Lesson: Proverbs 9:1-6
1 Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars.
2 She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table.
3 She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls from the highest places in the town,
4 “You that are simple, turn in here!” To those without sense she says,
5 “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.
6 Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
In Christian Bibles, the Book of Proverbs is included in the “Wisdom Literature,” but in the Jewish Bible (the “TaNaK”), it is part of the “Writings.” The other two parts of the Jewish Bible are The Torah and The Prophets. The name “TaNaK” is an acronym for the first letters of the Hebrew words for each of these sections: the Torah, the Nevi’im, and the Ketubim.
Although Proverbs claims to be written by Solomon who reigned from 965-930 BCE (v.1:1), most scholars agree that these sayings were compiled over a lengthy period and put in their final form around 450 BCE. In fact, two Chapters of Proverbs (22:17 to 24:34) are copied almost word-for-word from Egyptian wisdom literature dating to about 1100 BCE.
Most sayings in Proverbs are presented as teachings from the elders and are aimed at young men. They advised that moral living (diligence, sobriety, self-restraint, selecting a good wife, honesty) would lead to a good life.
The usual translation of a recurring theme in Proverbs is that “fear” of YHWH (translated as LORD – all capital letters in the NRSV) is the beginning of wisdom. Many scholars suggest that “awe of YHWH” or “reverence for YHWH” better captures the sense of the authors of the sayings in Proverbs.
In today’s reading, Wisdom was portrayed as a woman who invited even the “simple” and “those without sense” to share the bread and wine at her table and walk in the way of insight. In Proverbs 8:22, Wisdom was portrayed as being present at the Creation.
Epistle: Ephesians 5:15-20
15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesus was a large and prosperous city in what is now western Turkey. In the Acts of the Apostles and 1 Corinthians, Paul is said to have visited there. In Ephesus, there were Jesus Followers who were Jews and Jesus Followers who were Gentiles, and they did not always agree on what it meant to be a Jesus Follower.
Because the letter contained terms not used in Paul’s other letters and gave new meanings to some of Paul’s characteristic terms, most scholars believe that this letter was written by one of Paul’s disciples late in the First Century. The letter sought to unify the Jesus Follower community in Ephesus. The first three chapters are theological teachings, and the last three chapters consist of ethical exhortations.
In today’s reading, the author continued to urge the Jewish Jesus Followers and the Gentile Jesus Followers in Ephesus to live wisely, soberly, and to be thankful to God. In the verses just before today’s reading, the author used light and dark imagery to show that they were all now children of the light.
Gospel: John 6:51-58
51 Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
The Fourth Gospel is different in many ways from the Synoptic Gospels. The “signs” (miracles) and many stories in the Fourth Gospel are unique to it, such as the Wedding at Cana, Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the Raising of Lazarus.
The chronology of events is also different in the Fourth Gospel. For example, the Temple Event (“cleansing of the Temple”) occurred early in Jesus’ Ministry in the Fourth Gospel, rather than late as in the Synoptic Gospels. In the Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper was a Passover Seder, but in the Fourth Gospel, it occurred the day before the first day of Passover so that Jesus (who is described as “the Lamb of God”) died at the time lambs were sacrificed at the Temple for the Passover Seder to be held that night.
Today’s reading is a continuation of the “Bread of Life Discourse” that has been the subject of the readings for the last two weeks. As usual, the author of the Fourth Gospel presents “the Jews” (the Temple Authorities and the Pharisees) as unduly literal. For them, consuming flesh was cannibalism, and blood (the lifegiving force) was reserved for God and was forbidden for humans. When animals were sacrificed at the Temple, the blood was poured on the altar. Meat that is “kosher” has all the blood drained from it.
The Bread of Life Discourse assumes the institution of the Eucharist, and the ritual of the Eucharist was part of the Jesus Followers worship by the time the Fourth Gospel was compiled late in the First Century. According to The Jewish Annotated New Testament, the ritual of “eating god” existed in some Greco-Roman mystery cults such as the cults of Demeter and Dionysius.