1. Michel Serres, "Ego Credo," an incredible paper on St. Paul, presented at the 2004 COV&R Conference. It is also the lead essay in the 2006 issue of Contagion (Vol. 12-13, pp. 1-12). He begins:
Saint Paul combines in one singular person the three ancient formats, Jewish, Greek and Latin, from which the Western World sprang.... Triply formatted in this way, Saint Paul, newly named, rose up out of the trinity of his belonging; he traveled the world over, and he invented the coming era. In so doing, he braved three disasters: the persecution of his fellows, the mockery of Greek philosophers on the Areopagus; and his trial and probable execution by Rome. In and through Paul, all the superior and lasting achievements of the Indo-European and Semitic traditions stem from this original bifurcation; the good news he proclaims is incarnated and grafted in him and through him; in him, the branch of a new creature springs forth. Although his ancient formats imply a belonging to three different communities, the new man identifies with none of them, in order to create something entirely new. But what? (p. 1)Serres' answer begins with today's reading:
"There is neither Jew nor Greek," says Paul, "there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female" (Revised Standard Version, Gal. 3.28). All he mentions here are classes, sexes, languages, or nations...in short, all categories or groups. What he means is that there is no longer any belonging in the earlier sense, leaving only the identity I=I: "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15.10). For Paul, the only thing left is this "new creature": I, the adoptive Son of God, through faith in Jesus Christ; I, full of faith and without works, without pride; I, empty, poor, and nothing: universal. (p. 2)For the full answer, I recommend reading this insightful essay.
2. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence, pp. 76, 142, 157. Here is the comment from p. 76: "As soon as the Law is superseded by the "revelation of faith" (Gal. 3:23), distinctions based on the order of the Sacred should disappear."
3. Raymund Schwager, Jesus in the Drama of Salvation, pp. 144, 228. Here is the citation on p. 144:
Despite the concrete problems, the gathering of the faithful aimed at overcoming social, linguistic, gender, and religious barriers. The Acts of the Apostles emphasizes that all were "together" (Acts 2:46) and "of one heart and soul" (Acts 4:32), and according to Paul there is "neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female," since all are "one in Christ" (Gal. 3:28). What was behind this concern for unity was not merely the realization of a noble ethical ideal; far more crucial was that this was how God's plan for salvation was being fulfilled. The new gathering, which Jesus had begun with the message of the kingdom of God, had initially broken down because of people's resistance. There was even a counter-gathering, a cooperation of different forces against God's messenger, which Jesus answered with the surrender of his life for the many. The new post-Easter gathering -- and the Spirit which made it possible -- is to be understood as the fruit of this surrender. The heavenly Father answered the rejection of his Son and the Son's obedience in a double fashion: through the resurrection of the crucified one and through the sending of the Spirit into those for whom the crucified one surrendered himself. The realization which emerged from consideration of the glossolalia, that pneumatic experience did not primarily come from outside but sprang from the disciples' inner selves, thus has a deep significance. Because the crucified one let himself he drawn into the dark world of his adversaries, far from God, and there lived out his obedience to the Father, the deep godless realms of the human heart themselves became the place where the divine spirit can from now on reach and touch people. The Pentecostal gathering is for that reason not merely an outward gathering; the visible coming together of the faithful is only a sign, intelligible to our world, of that unification which, starting from the cross, finds fulfillment in the depths of people's hearts through the sending out of the Spirit. (pp. 144-145)Reflections and Questions
1. Verse 27 -- "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" -- might link up in an interesting way with the theme of being clothed in the Gospel: "they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind" (Luke 8:35).
1. The story of the Gerasene demoniac is a classic illustration of Girardian interdividual psychology, namely, that our psyches are functions of the Other. René Girard has a brilliant essay on this story which it is well-worth looking up, ch. 13, "The Demons of Gerasa," The Scapegoat, pp. 165-183. This is the only time this story appears in the lectionary, and it is only in the Revised Common Lectionary. (It never appears in the Catholic lectionary.)
