Monday, July 26, 2010

A Meditation On Sacrifice In The New Covenant

The following verses are Genesis 4:1-5

1 The man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, "I have produced a man with the help of the LORD."
2 Next she bore his brother Abel. Abel became a keeper of flocks, and Cain a tiller of the soil.
3 In the course of time Cain brought an offering to the LORD from the fruit of the soil,
4 while Abel, for his part, brought one of the best firstlings of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering,
5 but on Cain and his offering he did not. Cain greatly resented this and was crestfallen.

The above from Genesis has some interesting food for thought as it might pertain to our current situation with all things green. Right from the get go we are taught God prefers blood sacrifice to the things of the Earth. The Lord looks with favor on Abel and his blood offering, but not on Cain and his offering of the fruit of the soil.

At the Last Supper Jesus flips this around and bread and wine become the most pleasing offering to His Father. No more blood sacrifice. Jesus is to be the last such 'offering'. From thence forward it will be Jesus present in the offerings of Cain which will supplant the bloody offerings of Abel. No more violence is to be associated with offerings to the Creator Father. Jesus's death and resurrection spell the end of that notion.

This was not just a substitution of one form of sacrificial offering for another. It was a change in world view from the violent domination of blood sacrifice to the cooperative balance of working with the earth and it's natural rhythms. It can be seen as an elevating of the feminine, or a restoration of the feminine in Hebrew religious practice. The fact Jesus does this in the context of a sacrificial meal which ritually called for the involvement of the entire family should not be overlooked. No longer would sacrifice pleasing to the Father consist of a separate class of males engaging in blood sacrifice of innocent animal matter. It would consist of a community offering the 'fruit of the vine, work of human hands'. It would be an offering without violence. Instead it was to be one of peaceful sharing embodied in the human effort of working with the land. It was a hugely symbolic shift from the Old Covenant thinking of violent domination of nature to the New Covenant thinking of sharing and cooperation with nature.

Two thousand years later it's obvious the patriarchal religions of the book didn't get, or refused to make, this shift in thinking. It would be in our best interests to convert to this shift in thinking before we make the entirety of the human race our last bloody offering in the name of someones willfully limited understanding of a God of violence and domination. To continue in our fascination with violence and domination is not the way to salvation. It's the road to extinction.


  1. Food for thought indeed. Really excellent.

    Inspired by the view, my historian wife and her best friend, a theologian, discussed this issue on the balcony of an old farmhouse in the Burgundy region of France. Why was it that the farmer, Cain, was shunned? Farming brought civilization and wars necessary to protect the farmed territory. Cain slew Able.

    The ancients were so blind to women as persons that they needed an invisible man to create woman, only after man had been created first.

    Of all the creation myths this is the least convincing. As I re-examine my religious beliefs (Unfortunately like the R.E.M. song I'm "Losing my religion") Something seems wrong, right from the beginning. Catholic theologians have long held that both male and female are made in the image of God.

    Creation, it seems to me is a distinctive, perhaps uniquely female characteristic. If we are to conceive of God as gendered then there is an excellent case for God as female.

    On a less serious note, my nephews amuse themselves by quoting everything about "The most interesting man in the world" character from the beer advertising campaign. A traditional, orthodox, Catholic could have written these gems "He wouldn't be afraid to show his feminine side--if he had one... His mother has a tatoo that reads "Son."

    How long will it be before the "American Papist" has this put on a T-shirt ?


  2. p2p the first time I saw that commercial I had the exact same take and laughed and laughed. These commercials are great parody and in a coyote sense, probably effecting your nephews in a good way. Our shadow sides are much easier to deal with when you can laugh at them.

    Native tradition has always had it's contraries who like court jesters of old were to keep the egos of tribal chiefs in tact. The Vatican could so use a court jester. Actually it sounds like a job for the 'most interesting man in the world'. Or maybe the most interestng woman in the world.

  3. Thanks Colleen,

    No doubt you've noticed I sometimes make stream of consciousness comments that don't make much sense without a particular perspective. Sometimes I worry I might not be welcome if you don't get it.

    We lost our theologian friend to cancer five years ago. Writing here reminded me of her. I'd love to tell you how long we talked and all we discussed about the importance of the shift in thinking required by the New Covenant.

    Keep up the great work!


  4. Much food for thought here Colleen in your post today. Some thoughts come to mind & hope you don't mind that I share:

    There is great tension in Creation now. It groans like in labor pains and presses down on one's consciousness and into the soul like the plates of the earth moving in an earthquake. All men must learn that without the female energy of balance which prepares for & offers new life in this world & for the future & is capable of loving the stranger, there could be no human family evolving to be consciously closer in image & likeness to God who made male and female. We cannot exist on our own but will become extinct, as will marriage, as will an all-male priesthood, as will male-dominated theocracies & governments and religions, if we sacrifice the female characteristics for the arrogant, jealous, and murdering kind.

    Jesus commanded no more blood sacrifices when He said "Love thy enemy." "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." "Love one another."

    Truly, man condemns himself to extinction by not obeying the Lord's commands.

    Word verif is holyg

  5. "without the female energy of balance which prepares for & offers new life in this world "

    I love this butterfly. This is precisely what the feminine impulse is for--it prepares and offers new life in the world. And you are right, for some of humanity this understanding of the importance of the feminine will take a kind 'tectonic' shift.

