Sunday Scripture readings, June 6, 2021: The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
1) Ex 24:3-8 Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18
2) Heb 9:11-15 Gospel: Mk 14:12-16, 22-26
The power of blood in Scripture
A few years ago, the parish Bible discussion group I took part in read through the Book of Exodus. One of the women in the group, Nancy, had grown up on a farm and was well-acquainted with livestock and the slaughtering thereof.
When, in the course of our study, we reached today’s passage, which tells about the covenant-making between God and the Israelites, she made an unexpected comment. As soon as we read that Moses took calves’ blood and “sprinkled it on the people,” Nancy immediately said, “There’d be flies!”
I don’t think any remark I’ve ever heard put me in touch with the earthy reality of biblical events more powerfully than her matter-of-fact observation.
The episode is indeed earthy — and unique. Moses builds a stone altar and sets up 12 tall stones, one each for the Israelite tribes. He has some young guys slaughter and butcher several calves — hardly a task for an 80-year-old like Moses — and he burns the flesh as a gift to God.
Then comes the sloshing of blood on the altar, which represents God, and on the people. Nowhere else in the Bible is there anything quite like this.
There is, however, one incident that is a similar in one respect. Later, Moses ordains his brother, Aaron, as chief priest for the Israelites, and that ceremony also involves blood. Moses sacrifices a ram, then takes some of the animal’s blood and daubs it on Aaron, splashing the rest on the altar.
Jewish scholar Nahum Sarna comments, “It is likely that in both these ceremonies — covenant and ordination — the blood functions mysteriously to cement the bond between the involved parties.”
By sharing the blood with the Israelites and with Aaron, God lifted them up into “a higher level of intimate relationship” with himself.
In strange ways, events in the history of God with Israel prefigure realities in the life of Jesus and his relationship with us today. Here we have a profound foreshadowing. The ceremonies with Moses and the Israelites in the Sinai wilderness point to the meaning of the Eucharist, in which Jesus shares his blood, his life, with us, bringing us into intimacy with him.
By the way, Nancy was pleased when I told her that some scholars think Moses cast the blood on the Israelites only symbolically, by sprinkling it on the 12 stones.
Perrotta is the editor and an author of the “Six Weeks With the Bible” series, teaches part time at Siena Heights University and leads Holy Land pilgrimages. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.