Epiphany VI, Year C
1 Cor 15:12-20
Thus says the LORD: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the LORD. They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse– who can understand it? I the LORD test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways,
according to the fruit of their doings.
(1 Corinthians 15:12-20)
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is noresurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ–whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.
He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Then he looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. "Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. "Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. "Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
Positive mimesis is anthropological reflection on Christology. Negative mimesis is also such a reflection. Negative mimesis is asking about the ‘humanness’ of the cross, what happened here and why? It comes away understanding the spiral of violence and every person’s role in it. If this is where the story ended, if this is all that could be said ‘christologically’ about mimesis, it might be enough to make us aware of our destructive behaviors, but it might not.
Positive mimesis is possible because of the Resurrection of Jesus and the giving of the Spirit from the Father in Jesus’ name. Jesus’ resurrection is the Creator’s vindication of Jesus’ claim that Jesus understood and knew the Creator. This is seen as well in the blessing of the resurrection as the eschatological outpouring of the Spirit upon this human, for this life, this teaching, this death. And this same Spirit, the Spirit-that-moves-in-all-things, is given a human face, Jesus of Nazareth. Positive mimesis asks about the ‘humanness’ of the resurrection of Jesus, and what this means for our humanness as bearers of God Spirit, made in God’s image and likeness. Positive mimesis is thus a truly trinitarian awareness.
Discipleship cannot be conceived apart from the cross and resurrection of Jesus. When it is, Jesus teaching is reduced to sagely advice. It is no longer the liberating command to follow him on his human journey with God. Once again, both the church and the academy have their role to play in this reduction of Jesus’ teaching to morality or ethics (as though Jesus were concerned with either). The academy, as is well known, has opted for the creation of hypothetical Q, and has explored this hypothetical document in such a way as to be able to suggest that some of Jesus’ early followers did not have a ‘high’christology, they simply viewed Jesus as a teacher or prophet at best. Such speculation can only be asserted if one ignores the truly salient fact: namely, that the early Christians were all heirs of a testimony, specifically that Jesus had been raised from the dead. There is no good news without it. It is absurd to say that one cannot take Jesus’ resurrection into account when constructing early Christian history or the ‘historical Jesus.’. It makes all the difference in the world.
The church capitulated in many ways to human culture in its early development. The rise of Christianity as a world religion is inversely proportionate to the decline of the good news of the gospel: that God is love. Mimetic conflicts with the heretics and the absorption of Plato in early Christian thought began to produce a way of viewing Jesus as though his death and resurrection were not about his life. The origins of monastic movements in Christianity constituted an attempt to get back to the purity of Christian life (whether or not they failed, as Kierkegaard suggests, is still an open question). Jesus’ humanity was negated at the expense of his divinity as the church merged with human culture (as the sacrificial hermeneutic began to cover the gospel). Jesus became an ethicist. Jesus taught an ideal that the church simply tried to help people live up to, but no one really expected the average Joe or Jane Christian to be very good at it. That was reserved for the few, the humble, the saints.
It is no surprise then that the further Jesus’ humanity was de-emphasized in the church, the farther away he would appear until he was way on top of this giant pyramid of humanity and being like him was out of the question. The questers of the historical Jesus have done the same thing, only instead of ascribing divinity to Jesus, they have blurred him with complete doubt, the ultimate post-Cartesian honor that can be bestowed. His life is unknown, his story remains buried, Jesus vanishes into the mists of history.
‘Following Jesus’ or being a disciple of Jesus is a sine qua non of knowing Jesus. Knowing Jesus (especially according to Luke, Paul and the Fourth Gospel) is awareness of Jesus’ presence in the Spirit that comes from the Father. This Jesus can be seen all over the New Testament. The church is not the priest of Jesus, they do not have exclusive domain to hand him out. The academy likewise exercises no priestly role in dispensing Jesus (which amounts to dispensing with Jesus). Jesus is given to us by the Father through the Spirit. We can know him and we can follow him. There is a blessing in his steps.
