is not a god or goddess, but rather, as Tolkein says, a companion in shipwreck. If you think that falling in love will bring you ultimate fulfillment, you will be disappointed, and end up hurting more than just yourself. And the fault for that will be your own.”
– Rod Dreher, How Dante Can Save Your Life, 84.

Sin and Gravity

“The Bible calls Lucifer the ‘morning star’ and tells of his rebellion against God, his fall from heaven, and exile into hell. Think of pride as a spiritual form of gravity. With Lucifer, the first rebel – that is, the first created being to choose his own will over God’s – his immense pride collapsed on itself and formed a black hole we call hell. All the souls in hell are small versions of black holes: they were so given over to gratifying themselves that love – symbolized by light – could barely escape the gravity of their egos.”

– Rod Dreher, How Dante Can Save Your Life, 68.