Last Revised: January 17, 2021
4TH SUNDAY OF ADVENT
RCL: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
RoCa: 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-11, 16; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
1. As on Christ the King Sunday A, we can cite Girardian texts on kingship in Israel, such as James Williams, The Bible, Violence & the Sacred, Ch. 5, “Kings and Prophets.”
2. More generally on kingship from the Girardian perspective, The Girard Reader (p. ix) cites pp. 104-10 of Violence and the Sacred; ch. 3 of The Scapegoat; and pp. 51-57 of Things Hidden. See also the interview in the Reader, pp. 269-72. The gist of the Girardian material on primitive kingship is that the king is the sacrificial victim with an extended sentence. The sacrificial victim is given both a negative and positive valence (the original “ambivalence”): blamed for all that’s wrong in the community but also credited for the peace that ensues. That’s why the victim is eventually seen as bearing deific powers of both curses and blessings and is mythologized. The king is able to capitalize on the positive valence for a period of time, even presiding at the sacrificial cult. As long as the king can keep supplying other sacrificial victims, his extended sentence can remain extended. Tribal warfare began as kings leading their tribes to engage other tribes for the purpose of capturing sacrificial victims.
3. A fantastic anthropological source for primitive kingship (one which Gil Bailie makes frequent use of, e.g., on tape 1 of his series “The Famished Craving”) can be found in the chapter “Rulers and Paranoiacs” in Elias Canetti‘s Crowds and Power. See especially the part on “African Kings,” pp. 411-423. Here’s a tantalizing excerpt:
Among the Bambara the newly elected king traditionally determined the length of his own reign. ‘A strip of cotton was put around his neck and two men pulled the ends in opposite directions whilst he himself took out of a calabash as many stones as he could grasp in his hand. These indicated the number of years he would reign, on the expiration of which he would be strangled.’ (p. 418)
4. Another source often made use of by Gil Bailie is from H.G. Wells‘ The Outline of History, his portrayal of the French Revolution. The king eventually becomes the sacrificial victim even for the modern monarchy. Would we have democracy if not for the death of kings? (See Hamerton-Kelly‘s piece on kingship in Vol. 3 of Contagion.) But in our modern sacrificial crisis, regicide tends toward genocide. Here’s Wells’ description:
In the thirteen months before June 1794 there were 1,220 executions; in the following seven weeks there were 1,376. The invention of the guillotine was opportune to this mood. The queen was guillotined, and most of Robespierre’s antagonists were guillotined; atheists who argued that there was no Supreme Being were guillotined; Danton was guillotined because he thought there was too much guillotine; day by day, week by week, this infernal new machine chopped off heads and more heads and more. The reign of Robespierre lived, it seemed, on blood, and needed more and more, as an opium-taker needs more and more opium.
Reflections and Questions
1. Compare the strictly limited nature of the reign, as above in primitive kingship, with the notion of an “everlasting throne.” And then combine this with the fact that Jesus occupies the throne as the Victim. We have, then, the king of the Book of Revelation who is also the Lamb slain since the foundation of the world. John of Patmos looks expecting to see the Lion of Judah and instead beholds the Lamb.
2. It is interesting how the juxtaposition of this week’s texts might pull us in the direction of the Girardian perspective. There seems to be this movement: (1) the conventional institution of kingship in Israel, part of the victim-making structure (even when it is the king himself who becomes victim, like Saul); (2) the prophetic criticism of kingship in Israel, that kings should serve those who are victims; (3) that the king himself becomes the innocent victim who exposes the whole game. The Gospel lesson for today references the Davidic kingship in this first lesson, but Jesus will bring that kingship to its end (in the sense of fulfillment?).
3. The verses skipped over are interesting, especially this one: (2 Samuel 7:14) “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings.” It conveys the same sense of sonship as between Jesus and his father, except it is centered in violently controlled obedience. Quite a contrast!
