Last revised: August 8, 2017
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PROPER 6 (June 12-18) — YEAR A / Ordinary Time 11
RCL: Gen. 18:1-15 (21:1-7); Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8 (9-23)
RoCa: Exodus 19:2-6; Romans 5:6-11; Matthew 9:35-10:8
Genesis 18:1-15 (21:1-7)
1. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, sermon from June 16, 2002 (Woodside Village Church).
1. Raymund Schwager, Jesus in the Drama of Salvation; a section related to the theme of the text: “The Election of Israel,” pp. 125-126. Reciting an overview of Israel’s history of hardship and oppression, Schwager concludes,
Finally, the faith of Israel also withstood the destruction of the second Temple in the year 70 C.E. and the subsequent exile of nearly two thousand years without loss of identity. Israel thus stands as a unique phenomenon in world history.
From which he concludes that such a history speaks strongly of divine intervention, or against the “‘dogmatic’ thesis that it is only people who are actors in history.”
1. James Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong; the entire section “The Pauline Understanding of Desire,” pp. 147-156, is a good one for this portion of Romans over the next several weeks; Romans 5:1 is cited on p. 151 within a great summary paragraph:
We can therefore talk about Paul’s understanding of the human subject in terms of triangular desire, whether a beneficent or a maleficent triangle. This can be seen in three steps: Initially the subject lived in a relationship of pacific imitation of (obedience towards) the model (God) and was able to love Eve and creation (the object designated by the model) in a non-rivalistic fashion. This constituted the first Adam. Then, when free desire distorted itself to envy, the model became a rival, and its will (the prohibition) an obstacle, the object became conflictual (nakedness, work, strife), and the subject was constituted by the sinful other. Now, with the coming of Christ, and by producing an imitation of Christ, the Holy Spirit forms a new “I” that is at peace with God (Rm 5:1).
2. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence; pp. 171-173 are the pages that deal the most with the themes of this passage, explicating the triad of faith, hope, and love.
3. Gil Bailie, “Paul’s Letter to the Romans” audio tape series, tape #4.
4. James Alison, ch. 3 of On Being Liked, entitled “Re-imagining Forgiveness: Victory as Reconciliation”; both this lesson and today’s gospel lesson (see below) are key citations in developing the theme of forgiveness as a response to this world’s violence. Forgiveness cannot begin as an experience in which to dwell until the person has experienced the breaking of heart that goes with recognizing one’s own need for forgiveness. Genuine forgiveness on another cannot happen without the ever-present experience of being in need of God’s forgiveness. Before quoting Rom. 5:7-8 as a summary of his point, Alison says:
What this looks like in the examples I have given, is coming to see oneself as part of the unrepentant hard-hearted block that is in need of forgiveness, and starting to imagine oneself as in the process of being forgiven, which means re-imagining how that process of forgiveness reached us first, re-imagining it as something done “for us” and coming to meet us, and as it meets us, enabling us to be turned into imitators of it, so that we may be the same to others just like ourselves.
Such an experience of forgiveness must always be rooted in the cross and resurrection, and so Alison continues to develop his point as follows:
So, let me now try to have a first go at telling the story of Christ in such a way as to give us an understanding of salvation which is purely gratuitous, without any element of retribution, and in which forgiveness is a divinely-initiated process lived out for us in our midst with a view to making us participants in something bigger than we are. I’m not going to try to tell the whole story, but just the central part, the crucifixion and resurrection, since it is they which enable us to advance in this conundrum. I take it that the resurrection is the making available to us of the crucifixion as the forgiveness of sins. In other words, it is a reaching into the hardest part of our hard-heartedness, where our involvement with death is most complete, in our tendency to hold on to life at the expense of victims, and think we are just to do so. By giving himself to that mechanism of ours, and there appears to be no human culture or society that we know of that is not dependent on it in some way, Jesus was allowing himself to lose to it. Now please note this. That what we have been taught so often to regard as a victory looked in fact for all the world like a defeat. It looked not as though Jesus conquered sin and death, but as though death, our human mechanism by which we are involved in death, conquered him.
5. Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith, pp. 143-157. McLaren 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 Third Move: Unite all in a common story, with four illustrations: Adam, baptism, slavery, and remarriage (Rom. 5:1-7:6), of which he writes:
At the end of the second move and the beginning of the third, Paul does something beautiful as well as tactical. He stops talking directly about Jew and Gentile entirely for a while. Instead, words like “us,” “we,” and “our” provide the powerful unifying motif in this whole section. Jews and Gentiles, insiders and outsiders have been left behind; the closest we get to recalling the problem between Jew and Gentile comes in the word “reconciliation” (5:11). (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 for those who take seriously Campbell’s dismantling of justification, and his arguing that Paul’s language of justification was 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, according to Campbell, 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, in my opinion, that must be contended with regarding any crucial interpretations of Romans. See my “Customer Review” on the Amazon.com page. The most controversial thesis involves his contention that Paul used the Roman rhetorical convention of Diatribe, meaning that it contains Paul voicing his opponent’s views within the text of Romans which we thus need to sort from Paul’s own views. In short, for twenty centuries after Paul delivered this letter to the Roman church, training the carrier to read it properly in two voices, subsequent generations have read two opposing views in the text all as Paul’s view only. I find this thesis compelling and vitally important; here is my own explanation and plotting of the opposing views in a translation of Romans 1:1-4:3.
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. His ‘big book’ on Paul in his Fortress Press series “Christian Origins and the Question of God,” was published in 2013, Paul and the Faithfulness of God; the most sustained section on Romans 5-8 are pages 1007-1026. Wright’s more recent book on theology of the cross, The Day the Revolution Began, devotes more space to Romans than any other book of the New Testament, chapters 12-13; see also my review of this book, “The Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector, N.T. Wright’s Latest Book, and the Idolatry of Anti-Idolatry.”
Reflections and Questions
1. “boast in our sufferings” (v. 3) is a strange phrase — almost an oxymoron to the ears of the modern “First World” person. Yet, if Alison is correct in his interpretation of forgiveness, the cross and resurrection are a victory that looks to this world like a defeat. That is why we boast in a victory that involves suffering at the hands of this world’s violence, a victory which not only reveals the violence as violence, but one which brings true reconciliation through the vulnerability of forgiving even those who would harm us. As quoted below in connection with Matt. 10:16, a verse that goes well with this idea of boasting in our sufferings, Alison says:
…this is what acting out forgiveness in the world looks like: it looks like knowing that you are dealing with dangerous people, who are more than likely to be deeply destabilized by your innocence and because of that to seek to lynch you.
And perhaps this is the experience which moves us to stand in solidarity with the “Third World” people who know suffering as a daily way of life. Sharing their suffering can begin to turn it from a burden to the promise of a victory won at the cross — which will someday look like the victory it is, when all the white-robed martyrs who have endured the ordeal will stand washed in the blood of the Lamb.
2. V. 8: “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Along with the next two verses (5:9-10), St. Paul rings out the theme that distinguishes Jesus’ teaching above all others, namely, the theme of loving our enemies:
Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath [of God]. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:9-10)
Romans 12-13 develop this theme in an ethical direction toward our neighbors. Here in Romans 5:8-10, Paul does something that Jesus does not do, explicitly teach that the foundation of our loving enemies is God’s love for us while we were still enemies. (Unless one takes Matthew 5:48 — “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” — as Jesus grounding his ethics in theology. See more on this in “My Core Convictions,” Part II.)
3. V. 1: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” We see the classic Protestant doctrinal phrase, “justified by peace,” coupled with “peace. ” Timely in 2005 is an article in The Christian Century (June 14, 2005 issue), by Douglas Harink, “The New Meaning of ‘Justification,'” a review of recent books by Tuomo Mannermaa, Veli-Matti Karkkainen, Mark Mattes, and Mark Husbands & Daniel Treijer (eds.). (You can access this article online if you have a subscription.) The former two are Finnish scholars who are trying to emphasize renewed aspects of “faith” resonant with the views expressed on this site; the latter two defend more traditional Protestant views. In connection with this passage, for example, I would emphasize that the peace wrought through Christ’s faith for our faith is a reconciliation that goes beyond God and the individual to embrace the community of faith. It is a peace which St. Paul is primarily concerned with in Romans, namely, the breaking down of dividing walls between peoples, so that the righteousness of God is revealed as a power to bring salvation to all peoples. This is the righteousness reckoned to Abraham as the “father of many nations.” In Jesus Christ this righteousness of God is fulfilled in the power to unite all peoples.
