Recently, a co-worker asked whether we’ve reached the place in American culture where Christianity is seen as a fringe system of belief. I rattled off nine reasons why, if we’re honest, Christianity should be considered a fringe system of belief to those in the world at large. This Advent season, I’m exploring these beliefs and offering a somewhat surprising conclusion. Today, I'll explore reason number 4.
MY COMPLETELY IRRATIONAL, UNSCIENTIFIC, ORTHODOX, FRINGE SYSTEM OF BELIEF
POINT 4: We believe that Jesus grew into a man who taught salvation by way of eating his flesh and drinking his blood.
Jesus was a man of awkward metaphors. To a samaritan women drawing water from a well, he offered "living water." He instructed a Jewish teacher to be "born again." One apocryphal text indicates that the boy Jesus was blocking a doorway out of which his little brother Jude was trying look so as to see the setting sun. Jude quipped, "you'd make a better door than a window, Jesus," to which Jesus responded said, "how right you are." (See generally 1 Haines' Imagination 4:32.)
In the book of John, Jesus is seen tending to the needs of the masses. God of the creative word, he takes five loaves and two fish and breathes a blessing of multiplication over them. Under this reenactment of Genesis, the pittance of a meal undergoes a sort of mitotic multiplication, grows exponentially until the entire crowd is fed, with leftovers to boot.
Days later, the same crowd comes to Jesus, hungry again. Pressing him, they ask for yet another meal. Jesus, though, swings the engagement toward a teachable moment. Knowing they would trade the spiritual truth for a full belly, Jesus denies them another gustative miracle. Instead, he seizes the opportunity to wax eloquent (if not in grotesque metaphors) about true food. Jesus says,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him."
As modern believers in the Christian story, our post death-and-resurrection context neuters this teaching. We read the text, see through to the metaphor of the matter. Yes, Jesus said that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood, but what he really meant is that we must accept his death burial and resurrection. What he really meant was that a cracker and Welch's grape juice would suffice. The Jewish audience of the day would not have been blessed with such high-minded modern notions, though. They would have been aghast. In fact, in a private moment his own disciples confronted him. "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" they said. Jesus shrugged off their criticism, said, "do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?" In other words, "I'm the God-son, fellas. You'd better get used to hard teachings and awkward metaphors."
This Advent we celebrate the coming of Jesus, creative Word made flesh. We celebrate, too, the reason for his coming. He came to bring us awkward metaphors? Yes. But he came, too, to bring us spiritual food and drink. He came to bring us living bread and water. He came so we could feast on his body and blood.
Does this sounds like a tenet of a fringe system of belief? Good. It should.
And sign up to receive my monthly Tiny Letter: A Compendium of Projects, People, Places, and Things. In November's issue, I'm examining the question, "what is beauty?" and exploring the beauty found in nature, art, and people. Sign up today, and I'll send you a copy of the November Tiny Letter, and you'll receive my monthly Tiny Letter updates!