A Lectionary Reflection on 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14 and John 6:51-58 for Proper 15B / Ordinary 20B
I remember, as a teenage Christian, lying in bed one night and becoming very distressed because I couldn’t imagine heaven. If I really believed in heaven, I thought to myself, I should be able to imagine it. I had been taught that faith makes things real, and so I couldn’t understand why, if I believed in a real heaven, it wasn’t very real to me. It sounds silly to write about it now, but it was a real crisis of faith for me at the time. Fortunately, I had some wise mentors whose teaching helped me to recognise that faith was not only about what was happening in my head.
As human beings we have become obsessed with our own thinking. Since Descartes first proclaimed his rather flawed tenet: “I think, therefore I am,” women and men have defined themselves as thinkers more than anything else. We have even chosen to call ourselves homo sapiens (which means “wise man”) in deference to our (supposed) superior thinking abilities.
Even faith has come to be defined as thinking the right thoughts, having the right ideas – being able to say the Apostle’s Creed without crossing your fingers. Outside of the Church, spirituality and the quest to reach our best potential is largely defined by how we think. From the “law of attraction” to Neuro-linguistic Programming, thought is seen to be the single most significant part of us, and the primary tool to bring about transformation. The only problem is that much of this popular “wisdom” seems to be mistaken. A lot of recent research indicates that our thinking is more a symptom than a cause.
Why is this important? Because wisdom is the focus of almost all of the Lectionary readings this week. For example, when Solomon asks for wisdom, he seeks to govern God’s people well – although, the way some verses are phrased (and the fact that Solomon struggled with idolatry throughout his life), it seems that his request is more about living up to the expectations of his dead father, David, than any real desire to honour God. Nevertheless, the wisdom he seeks is pragmatic, applied wisdom that will enable him to act as king in the ways that are best for preserving the kingdom that his father established.
The pericope that is set from the Gospel of John this week does not mention wisdom as such, but there is no question in my mind that it goes to the heart of the Scripture’s teaching about wisdom. Eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood is not meant to be an invitation to a literal act of cannibalism. Rather, it is a parable which invites the hearer into a mystical union with Christ in which life can be found. This is not just about life after death, but about living in such a way that we are truly alive here and now – which, from a Lectionary perspective, is pretty much synonymous with living wisely. Wisdom brings life, and life, truly lived is the expression of God’s wisdom. By eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood, we are united with God and in this union we become both fully alive, and deeply wise.
If we seek wisdom by getting our heads right, we will always be disappointed. Our thinking may be part of the journey, but they are not the only thing. Wisdom is about union with God in Christ – remaining in Jesus and taking the life, the Being of Jesus, into ourselves. Wisdom is about the way our lives are shaped and directed by this union with Christ, and is revealed in the way we treat one another, the way we make financial, ethical, relational and power decisions, and the way we inhabit our world. Wisdom is not about intelligence. It’s about life and love.
It’s time we stop obsessing about our thinking. It’s time we started to seek the wisdom that captures our hearts and actions, as much as our thoughts. It’s time we recognised – and starting living – the truth that faith is not all in our heads, but in the daily stuff of Christ-captured lives.