Reflections and Questions
1. “according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages” (NIV, 16:25). In the Greek: kata apokalypsin mysteriou chronois aioniois sesigamenou. sesigamenou has the connotation of keeping silence, of not talking about something, of keeping something secret. The latter, however, has more of an intentional quality; one intends to keep secrets. Not talking about something can be unintentional, unconscious. (Girard says that the first and best definition of the unconscious was Jesus’ word from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”)
2. Mystery. Can we talk about it? How can we talk about it? What does it mean to talk about a revelation of the mystery? I think it worthwhile to repeat something form three weeks ago. The best paragraph I know on the revealing of the mystery is from Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled, a section entitled “Apocalypse” at the outset of his book, pp. 14-16:
The word “apocalypse” means “unveiling.” What, then, is veiled, the unveiling of which can have apocalyptic consequences? The answer is: violence. Veiled violence is violence whose religious or historical justifications still provide it with an aura of respectability and give it a moral and religious monopoly over any “unofficial” violence whose claim to “official” status it preempts. Unveiled violence is apocalyptic violence precisely because, once shorn of its religious and historical justifications, it cannot sufficiently distinguish itself from the counter-violence it opposes. Without benefit of religious and cultural privilege, violence simply does what unveiled violence always does: it incites more violence. In such situations, the scope of violence grows while the ability of its perpetrators to reclaim that religious and moral privilege diminishes. The reciprocities of violence and counter-violence threaten to spin completely out of control.
3. We need to be careful, then, I think, in stressing “mystery” too much. Such an emphasis on mystery can simply become another excuse, another strategy, for not talking about that which the cross reveals. It’s been long ages that human beings have not been able to talk about the violence at the heart of who we have become (but need not necessarily be). One of our strategies, even if unconscious in the Girardian sense, has been to mystify our violence behind shrouds of mystery. The cross finally unveils all that and begins to help us talk about it. The Gospel demystifies. At the center of our talk has been the language of liturgy and of scripture.
But with the work of the Paraclete I believe, from the top of my head to the tips of my toes, that Girard’s evangelical anthropology is the most incredible new tool for helping us to talk about it even more clearly. We have come to a point in the process of revelation such that Girard could write hundreds of lucid, revealing pages on Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World. And that is only a beginning, I think, of many great things to come in finding renewed ways to talk about that which we have kept secret for long ages.
1. James Alison, a video homily for Advent 4B; in 2020 Alison began a new website during the pandemic, “Praying Eucharistically,” which included weekly homilies.
2. Gil Bailie, “The Gospel of Luke” audio tape series, tape 2. This tape provides good soil for reflections on Luke’s Christmas story. These lectures are also archived online in small parts; this portion is “Part 3” and especially “Part 4.”
3. Andrew Marr, Abbot of St. Gregory’s Abbey (Three Rivers, MI) is a long-time reader and writer on Mimetic Theory and in his blog, “Imaginary Visions of True Peace,” made these Advent 4 reflections in 2017, “The Throne of David, Part 1.“
Reflections and Questions
1. Bailie’s general theme is on keeping the tradition while breaking new ground. Luke was creating these infancy stories to keep with the conventions of biographies of those times. He was also writing to a mostly Gentile audience. Yet he does not forsake the Jewish roots of Jesus’ story. The focus on the Davidic kingship in today’s lessons is a good example. Much modern feminism, for instance, would seem to want to let go of the notion of kingship altogether; its hierarchical and patriarchal structures are offensive, a skandalon. And Luke knows that Jesus will certainly not be a typical king in any fashion. Yet he insists on holding onto that promise. Why? Is it because we need to understand the nature of kingship before we can understand how Jesus transformed it and fulfilled it? The Girardian understanding of kingship helps deepen that understanding, I believe, thus preparing us for the understanding the birth of this king of kings at Christmas.
2. Brief Christmas reflections: Bailie’s theme of keeping faith and breaking ground also helps us to reflect on the incarnation, I think. When the break is too radical, he says, we generally end up with a sacrificial movement. Is that also true of God with the incarnation? God did not completely forsake or break with the form and substance of the Creation but instead came into it. From a Girardian perspective we might talk, for instance, of “The Goodness of Mimetic Desire” (pp. 62-65 in The Girard Reader). Despite the fall into bad/conflictual mimesis, human mimesis isn’t created inherently bad. God, through the incarnation, is not calling us to forsake desire altogether (as Buddhism does?) but simply to imitate the incarnation of divine desire. We are to imitate agape love in Jesus Christ.
3. Which also raises the issue of the historicity of the incarnation. Consider the long interview of Girard by Diacritics in To double business bound. Diacritics asks Girard why he must insist on the historicity of the founding event (pp. 208-215). We might ask: Doesn’t the historicity of the founding event also necessitate the incarnation? If the human fall into conflictual mimesis, and the scapegoating solution to it, are historical, then the only thing that can extricate us from this bad mimesis is the historical advent of a good mimesis. For Christians, isn’t this why we must insist on the historicity of the incarnation? On Jesus Christ as both fully human and fully divine?
4. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, sermon from December 22, 2002 (Woodside Village Church).