Monday, September 26, 2011

Centrism, Siding with Victors, and Betraying the Memory of Jesus: A Reflection

Centrism is, to my perception, all about being on the winning side.  And one of the reasons I grow increasingly impatient with the centrism of many of my Catholic co-religionists, who make more and more room for the powerful on the right, no matter how rabid their views are, and less and less room for those on the left, is that the propensity for siding with victors and not victims seems to me to disconnect us from some of the most significant foundational stories that call us together as a people of faith.

Jesus was a loser.  Jesus was a victim.  Jesus was not a victor.  The resurrection makes sense precisely as a reversal of the colossal failure of the life and ministry of Jesus.  We do not remember Jesus adequately or even faithfully if we remember him as one who went from victory to victory, with the resurrection as his crowning victory.

He walked, instead, the way of the cross throughout his entire life and ministry, choosing to reject power, to divest himself of power, to make no claim to any right to coerce others to do his bidding.  By preference, he lived and associated with the outcasts of his society, those ignored or humiliated by others.  He emptied himself, choosing the form of a slave, abasing himself to the point of saying yes to a singularly humiliating form of public punishment reserved by the power-mongers of his culture for the lowest of the low.

I am drawn to poets like Rilke, with his insight that it is only from the the blind, the outcast, and the demented that the savior comes, or to painters like Rouault, with his similar insights about Jesus's strong, inherent connections to those scorned and despised by the social center, because these artists seem to me to capture something essential about the foundational story of Christianity of which we are always in danger of losing sight.

Among the several reasons that I find the thought of Christian pastors using the eucharist as a kind of reward for the good or a punishment for the bad heinous is that this use of the eucharist subverts what is most central (or what should be most central) in the remembrance of Jesus as that remembrance has been transmitted by the tradition of the community of his followers: this is that Jesus sided with victims and not victors, and that his life was a failure.

The notion of rewarding good behavior and punishing bad behavior in the central memorial context by which the community remembers Jesus ritually, on an ongoing basis, incorporates into this ritual remembrance elements of anointing victors and designating victims that could not be more antithetical to who and what we are remembering in the eucharist.  When Jesus tells us to break bread and drink wine in remembrance of him, he is asking that we remember him precisely as a victim of history who sided with other victims of history.

To the extent that our eucharistic commemoration of Jesus has lost sight of that insight, or to the extent that we fail to remember it in our communitarian life fed by the celebration of the eucharist, we have lost sight of what is perhaps the most central foundational memory of Jesus transmitted in scripture and tradition.  And to that extent, we are also failing to be the church called together to communicate that memory to our culture and to generations to come.

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