Last revised: January 13, 2013
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SEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY — YEAR B
RCL: Isaiah 43:18-25; 2 Corinthians 1:18-22; Mark 2:1-12
RoCa: Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24-25; 2 Corinthians 1:18-22; Mark 2:1-12
1. For a general Girardian approach to Second Isaiah, see James G. Williams, The Bible, Violence, & the Sacred, pp. 146, 157-162.
1. Tony Bartlett, the sixth study in a series on Second Isaiah (on 43:14-44:8). These studies are among the finest examples of how Mimetic Theory is a key to opening the revelation of Scripture.
Reflections and Questions
1. The new thing that God is doing, as constituted by forgiveness of sin, fits well with the Schwager piece on Mark 2:1-12 below.
2. Isaiah 43:18-25 can be added to the long list of prophetic texts speaking out against sacrificial rituals in favor of something else. The most succinct one which Jesus quotes (Matt. 9:13; 12:7) is Hosea 6:6: “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” In Isaiah 43 God’s expressed desire for mercy is specifically in the form of forgiveness.
2 Corinthians 1:18-22
1. James Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong, pp. 55, 106. In the first citation, Alison is laying groundwork for re-thinking Christology along the lines of mimetic theory, using ideas from Oughourlian’s The Puppet of Desire. He conceptualizes the hypostatic union under the metaphor of hypnosis: that God the Father ‘suggests’ the divine desire into Jesus of Nazareth. The Father and the Son are divine persons because they have the same divine desire of loving creation, though the Son’s personhood is incarnated into a fully human nature. The importance of this is that we, too, might begin to have the divine desire dwell within us so that we are not caught in a double bind that says, ‘Yes, you should imitate the divine desire in Jesus; but, no, you won’t ever be able to accomplish it.’ Hence, the citation of 2 Cor. 1:19. Alison writes,
Here however, I would like to suggest the richness of the anthropology for a different christological question: that of the human “person” of Jesus and a new account of what is implied in the “hypostatic union.” Oughourlian’s account of a holon-based interdividual psychology is able to find a test-case in the working of hypnosis (Un mime, pp 239-303). He is able to show how a holon A (hypnotizer) produces in a holon B (the person under hypnosis) a new “moi-du-désir” — self formed by desire. This is, of course, a short-lived “self,” which can remember the life of the previous “self,” but, when the “spell” is broken, the previous “self” has no access to the life of the self that was formed under hypnosis. The point of this is to indicate that the (relative) success of hypnosis in producing a “self” is precisely because the method follows the mimetic working of desire: the “self” is called into being by the suggestion of the “other” at the level of desire.This can be tied in exactly with the way in which Jesus was related to his Father. It becomes possible to see Jesus’ human self as being “suggested” (or called, or loved) into being by the Father, exactly through the normal human physical means. It is to just such an intelligence of who Jesus was that John gives witness in the way in which he portrays Jesus as being utterly dependent on the Other who called him into being (John 5:19ff), and yet utterly one with his Father. A completely non-rivalistic imitation is at work (“I do everything which I see my Father do”). There is no sense in which Jesus tries to forge his own identity over against that of his Father, there is no grasping in Jesus’ mimetically formed self (see Phil. 2:5-9). Thus the purely gratuitous self-giving of the Father is completely imitated in the life-story of the Son. This enables us to affirm the hypostatic union as being the “hypnotizing” into historical being of the person of the Son, and makes sense of the insistence of theology after the Third Council of Constantinople that Jesus is not a human “person” but a divine person in a human nature.
The consequence of this approach to the question of the hypostatic union is that it enables us to see Jesus as having a human desire, human will, human intelligence, and so on, so that it is not necessary to postulate anything humanly “special” about Jesus, in whose case all these are formed by a non-rivalistic mimesis, which is in principle a possibility for us. Thus it becomes possible to see Jesus not as a god, with the implications of a special sort of difference in his humanity, but as God, precisely as a fully human being. The reason why this is important is that the imputation to Jesus of something “special” in his humanity, something which we could never be, is to present Jesus as urging upon us a particular form of human imitation of the sort “imitate me/do not imitate me.” That is to say, Jesus would, for us, remain stuck within the double-bind of distorted mimetic desire, from which he would thus not be able to release us. However, part of the point of the doctrine of the Incarnation is exactly that it shows that here is a human we can imitate fully, have our relationality completely transformed in his following, such that we too are able to become children of the Father in a dependent, but not in a limited way. It is not true that, “yes you can become children, but no, not in the way that I am the Son.” Christology undergirded by an anthropology of pacific mimesis is able to yield the sense in which humans are called out of the double bind. In Christ there is no “yes” and “no.” Only “yes” (2 Cor. 1:19). (pp. 54-55)
1. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, The Gospel and the Sacred, p. 78:
The Authority of the Son of Man on
Earth and the Nature of Faith (2:1-12)
Jesus “goes into” Capernaum again and into the house, presumably, of Simon and Andrew. The mob we met outside that house in the previous stay returns, and a question about authority comes up in connection with a healing miracle. The miracle is quickly eclipsed by the sayings that accompany it. Jesus forgives the patient’s sins rather than merely healing his infirmity, and the scribes object to this usurpation of the divine authority. Jesus insists that his authority as Son of Man extends to the forgiveness of sins on earth. The eschatological judgment is present and faith in Jesus (2:5) is the criterion of acquittal. We might note again that the judgment is not inflicted by God, but is rather self-inflicted by means of the free response one makes to Jesus; no divine vengeance is implied in the notion of judgment. The authority of Jesus is the authority of the eschatological judge. His status as outsider symbolizes the divine transcendence.The role of the mob highlights the element of faith. They make it impossible for the suppliants to approach Jesus in the normal way. Nevertheless, the suppliants are resourceful and find a way past (over) the mob, which Jesus remarks as their faith. Faith is their determination not to let the mob get between them and Jesus!