There is an important detail in the Markan account that is crucial to Girard's overall reading: "Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones" (Mark 5:5). It is the stoning himself that catches Girard's eye:
Notice the mimetic character of this behavior. As if he is trying to avoid being expelled and stoned in reality, the possessed brings about his own expulsion and stoning; he provides a spectacular mime of all the stages of punishment that Middle Eastern societies inflict on criminals whom they consider completely defiled and irredeemable. First, the man is hunted, then stoned, and finally he is killed; this is why the possessed lived among the tombs. The Gerasenes must have some understanding of why they are reproached or they would not respond as they do. Their mitigated violence is an ineffective protest. Their answer is: “No, we do not want to stone you because we want to keep you near us. No ostracism hangs over you.” Unfortunately, like anyone who feels wrongfully yet feasibly accused, the Gerasenes protest violently, they protest their good faith with violence, thereby reinforcing the terror of the possessed. Proof of their awareness of their own contradiction lies in the fact that the chains are never strong enough to convince their victim of their good intentions toward him.But the element of stoning is not the only reproduction of archaic execution. The pigs run off of a cliff. In Luke's Gospel, the beginning of Jesus' ministry in Nazareth ends with a near getting run off the cliff. Many critics notice the geographical inaccuracy, that there aren't any cliffs in or around Nazareth. Girard notices something else:
The violence of the Gerasenes is hardly reassuring for the possessed. Reciprocally, the violence of the possessed disturbs the Gerasenes. As always, each one tries to end violence with a violence that should be definitive but instead perpetuates the circularity of the process. A symmetry can be seen in all these extremes, the self-laceration and the running among the tombs on the one hand, the grandiloquent chains on the other. There is a sort of conspiracy between the victim and his torturers to keep the balance in the game because it is obviously necessary to keep the balance of the Gerasene community. (The Scapegoat, pp. 170-171)
Unfortunately, critics who have noticed this geographic inaccuracy were never curious enough to discover why Luke endowed the town of Nazareth with a nonexistent cliff. The Gospels are too interested in the diverse forms of collective death to be interested in the topography of Nazareth. Their real concern is with the demon’s self-lapidation and the fall of the herd of pigs from the cliff. But in these cases it is not the scapegoat who goes over the cliff, neither is it a single victim nor a small number of victims, but a whole crowd of demons, two thousand swine possessed by demons. Normal relationships are reversed. The crowd should remain on top of the cliff and the victim fall over; instead, in this case, the crowd plunges and the victim is saved.It is worthwhile concluding these excerpts by emphasizing what to me is the crucial insight, namely, the reversal which Jesus works. But Girard also goes one step further by asking if this reversal satisfies an inch for vengeance:
The miracle of Gerasa reverses the universal schema of violence fundamental to all societies of the world. The inversion appears in certain myths but not with the same characters; it always ends in the restoration of the system that had been destroyed or in the establishment of a new system. In this case the result is quite different. The drowning of the swine has a definitive character; it is an event without a future, except for the person cured by the miracle. This text suggests a difference not of degree but of nature between Jesus’ miracle and the usual healings....
If need be, the demons will tolerate being expelled provided they are not expelled from their country. This would seem to mean that ordinary exorcisms are always only local displacements, exchanges, and substitutions which can always be produced within a structure without causing any appreciable change or compromising the continuation of the whole society. Traditional cures have a real but limited action to the degree that they only improve the condition of individual X at the expense of another individual, Y, or vice versa. In the language of demonology, this means that the demons of X have left him to take possession of Y. The healers modify certain mimetic relationships, but their little manipulations do not compromise the balance of the system, which remains unchanged. The system remains and should be defined as a system not of men only but of men and their demons.
This total system is threatened by the cure of the possessed and the concomitant drowning of the Legion. Because the Gerasenes suspect this they are uneasy. The demons have an even clearer understanding....
...In showing us the demons begging Jesus not to send them forever into the abyss, he clearly articulates the definitive annihilation of the demoniac that is the major significance of the text and explains the reaction of the Gerasenes themselves. These unfortunate people fear that their precarious balance depends on the demoniac, on the activities they share periodically and on the kind of local celebrity their possessed citizen had become.
