Reflections and Questions
1. This lesson is chosen, no doubt, to go with the John 3 allusion to the serpent on the pole being lifted up. John 3 puts the story to Christological use. Its original roots in mythology are a different story. It would take quite a study to find all the parallels in mythology and to assess the way in which the Hebrew tradition appropriated such stories. The most obvious link is with the Asclepius, the ancient Greek god for healing. His symbol was two snakes entwined around a pole (which I believe is where the AMA gets its symbol). The idea was that opposites which war within are brought into harmony, resulting in healing.
2. A sermon could make use of modern medical practices as illustrations. I have given sermons on these texts around the theme "Facing the Snake the Bites You." Modern medicine has seemingly gotten away from the links between our physical and spiritual health. Does its focus on physical causes and treatments, especially its 'addiction' to using drugs, merely cover over the deeper symptoms of our sickness? Conversely, does the cross of Jesus help us to really get to the roots of our sickness by making us "face the snake that has bitten us"?
Looking at a snake on a pole to be healed from snake bite is
resonant with the notion of pharmakon in Greek culture: a
drug is a poison that, taken in the right dosage, is also a
remedy. The pharmakos, often translated as "sorceror," was
one accused of evil and run out of town and often killed -- in
other words, the scapegoat. Scapegoating is thus like taking a
drug: the poison of violence is taken at just the right dosage in
order to bring a relative measure of peace. For more on this and
the connection to healing, see Epiphany
3. Tom Truby, a member of Theology & Peace, used Girardian insights to offer a sermon in 2012, titled "Deliverance"; and a sermon in 2015, "Looking at Snakes."
1. 2:3: tais epithymiais tes sarkos ("desires of the flesh") and tekna physei orges ("children by nature of wrath"). Mimetic theory is an anthropological thesis that makes explicit the close connection between mimetic desire (epithymia) and wrath (orge). In fact, that connection is within the word for desire itself since the other most common Greek word for "wrath," in addition to orge, is thymos, a root to the word epithymia. I have done some digging about epithymia previously (see notes for Proper 18A) when reflecting on Romans:
Girard himself also has some helpful comments on a root word, thymos, in Violence and the Sacred, pp. 154, 265. I decided to dig deeper for myself and was stunned by what I found in Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the NT (TDNT). Here's an etymology of words that could stand as solid corroboration of Girard's theses! The two central themes of Girard, desire and sacrifice, are bound together in the etymology of the ancient Greek words, even more than of what Bailie and Girard had previously made me aware.Resources
Here's an overview, before going a bit more in depth. The most common Greek words for "sacrifice" (including in the NT and LXX) are thyo (verb) and thysia (noun). Derived from this are thymos, most often translated as "anger" or "wrath" (often used interchangeably with orge in designating the wrath of the gods), and epithymia, or the verb epithymeo, meaning desire. Essentially, these are both strong desires (1) thymos relating especially to the sacrificial cult; and (2) epithymia relating to the sorts of desires which lead to sacrificial crises. epithymia can mean any strong desire or yearning, but very often has a negative connotation, sometimes translated as "lust." ... the verb epithymeo is what is used for the rendering of the tenth commandments prohibition against "coveting."
A one sentence summary of Girard's anthropology could be summed up in the relationship of these words: thyo (sacrifice) is what we humans resort to in order to keep in check our epithymia (covetousness), all the while hiding our problem with epithymia (mimetic desire) from ourselves by attributing the need for thyo (sacrifice) to the appeasement of the thymos (wrath) of the gods.
