Last revised: July 19, 2022
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PROPER 12 (July 24-30) — YEAR C / Ordinary Time 17
RCL: Hosea 1:2-10; Colossians 2:6-15; Luke 11:1-13
RoCa: Genesis 18:20-32; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13
1. The Sodom and Gomorrah story is mentioned in René Girard, Things Hidden, pp. 142-143, 186. In the second reference, page 186, Girard uses the quote from Luke 17:26-30 in which Jesus says, “Likewise as it was in the days of Lot — they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom fire and sulphur rained from heaven and destroyed them all — so will it be on the day when the Son of man is revealed.” This is an example for Girard of how Jesus drops the mention of God from the apocalyptic sayings. God is not mentioned, as he is in Genesis, as the one who carries out the firestorm. Implicit in the picture from Jesus is that such firestorms will be of human making. His predictions of the destruction of Jerusalem very clearly leave God out of it and specify human enemies who carry out the destruction. Link to an excerpt of these pages, a section entitled “Similarities between the Biblical Myths and World Mythology.”
2. James G. Williams, The Bible, Violence & the Sacred, p. 133.
3. Raymund Schwager, Jesus in the Drama of Salvation, p. 163. Schwager mentions the Sodom story in a very informative context of discussing divine judgment in light of the cross. He cites the Sodom and Gomorrah story as an example of supposed direct divine action in raising an inconsistency in Karl Barth’s theologizing about direct divine action.
Barth’s theology of the cross is essentially based on taking the Pauline utterances that God condemned sin “in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3) and made Christ “into sin” (2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13), and without further examination raising them into systematic principles. Whether this is justified must be looked at more closely. In both the above-mentioned passages, Paul speaks of Christ’s mission before he takes up the idea of judgment. However this is not simply an action of the Father, as it only becomes a reality in our world insofar as Christ, by his obedience, does the will of the Father and thus gives the eternal mission a concrete form in the history of salvation. Neither does God carry out judgment directly from heaven — somewhat on the model of the flood or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah — without human participation. The passion accounts in all the Gospels are unambiguous on this point. Because Barth sees this, he speaks of Jesus’ opponents as the “instruments” and “agents” of the divine judgment:
Involved in what befell Jesus were the participants, Jews and gentiles, and according to the appropriate commentary of the Acts of the Apostles (2:23; 4:28), these participants were even in their evident great guilt and the rejection their deed merited still only instruments in the hand of God, agents and executors of his “definite plan and foreknowledge.” (Barth, Church Dogmatics, 4/1:262).
The picture of the judgment of the cross will depend on whether one should understand the opponents of Jesus as directly the agents of divine action. In Christ’s mission his human will cooperated in such a way that, in obedience, he completely followed the divine will which sent him. At the judgment on him, the will of his opponents was not similarly in agreement with that of the Father, for they acted, as Barth himself insists, in the most shameful and reprehensible way. But how could they be directly “agents” and “executors” of the divine will if their will was opposed to his? Here the further question arises as to how the divine will can be precisely recognized at all in the event of the cross. Does it reveal itself in the surrender of Jesus or in the actions of his opponents or in both? To play off the second possibility against the first would mean that Jesus had suddenly stopped being the revealer of God and instead his opponents had been entrusted with this mission, an idea which can immediately be seen as nonsense from the viewpoint of the New Testament. At the most there remains the possibility that both the surrender of Jesus and the actions of his opponents reveal in their own way something of the comprehensive will of the heavenly Father. However, since the message and surrender of Jesus (nonviolence, love of enemies, holding back from finally judging anyone) and the actions of his enemies stood in contradictory opposition, both cannot point to God under the same aspect, for in that way a contradictory opposition would arise in the idea of God, which would cancel itself. If the New Testament conviction of God’s revelation is not to be destroyed, the action of God in Jesus must be clearly separated from possible “divine” actions by his opponents. But from this it becomes clear that in the principles ‘God sent his Son’ (Rom. 8:3; Gal. 4:4) and “God made Christ to be sin” (2 Cor. 5:27) or “He condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3), the action of God is to be understood differently in each case. In the first one, the participating human will is in full agreement with the divine, while in the two other cases it pulls in the opposite direction. The utterance that God condemned sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3) has therefore to be interpreted very cautiously, taking into account both the Old Testament background as well as the larger context of theology.
