Note: Since John 20 is an option for the Gospel in all three years of the lectionary, I have put together a separate page for John 20:1-18 (updated on Holy Saturday).
1. James Alison, Raising Abel, pp. 100-105, 128. The two featured passages in Alison's treatment of universality are this story of Cornelius and Rev. 7, where he says for example:
Well, what Peter is saying when he affirms that God has revealed to him not to call anyone profane or impure is that the heavenly counter-history, the subversion from within of the story of this world, has an indispensable grammatical rule: that no discrimination against any sort of repugnant person can resist the crucible of learning not to call them profane or impure. The story of heaven is the story of how we learn not to call anyone profane or impure, so that a story is created in which there are, in fact, no impure or profane people, where not even disgusting people consider themselves disgusting, but rather where we have learnt to disbelieve, and to help them to disbelieve, in their own repugnancy.This links to a discussion of the scapegoating mechanism in that our linguistic construction of insiders and outsiders support the making of victims. So, says Alison:
what I wanted to suggest is that Jesus' resurrection is at the same time the revelation of that lie: the victim is innocent, and is hated without cause. That is to say, the mechanism which founds social order stands exposed, and for this reason it begins to become impossible to believe in the real blameworthiness of the victim.The only problem is that one reaction to this can be complete secularization, which hasn't worked very well in our time. Alison suggests the possibility of building a new nonviolent sacred order without victims. This is done by beginning with God's victim, the Lamb of God:
this is the great secret of catholicity: while every local culture tends to build its frontiers by means of victims, it is only if we begin from the forgiving victim that we can build a culture which has no frontiers, because we no longer have to build any order, security, or identity over against some excluded person, but the excluded one himself gives the identity by allowing us to share in the gratuity of his self-giving.2. James Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong, the chapter entitled "Hope and Concupiscence." Alison shows how the Resurrection breaks down many former dualities. Chief among them is the social duality such as that between Jew and Gentile. Acts 10 is an example of the gradual process: Peter has to be pushed by God into entering Cornelius' house and then has an "Aha!" moment. One theme for preaching might be that the Resurrection provides a new basis for human sociality that does not depend on having a common enemy, that does not pit some against others.
Reflections and Questions
1. James Alison (in The Joy of Being Wrong cited above) shows how the Resurrection breaks down many former dualities. Chief among them is the social duality such as that between Jew and Gentile. Acts 10 is an example of the gradual process: Peter has to be pushed by God into entering Cornelius' house and then has an "Aha!" moment. One theme for preaching might be that the Resurrection provides a new basis for human sociality that does not depend on having a common enemy, that does not pit some against others.
2. "They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day." Here is the heart of the matter: Humankind declares Jesus guilty and executes him; God declares Jesus innocent and raises him. As I suggest in the homepage essay, this pattern of preaching in the early church is highly resonant with mimetic theory. The latter is a hermeneutical tool that helps us to more clearly see the nonviolence of God in contrast to our human violence.
One thing I've wondered about in these typical sermons of Acts, however, is that they never quite get to universalizing what happens to Jesus. When Peter speaks to Jews at the outset, he tells them that "you" killed Jesus. Here, in addressing Gentiles, he says that "they" killed him. When does the revelation of the cross as universal get to the point of saying "we" killed Jesus?
St. Paul takes this latter tactic due to his personal experience of having persecuted Christ; he is able to identify himself as a persecutor. But this is in his own letters. Luke's accounts of Paul's first sermon in Acts follows the same pattern of blaming the Jewish leaders (13:27-28). It begins to change a bit with his sermon in Athens (Acts 17).
1. This passage is the beginning point for James Alison's eschatology in Raising Abel. You will find it on the dedication page as well as the opening to chapter 1 (p. 15), which bears the title "Fix Your Minds...", and on the first page of ch. 6 (p. 117).
2. Another possibility for a Girardian reading of these lessons presents itself from chapters 7 and 8 of Alison's The Joy of Being Wrong. In the section titled "Creativity and Creatureliness" (pp. 203ff.), he describes a certain human creativity as shot through with "vanity." He then describes being set free from that vanity beginning on page 220 with a reference to Col 3:1-5. (The Col 3 passage is then referenced and quoted three more times over the next several pages [to p. 227].)