There is nothing in the possession that does not result from frantic mimeticism. Hence the variant in Matthew that substitutes two possessed beings that are indistinguishable, and therefore mimetic, for the solitary demoniac of the other two Gospels. Mark’s text expresses basically the same thing, less obviously but therefore more essentially, by presenting his single person possessed by a demon that is both one and multiple, both singular and plural. This implies that the possessed is possessed not by only one other, as Matthew suggests, but by all the others inasmuch as they are both one and many, or in other words inasmuch as they form a society in the human sense of the term. This is also the demonic sense, if one prefers, in that it is a society based on the collective expulsion. This is precisely what the possessed is imitating. The demons are in the image of the human group; they are the imago of this group because they are its imitatio. Like the society of the Gerasenes at the end of our text, the society of demons at the beginning possesses a structure, a kind of organization; it is the unity of the multiple: “My name is Legion; for there are many of us.” Just as one voice is raised at the end to speak in the name of all the Gerasenes, one voice is raised at the beginning to speak in the name of all the demons. These two voices say the same thing. Since all coexistence between Jesus and the demons is impossible, to beg him not to chase away the demons, when one is a demon is the same as begging him to depart, if one is from Gerasa. (pp. 179-180, 181-182)
Yet in the account of Gerasa the lynchers experience the treatment “normally” reserved for the victim. They are not stoned like the possessed, but they go over the steep bank, which amounts to the same thing. If we are to recognize how revolutionary this inversion is we must transport it to classical Greek or Roman antiquity, which is more respected than the Judaic world of the Bible. Imagine the Pharmakos forcing the inhabitants of a Greek city, philosophers and mathematicians alike, over a precipice. Instead of the outcast being toppled from the height of the Tarpeian rock it is the majestic consuls, virtuous Cato, solemn juriconsults, the procurators of Judea, and all the rest of the senatus populusque romanus. All of them disappear into the abyss while the ex-victim, “clothed and in his full senses” calmly observes from above the astounding sight.In short, Girard's answer to the question of vengeance is an answer common to mimetic theory: there is self-condemning behavior, not a divine act of vengenace on the wicked. Mimetic rivalry brings its own bad ends.
The miracle’s conclusion satisfies a certain appetite for revenge, but can it be justified within the framework of my hypothesis? Does the element of revenge compromise my thesis that the spirit of revenge is absent in the Gospels? What is the force that drives the pigs into the sea of Galilee if not our desire to see them fall or the violence of Jesus himself? What can motivate a whole herd of pigs to destroy themselves without being forced by someone? The answer is obvious. It is the crowd mentality, that which makes the herd precisely a herd -- in other words, the irresistible tendency to mimeticism. One pig accidentally falling into the sea, or the convulsions provoked by the demonic invasion, is enough to cause a stupid panic in which all the others follow. The frantic following fits well with the proverbial stubbornness of the species. Beyond a certain mimetic threshold, the same that defined possession earlier, the whole herd immediately repeats any conduct that seems out of the ordinary, like fashions in modern society. (p. 182)
2. James Alison, Faith Beyond Resentment, ch. 6, "Clothed and in His Right Mind," is based on the story of the Gerasene Demoniac. Alison gives a brilliant reading of the parable -- indebted, as he notes, to Girard's reading in The Scapegoat. But then he also makes a moving application of his reading to his own experience, and to his task in this book of offering theological reflections from his perspective as a gay man. Here are several chapters from the middle of this chapter, to whet your appetite:
Now it is obvious that I am offering you a story on which to feed, one I hope may spark off resonances in stories of your own. Nevertheless there is something odd about this story being able to be told at all, and I want to bring that strangeness out before I move on.3. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, The Gospel and the Sacred; his commentary on the Markan parallel (Mark 5:1-20) is as follows:
Imagine that you are in the world of the Gerasenes before Jesus comes along, whether as one of the townspeople or as a demoniac. You are not stupid, or primitive -- whatever that means. You are just used to the daily run of your culture. You are used to negotiating living day in and day out within the strengths and limitations of your group. You share both adherence to, and scepticism about, its gods, its taboos, its sacred barriers. Like most people in most societies you both go along with and yet relativize, approve of and yet resent, the structures which give meaning to your life.
