1. "The Parable of Satan Casting Out Satan" of Mark 3:23-27 is a
pivotal text for Mimetic Theory. It is the first biblical text I
heard René Girard
speak on (in the early 90's); he first wrote on it in ch. 14 of The
Scapegoat (1982). For those not familiar with Girard's take:
when Jesus asks, seemingly rhetorically, "How can Satan cast out
Satan?", Girard essentially answers, 'It happens all the time. In
fact, that's what human culture is founded on. Our anthropology
can be summarized by the phrase Satan casting out Satan.'
According to Mimetic Theory, our species survived because the
satanic accusation and expulsion kept the peace when hominid
groups were imploding in intra-community violence. The dominance
hierarchies of other mammals were no longer keeping the peace
among our ancestors. We were too embroiled in mimetic rivalries,
and we were learning to use weapons (clubs, rocks, etc.). The
mechanism that entered the void is a scapegoating mechanism, an
accusation turned into collective violence against an accused. The
all-against-one violence brings peace to the majority. And the
superhuman aura surrounding the victim (who was both blamed for
the conflict and appears to have caused the peace) becomes the
beginning of the experience of the sacred. The ensuing hierarchies
of human culture are based on the dualism of sacred and profane
and were religious from the very beginning.
From earliest ancient near east sources, Satan is the Accuser.
Subsequently, "Satan" also became a general name for the Evil One
whom we want to cast out. So Satan the Accuser seeks to accuse and
cast out Satan the Evil One. In short, Satan casts out Satan is
the briefest description of a gospel anthropology unveiling the
mechanism which has ordered human community since its beginnings.
It describes the sinful ordering of our origins, our original sin.
In Mark's account, there are two crucial clues to the truth of
this reading. Mark introduces it with the first use in his Gospel
of the word "parable," which has the meaning of "riddle" in his
portrayal of Jesus. "Can Satan cast out Satan?" is thus a riddle,
not a straightforward rhetorical question. Second, and even more
important, the context itself is a classic instance of Satan
casting out Satan. The scribes from Jerusalem are accusing Jesus
of being in league with Beelzebul. They, of course, think they are
doing God's work of accusing an evil one and then working to cast
him out (which they will eventually succeed in doing). But Jesus'
riddle names them as doing satanic work by virtue of their
The truth that Jesus means us to see, then, is in the stated
consequences: a house divided against itself cannot stand. The
human way of trying to keep a house together will never ultimately
work because it always relies on expelling someone, or being over
against someone. Jesus comes proclaiming the kingdom, the
household, of God which will build a household on the stone the
builders rejected. Jesus will let himself be cast out under the
satanic accusation and build God's household on forgiveness. Jesus
concludes, "And if Satan has risen up against himself and is
divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come." Satan's reign is
at an end precisely because his age-old game is that of Satan
casting out Satan, resulting in a house divided that cannot stand.
2. New Testament scholar N. T. Wright has recognized the
key role of Satan in the Gospels. In Jesus and the Victory of God,
Wright dedicates a significant section on "the Satan" at a crucial
point in his argument (section entitled "The Real Enemy
Identified: not Rome, but the Satan," pp. 451-463). Jesus cannot
be seen as the victorious Messiah unless we know who is the enemy
defeated. Yet Wright's analysis of "the Satan" is still somewhat
underdeveloped in light of its centrality to his argument. What
kind of power and authority does Satan have? Girard's answer is
swift and clear: Satan's power is anthropological -- that is, it
derives from the ways in which human beings organize themselves
into community and culture. If we were to organize differently,
Satan's power would disappear. Jesus came inaugurating that
different way of organizing, around forgiveness rather than
accusation, and his unveiling of the satanic powers have dealt
them a death blow. Satan is losing his transcendent powers; he has
fallen from heaven like lightning. Thus, Girard's anthropology of
grace can greatly enhance our understanding of Satan in the
Gospels -- especially the book in which he makes it central, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning.
3. There are important ontological matters at issue here.
See Satan Fall Like Lightning, chapter 3 on "Satan" is
crucial, but there is another important passage (at the end of ch.