  6. The unseen Holy Spirit, is thought to be female by many RC women in the Toronto area.

    I can't remember if I've mentioned it here. My mother-in-law and many of her friends often discussed this, as does my wife with her friends. They just believe it as fact. Period. Maybe it is their little secret.

    It wasn't something I heard as a young man, or hear even today, especially from the religious hierarchy.

    When making the sign of the cross they point out the different directions indicate the different identities by gender with the Father and the Son on the vertical and the Holy Spiritual on the horizontal motions.

    Have you heard of this?


  7. "Creation, it seems to me is a distinctive, perhaps uniquely female characteristic."

    Actually, yes, I believe this is so. This is precisely why, I think, the Virgin Mary has proven to be so archetypical in the Catholic tradition--- well beyond the literal warrant of Scripture itself, she has been gradually unveiled as the very principle of created nature itself- conceived without stain of sin, contingent on God, wholly sustained by grace, open and receptive to the life of His Word.

    I posted on this quite briefly here, if you are interested:

    It is my hope that we can recover the Marian meaning of the earth.

    And I think, insofar as the sacrifice of the New Covenant "elevates the feminine" or restores it, this again can be precisely seen the very elevation of the Virgin Mother, encapsulated above all in her Assumption and her crowning as the Queen of Heaven.

    Indeed, the fruits of the earth are now brought to the altar, and Mary, the bloom and fruit of grace, holds all within her.

    "It would consist of a community offering the 'fruit of the vine, work of human hands'. It would be an offering without violence. Instead it was to be one of peaceful sharing embodied in the human effort of working with the land."

    However, I would say this does not seem to be sufficient. Surely the offering of the New Covenant does not stop at what the community brings to the altar. God does not just accept our earthly sacrifice at the hands of the priest, He takes it, uplifts it, transforms it, unites it with the self-oblation, violence and kenosis of the Cross, and returns it to as the Body and Blood of the Lord. A very unearthly element remains here.

    The sacrifice is bloodless in the sense that to no new blood is spilled---but the same blood is always shared.

    So, I suppose, I think it is incorrect to paint the sacrifice of the New Covenant as shift to nature (a "flip" as you said), it is rather, an uplifting of nature into Godhead.

  8. There's food for thought in your comment as well JD.

    Taking some of your thinking further, I have no dispute with your analysis of the archetypal imaging of Mary. My problem lies in the fact the Church isn't all that keen on extending the archetypal message of the feminine to flesh and blood women. Priests are described as 'in persona christi' while women of any sort are never described as 'in persona maria'. That's more or less reserved to the Church itself.

    I certainly see where the last part of your comment reflects traditional thinking on the Consecration. While I have no problem understanding that a higher reality is brought forth into this reality I believe that reality speaks to the Risen Christ not necessarily the blood soaked crucified Christ.

  9. Again, this would not be satisfying for me. As I think even Hans Kung says, the Resurrection is not the cancellation of the Cross. It is, rather, its vindication. The Resurrection is the Father’s declaration upon the Son’s self offering, that kenosis really is the path to true, enduring life, contrary to the impulse of the ego. I don’t see how we could say the Eucharist is “the risen Christ not necessarily the blood soaked crucified Christ”, as though He were not always present also in the power of His Cross.

    “We preach Christ crucified”. The Eucharist is a communal meal, but He did say what we are eating is His Body and His Blood, not mere fruit and work of the earth. His risen Body is also a crucified Body, and the Cross was the path to the empty tomb and remains so. Again, “drink my blood”, the violence can not really be avoided .

    But I do feel it’s a transformed dynamic of violence, one that inverts the typical human inclination, and that it is transformed in a manner like to what you said about the masculine and feminine. I would say that what is especially prevalent in the masculine is an assertion of self over nature’s resistance to particular life, which, through sin, has become a trait perverted into an egoism, a desire for a mode of life that exceeds the assertion of self to the threshold of harmony between particulars, and is rather perverted into an intense desire for ownership and sublimation. Violence is fundamentally the Ego’s attempt to sublimate “the other” into the “I”, to turn all things into an extension of self. It is perhaps “masculine” but not limited to men. To destroy something is one’s ultimate act of ownership over it. In destroying the world, man thinks he truly has it. This is the deified human being, the human ego so enlarged that the world becomes him by his swallowing of it.

    But God gives us the Cross. Now the active and devouring subject must march through the self oblation of the Cross. Christ is the entrance of God into the climactic and aimlessly destructive current of man’s lustful encounter with the world, and, by taking that current (and the Eternal with it), to its bloody end, turns that dynamic, that momentum, back in on itself. …We must become Christ by dying with Him---then we can rise with Him. Or we are, perhaps, both dying and rising at once if you prefer.

    I think my point here, as regards the masculine and the feminine, is that it is in the twin Hearts of the Lord and His Blessed Mother that the feminine is restored and the perverted masculine given its succor---the feminine not just in Mary, but in Christ too. The archetypical mother who, seeing her new born child and feeling from henceforth she lives for this “other” new life that came from her and depends on her graciousness , is an image of Christ’s own willingness to live for us, who came from Him, the Word.