Saturday, August 18, 2018

Yada Yeshua, Knowing Jesus

Our gospel lesson speaks of Jesus as the “bread of life,” he says, “I am the living bread…”  Here we are two thousand years later and we have the picture in our mind and we know the whole story – sort of – and we know that Jesus is speaking metaphorically about the body and blood – he is referring to the bread and wine of Eucharist.  

We understand what it’s about, but two thousand years ago, they didn’t have the historical understanding we enjoy.  The Jews who disputed with Jesus were raised under very strict dietary laws.  It was very important to “keep kosher” if you were a Jew.  The first thing that we can consider is that Jews were not allowed to consume blood.  The bodies of the animals to be used for food first had to be hung up and drained of all blood before they could be cooked.  And the big one is that the human body is ‘unclean’ according to Jewish dietary law.  So they heard “eat my flesh” and all they could think was, “Not in my mama’s kitchen.”

Our gospel is not the only lessons in which we are invited to eat bread and drink wine.  Our Old Testament also invites us to do the same.   It says Wisdom has built her house, slaughtered her animals, mixed her wine and set her table.  She calls to all, “You that are simple, turn in here.  Come, eat my bread and drink my wine.  Lay aside immaturity and live, and walk in the way of insight.”

Wisdom is often personified – as a woman.  “Wisdom” becomes the Old Testament counterpart – the female counterpart -- for Jesus himself.  Sometimes in Christian and semi-Christian literature you will find references to Sophia.  Sometimes you will hear Sophia being deified.  For some, Sophia is the “the goddess of wisdom,” the mother of creation, and even the “consort” of Yahweh.  

The truth is that Sophia is simply the Greek word for “wisdom.”   When the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) was translated into Greek it was called the Septuagint.  This was done two or three centuries before Jesus to meet the needs of the Greek speaking Jewish population outside Palestine.  In the Septuagint you get, “Sophia…  has built a house…”

If we were to read a little further in the 9th chapter of Proverbs, we would find Sophia (or Wisdom) contrasted with lady Folly.  Folly is undisciplined and without knowledge.  She sits at the door of her house and also calls out to those who pass by.  Here is what she offers to those who are simple, “Stolen water is sweet, food eaten in secret is delicious.”  She offers an illicit meal, one replete with sexual implications.  She offers worldly pleasures – those partaken of in secret – those hidden away from the world.  

This would have been a place where the Prodigal Son would have spent his money and whiled away his time.  There is no return for money and time spent in this place – only emptiness – it is only a dead-end.  Wisdom invites all to leave their simple ways and walk in the way of wisdom – of understanding – and you will live.  Wisdom is sometimes defined as skill in living, but it is more than that.  It is learning to walk with God, learning to walk in the ways of God.  

The question can become, which voice are you listening to, Folly or Wisdom.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.  It’s real easy to say “God told me such-in-so.”   But always remember when we do this that - Andrea Yates thought God told her to kill her children.  And David Koresh – who they said “He loves God and he loves women.”  And he led his followers to destruction – he listened to Folly thinking she was Sophia - Wisdom.

People in the first century listened to what Jesus said and thought it was Folly.  Jesus was telling people in this 6th chapter of John:  “Eat of my flesh and drink of my blood and you will live.”  Jesus was speaking figuratively - metaphorically – but the people who were listening to him were taking it literally.  

Even years later they were still taken literally –when the Lord’s Supper was instituted as the principle (or common) form of worship – people accused the Christians of being cannibals – eating the flesh and drinking blood.  It’s not that they had a hard time understanding the concept of symbolism, but they wanted a reason to condemn this new sect.

People question the wisdom of letting little children take communion.  I remember in Huntsville one young child being questioned about what it meant to take communion.  He said, “It means I’m taking Jesus inside me.”  That is probably the best theology of Eucharist I’ve ever heard.  We are taking Jesus inside us.

And that’s exactly what Jesus is talking about – he wants us to make him so much a part of our life that we incorporate his principles, his very being into our life.  So many people only pay lip service to Jesus, to God.  It sounds great on Sunday morning, but what about the rest of the week?  Do we really try to live our lives (our secular lives) according to the foundations of our sacred lives. 

In our lesson from Ephesians we are admonished, to “be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise.“  Wise here is sophos – a form of sophia.  This is the same root that we get our word for sophomore.  You know that to be a sophomore is to think you are wise and know it all – when you really don’t.  

I don’t know if any of you have ever watched Seinfeld – I’ve seen it a few times, but never cared for it much.  It’s a great exercise in how not to live your life – but it was a popular show and one of the phrases from it caught on and became very popular with young people.  And all over you began hearing, “And he said, yada, yada, yada…”  Everything was yada, yada, yada.  And yada seemed to fill in the gaps in any conversation.  

Remember that Seinfeld is very much a Jewish name – and yada is a Jewish word – it is Hebrew for knowledge, to know to teach or to learn.  Yada appears 875 times in the Old Testament.  From Genesis we find “Adam knew (Yada)  his wife Eve and she conceived and bore a son...”. And although it can have a sexual connotation, it implies a much deeper knowledge.  From Psalm 16:11 “You show (Yada) me the path of life.” And from Psalm 100:3 “Know (Yada) that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his;”  It implies to know in a relational sense, and that’s what Jesus wants from us.   He wants us to know him in a relational way – taking him into us and being in relationship with Jesus is the point of these lessons.

They all tie together – to tell us to live wisely – live a life based on the principles of Jesus, incorporating them into our lives in such a way that we don’t leave out those who don’t know Jesus.  Our collect tells us that Jesus is an example of Godly life and that we are to follow in his footsteps daily.

In seminary, they taught us big flowery words with complicated meanings that encompassed all that Jesus did for us.  But I would rather speak a few simple words that touch the heart of all who hear.  Jesus came and he lived among us – touching the lives of simple folk in positive ways; healing the sick, feeding the poor, forgiving sinners, and giving hope to those without means.  In theological debates with learned people, what he said didn’t make much sense to them because they weren’t ready to give up the ways of the world that maintained their positions of power.   

In Ephesians, Paul tells us – I’m going to reverse the order here - to be filled with the Spirit and to make the most of our time, living as wise people.  We have to life in this world – not only to live in relationship to Christ, but also to live in relationship with the people around us – with Christ so much a part of our life, that it shines forth as a beacon to all who are in need.