5 on "Mythology") that speaks to the ontology of Satan:
Why do the Gospels, in their most
complete definition of the mimetic cycle, have recourse to a
figure named Satan or the devil rather than to an impersonal
principle? I think the principal reason is that the human subjects
as individuals are not aware of the circular process in which they
are trapped; the real manipulator of the process is mimetic contagion itself.
There is no real subject within this mimetic contagion, and that
is finally the meaning of the title “prince of this world,” if it
is recognized that Satan is
the absence of being.
Satan is not at all divine, but in
naming him we allude to something essential that I mentioned
briefly in my chapter about him [ch. 3], a matter of great
interest in this book: the origin of primitive and pagan gods.
Even if Satan’s transcendence is false, totally without reality in
a religious sense, on the worldly plane his works are undeniable
and formidable. Satan is the absent subject of structures of
disorder and order, which stem from rivalistic relations among
humans. When it’s all said and done, these rivalries both organize
and disorganize human relations.
Satan is mimetic contagion as its most
secret power, the creation of the false gods out of the midst of
which Christianity emerged. To speak of the mimetic cycle in terms
of Satan enables the Gospels to say or to suggest many things
about the religions perceived by Christianity as false, deceptive,
and illusory that they could not say in the language of scandal,
the reconciling power of unanimous violence.
The peoples of the world do not invent
their gods. They deify their victims. What prevents researchers
from discovering this truth is their refusal to grasp the real
violence behind the texts that represent it. The refusal of the
real is the number one dogma of our time. It is the prolongation
and perpetuation of the original mythic illusion. [Girard uses
"myth" in the specialized sense of telling a story of reality from
the perspective of perpetrators of scapegoating violence.
Conversely, "Gospel" is telling the story of reality from the
perspective of the Forgiving Victim of scapegoating violence.]
Girard is saying that Satan has no real substance outside of our
human relations. He is the name ancient peoples gave to those
structures of human relations themselves. So when modern people
declare the gods of ancient peoples to be unreal they throw the
baby out with the bathwater. We no longer name those real
structures as satanic, as having to do fundamentally with accusing
and expelling. Jesus in this passage shows that he understood the
anthropology behind the name Satan and continued to use the name
in order to speak to the thinking of his time. We may choose to
use other nomenclatures for the anthropological reality, but we
must not throw out the anthropological insight or we risk
perpetuating the perpetrators' mythic version of reality.
4. There is another ontological danger, which an underdevelopment
of "Satan" risks. If we don't carefully define Satan's power
anthropologically, the danger is Manichaeism, or some brand of
cosmology where the powers of evil have some form of ultimacy to
rival God's power of good. I think that Wright, in his more recent
book Simply Jesus, walks the
tightrope of this danger. I couldn't agree more with his overall
point and the move he makes to get there, when, at the end of the
chapter on the cross, he once again gets to the crucial question.
Somehow, Jesus’s death was seen by
Jesus himself, and then by those who told and ultimately wrote his
story, as the ultimate means by which God’s kingdom was
established. The crucifixion was the shocking answer to the prayer
that God’s kingdom would come on earth as in heaven. It was the
ultimate Exodus event through which the tyrant was defeated, God’s
people were set free and given their fresh vocation, and God’s
presence was established in their midst in a completely new way
for which the Temple itself was just an advance pointer. That is
why, in John’s gospel, the “glory of God” — with all the echoes of
the anticipated return of YHWH to Zion — is revealed in and
through Jesus, throughout his public career, in the “signs” he
performed, but fully and finally as he is “lifted up” on the
How can this be? How can the horrible,
ugly, and brutal execution of a young prophet be the means of
establishing God’s kingdom? What does it mean to say, as we have
done throughout this book, that the point of the story is that God
is now in charge, if the means by which that is accomplished is
the death of the one who had gone about making it happen?
