Choices to be made
By The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman, Ordinary 20 Year B 2009
The intriguing theme of things not being quite what they seem and choices needing to be made runs through our readings today. The book of Proverbs is often viewed as a stream of pithy sayings, truisms or proverbs written to make living easier. Probably if you asked people if ‘A stitch in time saves nine’ or ‘Many hands make light work’ or ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’, come from the book of Proverbs they would look at you and answer that they never realised they did. They don’t. Perhaps the book of Proverbs in not quite what it seems
Then it always was easy to get confused between what appears sound teaching and biblical truth… The Book of Proverbs is far more than just a compendium of useful sayings, however it may appear – it outlines basic values which assist everyone to make the best choices for themselves and for the benefit of others in their lives. In fact, its focus is not on the individual but on God and how we can apply His truth to our everyday experiences and how to make wise choices in the decisions we make.
The wisdom the bible teaches is about being wise to God and His ways… …being open to Him and understanding more about what His will is for each one of us in our own lives Indeed, the book of Proverbs helps us make God oriented choices in our lives through the God oriented values it teaches, and throughout the book there is a clear differentiation between wisdom and folly. If we make wise choices it’s a virtuous circle, through the choices we make we can become more oriented towards God, and as we become more oriented to God, so His will informs more and more of the choices we make Paul too wants the Ephesians to be wise, steeped and immersed in God and His teaching so that they can understand what the Lord’s will is for their lives too through the power of the Holy Spirit.
So what about the choices Jesus wants His followers to make? Jesus’ words about eating His flesh and drinking His blood are truly radical. We can interpret them with the benefit of hindsight in the context of the Holy Communion. But to the hearers of these words they would be taken at face value, what did Jesus mean? Was He implying that the believers should form some sort of cannibalistic cult? Eating and drinking blood. This couldn’t be what it seemed could it? Indeed to the Jews, drinking blood was one of the things that Levitical law (Lev 17) expressly forbade them to do so. Jesus clearly wants to generate a reaction and shock the hearers into making a choice. For many who followed Him, He would be one of the many options they had for teaching and for orienting their lives. Many of them would have been interesting in His wise teaching at an intellectual level wouldn’t want it to impact their lives greatly. His teaching could inform their lives and their choices but that was about it. So long as His ways and teaching fitted in with their own thoughts and decent philosophy all was well, no need for radical change at all.
But with Jesus that was never an option on offer. The reasons the Jews don’t eat or drink the blood of an animal is that it is the blood which is deemed to contain the life of the creature. (You must not eat the blood of any creature because the life of every creature is its blood… Lev 17 v 14) It was because the blood had life it was used for atonement (Lev 17 v 11) and that the Israelites were specifically forbidden to eat it. Jesus was saying that it’s not just a question of listening to His teaching, perhaps benefiting from the outcomes of His miracles; it’s about taking into ourselves the very life of Christ. His blood alone would and could atone for our sins once and for all.
A radical choice, His way or ours, there were, and are, no others. The way of wisdom or the way of folly as the book of Proverbs would put it. The way of life or the way of death. Jesus never was taking about some cannibalistic ritual. He was talking about a radical change of life that would bring eternal salvation, reconciliation with God, once and for all. As we come to communion and in eating of his flesh and drinking His blood (whatever our theology or understandings of what happens to the elements and what they may or may not symbolise or become) we join in the benefit of His death and we acknowledge His life in ours. And Jesus is explicit; He says without taking His life into ours we have no life within us. We eat, but just like the Israelites who ate manna we will die. In eating of His flesh and blood, in taking Christ fully into our lives we have eternal life.
That was the choice Jesus lay before those hearing His words. He still does. Just as He has the Father’s life in Him, we have the choice to have His life in ours. That’s a choice we have to make every day. A choice for holy living with Christ in us and around us.