Last revised: May 30, 2016
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PROPER 4 (May 29-June 4) — YEAR C / Ordinary Time 10
RCL: 1 Kings 18:20-21 (22-29), 30-39; Galatians 1:1-12; Luke 7:1-10
RoCa: 1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43; Galatians 1:1-12; Luke 7:1-10
1 Kings 18:20-21 (22-29), 30-39
1. The best pieces on Elijah from the standpoint of Mimetic Theory are: Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled, “Elijah: Anti-Sacrificial Sacrifice,” pp. 169-173. This is the classic story of Elijah winning the contest with the priests of Ba’al and then losing the war by slaughtering the defeated priests — the epitome of “Anti-sacrificial sacrifice.”
1. Brigitte Kahl, Galatians Re-Imagined: Reading with the Eyes of the Vanquished, provides a groundbreaking reading of Galatians that, since its publishing in 2010, needs to be reckoned with. (See Andrew Marr’s blog on this book below.) It proposes a different controversy between Paul and the Galatians — around a Judeo-Christian vs. Roman imperialism axis, rather than the traditional Christianity vs. Judaism axis. The result is a radical reorientation of Paul’s theme of justification by faith from that of the Reformation and Protestantism.
Kahl, who has been a colleague of Louis Martyn at Union Seminary in New York, emphasizes his critical insight of how the cross reveals the end of traditional antinomies between good and evil, conquerors and vanquished (see my citation of Martyn’s commentary on Galatians below). But she reframes it within a context of Paul more pointedly standing against Roman imperialist religion/law, not the Jewish Torah.
2. 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)
3. Andrew Marr, Abbot of St. Gregory’s Abbey (Three Rivers, MI) is a long-time reader and writer on Mimetic Theory and in his blog, “Imaginary Visions of True Peace,” reviewed in 2013 Brigitte Kahl‘s Galatians Re-Imagined, with an excellent summary of this groundbreaking book: “‘Stupid’ Galatians, Stupid Us.”
4. Louis Martyn‘s commentary on Galatians in the Anchor Bible Series brings another major step in re-reading Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (E. P. Sanders representing the first major step), away from the traditional Protestant reading that has reigned since Luther. He refers to the cross event as “apocalypse,” that is, God breaking into our human realm and setting a “cosmic antinomy,” a divine instance of anti-law. In the introduction Martyn considers the charge of Galatians being anti-Judaic and writes,
For without exception, in the passages listed, as in others, the ruling polarity is not that of Christianity versus Judaism, church versus synagogue. As we will see repeatedly, that ruling polarity is rather the cosmic antinomy of God’s apocalyptic act in Christ versus religion, and thus the gospel versus religious tradition” (p. 37).
In other words, the Reformation was off-track to the extent that it used Paul’s message as one of Christian grace versus Jewish works in its own attack on Roman religion, unwittingly reinforcing anti-Judaism. Martyn is posing to us that Paul’s view of the Christ event is that it is supposed to carry us beyond all religion, precisely to the extent that religion has been oppositional — i.e., part of the problem, not the solution. Martyn writes,
With the advent of Christ, then, the antinomy between apocalypse and religion has been enacted by God once for all. Moreover, this antinomy is central to the way in which Paul does theology in Galatians, not least in connection with one of its major themes, rectification. As the antidote to what is wrong in the world does not lie in religion – religion being one of the major components of the wrong – so the point of departure from which there can be movement to set things right cannot be found in religion; as though, provided with a good religious foundation for a good religious ladder, one could ascend from the wrong to the right. Things are the other way around. God has elected to invade the realm of wrong – the present evil age (1:4) – by sending his Son and the Spirit of his Son into it from outside it. This apocalyptic invasion thus shows that to take the Sinaitic Law to the Gentiles – as the Teachers are doing – is to engage in a mission that is marked at its center by the impotence of religion.
We sense, then, the reason for Paul’s certainty that neither Christ nor Abraham is a religious figure, but we also see that, in Paul’s view, the antinomy between apocalypse and religion militates against the emergence of religion within the church. And for that reason the church is not a new religion set over against the old religion, Judaism. (p. 39)
In short, Martyn is saying that Paul means “religion” when speaking about the “law” — nowhere more clearly than in describing the effect of Gentiles giving in to the Teacher:
When Gentiles turn to the observance of the Sinaitic Law after having been baptized into Christ, Paul says that they embrace a form of religion that is for them indistinguishable from the pagan religion into which they were born! For this step removes them from Christ (4:8-11; 5:4). Quite specifically, then, for Gentiles Law observance is nothing other than a religion – as opposed to God’s apocalypse in Christ – and therefore enslaving. (p. 39)
Notice in the first quote the mention of “the present evil age” from today’s passage. The cross irrupts into this age with a revelation of true faithfulness to God, one that doesn’t involve a new religion. In fact, it reveals religion as part of the problem, itself in need of redemption. For more on this perspective, see my reflections on Romans 3 for Reformation Day. (And Brigitte Kahl represents another major step away from the Reformation with her book cited above.)