There is of course much more that could be said on this subject. But, trying to boil it down and keep it simple, I think we can and must say at least this. In Jesus’s own understanding of the battle he was fighting, Rome was not the real enemy. Rome provided the great gale, and the distorted ambitions of Israel the high-pressure system, but the real enemy, to be met head-on by the power and love of God, was the anti-creation power, the power of death and destruction, the force of accusation, the Accuser who lays a charge against the whole human race and the world itself that all are corrupt and decaying, that all humans have contributed to this by their own idolatry and sin. The terrible thing is that this charge is true. All humans have indeed worshiped what is not divine and so have failed to reflect God’s image into the world. They, and creation, are therefore subject to corruption and death. (pp. 185-86)
I suggest that the "much more that could be said on this subject"
needs to be anthropology, namely, Mimetic Theory, which makes
accusation and the Accuser central to our understanding of what
generates and underlies all human culture. Otherwise, phrases like
"anti-creation power" can be read like the Dark Side of the Force
in Star Wars. The
following passage is so close to how a Girardian might speak of
the cross, as Wright amplifies his own image of the Perfect Storm:
In addition to the gale of Rome, the
high-pressure system of Israel’s distorted ambitions, and the
cyclone of the returning purposes of God, we perhaps need a
downward vortex, a giant whirlpool, that threatens to suck down
into the black depths all who sail too close to it. One might even
tie the themes together and suggest that the gale and the pressure
system are themselves driven by the same forces that are dragging
down the dark waters: Rome and rebel Israel are the unwitting
tools of the Satan, the Accuser, the great force of anti-creation.
And one might suggest that Jesus,
precisely because he believed that in his public career “the time
was fulfilled,” believed too that all these powers of evil were
gathering themselves for one last battle, one last attempt to
thwart the good purposes of the creator God, to pull the cosmos
and the human race down into the depths. The only way, he
believed, by which this great anti-creation power could be stopped
and defeated would be for him, Jesus, anointed with God’s Spirit
to fight the real battle against the real enemy, to take the full
power of evil and accusation upon himself, to let it do its worst
to him, so that it would thereby be exhausted, its main force
spent. (pp. 187-88)
It is so close to the insight of MT's anthropology, and yet the
last line also teeters dangerously on the brink of Manichaeism.
The way in which to avoid giving evil an ontological status that
rivals God is to give it an anthropological one. We interpret the
powers and principalities as embedded in the social DNA of our
species, that is to say, as embedded in the way we have always
organized ourselves into community based on accusations against
scapegoats. That is why Satan is the Accuser with a capital "A."
But, on the other hand, it is also why Satan has no firm ontology.
Satan disappears if human beings come to organize themselves in
another way -- for example, the alternative way that Jesus has
come to offer us by letting himself become the one accused and
cast out. Jesus is the Forgiving Victim who is now the new basis
for human community and culture. As such he is the inaugurator of
God's Kingdom, God's new culture. He is the first born of a new
anthropology, the Son of Man, the New Adam. He rescues us from the
deadly and sinful powers of the old anthropology and offers us a
new way to be human, a new anthropology, a life lived in the
Spirit instead of in the flesh.
5. It is unfortunate that Mark 3:20-35 falls in the netherworld
of Ordinary Time such that it only is read in years when Easter
comes early. Hence, what is central to Mark is not read every
three years along with the rest of Mark's Gospel.
1. René Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning,
pp. 7-8. This book, which develops the day's Gospel as a way of
understanding Satan, opens with the Tenth Commandment and a
reference to Genesis 3:6 as the basis for understanding mimetic
In the bible, and especially in the
Gospels, there is an original conception of desire and its
conflicts that has gone largely unrecognized. In order to grasp
how old it is we must go back to the Fall in Genesis or to the
second half of the Ten Commandments, which is entirely devoted to
prohibiting violence against one’s neighbor.
Commandments six, seven, eight, and
nine are both simple and brief. They prohibit the most serious
acts of violence in the order of their seriousness:
You shall not kill.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
The tenth and last commandment is
distinguished from those preceding it both by its length and its
object: in place of prohibiting an act it forbids a desire.