The reaction of the mob (existasthai, 2:12) foreshadows the situation in 3:21, where it is said to be “out of its mind” (exesta). The miracles of Jesus cause the kind of enthusiasm that has to be controlled either by the sacrificial solution or by some other means. In 3:30-35, we shall see how Jesus transforms the mob into a circle of disciples. In the meantime, we see the misgivings of the established powers about the threat to the sacrificial order posed by a human being who forgives sins and heals the lame. If the sacrificial monopoly on forgiveness is lost, then so is the institutional power of guilt, and if human beings ever discover that they can mediate guilt and forgiveness without reference to the established sacrificial channels, then the order of the GMSM is deprived of its psychological power.
2. Raymund Schwager, Jesus in the Drama of Salvation. In laying out the story of Jesus’ life with von Balthasar’s idea of dramatic theology, Schwager asks what it was about Jesus’ ministry that brought resistance and finally got him killed. What was new and different? His answer is basically that Jesus portrayed the coming of God’s kingdom as God turning toward his enemies. God steps across the sacred boundary toward sinners. The following has become an insight immensely important to me: “In his basileia message, salvation and penance seem to have exchanged places.” God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ is so unconditional that it comes before repentance. In fact, as Schwager notes with great understatement, they “seem to have exchanged places.” In other words, forgiveness now becomes the condition for repentance, rather than the other way around. It is only through the grace of forgiveness in Christ that we begin to have our eyes and ears opened to the full depth of our sin. One cannot repent of the sins to which we have been previously blind and deaf.
This fits Mark 2:1-12 very well. Jesus asks no questions about penance; he simply forgives the man’s sins. Isn’t that what really irks the authorities? They are used to controlling the penance part, promising forgiveness from God if they perform the sacred rites. The institutionalized sacrifice is the sin to which we so typically remain blind and deaf. Jesus begins here to challenge it. But he will have to go to the cross and be raised as forgiveness before this sin is fully revealed.
But this also is to get ahead of ourselves in the drama of salvation. We are only in the first act, according to Schwager. Link to an excerpt of “God’s Turning toward His Enemies.”
Reflections and Questions
1. In 2000, COV&R member and contributor Britt Johnston (see his homepage for Girardian materials for ministry) offered the following:
An interesting insight emerged in our Bible study on this: a close reading suggests that the “Son of Man” image applies not only to Jesus but also to the paralytic. As the “victim” of the moral stigma of illness, he is the innocent victim who unveils the evil of the sacrificial system. He descends “from heaven” in that he comes down through the roof (as the “one like a Son of Man” in Daniel 7); and he is called “My Son” by Jesus. This is the first reference to the “Son of Man” in the gospel. This adds depth to the statement that the son of man “has power to forgive sins on earth.” Both Jesus as the “son of man” and the paralytic who has such faith as the “son of man” by revealing the “Sin of the World” begin the process of taking away that sin. I don’t know if further analysis will validate this idea, but it seems like a fresh heuristic insight.
2. My 2003 sermon series on healing (see Epiphany 4B, Epiphany 5B, Epiphany 6B) concludes by entertaining violence as humankind’s oldest and number one illness in need of healing. Ultimately, Jesus came to bring us healing of even this ancient, persisting illness. The thing that frightens us the most is escalating vengeance that would finally kill us all. We averted such an ending with the Mutually Assured Destruction of the nuclear Cold War. Will we be so lucky to avert it with Mr. Bush’s “endless war” against terrorism?
Girard’s mimetic theory postulates that this is what humankind has feared since the foundations of our human cultures, a fear so gripping that we became possessed by the Satanic demons of sacrifice, of the majority in a community seeking to cure itself on the basis of sacrificing the minority.
A poignant Girardian example is the Greek root for our word for drug: pharmaceutical. Pharmakon can be translated as “drug,” but also as both “remedy” and “poison” — since that’s what a drug is: a remedy which can also be poison if not taken at the right dosage for right ailment. The enlightening aspect of the Greek word is that a related word, pharmakos, could today be translated as “scapegoat.” For the pharmakos was a person who was ritually expelled or killed in order to bring peace to their polis (city-state). In other words, the pharmakos was that most important drug to ward off the number one threat to human community, the violence of run-away vengeance. Just the right dosage of sacred violence can help ward off profane violence and keep an ordered society.
Jesus in our Gospel Lesson presents us with the true cure to the run-away violence of vengeance: forgiveness. The Pharisees want to continue to sacrificially control forgiveness within the existing framework of sacred violence. Jesus will continue to challenge this to the point of letting himself be made the pharmakos, the scapegoat, the Lamb of God. But the power of this forgiveness is so unconditional that not even our powers of death can keep it suppressed. Our Risen Lord returns as forgiveness, offering us the ultimate healing of our disease of violence. All subsequent healing, which is true healing, takes place within the compassion and mercy of this new framework of self-sacrificial forgiveness.
And the actual key to this sermon involves the question Jesus poses between the relative ease of curing a paralytic or forgiving his sins. In the context of considering vengeance as the oldest, most persistently deadly plague on humankind, this question isn’t as easy as it might seem. We have come upon the cure for many physical ailments. Have we yet made use of the cure of forgiveness in healing our violence? Link to the sermon “Healing, Part IV: ‘By His Bruises We Are Healed.'”
In 2012 our congregation also set the theme of healing for the season, resulting in an updated version of this sermon titled “Forgiveness as Healing.”