1. Andrew Marr, "God's Vineyard" (online article).
1. See last week's (Proper 14C) bibliography on Hebrews.
2. Along with Col. 3:1-2 (which we mentioned several weeks ago), Heb. 12:2 is a passage of which James Alison says in Raising Abel, "a quotation which I hope will become familiar to you," page 41; again quoted on pp. 75 & 189. Being a favorite verse, he quotes it again in The Joy of Being Wrong, p. 229.
The first citation of Heb. 12:2 in Raising Abel comes in the midst of a remarkable chapter on Jesus' perception of God, a perception that the apostles could only begin to understand gradually in light of the resurrection. The basic insight is that God is a God of life; we are so formed in a culture of death that we cannot see that God has nothing to do with our ways of death, other than suffering them in Jesus Christ in order to reveal God's effervescent life. Heb. 12:2 represents a clear statement of this insight for Alison. It is well worth reading that wider context in chapter 2 on "The Living God" (excerpt).
The citation in JBW is excerpted in relation to last week's Gospel (link).
1. The parallel passage in Matthew is 10:34-36 (see Proper
7A for more); this is considered a passage from the
hypothesized Q source. A crucial difference between the Matthean
and Lukan parallels is that Matthew's Jesus says he 'doesn't come
to bring peace but a sword'
(Matt 10:34; Gr. machaira),
while Luke's Jesus says he 'doesn't come to bring peace but rather
division' (Luke 12:51;
2. Luke goes on to use the participial form of the verb that
matches his noun: diamerizo,
"divided," while Matthew uses the verb dichazo, which can also mean divide, but more specifically
entails splitting something in two -- like one might do with a
sword. Luke's choice of diamerismos,
"division," is the lone instance of this word in the New
Testament. The verb diamerizo
is more common, especially in Luke-Acts. Matthew, Mark, and John
use the verb once a piece at the foot of the cross where the
soldiers "divided" Jesus' clothes. Luke uses it twice in this
passage but then also earlier twice in the crucial Girardian
passage about Satan being divided from himself and thus causing a
divided house that cannot stand (Luke 11:14-23). Luke's version
reverses the riddle talking first about the divided house and then
a divided Satan. Mark's version gives us 'Satan casting out Satan'
and then a house divided. Mark and Matthew use the root verb merizo for "divide," rather
than Luke's more emphatic diamerizo.
1. René Girard. This passage, and its parallel in Matt.
10, expresses one of the basic points in mimetic theory. Our human
way of keeping peace is the scapegoat mechanism and, exposed as
sacred violence in the cross of Christ, is gradually taken away
from us as its effectiveness wanes. A basic part of Jesus'
teachings, then, were "apocalyptic" warnings that violence would
increase as our way of peace is taken away -- making his call for
peace through God's way of peace -- love and forgiveness -- even
more critical. He does come to bring peace but 'not as the world
gives' (John 14:27). Our way of peace is the Sin (definitely in
the singular in John 1:29) which the Lamb of God comes to take
So what happens in between the taking away of our peace and our
embracing of God's peace? Sword and division -- father against
son, son against father, etc.Our way of peace is designed to bring
peace especially in proximity of relationship such as our flesh
and blood families. It is a way of peace based on us vs. them.
As Jesus takes that way of peace away from us, the first casualty
is the peace we have with "us," with those closest to us.
One example of this might be the modern progress in dismantling sexism. The old way of peace meant sacrificing the desires and goals of the daughters and wives in families. As families have rightly become more equalitarian so has the discord, in many instances, increased between husbands and wives, parents and children. Divorce has increased greatly. Christ showing us the way of love is needed in order to be able to desire with one desire as husbands and wives, without having to resort to the old sacrificial order of wives defering to husbands. Otherwise, mimetic rivalry ensues with an increase of division.