3. Alison also places his writing of Raising Abel into a moving autobiographical context in the recent paper from which I've previously shared portions with you (regarding Elijah and Paul's letter to the Galatians on Proper 8&9), "Theology amidst the stones and dust," now ch. 2 in Faith Beyond Resentment. He concludes the following autobiographical portion with the theme of dying and rising with Christ in Col 3:
***** Excerpt from Alison's "Theology amidst the stones and dust" *****
Some years ago, in a Latin-American republic which I will not name, I found myself in a strange situation. I had arrived to take up a new job as a teacher of theology. After three days, my boss called me in and said: "Bad news, James. I've received a 'phone call from fourteen religious superiors who are meeting in another country to tell me that if I don't sack you immediately on the grounds that you are a militant homosexual, then those superiors will not send any pupils to our course" -- a threat which implied the non-arrival of the money necessary for the course to function. Now please note this: the superiors made no allegation of a homosexual practice on my part, and at no time in the investigation which followed did they raise that as a question. The accusation was one of, let us say, a political or ideological militancy. My boss, an honest heterosexual, who found it difficult to understand the force of the violence unleashed by the gay question in the ecclesiastical milieu, absolutely refused to sack me, offering to resign his post rather than to accept such blackmail. A higher superior intervened, suggesting to the fourteen superiors that they had acted without the proper procedure, and that each one should put into writing and sign any accusation that he might have against me, so that the accused could answer his accusers. That is, the superior insisted on due process. No written charge was made. When an informal enquiry wondered whether there might be some accusation that one of them might like to mention, but not write down, again there was no accusation, though one or two apparently said "Of course, I don't know the guy personally, but I have it from a very good source that..."
Well, this is the story of a fairly brutal piece of violence, and I could embellish it in such a way as to win your sympathy, presenting myself as a victim. In that case the very act of telling the story would be something like a denunciation, and there would be goodies and baddies in the story. If that were the case, I would have learnt nothing from the incident, but would have adopted one of the perspectives which our culture offers us, that of the sacred victim; and I would have adopted that perspective as a weapon with which to attack one of the stereotypical "baddies" with which our culture also supplies us, the obscurantist and violent group of ecclesiastics. Thank God, much though I would have liked to present things in this way, God did not indulge me. Some weeks later, still devastated by what had happened, I went off to make a Jesuit retreat, and in the midst of that retreat something totally unexpected reached me: a perspective which I had perhaps understood intellectually, but which had never got through to my gut. It was the absolute separation of God from all that violence. I understood something new: that God had nothing to do with what had happened, and that it was simply a mechanism of human violence, nothing more. What enabled me to reach this, and here I am talking, of course, of the human means, was the realization that, since of this group of fourteen, I had only ever met three, all that violence (and apparently they had worked themselves up over this for a couple of days, finding it difficult to get round to the agenda of their meeting) could not be taken personally. Rather it was a mechanism within which the participants had got themselves caught up in such a way that they couldn't perceive what they were doing. The moment I realized that I was dealing with a mechanism whose participants were its prisoners, at that same moment I was able to take distance from what had happened, and forgiveness started to become possible.
However that perception was not all. For, when I understood that God had nothing to do with all that violence, I began to understand something much more painful: the degree of my own participation in the mechanism of violence, not as its victim, but as a manipulator. For the charge that I was an "Internationally known homosexual militant" did not fall like lightening from a clear sky. Rather this incident was the third time that my behavior and attitudes in different countries had provoked a similar rejection. In fact, even though I have been "out" since I was eighteen, I had always denied being a militant, answering those who had been enraged by my attempts to open the possibility of honest and open speech, that they should indicate to me a correct and non-militant way of speaking with honesty about a matter which affects so many people in the ecclesiastical milieu, and which leads to gossip, accusations, and frequent injustice. Of course, within the ecclesiastical milieu, there is no such correct way. The very fact of suggesting that there is, in this field, something real in which we are involved, and about which we must try to speak if we are to have a modicum of transparency and honesty as Catholic Christians, the very suggestion is only perceived, and can only be perceived, as a threat. Where denial, mendacity and cover up are forces which structure a reality, the search for honest conversation is, of itself, the worst form of militancy.