5. N.T. Wright, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels, pp. 44-45, cites Gal. 1:4 when explaining his translation of the Greek phrase zoe aionias, most often translated “eternal life,” as instead translated as “life in the coming age.” It is based on phrases in the Hebrew for “present age” and “age to come”:
God so loved the world, reads the famous text in the King James Version of John 3:16, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life. There we are, think average Christian readers. This is the biblical promise of a timeless heavenly bliss.
But it isnt. In the many places where the phrase zoe aionios appears in the gospels, and in Pauls letters for that matter, it refers to one aspect of an ancient Jewish belief about how time was divided up. In this viewpoint, there were two aions (we sometimes use the word eon in that sense): the Present age, ha-olam hazeh in Hebrew, and the age to come, ha-olam ha-ba. The age to come, many ancient Jews believed, would arrive one day to bring Gods justice, peace, and healing to the world as it groaned and toiled within the present age. You can see Paul, for instance, referring to this idea in Galatians 1:4, where he speaks of Jesus giving himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age. In other words, Jesus has inaugurated, ushered in, the “age to come.” But there is no sense that this age to come is eternal in the sense of being outside space, time, and matter. Far from it. The ancient Jews were creational monotheists. For them, Gods great future purpose was not to rescue people out of the world, but to rescue the world itself, people included, from its present state of corruption and decay. (pp. 44-45)
6. Sermons/blogs from a Girardian perspective by members and friends of Theology & Peace: Tom Truby, a sermon in 2013, titled “I Want to Follow Jesus Like Paul Did“; and in 2016, “Gospel Versus Religion.”
Reflections and Questions
1. In 2016 I was beginning to contend with Brigitte Kahl’s brilliant new reading of Galatians — through “the eyes of the vanquished.” With the task of preaching it, I tentatively offered the label “Indians” as an analogy for the labels “Gauls” (Latin) and “Galatians” (Greek). The many ancient European tribes of peoples north of the Mediterranean region had various names for themselves; “Gauls” or “Galatians” (and also “Celts”) was the generic name of the Other given to them by the Romans. Similarly, when European peoples invaded the Americas, the indigenous peoples had many names for themselves; the European interlopers (mis)labeled them all as “Indians.”
“Indians” in analogy with “Galatians” can also help understand the relationship of Romans to Galatians. For several centuries the Romans and “Gauls” had contended for the lands of Europe north of the Mediterranean Sea. The victories had gone back and forth since the Fourth Century B.C.E., but especially with Julius Caesar the tide had swung decidedly in favor of the Romans, so that the Galatians in the First Century C.E. were primarily a vanquished people, whose survival depended on playing by the rules of the Roman Empire. It is reminiscent of the history and relationship between European-American settlers and the indigenous peoples of America, the “Indians.”
2. The 2016 sermon (extemporaneously preached from notes) begins by elaborating Paul’s possible history with the Galatians, in light of Kahl’s new thesis. Paul was fresh from his disagreement with the Jerusalem church (around 48 C.E.) that had led to his break with Barnabas and the church in Antioch. He was even more of a “free agent.” Would he play it safe? Apparently not. He moved farther north into Galatian territories (north-central Turkey?), and started churches among the vanquished. After leaving, his opponents in the Jerusalem controversy must have come seeking to tame his radical Gospel in favor of a less dangerous one. (Kahl’s version of that is in need of further elaboration in coming weeks.)
3. So the 2016 sermon juxtaposed some of the basic elements of Paul’s story with the Galatians, a story of new creation, with the new creation taking place in our setting. I was fresh from our Theology & Peace Annual Conference, where Preston Shipp had offered a modern-day story of new creation, in the context of an American criminal Justice system is creating a new class of vanquished people, the “felons” of our system of mass incarceration. His stirring story, which I highly recommend, is told in a YouTube video, “Redemption of the Prosecutor” (not far from Paul’s own story “Redemption of the Persecutor”). It is clear that our American system of justice is all about punishment. A person of new creation in Jesus the Messiah must be about justice that goes beyond punishment to seek healing and restoration.
