Last revised: July 24, 2011
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PROPER 7 (June 19-25) -- YEAR A / Ordinary Time 12
RCL: Genesis 21:8-21; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39
RoCa: Jeremiah 20:10-13; Romans 5:12-15; Matthew 10:26-33

Genesis 21:8-21


1. Jenee Woodard's blogs has assembled some excellent resources on "Genesis 21: Ishmael & Hagar."

2. James G. Williams, The Bible, Violence, and the Sacred, ch. 2, "Enemy Brothers." This is a wonderful chapter to read for all the family dynamics in Genesis. He doesn't focus on Isaac and Ishmael with a subsection, but he includes them in overview, "Patterns in the Brother Stories," pp. 60-66.

3. James Alison, Faith Beyond Resentment, ch. 3, "Jesus' Fraternal Relocation of God." In a chapter on John 8, Alison discusses being children of Abraham bringing in the dynamics with Hagar, pp. 60ff.

4. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, sermon from June 23, 2002 (Woodside Village Church).

Jeremiah 20:10-13


1. Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled; the section on Jeremiah is on pp. 177-184.

2. James Williams' treatment of Jeremiah, The Bible, Violence & the Sacred, is on pp. 144-145, 154-156.

3. Raymund Schwager, Jesus in the Drama of Salvation, p. 60, n. 12; cited when making the pointed:

The prophets of Israel reproached leaders and people over and over again most harshly, not just for idolatry but also on account of oppression, violence, and the spilling of blood [Jer. 20:8], and for that reason they were often themselves persecuted.
Reflections and Questions

1. Has the climate changed at all for one to cry out all the day long, "Violence and Destruction!" Or does one still become the object of reproach and derision for such prophecies? My experience lately has been that people are more willing to recognize the problem with violence. They don't necessarily ridicule you for it. But they still go to great lengths to avoid dealing with it. Move away from it. Turn it off. Dwell on the more pleasant things in life. An experience like Columbine (1999), or the shooting of two monks at Conception Abbey (Missouri, 2002), comes crashing in on such an avoidance lifestyle, making it more obvious that we can't move away from it, and fixating our attention for a week or two. Then, all our wonderful diversions, many of them "recreational violence," help us to forget again.

2. This is still a "text in travail" to the extent that the prophet sees the answer as "your retribution," meaning God's, upon the evildoers.

Romans 6:1b-11


1. Gil Bailie, "Paul's Letter to the Romans" audio tape series, tape #4

2. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence, pp. 65-71. Link to an excerpt of the pages on "The Cross as a Metonymy of the Gospel."

3. Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith, pp. 143-157. McLaren (whose next book will have a significant Girardian component) suggests a theme for making a unified reading of Romans that I think works well -- namely, Jews and Gentiles being able to live together in Christ, who is "the firstborn within a large family" (Rom. 8:29). See the citation on this book in Proper 4A for a more complete description of the theme and McLaren's Seven Move outline for Romans. This passage comes within his Third Move: Unite all in a common story, with four illustrations: Adam, baptism, slavery, and remarriage (Rom. 5:1-7:6), of which he writes:

We’ve watched Paul’s rhetorical instincts (guided by the Holy Spirit) take him back in history before the Law to Abraham, and now Paul goes back even farther in the most brilliant move possible: he goes back to Adam. Our diverse religious systems, he implies, have many points of departure that separate us, but if we follow any path back to its source, to the genesis of our common humanity, we come to the creation story of Adam, where we are united. After unifying us in the story of our common ancestor ‘Adam, Paul presents Jesus as a new Adam, a second Adam, the last Adam. His analogy appears a bit stretched in places as we watch him develop it “on his feet,” so to speak; but the point is clear. Adam brought death and condemnation to all humanity; Jesus now brings life and justification to all humanity. So we’re all part of the story of the original Adam, and now, of the new Adam, Jesus. (p. 149)

4. Douglas Campbell, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. Nothing will ever be quite same in Pauline scholarship after Campbell's dismantling of justification, showing Paul's language of justification to be a secondary way of speaking for Paul when in debate with a version of Christianity that is conditional in its grace. And because we misread Romans 1-4, Protestantism has often lapsed into the conditional grace that Paul is trying to undo. Paul's primary language of unconditional grace is a language of deliverance elaborated in Romans 5-8. This is now the definitive book that must be contended with regarding any crucial interpretations of Romans. See my "Customer Review" on the page.

5. N. T. Wright is another important resource to consult for Romans. See, first of all, his commentaries: The New Interpreter's Bible, vol. 10; and his Paul for Everyone: Romans, Part 1 (Romans 1-8) and Part 2 (Romans 9-16). See also The Resurrection of the Son of God, ch. 5, Resurrection in Paul (Outside the Corinthian Correspondence)," sec. 7 on Romans; and Justification: God's Plan & Paul's Vision. We await his 'big book' on Paul in his Fortress Press series Christian Origins and the Question of God, which will surely include his response to Douglas Campbell.

