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A Salute to the United Church of Christ

26 July 2012: 4 Comments »

Sometimes, as one goes about the normal duties of one’s professional life, a pattern of activity slowly becomes visible until one wonders why this had not been seen before.  When that happens, it is good to stop, to notice, to put the pieces together, to seek to understand and then to formulate the new insight …

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Question & Answer

Sister Rose, OP, writes:

Question:

I just finished Bishop Spong’s latest book.  He really does a great job.  I am a Catholic Dominican Sister but I admire Bishop Spong and everything for which he stands: honesty, integrity, etc., which I don’t always find in my own church.  I have a question.  In the Gospel of St. John, the text says, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you shall not enter the kingdom of God.”  Most of St. John’s gospel is symbolic or signs.  How would Bishop Spong interpret this passage?  This is so important to me.

Answer:

Dear Sister Rose,

Thank you for your letter and your comments.

I have been working on the Gospel of John almost exclusively for the past five years.  The text you quote is from the 6th chapter where John, who does not present a story of the Last Supper, attaches all of his Eucharistic teaching to the account of Jesus feeding the multitude with five loaves and two fish.

I find John to be the least literal and the most symbolic of all the gospels. Indeed, he seems to poke fun at those who respond to Jesus literally.  That would include Nicodemus, who thought that being born again meant that he had to climb back into his mother’s womb, and the Samaritan woman by the well, who responded to Jesus’ offer of “living water” by telling him he did not have a bucket.

The secret to John’s gospel is, I believe, that sense of mystical oneness to which this gospel points.  I see this oneness in the image of the branches that have to abide in the vine and in the text you quote, where being at one with Jesus is portrayed as eating his flesh and drinking his blood.  No, I do not see this as a cannibalistic orgy, but as the experience of oneness so deep that it is portrayed as taking the life of Jesus into yourself in what seems a literal manner.

I am now convinced that most of the Johannine characters are the dramatic mythological creations of the author.  I include in that list, Nathanael, Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the man crippled for 38 years, the man born blind, Lazarus and even the beloved disciples.

I will try to justify that statement when my book on John comes out in late 2013.

~John Shelby Spong

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