1. Anthony Bartlett, Virtually Christian, page 229. Here is the entire context:
But what then qualifies a non-retaliatory wisdom as subversive, as able to upset the order of things? The answer can be found articulated in Jesus’ manifesto [i.e., his response to John the Baptist’s messengers in Luke 7:18-35 and Matthew 11:1-19, 25-27]. Here Jesus’ wisdom powerfully rejects the option for violence and then draws upon himself a choice for a completely new way of being human. He insists that he represents the concrete human presence of God’s Wisdom in the world and is thus an unavoidable decision point for humanity. He does this in his manifesto by a coherent discourse which leads us step by step down the road to his dramatic claim of new human meaning centered in himself. (When I capitalize Wisdom it refers first and foremost to a personalized identity spoken of in the Old Testament but then Jesus takes on this identity as a living human being! Meanwhile the lower case wisdom refers always to a genre of thought, speaking and writing.)
In Luke’s version of the manifesto we hear first that John the Baptists disciples reported all these things to John who was in prison. The summary all includes the immediately preceding events of the healing of the centurions slave and the raising of the widows son. It suggests that at least for Luke the doubt that John then expresses has something to do with the non-exclusive and compassionate character of Jesus work. (pp. 229-30)
Bartlett continues with a wider discussion of the differing identities of John the Baptist and Jesus and finally concludes his insights into Luke 7 ten pages later:
Jesus produces a characteristic twist of thought that fixes two antithetical images in your mind, plunging it into a kind of free-fall. He declares, Among those born of women, no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. Born of woman stands in contrast to those in the kingdom of God who are born of Wisdom (Wisdoms children) whom we meet at 7:35. I would take this form of the tradition to be the more original version rather than Matthews expression of Wisdoms works (11:19) which forms an inclusion with his doctrinal expression works of the Messiah at 11:2. Moreover, the crucial theme of children is reinforced both by Wisdoms standard biblical instruction to children and by the wisdom parable of children at 7:31-32. It is through this parable and its interpretation that we will get to the heart of the distinction between Jesus and John. We will return to this shortly but in the meantime we can anticipate that the conclusion at 7:35 does not warrant the usual pious reading of a common identity of Jesus and John as children of Wisdom. Rather in the context of the whole discourse it provides the uniqueness of Jesus-Wisdom giving birth to children of the kingdom. This is what distinguishes Jesus from John and gives content to Jesus gentle but uncompromising contrast to the anthropology represented by John.
Jesus declares that the least in the kingdom is greater than John. In Matthews version we hear also: All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John (11:13). What is suggested is that the whole prophetic Mosaic tradition reached its term in John; but now something qualitatively new had emerged that went beyond prophecy. This could only be the actuality of Gods reign on earth. Anyone, therefore, who was a member of that kingdom was in a human situation that all others, no matter how great, could only have looked forward to. But what truly constitutes this reign? What makes this claim anything more than a rival rhetoric of power? It has to be the contrast of born of woman and born of Wisdom. For in the latter we have an entirely new matrix of human existence. It is not the age-old human shaping of humanity, one that includes even the prophets and the law of Israel. The new mothering of humanity does not draw a line at the family or the race but includes and nourishes precisely those who are left out, those who are not our children.
This change is illustrated in Jesus healing practice, as he had earlier signaled to John, and above all it is demonstrated in his association with sinners. At the conclusion of the discourse, just before the statement about Wisdom, Jesus describes himself in the third person as the one who has come eating and drinking…a friend of tax-collectors and sinners (7:34). Luke then underlines this with the shocking episode of the woman who was a sinner given directly after this discourse: she multiplied the breaking of purity boundaries by bathing Jesus feet with tears, wiping them with her hair, kissing them and anointing them (7:38). Matthew does not have this scene but goes quickly to a mysterious wisdom saying which we cannot analyze in detail but is noteworthy for being directed to infants. You have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants (11:25). The term infants signifies those not fully socialized, basically those like children who can hardly speak, who cannot read or follow difficult instructions and for these reasons cannot be exact in law-keeping. Jesus is revealed precisely to these people because they can never fully belong to the cultural boundary systems. Jesus stepped over the purity lines to be among them and in that act demonstrated a totally different generation of humanity, otherwise than the exercise of boundaries. Rather than Johns Jordan river and its implicit border associations he, in and of himself, became the scene of forgiveness and healing, a mother by definition without boundaries. (pp. 238-40)
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. Clips of this entire series are available on Gil Bailie’s Weblog; the clips surrounding this passage are from November 2011, Part 23 and Part 24.