Editor’s Note: Knowing that the Bible can get very gory, I still don’t think this particular lesson would make the cut for traditional Vacation Bible School. It’s very educational, however, and should not be overlooked in this secular version of VBS.
By David Madison
Here’s an eye-opener Bible exercise. Read Mark’s gospel—all of it—straight through, carefully. This will require a couple of hours, maybe a little more, about the time it takes to watch a movie. Then relax a bit, have a glass of wine. Then read John’s gospel—all of it—carefully. You’ll see why I recommend the wine.
It’s hard to see how it can be the same Jesus; these two gospels are starkly different. Attentive readers cannot help but notice, for example, that there is no Last Supper in John. Well, there is a reference, in chapter 13, to Jesus and his disciples having a supper, during which Jesus washes their feet—and he passes a piece of bread to Judas. But there is no description of bread and wine, with the familiar words, “this is my body,” and “this is my blood” that we find in Mark 14:22-25. In other words, there is no Eucharist as such here, but elsewhere John does offer a horrifying rephrasing of it.
In John 6 we find the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes, and the next day he boasts,
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty….” (v.35)
Then he gets into an argument with “the Jews,” and makes this shocking claim (vv. 54-57):
“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.”
In the following verse he refers to this as ‘bread that came down from heaven,’ but John doesn’t present this in a context of a meal with the disciples, as in the case in Mark, i.e., the wine is his blood, the bread is his body.In John, magical thinking overwhelms the story—and is overwhelmingly repellant:
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life…whoever eats me will live because of me.”
It’s too bad there wasn’t somebody looking over John’s shoulder to offer a little advice:
“Don’t go there!” Among other things, as so many commentators have pointed out, a pious Jew—as we assume Jesus was—would never have recommended drinking blood. This is so out of character for a peasant preacher from Galilee. It is so out of character for decent theology.
But myopic theologians ran with John’s bad idea. I’m guessing that this text is behind the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation: since Jesus has gone away, we have to eat his real body and drink his real body somehow.
How many Christians are willing to tell it like it is?
“Oh, this is the story where Jesus tells us to drink his blood.”
Mark’s Eucharist is much easier to swallow.
David Madison, a Clergy Project member, was raised in a conservative Christian home in northern Indiana. He served as a pastor in the Methodist church during his work on two graduate degrees in theology. By the time he finished his PhD in Biblical Studies (Boston University) he had become an atheist, a story he shares in the Prologue of his book, published in 2016: 10 Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith.
>>>>>>Photo Credits: By Leonardo da Vinci – High resolution scan by http://www.haltadefinizione.com/ in collaboration with the Italian ministry of culture. Scan details, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3032252 ; by Andrea Reese