8. When we feed the multitudes, welcome the stranger, and heal the sick, we are also with Jesus.
There are essentially two ways Christians speak about the material of their faith. We can speak literally or metaphorically. And for those outside the faith, it can be really hard to tell the difference between the two. Just ask those First Century followers of Jesus who were called cannibals because they kept talking about eating Jesus’s flesh and drinking his blood!
But the contours of the literal/metaphorical divide can escape seasoned Christians, too. This is certainly due to shifting understandings of truth and our penchant for disagreement. It’s also because we think of truth differently. And a big part of that difference is thanks to the enlightenment.
I’m not going to take us on a tangent of exploring the philosophy of truth because I don’t want us to lose the point. Perhaps going to this earlier post will do the trick for those that want the exercise. But let’s summarise the present moment to say that for the post-enlightenment era, what we call truth is more literal than it used to be and is also more focused on what is provable.
This has meant that for many good Christians, the idea of literal interpretation of scripture is tied up with greater truth. And therefore when one finds no verifiable proof for what tradition claims as true, then it must be resisted to maintain its status as truth.
Hence the obsession with Creationism.
And yet, many of these same Christians recognize the same sense of metaphorical truth that I do. We maintain a linguistic consistency around certain divine matters which make similar truth claims. Like Christians as “the hands and feet of Christ” for instance. Nobody is running around thinking they are a foot.
While the distinction between these two types of truth claim of literal and metaphorical can feel paradoxical, it is only so when we take them to the mutual rigid extremes. When we read literal truth as entirely separate from metaphor, and vice versa.
But when we invest in truth itself, we can see a much more fluid relationship between literal and metaphorical truths. They don’t stay in their nice, tidy boxes.
We can speak to the physicality and historical character of being Jesus’s hands and feet and the beautiful literary truth of Jesus’s ministry with his disciples without fear. We can hold these things as true while giving them room to transform our lives.
Being Jesus’s ministry
When we examine Jesus’s earthly ministry as depicted in the four canonical gospels, we are shown an active Jesus who, aside from a few well-timed get aways by himself, lived a public ministry of withness and connection.
- He healed countless people of every race, gender, and creed.
- With the help of the disciples, he fed thousands of people in a miraculous demonstration of service more than power. He showed the disciples how to treat other people and have faith in God’s participation in those moments.
- Jesus ate with people of every class in society, including those cast out of society. He raised up those considered ritually unclean and renewed the disciples’ awareness of traditional Jewish teaching around welcoming the stranger and hospitality for the refugee. He did this by sharing the same physical space with them.
- And in the ultimate depiction of Jesusness, when the disciples are having the Passover dinner and Jesus has the chance to teach them just a couple more things, he offers this, from Matthew 25.
Matthew 25 is Jesus’s last word on being Jesusy. Being Jesus and finding Jesus in others.
This is why I started out with all that boring stuff about literal and metaphorical truth, blah blah blah. Because Jesus transcends that junk by giving us something that is pretty much both.
Love of neighbor is love of Jesus
And that’s why Jesus’s response to the question of “the Greatest Commandment” is so profound and true for both Christianity and Judaism. Love for God is intrinsically tied up in love of neighbor and self. We can’t isolate or extract that love. We don’t get to love God and not give a crap about our neighbors. Screwing over our neighbors proves we don’t love God.
And for the most doctrinally-obsessed and the atheist alike, the inverse might freak us out more. That love for neighbor is love of God. Whether you’re in the tribe or not or even believe in God.
This is a great big both/and for the literal/metaphorical debate. Jesus is our love. The sum of the logical truth of this is much harder to grasp and embody than any of its parts.
Therefore, taking seriously the command to love with all the literal and metaphorical weight such a command can have, is the fruit of our prayer
Love the lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.
Because the act of love necessitates connection, intimacy; a withness between two or more people.
Like the love I have for my wife and children is not the internal feeling when we are apart. That is the memory of love and the longing for their presence. The love is made in our playing board games, practicing guitar, doing homework, and especially when we eat dinner.
Then, we sit together, hold hands, and praise God for this moment.
[This is Thesis #8 of my 31 Theses. To read them all, visit the 31 Theses introduction page.]