Bailie on John 18-19

Notes on Lectures of the Florilegia Institute by Gil Bailie
Series: “The Gospel of John”
Tape #11; Re: John 18-19

  1. The parable in Moby Dick that takes place in the Spouter Inn, owned by Peter Coffin. It is a metaphor for the church.
    1. Ishmael enters an entryway: on one side is a smoke smudged oil painting that took numerous trips to the pub to decipher its meaning. At the center was a portentous black something, that had solemnity to it. If he could figure it out, he could figure out the painting. He found out that it was a ship in a hurricane with its three mastheads: the crucifixion scene in whaling idiom.
    2. The opposite wall had an array of clubs and spears, a museum of human violence. How are the two related?
    3. The third option is to go straight ahead into the saloon, which you had to enter through a huge jaw bone of a whale. For a price you could enter a world of delusion.
    4. How can we say we were saved by a hanged man?
  2. Points of introduction to the passion story
    1. The NT Passion stories were all told in the light of the resurrection…. In the first instance, the crucifixion was a catastrophe, a death on the most heinous means of execution. The resurrection, whatever else it might have been, somehow brought meaning to this catastrophe.
    2. 1 Cor. 15: Paul experienced resurrection as conversion. Similarly in Luke, on the road to Emmaus: the risen Jesus explains the events of the cross by pondering Scripture in light of these events. The resurrection experience seems to be a gradual process of coming to understand the crucifixion. The early apostles came to understand the crucifixion as at the heart of the meaning of Jesus’ life, not the destroyer of it. It was the event of full revelation. (Like Ishmael going in to ponder the meaning of that painting.)
    3. Bailie slightly rearranges material to save the parts about Peter for last.
  3. Commentary on the Passion Story
    1. 18:1-11 — Betrayal and Arrest
      1. John is laying out the passion story structurally. That is, if we see the way the narrative furniture is set up, we begin to understand what it is about the passion story that is redemptive. For example:
      2. Judas shows up with Roman soldiers and temple police, two opposing forces. (In Luke, Pilate and Herod become friends.) One of the functions of the scapegoating mechanism is that it creates comradery among the scapegoaters. People who might otherwise be directing their contempt and anger at each other find an alternative on whom they can both turn their rancor and violence, and they are reconciled. So right from the beginning of this story you already have that process taking place, cooperation between these two historical enemies.
      3. v. 3 — They show up with lanterns and torches and weapons. In this Gospel, Jesus is the light of the world, and here come these little forces with their tools for illuminating and controlling the world, trying to arrest the revelation of God.
      4. v. 4 — Whom do you seek? The gospel opened with Jesus asking what do you want. They come to him now with a funny way of seeking him. He replies, “I am he,” the Greek version of what Yahweh said in the burning bush. “They stepped back and fell to the ground.” His moment of divine revelation comes just as he is surrounded by the accusing mob. God has chosen to reveal himself in the role of the scapegoat. (Joke: a drunk is fumbling around on his hands and knees under a light pole. Someone asks him what he’s doing. He’s looking for his keys, he says. Where’d you drop them. In the bushes over there. Then why aren’t you looking over there. Because there’s no light over there.) Why would God reveal himself as a scapegoat? Because it is in the scapegoating scenario that we turn the lights out. It’s the source of all human delusion. And if there’s going to be a revelation that begins to turn the lights back on, it has to be right there. Structurally, he’s standing exactly where the revelation can take place.
    2. 18:28-19:16 — The seven scene trial before Pilate (skipping over the Petrine passages), the centerpiece of John’s passion story.
      1. Setting: the scenes keep moving inside and outside the praetorium. It moves there because the Jews must appeal to the Romans for a death sentence; but they stay outside because of the Passover regulations regarding defilement. The irony is how they come ready to sacrifice the prophet, while remaining scrupulous about the religious rules and regulations. Watch the structure.
      2. NRS John 18:30 They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” In other words, “It goes without saying.” Whenever somebody says this, it indicates that the hostility is a mimetic phenomenon; it’s asocial phenomenon and not a juridical one.
      3. An aside back to: NRS John 18:19-21 Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” Jesus didn’t come to teach; he came to manifest himself to the world. In this gospel, the question is, “Who are you?” Not “What have you done?” or “What did you teach?”
      4. 18:33-38 — The Jews can’t make blasphemy stick with Pilate, so they talk about Jesus’ claims to kingship. This is what Pilate latches onto. Jesus finally assents but redefines kingship and kingdoms by defining his mission: (NRS John 18:37) Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” The Greek aletheia literally means to stop forgetting. What is it that we forget, that we misrecognize? If Jesus bears witness to the truth by being hung on a cross, what is it that we are forgetting? Our participation in, our dependence on, this kind of scenario.