You shall not covet the house of your neighbor. You shall not covet the wife of your neighbor, nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass, nor anything that belongs to him. (Exod. 20:17)
Without being actually wrong the modern translations lead readers down a false trail. The verb “covet” suggests that an uncommon desire is prohibited, a perverse desire reserved for hardened sinners. But the Hebrew term translated as “covet” means just simply “desire.” This is the word that designates the desire of Eve for the prohibited fruit, the desire leading to the original sin. The notion that the Decalogue devotes its supreme commandment, the longest of all, to the prohibition of a marginal desire reserved for a minority is hardly likely. The desire prohibited by the tenth commandment must be the desire of all human beings — in other words, simply desire as such. (pp. 7-8)
2. Genesis 3 is one of the more commented-on passages in Girardian literature. Here are several of the references: Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled, p. 137 (excerpt on Gen. 3-4); Robert Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence, pp. 90-97 (excerpt of the beginning of ch. 4, "Sacred Violence and Original Sin"); Raymund Schwager, Must There Be Scapegoats? p. 68, Banished From Eden, numerous places; Jean-Michel Oughourlian, The Puppet of Desire, pp. 21-27, 68-72, The Genesis of Desire, numerous places; Michael Hardin, The Jesus Driven Life, pp. 141, 173-74; Sandor Goodhart, "The End of Sacrifice," Contagion 14, pp. 59-78; Mark Heim, Saved From Sacrifice, pp. 70-74; Cesareo Bandera, The Sacred Game, p. 114ff. Commented on with even greater frequency is the companion story of Cain and Abel in Gen. 4.
3. James Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong. I separate this reference out since Gen. 3 could not be overlooked in a book on original sin such as this one. It makes a crucial appearance, for example, in the same place as the Babel/Pentecost pairing of three weeks ago, where Alison is explaining NT interpretation of the foundational narratives in Genesis: "In order to understand the positive sense of the self-giving up to death of Jesus, the apostolic witness makes use, in different places, of four quite distinct stories from Genesis, all of which are interpreted in the light of the Cross and Resurrection." The first of those stories is the desire of Adam as interpreted in Romans 5-7:
The essence of the sin described in this passage is one of mimetic desire. An object (the fruit) became desirable when it became a way of appropriating something proper to someone else (the knowledge of good and evil proper to God). It was only when the object was seen as a way of appropriating what was proper to someone else that it became desirable. Hence the temptation was 'to become like God'. The temptation was not resisted: the object was appropriated, but more important than the object, desire thereafter functioned in the mode of appropriation, and relationality with the other became formed rivalistically. The other (whether human or divine) could only be perceived as a threat or rival. The immediate result of the appropriation was that good and evil became defined not according to God, but according to appropriation, which means that the self was not accepted as given, but had to be appropriated by forging itself over against some other considered as evil. The beginning of the forging of an identity 'over against' is the self-expulsion from the Paradise of receiving the self gratuitously.Reflections and Questions
For the story to work in Genesis there has to be an initial prohibition: the story could not have worked if God had not made available a way of entering into rivalry with himself by forbidding the eating of the fruit of the particular tree. The story could not have worked unless there were already an element of 'imitate me/ do not imitate me' built into the relationship between God and man ab initio. The possibility (though not the necessity) of double-bind is thus already present, before the originating act, as emanating from God. However, this is entirely dependent on the story being a projection of an originating act that flows from a certain understanding of salvation: the Jewish understanding flowing from the covenant and the giving of the Torah. Yet Paul showed extensively that the problem with a salvation based on the Law was that it locked one inextricably in a double bind. Salvation by Christ has come to replace salvation by the Law. So, in our christological projection we should do without the element of an explicit primal prohibition against eating from the tree. To be fully christological we need understand there to have been no primal prohibition, but instead of the law, a person....
This re-reading of the Genesis story is strictly dependent on only one piece of 'demythologization', and it is a piece of 'demythologization' which the New Testament carries out anyhow in a slightly different context: the substitution of salvation by Christ crucified for salvation by the Law. This leaves us with a person rather than a fruit, and a positive divine creative design bringing into being people who might love each other, rather than a prohibition. God is thus constantly calling us into a positive likeness of himself "be like me, imitate me" without any double bind of the sort: "but do not be like me or imitate me in this one area." (pp. 246-247, 248)
1. Gen. 3, by my reading of it, gives insight into both the Girardian roles of the devil/Satan: (1) the one who tempts us into our constant fall of mimetic desire into rivalrous desire, and (2) the one who makes the fascinating accusative gesture that lures us into scapegoating. Verses 1-7 tell the story of the fall into rivalrous desire. Man and woman are in a non-rivalrous relationship with God, modeling God's love for creation and sharing in its stewardship. But the serpent tempts them into rivalry with God; they model the desire for the forbidden fruit as expressed by the serpent.