My digging in the TDNT suggested even deeper relationships among these words. The article on thymos / epithymia by Buechsel (Vol. III, pp. 167-172) is especially revealing. (It also points the reader immediately, in its heading, to the huge article on orge [vol. V, pp. 382-447], which has a section on the interchangeability of thymos and orge in translating the "wrath" of God in the LXX.) Here's how the article on thymos starts (with a better etymology of thyo than the article on thyo [vol. III, pp. 180-190]):"thyo originally denotes a violent movement of air, water, the ground, animals, or men. From the sense of 'to well up,' 'to boil up,' there seems to have developed that of 'to smoke,' and then 'to cause to go up in smoke,' 'to sacrifice.' The basic meaning of thymos is thus similar to that pneuma ['spirit'], namely, 'that which is moved and which moves,' 'vital force.' In Homer thymos is the vital force of animals and men.... thymos then takes on the sense of a. desire, impulse, inclination, b. spirit, c. anger, d. sensibility, e. disposition or mind, f. thought, consideration. The richly developed usage in Homer and the tragic dramatists is no longer present in the prose writers, e.g., Plato, Thucydides. For them thymos means spirit, anger, rage, agitation. In Jewish Gr. thymos is common in this sense.... Everywhere in the NT it means 'wrath.'"I find this fascinating! Especially the comparison to pneuma as a vital force. Oughourlian has advocated for mimeticism as the universal vital force that animates living beings (akin to gravity which governs the movements of physical objects; see ch. 1 of The Puppet of Desire). From a biblical perspective, especially when informed by Girard's anthropology, we might say that that vital force divides in two, blows in two different directions, thymos and pneuma. The first is mimetic desire fallen into rivalry and the descension into wrath, the wrath we ultimately project onto the gods through our sacrificial cults. The second is the true vital force of life, a loving, non-rivalrous desire, also known as agape, which only God truly originates, a Holy Spirit. We need to put on Christ to live in this pneuma, while "making no provision" for epithymia.
1. James Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong. There is a several page section suggesting a unified reading of the letter to the Ephesians entitled "Redeeming the Time," pp. 229-232.
2. William Loader, "First Thoughts," Epistle for Lent 4B. Loader challenges the common individualist reading today of such a proclamation of God's grace -- an individualist reading that often coincides with politics and economics of self-interest. He writes,
The world of transactions for profit frequently invades such reflections and reduces them to market commodities. One common way has been to see salvation as the ultimate luxury (manufactured by God) and to cultivate those qualities deemed to deserve it and hold proudly to them. We are then 'God's special people' - the worthy, who can then strut our stuff and tell the rest of the world that they should be like us. Even when the persistence of the tradition succeeds in convincing people that it is not something we deserve, but is God's gift, theological accountancy reduces the transaction to the level of the markets again by imagining that God needed to be paid off to be free to love (on the assumption: who'd want to love, if they weren't paid for it!). Then we are told that God instigated a self payment by engineering the punishment of his son. Accountancy wins. The ledger was squared. Despite God's daring and generosity our values are then upheld, because we have found a way of reducing the whole thing to being just like the transactions which are fundamental to our economic system, now globalised.Reflections and Questions
2:8-10 give us a chance to see beyond the reductions to the real foundations of the divine vision. In fact the language shows that it is really about God's creative generosity. God's intention all along has been that people become what they were made to be and the 'earth be filled with the glory of God'. God's glory is God's goodness. The move which the passage celebrates is not a move from this world to the next, from the outer to the inner world, from the world to the church community, but a move from a death way of being to a life way of being - here and now.
1. It strikes me that these ten verses are a marvelous condensed version of the Pauline theology in Romans 3-6. There are the themes of salvation by grace through faith (Romans 3); dying and rising with Christ (Romans 6), though Eph 2 goes beyond this by having also seated with Christ in heaven already; and the theme of God's love saving us while we were still enemies (Romans 5). It is the latter theme that has become increasingly important to me in recent years. The point of greatest uniqueness of the Christian ethic is its emphasis on love to the great depth of loving one's enemies. I've realized more clearly that this derives from God's love in Jesus Christ, that God loved us even while we were "dead in our sins," expressed in passages such as Eph 2 and Romans 5:8-10. I wonder also about John 3:16; see below.
2. Another connection to Romans 3-6 involves what comes immediately after the proclamation of God's grace, namely, the payoff for human community:
For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace.... (Ephesians 2:14-15)The reflection on Romans 4 two weeks ago (Lent 2B) emphasizes the importance of Jesus fulfilling the Jewish Messiahship by virtue of fulfilling the promise to Abraham and Sarah that they would be parents of all nations. Without framing it as the fulfillment of promise, this passage makes the same overall point about bringing all of God's children together through Jesus Christ.
1. zoen aionion, "life everlasting." The first two
appearances of this phrase in John are in John 3:15-16. It occurs
3 times in Matthew, 2 in Mark, 3 in Luke, 1 in Acts, 3 times in
Romans, 1 in Galatians, 2 in 1 John, and 14 in John (with one a
piece in 1 Timothy and Jude). Most commentators bring out the
immediacy of this phrase for John, namely, that it begins right
now for those who believe. It is about a quality of life in this
world more than about some other-world to come in the future. In
the context of mimetic theory, I have found it meaningful to
experience this promise of eternal life as being in deep
relationship to the unending source of life itself. We are able to
imitate the self-giving life of Jesus Christ with the promise of
being connected (as branches to the vine) to the unending source
of life. We need not fear death. We need not fear a life of
self-giving generosity in the midst of a world of the forceful
grasping after life that leads to death. When believing in the
Resurrection and the Life, one won't really die in the sense of
not being conquered by the forces of death in this world. Those
forces may yet win some battles, but they will not prevail in the
end -- not when one is connected to the source of life itself.