      5. (NRS John 18:38a) Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” With this question of Pilate, the whole philosophical tradition declares its bankruptcy. Truth was the central point of his whole training and education. In our day, it is loudly declaring its bankruptcy. What is truth?
        1. Pilate thinks that the truth is something you think.
        2. Quote from Kierkegaard: “Truth is a power, but one can see that only in rare instances, because truth is suffering. And it must be defeated as long as it is true. When it has become victorious, others will join it. Why? Because it is truth? No. If it were for that reason, they would have joined it when it was suffering. Therefore, they do not join it because it has power. They join it after it has become a power because others have joined it.” Truth has to be defeated and cast out in order to be true. It is in being cast out that it reveals the truth. And as soon as we are attracted to that truth and join it and become part of a social movement in affirmation of it, it is no longer being cast out. It’s being celebrated, but it is no longer the truth it was when it was being cast out. What is this truth? The revelation of the process of casting out and how central that process is in the creation of conventional culture and of conventional psychological states of consciousness.
        3. René Girard’s insight into the woman caught in adultery. Following the crowd is the same process that brings them together to stone her, and then to also walk away. Supports Kierkegaard.
        4. The point that this is all leading to is that Peter discovered the truth when he heard the cock crow. It’s not a concept; it’s a revelation under the circumstances. He is caught in the act of acquiescing to the expulsion, or joining the side of the expellers. Waking up from that is the truth. It is a recognition of the participation in the reality of scapegoating. We need to formulate this somehow to pass it on. But in formulating it we also turn it into something else.
        5. Girard, Things Hidden, pp. 270-74: “The Logos of Love puts up no resistance; it always allows itself to be expelled by the Logos of violence.” This is the truth that’s revealed. That’s why Jesus can say, ‘I come to bear witness to the truth . . .as I’m standing right here.’ He’s not saying, ‘Oh, well, when I was back in Galilee and we were having those great crowds, I was witnessing to the truth.’ No, he saying to Pilate, ‘Right here, right now, Buddy, right in front of you with your finger pointed toward me, I’m revealing the truth.’ Pilate’s response, ‘How could that be the truth? What are you talking about? Say something philosophical, will you?’
      6. 18:38b-40 — Jesus and Barabbas
        1. Pilate’s trying to avoid the execution, offering the crowd a certified evil-doer, an insurrectionist or renegade. The crowd chooses Barabbas.
        2. The word “Barabbas,” Bar Abbas, means “Son of the Father.” Some early traditions had Barabbas’ first name as Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth is also Son of the Father. So you have Jesus Barabbas vs. Jesus Barabbas. Who do you want?
        3. The crowd wants the one who is Son of the Father in Nietzsche’s sense of the “eternal return.” All the sacrificial stuff keeps recycling back. All the rituals repeat, and all the myths repeat. Barabbas represents all of that. He’s a zealot whose commitment is to avenge the wrongs of the past by committing acts that are indistinguishable from them in the future. He thinks he is stepping into the future by replication. An endless cycle of sons of the father. This is the one who can fire the zeal of the crowd, convincing them that they are really going to change things. They don’t want the one who is outside of the cycle, the son of the Father who is the God of Love.
      7. 19:1-3 — The scourging of Jesus
        1. The crowd mocks him with, “Hail, King of the Jews.” They are saying something true but don’t realize it.
        2. Anthropologically, we have talked about the king being the scapegoat victim with an extended sentence [cf., Girard, Violence and the Sacred, pp. 104ff., and Things Hidden, pp. 51ff.; Bailie, Violence Unveiled , pp. 123ff.]. From the beginnings of human culture, the scapegoat figure is a sacred figure because the hovering threat of the imminent victimization endows the victim with a kind of numenosity that can be manipulated and turned into political or religious power. The victim whose sentence is not carried our immediately begins to accrue to himself social prestige, which he can manipulate in order to transfer the victimization to somebody else and stay in power as the holy one. The victim and the king are the same person. Here, right in the middle of the Passion story, you have a revelation of that.
      8. 19:4-11 — Ecce Homo
        1. Pilate comes back out with Jesus and says, Ecce homo, “Here is the man!” And everyone responds, “Crucify him..”
        2. Pilate begins to be shaken by this. He’s losing control. Suddenly, the crowd has the power, and Pilate is beginning to realize it.