Matthew 9:35-10:8 (9-23)
Crowds are mimetically conceived social entities. But crowds are singular in that a single spirit animates them. “Crowds” is a collective entity. Crowds is both plural and singular at the same time. The plurality of the crowds is proportionate to it’s rivalries, its singularity resides hidden in the spirit of the crowd which non-consciously searches for a scapegoat. We have mentioned that reconciliation can be boiled down to two behaviors, violence and love. Crowds, peoples, groups utilize the Generative Mimetic Scapegoating Mechanism (Bob Hamerton-Kelly) to maintain itself in a relative state of stability. The mythologizing of the victim is but the first step in violence bringing peace. But Jesus brings a “peace, unlike that which the world gives.”
Jesus’ mission and that of his followers is specifically to bring healing, peace, wholeness, this is true Shalom. Of course we are aware that the history of Christianity has brought more than this. Sadly, we have mingled violence and love. Sometimes we use the one, sometimes the other, but Christianity has not been wholly and entirely devoted to love for a long, long time.
2. James Alison, Raising Abel, has an excellent section near the end, pp. 187-188, which concludes in reflections on a “shepherd’s heart.” Here is that several paragraphs:
***** Excerpt from Alison’s Raising Abel, pp. 187-188 *****
I’m trying to sketch out something much more interesting: in the measure that we learn unconcern about our reputation, in that measure the Father can produce in us the same love which he has for his Son, and the same love which he and his Son have for the human race. Here is where we have to make an imaginative effort, or at least I do. That love is in no way marked by any desire for vindication, for restoring besmirched reputations, for turning the tables of this world, and all that might seem to us to be just and proper, given the horror of the violence of our world. That love loves all that! It loves the persecutors, the scandalized, it loves the depressives and the traitors and the finger pointers. That love doesn’t seek a fulminating revelation of what has really been going on as a final vengeance for all the violence, even though we may fear that it will be so. That love is utterly removed from being party to any final settling of accounts. That love, the love which was the inner dynamic of the coming of the Son to the world, of Jesus’ historical living out, seeks desperately and insatiably that good and evil may participate in a wedding banquet.
This means that it is the mind fixed on the things that are above which allows the heart to be re-formed in the image of the Father’s love, forgiving the traitors, the executioners, the persecutors, the weak, those gone astray, not on account of some ethical demand, or so as to obey some commandment, but quite simply because they are loved, they are delighted in. When Luke has Jesus on the Cross say: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34), he was not only depicting a Jesus who was effectively revealing the mechanism of death, which includes the blindness of its participants as to what they are doing, nor was it an ethical imperative that Jesus should forgive them so that he might go to his Father ‘clean’; rather it was just that, in truth, and without any remorse or sadomasochism, Jesus loved his slayers.
This means that when we are able to stand loose from our reputation, and because of that, from our need to insist on a day of reckoning, the eschatological imagination, the mind fixed on the things that are above, begins to give us the capacity to love human beings without any sort of discrimination, in imitation of that love, quite without rivalry, which the Father has for us. Another way of saying this is to say that there begins to be formed within us something of a shepherd’s heart which is deeply moved by humans and human waywardness. Please notice that “heart of a shepherd” means being able to look at wolves in their sheepliness. It is not a question of us fearing that there are many people dressed as sheep who are, in fact, wolves, but, on the contrary, of being able creatively to imagine wolves as, in some, more or less well-hidden part of their lives, in fact, sheep, and to love them as such. Various times in the Gospel the word splangchnidzomai crops up, which we usually translate as “moved with compassion.” Jesus was moved with compassion by this or that person or situation, or that the multitudes should be like sheep having no shepherd (Matt. 9:36). However the word is rather strong, and means a deep commotion of the entrails, a visceral commotion. This is what is so hard to imagine: as we become unhooked from our partisan loves, our searches, our clinging to reputation, with these formed in reaction to this situation or that, there begins to be formed in us that absolutely gratuitous visceral commotion, born outside all reaction, which the ancients called agape and which is nothing other than the inexplicable love which God has for us in our violence and our scandals. We begin to be able not only to know ourselves loved as human beings, but to be able to love other humans, to love the human race and condition.