N. T. Wright in his New
Testament translation (The Kingdom New Testament)
renders zoen aionion as
"the life of God's new age." And in his recent book How God Became King, he
gives an excellent explanation, not only of the translation, but
also what's at stake:
The second expression that has
routinely been misunderstood in this connection is “eternal life.”
Here again the widespread and long-lasting assumption that the
gospels are there to tell us “how to go to heaven” has determined
how people “hear” this phrase. Indeed, the word “eternity” in
modern English and American has regularly been used not only to
point to a “heavenly” destination, but to say something specific
about it, namely, that it will be somehow outside time and
probably outside space and matter as well. A disembodied, timeless
eternity! That is Plato, not the Bible — and it’s a measure of how
far Western Christianity has drifted from its moorings that it
seldom even realizes the fact. Anyway, granted this assumption,
when we find the Greek phrase zoe
aionios in the gospels (and indeed in the New Testament
letters), and when it is regularly translated as “eternal life” or
“everlasting life,” people have naturally assumed that this
concept of “eternity” is the right way to understand it. “God so
loved the world,” reads the famous text in the King James Version
of John 3:16, “that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever
believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” There we
are, think average Christian readers. This is the biblical promise
of a timeless heavenly bliss.
But it isn’t. In the many places where
the phrase zoe aionios
appears in the gospels, and in Paul’s letters for that matter, it
refers to one aspect of an ancient Jewish belief about how time
was divided up. In this viewpoint, there were two “aions” (we
sometimes use the word “eon” in that sense): the “Present age,” ha-olam hazeh in Hebrew, and
the “age to come,” ha-olam
ha-ba. The “age to come,” many ancient Jews believed,
would arrive one day to bring God’s justice, peace, and healing to
the world as it groaned and toiled within the “present age.” You
can see Paul, for instance, referring to this idea in Galatians
1:4, where he speaks of Jesus giving himself for our sins “to
rescue us from the present evil age.” In other words, Jesus has
inaugurated, ushered in, the age to come.” But there is no sense that this “age
to come” is “eternal” in the sense of being outside space, time,
and matter. Far from it. The ancient Jews were creational
monotheists. For them, God’s great future purpose was not to
rescue people out of the world, but to rescue the world itself,
people included, from its present state of corruption and decay.
If we reframe our thinking within this
setting, the phrase zoe aionios
will refer to “the life of the age,” in other words, “the life of
the age to come.” When in Luke the rich young ruler asks Jesus,
“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (18:18,
NRSV), he isn’t asking how to go to heaven when he dies. He is
asking about the new world that God is going to usher in, the new
era of justice, peace, and freedom God has promised his people.
And he is asking, in particular, how he can be sure that when God
does all this, he will be part of those who inherit the new world,
who share its life. This is why, in my own new translation of the
New Testament, Luke 18:18 reads, “Good teacher, what must I do to
inherit the life of the age to come?” Likewise, John 3:16 ends not
with “have everlasting life” (KJV), but “share in the life of
God’s new age.”
Among the various results of this
misreading has been the earnest attempt to make all the material
in Jesus’s public career refer somehow to a supposed invitation to
“go to heaven” rather than to the present challenge of the kingdom
coming on earth as in heaven. (pp. 44-45)
2. John 3:3: gennethe anothen, "born again," or "born
from above." This verse is not in today's lection but is crucial
for interpreting the passage as a whole -- especially in the
contemporary "evangelical" Christian scene of emphasizing being
born again. John's Jesus is using a pun in the Greek around the
word anothen, which can be interpreted as "again" or "from
above." Modern evangelicals miss the pun, but not as badly as
Nicodemus, who takes it literally in terms of asking about getting
back into his mother's womb. Jesus' response to Nicodemus shows
that he is speaking more in the sense of being born "from above"
-- being born into God's reign ("reign" having a spatial
connotation of being over) through the Holy Spirit. (See
especially Breuer's reflections below, #5.)