The bottom line is that Girard speaks of this passage in many of the cases in which he raises the theme of apocalyptic: Things Hidden, p. 181; and here's a passage from I See Satan, p. 159:
Scapegoating phenomena cannot survive in many instances except by becoming more subtle, by resorting to more and more complex casuistry in order to elude the self-criticism that follows scapegoaters like their shadow. Otherwise, we could no longer resort to some wretched goat to rid ourselves of our resentments. We now have need of procedures less comically evident.In The Girard Reader, Luke 12 / Matt. 10 is referred to in the chapter on "Satan," p. 209, and in the "Epilog," p. 275. There is also citation in Evolution and Conversion, p. 237. An interesting and lesser know place where Girard discusses these themes is in a CBC Ideas radio show, The Scapegoat, with David Cayley, tape 5, side A. For example:
Jesus makes allusion to this, I think. It is the deprivation of victim mechanisms and its terrible consequences that he talks about when he presents the future of the evangelized world in terms of conflict between persons who are most closely related:Don’t think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. One’s enemies will be those of his own household. (Matt. 10:34-36)In a world deprived of sacrificial safeguards, mimetic rivalries are often physically less violent, but they insinuate themselves into the most intimate relationships. This is what the text I have just quoted specifies: the son at war with his father, the daughter against her mother, etc. The loss of sacrificial protection transforms the most intimate relationships into their exact opposites so that they become relationships of doubles, of enemy twins. This text enables us to identify the true origin of modern “psychology.”
David Cayley2. Raymund Schwager, Jesus in the Drama of Salvation, p. 110. This passage is cited near the climax of a section entitled "The Answer of the Kingdom of God to Rejection" (pp. 101-114). Here is a relevant portion:
In the New Testament, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. It is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword. For I have come to set son against father, daughter against mother... A person’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” The passage is puzzling. Why would Jesus’ gospel of love and mutual forbearance create division and discord? René Girard’s interpretation unlocks the puzzle. Human society, Girard says, creates order by channeling violence towards scapegoats. Envy and resentment are directed away from one another and towards a common enemy. Ritual sacrifices institutionalize this way of expelling violence. Jesus denounces the lie on which this system rests and allows himself to be crucified in order to reveal for all time the innocence of all sacrificial victims. But this revelation, by depriving people of the means to disown their violence and project it onto others, inevitably brings that violence home to roost, so to speak, setting father against son and so forth. Jesus flushes the hidden violence of culture into the open, imposing a choice on people, and it is this choice, Girard says, that constitutes the unveiling or uncovering that Christians call the Apocalypse.
The Apocalypse is not some invention. If we are without sacrifices, either we’re going to love each other or we’re going to die. We have no more protection against our own violence. Therefore, we are confronted with a choice: either we’re going to follow the rules of the Kingdom of God or the situation is going to get infinitely worse.
This either-or, in Girard’s view, is the dynamic that the Christian gospel introduces into history. The effect is gradual, exerting itself over many centuries. But this doesn’t by any means imply that the world then grows magically less violent. Sacrifice is a means of limiting violence — a single victim thrown to the gods so that everyone can live in peace. So when people no longer sacrifice but also fail to repent, violence can easily grow worse and this worsening violence, Girard says, is an effect that many contemporary people seem to hold against Christianity.
