1 Kings 17:17-24
1. The best pieces on Elijah from the standpoint of Mimetic
Bailie, Violence Unveiled,
Sacrifice," pp. 169-173; and...
2. James Alison, ch. 2 of Faith Beyond Resentment (see also below under Galatians text), excerpt of pages 27-30.
1. Robert Hamerton-Kelly has a good section on 2:19 in Sacred Violence, pp. 65-71, in which he also talks about Gal. 1. A brief example:
Given that we are the slaves of desire in any case, the true mimesis is to let one's desire be shaped by the nonacquisitive divine desire as seen in the Cross, and thus be liberated from the realm of mimetic rivalry and sacred violence. (p. 69)2. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, and sermon from June 6, 2010 (Society of St. John at St. Mark's Chapel, Palo Alto).
The third biblical moment which shares this same structure and which I wish to examine with you is the conversion of Saul. I say the same structure, because Paul himself points it out. In his letter to the Galatians, when he describes his own conversion (Gal 1:11-17), Paul narrates it with allusions to the story of Elijah: he used to persecute with great violence, and he advanced beyond his compatriots in having a zeal (the word is key) much greater than theirs. After his experience of conversion, he didnít consult with anybody, but immediately went off to the desert, like Elijah, and from there he returned to Damascus, where Elijah had to go, after his experience with the still small voice, to anoint Jehu. So, Paul narrates his experience within the framework provided by Elijahís collapse of zeal that we have just seen. His whole life and apostolic experience afterwards is marked by the collapse of a sacred world within which he had been an especially ferocious militant, a collapse produced by the recognition that in his zeal to serve God, it had been God whom he had been persecuting. For him the still small voice was the voice of the crucified and risen victim whose breath is the Holy Spirit.
I emphasize this for a simple reason: as a backdrop for the theological discussion which I wish to begin with you, I want to bring out a very important dimension of the experience of the resurrection which normally doesnít get its due hearing: the experience of the novelty, vitality and exuberance of God which was provoked among the apostolic witnesses by the appearances of the risen Lord, and which little by little changed their whole perspective and imagination, was not only an experience of an addition to a pre-existing good. To each step of the clearer and more complete revelation of God, that is to say, to each purification of faith, there is a corresponding and simultaneous collapse of a whole series of elements which seemed to have been indispensable bulwarks of faith. For these turn out to be parts of an idolatrous order of things which had previously been confused with the worship of the true God. This emphasizes something which I imagine to be obvious, though little understood in Catholic treatises on faith, which is that faith in the living God automatically introduces into the world a process of unbelieving. Someone who begins to believe in the living God automatically begins to lose faith in the inevitability of things, in fate, in the sacredness of the social order, in inevitable progress, in horoscopes and so on, because the moment the imagination and emotional and mental structures begin to absorb what is meant by the vivaciousness of the Creator God who brings into being and sustains all things, all those other elements start to be revealed as part of a dead sacred order, as attributions of divinity and thus of fixity, to things which are human, which are structured socially, culturally and economically, and are for that reason dependent on human responsibility and potentially mutable through the exercise of that same responsibility.
There is more. The resurrection, as it was received, incarnated and understood by Paul, not only provoked a purification of the human perspective on God, but that purification was shown to be absolutely inseparable from the presence of a crucified and risen human victim, whose presence inaugurates and keeps perpetually alive a process of de-sacralization of the religious matrix within which the crucifixion and resurrection had occurred, and within which Saul had been a certain sort of participant. All of Paulís preaching, all of his theology, is characterized by the process of the collapse of a certain sacred structure, and by the slow discovery of the perspective given by a new focus on Yahweh, the Pauline equivalent of Elijahís still small voice. Paulís whole argument about the Law is nothing other than the attempt to make it clear that, from the moment when the resurrection makes present the crucified one as a constant hermeneutical companion in our living of the religion of Yahweh, even that which had seemed sacred and untouchable in that religion, the very Torah of God, is de-sacralised. It has to be understood according to whether it contributes to the sacrifice of other victims within a sacred order, or whether it is interpreted in such a way as to deconstruct the world of sacrifices and sacred orders.
