The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 15 - 19 August 2012

Proverbs 9:1-6
Psalm 34:9-14
Ephesians 5:15-20
St. John 6:51-58

Background:  Wisdom
In the Hebrew Scriptures, particularly in the Book of Proverbs, the Wisdom of Solomon, and other apocryphal books, wisdom is personified as a righteous woman.  The role of wisdom in ancient literature is ubiquitous, being found in most ancient near eastern cultures.  She is often present at creation, and serves as focus and reimagining of God’s work with humankind.  In Christianity, the concept becomes an icon of Jesus, the Savior – Jesus being wisdom.  The central church of Constantinople was dedicated to Hagia Sophia, or Holy Wisdom – Jesus being the reality of the Wisdom that God has revealed to us.

Proverbs 9:1-6
Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servant girls, she calls
from the highest places in the town,
"You that are simple, turn in here!"
To those without sense she says,
"Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live,
and walk in the way of insight."

In this text, Wisdom as a woman builds not only a house, but sets a table for who would “walk in the way of insight”.  In a section of Proverbs called “The Banquets of Wisdom and Folly” we are given insights into the gifts that Wisdom offers to the faithful.  The seven pillars mentioned in the first verse are the number of perfection and completeness.  This is a metaphorical statement, rather than a comment on actual architectural practice.  The foods mentioned comprise a feast, a celebrative meal.  Spices would have been mixed with the wine so as to make it more flavorful.  The meal is suggestive to the various groups reading about it.  It is intended for “the simple”, the audience of the Proverbs.  Israelites saw in the meal the messianic banquet with Abraham and Sarah, Christians saw the wedding feast, or Christ’s messianic banquet.  A pointing to the Eucharist is not out of hand either.  Christ, as Christians would read these verses, is the Wisdom – the Holy Wisdom.

Breaking open Proverbs:
  1. What is wisdom to you?
  2. Is there a wisdom that transcends all knowledge?  How would you describe it?
  3. How is Jesus wisdom?

Psalm 34:9-14 Benedicam Dominum

Fear the LORD, you that are his saints, *
for those who fear him lack nothing.

The young lions lack and suffer hunger, *
but those who seek the LORD lack nothing that is good.

Come, children, and listen to me; *
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.

Who among you loves life *
and desires long life to enjoy prosperity?

Keep your tongue from evil-speaking *
and your lips from lying words.

Turn from evil and do good; *
seek peace and pursue it.

Linked again to the Bread from Heaven (Taste and see the Lord is good) the psalmist sets a table for us.  The food is redolent of God’s good favor toward the people – God’s protection and justice given to all.  Warnings are given so that we might not be separated from this goodness.  Evil, seen in the behaviors of speaking no good, and of lying, is something to be repented of.  The image is of turning away from such deeds and looking a God instead.

Breaking open Psalm 34
  1. What does a feast mean to you?  Have you ever had one?
  2. How is the Eucharist a feast?
  3. Where does hunger fit into these themes?

Ephesians 5:15-20

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul continues with his lecture on the Principles of Spiritual Renewal.  The central focus for such renewal is the wisdom that comes from God, thus making the whole body wise.  The wisdom here is one that is cognizant of the times in which the church is living.  Paul is candid in his pronouncement that the times are evil.  What follows is a warning against drunkenness, and we should not misunderstand his intent here.  The comment has more to do with the temple than the tavern.  In the mystery religions that were popular at the time, and that served as a constant temptation to the faithful, wine was used in abundance.  Perhaps a state of drunkenness heightened the initiates’ experience of the “mystery.”  Some of this experience influenced the celebrations of the Eucharist, and thus Paul warns them about maintaining a strict understanding of and use of the Eucharist.  He suggests a substitute, namely being filled with the Spirit, and in this state there would be song and prayer.

Breaking open Ephesians;
  1. Are our times evil?
  2. What do you try to avoid in our culture?
  3. What does it mean to you to be filled with the Spirit?

John 6:51-58
Jesus said, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever."

Jesus continues with the series on the Bread of Life.  In this pericope, the statements of Jesus are unabashedly Eucharistic, which has caused some commentators to see this as a later interpolation.  What is interesting about this text is the vocabulary assigned to Jesus.  The word “flesh” is used rather than the word “body.”  This usage actually approximates the Semitic vocabulary that Jesus would have used.  It is even more interesting, and perhaps a bit confusing in that Paul contrasts “flesh” sarx, with “spirit” pneuma in his writings.  Flesh represented to him the way of the world, and the Christian was to be caught up into the Spirit.  The usage of this term also has other complications, especially for the Jews for whom the notion of eating the flesh of a human being was an abomination, as well as drinking blood, i.e. drinking the life source of a person or animal.  A further complication is that “to eat another’s flesh” was a Semitic term that signified “slander.”  Thus there are many roadblocks here, but Jesus’ focus is pronounced.  He is the bread of life.  He is the Eucharist.

Breaking open the Gospel:

  1. How do you understand Christ to be present in the Eucharist?
  2. How is he food for you?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


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