Monday, April 11, 2011

John 6: Questions at Passover Time

In the John 6 "Bread of Life" conversation between Jesus, onlookers, and disciples I count 10 questions. Some are rhetorical, some accusatory, some are honest appeals for knowledge. It is easy to write off the more aggressive questions as scoffing. But then as now, scholarly Jewish conversation was heavily salted with challenging rhetorical questions. Their example was God himself, who posed three to Adam and Eve - what, He didn't know where they'd been, why they weren't naked, and what they'd done? And think of the climactic last verse of Jonah: "And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

Questions were especially welcome at Passover time. Although the Passover ("Pesach" in Hebrew, meaning "he passed over") celebration was commanded by Moses, the tradition of the Passover Seder meal seems to have developed at about the same time and place in history as the Lord's Supper. See this account from an online resource called "A Guide to Passover":

"The story of Passover, as well as commandments regarding when and how to celebrate the holiday, originate in the Torah (bible) itself. However, the custom of having a Passover Seder, with ritual and symbolic foods, developed in Talmudic times. The custom began as a modified version of first-century CE Greco-Roman ritualized meals called "Symposia." The original Rabbinic Seder began with serving and eating the meal, followed by spontaneous questions among the Seder participants to prompt discussion, a detailed retelling of the Exodus from Egypt, and finally, a recitation of the ten plagues. By 200 CE, the Seder meal was postponed until after the discussion and set questions known as the "Ma Nishtanah" replaced the spontaneous questions. The early Haggadah began as a narrative to the Seder meal. Over time, the Haggadah grew larger and more varied, including more commentary, cultural inclusions and ritual symbolic foods."

Both Seder and the Lord's Supper were originally meals in which the guests agreed to remember their common deliverance. Both became ritualized over the centuries. The Jews however have kept it an actual meal, and to the best of my knowledge they have never disagreed over interpretation and practice to the point of killing each other, as happened in 17th century Christendom.
(Sometimes I think some of the more sedate Moslems back then must have watched this interfaith slaughter and thought, "I hope those crazy people leave us alone.")

When Jesus announces that those who would inherit eternal life must eat his body and drink his blood, even some followers grumble: "this is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" Jesus responds with (of course) another question: "Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before!" And then when many "followers" leave him, he turns to his disciples, his guys, his friends, and utters the fateful (of course) question to which the whole conversation has been leading:

"You do not want to leave, too, do you?"

Baffled but believing Peter answers with his famous (of course) question: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." Not to be outdone, Jesus rejoins confidently with (of course) Question #10: "Have I not chosen you, the Twelve?"

Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well that true worshippers would worship in Spirit and in Truth. It does not matter if I sing loud and clap and sway, or not, when I worship, if I am worshipping in the Spirit with my whole heart and mind. It does not matter if I ask lots of questions, or not, if I am seeking His truth with my whole heart and mind. And if both help me do that, but sometimes annoy people - um, I guess, that's just too bad. Let other men judge by appearances. Lord, in you I put my trust - what can man do to me?

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