Last revised: July 8, 2018
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PROPER 8 (June 26-July 2) — YEAR A / Ordinary Time 13
RCL: 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43
RoCa: Wis. of Sol. 1:13-15; 2:23-24; 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15; Mark 5:21-43
Opening Comments: Elements of a New Reformation
The sermon in 2012 (see more below), “Until All the Daughters Are Daughters…“, is an important example of reading Scripture in light of Mimetic Theory’s orientation to God’s justice as healing our institutions, not just individuals (with help from Ched Myers, who is a reader of Girard).
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 (RCL Continuous Option)
Resource: Robert Hamerton-Kelly, sermon from July 8, 2001 (Woodside Village Church), 3rd in a series of ten sermons on King David and King Solomon.
Wis. of Sol. 1:13-15; 2:23-24
1. James Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong, pp. 137-138, 149. One of the ways in which Alison’s theology might be considered a “narrative theology” is that he sets out a process of discovery that’s akin to Luke’s story of the Risen Lord, revealing to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, an understanding of Scripture concerning himself. Chapter 4 in JBW, “The Resurrection and Original Sin,” is a good example of beginning with the resurrection appearances to the apostles as the initiation of such a process of discovery. These verses in the Wisdom of Solomon prompt for me some of these crucial insights from what I consider one of the most important chapters one could read from any theology book. The Risen Lord jolts the apostles into a step-wise process of discovery:
So, we have a first step in the recasting of God by the demonstration of the impossibility of perceiving God within the frame of reference structured by death. This, if you like, is a step made by the ‘fact’ of the resurrection: that, in the midst of history, this man who was dead is now alive….whatever death is, God has nothing to do with it. That is to say, it becomes apparent not only that death is simply present as something which just is, but, exactly because of the resurrection of Jesus, it becomes present as something which need not be.
The second step shows that death is not merely something which has nothing to do with God, and which need not be, but that as a human reality, it is opposed to God. It is not only that our representation of God is inaccurate, needing refocusing, but our representation of God is actively contrary to the understanding of God which he wishes to make known. That is to say that the death of this man Jesus showed that death is not merely a biological reality, but is also a sinful reality. To put it in another way: it is not just that death is a human reality and not a divine one, but as a human reality it is a sinful reality. God, in raising Jesus was not merely showing that death has no power over him, but also revealing that the putting to death of Jesus showed humans as actively involved in death. In human reality, death and sin are intertwined: the necessity of human death is itself a necessity born of sin. In us, death is not merely a passive reality, but an active one; not something we merely receive, but one we deal out.
However, God did not raise Jesus from the dead merely to demonstrate his own deathless-ness, or to rescue Jesus from the middle of the human reality of death as a bodyguard may rescue a beleaguered pop star from the midst of a pressing crowd of fans, to get her away from it all as quickly as possible. The third step in the recasting of God and the recasting of sin is that God raised up this man who had been killed in this way for us. The victim of human iniquity was raised up as forgiveness; in fact the resurrection was the raising up of the victim as forgiveness. This it was which permitted the recasting of God as love. (pp. 116-118)
Alison then lays out that kind of discovery as found in two apostolic witnesses: John, as especially in the story of the man born blind in John 9, and Paul, as especially in the opening chapters of Romans. But he concludes the chapter with a road-to-Emmaus like reading of the Hebrew Scriptures, a section entitled “The Culmination of the Discovery of Sin.” He cites Wisdom 2:23-24 in this context as both a sign of the Old Testament’s understanding of the link between envy, violence, and death, and as a text which refers back to the Gen. 3 story by way of allusion. A Christian understanding of sin relates such texts within a process of discovery prompted by the Risen Christ.
2. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence, in the footnotes on pages 97, 167. The first reference is to W.D. Davies book Paul and Rabbinic Judaism, which relates the Wisdom of Solomon to Paul’s argument in Romans 1-3. On page 167 Hamerton-Kelly quotes Wis 2:24 to back the insight that, contrary to most ancient polytheisms, in the Christian insight one comes to see that “there is no envy in the divine.”
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
1. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence, pp. 176, 178. On p. 176 Hamerton-Kelly likens 2 Cor 8:9 to the self-kenosis theology of Phil 2:5-11, and he does so in the context of talking about an ethics formed around imitating Christ (cf., 1 Cor 4:16, 11:1; Phil 3:16-18; 2 Thess 3:7, 9; 1 Thess 1:6).
On page 178 he links 2 Cor 8:9 with the list in 2 Cor 6:4-10:
… as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see–we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
The link with 2 Cor 8:9 is through the kinds of paradoxes Paul names in 6:4-10 such as “poor, yet making many rich.”
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, “Paul’s Collection for Jerusalem.”
Reflections and Questions
1. Gianni Vattimo, Belief. Vattimo is an Italian philosopher (U. of Turin) who cites Girard as having provided the turning point in his career (p. 36). Interestingly, he links Nietzsche’s and Heidegger’s philosophies of nihilism with the opening up for him of a renewed belief in the gospel around a theology of kenosis. I think Hamerton-Kelly is correct in linking 2 Cor 8:9 to Paul’s theology of kenosis. At the 2000 COV&R conference (Boston) James Alison talked about revelation in a place of perceived weakness. Vattimo branches off from Heidegger to talk about “weak” metaphysics, a perceiving of the history of philosophy that welcomes what looks like a weakening of Being as being in accordance with a Christian theology of kenosis, along with a Girardian anthropology that connects such developments with the work of the Paraclete to deconstruct our strong structures of human sacrificial order.
1. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, The Gospel and the Sacred, pp. 94-95. Mark’s method of using an inclusion fits very well Hamerton-Kelly’s interpretative theme for this section: faith as stepping out of the crowd. The woman with the hemorrhage reaches out of the crowd and Jesus calls her to step out. The crowd in the ‘surrounding’ story of Jairus’ daughter is also exemplary of the theme, laughing at Jesus in disbelief when he talks about raising her.
The woman with the hemorrhage is a victim several times over, by the disease, by the community, and economically. By the religious community’s definition of cleanliness, she is perpetually unclean. She shouldn’t even be in the crowd. Hamerton-Kelly remarks:
It is remarkable that the emphasis is laid on her faith and not on Jesus’ power. We are told that he felt power go from him when first she touched him (5:30); nevertheless, what the woman did is emphasized rather than what Jesus did. Stepping out of the crowd is the act of faith; it means leaving the conspiracy of the Sacred, going from the executioners to the victim. This movement alone is salvific without any need for mysterious power. The need to step out of the conspiracy of violence can be seen intellectually and the step is healing in itself. Inside the conspiracy, the woman is constantly covered in blood; when she leaves it, the bleeding stops. Blood is the usual trace of the GMSM [Generative Mimetic Scapegoating Mechanism].
2. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, sermon from June 28, 2009 (Society of St. John at St. Mark’s Chapel, Palo Alto).
3. Ched Myers, teamed with Marie Dennis, Joseph Nangle, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, and Stuart Taylor, “Say to This Mountain”: Mark’s Story of Discipleship, chapter 7, “The Priority and Power of the Poor.” In my 2012 sermon (more below), I especially used the following three paragraphs:
In the art of narrative, every detail is there for a reason, and Marks aside that the girl was twelve years old is a good case in point. She has lived affluently for twelve years, and is just on the edge of puberty. In contrast, the bleeding woman had suffered for twelve years, permanently infertile. This number symbolizes the twelve tribes of Israel (3:13; see Chapter 4), and represents the key to the social meaning of this doublet. Within the family of Israel, these daughters represent the privileged and the impoverished, respectively. Because of such inequity, the body politic of the synagogue is on the verge of death.
The healing journey must, however, take a necessary detour that stops to listen to the pain of the crowd. Only when the outcast woman is restored to true daughterhood can the daughter of the synagogue be restored to true life. That is the faith the privileged must learn from the poor. This story thus shows a characteristic of the sovereignty of God that Jesus will later address: The last will be first and the least will be greatest (see 10:31, 43).
Palestine in the first century was not exceptional in having a purity code that maintained stringent social boundaries and strata. The United States today is no less characterized by purity codes, although our society fails to acknowledge them as such. They are the structures and belief systems that create insiders and outsiders; grant some people access to health care, education, housing, and food while others go without; and allow some to suffer while others prosper. (pp. 66-67)
4. Sermons/blogs from a Girardian perspective by members and friends of Theology & Peace: Tom Truby, a sermon in 2015, titled “Is Faith Stepping Out of the Crowd?“; and in 2018, “Was It the Bread of Life?“; Suella Gerber, a sermon in 2018, weaving in the Theology & Peace visit to Thistle Farms, “Love Heals Every Body.”
Reflections and Questions
1. In 2012 these texts came the Sunday following the landmark decision of the Supreme Court which upheld the Obama Administration’s Affordable Healthcare Act. Ched Myers‘ commentary (above) helped me to see this text as a support for the idea that all daughters and sons in this land should have access to affordable healthcare for this national family as a whole to be healthy. Unequal accessibility to basics like healthcare is a sign of unhealth for any community in any time and place. Jairus represented such an unhealthy community at Jesus’ time and place, and Mark’s wrap-around story of two daughters healed, who represent that inequity, is also about the possibility of healing for the divided family (twelve tribes) of Israel — and ultimately about healing the divided human family. The resulting sermon was titled “Until All the Daughters Are Daughters…”
2. In my 1994 sermon on this text I made the following reflections:
Consider Jesus the Physician in this morning’s gospel lesson. If we read the whole story, it inserts one healing story within another. Before we learn of the woman who has been hemorrhaging for twelve years, Jesus has just responded to Jairus’ plea on behalf of his sick daughter. Jesus is on his way there, when he stops for this woman who has used up all of her money, only to have been made worse by the doctors. He doesn’t stop to heal her, really; she has taken the faith initiative to healing by simply touching the hem of his garment. She is already healed when Jesus nevertheless pauses to notice, and to listen to her whole story. Even more important, Jesus pauses to specifically name her inclusion into God’s family. “Daughter,” he says to her, “your faith has made you well.” “Daughter.” Meanwhile, Jairus’ daughter has died. While Jesus paused to listen to this nameless, penniless, unclean woman, the daughter of this important, named leader of the synagogue has died. Isn’t there a scandal here? In a society of winners and losers, Jairus’ daughter clearly should have come first, and this woman second. But Jesus lets her interrupt his mission of healing. She is not just some loser by comparison, but in fact is every bit as much of a “daughter” as is the daughter of this important official. Jesus does not get caught up in the usual human games of winners and losers.