4. James Warren, Compassion or Apocalypse?, pp. 169-71. In his chapter on the Hebrew Scriptures, Warren classifies this story as a “Challenge Text,” a text that presents a challenge to the gods of the violent sacred. He makes the following observation, for example:
This story also represents a subtle critique and subversion of sacrifice. The sacrificial paradigm is: kill one to spare the many. But the paradigm of this story is: spare the many because of the righteous life of the few. It is not the death of a victim that will persuade Yahweh to be merciful, but the merit of righteous lives. (p. 170)
5. James Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong, pp. 134-135. In the middle of talking about how the Hebrew Scriptures anticipate the Gospel, Alison has this one paragraph conceding that it also falls far short in certain spots:
Of course, in the Old Testament itself there are many remains of other, more mythical understandings of sin and punishment, where a theological re-reading seems scarcely to have made an impact: for instance, forty-two boys are shredded by two she-bears for having jeered at Elisha’s baldness (2 Kings 2:23-24). The extraordinary parallels between the story of Lot and the destruction of Sodom in Genesis 19, and that of the destruction of the Benjamites because of an almost identical incident at Gibeah in Judges 19-21 suggest an ancient myth in the background of both of them of divine punishment amidst scenes of collective violence only lightly retouched with the emergence from the fray of possibly formerly victimary figures. It is not the existence of such stories in the Old Testament that are remarkable, but the simultaneous presence of elements bearing witness to a process of demythologization of the same sorts of stories.
6. James Alison, Faith Beyond Resentment; the story of Sodom is mentioned on pp. 139, 234.
7. Mark Heim, Saved from Sacrifice, p. 74. After commenting on the flood story, Heim draws a contrast with this passage:
A few chapters later we move from God’s destruction of an entire violence-ridden world, with only a tiny remnant saved, to Abraham’s intercessory argument with God about the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18:22-33). Now God agrees that if only ten righteous ones can be found in the city, all its guilty inhabitants will be spared. In contrast with the idea that the guilt of a few can contaminate and pollute an entire community and bring divine destruction on it (a classic scapegoating assumption), an alternative idea is introduced suggesting a positive contagion, a good pollution, in which the virtues of a minority can save a corrupt community. (p. 74)
8. Anthony Bartlett, Virtually Christian, passing reference on p. 157.
9. Kosuke Koyama, “For the Sake of Ten (Gen. 18:24).” This article appeared in The Christian Century, July 19-26, 1989, and is now available online at Religion Online. A helpful perspective from someone who lived through the human firestorming of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Reflections and Questions
1. Abraham’s plea bargaining with God shows more mercy than does the punishing God presumed behind the legend. Can we be satisfied with Abraham apparently teaching God how to be merciful? It should be the other way around shouldn’t it? God in Jesus Christ teaching us how to be merciful?
This was the tactic I took in my 1998 sermon “Justice on Trial.” I turn the table on Abraham, who is putting God’s justice on trial, and aim to show how Scripture instead moves to show us God putting our justice on trial through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. At that time, the O. J. Simpson trial and the acquittal of police officers who beat Rodney King were still fresh.
In 2013 we were only three weeks hence of the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin. The themes developed in “Justice on Trial” (2013 version of sermon) might help to shed light on that painful injustice .
2. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is a passage crying out for an anthropological treatment. When approaching it only from the theological viewpoint, we have to ask what it tells us about God — to which I’ve heard answers like, ‘We learn that for God vengeful punishment is only a last resort, never a first resort as it is for human beings.’ But if the cross is God’s last resort in addressing our sinfulness, then how does one reconcile it with what we ‘learn’ about God from Gen. 18-19?
No, Gen. 18-19 is an example of a passage that tells us more about anthropology, more about the nature of our idolatry. We give all the credit for violent death to the gods. I can imagine that Sodom and Gomorrah were the victims of an earthquake, or lightning strikes, and then the retrospective interpretation is that God punished them for their sinfulness. In John 9, for example, Jesus’ own disciples see a man born blind from birth and immediately begin conjecturing about his sin. They immediately assume that he must have deserved his fate as a punishment for sin. Jesus, in this chapter of John’s Gospel, essentially shows these kinds of assumptions to be the blindness we have about God since humankind was born. The Pharisees continue to play the same game as the disciples, and their blindness deepens. Can we finally look at a passage like Gen. 18-19 two thousand years later and be cured of our blindness?
It is even a possibility, I think, that Sodom and Gomorrah may have been destroyed by human enemies and the mythological interpretation veiled over it. When the U.S. incinerated Nagasaki and Hiroshima from heaven, didn’t we need to find some transcendent justifications for such horrible deeds? Didn’t we have to believe the Japanese people to be monsters to completely incinerate cities with innocent women and children?
1. René Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, p. 137:
From an anthropological standpoint I would define Christian revelation as the true representation (1) of what had never been completely represented or what had been falsely represented: the mimetic convergence of all against one, the single victim mechanism with its antecedent developments, particularly “interdividual” (2) scandals.Mythology falsifies this mechanism to the detriment of victims and to the advantage of persecutors of the victim. The Hebrew Bible frequently suggests the truth, evokes it, and even partially represents it, but never completely and perfectly. The Gospels, taken in their totality, are this representation, precisely and perfectly.