Reflections and Questions

1. My sermon on these lessons in 1996 began talking about the Romans 6 passage's place in the funeral liturgy. Link to the sermon "Baptized to Live for Life," given shortly after attrnding the funeral of a nineteen year-old young man tragically killed in a train accident.

Matthew 10:24-39


1. Raymund Schwager, Must There Be Scapegoats?, a section entitled "Jesus Brings Division among Human Beings," pp. 154-157, which is prompted by Matt. 10:34-36 (and its parallel in Luke 12:51ff.), and also touching on the similar verse in last week's Gospel, 10:21.

Because of the many texts about love and peace, these words should not be understood as if dissension was the goal of [Jesus'] message.  They could merely mean that his coming, unintentionally and yet necessarily, kindles dissension. The real cause of the division is therefore not to be found in him. But his coming uncovers the deep-seated tensions already present and thus provokes open enmities. He seems like a sword and a troublemaker because he unmasks as delusionary the familiar forms of human harmony. Even the most natural and intimate interpersonal relations cannot stand in his presence. He unveils secret discords. His appearance brings judgment, and he sets before all humans the truth that the prophet Micah had proclaimed over Israel. The human being is a creature who, by spontaneous tendency, does not even get along with his own family. The son despises his father, the daughter rebels against her mother, and even the wife in her husband's arms cannot be trusted. (p. 155)
After quoting Matthew 10:21 Schwager writes:
Since Jesus as the unique peacemaker also unmasks the most hidden violence, instant reconciliation is not the immediate consequence of his coming. On the contrary, murderous violence becomes even more evident. The infancy narrative in Matthew already points to this fact. The question of whether the story of the killing of the babies in Bethlehem goes back to a historical account can for our purposes be bracketed out. In any case, the text shows that even the news of the birth of the new Prince of peace was enough to unleash a tragic and cruel bloodbath. This story also shows that violence is truly nothing but blind rage. Neither the newborn Prince of peace nor the innocent children had given the slightest cause to provoke the murders. This suspicion in the blind imagining of a possible future rivalry sufficed for a horrible slaughter to be commanded. (p. 156)
Schwager also quotes Matthew 5:21-22 about a brother even being angry at another brother. He writes:
...the murder starts long before the physical deed, in the thoughts and desires of the heart. Its evil power is already at work where people live together "decently" and at worst trade verbal insults. (p. 157)
Finally, Schwager anticipates a possible objection to Girard's approach to apocalyptic:
Against Girard's analyses according to which brothers instinctively become hostile brothers and all humans spontaneously lean towards violence, one could easily object that daily experience proves the opposite. There really are many families in which, because of the affection between husband and wife and between parents and children, people get along well. Here normal human nature is made manifest. But like Girard, the New Testament writings by no means speak of this experience of supposedly normal life. They make it quite clear that, wherever human beings are inwardly confronted with the message of true love, something quite different breaks out. The so-called good understanding is exposed as a shaky truce, and the ensuing quarrels unmask the alleged peace as worthless. From the perspective of the New Testament writings, the often-cited "daily experience" is only the result of a superficial look that has not yet gazed into the abyss of interhuman relations. (p. 157)
2. Raymund Schwager, Jesus in the Drama of Salvation. Matt 10:32ff. is discussed on pp. 71ff., within the section entitled "Second Act: The Rejection of the Kingdom of God and Judgment," pp. 53-81, a helpful portion for interpreting with the coming weeks in Matthew. See the excerpt "Doubling of Sin and Hell," pp. 63-69.

3. René Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning; Matt. 10:34-36 is quoted and occupies a key place in a key chapter, chapter 12, on the word "Scapegoat." Link to an excerpt of chapter 12, "Scapegoat."

4. René Girard, Evolution and Conversion, p. 237:

The scapegoat provides the systemic closure which allows the social group to function once again, to run its course once more and to remain blind to its systemic closure (the belief that the ones they are scapegoating are actually guilty). After the Christian revelation this is no longer possible. The system cannot be pulled back by any form of pharmacological resolution, and the virus of mimetic violence can spread freely. This is the reason why Jesus says: ‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword’ (Matthew 10.34). The Cross has destroyed once and for all the cathartic power of the scapegoat mechanism. Consequently, the Gospel does not provide a happy ending to our history. It simply shows us two options (which is exactly what ideologies never provide, freedom of choice): either we imitate Christ, giving up all our mimetic violence, or we run the risk of self-destruction.
5. Michael Hardin and Jeff Krantz, The page for this week (Proper 7A), in addition to many fine insights along the way, has a good summary conclusion:
The violence we see around us may be frightening, but it is also a sign that the Gospel is doing its work in culture, slowly but surely eroding the false peace built on the sacrifice of the innocent. We will never be able to go back again. Only movement forward to positive mimesis, to Jesus' rejection of violence, can bring peace now. The ground is being prepared for the seeds of peace. We have only to sow them.
6. Gabriel Andrade in 2005 published a paper to Anthropoetics, titled "The Transformation of Kinship in the New Testament," where we are reminded that mimetic theory helps us understand that the Gospel throws all cultural institutions into question:
In the New Testament, kinship no longer enjoys the same prominence [as the Old Testament], for a vast number of passages reacting against it come up. Yet, the very first passages of the New Testament (Matthew 1) are a complex genealogy of Jesus. How are we to account for such ambivalence?