Well, my reply, while formally correct, allowed me to hide from myself something which my various accusers had perceived perfectly clearly: that I was myself on a sort of crusade, that I had a zeal, and that this zeal was of a prodigiously violent force, powered by a deep resentment. In fact, I was wanting to create for myself, taking advantage of the ecclesiastical structures which sustained me, a space of security and peace, of survival, so as to avoid what I had seen happen to gay people in country after country: social marginalization, destruction of life projects, emotional and spiritual annihilation. That is to say, my brave discourse was a mask which hid from me my absolute cowardice of soul, for I was not prepared to identify myself fully with that reality, which I knew to be mine, with all its consequences. At root, I myself believed that God was on the side of ecclesiastical violence directed at gay people, and couldn't believe that God loves us just as we are. The profound "do not be" which the social and ecclesiastical voice speaks to us, and which forms the soul of so many gay people, was profoundly rooted in my own being, so that, au fond I felt myself damned. In my violent zeal I was fighting so that the ecclesiastical structure might speak to me a "Yes", a "Flourish, son", precisely because I feared that, should I stand alone before God, God himself would be part of the "do not be." Thus I was absolutely dependent on the same mechanism against which I was fighting. Hiding from myself the fact of having despaired of God, I wanted to manipulate the ecclesiastical structure so that it might give me a "self", that it might speak to me a "Yes" at a level of profundity of which the ecclesiastical structure, like any human structure, is incapable. For the "Yes" which creates and recreates the "self" of a son, only God can pronounce. In this I discovered myself to be an idolater. I had been wanting to negotiate my survival in the midst of violent structures, and negotiation in the midst of violent structures can only be done by violence. The non-violent, the blessed of the gospels, simply suffer violence and perish, either physically or morally.
I am attempting to describe for you the form taken in my life by the irruption of the extraordinary grace which I received during my Jesuit retreat. Of course, I am describing schematically something which was a non-schematic whole, and which I have taken several years to begin to understand. First there was the perception of the absolute non-involvement of God in all that violence, then the perception of my non-innocence, and of my idolatrous and violent manner of having been caught up in all that. And then, at root, what began this whole process of beginning to untie myself from the idols I had so assiduously cultivated, what I had never dared to imagine, the profound "Yes" of God, the "Yes" spoken to the little gay boy who had despaired of ever hearing it. And there, indeed, I found myself absolutely caught, because this "Yes" takes the form, not of a pretty consolation for a spoiled child. Rather, from the moment it reached me, the whole psychological and mental structure by which I had built myself up over all the previous years, began to enter into a complete collapse. For the whole structure was based on the presupposition of a "No" at the center of my being, and because of that, of the need to wage a violent war so as to cover up a fathomless hole. The "I", the "self" of the child of God is born in the midst of the ruins of repented idolatry.
A further point in this narrative, if you can bear it. In the months following this incident, I had to give a theology course. I called the course: "Fix your minds on the things that are above," taken from Paul's letter to the Colossians. Ironically, I managed to give the whole course, which has even been published in book form, without tumbling to the significance of the verse which follows the one I had chosen:"for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." (Col 3:1-3)But it was exactly this that, at last, I was learning. The whole of my previous life had been marked by an absolute refusal to die. The absolute refusal to take on my baptismal commitment. Of course, because I was unable to imagine that my "self", the "I" who will live forever, is hidden with Christ in God. And that was why I had to fight all those battles. The "I" who was present in all those battles was the old Adam, or Cain, a "self" incapable of understanding that it is not necessary to seek to shore up for itself a place on this earth, to found a safe space, to protect itself violently against violence. The "I"of the risen one only becomes present when, at last, the old "I" is put to death. And, thank God, this was exactly what the fourteen superiors had managed to set up for me. With the force of what Paul calls the Law, that is the mechanism of violent exclusion dressed up as the word of God, they had at last managed to kill that resentful old man. In its place, being something rather like a still small voice, something which I can in no way possess, nor grasp, is the "I" from which I now start to live. The "I" that is hidden with Christ in God, little by little, and somewhat tentatively, begins to build a new life story in the midst of the ruins of the previous collapse. (Faith Beyond Resentment, pp. 36-40)
4. James Alison's works, in general, all proceeding from the resurrection, illustrate the theme of not only this text but this joyous day. I share with you excerpts from one of his key chapters, chapter 4 of The Joy of Being Wrong, entitled "The Resurrection and Original Sin." The first section of this chapter (and first excerpt) is the title section of the book, "The Joy of Being Wrong." The second section (and excerpt) is "The Johannine Witness," one of Alison's brilliant explications of John 9 (see Lent 4A for the full bibliography on John 9).
