Last revised: August 7, 2012
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PROPER 5 (June 5-11) — YEAR A / Ordinary Time 10
RCL: Genesis 12:1-9; Romans 4:13-25; Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
RoCa: Hosea 6:3-6; Romans 4:18-25; Matthew 9:9-13
This week’s lessons feature a verse that fairly summarizes the Girardian evangelical anthropology: Jesus quoting Hosea 6:6 and saying, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'” (Matt. 9:13) Apparently, this quotation of Hosea 6:6 by Jesus is special Matthean material, because not only is it missing in the other two synoptic gospels, but Matthew has Jesus quote it twice, Matt. 12:7 in addition to 9:13. In both instances, Matthew inserts this quotation into stories shared by all three synoptics, the call of Levi and plucking grain on the sabbath. That it is also important to Girardians will be reflected below.
1. James G. Williams, The Bible, Violence, and the Sacred; his summary of the prophet Hosea’s message is found on pages 149-151; Hos. 6:6 is mentioned again in connection with Micah 6:7-8 on page 154.
2. Raymund Schwager, Must There Be Scapegoats?, pages 85, 88.
3. Raymund Schwager, Jesus in the Drama of Salvation, p. 180.
4. James Alison, Knowing Jesus, p. 38. Hosea 6:1-2 is cited in helping to explain what Alison calls “the intelligence of the victim” (for more on this phrase link to a page with a more complete explanation):
[The disciples] all bear witness to the fact that, unlike themselves, Jesus had what I have called ‘the intelligence of the victim’ from the beginning.There are certain obvious pieces of evidence for this, such as the way in which Jesus prophesies his own forthcoming death to the disciples — passages like this from Mark 9:31-32: ‘For he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to ask him.’ These make explicit that Jesus knew where he was going, and what was to happen. They bear witness to the fact that the intelligence of the victim was not simply a post-resurrection understanding, but one which Jesus had all along. Jesus’ understanding had probably been nourished by the texts of the Old Testament as well: it is probable that he based his understanding of the resurrection, and indeed his hope in it, on the text of Hosea 6:1-2 which was to be so important to the disciples after the resurrection: ‘Come let us return to the Lord, for he has torn that he may heal us; he has stricken, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.’
The texts bear witness to Jesus having had a profound and original new understanding of the sacred texts of Judaism before his execution. These texts accompanied his acting in ways that he knew would result in his being killed. The texts also bear witness to his teaching his disciples about this, and their not understanding it. This is terribly important, since it means that what I have called the ‘intelligence of the victim’ is not only a post-resurrection intelligence. It was a pre-resurrection intelligence in Jesus alone, not understood at all by the disciples, and, at one stage, actively impeded by Peter (see the famous ‘Get thee behind me, Satan’ passage).
What did happen at the resurrection was that precisely the intelligence of Scripture, and of the relationship between God and victim that Jesus had beforehand, came also to be held by the disciples, such that they could understand what they hadn’t been able to before.
5. See also the references below in connection with the quotation of Hos. 6:6 in Matt. 9:13.
6. Link to a list of biblical quotes on the theme of “mercy not sacrifice.”
7. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, sermon from August 3, 2003 (Woodside Village Church), 5th in a series of eleven sermons on the prophets.
Reflections and Questions
1. The images of Yahweh actively tearing down before building up, and striking before binding, are put in a different light several verses later when that tearing down is a metaphorical one that comes through the words of the prophet: “I have killed them by the words of my mouth.” Is this the sort of dying and rising with Christ that the Christian enjoys in baptism?
1. Gil Bailie, “Paul’s Letter to the Romans” audio tape series, tape #4.
2. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence. Abraham’s call brings up the doctrine of election, which is primarily dealt with on pages 129-139, on Romans 9-11.
3. The journal Dialog, Vol. 32, Fall 1993, is entitled “Paul and Luther: A Debate over Sacred Violence,” with Hamerton-Kelly’s book as the central item for debate. One of the key items of debate ends up being what Hamerton-Kelly says about the doctrine of election. René Girard (“A Girardian Review of Hamerton-Kelly on Paul,” Dialog 32:4 [Fall 1993], pp. 269-274) has a review, as well, and one of the only places where he disagrees a bit with Hamerton-Kelly is on the notion of election (see p. 273). For more on this discussion between Hamerton-Kelly and Girard, see the resources for Romans 9 in the page for Proper 13A.
4. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence, pp. 74ff. Hamerton-Kelly has a fascinating argument regarding a parallel to Romans 4, Galatians 3, and a classic text of sacrificial violence, Numbers 25, the story of Phineas, where God makes a “covenant of peace” with Phineas for murdering a Moabite apostate. Paul’s opponents connect the covenant to Abraham in Gen. 15:6 with the covenant to Phineas in Num. 25:12-13 through Psalm 106. Hamerton-Kelly argues that Paul disconnects that connection in light of Christ’s death “hanging in the sun before the Lord” (Num. 25:4).
5. Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith, pp. 143-157. McLaren (whose next book will have a significant Girardian component) suggests a theme for making a unified reading of Romans that I think works well — namely, Jews and Gentiles being able to live together in Christ, who is “the firstborn within a large family” (Rom. 8:29). See the citation on this book in Proper 4A for a more complete description of the theme and McLaren’s Seven Move outline for Romans. This passage comes within his Second Move: Announce a new way forward for all, Jew and Gentile: the way of faith (Rom. 3:21-4:25), of which he writes:
Paul now traces the role of faith back even farther in Jewish history. What’s more primal to Jewish identity than the Law of Moses? Circumcision, which began with Abraham. And what’s more primal than circumcision? God’s original call to Abraham. And to that core identity Paul now appeals. Abraham’s relationship with God didn’t depend on Law or circumcision, since neither Jewish distinctive had yet been given. All that was expected of Abraham was that he believe — or have faith in — God’s promise. So, Paul says, you may not be a Jew carrying the mark of circumcision, but you can still be a child of Abraham if you are marked by the same kind of faith Abraham had when he responded to God’s call. On this common road of faith, Jew and Gentile can walk together in the gospel of the kingdom of God. (p. 149)
6. Douglas Campbell, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. Nothing will ever be quite same in Pauline scholarship after Campbell’s dismantling of justification, showing Paul’s language of justification to be a secondary way of speaking for Paul when in debate with a version of Christianity that is conditional in its grace. And because we misread Romans 1-4, Protestantism has often lapsed into the conditional grace that Paul is trying to undo. Paul’s primary language of unconditional grace is a language of deliverance elaborated in Romans 5-8. This is now the definitive book that must be contended with regarding any crucial interpretations of Romans. See my “Customer Review” on the Amazon.com page.
7. N. T. Wright is another important resource to consult for Romans. See, first of all, his commentaries: The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 10; and his Paul for Everyone: Romans, Part 1 (Romans 1-8) and Part 2 (Romans 9-16). See also The Resurrection of the Son of God, ch. 5, Resurrection in Paul (Outside the Corinthian Correspondence),” sec. 7 on Romans; and Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision. We await his ‘big book’ on Paul in his Fortress Press series Christian Origins and the Question of God, which will surely include his response to Douglas Campbell.
Reflections and Questions
1. I have tended to gloss over this chapter in Romans — the latter filled with so many important passages. But N. T. Wright is helping me to see how crucial Romans 4 is to Paul’s central point: what is it that Jesus the Messiah fulfills that Israel before him has failed to fulfill? Being a blessing to all the nations, bringing “salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). The word “Greek” appears six times in Romans (Rom. 1:14, 16; 2:9f; 3:9; 10:12); the word “Gentiles” twenty times (Rom. 1:5, 13; 2:14, 24; 3:29; 9:24, 30; 11:11ff, 25; 15:9ff, 16, 18, 27; 16:4, 26). Faith in the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah is finally able to accomplish what Torah fails to do, namely, bring Jews and Gentiles together as children of Abraham. Romans 4 thus takes us back before the Torah to Abraham. In fact, going back to Abraham even takes us back before the covenant and its sign, circumcision. Gentiles can understand themselves in solidarity with the pre-covenant Abraham through faith in the Messiah, whose faith in going to the cross breaks down the barriers between Jew and Gentile and finally brings them together in fulfillment of the promise that Abraham would be “the father of many nations” (Gen. 17:6; quoted as centerpiece in Rom. 4:16-18).
2. Romans 4:15: “For the law brings wrath…” Not only has the Torah not been able to provide fulfillment of the promise, it has been an obstacle to it. The power of sin makes it an instrument of wrath. And here our reading of wrath in Romans again helps to make sense of this. (If you are new to this site, see “My Core Convictions,” Part II, where I argue that Paul is re-working the notion of the “wrath of God” [Rom. 1:18] thereafter into God ‘handing us over’ [Gen. 1:24, 26, 28] to simply “the wrath” [11 times beginning at Rom. 2:5], meaning our own human wrath against each other.) Sin compels human beings to use the Torah as a means to divide between peoples rather than unite. It becomes another tool for the Satanic casting out. That is why the cross is its undoing as it reveals how Torah became an obstacle to promise by tragically and ironically casting out the Messiah, who was fulfilling the promise by virtue of being cast out. Paul seems to understand this mechanism as it enslaves Torah to do its work. He has first hand knowledge as one who used it as a tool to persecuted others.