Once we understand this, a passage from the letter to the Colossians, which appears obscure at first, becomes illuminating:
[Christ has] canceled the accusation that stands against us with its legal claims. He set it aside, nailing it to the cross. He thus disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public spectacle of them, drawing them along in his triumph. (Col. 2:14-15)
The accusation against humankind is the accusation against the innocent victim that we find in the myths. To hold the principalities and powers responsible for it is the same thing as holding Satan himself responsible, in his role of public prosecutor that I have already mentioned. Before Christ and the Bible the satanic accusation was always victorious by virtue of the violent contagion that imprisoned human beings within systems of myth and ritual. The Crucifixion reduces mythology to powerlessness by exposing violent contagion, which is so effective in the myths that it prevents communities from ever finding out the truth, namely, the innocence of their victims.
This accusation temporarily relieves communities of their violence, but it turns back again and “stands against” the persecutors, for it subjects them to Satan, or in other words to the principalities and powers with their deceitful gods and bloody sacrifices. Jesus, in showing his innocence in the Passion accounts, has “canceled” this accusation; he “set it aside.” He nails the accusation to the Cross, which is to say that he reveals its falsity. Though ordinarily the accusation nails the victim to a cross, here by contrast the accusation itself is nailed and publicly exhibited and exposed as a lie. The Cross enables the truth to triumph because the Gospels disclose the falseness of the accusation; they unmask Satan as an imposter. Or to say it in another way, they discredit once and for all the untruth of the principalities and powers in the wake of the Cross. The Cross of Christ restores all the victims of the single victim mechanism, whether it goes under the label of legal accusation, Satan, or principalities and powers.
As Satan was making humans obligated to him, putting them in his debt, he was making them accomplices in his crimes. The Cross, by revealing the lie at the bottom of Satan’s game, exposes human beings to a temporary increase of violence, but at a deeper level it liberates them from a servitude that has lasted since the beginning of human history, since “the foundation of the world.”
It is not only the accusation that Christ has nailed to the Cross and publicly exhibited; the principalities and powers themselves are paraded, in full public view, in the triumphal process of the crucified Christ, so in a way they too are crucified. These metaphors are not at all fantastic and badly improvised; they are so precise it takes your breath away. Why? Because the revealer and what is revealed are one: the mimetic war of all against one, concealed in Satan and the powers, is revealed in the crucifixion of Christ as narrated in the truthful accounts of his Passion.
The Cross and the satanic origin of the false religions and the powers are one and the same phenomenon, revealed in one case, concealed in the other. This is why Dante, in his Inferno, represented Satan as nailed to the Cross. (3) When the single victim mechanism is correctly nailed to the Cross, its ultimately banal, insignificant basis appears in broad daylight, and everything based on it gradually loses its prestige, grows more and more feeble, and finally disappears. (I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, p. 137-139)
2. René Girard, Things Hidden, p. 192, in a section titled “Powers and Principalities.” After quoting Col. 2:13-15, he writes:
The bond that stood against us with its demands is human culture, which is the terrifying reflection of our own violence. It bears against us a witness that we do not even notice. And the very ignorance in which we are plunged seats the principalities and powers upon their thrones. By dissipating all this ignorance, the Cross triumphs over the powers, brings them into ridicule, and exposes the pitiful secret of the mechanism of sacralization. The Cross derives its dissolving capacity from the fact that it makes plain the workings of what can now only be seen — after the Crucifixion — as evil. For Paul to be able to speak as he does, it is necessary for the powers of this world to operate in the same way as the Crucifixion does. So it is indeed the Crucifixion that is inscribed in the gospel text and is demystified by Christ, stripped for evermore of its capacity to structure the work of the human mind. (pp. 192-93)
3. Michael Hardin, The Jesus Driven Life; pp. 29, 87, and especially 229-231. Commenting on Col. 2:13-15, Hardin writes:
Jesus death is God’s “No” to our judgments and to our ability to discern evil from good. Even with the Law, we are incapable of rendering right judgment. As I said earlier, this is a facet of what we might call “original sin” (5.1). Our inability to make right judgments stems from the fact that we all tend to go along with the judgments of our institutions, our legal systems and our cultures. So, in addition to the principle of sin and the accusatory power of sin (the misrepresentation of Torah), it was necessary for human institutional structures to also come under the judgment of the cross. (p. 231)
4. Wolfgang Palaver, René Girard’s Mimetic Theory, p. 260. Commenting on Girard’s view of the cross as Satan’s downfall, he writes:
Since the Gospels are no new myth — which would have veiled the collective murder of Jesus — they identify with the innocent victim and shed light on the workings of founding violence, thus robbing Satan of his very foundation. Numerous passages in the New Testament describe this triumph of the cross; by penetrating the accusation mechanism and taking the side of the victims of collective violence, God brings about the fall of all cultures rooted in this violence:
And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it (Colossians 2:13-15).