Our passage for this day gives insight into the role of Satan that's at issue in the Gospel: pointing the finger of blame that leads to a casting out. The man blames the woman, and the woman blames the serpent. Interestingly, if the serpent is cast in the role of Satan for the first part of the story, the man and woman play the role of Satan in part two, and the lection ends with a curse on the serpent. Is this an example of Satan casting out Satan?
2. Crucial is to see that is that there is no hint in this story of a supernatural being other than God. Even if we do project a personified force of sin (i.e., Satan) into this story, it must be with creatures of this earth. I prefer not to make such a projection. For the problem in the first part of the story is that the woman and man listen to a fellow creature rather than to God. In Girardian terms, an "external" triangular relationship of desire becomes an "internal" triangular relationship of desire. The appropriate 'distance' between the model (God the Creator) and the modelers (the creatures) is leveled out into a modeling relationship between creatures that quickly turns into rivalry.
Human, creaturely responsibility in the second part is even more crucial. It is the woman and the man who point fingers of blame that lead to a casting out. Satan as the personified power of accusation which casts out is only meaningful as rooted in human action and responsibility. The value of the symbol Satan is to express the power of accusation -- the scapegoating mechanism, if you will -- as a power that does transcend the power of any single individual, but an anthropologically rooted power nonetheless. Satan becomes a dangerous symbol if he is simply another supernatural being for human beings to blame, absolving them of responsibility. The latter is clearly an instance of Satan casting out Satan.
3. There is another possible item in need of de-mythologizing (in addition to the one suggested above by James Alison): the end of the story implies God casting out the man and woman from the garden. Does this place God in the role of Satan casting out Satan? The Passion story is more careful to make it clear that it is we human beings who do the casting out.
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
1. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence, pp. 177-179. Link to an excerpt of "The Church as a Structure of Agape Based on the Imitation of Christ Crucified."
1. René Girard, The Scapegoat, ch. 14, "Satan Divided against Himself" is a brilliant analysis of this passage -- an extremely important one to Girard. He continued to comment on this passage widely in his writings on Satan: "Are the Gospels Mythical?" (available online). Also, see The Girard Reader, ch. 13 entitled "Satan," p. 195 (link to excerpts). Girard's recent book (Orbis, 2001) I See Satan Fall Like Lightning furthers his elaboration on Satan as a crucial Christian symbol depicting the false transcendences of human cultures. Link to an excerpt from ch. 3, "Satan," where Girard again addresses this parable of Satan casting out Satan.
2. Paul Nuechterlein; my explanation of this passage in "My Core Convictions."
3. Raymund Schwager, Jesus in the Drama of Salvation, pp. 31, 59, 86, 113, 117. The final citation here comes in an important conclusion to the "Third Act: The Bringer of Salvation Brought to Judgment," a section excerpted here entitled "The Self-Judgment of Sin in the Judgment of Jesus":
The particular character of the third act in the Gospel drama results from the connection between the behavior of the opponents of God's kingdom, the activity and suffering of Jesus, and the actions of the heavenly Father. After Jesus in the second act proclaimed the judgment of God as the self-judgment of people hardening their hearts, we can now see this process of hardening of hearts beginning. If Jesus declared the justice of the Pharisees (and Israel) to be wholly insufficient and warned them above all against judging, on the grounds that the standards which they laid down would become the norm by which they themselves were measured, the Jewish authorities in their behavior toward him insisted stubbornly on their existing form of judgment. The cooperation with the pagans and the ridicule directed against Jesus crucified, in which his good deeds were thrown back at him in scorn, illustrate how the process of hardening of hearts progressed.4. Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man, ch. 4, especially pages 164-168. Myers takes the title of his commentary from this passage. Here's his opening to chapter 4:
However it was decisive that the people who acted in this way were not aware of the process of self-judgment in themselves. There was a great gulf between their evaluation of themselves and their actual activity. They thought that they were only (with right on their side) judging Jesus, and not themselves, and it escaped their notice that their judging of him was in truth a ganging together against him. The third act reveals things in such a way that self-judgment is not direct self-judgment. Those judging intended to judge another and not themselves. But in the light of Jesus' love for his enemies which came from the heavenly Father, their activity is shown up as self-deception, by which they only shifted their own guilt. The self-judgment whose mechanism Jesus opened up and against which he warned people consists not in explicit self-accusation (such a thing, carried out in humility, would be healing), but in the contradiction between word and deed and thereby in the concealment of guilt and the shifting of evil onto others. The judgment on Jesus and the use of ridicule against him are consequently to be read as utterances which indirectly betray a truth about those responsible for these actions. They (and not the accused) are the ones who in fact blaspheme and who want to help others (in words), but cannot help themselves (by deeds). The self-deception is made complete above all in the cooperation, or better the ganging up, on the one, in which the false judgments of individuals mutually confirm one another and thus gain the appearance of factual objectivity. The one who is declared to be guilty, a blasphemer, serves the others as a scapegoat and gives to their kingdom of lies that appearance of peace and stability which every kingdom needs, even Satan's (see Mark 3:22-30 and parallels), in order to be able to continue.