I would like to suggest something else. Paul understood very well that, starting from his experience, what was wanted was not the foundation of a new religion, which might forge a new sacred order more in accordance with the new perspective on Yahweh, but the preaching of the constancy in our midst of the presence of God as crucified and risen victim. The very fact of that presence opens up the possibility of living in the world by means of the continuous de-construction of the artificial sacred in all the forms of life in which we find ourselves, contributing in this way to the construction of a new form of human social life where every apparently sacred social distinction begins to be knocked down, leading to an as yet unimagined fraternity.
So this experience, the experience of the collapse of the sacred which we saw in the case of Elijah and in the Jewish exile, is not a moment of the past, but a constant part of the process of the faith which is being brought into being. We cannot understand the preaching of the resurrection if it is understood as a miraculous moment which founds a new religion. If it is taken thus, we are in fact denying the force and efficacy of the resurrection, for the resurrection brings about the definitive installation in our midst, as a constructive hermeneutical principle, of the cult of Yahweh who knows not death, and who is worshiped in a continuous apprenticeship in participating in and not being scandalized by, the collapse of the sacred, a sacred whose secret is always the victims which it hides, and on whose sacrifice it depends.
This, then, is what I understand by making space for a blush: the space where we learn to forge a way of talking about God in the midst of the ruins of the forms of the sacred which are in full collapse; a space where we recognise our own complicity in the sacred forms of the past, with all their violence and their victims, a space where we are coming to understand that God has nothing to do with all that, but also a space where we learn, precisely in the midst of the deconstruction of all that, new ways of speaking words of God so as to participate in the new creation. That is to say, it is the eucharistic space par excellence, where Christ is present as the crucified one, and we as penitents learning to step out of solidarity with our multiple and varied modes of complicity in crucifixion; but where Christ is present as crucified and risen Lord, so not as accusation of our participation, but as fount of, and power for, a new, unimagined, and unending reconstruction.
1. Proper 10C page on this site, on the Greek word for "compassion," splagchnizomai; it is prominent in Luke's two greatest parables, the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, and it also appears in this passage. Jesus has compassion for the widow. Here is a summary of the Gospel usage:
It is that middle voice meaning that came to have a specialized usage in the Synoptic Gospels, with that verb form found only there. It occurs twelve times: Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 18:27; 20:34; Mark 1:41; 6:34; 8:2; 9:22; Luke 7:13; 10:33; 15:20. And it is only used either a) to describe an emotion of Jesus, or b) by Jesus in a parable to describe the response of compassion by a major character therein. Mark's four usages all occur before miracles: Jesus is moved to compassion and heals a leper in 1:41; he is moved to compassion by the crowd before both feeding miracles, 6:34 and 8:2; and the father of a possessed boy beseeches Jesus to have compassion for his son in 9:22. The five occurrences in Matthew begins with a remark about Jesus' compassion for the crowd, "like sheep without a shepherd," in 9:36; which is a precurser to his repetition of Mark's use of the term before both feeding miracles, 14:14 and 15:32; Matthew also uses to describe Jesus' compassion before healing two blind men in 20:34. The fifth occurence in Matthew is the first of the three synoptic occurences in a parable of Jesus: the master has compassion on the "unforgiving servant" in forgiving his unpayable debt in Mt. 18:27. That leaves three instances in Luke: Jesus is moved by compassion before raising the son of the widow at Nain, 7:13; and Luke has Jesus use the word twice of the two most time-honored characters of his parables: the Good Samaritan has compassion when he sees the man lying half-dead in the road, 10:33, and the father of the Prodigal Son is moved by compassion when he sees his son returning home, 15:20.Fascinating from the perspective of Mimetic Theory is the sacrificial root for this word in the Greek. See the Proper 10C page for more.
2. Gil Bailie, "The Gospel of Luke" audio tape series, tape #4. (Actually, Bailie skips over this passage in his comments, but this tape helps with the surrounding context.)
Reflections and Questions
1. Link to a sermon "The Collision between Life and Death."
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