3. krinō and krisis, "judge" and
"judgment." In these verses John 3:14-21, this word group is also
translated as "condemn." But I'm not sure why. "Judge" is a more
neutral word. It can be both a positive judgment, like "innocent,"
or negative judgement, "guilty." It doesn't even have to be a
courtroom setting. krinō
is as flexible as the English in being generally about making a
decision, one way or another. "Condemn" is clearly a judgment of
negative connotation. So why assume the negative judgment? Here is
how verses 17-19 read if you always translate the krisis/krinō word-group as
Indeed, God did not send the Son into
the world to judge the world, but in order that the world might be
saved through him. Those who believe in him are not judged; but
those who do not believe are judged already, because they have not
believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the
judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved
darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.
In mimetic theory, especially with Raymund Schwager's theological exposition of it
(see Jesus and the Drama of Salvation), there
is a self-judgment that happens because we choose to live by the
Satanic judgment of bringing accusation against the Other. Here in
John 3 it states that the judgment is a self-judgment of choosing
to live in darkness rather than light. Jesus comes to reveal to us
the light of a God who doesn't judge us in the fashion of Satan
the Accuser. In fact, in Jesus God sends us the Paraclete, the Defender of
the Accused. But we don't seem to want live in that light of
grace. We trust the ordering power of Satanic judgment more than
the grace of Jesus, and so we continue to choose to live in the
darkness of ordering our human community according to the
judgments of the Accuser. We bring judgment on ourselves by
continuing to live by that judgment.
4. pisteuō is used five
times in these verses. pistos
as a word group has been shaded away in recent years from "belief"
-- and even "faith" to the extent that it denotes more a thinking
state than a relationship -- to "faithfulness" or "trust,"
denoting a relationship. What about the verb? Should we translate
it as "trust" rather than "believe"? If we took all the
suggestions in these exegetical notes The passage reads:
[Jesus said,] "And just as Moses
lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be
lifted up, that whoever trusts in him may have the life of God's
new age. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so
that everyone who trusts in him may not perish but may have the
life of God's new age. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the
world to judge the world, but in order that the world might be
saved through him. Those who trust in him are not judged; but
those who do not trust are judged already, because they have not
trusted in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the
judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved
darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all
who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that
their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true
come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds
have been done in God."
1. Gil Bailie, audio tape lectures on the Gospel of John, tape 4. Link to my complete notes / transcription of the lectures on John 3-4 -- or here are some excerpts:
Introduction to the two stories in John 3-4. The arrangement may seem haphazard, but the structure is really quite marvelous. These two stories raise the question about the encounter with Jesus. Compare and contrast the two stories:
3. James Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong, the beginning of Chapter 4, "The Resurrection and Original Sin," pp. 115ff. Beginning with the Resurrection, Alison traces the transformation that took place for the apostles. The fact of the resurrection first caused a transformation of how the apostles experienced death. It was a three step process: first, that "whatever death is, God has nothing to do with it." Second, that we are the ones most intimately involved in death, that it is not merely biological but part of a sinful reality: "the putting to death of Jesus showed humans as actively involved in death. In human reality, death and sin are intertwined." Finally, the third step is to see "that the human reality of death itself is capable of being forgiven." Here, he cites John 3:16-17:
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. It was not just that God loved his son and so raised him up, but that the giving of the son and his raising up revealed God as love for us. It is to exactly this that bear witness the remarkably similar passages found in Jn 3:16-17 and Rm 3:21-26, as well of course as 1 Jn 4:9-10.4. James Alison, Raising Abel, pp. 45ff. In the context of discussing the revelation of God as Love, using John 3:16 as a prime example, Alison poses the story of Genesis 22 as a story that can be demythologized by John 3:16:
Now, this "giving his only Son" is not an idea pulled out of a hat. It is, itself, the demythologization of a story from the Old Testament: the story of Abraham who was prepared to give up his only (legitimate) son to God, by sacrificing him. But look at what has happened meanwhile: in the first story God is a god who demands sacrifices from humans, including the one sacrifice which really mattered, even though, in the story as we have it in Genesis 22, God himself organizes a substitute for the sacrifice. In any case, we still have a capricious deity. What we see in the New Testament, completely in line with the change in the perception of God that I've been setting out, is that it is not humans who offer a sacrifice to God (by, for instance, killing a blasphemous transgressor), but God who offers a sacrifice to humans. The whole self-giving of Jesus becomes possible because Jesus is obedient to God, giving himself in the midst of violent humans who demand blood, so as finally to unmask and annul the system of murderous mendacity which the world is.5. James Alison, Broken Hearts and News Creations, pp. 125ff.
