Monday, July 20, 2009

The Economy of the Eucharist

Throughout Job there is something of an underlying debate over the nature of relationships. Are human or divine-human relationships founded on a principle of reciprocity or are they founded upon grace? Reciprocity means that relationships, however friendly, are fundamentally based on exchange, quid pro quo, commodities. I do this for you, and you do that for me. You invite me over for dinner, I’ll invite you over for dinner. You say something nice about my outfit; and I’ll say something nice about your hair. You know this principle is at work when a gift creates (or appears to create) an obligation. When you receive a gift, and your next thought is ‘I better make sure I get one for them.’ But this system is built fundamentally on the assumption that we are all a bunch of atoms, and we bump around and into one another, and in order to keep everything smooth and balanced, we just need to do our part. Injustice occurs when someone doesn’t do their part or get what they deserve.

The Accuser operates with this assumption in the beginning when he asks if Job fears God for nothing. Satan assumes that Job fears and serves God because of the benefits he receives from God. The three friends also assume the same sort of program because on the flip side, if Job is no longer receiving benefits from God, Job must have failed on his end of the bargain. But when God finally appears and answers, His speeches are overflowing with grace. Of course they are questions, and of course they revel in the difference between God and Job, but they also reveal how generous and overflowing God is. He cares for cool animals and dumb animals; he waters barren lands with no people. He designed and sustains the world in all of its details even though most of it no one even knows or notices. And all this is in a conversation between the God of the universe and a mere man named Job. God is the overflowing God, the God of grace, the God who gives. And He created this world to mimic that grace, that overflow, that generosity.

Relationships based on reciprocity will always fall short of God’s glory because God designed the world for relationships to be built on grace. And this means that we are called to give with no thought of getting anything in return. We are to bless not merely those who bless us, but bless those who persecute us. We are not to do go to those who can repay us, but to do good to those who cannot or will not return the favor. We are to imitate our Father in heaven who causes his rain to fall on the just and the unjust. And that is what we celebrate at this table. This bread and wine are the gifts of God for the people God, and the gift is Himself. The gift is God giving His Son to us through the Spirit that we might have His life within us. We are not atoms bumping into each other trying to keep the balance sheets straight. We are sons of the Most High called to give ourselves away. When we give gifts, we are not giving objects to other objects out there in the world. We are giving ourselves, pledging ourselves, and we do so in imitation of God who gives Himself to us week after week. And we know that we really have no possible way of returning the favor. And all God wants us to do is rejoice in that inequality, rejoice in the grace, rejoice in the Gift. Some come and rejoice.

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