The wisdom of God thus transforms Jesus’s defeat on earth into an ultimate, eternal triumph over Satan:
None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:7-8). (p. 260)
5. Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, chs. 6-8. This is a brilliant reading of Paul’s letter in a postmodern context. In conversation with both our contemporary culture and Paul’s first century Jewish experience of Roman imperialist culture, they provide targum readings of the text. Here, for example, is their targum on Col. 2:8-14:
Make sure that no one takes your imaginations captive through a vacuous vision of life rooted in an oppressive regime of truth that parades itself as something other than a mere human tradition, as if it somehow had privileged access to final and universal truth about the world apart from Christ. You see, in Christ there is a radical presence of Deity, fully instantiated and situated in the particularities of history. And you have come to partake in that presence; that fullness is yours in Christ, who is the very source of every rule and authority that purports to have sovereignty over your lives.
In him you find your legitimacy, your entrance into the covenantal community, because in relation to him your real problem — a deeply rooted sinfulness manifest in violence and self-protective exclusion — is addressed and healed. The symbol of legitimacy is not the size of your stock portfolio or the number of hits your website gets daily, but that ancient rite of baptism in which you die with Christ to all these pretentious symbols of self-aggrandizement and are raised with him through a trusting and believing faith in the power of God, who raised Jesus from the dead.
Don’t forget that you were once dead too — dead in the dead-end way of life that characterizes our cannibalistic and predatory culture. But now you are dead to that way of life, and God has made you alive with Christ by dealing with the real problem through radical forgiveness. You see, when the idolatrous power structures that bolster this oppressive regime of truth nailed Jesus to the cross and poured out all their fury on him, all of your debts were nailed there too. All of the ways the empire of death held you captive and robbed you of your life — the exhausting and insatiable imperative to consume, the bewildering cacophony of voices calling out to us in the postmodern carnival, the disorientation and moral paralysis of radical pluralism, the loss of self in a multiphrenic culture, the masturbatory self-indulgence of linguistic and societal games, the struggle to not become roadkill on the information highway — all of this is nailed to the cross, and you are set free. Let’s not beat around the bush here. What is at stake in this conflict at the cross is indeed a power struggle. And Jesus takes precisely the principalities and powers that placed him on the cross — the idols of militarism, nationalism, racism, technicism, economism — and on that very cross disarms, dethrones, conquers and makes public example of them. In this power struggle, sacrificial love is victorious precisely by being poured out on a cross, a symbol of imperial violence and control. (pp. 137-38)
Reflections and Questions
1. See #3 under the First Reading. St. Paul dramatically depicts putting our justice on trial through the image of nailing the law to the cross.
2. In 2010 we had two baptisms, so I focused on Col. 2:10-15; I had also watched “The Bourne Identity” trilogy that week and saw a lot of water imagery that lends itself to baptismal themes. The promise of the Spirit in baptism is God’s promise to be part of the person’s identity formation. Mimetic Theory postulates identity formation as a spiritual process involving the desire of others. Baptism brings the gracious possibility that God’s Holy Spirit becomes the central desire that forms one’s identity. The Bourne Identity provides a good parable on sinful human identity formation. The resulting sermon is “The ‘Borning Cry’ Identity” (a pun on our congregation’s favorite baptism hymn).
3. In 2007, J. K. Rowling‘s epic Harry Potter Series had just come to its much anticipated climax with the publishing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I used “Hallows” as a jumping off point from our other most oft use of the word: as a verb in the Lord’s Prayer. But I jumped into the themes of the Harry Potter Series developed more toward this reading from Colossians and its importance within Mimetic Theory. Harry undoes the imperialistic power of Voldemort with his self-sacrificial death — though I couldn’t yet reveal the ending of the Series so soon after the book’s release. Link to the sermon “Jesus Christ and the Life-Giving Hallows.” Now several years later, it would be fun to more fully develop the homiletic connections to the Harry Potter story without having to be so sensitive to spoiling the ending.
1. Luke’s version lacks the full address of “Our Father in heaven” (using simply “Father), “Your will be done, on earth as in heaven,” and “deliver us from evil.”