Part of the answer may be provided by mimetic theory. Kinship is one of the most important institutions of Culture. If Girard is right, all cultural institutions have their origin in sacrifice. Thus, kinship is, like religion, language and the market, founded upon an originary murder, whose dynamics are kept hidden. Inasmuch as the gospels unveil this murder, cultural institutions no longer work as they used to. Once the truth about the origin of the world is found out, kinship relations are no longer sustainable.

Jesus has come to bring the sword and not peace. His message is profoundly apocalyptical, for in a world where once the truth is known, sacrifice no longer works, and the cultural institutions it supports come trembling down. Perhaps one of Jesus’ most disturbing words are to be found in what is known as the “Little Apocalypse” in Mark 13. There, he announces the terrible violence that the world will bear. One of the most eerie announcements is: “And brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents, and have them put to death” (Mark 13: 12 [par. Matt. 10:21]).

Jesus shows that family, like all cultural institutions, must be reconstituted in light of the Gospel of God's Culture. In several places, he states that his family are those who do the will of God. Baptism, the theme of today's Second Lesson, is the beginning of this reconstitution as God adopts us as his children.

7. James Alison, Raising Abel; Mt 10:26-27 is quoted on p. 151; Mt 10:33 is cited on p. 182.

8. James Alison, Broken Hearts and News Creations, p.39.

9. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, sermon from June 19, 2005 (Society of St. John at St. Mark's Chapel, Palo Alto).

10. John L. Kirkley, "On Not Being Scandalized," The Witness, Lectionary Reflections, June 10, 2005.

Reflections and Questions

1. In the '97 Martin D'Arcy lecture at Oxford given by René Girard (on tape available from William Hewitt), he highlighted this morning's gospel phrase about bringing a sword instead of peace -- in a similar vein as with chapter 12 of I See Satan above. What I heard him say is that the world most definitely has its own brand of keeping the peace involving the scapegoating mechanism. Jesus did not come to bring another version of that peace. He came to bring God's peace, which, because it is opposite of our human peace, acts to divide us at first.

Girard also emphasized this passage toward the end of the 1999 COV&R conference, especially in connection with his insight into the conference's theme of violence reduction. We have to understand that the scapegoating mechanism -- when it is working efficiently, which it no longer is able to do after 2000 years of the Paraclete -- is itself a violence reduction mechanism. When it is thwarted, violence will likely increase. We are living in the midst of the apocalyptic paradox of Good News from God that the Christ will someday lead to the elimination of violence, not just its reduction. But, in the meantime, its complete nonviolence diminishes our violence reduction systems based on the scapegoating mechanism, such that violence increases.

2. In 2005, our newly adopted sons from Liberia, Hilton and Terry, are being baptized. These texts, despite -- or perhaps because of -- their difficulty, provide an ideal time to unpack the theme of baptism as the reconstitution of each of us by welcoming us into God's family, reconstituting even our earthly family institutions. God adopts each of us in baptism, and the opportunity for change and growth couldn't be more dramatic than it was for Hilton and Terry to come from a war-torn region of Africa to America. Link to the sermon "Family Re-Formed."

3. When at Emmaus, Racine, I led a bible study for our homeless guests during the winter (ca. 2000). They came one evening wanting to figure out these passages, about "a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother," etc. Many of them deal with drug/alcohol addiction and have experienced the ways in which the skandalon of addiction has set them against family members. It is difficult to explain to them how the cross of Jesus can also be a stumbling block among us, dividing families, but it was worth trying. The easier part was to show them the more positive sayings where the Gospel builds new family ties around itself. Schwager (above) puts the matter well:

It was the aim of the kingdom of God to unite wills, the will of God with the will of the people, and people among themselves as brothers and sisters of Jesus (Mark 3:31-35 and parallels). But in fact initially the exact opposite occurred. (pp. 58-59)
What was helpful to our homeless shelter guests was to get them to recognize the new kinds of healthier families they can be a part of now, even if they are currently cut-off from their blood-tie families. An A.A. group, for example, can provide the loving acceptance and forgiveness which they can no longer get from their own families. In such a group they are not judged by outsiders because of their addiction. Instead, they are accepted for who they are and encouraged to make a new life, with God's help. I sometimes think that it might be helpful for the church to think of itself as a Sinner's Anonymous.

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