The other day I went sailing for the first time. A friend who accompanied me on my brief sojourn on the Chesapeake remarked that I was like a little boy as I took in the experience. It’s a phrase that also came up repeatedly when various journalists offered fond recollections of Tim Russert. Time after time they said that Tim was like a little kid, full of wonder before the world. Perhaps there is no higher compliment one could give. It takes me back to a passage from Chesterton:
A child kicks his leg rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always so “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. I may not be an automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of mking them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy, for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence, it may be a theatrical encore. Heaven may encore the bird who laid an egg. (Orthodoxy, 84).
Tim Russert has gone on to the life of eternal youth and wonder. May we heed the words of Matthew 18:3, that we might follow him there.
N.T. Wright on the Colbert Report. Must watch….
I have been reflecting on Leviticus the past couple days, and in particular on the blood prohibition in chapter 17. I came across an interesting interpretation on a friend’s blog:
In his recent Concordia commentary on Leviticus, John Kleinig gives a good summary of what I think is the best explanation of the blood prohibtiion of Lev 17:
“many animists regard blood as the most potent of all ritual substances. The blood of an animal was either drunk or, more commonly, eaten with its meat to gain its life-power, its vitality and health, its virility and fertility, its energy and strength.” For the nations surrounding Israel, blood was food for deities (cf. Book 8 of the Odyssey), and was used to ward off evil spirits.
For Israel, however, God is the God of life and death: “God reserved all blood for himself as the life-giver. It had to be given back to him. People could not use blood to gain supernatural life-power for themselves, nor could they manipulate it to grant life-power to those who lacked it. It could not be handed over to other gods and demons, since they had no right to use it, nor were they allowed to acquire life-power from it. Above all, no Israelite was allowed to consume the blood from any animal. God ordained that it was to be used ritually only in the rite of atonement and the practices associated with it. Yet the power of blood in that rite did not come from the life in it, but from God’s word which had instituted its use. That Word determined its function in the rite of atonement.”
This also implies that everything Israel ate was “dead,” since it was drained of life-blood. Israel was forbidden to eat living animals, or animals that still had blood-soul in them. Instead, they were required to eat dead things, and recognize that Yahweh alone gave life to and through the dead food.
For Christians, one perenniel question is how this prohibition of blood relates to the Eucharistic consumption of blood. Kleinig suggests that “Christ’s institution does not really violate the taboo, because it is the ultimate reason for it.” He appears to mean that Israel was forbidden to eat animal blood because there is only one life-giving blood, the blood of Jesus.
To that, I would add this additional note: While Israel was required to eat only dead things, Christians are invited to eat “flesh” with the blood, and that means we are invited to feed on a living Christ. But this is not really blood of “flesh,” since Jesus has been raised out of flesh into the life of the Spirit. (We have the complication that Jesus offered His blood before His resurrection, but let’s ignore that for now!) Perhaps we should put it this way: Fleshly life is sustained through consumption of dead food, meat without life-blood; but the life of the Spirit is sustained through consumption of living food, body with life-blood. Fleshly life is sustained by the flow of the life of the flesh, which is in the blood; the life of the Spirit is sustained by the flow of the Spirit.
Below is rerun of something I posted a few months ago on the Joseph story…
In his book Messengers of God, Eli Wiesel describes the Joseph narrative as a slow-paced, monotonous, overdetailed, overwritten story that can put the reader to sleep. I’d prefer to see it as textured, rich and earthy. It’s certainly been the highlight of the daily lectionary for me of late. And usually I find it’s the grace, not the devil, that’s in the details.
Yesterday we read the story of Joseph’s encounter with Benjamin, whom the other brother’s have to bring before Joseph if they are to return to Egypt for more grain in the midst of the famine. The meeting is so emotional that Joseph must retire. Robert Alter notes that the literal translation of the Hebrew in 43:30 is something akin to “his mercy burned hot.” He withdraws to gather himself and then returns to dine with his brothers. He seats them in accordance with their ages, from firstborn to youngest. This may seem like one of the “overwritten” parts of the narrative. But it’s telling. It reveals Joseph’s knowledge and his brother’s ignorance. They do not know who he is, but he knows who they are, intimately so. And now Benjamin sits in the place that Joseph would have sat. And he does take Joseph’s place indeed, literally. For Joseph shows the sort of gratuitous favor to Benjamin that Jacob showed to Joseph so many years before. Joseph recreates the set of circumstances that led to his own demise. He favors the youngest brother, perhaps wondering if the same jealousy and enmity would develop.
In today’s reading the plot thickens. Joseph has the sacks of all his brothers loaded up with silver. Here is where the irony becomes thick. In chapter 37 Joseph’s brothers receive silver in exchange for their brother who they sell into slavery in Egypt. Now, hard as they try, they cannot leave the silver in Egypt. It follows them relentlessly and seems on multiple occasions as if it will lead them into bondage (or worse) as well. But the brothers do not stand accused when Joseph’s servant comes upon them. It is only Benjamin who will suffer harsh consequences, for in his bag is found Joseph’s own silver cup. Joseph has gone to great lengths to recreate the situation of his own betrayal. His brothers again have the opportunity to betray their youngest brother, the favorite son of their father, and to leave Egypt with sacks full of silver.
My church is doing the Bible in 90 days this summer. I’ve agreed to post regular notes on the readings. So here goes with some preliminary thoughts on Genesis. This is overview, big picture sort of stuff, so if you’re reading put your track shoes on…