2. It also combines “sin” with “debt”: “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.”
3. The Greek word translated as daily, epiousios, is a great mystery. It is found nowhere else in the Greek world; only in Matthew’s and Luke’s versions of the Lord’s Prayer, and then later Christian references to that prayer. Did Jesus and/or the Evangelists make up a word? If so, can we break it down from the Greek preposition epi and the important word ousios, “substance,” “being”? What would that mean? Lit. ‘over substance,’ which some suggest might mean necessary.
The other approach is to speculate about what Aramaic word it seeks to translate into Greek, many suggesting mahar, which has the connotation of “tomorrow.” This would mean a translation of, “Give us today our tomorrow-bread.”
4. The Aramaic word hob can be translated as both “sin” and “debt,” which contributes to the confusion of using both words in the Lord’s Prayer. The two are closely connected in Jewish though with “sin” being viewed as a “debt” against God.
1. Raymund Schwager, Jesus in the Drama of Salvation, pp. 29 on “Father,” “Abba”:
The word “Abba” was originally baby-talk, used by small children to speak to their father. Later its uses were broadened somewhat, but it always kept its ring of familiarity and intimacy and was for that reason, as far as we know, never used by the Palestinian Jews to address God in prayer. It is a fair inference that Jesus’ use of the title indicates a new experience of God, which must have been of great intimacy, and it was from this experience that the new proclamation arose.
Both in the message of the nearness of God and also in the language of Jesus’ prayer, there can be seen a delicate but striking shift over against the religious experience of Israel. The two new keynotes may have influenced each other and become intermingled, as is seen, for example in the request to God: “Our Father . . . your kingdom come” (Matt. 6:9ff.). In the Abba-experience there is revealed on the one hand the intimate and personal character of the kingdom of God; and this in turn makes it clear that Jesus’ experience of prayer was not of a private or individualistic nature, but rather he perceived it in connection with his message and his mission. On the other hand, the new experience of prayer suggests the possibility that Jesus understood himself in a new way through this experience. The special nearness of God as Abba may have led to a corresponding awakening of the specific consciousness of sonship, as this is actually reported in the baptism narrative or in the shout of praise (Matt. 11:25-27 and parallels). (29-30)
2. James Alison, Jesus the Forgiving Victim, Essay 9, “Prayer,” pp. 426-33; extended meditations on the Lord’s Prayer anchor this chapter on prayer. Here’s some highlights of an excellent reading of the Lord’s Prayer. A good introduction to his reflections:
. . . imagine yourself as highly malleable, being stretched between two force fields, two patterns of desire. What the “Our Father” is doing is inducting you into a pattern of desire within which you may be found, one which will enable you to inhabit the “being stretched” which is how the desire of the Other other brings into being the daughter or son who is learning to pray. (427)
So a crucial petition is the one specifically about the Other other’s desire, “Your will be done, on earth as in heaven”:
So, may Your pattern of desire be achieved, here in our midst, amongst all these things that we are so often quick to reject, to despise, to tire of, be bored of, made to despair by. Your pattern of desire which already has and is a huge rejoicing and delight, a huge benevolence and peaceful longing, a real reality upon which our small reality rests, and from which it so often seeks to cut itself off, incapable of perceiving itself as the symptom of so much glory. May we be taken onto the inside of this pattern of desire. Remind us that we are the slot machine, and you the delighted player, so happy and lucky to have found us, fine-tuning us into disgorging far more treasure than we ever knew we had. (429)
And on the final petition, “rescue us from evil”:
The pattern of desire into which we are being inducted by the Lord’s Prayer recognizes evil, but only as that from which people can be delivered. Rather than its being a thing in itself, it is only known in its being left behind to curve down on itself, never to be given oxygen by being dignified with a concentrated gaze. But the real force in the universe is not evil, but love, and love really does want to rescue us, to bring us out of our tendency to enclose ourselves in smaller and smaller spaces, to bring us into being. (432-33)
3. Michael Hardin, The Jesus Driven Life, Section 3.2, “Forgiveness: The Law of Love,” pp. 92ff., focused on the forgiveness petition (especially p. 95). Also, the word “Abba” as “Father” is a big theme in JDL (see, e.g., pp 40ff.). And, finally, the last verse of this text anchors the penultimate paragraph in the book:
Let us therefore come together with open hearts, open minds and open hands to repent, putting away whatever hinders us, and turn to Jesus. Let us ask for his Spirit to fill us (Luke 11:13) and to transform our desires so that, as imitators of Jesus, we may be daily moved to give ourselves in love as he has given himself for us and for our world. (276)
4. Brian Zahnd, Radical Forgiveness: God’s Call to Unconditional Love. In a book on forgiveness, the Lord’s Prayer is named numerous times as a place where forgiveness is central. It is especially poignant when he raises it in connection with examples of incarnated forgiveness. One such place is in telling the story of South Africa, pp. 77-81. He concludes with a quote from Desmond Tutu‘s No Future Without Forgiveness and his own comments:
We contend that there is another kind of justice, restorative justice. . . . Here the central concern is not retribution or punishment. . . . [T]he central concern is the healing of breaches, the redressing of imbalances, the restoration of broken relationships, a seeking to rehabilitate both the victim and the perpetrator, who should be given the opportunity to be reintegrated into the community he has injured by his offense. . . . Thus we would claim that justice, restorative justice, is being served when efforts are being made to work for healing, for forgiving, and for reconciliation.
Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu found a way to live the Lord’s Prayer on a national level. A nation was praying, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” A nation was praying, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” And in a very real way (if certainly incomplete) the kingdom of God was breaking in among men, and through the Jesus way of forgiveness a nation was given a future it could have no other way. This is what Amos dreamed of when he spoke of justice rolling down like water (Amos 5:24). This is, at least in part, what Jesus intended when he spoke of making disciples of the nations (Matthew 28:19). Restorative justice is the kind of justice the prophets talked about. This is the kind of justice Jesus wants to bring to a broken world. This is the kind of justice that can happen when we choose to end the cycle of revenge. This is the kind of justice that can happen when we are more interested in restoration than retaliation. (81)
He also brings the Lord’s Prayer into play in a powerful way in connection with the tragic murder of school children in Lancaster County, PA, pp. 96-111. The girls had prayed the Lord’s Prayer on the morning of their deaths. And then the community lived out forgiveness in an amazing way. Zahnd even contends with the fact that they prayed, “deliver us from evil.” He offers that they were delivered in the sense of not letting the evil define them as a community. Zahnd writes:
The act of forgiveness at Nickel Mines did not erase the tragedy, but it did transcend it. Transcending evil is not the same thing as ignoring evil. Christian forgiveness in the face of real evil is not a liberal fantasy of pretending that evil isn’t all that bad; Christian forgiveness is a means of transcending evil and refusing to engage with evil on its own terms. Because the Amish of Nickel Mines chose to forgive, evil did not have the last word. When Charles Roberts fired his guns, he hoped to write the final sentence — a sentence of revenge written in blood. But with the simple (or not so simple) act of forgiveness, the story line was changed. Charles Roberts did not have the last word. The last word was not about payback. The Amish were able to rescript the tragedy — a tragedy they had made no choice to participate in. And although they had no choice about participating in the tragedy, they did have a choice as to what role they would play and how the story would end. Through forgiveness they would not play the role of eternal victim. Instead, they would play the redemptive role of Christ follower. They would choose to absorb the blow, end the cycle of revenge, and recast the story in different terms. Instead of a cast comprised only of villain and victims, now the story would add saints and healers to the cast. (104-5)
As a final excerpt, I share from the last chapter on Jesus as the Prince of Peace. The Lord’s Prayer bids us to live the horizontal dimension of forgiveness with others that leads to real peacemaking in the world. Zahnd cites the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, beginning with a quote from L. Gregory Jones:
If all that ultimately matters is individual autonomy, then forgiveness and reconciliation — which are designed to foster and maintain community — are of little importance. . . . These convictions led Bonhoeffer to polemicize against the trivialization and privatization of Christian life, and specifically Christian forgiveness.
Christian forgiveness is not simply a private matter between the sinner and God. Forgiveness has a horizontal dimension as well. This is why in the Lord’s Prayer we ask God to forgive us, while in the same breath pledging to forgive others. Forgiveness is God’s way of achieving peace. In fact, it is ultimately the only way of achieving peace between alienated parties. Justice alone is incapable of producing peace. The peace the Bible is interested in involves not only the cessation of hostilities but also the reconciliation of enemies. This is why Dietrich Bonhoeffer says: “No peace is peace but that which comes through the forgiveness of sins.” This why the followers of Christ, who are both the recipients and practitioners of radical forgiveness, should be the leading authorities on peace. Of course we have to actually practice peace before we can be respected as authorities on the subject. But this is what we are called to in Christ. This is how we are to be the light of the world and the sons of God — through a proclamation and practice of a gospel of peace based in forgiveness. (205)
5. Brian McLaren, The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything. In a book that features Jesus’ kingdom message, the Lord’s Prayer figures prominently. In chapter 16 on “The Language of the Kingdom,” the Lord’s Prayer leads off as central in McLaren’s suggesting other ways to ‘translate’ “Kingdom of God.” He proposes the dream of God:
I frequently try to put the prayer of the kingdom (what we often call “The Lord’s Prayer”) into my own words so that I don’t just recite it on autopilot, saying the words without really considering what I’m saying. But I often struggle with how to paraphrase the clause “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This line of the prayer is especially important because — to put it grammatically — it is an appositive (the opposite of the opposite) to the clause “your kingdom come,” meaning it is another way of saying the same thing. So this clause itself translates “kingdom” into “will.”
