We were close, really close. So close that I said to her, "Reese, you could hold your breath and by the time you let it out, we'd be there."
Reese was silent for a moment as she considered her response.
Then she replied, "Breasts. When I big girl I have breasts. Like Mommy's. I happy then. Breasts. To go with the baby in my tummy. The baby get bigger and bigger. Then come out. That all will make me happy."
“Reese, I said ‘breath,’ not ‘breasts.’”
“Oh,” she said.
Where to begin? (Sigh….Smile.)
What strikes me looking back on the moment is how far and how fast Reese and I journeyed down a strange path simply because of a mishearing, a misunderstanding.
Sometimes misunderstandings can be funny, of course. Such is the power behind something like Abbott and Costello's classic comedy riff "Who's on First.”.
And it was the engine behind the humor in an article I remember about mistakes on job-seeker cover letters. Two of my favorites: “I’m attacking my resume for you,” and, “Dear Sir or Madman.”
But the costs of misunderstanding can be real. The same article indicated that in a poll one out of five executives noted that a single typo would cost the applicant the job.
Early Christians knew a lot about mishearings and misunderstandings. They ran into trouble at times because the larger culture often considered them odd. And even worse, people in the larger culture sometimes said that Christians were cannibals.
Why? Because during their worship gatherings Christians were said to eat the flesh and drink the blood of a man named Jesus.
And saying such things wasn’t without precedent from Jesus himself, of course. The Christian story itself said Jesus held up a loaf of bread and said it was his body; he held up a cup of wine and said it was his blood.
Besides this, if you read chapter six in the gospel of John a large part of the chapter has to do with this sort of misunderstanding. Some people in the story ask, with disgust I’m sure, how Jesus can serve up his flesh for a meal. Others up and leave Jesus because it all seems too weird.
So, what’s going on here?
For one thing, there’s the misunderstanding. Some Christians are vegetarians and others “meatatarians,” but all of us agree (I hope) that literally snacking on people (even Jesus) is not an acceptable practice. It’s important to clear up that issue in case it ever becomes a problem with someone you’re talking to about Christian faith.
But, there’s something else too. Something deeper, I think. There’s the deep reality behind Jesus’ powerful language.
If we are Christians, we are confessing that we draw our life and strength ultimately through what God is doing through Jesus. We confess that somehow the strength, love, and wisdom of Jesus are within us. Sometimes they comfort us, but other times they challenge us to dream new dreams and reach out to others in new ways. And, as Christians we seek to live out this confession through the way we spend our time, our money, our words, and our deeds.
In such ways we say it is true indeed that even though we aren’t cannibals, Jesus is truly our food and drink. It is from him that our life and energy come.
Ancient people weren’t idiots. I’m sure most people heard the gossip and didn’t really think Christian people ate other people for dinner. In fact, I bet many of them used the “cannibal” gossip as a way of avoiding the real power within the language, the real call to follow Jesus for themselves.
You see, “eating a diet of Jesus” caused his followers to welcome people the world around them found worthless. It caused them to reach out across barriers of class and background that most people imagined were impossible to overcome.
“Eating a diet of Jesus” led them to share their daily bread with shocking generosity in a world often thought not to have enough to go around, a world of “I get mine and you get what’s leftover.” It led them to speak about the freedom of God within a culture where most people were slaves.
It led them to seek to be the hands and feet of Jesus at home and with strangers. It led them to forgive people instead of seek revenge upon them. It led them to lay down the weapons of war and bless others, even those who cursed them.
To many people, all this made Christians seem a little bit odd – not cannibal weird, but still plenty weird. And sometimes it made them look wonderful. It made them look like the coming of heaven to earth. It made them look like Jesus himself.
Am I weird like that? At least a little? Are you? What would it look like to be weird like that?