Last revised: March 3, 2019
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SEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY — YEAR C
RCL: Genesis 45:3-11, 15; 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50; Luke 6:27-38
RoCa: 1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49; Luke 6:27-38
Opening Reflections: Elements of a New Reformation
Against the background of all the teachings of thousands of wise teachers recorded through the ages, the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth that most stands out as unique is, “Love your enemies.” It is also the singular teaching that breaks through the limits of human culture trapped in tribalism with the remedy to healing tribalism. All other pharmakon (Greek for drug, both remedy and poison) make use of a dose of the poison known as sacred violence to remedy the tribalistic violence amongst enemies. Only “Love your enemies” offers a cure devoid of any dosage of poisonous violence.
It also implies a theological breakthrough beyond the tribalistic gods of traditional human culture to the God of Jesus whom St. Paul insightfully proclaims,
But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 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 5:8-10)
God in the cross of Jesus reveals the love of enemies that heals our tribalism, creating one new humanity out of two (Eph. 2:15). And before going to the cross Jesus is able to teach against all wisdom of the ages, “Love your enemies. . . . Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
So this singular teaching of Jesus figures prominently in the Revised Common Lectionary, right? Unfortunately, no. It falls in the nether-region of late Epiphany, appearing in the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany in the years when Easter is in the last week of its four+ week window (March 22-April 25). In my 36 years of preaching Epiphany 7 has come up 11 times, a little less than a third — with some of those being Year B, the year of Mark’s Gospel which does not record this teaching. There are many moments and teachings in Jesus’ life which appear three years in the RCL, but not his most singular teaching, the one that provides the key for the Gospel of healing tribalism.
I have a serious proposal, therefore, for revising the Revised Common Lectionary. (To whom do I submit this proposal?) We end the Epiphany Season by intervening in the serial reading of the Gospel with the Transfiguration story. Why not back up one more week before Transfiguration and always do Epiphany 7 the week before Transfiguration? (Very occasionally, we even make it to Epiphany 8, twice in my 36 years; obviously, on those years we could let the lectionary proceed as prescribed.) For example, in years when Easter is early (late March), the first three Sundays after Epiphany would follow their usual course, followed by Epiphany 7 and Transfiguration. Should we call it something different than Epiphany 7? Something like Jesus the Rabbi Sunday?
I would follow this pattern all three years, even though Year B does not include “Love your enemies.” The Gospel Reading that year is Mark 2:1-12, the most crucial of Mark’s healing stories: healing the paralyzed man after proclaiming his sins forgiven. It is more crucial than the numerous healing stories that precede it in Epiphany 4-6. What do you think? Feature Jesus’s most singular teachings every year on the Sunday before Transfiguration, thus shining a light on the moment when the voice from the cloud, says, “This is my Son, the Chosen. Listen to him!”
Genesis 45:3-11, 15
1. René Girard, Things Hidden; pp. 149-154 which reflect on the story of Joseph. Girard also takes up the Joseph story as crucial to his argument in I See Satan Fall Like Lightning concerning “The Uniqueness of the Bible” (ch. 9). Finally, Reading the Bible with René Girard, pp. 91-96, 116-17.
2. James G. Williams, The Bible, Violence & the Sacred; ch. 2 is on “Enemy Brothers” in the book of Genesis, coupled with the Parable of the Prodigal Son (and his older brother), pp. 54-60 on “Joseph and His Brothers: The Triumph of the Innocent Victim.”
3. Sandor Goodhart, “‘I am Joseph’: René Girard and the Prophetic Law,” pp. 53-74 in the collection of essays edited by Paul Dumouchel, Violence and Truth: On the Work of René Girard. Also, this essay was edited for Goodhart’s subsequent book, Sacrificing Commentary: Reading the End of Literature, as ch. 3, “‘I am Joseph’: Judaism, Anti-Idolatry, and the Prophetic Law,” pp. 99-121.
4. James Alison, Faith Beyond Resentment, first paragraph of the introduction and following. Alison uses Joseph to introduce the theme of Faith Beyond Resentment. He says, for example:
Joseph exercised Pharaoh’s generosity as though he had never undergone any of the experiences which led him to his position. He was so entirely free of any sort of resentment that he was able to imagine an entirely generous and sustained program for the reconciliation of his brothers, and act it out in such a way that they were eventually able to get the point, overcome their fratricide and be reconciled.
