Over on Mark Shea’s blog, there’s been a lively, ahem, “discussion,” on how graphic (particularly, how scatological, more or less) Christ can be depicted devoutly. On the one hand, it seems blasphemous (or at least in extremely ill-taste) to talk about Jesus’ bodily functions. But on the other hand, it was St. Augustine who said that Jesus was born between “feces and urine.” I don’t want to get too deep into the particular debate that they’re hashing out, but that discussion got me thinking.
There’s something profound about God coming to Earth as a Man with all that that entails, bodily fluids and all. And He came at a time when things like toilet paper hadn’t been invented yet. In fact, the reason the Bible places a big emphasis on “the right hand” and “the left hand” is that the right hand is the hand you shook with, and the left hand is the hand you wiped with. The Romans considered southpaws sinister, and not just because it was hard to sword-fight them.
Paolo Mazzarello & Maurizio Harari wrote an article for Nature called Science In Culture: Left To Digest (available here, scroll down nearly to the bottom). They mention that “Jean-Marie Dentzer […] has compiled an extensive inventory of the banquet couché between the seventh and fourth centuries BC. Of the more than 700 illustrations, including at least a dozen banqueters holding pots in their left hand, not one is lying on their right side.” In other words, in more than 700 pictures, every one contained people dining while reclining on their left. Mazzarello & Harari think that this was to aid digestion (which apparently, it does). I doubt it. I think it’s because when lying on your left side, your right hand (instead of your left) is free. You don’t want the hand you eat with to be the same hand you use in the bathroom.
This becomes relevant to the life of Christ in a particular way at the Last Supper. John 13 (particularly John 13:23 and John 13:26) seem to suggest that during the Meal, John and Judas were the Disciples sitting at Jesus’ right and left… but it doesn’t say which is where. This is reinforced by Matthew 26:23, which says that Jesus and Judas were dipping in the same bowl. This suggests one of two possibilities, both tantalizing in their own way:
- First, that John, the Disciple who Jesus loves, is at the place of honor, while Judas is in the spot symbolizing damnation (cf. Matthew 25:41)
- Alternatively, Judas may have been in the place of honor (cf. Matthew 20:16), with Jesus providing him the best position. If he were in fact at Christ’s right hand, then when they dipped together, Judas would be dipping his filthy butt-wiping hand in the same place that Christ dipped His honored right hand.
In either case, the symbolism is rich: either as a foretaste of Final Judgment (where John will be on Christ’s right, and Judas may well be on His left), or as something totally different: a symbol of the extent Christ is willing to pursue all of us, even when we respond to His outstretched hand with our sin and filth.