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5/26/2005
WORD OF FAITH
Thinking in two ways
REV. ROGER KARBAN


Trained in "catechism theology," many Catholics are confused when they encounter biblical theologies. The people who produced our catechisms think differently from the individuals who gave us our Scriptures. It isn't that they think about different things or have different experiences. When they're thinking, something distinct is going on in their minds.

We, and the catechism authors, were taught to "think Greek." Though we might be German, Irish or African-American, we can still think the way classic Greek philosophers taught their disciples to think: We analyze; we mentally tear apart what we're thinking about, separating, for instance, an object's color from its weight, its smell from its shape; we zero in on just one aspect of the object, relegating all the rest to our mental background. When that part is sufficiently analyzed, we tear another part of the object from its setting and begin to think about it.

Think Greek

Such a thought process is essential for those who think in terms of either/or. Something is either white or black, round or square. Not only is there no room for contradiction in such a process, the process itself is geared to getting rid of any contradiction we might find in the object.

Rev. Raymond Dunst, one of my seminary philosophy profs, once remarked, "We are where we are in the western world because of our ability to think Greek."

The problem that arises when Greek-thinking people read Scripture is that the authors thought as Semites. They didn't analyze; they synthesized. In-stead of mentally tearing objects apart, they pulled them together, trying to get as much of something in their brain as they possibly could at one time, even dimensions that appear to be contradictory.

Instead of eradicating contradiction, Semitic teachers reward students who can surface multiple contradictions in an object or concept. Greek thinkers ab-hor mysteries; Semitic thinkers help to create them.

That's why we're offered two differing theologies of the Eucharist in Sunday's readings.

We're probably more familiar with the theology John provides (Jn 6: 51-58). He sets the theme in Jesus' opening words: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world."

Bread of life

Making a comparison with the first reading (Dt 8: 2-3, 14-16), John informs his readers that no matter how good and helpful the Yahweh-given manna was for the Israelites during their four-year wanderings in the wilderness, the bread which Jesus offers us can top it. "This is the bread that came down from heaven," Jesus points out. "Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever."

Thinking semitically, Paul brings up a different aspect of the Eucharist (I Cor 10: 16-17). Ignoring John's feeding dimension, the Apostle zeros in on the unity aspect. In this earliest biblical reference to the Eucharist, he reminds his community that participating in the Lord's Sup-per makes us one with the risen Jesus in our midst and with one another, forming us into the body of Christ.

"The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of one loaf."

If your parish employs individual, separate "hosts" instead of one large loaf of bread for this weekend's Eucharist, you can be fairly certain someone's been analyzing the Eucharist more than synthesizing it.

(5/26/05)












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