Quoting on this passage from “Luke’s Use of Matthew”, pp. 104-105…
General observations. Luke has already made Isa 61:1-2 the basic text for the sermon in Nazareth (Lk 4:16-30). Here, Luke again returned to the central theme of Isaiah’s message and recast the Matthean beatitudes along the lines of Blessings and Woes similar to the pattern of Deut. 27-28. Scholars have long noted the almost sociological tenor of Jesus’ words in Luke’s version of the Matthean Beatitudes. It is our view that this version is secondary to Mt and is to be explained by Luke’s consistent reshaping of the entire Gospel account to emphasize God’s mercy toward the poor, oppressed and sick of the world (as we saw in the birth and infancy accounts and the inaugural sermon in Nazareth; note also Luke’s unique inclusion of the Parable of the Rich Fool, and The Rich Man and Lazarus). Mt has a traditional set of blessings addressed to “they” (Mt 5:3-10) which is linked to parables addressed to “you” (plural; Mt 5:13-15). The closing beatitude (Mt 5:11-12) shifts to the second person plural in a saying full of Matthean phraseology. On the other hand, Luke put the entire set of Beatitudes into the second person plural, abbreviated them to four Beatitudes, but included the Matthean “transitional Beatitude” virtually unchanged. This use of the Matthean composition constitutes evidence for Luke’s use of canonical Mt, not a source like “Q”. (see C. H. Dodd, “The Beatitudes: a Form-Critical Study,” in More New Testament Studies, ed. C.H. Dodd (Manchester University Press, 1968) 1-10.
Luke’s adaptation of Matthew’s Beatitudes, his shift from “poor in spirit” to the blessed “poor” could be confused with a suggestion that poverty, in and of itself is a blessed state. Nothing could be further from the truth. The notion of “noble poverty” is a perversion of the Gospel that has been used for too long to justify preserving the grinding disparity of distribution of resources that characterizes our world.
What Jesus says is that those who follow him are unafraid to be seen as poor, unafraid to be despised, unafraid to mourn, because they trust in the God whom Jesus called “abba.” There is no freedom from negative mimesis necessarily connected to being poor or sorrowful. Many of the poor, especially those in the United States, are no less victims of the desire to have what another has because she has it than are those with the means to try to obtain those things.
As my spiritual director said to me recently, these words are descriptive, not proscriptive. They are not directions for becoming blessed, they are descriptions of what those who are aligned with God’s will experience. They positively imitate Jesus’ self-giving, and are therefore more likely to be poor (or at least, very unlikely to be rich!). They share Jesus’ compassion for those who suffer, and so they mourn. They decline to subscribe to the mimetic values of their times and so they are despised.
How do we preach Gospel in a church that has assimilated itself to the Culture that it was called to convert? How do we do it and keep our jobs?
One thing we don’t do is let our frustration with the dissimilarity between the Church and what God has led us to dream of get confused with God’s feelings about the matter. It will be awfully easy to preach something other than Gospel if we let our attention dwell to long on our failings.
The solution may be to preach the dream. What would a world look like where no one was afraid to be poor? Where no one was afraid to risk because their God could be relied upon? As preachers, we can paint the picture of that world. Our congregations will get the differences themselves. If we really long for the world of the Beatitudes, if we really love the world God loves, we let that love inhabit our preaching, let our congregations catch that vision, let them appreciate the direction we have to go to get there.
Sometimes, I think we give our congregations too little credit. Because they have been too trapped in our mimetic world to escape so far, we think they can’t see beyond it, that they don’t know what it takes to make the Gospel a reality.
I think they know. I think they long for it. I think they can see the difference. What they need is to see positive mimesis in us, a willingness to “sell out” for Jesus, something they can imitate. We can describe the dream, remind them of their own dreams, and trust them more than we usually do to construct the road to get there. (Why else have all those study groups?)