You know, I’m pretty accustomed now to these meetings about violence. Everybody’s talking about violence today. They’ve all read Voltaire’s Candide, and violence is a scandal to them. And so they ask, what kind of a God is that who is supposed to bring us peace and just look at the state the world is in? People show up indignantly, as if God were an American president who had not fulfilled his promises. But I say to them, where do you see it said in the Gospel that Christ came to bring peace? He tells you Himself that He’s bringing a sword and not peace, that He’s separating father from son, and so on ... Where do you find that the Christ promises immediate peace? Christ tells you you have to fight for the Kingdom of God. Otherwise you won’t have either the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Satan. Because the Kingdom of Satan, he says, is going to collapse as a result of its internal contradictions. It is going toward destruction. (The very beginning of tape 5, side A, in Ideas presentation of "The Scapegoat")
Objections have been made (Vögtle, Fiedler, Oberlinner, among others), as we have already briefly seen, to this way of putting the problem, stating that it is quite impossible to speak of a definitive rejection by Israel of the kingdom of God, and that therefore one has to distinguish clearly between a readiness for death, which certainly ought to be attributed to Jesus, and a certainty of death, which is not demonstrable. Consequently there are no historical grounds for the assumption that he understood his death as an atoning death and interpreted it that way to his disciples at the Last Supper. This view involves several historical judgments of detail which we have already considered and about which we came to rather different conclusions. But as the problematic of atonement is decisive for the way we understand the death of Jesus, we will have to turn to it again.3. S. Mark Heim, Saved from Sacrifice, has a very good chapter on Girard's theme of Apocalypse, chapter 9, "The Bad News about Revelation: Two Kinds of Apocalypses." This passage is referred to near the beginning:
If God is imagined as an eternal, unaltering sun, which shines on humankind, unmoved, with constant goodness, then it might really be difficult to speak of a definitive rejection. With such a view, there goes a corresponding understanding of time, according to which there are no outstanding moments (or at most that of one's own death). Each hour is equally full of meaning or empty of meaning and therefore one can never say before the last moment of life that someone has definitively decided. At the most, there is a slow ripening toward goodness or a step by step falling away into evil. In line with this representation of time, one can even assume -- with a corresponding doctrine of the soul -- that the soul's processes continue after bodily death and never become definitive, as Origen may have assumed. In this case, the person and message of Jesus are seen entirely in terms of general ideas.
However, things are different if one thinks not merely of the general idea "Action of God," but of an actual action. Time appears in this case not as a continuous line, but it contains outstanding moments. With such an understanding, the kairos, the moment of fulfillment or opportunity, can be used or squandered. Now we have seen -- in agreement with most critical exegetes -- that Jesus announced the kingdom of God as an event, which could succeed or fail. It depended on his effectiveness -- in teaching, healing, and bringing together -- whether the spark actually passed from him to his hearers and whether the new assembly became an event. Jesus lived in a pressured time (expectation of the imminent kingdom), and this should have become a time of celebration [German Hoch-Zeit; Hochzeit is the common word for "wedding"]; in fact, even before the public rejection, it became for him -- because of people's lack of faith -- a heavy burden, which subjectively made the time stretch out again: "O you unbelieving generation! How long will I yet be with you? How long must I yet bear with you?" (Mark 9:19ff. and parallels). So we can understand how it could weigh on him that these dark events provoked by his proclamation might soon come about: "I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already burning. I must be baptized with a baptism, and how I am constrained until it is accomplished" (Luke 12:49ff.). These sayings are not easy to interpret. It is possible that fire meant in the first place the kingdom of God, which Jesus hoped would spread like a fire across the earth. But by baptism he certainly referred to something else. The disputed question, whether he was alluding to a coming baptism of judgment or whether he was more generally predicting an eschatological test, can remain open, as the sayings about baptism are enough to show that he was not proclaiming any general ideas, for which there was always a time. He found himself in a pressured train of events, and was pressed to bring things to an end himself.
Since the kingdom of God as the "time of grace" (Luke 19:44) was at the same time a time of decision, the answer was bound automatically to come out negative if the spark did not fly and the fire did not begin to burn. It was not a question of whether Israel consciously and expressly rejected Jesus by a numerical majority or whether one considers that later on many people would have given their approval. Since the event, which had its particular "time," did not materialize, and the "fire" did not begin to spread, a negative decision had de facto occurred. Before the outward resolution to kill Jesus there lay the inner decision, and he must have picked this up keenly, as his whole effort was being expended in summoning people away from the laws of their everyday behavior. Between the inner decision, which is essentially to be understood as a nondecision in the face of the summons given out, and which perhaps occurred very early on, and the outward reaction of his direct opponents, some time may well have elapsed, in which Jesus on the one hand continued his proclamation of the basileia -- even if under a heavy burden -- and on the other began immediately to make clear the consequences of rejection through the judgment sayings. It is important not to set up false oppositions here.