It seems to me that here we have something of the reason that the Church has always conceived the saints in glory as in some way helping us by their intercession and their miracles: you could not be a saint and not have an inexplicable visceral commotion towards humanity, in imitation of the self-giving visceral commotion of Jesus, who, let us remember: “…for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, thought nothing of the shame, and is seated at God’s right hand” (Hebrews 12:2). The joy in question was not merely the promise of an eschatological vindication, nor a fixation on what was to be Jesus’ own fruition when all the trials were over, but it was the possibility of delighting forever in a huge celebration along with a huge multitude of us human beings, people who are good, bad, creative, depressive, but humans, and for that reason, loved. Something of that appears to have been understood by that most English of martyrs, St Thomas More, who, as a former Chancellor of the Realm, understood very well his complicity in the order of this world, when he expressed the desire, as the prospect of the block loomed closer, that he and his executioner should “be jocund together at the heavenly banquet.” Not merely the indispensable forgiving of his persecutor, but an inexplicable delight in his sister humanity.
***** End Alison Excerpt *****
3. James Alison, ch. 3 of On Being Liked, entitled “Re-imagining Forgiveness: Victory as Reconciliation”; both this lesson and today’s epistle lesson (see above) are key citations in developing the theme of forgiveness as a response to this world’s violence. After describing the cross and resurrection as a victory that looks like a defeat to the world, he cites Matt. 10:16 within this paragraph:
If this model is true then consider the following: As a human, Jesus was allowing himself to become like us. In fact, the allowing himself to become like us was not a reactive thing, but a creative one: he decided to become like us, which involved not merely physically losing his life so that we might lose our fear of death, but losing his human identity over time, in forgiveness, so that we might be given his identity, and he ours. I can think of no better way of acting this out than inventing a mime in which you give your body to people and tell them to repeat this over time. Nor can I think of a better way of making sense of John’s talk of Jesus having to go so that we might receive the Holy Spirit (John 14:28). This is God agreeing to share his human identity with us over time. If you want another example of this, at one remove from Our Lord’s own acting out then consider his instruction to his disciples,
Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matt. 10:16)
Rather than this being an instruction about prudence, as it is usually made out to be, I suggest that this is what acting out forgiveness in the world looks like: it looks like knowing that you are dealing with dangerous people, who are more than likely to be deeply destabilized by your innocence and because of that to seek to lynch you. You forgive them by living with them with the twin attitudes of the wisdom of the serpent, knowing very exactly how to slither away to avoid being trampled on when danger is around, but the innocence of doves, who do not think ill of those whom they are seeking to forgive, nor are in any sort of rivalry with, but are able to give themselves “sacrificially” as it were to the addicts, having the power to make of it the best show they can.
I think that this means what we in fact all instinctively know, that the spreading of the Gospel and the creative living out of the forgiveness of sins, by those for whom death is no longer a form of compulsion to be embraced or avoided, are the same thing.
4. Jim Grote and Jim McGeeney use Matt. 10:16 in the title of their excellent book, using mimetic theory for business ethics: Clever as Serpents: Business Ethics and Office Politics.
5. V. 10:7: “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.'” Recall that Matthew uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven,” instead of Mark’s “kingdom of God” — and a key to understanding this “kingdom of heaven” comes in the next chapter: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matt. 11:12). See the page for Advent 3A and a page with a complete list of Matthew’s “kingdom of heaven.”
In 2005, I used this verse to talk about what I feel is one of N. T. Wright‘s most important contributions to the contemporary Christian scene, i.e., the theme a Jewish concept of resurrection vs. the common Platonism behind many Christian’s view of heaven. It is why he ended up writing 800 pages on The Resurrection of the Son of God. Being also a pastor and a preacher, he published a summary of the big book in 2008, Surprised by Hope, that uses a phrase I used for my 2005 sermon, “Life after Life after Death.”
