Epiphany II, Year B
1 Sm 3:1-10, (11-20)
1 Cor 6:12-20
(1 Samuel 3:1-10)
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. Then the LORD called, "Samuel! Samuel!" and he said, "Here I am!" and ran to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he said, "I did not call; lie down again." So he went and lay down. The LORD called again, "Samuel!" Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he said, "I did not call, my son; lie down again." Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. The LORD called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, "Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’" So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening."
(1 Samuel 3:11-20)
Then the LORD said to Samuel, "See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever." Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the LORD. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, "Samuel, my son." He said, "Here I am." Eli said, "What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you." So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, "It is the LORD; let him do what seems good to him." As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the LORD.
(1 Corinthians 6:12-20)
"All things are lawful for me," but not all things arebeneficial. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be dominated by anything. "Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food," and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, "The two shall be one flesh." But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth." Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" Nathanael asked him, "Where did you get to know me?" Jesus answered, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you." Nathanael replied, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" Jesus answered, "Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these." And he said to him, "Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."
The season of Epiphany in Year B is all about the in-breaking of the healing power of peace in a world of death. This coming of peace begins in today’s lesson from the Fourth Gospel and then continues in the opening chapters of Mark. The redemption of mimesis is what will be occurring in this week’s text. This is important. Sometimes it seems as though we can only see the ‘bent’ mimesis (as C.S. Lewis might call it). Girard and Girardians have been accused of focusing on negative mimesis. Is it so difficult for us to see that not only can mimesis lead to violence, but that, as a result of the redemption of our humanness in Jesus, we can be imitators of God (“good mimesis”) just as He was?
The Gospels show us how we humans who are children of God are called to follow Jesus in discipleship. The Synoptic tradition is loaded with teaching to the disciples as well as teaching about discipleship. The Fourth Gospel, however, sees in the event of Jesus Christ (his whole person, his whole life), the revelation of the One true Creator whom we are called to mimic. If in the Synoptics the focus is on modeling, in the Fourth Gospel the focus is on the Model. This is where the congruency of the Synoptics and the Fourth Gospel.
In the Fourth Gospel, it is the Father-Son relationship that demonstrates just how mimesis is redeemed. The Word becomes flesh and only listens to the Father, only does the Father’s will, so much so that it can be said that He is the Living and True Way. The Father hears every single one of his prayers; Jesus and the Father are not different at all. He is the perfect representation, image, and likeness of the Father, the Creator of heaven and earth.
Imitation of the Father is ‘in spirit and in truth.’ In this man from Nazareth, God put on a human face for us. The Christology of the Fourth Gospel reflects on every page the nature of this relationship. It says clearly that Jesus imitated the Creator, and experienced the Creator as ‘abba.’ In short, the implicit redemption of mimesis and the possibility of our imitation of the Creator, and not each other, are opened up.
The Synoptics give us the outer side of this imitation in Jesus’ discipleship teaching to the Galileans; the Fourth Gospel gives us the inner side of this relationship where Love transforms mimesis into something beautiful, ‘‘the right to become children of God.”
Christian preachers have too often placed Jesus’ spirituality on the back burner. Scholars took it off the stove a long time ago! Perhaps because of the inner dynamic expressed in the Father-Son relationship, biblical scholarship relegated the Fourth Gospel to the realm of Hellenistic fantasy. Doing so ignores the tremendous insight the Fourth Gospel brings to the nature of the positive mimesis of the Son as He imitated the One He knew as the Creator Abba. A Hellenistic reading makes this imitation a fanciful creation ungrounded in the concrete spirituality of Jesus, and removes from the rest of us the possibility of doing the same.
The value of this way of seeing is that a positive contribution emerges on several levels for Christian use of mimetic theory. First, is the value of the Johannine theory of imitation and differentiation for trinitarian dialogue. Second, is the value of the Johannine gospel for positive christology. Third, the Fourth Gospel is a textual authorization for us to explore the spirituality of Jesus and its implications for those of us baptized in his Spirit. Finally, we are given a clear path to imitation of the Creator. Rather than constrict us at this point we are enjoined to discern the Spirits, for others too have heard the voice of the Creator. The One who is The Child of God has given us the right to become Children of God as well.
