XV Pentecost, Year B
Prv 1:20-33 or * Is 50:4-9a
Ps 19 or Wis 7:26-8:1 * Ps 116:1-9
Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: "How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you. Because I have called and you refused, have stretched out my hand and no one heeded, and because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you, when panic strikes you like a storm, and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices. For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster."
For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness. Although she is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets; for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom. She is more beautiful than the sun, and excels every constellation of the stars. Compared with the light she is found to be superior, for it is succeeded by the night, but against wisdom evil does not prevail.
She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and she orders all things well.
* (Isaiah 50:4-9a)
The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens– wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue–a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and
others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
First, the messianic secret and the christological misunderstanding. It is well known that Mark appears to be hiding the fact that Jesus is the Messiah. This conundrum disappears like a vapor when one combines Jesus’ command not to tell with the misunderstanding of the crowds about his person. He was well aware that they had misidentified him. Even Peter’s confession is full of misunderstanding else why would Jesus have rebuked him? He was talked about in such a way that would make the authorities uncomfortable. In short, they were blinded by the mimetic mechanism. They could only configure Jesus within the framework of the warrior-God/King. What other way was there for them to conceive him? The differentiation in their views indicates a thorough mimetic crisis. Jesus is this, Jesus is that, Jesus is yet another but they are all perceptions of the stream of thinking that ties God to violence. They are going to learn something new about God.
Second, setting aside the discussion of the ‘authenticity’ of these sayings, Jesus connects two figures from Jewish tradition, the suffering servant and the Son of Man. The suffering servant obviously derives from Isaiah 53 but the use of the term Son of Man is more problematic. Assuming some previous remarks we have made on the subject, the interesting element of both figures for our purposes is that they are both corporate figures, that is the one stands for the many. Corporate figures lend themselves nicely to the mimetic notion of interdividuality. There is a you, there is a me and there is the relationship we share. Just as you are real and just as I am real, so too our relationship has a reality. Corporate metaphors abound in the New Testament. The corporate figures of the suffering servant and the Son of Man are then, indications that something is occurring in Jesus’ life that has implications for everyone that has a relationship with him. Jesus’ knows that he has been misunderstood and that that misunderstanding will get him killed. This is not a unique experience. The victimage mechanism has already begun weaving its web of lies around who Jesus is, but Jesus dispels this interpretation and proceeds to affirm that no matter what happens to him, it will all turn out well in the end. It’s OK.
Third, the terrifying reality of Roman crucifixion rears its ugly head not just at the end but rather dramatically just half way through the story. Here is this healer, this conqueror of Satan, this extraordinary teacher and bada-boom, bada-bing, faster than you can say ‘honeysuckle’, Jesus is traveling a via dolorosa. This is terrible. He does not deserve the fate that awaits him, he knows this. But the crowds and the disciples identification of Jesus with warrior constructs, with a deus ex machina, will in the end, culminate in his death.
More than this, Jesus invitation to discipleship is fundamentally tied to the cross. Why? The cross (or our death) represents our ultimate surrender. To follow Jesus is to move in the opposite direction of violence and negative mimesis; it is the choice not to fight, not to engage in retaliation or vengeance or retribution. It is the recognition that when we fight our relationship suffers as much as we do. Our relationships are in a sense ‘alive and living.’ We really hurt ourselves when we hurt each other.
Rather than muddy the waters with debates about authenticity or Markan christology we prefer to interpret the text as though it actually said something significant about Jesus. To be sure, a triumphalist use of this text is out of the question whether done from pious devotion or academic rigor. Therefore we opt for an interpretation from the perspective of mimetic theory.
We favor those authors who see some aspect of corporate-ness to the figure Son of Man. Whether as an apocalyptic revelation, or as a circumlocution for ‘I’, or as a type of human, or as representative of the mimetic mechanism where the one stands for the many, the common element is the notion of corporateness. Whatever we may say about what Jesus perceived about himself, the fact remains, he saw his life in terms of the big picture.
As a result we do not feel compelled to reject the authenticity of many of the Son of Man sayings. When they are placed in the context of mimetic theory, rather than contradict one another, they complement each other. We conclude that Jesus could use the enigmatic ‘Son of Man’ precisely because it functioned the same way as the parables; it caused people to think and reconsider how they perceived God.
If we are able to suggest the corporate-ness of the figure Son of Man and its many possible antecedents (1 Enoch, Psalms, Ezekiel, Daniel, =’I’, etc), then it is plausible to see why Jesus was able to bring together the figure of the Son of Man with the Suffering Servant of Deutero Isaiah. Both are corporate figures.
As an aside, if we are to think scientifically about this we are aware of our interconnectedness in terms of modern physical theory. Experiments in Quantum Mechanics have demonstrated that on the sub atomic level, nature is ‘non-local.’ Or naturalists and environmentalists might speak of eco-systems., that is, there are natural systems that are all interconnected; to harm one is to harm all. Depth Psychology speaks of the ‘collective unconscious.’
Clergy can often feel like Jesus, wondering if their message is getting through. Has the Church so completely lost touch with Jesus that it is lost, wandering in the wilderness? Is this the end of Christianity as Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggested? Or perhaps more correctly put, is this the end of Christianity as we know it? Or are we, perhaps, being transformed? The often forgotten promise in our text, “on the third day”, signifies for Christians today that by really taking the time to live and die like Jesus, we share in the gift of his Resurrection. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, but despised its shame, so we may also.