        3. He brings Jesus inside again to talk to him: “Where do you come from?” No answer. Then, the following dialogue: Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
        4. The latter, the more guilty one, points to the Jewish authority. The role of religion in the Passion is crucial. By giving priority to the role of religion over politics in the Passion, the evangelist is recognizing the anthropological centrality of religion. The fact that it was the Jewish religion, as opposed to any other, is not without significance, because the Jews are the people of the revelation.
        5. “The Jews” in John is an inflammatory label to us. If we were to modify it for our sakes, one might use the label “the religionists” instead, which could stand for any such religion of the sacred, including Christian versions of it. On the other hand, it’s important that it was the Jews in the sense that they, and we, have the revelation. Those who have the revelation and continue in the sacrificial rituals are far more culpable than people who don’t. Since Christians have the clearer version yet, the revelation through the crucifixion itself, we are most culpable of all.
      9. 19:12-16a — The Final scene with Pilate
        1. Pilate is anxious to have Jesus released, but the Jews say, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.” Pilate realizes he’s in trouble and will need to give in the crowd.
        2. Verse 13 — sitting on the judgment seat. Most translations read the following: “When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha.” But the original Greek text could just as easily be read as, “Pilate went out and seated Jesus on the judgment seat.” There’s disagreement among the scholars. In the next verse, however, Pilate says to the crowd, “Here is your king!” It’s no less plausible that Jesus sat on the judgment seat than that Pilate called him a king. It seems the evangelist is structuring the story to show us that at the decisive moment — that is to say, at the moment of judgment — it is Jesus who is the judge, and it is the world — namely, the crowd and Pilate, who are being judged. Also at that moment, John tells us that it was noon on Preparation Day for the Passover. It is at this moment, across town at the Temple on another stone structure, the sacrifices began. The priest’s knife is falling. Jesus is sitting on another stone slab which, at the archeological and anthropological root of this thing, is the remnant of the same sacrificial altar. It’s the same sacrificial scenario in both places. They both represent the same architectural refinement on primitive sacrifice. Over at the Temple it’s beginning, and here at the Praetorium it’s beginning. The evangelist makes it ambiguous. Who sat on that judgment seat? Who really is the judge? Throughout this Gospel John makes it clear to us.
        3. Verse 15 — the final dialogue: “They cried out, ‘Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but the emperor.'” This is the other thing that must echo from the Passion story. When Pilate says, “What is truth?”, he shows that the philosophical tradition is dead. When the priests say, “We have no king but the emperor,” they show that there own determination to enforce Jewish orthodoxy has turned into its opposite. In the face of Jesus’ crucifixion, all existing systems for reinforcing and ordering the world, now produce the opposite results. The philosophical tradition becomes openly agnostic, bankrupt. And the religious system becomes openly unfaithful. That’s why he’s sitting on the judgment seat.
    3. The Crucifixion — 19:16-37
      1. First word from the cross in John (19:25-27): “Here is your mother…” It’s a touching scene, but also has a certain polemic value. It’s hardly a place for church politics, but it establishes the place of the Beloved Disciple for John’s community. James, Jesus’ brother, was the head of the Jerusalem community, and would naturally have been the one to care for their mother. But their mother goes to live with the Beloved Disciple.
      2. Second word: “I thirst.” Jesus’ thirst here is for the completion of drinking the cup that his Father has given him to drink.
      3. Third word: “It is accomplished.” And he breathes out his Spirit. Earlier he had said, “Unless I go, the Paraclete cannot come to you.” Breathing his Spirit out on the world sets something in motion. What is accomplished? He didn’t say, “As soon as I rise from the dead, it will be accomplished.” At that moment, it is accomplished. The compelling way to read this is to assume that what is revealed at that scene will change everything. This is the decisive revelatory moment in the history of the world.
      4. In every respect, it reveals the dynamic. People like James Frazer and, on a popular level, Joseph Campbell, saw about this story when they said, “It looks exactly like althea other myths where crowd kills the god and then becomes a worshiper.” It does have an almost breathtaking similarity — except for one glaring difference: it’s told from the perspective of the victim. It recognizes that the mob was in a state of delusion, and that the victim was innocent, and that the violence was fundamentally absurd.
      5. If the crucifixion represents the decisive revelation about the sacrificial or scapegoating nature of human culture, and if the misrecognition of that phenomenon is necessary in order for the human culture to continue to function, then the fact that it has now been revealed will begin to destroy its ability to provide its social benefits.
  4. Back to the Farewell Discourse
    1. Matthew 18:8-9: “If your hand or your foot causes you scandal, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you scandal, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into Gehenna.”