The Son of Man sayings in the Fourth Gospel have posed a peculiar problem for scholars. Things are said in connection with the Son of Man that are said in similar ways in the Synoptics, yet differently. For example, the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man, probably a reference to the Jacob at Bethel story, cannot be found in the Synoptics. However, before the Sanhedrin Jesus will say, “You shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Almighty and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Close…The Danielic vision referred to in the Synoptics and the Bethel story both have God present in form recognizable to humans as human. Regarding the Son of Man, scholars tend to come down in one of three camps (with all sorts of minor variations):
1. Son of Man as a direct reference to the Daniel 7 vision (see also I Enoch)
2. Son of Man as a colloquial idiom that translated from the Aramaic is a circumlocution for “I”
3. Son of Man as a figure of ‘corporate personality.’
It seems to us that the choices are not mutually exclusive. In mimetic theory, just as in the notion of corporate personality, there are no autonomous egos. Because we are “interdividuals”, we are all one. The one can stand for the many. For Jesus to have referred to himself as Son of Man may indicate his awareness of the nuances of the title and the social implications of such a title for his ministry. There is an implicit social world implied in the term Son of Man that can be appreciated when the ‘interdividual’ concept is applied, as opposed to the Son of Man functioning in a purely representative (= substitutionary) way for a collection of autonomous egos. What is accomplished in His life, in his humanness, is accomplished in and for each one of us. In some texts, the “I” nuance may be dominant, in others the corporate figure of the Son of Man, in still others, an eschatological development. In no case need they be mutually exclusive.
For the Johannine author, the perfect union of the Father and the Son can be seen already in Jesus’ ministry. Heaven is wide open to this one. He is in full communication with the Father; the Father ‘hears his prayers.’ The reference to ‘angels ascending and descending’ is an open shot across the bow of idolatry. It limits all our speculation about God and declares that Jesus is the center-point of heaven and earth and that revelation is occurring in this life.
Throughout the entire first chapter, christological titles have come our way: Logos, God, life and light, only Begotten, (the) Son, the lamb of God, the Son of God, the elect of God (some MSS), the Messiah, the King of Israel and the Son of Man. These titles are all honorific and exalted. To claim so much for one human being must have seemed absurd. But as the author begins to narrate the story of the ‘great’ signs of Jesus, it is clear that previously held beliefs about the Creator would be called to question.
More importantly, Jesus is not a “religious” (in the sense intended by mimetic theory) figure at all. The titles used in this chapter, while loaded with religious significance, are transformed by contact with his person. His imitation of the Creator does not extend to participation in the scapegoating process. If he had, Jesus would have been nothing more than the founder of another religion. But since he does not participate in the underlying mimesis that haunts the background of many of these titles, they can be and have been transformed by application to his person.
For the writer of the Fourth Gospel, the call to discipleship is in part a call to discern the identity of Jesus. From the beginning of this gospel a crescendo has been building toward the beginning of the Book of Signs. Few other christological ‘titles’ will be added later in this gospel. Right from the get-go the author wants us to be very clear about the breadth and depth of Jesus of Nazareth and his relation to the people of God.
It is sometimes said that this chapter leads to an exclusivism that does not recognize other faith traditions. While understandable, this is not the case. What the Gospels recognize in Jesus is a distinctive, not unique, revelation of God.
“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” Hebrews 1.1-2
Acknowledging such, we are then free to appreciate all of the wisdom that has come through the lives of others who have also sought the true Creator and who saw the failure of the gods of “religion”. Any person who bears witness to the reconciliatory forgiveness of God is worth hearing.
Recalling that “religion” is one of the founding pillars of human culture (Again, in the mimetic theory sense of the phrase), the enactment of victimage each Sunday in the Eucharist has become a paradigm of our ecclesial life. Girard has shown us that our ritual shapes our world views, rather than the other way around, so congregations that live through liturgies heavy with sacrifice and substitution have no choice but to live the victimage mechanism in their lives. Imitation of God’s suffering and self-giving in Jesus are the central images our liturgies need to try to hold up.
I especially have to concur with Jeff’s final observations. If, week by week, we lead our people in worship, it is important to see the entirety of the Christian gathering in terms of gospel, and this includes our singing, our prayers, our readings, our preaching, in short, everything said and done when we are gathered in the name of Jesus.
And our emphasis should be on Jesus when we gather. When my wife and I attend different churches we intentionally observe and ask “how long in the service before the name of Jesus is invoked (apart from published prayers)?” We have gone through services where God is mentioned scores of times, Jesus only once or twice. How can this be? ‘God’ is a vacuous word which can be filled with anything we choose; Jesus is a term that can only be filled by the Gospels.
Our Christian worship has been accommodated to human culture and implicit and explicit affirmations of victimage run through it. If we take the time to examine our liturgies and our prayers, our readings and our preaching, we can also see where our religious rituals are beholden to mimetic victimage. If we transform our ritual in the light of the gospel, we change the tone, health and tenor of our faith communities. People will act Monday through Saturday like they are taught on Sunday.
Are we teaching our congregations how to be inclusive and hospitable? Are we inclusive and hospitable? Are we modeling for our congregations a peacemaking orientation or are we participating in mimetic rivalries? Do our prayers reflect love for those we can’t stand? Do we forgive our enemies, those who make our life miserable? Do we teach others that Jesus did and so we too are called?
Liturgy is spirituality, liturgy is theology. And theology is doxological. May our gathered communities give praise and thanks to God for being so generous, gracious and caring about in Jesus. We are so wonderfully loved. May our worship, our adoration of this great and magnificent God, reflect the openness of our hearts in Christ Jesus.