Yet there is one thing you cannot do: whether you are a townsperson or the demoniac, you cannot imagine the innocence of the demoniac. The structure which holds everything together is relatively tolerant, as is the case in most human groups. It is fairly ready to turn a blind eye to a whole lot of failings, indeed has mechanisms for reincorporating those who fail. Yet there is one point where this apparently easy-going form of life is implacably totalitarian, where there is a definition of good and evil which cannot be overturned. It never crosses your mind to question it, and indeed it cannot really be talked about, since it is what allows other things to be talked about and given value. This immutable fact which the group's imagination cannot conceive in any other way is the definition of the demoniac as demoniac. Before the arrival of Jesus, whether you are a townsperson, or the demoniac, you are all fundamentally yet tacitly agreed on what holds the whole of your order together. You are a participant in a closed system. And of course participants in a closed system do not know that they are in a closed system. It is only the vantagepoint of a system that does not depend on a hidden but secretly-structuring scapegoat which enables us to detect other systems as closed. Before the arrival of Jesus on the shores of Gerasa, such a vantagepoint was not available to you.
If someone had come along and said "Well, of course, your demoniac is really innocent, and all he's doing is acting out what all of you are dumping on him," you would resist this violently. It would be inconceivable to you that such a person was anything other than a troublemaker, someone who wanted to disturb order and subvert morality. The key word here is "inconceivable." The notion is not one you could imagine, let alone tolerate. You would read the claim entirely from within your own group structure, and would reject it as impossible. So impossible that it could not really be talked about at all. In fact, you wouldn't need to talk about it. All you would need to do is point to the indisputable evidence of the evil and craziness of your demoniac. Something there is clearly wrong.
Now the reason I ask you imaginatively to inhabit the world of the Gerasenes before Jesus' arrival is that it highlights the vulnerability of my own story, the one I have been telling you. I have been telling you, as a gay man talking to a group of gay people, a story which relativizes an implacably totalitarian structure. My point is that unless we understand a little that what I am doing is, from the point of view of our fellow Gerasenes, impossible, we won't sink into and inhabit the depth of the impossibility of the story which we are being empowered to tell, and we won't have access to the novelty of God, nor understand the potency which palpitates in the naming of God as one for whom nothing is impossible.
Jesus did not come and give the Gerasenes a lecture on the structure of their society. He didn't argue with them about definitions. He didn't propose an alternative form of legislation. He did something much more three-dimensional. He empowered the demoniac to become a human being, sitting, clothed and in his right mind, going home to his friends.
My claim is that it is only possible for a gay man to talk to other gay people, reasonably and quietly, if we have already begun to be overtaken by the power of the Creator, who is already beginning to humanize us, give us right minds, and enable us to be at home with our friends. In other words, the very fact of our being able to talk like this, here, today, is entirely dependent on something huge, quiet, and unimaginable already happening. Very God of Very God is already, even as we speak, "doing something new," speaking to us in tones and at a depth which our former belonging could never reach, and in a way which our former groups can find nothing other than inconceivable and scandalous: calling us into peaceful and gratuitous human being. (pp. 131-133)
The demoniac is a classic scapegoat figure. He dwells among the tombs and wanders the mountainsides wounding himself and howling. No chains can bind and no man subdue him. He is possessed by a legion of demons, and legion is the mob of his persecutors. He carries his persecutors inside himself in the classic mode of the victim who internalizes his tormentors. He even mimes the lapidation by which he was driven out, compulsively belaboring himself with stones and crying his own rejection. He imitates his persecutors to the extent that he becomes his own executioner in the mode of self-estrangement characteristic of the mimetic crisis. The legion of demons is, therefore, the lynch mob.4. Anthony Bartlett, Virtually Christian: How Christ Changes Human Meaning and Makes Creation New, pp. 253-58.
The demons recognize Jesus as their nemesis and try to persuade him not to expel them from the system of violence altogether, but merely to transfer them from one location to another. To do this would be to manage violence by means of violence within the closed sacrificial system. Jesus, however, removes them altogether by sending them into the swine, which, contrary to the demons'' expectation, rush into the lake and drown. The herd of two thousand swine is an eloquent symbol of the mob in pursuit of a victim. The herd's drowning means that violence ceases when the mob disappears. The order of expectation is reversed and instead of the victim going over the cliff the mob goes over!