      1. “Gehenna,” often translated “hell,” was the garbage dump SW of Jerusalem, which had once been the valley of Ben Hinnom, designated by Jeremiah as the place of human sacrifice. The hell Jesus is talking about is the hell of human sacrifice.
      2. Avoid scandal. One of Girard’s great contributions is to rehabilitate this term scandal. “Scandal” in the modern mind generally conjures up some sort of sexual transgression, so it has been marginalized in many NT interpretations. It’s translated as something else. Girard has helped us to see that scandal is an extremely important word in the NT to understand what Jesus’ message is.
      3. Scandal is being caught up in the social melodrama and being compelled by it. The way human societies have solved these fixations in the past is by scapegoating. By venting their violence on the scapegoat, a new comradery is discovered and everything returns to order — that is, assuming that the sacrificial machinery is still functioning normally. If it’s not, then scandal produces an endless conflagration, an “eternal fire.”
      4. When Jesus says, “It is accomplished,” he means that sacrificial system is broken. In light of this, Jesus’ injunction against being scandalized becomes very important.
    2. The Farewell Discourse interprets the Passion before the Passion, from a very spiritual point of view.
      1. John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” ‘Make your home [abide] in me, and I will make my home in you.’ Making our home in Christ is the prerequisite for having his peace. Jesus is not saying that the world is going to be nice to you. On the contrary, he’s saying that they are going to persecute you. But he’s going to leave his peace with them, by making his home in them.
      2. John 15:6: “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”  If our experience of the Passion story, the Christian revelation, makes it impossible for us to be fully enveloped by conventional culture — if it shatters the envelope, leaving us outside of it, in it but not of it — then the question is, “Where will we make our home?”  In what reality do we ground ourselves?  In what do we live and move and have our being?  We tend to think that we’re autonomous, and that our creativity is synonymous with our autonomy.  Jesus tells us, “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”  How do we avoid the conflagration?  This where the anthropology and spirituality of the gospels come together.  The anthropology is that, if we are cut off from our cultural moorings from the revelation, and if we try to cut our own way in the world with our modern ideas of autonomy and creativity (actually, becoming laughably like everyone else in the world), then we become, as Jung said, the shuttlecock for every wind that blows.  Sooner or later it will blow up a great conflagration.  The spirituality of it is: if we make our home in Jesus and he in us, then it won’t happen.  You will be alive, you will be truly creative, and you will not get caught up in the scandal, the melodrama.
  5. Peter’s story: He gets caught up in the melodrama, and then, with the help of the Christian revelation, is able to pull out of it. The Resurrection is essential.
    1. John 18:10: “Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear.” Peter has become scandalized and responds in kind to the violence. We might be tempted to think that he is showing bravery in defending his teacher. But that’s not the viewpoint of the Gospels. In the middle of the violent mob, it’s not bravery, it’s simply drawing on the mimetic energy of the crowd. When he gets to the margins of the crowd at the high priest’s house, he’s not so brave.
    2. The denial — 18:15-18, 25-27
      1. John 15:6 puts things in a way so that you’d think you’d see the conflagration coming, but it doesn’t happen that way. It happens like it did to Peter: “The woman said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.'” How many times has this happened to us in one way or another?
      2. “Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.” With the others, he was warming himself socially. Even though the embers of this charcoal fire don’t seem like much, they are the embers out of which the conflagration will arise.
      3. 18:27: “Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.”  Peter is saved from the crowd.  The cock crowing announces the dawn of a new day.  We tend to think of the Holy Spirit as a dove.  What about the cock?  How does the Holy Spirit come to us?  As a dove when we are up to our armpits in the Jordan?  Or more often as the cock, when we realize, “I did it again.”  It’s repentance.  It pulls Peter out of this situation just as he’s drifting in.
  6. The Burial Scene — John 19:38-42
    1. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were what is known as crypto-Christians. They came out at night in secret. But the crucifixion flushes them out into the day. They openly express their discipleship.
    2. Peter and Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus are a footnote to John 15, where Jesus says, ‘You must now make your home in me, and I’ll make my home in you.’
  7. Reprise of the Prologue — Perhaps the best way to end the reading of the Passion is to go back to the Prologue.
    1. John 1:10: “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.” Anthropologically, we can see that the world, our human cultures, do come into being through him, the ultimate victim. Culture comes into being through the victim, yet it doesn’t know him as its victim.
    2. 1:11-12: “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…” Today, this notion of discipleship as being dependent on him is troublesome to us. The Gospels are very realistic. They say, ‘Everything depends not on whether or not you feel this is a nice story or Jesus was a wise person or anything like that. The real fruits of this revelation depend on an unshakable identity with Christ.’
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