Once more, if you think I'm making this up, everything which I have been saying is beautifully and exactly resumed in the first epistle of John. There we see what the message is, the nucleus of the Gospel:This then is the message which we have heard of him [i.e., Jesus], and declare unto you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)That is: what Jesus came to announce was a message about God, and God's being entirely without violence, darkness, duplicity, ambivalence or ambiguity. This message is then unpacked by the author in the following verses, and then he gives us the famous summing up of where this process of the changing perception of God has led to:...for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, that God sent his only begotten Son into the world that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:8-10)Here we have the element of the discovery of the absolutely vivacious and effervescent nature of God leading to the realization that behind the death of Jesus there was no violent God, but a loving God who was planning a way to get us out of our violent and sinful life. Not a human sacrifice to God, but God's sacrifice to humans. (pp. 45-46)
Following Jesus is not a program for self-improvement; it's an invitation to a community. It's dislocation from a network of relationships that perpetuates injustice, death, and alienation so that we can be knit into a network of relationships that brings healing, reconciliation, and abundant life rooted in the eternal.9. Michael Hardin and Jeff Krantz, PreachingPeace.org, the pages for Lent 4B. Like many of the other resources I've shared on today's texts, Hardin and Krantz are wary of how this text is used in contemporary "evangelical" theology and its accompanying atonement theory. They write:
Think about how many things are set by our birth in this world: We are born in a geographical location that can accustom us to unjust privilege or prevent us from access to clean water, education, the chance to live to adulthood. We are born in families that instill in us a sense that we are loved and too often a sense also that we are deeply inadequate. We are born with a skin color that will also condition our sense of who we are, what we deserve, whom we may love or fear. This world is set up in ways that try to lock us into patterns of relationship based on our birth -- patterns that separate us from one another and from God.
How might the world be different if those patterns were disrupted, if you and I could be sisters and brothers in healthy relationship? ... Let me put it this way:
What would our relationships look like if we shared one birth and were raised in one loving, supportive family? What would an economy look like that took seriously that we live and work in a world that is our common inheritance, and not a set of disconnected chunks of land and resources to be conquered like a Risk game board? What would a world look like in which we saw every child as our own little sister or brother, if "family first" included them all as our own flesh and blood?
That's Jesus' invitation to us today. Being "born from above" means that Jesus offers us freedom from relationships that ensnare, and the choice to relate to one another as beloved children of one loving God. It's a choice not just for a new name:
It's a new world of new relationships, of new and abundant life.
Today’s text was made popular in the twentieth century through the work of the American evangelist Billy Graham. We grew up hearing that God loved us and had a wonderful plan for our life. We also learned that we screwed up and God needed to punish us and that Jesus stepped in and took our beating. We were told if we believed in Jesus, God would be merciful to us and not slam us with some kind of nasty eschatological sentence. All others would go to hell.10. N. T. Wright, How God Became King, pp. 229-232. Wright brings kingdom and cross together in a way that puts love in the middle of it. His analysis is primarily of Pilate and Jesus in John 18-19, but John 3 is certainly very much in the background:
Now, this whole thing starts off right but ends up rather quickly in the dustbin of religion. To interpret this text in an exclusionist manner is to misread the text and to remain in darkness. One can only interpret this text in an exclusionist fashion if one is first committed to some kind of retributive justice in God. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us as heralds of the good news of Jesus Christ, to make sure that we do not read our scriptures from the perspective of myth, which excludes, and to make sure that we take our cue from the text itself and read ‘from below,’ from the perspective of the victimized, from the horizon of the cross. Only when we do this will we find that we can be inclusive in our soteriology.
Second, the self-giving, selfless sacrifice of Jesus is highlighted. When, in our atonement theories, we make the cross an event between Jesus and God (Jesus suffers God’s wrath or some such), we sacralize Jesus and begin the process of Christian mythologization. On the other hand, if we begin with Jesus self-giving as a fundamental Christological and soteriological axiom, then his forgiveness of us for killing him as he hung dying is the true word of the gospel.
