Friday, July 1, 2011

Sacred Bread & Profane Men

Whose men ate the Bread of the Presence? David’s (I Samuel 21:6)

While visiting Nob, under the auspices of being on a mission for king Saul, David petitioned Ahimelech the priest for fives loaves of bread for his militia (I Samuel 21:1). Having no “ordinary” bread readily available, the priest consented to give David consecrated bread with the stipulation that the men had remained sexually pure (I Samuel 21:4). The bread in question was the Bread of the Presence (I Samuel 21:6).

The Old Testament’s Holiness Code dictated that the Bread of the Presence (in the KJV “shewbread”) be continuously in the presence of God on a specially dedicated table (Exodus 25:30). In taking this bread, David and Ahimelech violated priestly law.

This text cuts across the core of organized religion as it addresses what happens when the profane infringes upon the sacred. Building on the work of Émile Durkheim (1858-1917), Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) concluded that “all the definitions given up till now of the religious phenomenon have one thing in common: each has its own way of showing that the sacred and the religious life are the opposite of the profane and secular life.”1

What is your response when secular things infringe on items you deem sacred? How do you feel about worship services that incorporate traditionally secular rock music? More concretely, had you been the priest, would you have violated the law to give David the bread?

David receives no admonition for eating the sacred bread and Jesus endorses the decision as well. When questioned by the Pharisees regarding his disciples’ plucking grain on the Sabbath (and as such violating the law), Jesus cites this case as precedent (Matthew 12:3-4; Mark 2:25-26; Luke 6:3-4).

Psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) affirmed that whether consciously or subconsciously people are inclined to meet their basic needs first. Could it be that when people are hungry, their hunger takes precedent over religious statutes? Should we meet someone’s physical needs before their spiritual longings?

“I don’t know how your theology works, but if Jesus has a choice between stained glass windows and feeding starving kids in Haiti, I have a feeling he’d choose the starving kids in Haiti.” - Tony Campolo

1Mircea Eliade,Patterns in Comparative Religion. (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1958) 1.

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