It may be difficult to imagine the Savior of the World being a mischievous tease, but there may be evidence of this in these very strange words. The disciples have asked a perfectly good question about what would later be referred to as the “rapture”. When some are taken, where will they be taken? His answer: “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” A bizarre non sequitur. A weird thought.
Commentaries struggle to make sense of this, offering a range of not very convincing interpretations. I think it’s possible that Jesus was being intentionally obscure, even mischievous or playful. We don’t know for sure what these words mean–which may be the point. We may need to be comfortable with some level of obscurity in religion—and be wary of religion that is too tidy, too wrapped in neat packages, too sensible, too domesticated, too useful.
I was once in a Bible study where the theme was the life of Moses. It was all done very much through the lens of the leader’s very tidy understanding of things. In assigning passages to be read, the leader simply omitted verses that didn’t fit her very neat theological thinking. So the bizarre passage in Exodus where God approaches Moses in the camp in order to kill him because he had not had his son circumcised was simply omitted from consideration. (By the way, God didn’t kill Moses because his wife Zipporah…well, you can read all about it in Exodus 4.)
Whether it’s vultures and corpses or God coming to kill Moses, we can be grateful for these little indigestible bits of scripture. We can be grateful for all the obscurities of the sacred text—mischievous or not. They are a good counterbalance to our tendency to tidy things up, to reduce things to our current level of understanding.
The life of faith is one that stands upon eternal verities, yes. But Christian faith also embraces the fact that we do not and cannot fully comprehend the truth of God So there is an inherent tension in the life of faith between belief and unknowing. Or, we could say, an inherent tension between the desire for solid ground to stand on and the fluidity, the suppleness we need to be open to greater truth.
Perhaps the Savior’s vultures and corpses will tease us in this direction.
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