If the proclamation of Jesus was a salvation history event, then his hearers took on a role in salvation history. From the concept of role (so once more the significance of a dramatic view is shown), we can understand more precisely what is meant by definitive rejection. If one thinks of this as a final subjective refusal of God, then very serious difficulties result. On the one hand, in this case redemption would be won by means of the hell of those who rejected Jesus; on the other hand everyone would stand under the same threat even after Easter, as it is hard to see why the grace of redemption should be easier to accept than the grace of the basileia message. Everyone would stand in danger of the final destruction, without a convincing reason for hope. But from the viewpoint of a thorough going dramatic understanding of Jesus' fate, such an interpretation of the definitive rejection is excluded. Since Jesus' hearers acted in a salvation history role, rejection was part of their action as role players. They made their decision, in view of the new life and the new divine standard which Jesus proclaimed, by remaining caught in the laws and forces of this world. Definitive rejection means in this case: it has been definitively shown that the forces and powers by which human history is ruled stand in fundamental opposition to that message and that life brought by Jesus. In this context, the question of individual salvation remained at first open.
One further problem can be explained by means of the idea of dramatic role in salvation history. In the investigation up until now, the rejection of Jesus appeared in one way as something monstrous. How hard-hearted must Jesus' hearers have been if they did not open themselves to the message of pure forgiveness and unlimited goodness? In another way the rejection showed itself as something quite natural. Have not people always behaved the same way in history, and was not Jesus' demand concerning faith and love of one's enemy far too much for them, a utopian expectation? The idea of role allows these opposite aspects to be articulated together without contradiction. In the fate of Jesus a monstrous conflict between the kingdom of God and the laws of this world was in fact played out. But at the same time it became clear that the "players" are so ruled by strange forces that from their point of view no other decision could have been expected. Their actions were monstrous and totally banal at the same time.
The problems which are thrown up by the distinction mentioned above between readiness for death and certainty of death should consequently resolve themselves if the kingdom of God is understood as an event and seen in the context of the drama of salvation history. The question before which Jesus stood at the last meal with his disciples was not whether, after the rejection of the willing forgiveness of his Father, he should proclaim another opportunity for salvation, a "salvation on the basis of a substitute performance." The dramatic question was rather how the goodness of his Father can reach human hearts, after it has been definitively shown what opposition existed in the forces of this world and how far people were subject to them. The surprising answer of Jesus appears in allowing himself to be handed over to the dark powers (lies, violence, diabolical self-certainty) and to be struck by them. (Jesus in the Drama of Salvation, pp. 108-111)
4. Wolfgang Palaver, René Girard's Mimetic
Theory, p. 250. In explaining Girard's "Apocalyptic
Reading of History," it is no surprise that the Matthean parallel
to this passage is cited. Here is a particularly poignant
Girard argues that our contemporary world offers a particularly clear picture of the apocalyptical dangers that accompany this biblical impulse. The biblical demystification of the world has given rise to modern science and technology — in particular, nuclear weapons, which have provided mankind with the capability to annihilate itself. Girard also sees the environmental catastrophes that threaten a self-inflicted end to the world as confirmation of the Bible’s apocalyptical prophesies: “To say that we are objectively in an apocalyptic situation is in no sense to ‘preach the end of the world.’ It is to say that mankind has become, for the first time, capable of destroying itself, something that was unimaginable only two or three centuries ago. The whole planet now finds itself, with regard to violence, in a situation comparable to that of most primitive groups of human beings, except that this time we are fully aware of it. We can no longer count on sacrificial resources based on false religions to keep this violence at bay” (Things Hidden, 260-261). (pp. 251-52)
5. Anthony Bartlett, Virtually
Christian, p. 233. Bartlett cites this context in a
different context: a comparison of Jesus and John the Baptist.