But “the will of God” can evoke the idea of a despot, a tyrant, a puppeteer, a deterministic machine operator imposing his will, turning a prayer for liberation into a plea for an end to free will. (Of course, if God were such a controlling God, it’s hard to imagine how such a prayer would ever become necessary in the first place!) Since the language of “will” can take us down a trail of control, domination, and coercion, and since I don’t believe those ideas are in Jesus’ mind at all, I have looked for other words.
The Greek word that lies beneath our English word will can also be translated wish. But to say, “May your wish come true” sounds rather fairy tale-ish and creates other problems. But I have found the idea of “the dream of God for creation” does the job quite nicely. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” could thus be rendered “May all your dreams for your creation come true.” This language suggests a more personal, less mechanistic relationship between God and our world. It would resonate, for example, with a mother who has great dreams for her child, or a coach who has great dreams for her team, or an artist who has great dreams for a novel or painting or symphony he is creating, or a teacher who has high dreams for his students.
It also gives us language to talk about evil and sin in the world: these are nightmares for God. In creating our world, God wasn’t dreaming of prisons and kidnapping, child abuse and racism, greed and poverty, pollution and exploitation, conformity and chaos. God’s dream was for freedom and creativity, kindness and justice, generosity and peace, diversity and harmony.
This metaphor also gives us a responsible and creative role to play. If we dream of using or controlling others; raping the environment, ignoring the poor, perpetrating racism and other forms of injustice, or simply being lazy or selfish, we are ruining God’s dream: our dreams are opposing God’s dreams.
Recalling the five “moves” of chapter 13, the call to repentance is the call to rethink our dreams and realize their incompleteness or even destructiveness. The call to faith is the call to trust God and God’s dreams enough to realign our dreams with God’s, to dream our little dreams within God’s big dream. The call to receptivity is the call to continually receive God’s dreams — a process that, in my experience at least, seems to be a lifelong one. The call to baptism is the call to publicly identify with God’s dream and to disassociate with all competing –isms or ideologies that claim to provide the ultimate dream (including nationalism, consumerism, hedonism, conservatism, liberalism, and so on). And the call to practice is the call to learn to live the way God dreams for us to live.
For all these reasons, “the dream of God” strikes me as a beautiful way to translate the message of the kingdom of God for hearers today. It is, of course, the language evoked by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. His dream was God’s dream, and that accounted for its amazing power. (140-42)
McLaren also features the Lord’s Prayer in a Bonus Chapter of the paperback edition, which is an extended commentary on it, “The Prayer of the Kingdom” (pp. 209-17 of the paperback edition only).
6. Gil Bailie, “The Gospel of Luke” audio lecture series, tape #7. These lectures are also now available online in clips; this portion on the Lord’s Prayer covered by “The Poetry of Truth,” Part 72, Part 73, Part 74, Part 75.
7. Sermons/blogs from a Girardian perspective by members and friends of Theology & Peace: Tom Truby, a sermon in 2013, titled “Just Like Jesus Taught Us“; a sermon in 2016, “Learning to Pray“; a sermon in 2019, “The Disciples Prayer.”
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,” offered this blog on the text, “Learning How to Pray to Our Abba.”
9. John Dominic Crossan, The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer. A fine book on the Lord’s prayer that’s friendly to themes of Mimetic Theory, such as nonviolent opposition to empire and movement away from retributive justice. (Note: there is a section on sacrifice that is definitely not informed by MT, ignoring the sacred violence and portraying it positively as giving thanks.)
Reflections and Questions
1. A popular contemporary point in New Testament eschatology, led by N. T. Wright, is that we pray for God’s kingdom to come here and now. We pray for God’s heavenly will to come down to be more a part of our earthly lives. Here is one of the many, many places that Wright uses the Lord’s Prayer to make this point:
In Matthew, Jesus regularly speaks of “heaven’s kingdom,” whereas normally in the other gospels he speaks of “God’s kingdom.” Millions of readers, when they hear Matthew’s Jesus talking about doing this or that “so that you may enter the kingdom of heaven,” assume, without giving it a moment’s thought, that this means “so that you may go to heaven when you die.”
