Last revised: November 9, 2018
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PROPER 25 (October 23-29) — YEAR B / Ordinary Time 30
RCL: Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52
RoCa: Jeremiah 31:7-9; Hebrews 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52
1. James G. Williams, The Bible, Violence & the Sacred, p. 155; Williams’ comments on the prophet Jeremiah are on pages 144-145 and 154-156.
2. More generally on the prophet Jeremiah, see Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled, pp. 177-184.
1. In Violence Renounced, there are two articles with a Girardian perspective on Hebrews: “Sacrificial Language in Hebrews: Reappraising René Girard,” by Michael Hardin, pp. 103-119; and “‘A Better Sacrifice’ or ‘Better than Sacrifice’? Response to Michael Hardin’s ‘Sacrificial Language in Hebrews,'” by Loren L. Johns, pp. 120-131.
2. S. Mark Heim, Saved from Sacrifice, pp. 156-160, a section entitled “Sacrifice to End Sacrifice.”
3. See a more complete bibliography on Hebrews at Proper 23B.
1. For a somewhat related theme of curing blindness, the version in John 9, see James Alison‘s “The Man Blind from Birth and the Subversion of Sin: Some Questions about Fundamental Morals,” Contagion, Vol. 4 (Spring 1997), pp. 26-46. He makes a similar exposition of John 9 in The Joy of Being Wrong, pp. 119-125. Link here to this section in its entirety, “The Johannine Witness” to “The Joy of Being Wrong.”
2. 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 reflections on this passage in 2015, “The Blind Man Who Could See.”
3. Sermons/blogs from a Girardian perspective by members and friends of Theology & Peace: Suella Gerber, a sermon in 2018 on both healings of blind men (this one and Mark 8:22-26), “Healing as Salvation“; Tom Truby, a sermon in 2018, “Blind Bartimaeus and the Sons of Thunder Meet Themselves in What They Ask For.”
Reflections and Questions
1. Like the John 9 text, this is no ordinary healing of a blind man. Biblical scholars typically recognize that this portion of Mark’s gospel, 8:22-10:52, begins and ends with the healing of blind men. In between, Jesus tries to get his disciples to see about his death and resurrection, but they are blind to it.
I further contend that Mark’s entire gospel is shaped by the key passage he takes from Isaiah 6 about God’s people having eyes that can’t see and ears that can’t hear, a passage that figures prominently, too, in my summaries of Girard’s work on the website (see the former homepage introduction). The sermon in which Jesus first quotes this passage, in Mark 4, continues with the key word “Listen!” In Mark 7:31-37, Jesus heals a deaf man. We’ve already noted the enclosure of chapters 8-10 between two healings of blind men. The other sermon in Mark comes in chapter 13 where the key word is “Watch!” — a key word which continues into the Garden of Gethsemane, where the disciples again fail to watch, falling asleep and then running away.
Mark’s stress on Isaiah 6 is amplified by Matthew (13:35) with his quote from Psalm 78:2, containing the phrase that Girard chose for his book Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World. The basic thrust of Girard’s work is that none of this anthropology is anything we could ever hope to see and hear on our own. If someone like Karl Barth champions revealed theology, Girard lays out what he considers a revealed anthropology. Without the unconditional forgiveness of the Cross and Resurrection, we could never hope to see either the depth of our fall into sin or the scope and breadth of God’s grace in forgiving us for it, and for sending us his Holy Spirit in order that we might actually begin to live new lives. Alison’s section on John 9 above in The Joy of Being Wrong is one of the most incredible statements of this grace that I have ever come across.
2. Back to Mark 10. What kinds of themes does Mark bring forward in laying out this revealed anthropology. I think that Hamerton-Kelly‘s elaboration of much of this section under the banner of “How to Avoid Scandals” is a good one. As Jesus is trying to explain his dying and rising to the disciples, they are busy becoming stumbling blocks to one another by playing the rivalrous games of trying to be first. It is precisely this reality of skandalon that leads to the kind of scapegoating murder which underlies human culture — the reality that the Cross and Resurrection finally make it possible for us to see and hear. (See once again the page on skandalon.) Here’s what I consider a particularly helpful passage from The Girard Reader:
Scandals, we found, are permanently conflictual relationships in our individual lives. Now we see that the word also applies to the participation in the mimetic consensus against Jesus. This use is disconcerting. We tend to feel that our private rivalries, our intense conflicts, do express something genuinely personal and unique in us. The conflictual nature of scandals seems to guarantee that they are what the existentialists would call an authentic modality of human existence, that they cannot turn gregarious at the drop of a hat.
We feel this way because, as a rule, we are scandalized. Jesus is not and he feels differently. He knows that scandals are mimetic from the start and they become more so as they are exacerbated. They become more and more impersonal, anonymous, undifferentiated, and therefore interchangeable. Beyond a certain threshold of exasperation, scandals will substitute for one another, with no awareness on our part.
If we look carefully at the operation of scandals in the Gospels, we will have to conclude that they are very much the same thing as demonic and satanic possession, which is also characterized by a process of transference, as in the case of the Gerasa demons, for instance. Jesus, I believe, prefers to speak the language of scandals, whereas his disciples feel more at home in the language of Satan and his demons.
Once again, Peter is a good example. When Jesus first announces that he will suffer at the hands of the people, Peter is scandalized. His ideal is the same as ours, worldly success, and he tries to instill it into his master. He turns his own desire into a model that Jesus should imitate. This is how Satan operates, of course. Hence the famous words: “Move behind me Satan, because you are a scandal to me.” If the scandalized disciple had succeeded in mimetically transmitting his own mimetic desire to his master, he would have scandalized Jesus straight out of his divine mission.
Peter’s behavior is the combined effect of his preexisting scandal, which is mimetic, and the additional mimetic push provided by the crowd.
All those who join a belligerent crowd act more or less like Peter. They all transfer their private scandals to some public target. Men become so burdened with scandals that they desperately, if unconsciously, seek the public substitutes upon whom to unburden themselves. As they become more numerous, the target’s attractiveness as a target increases, and the process becomes irresistible.
The notion of scandal bridges the gap between individual and collective violence. The mobility of scandals, their tendency to unite around a common victim, provides a mediation, a communication between the two levels.
The violent unanimity of the Passion results from a massive transference of scandals, a snowballing so powerful that its effects become inescapable. (pp. 199-200)