The self-judgment of humankind, in which people shifted their guilt onto Jesus in self-deception, became a judgment on him. But from his viewpoint this was a judgment of a completely different sort. He allowed himself to be drawn into the process of self-judgment of his adversaries, in order, through participation in their lot, to open up for them from inside another way out of their diabolical circle and hence a new path to salvation. He did not pay back the lying judgment and violent attack with the same coin, but he turned around the intensified evil and gave it back as love redoubled. He made of himself a gift to those who judged him and burdened him with their guilt. His atoning deed was not a reimbursement for sins, so that the heavenly Father would forgive, but an act in the place of those who should have welcomed the kingdom of God, but who from the beginning rejected it. Jesus uses precisely this rejection in order to advance under its "cover" into that dark realm where people judge themselves. By allowing sinners to shift their actions onto him, he managed to be drawn into their dark world (fear of death, abandonment by God) in order from within to open up this world once more to the Father.
It is decisive in this interpretation that the handing over by the Father, which Feldmeier stresses in his interpretation of the Gethsemane narration, is seen entirely in connection with the message of the kingdom of God and with the actions of Jesus. From this perspective it cannot be said that the Father handed over the Son because he wanted to judge him and punish him in place of sinners. The judgment did not start from God but from humankind, and the will of the Father was only that the Son should follow sinners to the very end and share their abandonment, in order thus to make possible for them again a conversion from the world of hardened hearts and distance from God. (pp. 116-118)
Jesus spins a parable so shocking that it not only polarizes the political climate, but provokes a rift with family and friends. He compares himself to a thief struggling to break into the house of a 'strong man,' whom he intends to bind and whose captives he intends to liberate. And he claims that in this criminal venture, his accomplice is none other than the Holy Spirit!He has further helpful comments on this passage, among them being that the word for the "property" of the strong man in v. 27 appears again in Mark only in 11:16 as Jesus is cleansing the temple. Also, the image of the thief is a prominent one for apocalyptic literature (the Messiah coming as a thief in the night).
5. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, The Gospel and the Sacred,
The forces of violence accuse the
victim of their own crime and the themes of driving out demons and
driving out the scapegoat come to a climax. The theme of driving
out is most explicitly related to the fore of the demons whore
Jesus drives out, and is therefore ambiguous because now the one
driven out is the one driving out. Thus arises the obvious
accusation that the analysis based on scapegoating is itself
guilty of scapegoating. The text takes up the problem in terms of
the accusation that Jesus is himself possessed by Beelzebub and
drives out the lesser demons in the power of the prince of demons.
Mark links this accusation with parabolic material and connects it
with the account of Jesus’ estrangement from his family.
In Girardian terms, the accusation
that Jesus drives out demons by means of demons is a mythic
version of the sacral procedure of driving out violence by means
of violence. The GMSM [Generative Mimetic Scapegoating Mechanism,
H-K's term for the satanic powers] uses violence to control
violence by transferring it violently to the victim. This does not
succeed in getting rid of violence because Satan cannot expel
himself and would never willingly allow his domain to be split.