Political, social and economic systems in the Christian West have long been tied to atonement theories although this correlation wasn’t realized until the late twentieth century. As Preachers, we do ourselves and the gospel, not to mention our congregations, little good, if we persist in announcing a christified version of all the other gods of religion. During this Lent, we are given opportunity to repent of our mimetic ways of thinking. As Bernard Ramm used to tell his students, “God forgives our theology just like he forgives our sin.”
1. In 2006, I developed the theme of God's love as the real power
of this world, more powerful that the powers of sacrifice, powers
of sacred violence. I also ended with the conclusion from Sarah Dylan Breuer's essay
cited above, for a sermon
titled "Real Power."
2. In 2009, I kept the same ending from Breuer but developed the
beginning differently, according to a video we were viewing in the
adult class -- the excellent PBS drama God on Trial, the
dramatic fictionalization of Jews in Auschwitz putting God on
trial. The rabbi who speaks at the climax of the trial takes them
through the many times when Adonai brought them victory over their
enemies. Was that Adonai good when he slaughtered all the first
born sons of Egypt to punish the hard-hearted Pharoah? 'No,' he
concludes, 'God was never good. He was only on our side. Now we
know what the Egyptian mothers felt like.'
In Jesus don't we meet a good God who refuses to take sides? God
so loved the world....not just God's own people, but the world.
That is my conclusion in 2009 in a sermon titled "A New
God." In 2012 I kept the God on Trial center
(dropping the Breuer ending) and developed a similar sermon
bringing in our theme of Covenant: Lent 1, the covenant with Noah,
his family, and the whole creation; Lent 2, the covenant with
Abraham and Sarah; Lent 3, the covenant with Moses and the people
of Israel; Lent 4, the New Covenant in Jesus. But this "New
Covenant" is not new in the sense of replacing the Old Covenant.
It is new in the sense of experiencing God in a new way. It's
actually the same ol' God, who has made a covenant with the world
through Abraham and Sarah and their descendants, but we experience
that God anew in Jesus. How so? As the God who doesn't choose
sides. As the God who chooses Abraham and Sarah, in the first
place, in order to bless the whole human family. This is the God
we 'meet again for the first time' when we are reborn from above
through God's Spirit in Jesus Christ. The resulting sermon in 2012 is "New Covenant -- New God"
(expanded from the original version given in worship).
3. If we consider Wink's thesis about John's generally negative usage of "world," does John 3:16 give us another version of God's love for us even while we were still enemies (see reflection on Eph 2)?
4. Or does the passage as a whole still fall into exclusionary theology between believers and unbelievers? The positive statement about not coming into the world to condemn the world in 3:17 turns into: "Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God" (John 3:18). Yet it is important to see in the next several verses what mimetic theory interprets as self-judgment, or self-condemnation: "And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19). It is a matter of decision. One precludes him or herself from living in the light by choosing to love the darkness. It is a theme of judgment that will carry all through John's Gospel, with next Sunday's text (Lent 5B) being another important one on the theme of judgment. (John 9 is another important passage on the theme of self-judgment; see Lent 4A for more on John 9.)
5. John 3:17 seems even more crucial to me, especially from a Girardian perspective, i.e., the contrast between condemning and saving. The Girardian reading of John's gospel highlights the two contrasting paternities: the father of lies, who was a murderer from the beginning (John 8), and Jesus' father in heaven. A couple weeks ago I shared part of the sermon on Satan the Accuser and God the Chooser. Jesus came to reveal to us a Father whose business in not condemnation; that's the business of the other father, Satan the Accuser. Jesus came to reveal to us unconditional love that continues to choose us, even while we were enemies, dead in our sins. Such revelation, Jesus tells Nicodemus, results in nothing less than re-birth, a change of paternities.
6. In 1997 I preached a sermon on the psychological crisis born in mimetic rivalry that centers on shame, entitled "Encountering the True God." Shaming one another comes from a psychology of needing to derive our sense of being at the expense of another. Satan lures us into playing games of accusing one another, of shaming one another. And the effect of being shamed is most often addiction, something to numb or subdue the painful effects of shame. Addiction is behavior that tends to go in the two extreme opposite directions: self-destructive addictions that fulfill one's sense of shame, and addictions to perfection that seek to deny one's sense of shame. Does John give us encounters of Jesus with these two extremes in consecutive narratives? Nicodemus, addicted to perfection, and the Samaritan woman, addicted to sex and self-destructive relationships? The remedy is to be reborn to a different way of relating to the other. Jesus came to reveal such a relation in the love from the Father, a love that refuses to play the games of condemning, of shaming.
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