Saturday, April 16, 2011

"The hungry cannot wait; the heavenly feast is now."

William Cavanaugh contrasts the market and the Eucharist in the closing pages of Being Consumed (pp 97-98):
Adam Smith's economy underwrites a separation between contractual exchanges and gifts. Benevolence is a free suspension of self-interested exchange. As such, benevolence cannot be expected or even encouraged on the public level, because the market functions for the good of all on the basis of self-interested consumption and production. Benevolent giving freely transfer property from one to another; nevertheless, it respects the boundaries between what is mine and what is yours. In the eucharistic economy, by contrast, the gift relativizes the boundaries between what is mine and what is yours be relativizing the boundary between me and you. We are no longer two individuals encountering each other by way of contract or as active giver and passive recipient. Without losing our identities as unique person - Paul's analogy of the body extols the diversity of eyes and hands, heads and feet - we cease to be merely "the other" to each other by being incorporated into the body of Christ. In the Eucharist, Christ is gift, giver, and recipient. We are neither merely active nor passive, but we participate in the divine life so that we are fed and simultaneously become food for others.

Our temptation is to spiritualize all this talk of union, to make our connection to the hungry a mystical act of imaginative sympathy. We can thus imagine that we are already in communion with those who lack food, whether or not we meet their needs. Matthew [in chapter 25] is having none of this: he places the obligation to feed the hungry in the context of eschatological judgment. Paul, too, places neglect of the hungry in the context of judgment. At the eucharistic celebration in Corinth, which included a common meal, those who eat while others go hungry "show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing" (1 Cor 11:22). Those who thus - in an "unworthy manner" - partake of the body and blood of Christ "eat and drink judgment against themselves" (11:27, 29). Those of us who partake in the Eucharist while ignoring the hungry may be eating and drinking our own damnation.

The Eucharist places judgment in the eschatological context of God's in-breaking kingdom. There is no gradual, immanent progress toward abundance that the market, driven by our consumption, is always about to - but never actually does - bring about. The Eucharist announces the coming of the kingdom of God now, already in the present, by the grace of God. Vatican II's Sacrosanctum Concilium affirms the eschatological dimension of the Eucharist in these terms: "In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims. ..." In the Eucharist, God breaks in and disrupts the tragic despair of human history with a message of hope and a demand for justice. The hungry cannot wait; the heavenly feast is now. The endless consumption of superficial novelty is broken by the promise of an end, the kingdom toward which history is moving and which is already breaking in to history. The kingdom is not driven by our desires, but by God's desire, which we receive as the gift of the Eucharist.

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About Me

I'm Rachel's husband and Darcy's daddy. I'm a Hoosier, an accountant, and an Episcopalian. Politically, I'm a progressive who believes in the preferential option for the poor. I use the blog as a sort of journal - to interact with my reading and sketch out ideas.