1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
2. Raymund Schwager, Jesus in the Drama of Salvation, p. 216.
3. René Girard, Reading the Bible with René Girard, pp. 162ff.
1. Gil Bailie, “The Gospel of Luke” lecture series, tape #4. Here are my notes for the portion of his lecture pertaining to this passage:
- Reads 6:27-31: “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
- In other words, don’t do to others as they do to you, but as you would have them do to you. Doing onto others as they do to you is the old world of reciprocity. Jesus asks us to do as you would have them do. Love your enemies. Why? Because they’re really nice people after all? Not necessarily. This is the most radical thing in the gospel. [end of side 1]
- James Breech, The Silence of Jesus, says “Jesus is the most loving and least sentimental man one could imagine.” “Love your enemies” is not sentimentality. This is something that goes right to the heart of it. Jesus says, “…do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” And watch what happens. This is a recipe for destroying the little bundle of lies about myself and my society that came into existence the moment my tribe and I found somebody to hate. (Like the Gerasene demoniac.) Following this injunction is not just a nice thing to do. It’s a matter of destroying the whole system of mystification which has been the womb in which you’ve lived and moved and had your social existence. It’s the recipe for deconstructing the whole business. We have to recognize the profundity of that.
- An observation by Christopher Dawson, the historian [source: Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, pp. 80-83]: some of the archaic cultures existed in Scandinavia into the twelfth century. There were priest-kings who offered sacrifices on behalf of the people, and then were sacrificed themselves if their sacrifices didn’t work. Dawson talks about how the coming of Christianity shoved a stick in the spokes of that whole system. Quote: “It was hard for warlike barbarians to accept the Christian ethic of renunciation and forgiveness in their rulers who had been the living embodiment of their pride of blood, as we see from St. Bede’s story of King Sigebert of Essex who was killed ‘because he was wont to spare his enemies and to forgive them their wrongs they had done as soon as he asked them.'” [p. 82] He was trying to love his enemies, and his people rose up and killed him. That suggests he was tampering with a mechanism that’s very dear to conventional culture. “Love your enemies” is not just some pious little moralism; it is something that will deconstruct the whole mythological world.
- New York Times article about Freedom House, an international rights organization that tends to care for those who are seen as enemies, being challenged in the United Nations.
- Reads 6:39-42: He also told them a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
- This cluster of sayings has to do with what Girard calls the problem of the doubles. That is to say, being caught up in the melodramatic entanglement in which you’re scandalized by them, and vice versa; you’re condemning them and they’re condemning you. When we’re inside such a system of doubles, it’s the blind leading the blind. We can’t get out. Someone who is not part of the doubling has to step in and get your attention.
- Sebastian Moore says something like, ‘Jesus comes and entices us, lures us, arouses our desire for him. We are caught up in being fascinated by each other, and he steps in to catch our fascination. He came in; he can get out. And we can follow him out.
- The gospel here is talking about models. If we model on each other, you’re going to fall into the pit of seeing the speck in your neighbor’s eye, while the neighbor also sees the log in yours. We are convinced that it’s each other’s problem, and we cannot see our participation in this doubling, this acting like each other. This is the world of mimetic crisis. Everyone is looking at everybody else, and there’s nothing there to help one transcend it. The blind leading the blind. The model should be one who is not blinded.
- There are the two parables here: one about blindness, and then one about having a log in your eye. What is the source of blindness? (John9: How did this man sin that he is blind from birth?) The second parable answers: the blindness has to do with the scandal, the being scandalized by one another, the compulsive preoccupation with the Other. Jesus is the one who should be the model.
- There are two figures who are outside of this system of scandal: God and the scapegoated figure who brought the system into being. In Christology: Jesus is both. He is the human outsider, the one who is the Lamb slain since the foundation of the world; and he’s the incarnation of the living God. He’s the outsider par excellence on both counts. He’s the only one who can lead us out. He’s both metaphysically and socially outside of our systems of culture. He experiences as the scapegoat the “epistemological privilege of the scapegoat.” As Son of God, he experiences the immense epistemological privilege that comes with that. Otherwise, we have no one but each other, the blind leading the blind, and we fall into the pit. Which takes us to the tension between and John the Baptist….
2. René Girard, Things Hidden, p. 198, within the section entitled “The Preaching of the Kingdom,” pp. 196-202, which feature the Sermon on the Mount/Plain. Also, Reading the Bible with René Girard, pp. 148ff.
3. James Alison, Broken Hearts and New Creations, ch. 10, “Love your enemy,” pp. 160-75.
4. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, sermon from February 18, 2001 (Woodside Village Church).
5. Raymund Schwager, Jesus in the Drama of Salvation, p. 67, 100.
6. James G. Williams, The Bible, Violence & the Sacred, p. 199.
7. In recent history, Epiphany 7 has come up more often in Year A than Year C. See Epiphany 7A for resources on Matthew’s parallel version of these singular teachings.