Only when he has been bound, as in the presence of the kingdom of
God, can his realm be plundered. The exorcisms of Jesus are
therefore genuine expulsions of violence by divine power and not
just another turn of the screw inside the system. Those who
interpret Jesus as an insider rather than an outsider and see his
exorcisms as violence against violence, commit the unforgivable
sin because they confine themselves within the cycle of violence
and refuse the way out offered by the gospel.
The presence of the mob at the
beginning of the pericope indicates the presence of the founding
mechanism. The scene is again set by a going into a house. The mob
follows him, virtually miming his movement (3:20). Then we are
told that those with him “went out to restrain the mob because it
was out of control.” Thus, the mob, as the source of both the bad
and good violence, signifies the presence of the mechanism. The
raging of the mob brings to our attention the question of whether
Jesus acts within the cycle of violence. The speculation and
accusation of the Jerusalem scribes about the league with
Beelzebub are perfectly understandable in the light of his
popularity with the crowd. They accuse him of their own crime.
The exorcisms are not merely another
turn of the screw of sacred violence, but a break-in to the system
from another dimension and an opening up of the possibility of a
new order. This new possibility has its application not just in
the political but also in the personal sphere where it relativizes
even the traditional ties of family affection and obligation. The
mob is now transformed into the circle around Jesus (3:31-35) and
recognized as those who do the will of God and thus as the new
family of Jesus. The dramatic contrast between the mob in 3:21,
which is “out of its mind” and has to be restrained by Jesus’
attendants, and the crowd now sitting in a circle around him and
listening to his teaching (3:32-34), makes the point that those
who become disciples cease from being the mob that gives sacred
violence its authority. The passage from rival to disciple is the
passage from the lynch mob to the confraternity of the kingdom.
Within this new context, the traditional family is an anachronism.
The new radical fatherhood of God relativizes the claims of
earthly parents and family obligations, which were in any case
organized for the most part according to the forms of sacred
The transformation of the raging mob
into the circle of disciples contrasts with the rivalry of the
Jerusalem scribes who accuse Jesus of their crime of using
violence to control violence. They provide the foil against which
the transformation appears more vivid. We are not told explicitly
that the family members who tried to reclaim Jesus for the old
order belonged with the scribes, but that is the implication.
Therefore, we have in these pericopes an account in narrative form
of the conflict between the Sacred and the gospel and the
possibility of transformation of even the source of the old order,
the mob. In teens of the parable in 3:27, this transformation is
an instance of the binding and plundering of the strong man.
The poetics of place has played an
important part in the communication of the message. We note the
contrast between the temple, the synagogue, the house, and the
town on the one hand, and the wilderness, the mountain, the sea
(boat), and the open road on the other, between the urban and the
rural symbolism of space. The movement from inside to outside
takes place in terms of all of these places and shows that the
important thing is the contrast itself (between inside and out)
rather than the specific terms of the contrast. We note that Jesus
describes his ministry as that for which he “came out” (1:38b).
His progress into the center of the crowd goes through concentric
circles of place, into the town, into the synagogue or house, into
the circle of those inside the structure, and there at the center
is a demoniac to be exorcized, a mother-in-law to be healed, or a
tax collector to be called.
The symbol of the house is especially
clear in the pericope about casting out Beelzebub by Beelzebub. It
takes place in a house (3:20), and Jesus’ response, which we are
told is parabolic (3:23), focuses on the image of the house. “If a
house is divided against itself that house cannot stand” (3:25)
takes house in the sense of household, applying the image to rival
groups. If the conspiracy of the surrogate victim mechanism is
broken, the unity of the group will be lost. Unanimity is
essential to the survival of the Sacred. The plundering of the
strong man’s house (3:27) is therefore the revelation of the truth
that breaking the conspiracy disables the power of the Sacred.
