Archive for August, 2006
Readings: Jeremiah 1:17-19; Mark 6:17-29
You could hardly have two readings more calculated to contradict each other than these. The first is bracing with promise: you will be a pillar of iron, a wall of bronze; they will not overcome you. And it’s quite a ‘they’ arrayed against the prophet: kings, princes, priests, and people. And it’s a promise that God does not keep. In the end Jeremiah is doomed and defeated: the Lord neither delivers him nor the people.
John the Baptizer fares no better: his message arrays the powers of his day against him and … and his God does not deliver him either. On its own that is bad enough, but we have that promise made to Jeremiah in our ears, awakening the engrained conviction that things really should go better for those who speak God’s word and do God’s work?
August 29th, 2006
When I was at university some friends of mine signed up for VSO, Voluntary Service Overseas, to head off for Papua New Guinea. With the ghoulish interest of a 21 year old I thought to myself ‘mmm, cannibals! head-hunters!’ and hit the library, intent on scaring the life out of my buddies. I discovered that though dying out, the practice still existed but that it wasn’t a straightforwardly bloodthirsty activity but a deeply religious one. It was about bringing the tribe together around a sacred table where you literally made a meal of outsiders. You ate them—daintily I’m sure—to ensure that you all knew who you were and who you were not. It was a meal that formed and reformed you as a people. A meal to make your gods dwell among you, within you. A rite of communion and community.
Now doesn’t that sound just like what Jesus is talking about here? ‘Eat my flesh’, ‘drink my blood’. Notice there’s no talk of bread and wine here: this is stronger meat for stronger stomachs. Flesh that is real food, real meat; blood that is real drink, thick as soup.
August 20th, 2006
Bread. Bread for the journey, bread to keep you going in the desert when you are done with doing…
We join Elijah in mid story, sulking under a tree. ‘I’ve had enough. I want to die.’ But in truth he’s been eating the bread of death for a long time. He’s been fighting a guerrilla war for the honour of his God, culminating in a showdown with the massed priests of Ba’al. How do you prove your God is better than theirs? You turn to the tools of death. You settle the score with sacrifice, with a wager. 450 priests chanting and praying and gashing themselves for fire to descend and burn up their offering of a bull. Elijah taunting all the time… Nothing! Then our hero, building his altar, butchering his bull, getting his enemies to douse the lot with water, and then again, and once again, building it all up to a showman’s climax of fire licking from the sky consuming all before it. And the people loving it, leaping up with one voice: ‘Yeah! Yahweh for us!’
But the sacrifice doesn’t satisfy Elijah. Not enough. … It has only fed the fires that are burning him up. He seizes on the blood lust of the people and butchers all the priests of Ba’al.
Which sends him on the run… We catch him in the desert, under a thorn tree, his elation drained away, wanting to die. ‘Enough’, he says, though he is famished and still hungry for death. The bread of death hasn’t satisfied him.
August 13th, 2006
I’ve been indulging a guilty pleasure for a few weeks: watching my way through the DVDs of ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer‘. I’m trying to spin it out now that I’m closing in on the final episodes so maybe some theological reflection on the topic will help delay me.
‘Buffy’ is full of insights that jog my theologian’s elbow but one in particular has me pondering now. This last series raises lots of issues about power and where it comes from and how it can be used and abused. It seems the Slayer’s power is bought at a price. Power doesn’t come for free. In the Slayer’s case it is at root achieved by the infusion of evil, of the demonic, and ultimately against the will of the Slayer, imposed by men who want to use her. Even the brightest power for the good (‘she saved the world … a lot’) involves a hidden pact with darkness. A pact Buffy herself refuses.
August 6th, 2006
Readings: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; 2 Peter 1:16-19; Mark 9:2-10
We’ve reached here the highpoint of Jesus ministry. Literally. In recent weeks he’s raised the dead, he’s made a meal for a multitude out of scraps and gleanings, he’s walked on water … and everywhere the crowds are following him in droves. These are his glory days. And here on this mountain top his glory is unwrapped for a moment in light and shadow for us to glimpse what he is and what he will become. Metamorphosis, the Greek calls it. He speaks here as equal—and more—with Moses and Elijah. And the voice that at his baptism had whispered in his ear, ‘Beloved’, now roars it out from the cloud of glory, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him’.
But this is the high point of his ministry and from here on there’s no way but down. And downhill it will go, into opposition and misunderstanding and failure and fear and pain and death. So much for glory.
August 6th, 2006
Tomorrow brings together the anniversary of the atrocity of Hiroshima and the Feast of the Transfiguration. Every year the collision seems both inescapably apt and awful beyond words. It demands we understand glory and bear its weight.
An eye-witness account by a Jesuit living in Hiroshima in 1945.
August 5th, 2006