Sunday Week 19 Year B Beheading of John the Baptist

Sunday Week 20 Year B

Print Version August 20th, 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.

The gospel rubs it in by the choice of words. John’s been using an ordinary word for eating but when he gets to point, ‘he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him’, he switches to a rather nasty word usually reserved for animals gnawing and chewing on their carcasses. ‘He who gnaws and chews my flesh lives in me.’ No wonder his hearers are arguing with him.

Cannibals and head-hunters only make explicit and literal what all human communities do implicitly and metaphorically. They—we—build our communion by making a meal of our enemies—the ones we will not tolerate among us. We cast them out to make ourselves whole. We might not know who we are but we sure as hell know who we are not: Us not Them.

It’s a very unholy communion: consuming the bread of death and division to find life and security.

Is this what we are doing here this afternoon? Is that what our communion is like? If it is we have betrayed Jesus who shows us another way—a holy communion. Instead of building a new community on the sacrifices of others he offers himself as a willing gift, a bloody meal without sacrifice, to make us whole. No more sacrifices. No more victims. No one is outcast from this table of his flesh and blood.

But to eat this flesh and drink this blood means more than opening our mouths and swallowing. It means saying ‘Amen’, ‘so be it’, with our lives. To eat this meal is to consent to be eaten too, to agree be flesh and blood for the life of the world.

Entry Filed under: Homilies,Loyola Hall

5 Comments

  • 1. greg, sj  |  August 20th, 2006 at 5:48 pm

    Hey. Was thinking of you today and thought I’d see what you’ve been up to. Today’s homily is typically wonderful. I’ve always loved the way you preach.

    Just noticed your homily from the 10th anniversary of your ordination. Read the comments, too. You’re a worthy companion of Jesus, Rob.

  • 2. forget me not  |  August 21st, 2006 at 4:22 pm

    It’s funny you should post this. Just last night I posted the following:

    “I heard a missionary once who explained the meaning of the Eucharist as sacrifice. In the tribes in Indonesia, when something bad would happen to the community it meant that sin or evil had taken over, so a chicken or some other animal would be sacrificed to take away that sin, and everyone in the town would to partake of that sacrificial food. It was a fact of life in many societies, pure and simple. It is much easier for the missionaries to explain the reality of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins to them than it is to explain it in Western countries where this practice, which was once common to many populations, has been abandoned.”

    And this: Our pastor said something tonight at Mass at the beach that sounded so logical, but at the same time so new! He said “I was thinking, how can we even fathom eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking His blood? We’re not cannibals, so we have nothing we can compare this to that would help us understand it. But then I thought…or do we? A newborn baby drinks his mothers milk. Her milk is a product of her body…it is part of her body. And the baby drinks it and gets everything he needs from it: nourishment and protection, emotional and psychological benefits. Everything it needs to be able to live a healthy life. That’s exactly what the Eucharist gives us. Everything we need to live a healthy eternal life…”

  • 3. Rob  |  August 21st, 2006 at 4:37 pm

    Forget-me-not: Thanks for the note… and the link over at your own blog. I was inspired by some ideas over at Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary.

  • 4. Honora  |  August 22nd, 2006 at 5:54 am

    “To eat this meal is to consent to be eaten too, to agree to be flesh and blood for the life of the world.”

    Whew.. is it any wonder we love Jesuits?
    🙂

    Yes, a share of the total dignity of what once seemed to the world His total indignity, is gifted unto us, His Body, also for the sake of the world. Astounding.

  • 5. Rachel  |  August 29th, 2006 at 2:11 am

    Believe it or not, this month’s Smithsonian Magazine has a cover story about cannibals in New Guinea. Your friend should read it. The tribe in this case is NOT eating outsiders, but members of their own clan who have been identified as witches. It is a very strange custom.

    http://www.smithsonianmagazine.com/


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