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FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT -- YEAR C
RCL: Isaiah 43:16-21; Phil 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8
RoCa: Isaiah 43:16-21; Phil 3:8-14; John 8:1-11
 

Isaiah 43:18-25

Resources

1. For a general Girardian approach to Second Isaiah, see James G. Williams, The Bible, Violence, & the Sacred, pp. 146, 157-162 (excerpt).

2. Tony Bartlett, the sixth study in a series on Second Isaiah (on 43:14-44:8). These studies are among the finest examples of how Mimetic Theory is a key to opening the revelation of Scripture.

Reflections and Questions

1. A theme which might be developed through all these lessons is around our neglected sense of smell. When God through Isaiah calls us to perceive the new thing God is doing, can you smell it? Newness has a smell to it. Fresh. Newly alive. The smell of Spring. The old things also have a smell, the smell of "garbage" or "crap" (Phil 3:8; skybala in Gk) of Paul's forsaking the old way for a new way in Jesus the Messiah. The Gospel Lesson is the most fragrant of all. Passover time, the crowding of Jerusalem with thousands of pilgrims, was a time of strong smell, not only the crush of people but eventually that of thousands of animal carcasses in various stages of blood sacrifice. Into the midst of that comes Mary's act of devotion: "Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume" (John 12:3). God is doing a new thing, establishing a new perception of God's righteousness, through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah. Can you smell it? The way of life, a new Exodus (clear imagery in this passage) out of the way of death, is being established in the desert. Can you smell it?


Philippians 3:4b-14

Resources

1. This passage also appears in the lectionary at Proper 22A; see notes there.

2. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, sermon from March 28, 2004 (Woodside Village Church), and sermon from March 21, 2010 (Society of St. John at St. Mark's Chapel, Palo Alto).

3. Three weeks ago we had Phil. 3:17-4:1, a passage important to mimetic theory because it includes Paul's exhortation to imitate him -- presumably imitation relating to what he has outlined about himself in this day's passage. And this is all anchored in the portion we read each Passion Sunday about having the same mind of Christ, his self-emptying, his kenosis. See the notes for Lent 2C for the former passage and Passion Sunday C for the latter.

4. v. 9 (NRSV): "not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith." This is an example once again of translating the genitive construction dia pisteos christou as "through faith in Christ" rather than its more common rendering of "through the faith of Christ." This has become a crucial point for me. The translation of "faith in Christ" puts the emphasis on our faith and has become a works righteousness around our believing. I strongly believe that Paul's primary emphasis is on the faith of Christ which then can be communicated to us through the Holy Spirit. It is Christ's faith that saves us as a free gift of grace and establishes the new righteousness of God (new to us, not to God) that Paul is talking about here and in Romans 3:21ff. See the more extended remarks on this issue in "My Core Convictions" and the page for Reformation Day (in the latter, reflection #5 refers specifically to this passage as another obvious instance of this point).


John 12:1-8

Resources

1. Gil Bailie, "The Gospel of John" lecture series, tape #9. Here are my notes on this passage:

2. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, sermon from April 1, 2001 (Woodside Village Church).

3. Andrew Marr, Abbot of St. Gregory's Abbey (Three Rivers, MI) is a long-time reader and writer on Mimetic Theory and in his blog, "Imaginary Visions of True Peace," made these reflections on the text in 2013, "A Scandalous Woman as Extravagant as Jesus."

4. Mark Anspach, "Global Markets, Anonymous Victims," Interview by Yannick Blanc and Michel Bessières, in The UNESCO Courier, May, 2001, pages 47-51. This is the best short essay that gives a glimpse of how our economics also descend out of the Scapegoat Mechanism. Jesus' comment about the poor always being with us is a reflection of this reality. As long as the Scapegoat Mechanism is in play, we will continue to have the poor as the victims of our economic institutions. The importance of Mary anointing him for the cross is that she is signaling God's anointing of the Messiah as he embarks on the event that begins the defeat of the Scapegoat Mechanism. Someday, we will no longer have the poor with us, but only because Jesus enacted the unveiling of the mechanism that keeps the poor in place.

Reflections and Questions

1. This passage is John's version of a Passion prediction. Jesus knows something that the others don't, so things are not what they appear to be. Many scholars of the Historical Jesus discount such predictions as unlikely from Jesus. But Martin Luther King, Jr., had veiled references to his premonitions of an imminent death on the night before he was assassinated.

I use the King speech as an example in a sermon titled "Things Are Not What They Appear to Be." Girardians generally have little trouble in believing that Jesus could have had such insight into his own fate. We believe that he had anthropological insight into what we are about and knew his mission to be one of revealing that our cultures aren't what they appear to be either. But the Good News is that, just as we are learning to see behind the appearances to the dark origins of our cultures, we also come to see the bright light of God's forgiveness for it in Jesus Christ.

2. John's version of this story, compared to the version in Mark (14:3-9) and Matthew (26:6-13), has been carefully woven into the surrounding context. Mary, beyond being the nameless woman in Mark and Matthew, has been introduced in the previous story as the sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus raises. Such an act of devotion, especially one that prefigures burial, is an understandable response to Jesus' raising of her brother. It also follows the theme of John 11 of Jesus teaching his disciples how to respond to death. (Gil Bailie has made a brilliant reading of John 11, in the lecture mentioned above and, more generally, around the Gospel theme of "The Empty Tomb" [excerpt].)

Jesus' pending death also fits into the context of plots for his death in John 11:45-57, containing the crucial statement of the mimetic theory's scapegoat mechanism:

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed." (John 11:49-50)
In the aftermath of the raising, there is not only a plot against Jesus but also against Lazarus:
When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus. (John 12:9-11)
Finally, this well-crafted story by John also looks ahead to what follows in John 13, his version of the Last Supper. Judas plays an anti-figure in both. But instead of Mary anointing, or washing (the Greek allows both), Jesus' feet, Jesus washes his disciples feet. Just as Jesus provides an "example" for his disciples as the servant Messiah, Mary prophetically provides an example of discipleship to that servant Messiah.

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