The insistence that Jesus has in John Chapter 6 to be understood and embraced as “bread” reaches a fever pitch, literally, by v. 51 when he starts indicating that eating the Living bread he provides means eating...him. "I am the living bread that came down from heaven...the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
Jesus - and his Jewish opponents - go on to repeat that following Jesus means eating his flesh and drinking his blood 6 times in 7 verses. Clearly it's something that needs to accept and then remember! And, as the Rev. D Mark Davis notes in his always-insightful blog “Left Behind - and Loving It,” Jesus amps up the unsettling command by using a new word for "eat" in v. 54. No longer does Jesus use thagion - meaning “to eat or consume.” At v. 54 he uses “trohgohn” - meaning…are your ready?…to gnaw or crunch! And that's the verb used throughout the rest of this section.
So Jesus says, “Whoever gnaws my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in them...whoever gnaws me will live because of me. This is the bread which has come down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died...whoever gnaws THIS bread will live eternally.”
Really, could anything be more grotesque?
And that’s why it's so funny!
One of the earmarks of comedy is its over-the-top-to-the-point-of-being-ridiculous quality. Do you have some favorite over-the-top comedy favorites? Here are a couple of mine:
Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life - Fattest Man in the World."
Saturday Night Live It’s a Wonderful Night Life: What Really Happened Sketch:
Reality is soooo exaggerated in these instances, and behavior soooo beyond what is the least bit appropriate. It’s so sick it’s silly.
This line of thinking - and humor - is the basis for the most famous inside joke in comedy. Which cannot be repeated here. But you can learn all about it here!
Last Sunday, Jesus' ridiculous grotesqueries were the source of quite a bit of laughter, and they then provided a good springboard for serious discussion of important theological truths.
My sermon, on the lectionary text for the day, John 6;51-58, was titled “God’s Ghouls!” I suggested/bemoaned that - considering Jesus' non-stop, blatant insistences that his body be consumed, and in very fiendish manner - it called for some alterations in our worship service so Jesus' message could be even clearer for us and faithful to Christ's word.
For example, the illustration for our bulletin cover. This is the one we used; it was the tamest we could find:
However, I shared this option with the congregation, which I found online:
And this option, a little cheerier, which I also located on the great information superhighway:
This one got the biggest guffaws. Natch.
I also suggested that our special music for the day should have been Thriller or something from "The Walking Dead." (Instead the congregation received a super special rendition of "Blessed Assurance" sung by one of our talented soloists. Too bad we couldn't have saved that for another time.... )
I also suggested that appropriate communion music for the day should be...I cued the organist and he played a loud, scary rift that would have accompanied the silent film version of “Phantom”.
Finally, I suggested that if we are to be faithful followers of Jesus, we should be beginning our worship THIS way: I cued the morning's worship leader and she stood up and turned around displaying large vampire teeth. She said, in a Transylvanian accent, “Good morning! Please turn and bite those around you…especially those worshiping here for the first time!”
Indeed, there were many good laughs to be had at the start of Sunday's sermon.
And, in the opinion of the Comic Lens, that's exactly as it should be.
In a previous blog on the comic elements of John 4’s account of Jesus and the Woman at the Well, titled “Amelia Bedelia Goes to the Well,” I noted that there is a comic strategy that moves throughout John’s gospel. It was first brought to my attention by Craig Koester in his essay, "Comedy, Humor and the Gospel of John" (in Word, Theology and Community in John [John Painter, R. Alan Culpepper, and Fernando F. Segovia, eds.; Atlanta, GA: Chalice Press, 2002], pp. 123-141). Koester suggests that amusement was the intended reaction for the Johannine community after just about ever encounter Jesus has with a character. And why? Because every character takes Jesus’ evocative spiritual language absolutely and over-the-top literally!
For example, when Jesus tells Nicodemus he will only find God’s Kingdom by being born again, he freaks, wondering how in the world he can enter his mother’s womb a second time.
When Jesus tells the woman at the well he has living water that relieves the partaker of ever again being thirsty, she is thrilled at the prospect of never having to come again to this place and draw from the well.
These encounters bring the same kind of delight to the reader/hearer as when Amelia Bedelia gets the instruction to draw the drapes, change the towels and dress the chicken!
While Koester doesn’t draw the Amelia Bedelia connection (a pun here is intended!), he does say that what’s fun and funny is the fact that those within John’s community know Jesus is offering spiritual figures of speech; therefore, there’s a bit of elevated status to enjoy as they witness the unenlightened bungle every Jesus encounter. And there's some new ridiculous mess to look forward to at every page turn! (Or papyrus roll!)
The opportunity to laugh at such ghoulish goofiness is also a clever and effective way of opening the believer's heart, mind and soul to contemplating why Jesus would talk use metaphors such as spiritual rebirth, living water, and, yes, gnawing on his flesh and blood.
On Sunday I suggested that if we're honest with ourselves, we find it just about as crazy, difficult, maybe even obscene, to choose to devour Christ’s spiritual presence with the kind of intensity, doggedness, and intentionality as sitting out on the porch and actually scraping his bones. I mean, how many of us really seek his life in our lives to such depth and intentionality and palpability? What difference would it make if we did?
If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re more like the Israelites in the wilderness, complaining that whatever sustenance we received yesterday (which didn’t seem like enough but it was) isn’t even going to be available today for whatever reason, and then when it comes, mostly blowing it off because it probably won’t be available the next day, anyway. Our relationship with Christ's presence can easily be something we mostly cast off, don't notice, and don't much seek and find, while we feed on disappointed assumptions and fretfulness instead.
Better to let see ourselves as God’s Ghouls, gnawing, crunching - smacking our lips even - on the eternal bones that will never, ever go dry.
And writing some delightful hymns to that effect!
(Actually, Blessed Assurance is a good start. After all, already in the second line we sing, “Oh what a foretaste of glory divine!” Sing that with fangs and see what happens!! :) )