3. But has St. Paul undertood the mechanism enough to see that his replacement choice of “faith” can also be so used as a tool of the victimage mechanism? If what saves us is the Messiah’s faith (for more on the correct reading of pisteos Christou in Romans 3:22, see last week, Proper 4A) — which is a faith that includes insight into the victimage mechanism enough that he could let himself be done-in by it in order to reveal it — then we are saved “through faith for faith” (Rom. 1:17). But hasn’t the doctrine of “justification by faith” been hoodwinked by sin similar to the Torah? It has been made into an instrument to divide between peoples rather than unite. The most basic faith that saves us, namely, the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah going to the cross, has been sidestepped for our puny versions of faith as meaning certain things we believe. Unless I believe in the dispensational theory of premillennialism, advanced in 1830 by John Nelson Darby, for example, I won’t be taken up in the Rapture. The whole Left Behind series of books is based on such a division between peoples on the basis of faith-in-the-hands-of-sin. The victimage mechanism revealed in the cross, and theorized in mimetic theory, can work its enslavement on “faith” just as well as on “Torah.”
Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
1. James Alison, Faith Beyond Resentment, ch. 1, “The Man Blind from Birth and the Creator’s Subversion of Sin.” In a chapter that does a close reading of John 9, Alison twice uses Matt. 9:13 to sum-up what he is saying. First, on p. 20:
In this sense it seems to me that the key instruction of the New Testament with relation to moral discourse, and it is a doubly sacred instruction, for it is one of the very few places where Jesus quotes the Hebrew Scriptures with absolute approval — and he quotes it twice. The key instruction for those of us who are trying to make use of the religious word in some moral sense, and there is no moral theology that is not that, is:
But go and learn what it means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice.’ (Matt. 9:13; see also Matt. 12:7, both quoting Hos 6:6)
Please notice that this is now no longer an instruction just for the Pharisees, but is, so to speak, the program-guide for whoever tries to do moral theology. Being good can never do without the effort to learn, step by step, and in real circumstances of life, how to separate religious and moral words from an expelling mechanism, which demands human sacrifice, so as to make of them words of mercy which absolve, which loose, which allow creation to be brought to completion. And this means that there is no access to goodness which does not pass through our own discovery of our complicity in hypocrisy, for it is only as we identify with the “righteous just” of the story that we realize how “good” their procedure was, how careful, scrupulous, law-abiding, they were, and thus, how catastrophic our goodness can be, if we don’t learn step by step how to get out of solidarity with the mechanism of the construction of the unity of the group by the exclusion of whoever is considered to be evil. (p. 20)
And as a conclusion for the entire essay on page 26:
This is only a first attempt at carrying out a reading of John 9 in such a way as to allow us a sketch of an approach to moral theology that is somewhat removed from the moral discourse to which we are accustomed. I know very well that we are scarcely beginning. However, I’d like to underline this: what the Christian faith offers us in the moral sphere is not law, nor a way of shoring up the order or structure of the supposed goodness of this world, much less the demand that we sally forth on a crusade in favor of these things. It offers us something much more subtle. It offers us a mechanism for the subversion from within of all human goodness, including our own. This is the same thing as saying that the beginning of a Christian moral life is a stumbling into an awareness of our own complicity in hypocrisy, and a becoming aware of quite how violent that hypocrisy is. Starting from there we can begin to stretch out our hands to our brothers and sisters, neither more nor less hypocritical than ourselves, who are on the way to being expelled from the “synagogue” by an apparently united order, which has an excessive and militant certainty as to the evil of the other. Let us then go and learn what this means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice.’ (p. 26)
2. Andrew McKenna, “Uncanny Christianity,” p. 91:
It is essential to recognize the epistemic valence of forgiveness here, as confirmed by the words Jesus spoke from the cross: “Forgive them father for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). These words express not only the repudiation of revenge on the part of the victim of a veritable lynching, but also the rationale for that repudiation; for they enunciate the structuring principle of mob violence: they know not what they do in their mimetic participation in the lynching mechanism recorded and analyzed by the passion narratives (Girard 1986, 110-11). The utterance fairly broadcasts mimesis as the originating sin of a creature whose creator, on the other hand, desires mercy, not sacrifice (Mt 9:13, quoting Hos 6:6).Forgiveness, then, is not only an ethical or moral principle among many, but the foundation of peaceful human interaction for a species lacking instinctual brakes to endless violent reaction. It is the virtually infinite (seventy or seventy-seven times seven in Mt 18:22) antidote to ubiquitously mimetic reciprocation. It is not a moral virtue, because it doesn’t moralize at all. It is beyond good and evil as those terms designate various prescriptions and proscriptions, rules and codes of behavior, by which people judge themselves and especially one another. But the beyond it points to is not necessarily located in some mysterious hereafter. Jesus declared to his accuser Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world, by which he meant the rid of principalities and powers, armies and revolutions, orders and overthrowers bringing still more violent orders in their wake, in sum, the world organized by mimetic violence, scapegoating, and sacrificial expulsions that we read about everyday in the popular and scholarly press. He told people the Kingdom was among them and within them, by which he is understood (see Hamerton-Kelly 1994, 106-8) as meaning a world of human relations no longer structured by resentments and reprisals that his words and deeds effectively deconstruct.
3. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, sermon from June 9, 2002 (Woodside Village Church).