Saturday, June 13, 2009

6-14-2009: Corpus Christi

SOLEMNITY OF CORPUS CHRISTI - CYCYLE B
Exodus 24:3-8/Psalm 116/Hebrews 9:11-15/Mark 14:12-16,22-26
Logistics is often the hinge on which even great events turn. Reading today’s gospel, it seems the Last Supper was no exception. The disciples want to know from Jesus where they’re going to meet for that Passover meal – they’re concerned about accommodations (How’s the service? What about parking?). It seems a bit silly, such concerns, when weighed against the import of what will eventually take place that night: Jesus offering his body and blood, his very self. He will (in that unfortunate choice of words) “institute the Eucharist” – mutating ordinary bread and wine into his body and blood. Such things require of us huge leaps of faith; but we, like the disciples, tend to get lost in the details.

But it is an intriguing detail – the logistics of the Last Supper, the origins of this feast of Corpus Christi. “Go into the city,” Jesus says, “and a man, carrying a jar of water, will meet you. Follow him.” And here’s the catch: men should not have been carrying jars of water in the Jerusalem of Jesus’ day. In practical terms this aberration of cultural mores is a way for the disciples to identify the right person to follow in order to be led to their desired destination. But it’s also an inversion of accepted norms, what today we might call a trans-gendered act. Jesus entices his disciples with this mysterious detail of inversion, whetting their appetite for inversions of more profound kinds, later on, in the Upper Room where, in that cenacle of intimacy, God will wash men’s dirty feet, bread and wine will be made flesh and blood, and the drama of love and treachery be played out.

These days we are inundated with the politics of gender equality. Contentions arise between so-called conservative and liberal: the clich├ęd rhetoric of old vs. new, family values vs. emancipation. But I wonder if these hackneyed arguments don’t camouflage a deeper problem to which both sides fall victim: the faulty assumption that equality must mean sameness, that uniformity should be the mark of equivalence.

Perceptions about sex and sexuality seem an especially American problem, rooted in our Puritan past: that any inversion of desire or behavior is necessarily a perversion of nature. We should tread lightly here for inversion is the very atmosphere where faith learns to breathe, where we learn to see reality from shifting perspectives and thus fall upon the wonder of insight and the possibility of miracle.

Do we really believe that sexual realities are so superficial, and so immune to interpretations of culture, that they can be so easily classified as normal or abnormal? The man carrying the jar of water -- the man acting as a woman in today’s gospel -- was pivotal in the disciples’ journey of faith. Their willingness to follow that inversion would lead them to conversion, enabling them to see beyond the normal reality, to see in ordinary bread and wine the body and blood of Jesus, the visible image of the invisible God – the inversion of nature par excellence. Not all inversions, you see, are perversions; but rather invitations to view things topsy-turvy, from another perspective, from the inside out, entertaining the imagination and making insight possible.

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