But that is not at all what Matthew, or Jesus for that matter, had in mind. Matthew makes it quite clear, and I think Jesus made it quite clear, what that phrase means. Think of the Lord’s Prayer, which comes at the center of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. At the center of the prayer itself we find Jesus teaching his followers to pray that God’s kingdom might come and his will be done “on earth as in heaven.” The “kingdom of heaven” is not about people going to heaven. It is about the rule of heaven coming to earth. When Matthew has Jesus talking about heaven’s kingdom, he means that heaven — in other words, the God of heaven — is establishing his sovereign rule not just in heaven, but on earth as well. (How God Became King, pp. 42-43)
Wright’s influence has been tremendous, with this basic point making it into scores of contemporary Christian books. Rob Bell‘s Love Wins provides an example. His develops the overall point in his chapter on heaven — Chapter 2, “Here Is the New There” — and cites the Lord’s Prayer at a crucial moment:
It often appears that those who talk the most about going to heaven when you die talk the least about bringing heaven to earth right now, as Jesus taught us to pray: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” At the same time, it often appears that those who talk the most about relieving suffering now talk the least about heaven when we die.
Jesus teaches us to pursue the life of heaven now and also then, anticipating the day when earth and heaven are one. (pp. 45-46)
This very important point is more clear in Matthew’s version. Luke does give us, “Your kingdom come,” but lacks, “your will be done, on earth as in heaven.”
2. In 2016 I had been preaching regularly about the changing world and the ways in which the church’s message might change with it. I continued this theme, beginning with the above point about salvation as God’s kingdom coming to earth, in contrast to emphasizing going to heaven when we die. What does heaven coming to earth look like? Living a life of radical forgiveness, as articulated above in Brian Zahnd‘s book Radical Forgiveness. I especially featured Zahnd’s elaboration of the Amish forgiveness in the 2006 tragedy involving the murder of school girls — in a sermon by the same title as the book, “Radical Forgiveness.”
3. Prayer is a gift from a loving God who truly does care about what we desire and invites us to share those desires. God wants us to ask and promises to answer. The talking part of prayer is generally the easier part, however. Our desires — or what we think we desire — is usually up-front for us and easy to ask for. It’s the listening part that is perhaps more difficult. What is God’s answer? Even more pertinent in light of mimetic theory: What is God’s desire?
Jesus taught us to pray (a version informed by mimetic theory?): Our Father in heaven, may we get your name right, honoring your reputation. Your culture come. Your loving desire be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today the bread we need today (not hoarding tomorrow’s bread, too). Forgive us our sins so that we might give up our desires for vengeance and live in the light of forgiveness with others. Save us from the trials of being made the victim, and deliver us from such evils when they come upon us. Amen
We imitate Christ in praying this prayer as the model prayer. But what I want to ask is: is prayer itself the central means by which we listen to God’s desire and learn to model God? Was this the crux of Jesus’ prayer life? And now we, his disciples, model his prayer life as the means by which we, too, can become obedient to God’s desire?
4. We also see the element of justice on trial through the petition “Save us from the time of trial.”
5. Give us today our daily bread. In our consumerist society we are more like the rich fool in next week’s gospel who stores up his yearly bread. Compare this to craze in 2000 on the “Prayer of Jabez.” (See the Wikipedia “Prayer of Jabez” page.) This petition contrasts next week’s Parable of the Rich Fool. Instead of praying to God for daily bread, the rich fool talks to himself about stockpiling “daily bread” well into the future.
6. I’m not sure I know how to give good gifts to my children in this consumerist society. It’s a challenging task. Our children are so constantly bombarded with media images of what they should desire that they are thoroughly confused about what constitutes good gifts.
I often use a children’s illustration using three bottles of liquid — e.g., apple juice, soda, and colorful cleaning fluid — to represent healthy food, junk food, and poison. We teach our children these differences for their bodies. What about for their spirits? What are heathy ways to feed our spirits, as opposed to junky or poisonous ways? Prayer is certainly one of the healthy ways to nourish our spirits. Jesus promises that the gift received through prayer is, in fact, the Holy Spirit.
Notes from I See Satan Fall Like Lightning
1. “Representation” is a key notion in this chapter. Girard is talking about representation as presenting some subject or event again, but not simply in the form of primitive ritual, which is initially a reflexive imitation that is blind and unaware of itself. Representation requires some reflection on what is represented and extensive development. In an interview I conducted for The Girard Reader Girard says, “It may have taken hundreds of thousands of years, or longer, to reach the representational capacity of ‘humanity'” (New York: Crossroad, 1996), 269. — Trans.
2. “Interdividual” is a neologism Girard has used, particularly in Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, trans. S. Bann and M. Metteer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987), to emphasize that human beings are never autonomous “individuals.” We are constituted by the other, that is, by parents, authority figures, peers, rivals whom we internalize as models and who become the unconscious basis of our desires. This does not mean that freedom of the will is not possible. Humankind as created in the image of God is not intended to be identical to the other or exist in slavish subservience to the other. However, since we learn first and primarily through mimesis, our freedom depends on being constituted by the other. — Trans.