We are reminded of the Tarpeian rock in Rome from which the condemned were pushed to their death, and that the Nazarenes, according to Luke (4:29), intended to hurl Jesus over a cliff, while Matthew (13:57) and Mark (6:3) say simply that they were "scandalized" by him. Execution by precipitation and scandal are traces of the GMSM [Generative Mimetic Scapegoating Mechanism, Hamerton-Kelly's acronym for the Satanic powers]. The water that the swine splash into is the standard symbol of undifferentiation, and the cliff over which they pour is the Tarpeian rock of precipitation. Thus, the demons, who are really the internalized crowd, fall victim to their own designs and tumble headlong into chaos.
When the swineherds report to the city and its environs, the populace comes out and begs Jesus to leave. The people do not want their scapegoats returned, and they do not want to see themselves as a swinish mob. They fear the revealer because he threatens the order of Gadarene complacency and deprives them of the comfort of the scapegoat. They do not want to break their conspiracy: rather, they want the scapegoat to remain in the shadows of the cemetery as a depository for their violence and a guarantee of their complacency. The fact that they had tried to chain him shows how much they needed him. They recognize the threat Jesus poses to the Sacred they inhabit, and they send him away.
Jesus acquiesces in their request that he go, but he does not leave without a trace. He sends the victim back, refusing his request to join the entourage. He sends him back to his home with instructions to tell his own people "how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you" (5:19). The response of people to his message, however, is merely to "wonder," a response that does not indicate any real understanding. Nevertheless, from now on they have in their midst a constant reminder of an alternative to the order of violence in the restored and reintegrated victim whom Jesus rescued from the mob in himself and the mob in the city of Gadara. (pp. 93-94)
1. In 2013, a group lectio divina of this text during the
week brought to mind depression and the epidemic of mental illness
we are experiencing in our time. How many people you know are on
meds to address brain chemistry in some fashion? We address the
way in which our oppressive scapegoat structuring is changing our
brains and making more and more of us sick, but we don't address
the oppressiveness of consumer culture itself. As so often
happens, we are treating the symptoms and not the cause. We live
in a time when our consumerist version of capitalism puts us under
the weight and strain of constant mimetic rivalry with the Gospel
diminishment of the Scapegoating Mechanism crippling its ability
to lighten the burden -- and its making us crazy. The only true
solution at this point is to except the offer of healing from
The bottom line is this: Jesus was offering healing to the
townspeople of Gerasa, too, but they rejected it, rejected Jesus.
They were afraid of the healing which Jesus offered them. They
preferred their sick structure of oppression. Will it be any
different in the 21st Century?
2. In 1995, before Lutherans switched to the Revised Common Lectionary, the story of the Gerasene demoniac didn't appear in the Lutheran Lectionary, so I took the opportunity during a midweek Lent series on the theme of "From Brokenness to Healing" to try a monologue sermon telling this story. I used the Girardian analysis to tell the story in the first person as if it was a modern story. Link to the sermon entitled "Claiming Your Own Demons." In 2007 I used the some of the core of the 1995, minus the monologue format, and added the issue of racism as an example of the scapegoating structure of human community, in the sermon "It Takes a Whole Community to Scapegoat."
3. Jesus saves the demoniac from his fate as the scapegoat of his townspeople. Yet he will not ultimately save himself from being the scapegoat of his people on the cross. Why? Isn't it because the cross is ultimately aimed at saving all of us from our scapegoating structures? Jesus could not in his earthly life go around saving every scapegoat everywhere and at all times. But in giving himself up to our scapegoating structures, and in God's raising him from the dead, Christ is the first-fruits of a time when all scapegoating will be forever overturned. As the Christ, Jesus gives himself up to our scapegoat structures in order to ultimately free us from them.
But what does this mean for the meantime? What do we do in between the first-fruits and their fulfillment? Is it not standing by those who continue to be the victims of our comfortable scapegoating structures? The poor? The least, the last, the lost, the lonely?
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