John uses fire imagery in prophesying the Messiah. Bartlett
There is, however, one saying of Jesus that switches the whole meaning of fire and it gives an indication of how he was changing John’s entire symbolic scheme. He said, ‘I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished’ (Luke 12:49-50). The image of setting fire to the whole earth is very different from burning the separated chaff. It is also connected to a baptism that Jesus has yet to undergo, and so is diverse from John’s meaning. John’s promise of a baptism with ‘spirit and fire’ refers to the final cataclysm of God’s in-breaking in history. The water baptism at the Jordan that he offered stood as a powerful symbolic alternative to fire, the possibility of entering into a repentance and purification that pre-empted this fearsome eventuality. Jesus’ putting together of ‘fire’ and ‘baptism’ in respect of something he had still to undergo suggests that he accepted John’s symbols but at a deeper and decisive level he opted to bring the crisis down on himself in a totally exceptional sense. He would thereby release fire on earth, but in a transformed, generative sense. Here we have the absolutely characteristic gesture of Jesus that unites an apocalyptic viewpoint with something else, something that changes the orientation and content of apocalyptic itself. It returns us again to his otherwise-than-John manifesto. (pp. 233-34)
6. Brian Robinette, Grammars
of Resurrection, p. 288:
Understanding Jesus’ ministry, as well as the danger he quite consciously put himself in, requires that we see it as an unrelenting disruption of the boundaries of “pure” and “impure” as delineated by the dominant purity map of his day. A very significant proportion of his sayings and deeds involve bringing these distinctions into crisis... [examples cited] Through these and many other sayings and deeds, Jesus undermines the subtle and overt ways human beings cultivate identity, individually or in groups, in contrastive relation to the Other. He thus brings scandal to identity. His is a ministry of healing through cauterization. (Hence the otherwise unintelligible statement, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” [Matt. 10:34; see also Luke 12:51-53; 14:26-27].) It painfully brings to light the underlying disease of mimetic rivalry and conflict. Such an operation is extremely dangerous. It plays directly, if calculatingly, into the dynamics of the scapegoating process: for when identity is threatened, when social distinctions are confused, when pollution is introduced into the system, the habitual reaction is to expel, to exterminate. (pp. 288-89)
7. James Alison, Broken Hearts and News Creations,
p. 39; in an essay titled "Wrath and
the gay question" (which can also be found online).
He quotes this passage with the one from John 14:27, about Jesus
coming to bring peace, but not the peace that the world gives us.
Again, this is such a crucial insight of Girardian thought, it is
developed over several pages:
Yet in fact Jesus does warn that the effect of his mission is going to be to produce wrath, in the passage I have already quoted to you. And in fact, he then gives himself to the sacrificial mechanism in a way which the Gospel writers point to as being the way proper to the great High Priest, and he becomes the lamb of sacrifice. In fact, he reverses the normal human sacrificial system which started with human sacrifice and then is later modified to work with animal substitutes. Jesus, by contrast, substitutes himself for the lamb, portions of whose body were handed out to the priests; and thus by putting a human back at the centre of the sacrificial system, he reveals it for what it is: a murder.
Now here is the curious thing. It looks for all the world as though Jesus is simply fitting into the ancient world’s views about sacrifice and wrath. But in fact, he is doing exactly the reverse. Because he is giving himself to this being murdered, and he has done nothing wrong, he brings about an entirely new way to be free from wrath. ... What Jesus has done by substituting himself for the victim at the centre of the lynch sacrifice is to make it possible for those who perceive his innocence, to realise what it is in which they have been involved (and agreeing to drink his blood presupposes a recognition of this complicity). These then begin to have their identity given them not by the group over against the victim, but by the self-giving victim who is undoing the unanimity of the group. This means that from then on they never again have to be involved in sacrifices, sacrificial mechanisms and all the games of “wrath” which every culture throws up. They will be learning to walk away from all that, undergoing being given the peace that the world does not give.
So, there is no wrath at all in what Jesus is doing. He understands perfectly well that there is no wrath in the Father, and yet that “wrath” is a very real anthropological reality, whose cup he will drink to its dregs. His Passion consists, in fact, of his moving slowly, obediently, and deliberately into the place of shame, the place of wrath, and doing so freely and without provoking it. However, from the perspective of the wrathful, that is, of all of us run by the mechanisms of identity building, peace building, unanimity building “over against” another, Jesus has done something terrible. Exactly as he warned. He has plunged us into irresoluble wrath. Because he has made it impossible for us ever really to believe in what we are doing when we sacrifice, when we shore up our social belonging against some other. All our desperate attempts to continue doing that are revealed to be what they are: just so much angry frustration, going nowhere at all, spinning the wheels of futility.
