Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Laid into a Manger: Yuck

We are accustomed to the stories of Jesus' birth and fail to think about them beyond the sentimental and nostalgic. A farmer friend at my first parish offhandedly referred to the manger in his barn and, although I knew what a manger was, I had a sudden realization: Baby Jesus was laid into a trough from which slobbery animals eat.

A few years later, I read a Catholic author who made a Eucharistic connection that I found interesting: of course Jesus was laid into a feeding trough, as a precursor to the time when we would share his body and blood in the mass. Protestants don't believe in transubstantiation but instead believe (with nuances among denominations) in the spiritual presence of Jesus in sharing of the Lord's Supper. Unfortunately, we are liable to emphasize the humility of Jesus' birth and miss the subtle implication (perhaps not even realized by the gospel authors) of his first bed, a feeding trough.

“Take, eat: this is my body”. He took the cup, gave thanks and said: "...“Take, drink: this is my blood”...."Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you shall have no life in you." Yet more upended expectations: surely God would not appear to us like this, a humble child in a manger, a "bloody enthronement on Calvary." [1] Surely God would not be known in such messy, heartrending circumstances...

1. Dominique Barthelemey, O.P., God and His Image: An Outline of Biblical Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007), p. 236.

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