This is achieved not by inflicting violence but by suffering it on
the cross and thus disclosing it. Jesus is the one who enters the
strong man’s house by moving from the wilderness into the town,
the house, the synagogue, or the crowd, and there, by his death —
by giving himself “a ransom for many” — revealing the conspiracy
of violence that holds the group together. (pp. 81-84)
6. Tom Truby, a member
of Theology &
Peace, used Girardian insights to offer a sermon in 2012, titled "The Strong Man's Game
7. Shannon Mullen, a member of Theology & Peace, used Girardian insights to offer in 2012 a sermon on this text (audio) or text version (pdf).
Reflections and Questions
1. My first reaction to Girard's interpretation of this passage
was skepticism. I was too used to reading it in its more ordinary
sense, i.e., that Jesus' question about Satan casting out Satan
was a rhetorical one with the sense that it could never happen. To
interpret his question as implying the scapegoating mechanism
seemed far-fetched to me. Yet I've since noticed that Mark gives
us a clue: he uses the word "parable" for the first time in his
gospel immediately before Jesus' question regarding Satan. In
Mark's gospel, "parable" has the sense of "riddle." He seems to be
signaling us that what Jesus is about to say may not have the most
ordinary sense. And so these verses (3:23-26) become more
compelling to me in the Girardian reading of them: all of human
culture is based on Satan casting out Satan, and it is a kingdom,
a household, a way of forming human community, that cannot stand.
Jesus comes to offer us a new way of forming a Holy Communion that
isn't based on some version of divisiveness. Link here for a sermon
on this theme entitled "The
Parable of Satan Casting Out Satan."
2. In 2012, the sermon "A New Way of Being Human" (and
extended version from the one preached) makes the point that is
becoming increasingly important to me as a proponent of Mimetic
Theory: that we come to see salvation itself as an anthropological
event. Jesus did not come to start a new religion. In a very
important sense, religion is one of the things he came to save us
from. He came to give us a new way of being human that transcends
our languages, cultures, and religions. The greatest religions
find ways of translating into different languages and cultures,
but our default anthropology based in the Scapegoating Mechanism
still too easily corrupts attempts of religions to transcend
cultures, so religions become a tool for division rather than
unification. Anthropology is the level and category of discourse
that transcends language, culture, and religion.
To say that salvation is anthropological is to combine the
Girardian insights into this text with the game-changing Gospel
interpretation of N. T. Wright,
who is helping the church get back on track with its message of
salvation and mission. The Girardian element is to highlight the
anthropological dimension of salvation. We have evolved for a
hundred thousand years with an anthropology based on Satan casting
out Satan. Jesus coming to be in charge of the world (Wright)
establishes a new anthropology based on a new kind of kingship.
Human beings can now be organized around the loving service of the
Forgiving Victim instead of the collective violence against a
victim. A new anthropology is the first step to new creation -- as
Paul tells us in Romans 8, that the whole creation is waiting in
eager longing for the children of God to get their act together.
Anthropology brings together all the language of salvation from
the New Testament. As I said above, Jesus "is the inaugurator of
God's Kingdom, God's new culture. He is the first born of a new
anthropology, the Son of Man, the New Adam. He rescues us from the
deadly and sinful powers of the old anthropology and offers us a
new way to be human, a new anthropology, a life lived in the
Spirit instead of in the flesh."
The salvation of the world does depend on this because we human
beings now have the power to destroy not only our species but all
others as well. Girard's thesis is that the
Satan-casting-out-Satan anthropology has saved us as a species so
far, but there are serious questions about what are the long term
prospects for it continuing to do so. With the ability to destroy
this world, continuing to use violence to stop violence would not
seem to be an ultimate answer to survival. (Girard himself was
pessimistic about our prospects -- except for his Christian hope
-- in his last book Battling to the End.)
Jesus, the Human One and King of Creation, came to offer us God's
alternative, a way of rescue from the satanic powers of sin and
death, a way into a new anthropology.
3. In the background for my 2012 sermon was the column I wrote for
the parish monthly newsletter -- reflections on WWI and the
causes of war, by way of Downton
Abbey. I consider WWI a war that needs the level of
anthropological discourse. The ordinary discourses of politics and
history don't provide satisfying answers to why this war took
place. I believe it only makes sense when considering the deeper
anthropological current of Satan casting out Satan as our way of
peace for 100,000 years of being homo sapiens.
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