The reason is this: the moment we perceive that the one occupying the central space in our system of creating and shoring up meaning is actually innocent, actually gave himself to be in that space, then all our sacred mechanisms for shoring up law and order, sacred differences and so forth, are revealed to be the fruits of an enormous self-deception. The whole world of the sacred totters, tumbles, and falls if we see that this human being is just like us. He came to occupy the place of the sacrificial victim entirely freely, voluntarily, and without any taint of being “run” by, or beholden to, the sacrificial system. That is, he is one who was without sin. This human being was doing something for us even while we were so locked into a sacrificial way of thinking and behaviour that we couldn’t possibly have understood what he was doing for us, let alone asked him to do it. The world of the sacred totters and falls because when we see someone who is like us doing that for us, and realise what has been done, the shape that our realisation takes is our moving away from ever being involved in such things again.
Now what is terrible about this is that it makes it impossible for us really to bring about with a good conscience any of the sacred resolutions, the sacrificial decisions which brought us, and bring all societies, comparative peace and order. The game is up. And so human desire, rivalry, competition, which had previously been kept in some sort of check by a system of prohibitions, rituals, sacrifices and myths, lest human groups collapse in perpetual and irresoluble mutual vengeance, can no longer be controlled in this way. This is the sense in which Jesus’ coming brings not peace to the earth, but a sword and division. All the sacred structures which hold groups together start to collapse, because desire has been unleashed. So the sacred bonds within families are weakened, different generations will be run by different worlds, give their loyalty to different and incompatible causes, the pattern of desire constantly shifting. All in fact will be afloat on a sea of wrath, because the traditional means to curb wrath, the creation by sacrifice of spaces of temporary peace within the group, has been undone forever. The only alternative is to undergo the forgiveness which comes from the lamb, and start to find oneself recreated from within by a peace which is not from this world, and involves learning how to resist the evil one by not resisting evil. This means: you effectively resist, have no part in, the structures and flows of desire which are synonymous with the prince of this world, that is to say with the world of wrath, only by refusing to acquire an identity over against evil-done-to you. (pp. 42-44)
8. 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 this passage in 2013, "Human Swords, God's Peace."9. N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God. In ch. 9, "Symbol and Controversy," Wright details how Jesus' kingdom message clashed with the reigning symbols of his first-century Jewish culture: Sabbath, Food, Nation and Family, Land and Possessions, and especially the Temple. This passage clearly expresses the clash with the symbol of family; pages 398-403 outline Jesus' clash with Nation and Family. On the positive side, Wright also sketches out how Jesus redefined family, pages 430-432, characterized by one of the best-known features of Jesus' work: "his open table-fellowship with anyone who shared his agenda, who wanted to be allied with his kingdom movement."
Wright also fruitfully features this passage within two other sections: "Warnings of Imminent Judgment on 'This Generation,'" pages 329-333, and "Other Stories of the Return of YHWH," pages 640-642.
10. John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, a
section entitled "The Cost of Discipleship: Luke 12:49-13:9;
14:25-36," pages 36-39.
1. In 2010 our congregation was fresh from a trip to San Lucas,
Guatemala. We also as a parish have been trying to understand the
way of the church in this age of great change, both in the church
and our culture at large. Reflecting on these texts in the light
of our current experience yielded the sermon "God's Way
of Peace -- Through
2. Are the two parts of this pericope related? Is Jesus coming to divide families related to learning to read the signs of the times? If one understands the sacrificial logic that underlies the institutions of our culture, which are most often centered on the institution of family, then I think we might relate these. The only true and ultimate peace is one for which God's entire human family might be united, without sacrificing anyone. Jesus' coming into the world challenges any lesser peace based on pitting some families against others. Jesus' peace causes the destabilization of those lesser families. When we understand this, we can learn to read the signs of our times.
Link to a sermon based on these themes entitled "The Peace that Passes Understanding." It begins with the story of a 'happy' family that isn't so perfectly happy, after all.
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