5. Another key moment in The Joy of Being Wrong, centered
on the resurrection, are the second and third sections of chapter
three, entitled "The
Resurrection" and "The Intelligence of the Victim."
6. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, sermon from March 23, 2008 (Society of St. John at St. Mark's Chapel, Palo Alto).
1. Raymund Schwager, Jesus in the Drama of Salvation; in Schwager's wonderful laying out of the Jesus drama, the Resurrection is the Fourth Act: "Resurrection of the Son as the Judgement of the Heavenly Father," pp. 119-141. The entire portion is worth the reading, including an excellent section on the election of Israel. Link to an excerpt of what I see as the key portion from a Girardian perspective, pp. 130-137.
2. Michael Hardin and Jeff Krantz, Preaching Peace, emphasize the resurrection as God's vindication of Jesus Christ in the page for Easter A. Hardin, in the "Anthropological Reading," also takes on the similarity to dying-and-rising myths:
There have been those who have from time to time treated the resurrection from the perspective of world religions and found analogies to Jesus dying and rising in other ancient dying and rising God myths. Yet, nowhere to be found in any myth is a dying with forgiveness and nowhere in any myth is the rising the vindication of a life of forgiveness and non-retaliation. Yes, there are similarities to Jesusí dying and rising with other myths, but this is because Jesusí life, death and resurrection radically alters, deconstructs and restructures our myth making. Jesusí life, death and resurrection are the end of human culture founded upon violence and the opening of the Way of the kingdom of God, the way of life and light, joy and peace, reconciliation and love.3. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, pp. 632-646 on Matthew. More generally, in the essay "My Core Convictions" I summarize the importance of this book, under the docrine of heaven, as follows:
3.4 Heaven. N. T. Wright had originally planned to end Vol. 2, his work on the historical Jesus, with a chapter on the Resurrection. But he found popular Christian piety about heaven to be so off the mark that he ended up writing an entire 800-page volume on it, The Resurrection of the Son of God. His main point in this book is that the popular Christian thinking about heaven is more from Plato than it is from Jesus and our Jewish heritage. Most Christians think in terms of heaven as a separate place where one goes after death, accompanied by a hope along the lines of, 'This earthly life is but a desert dreary, heaven is my home.' The grave problem with this thinking is that a first-century Jew, namely, Jesus and all the apostles, would never have a hope in terms of devaluing the Creation. Their faith in God is faith in the Creator who lovingly created the heavens and the earth. Such a God would not scrap the earth in favor of a heaven as a holding tank for migrated souls (Plato's hope). The Jewish/Christian hope is for resurrection of the body and the fulfillment of Creation. Popular Christian thinking prays that souls go to heaven when the body dies. The Lord's Prayer prays that, "Thy Kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as in heaven." In other words, it prays that heaven comes to us on earth, not that we go to heaven. Heaven is the unseen dimension of Creation where God's will resides. We pray for God's will, for heaven, to merge with earth and bring it to fulfillment. Devaluing the earth in favor of a heavenly home gives us an excuse to treat it sacrificially, that is, as another victim of our sacred violence.4. Tom Truby, member of Theology & Peace, used Girardian insights to offer a sermon in 2011, titled "If You Want to See Him, Go to Galilee"; and in 2014 "An Earthquake that Saves."
1. I had a very Girardian Easter sermon in 1998, entitled "A Sonrise Story," that brings out James Alison's theme of a new creation begun at the resurrection. It makes tangential use of Luke's Easter sunrise story; this sermon would probably work just as well with Matthew's version.
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