6. Raymund Schwager, Must There Be Scapegoats?, p. 149, 156. He writes, for example:
At the end of time, conflicts among human beings will become so severe that even the most intimate family relationships will be incapable of healing the rifts, or even of covering them up. To be sure, deadly persecutions within families are not mentioned in general but only in connection with the gospel. But this could very well become the occasion for special enmities, precisely because it uncovers the hidden truth among family members as well as among others. (p. 149)
7. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship (vol. 4 of Bonhoeffer’s Works). Bonhoeffer elaborates discipleship primarily through an exposition of the first two addresses of Jesus in Matthew — Matthew 5-7 and 10. The chapter (Ch. 7) on Matthew 10 is titled “The Messengers,” pages 183-98. Bonhoeffer actually begins his exposition of Matthew 10 in the same place this lection begins, 9:35-38. Jesus sends out messengers in response to his compassion on the crowds of sheep without a shepherd.
8. Brian McLaren, We Make the Road By Walking, ch. 37, “The Uprising of Partnership,” cites this passage as a background text to the primary text of Acts 16:11-40, the story of Paul and Silas being jailed in Philippi for freeing a slave girl, and then liberating their jailer, too. He concludes:
Paul wasn’t in any rush. He decided to stop and spend some time here at Lydia’s house, where the rest of us have been waiting. We quickly gathered the newly forming ecclesia. Paul and Silas shared the story you just heard. Everyone is brimming with excitement, overflowing with joy. We are partners in an earthquake of liberation! As we move forward together in this partnership in mission for peace and freedom, injustice at every level of society will be confronted, and people at every level of society will be set free! (p. 190)
Reflections and Questions
1. V. 10:21: “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death…” This anticipates next week’s verses (see also Proper 7A):
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. (Matt. 10:34-36)
Gabriel Andrade in 2005 published a paper to Anthropoetics, titled “The Transformation of Kinship in the New Testament,” where we are reminded that mimetic theory helps us understand that the Gospel throws all cultural institutions into question:
In the New Testament, kinship no longer enjoys the same prominence [as the Old Testament], for a vast number of passages reacting against it come up. Yet, the very first passages of the New Testament (Matthew 1) are a complex genealogy of Jesus. How are we to account for such ambivalence? Part of the answer may be provided by mimetic theory. Kinship is one of the most important institutions of Culture. If Girard is right, all cultural institutions have their origin in sacrifice. Thus, kinship is, like religion, language and the market, founded upon an originary murder, whose dynamics are kept hidden. Inasmuch as the gospels unveil this murder, cultural institutions no longer work as they used to. Once the truth about the origin of the world is found out, kinship relations are no longer sustainable.
Jesus has come to bring the sword and not peace. His message is profoundly apocalyptical, for in a world where once the truth is known, sacrifice no longer works, and the cultural institutions it supports come trembling down. Perhaps one of Jesus’ most disturbing words are to be found in what is known as the “Little Apocalypse” in Mark 13. There, he announces the terrible violence that the world will bear. One of the most eerie announcements is: “And brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents, and have them put to death” (Mark 13: 12 [par. Matt. 10:21]).
Jesus shows that family, like all cultural institutions, must be reconstituted in light of the Gospel of God’s Culture. In several places, he states that his family are those who do the will of God.
2. The two references to “sheep” in this passage could hardly be more different. The first one, in the context of Jesus’ having compassion on the crowd, laments their being sheep without a Good Shepherd (9:36). Presuming Jesus as the Good Shepherd, however, it is only a few verses later when the Good Shepherd sends his sheep out amongst the wolves (10:16). How does one reconcile these two uses of the metaphor “sheep”? I think that the above passage from Alison goes a long way in trying to make sense of it, considering, first of all, that most of us are just wolves in sheep’s clothing anyway. Jesus doesn’t fall for it. He knows us as wolves, and yet is able to see our sheepliness anyway. Link to a sermon entitled “Sheep in Wolves’ Clothing.”
2. “Boast in our sufferings” from Rom. 5:3 goes together with the latter part of the Gospel lesson, i.e., Jesus’ warnings about being persecuted for acting and speaking in his name. Link to a sermon that ties these themes together with the insights from James Alison’s paper on forgiveness, entitled “A Father’s Love and Child’s Play.”