III Pentecost, Year C
1 Kgs 19:1-4,(5-7),8-15a or * Is 65:1-9
Pss 42 & 43 * Ps 22:19-28
(1 Kings 19:1-4)
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow." Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: "It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors."
(1 Kings 19:5-7)
Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, "Get up and eat." He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, "Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you."
(1 Kings 19:8-15)
He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for theLORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away." He said, "Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away." Then the LORD said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus."
* (Isaiah 65:1-9)
I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, "Here I am, here I am," to a nation that did not call on my name. I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; a people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and offering incense on bricks; who sit inside tombs, and spend the night in secret places; who eat swine’s flesh, with broth of abominable things in their vessels; who say, "Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am too holy for you." These are a smoke in my nostrils, a fire that burns all day long. See, it is written before me: I will not keep silent, but I will repay; I will indeed repay into their laps their iniquities and their ancestors’ iniquities together, says the LORD; because they offered incense on the mountains and reviled me on the hills, I will measure into their laps full payment for their actions. Thus says the LORD: As the wine is found in the cluster, and they say, "Do not destroy it, for there is a blessing in it," so I will do for my servants’ sake, and not destroy them all. I will bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah inheritors of my mountains; my chosen shall inherit it, and my servants shall settle there.
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me"– for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you. " So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
Girard has a very important discussion of this text in The Scapegoat, chapter 13. We will develop our insights from this chapter so if you have Girard’s book we encourage you to read this chapter as a context for our discussion today.
In Year B we had occasion to explore Jesus’ exorcisms and to illuminate the function and role of The Satan within mimetic theory. We suggested that rather than remove Satan into the transcendent, mimetic theory places the Satan squarely in the midst of anthropology. This has a two fold benefit; first, it removes the notion of the Satan from the transcendent, and thus from God, and second it forces us as humans to acknowledge that the satanic element within creation stems from us humans. This radicalization of evil has as its byproduct the elimination of evil as a metaphysical category and the revelation of human ‘sin’ as its origin. When we understand ourselves, we will see that no matter how religious we are, no matter how pious or holy, we are still ensnared by the satanic character of negative mimesis. Whatever the level all we have to do is to look at those whom we imitate. Why do we want what we want? Whose desires are we imitating as we live our daily life? Which voice is it on the radio or TV or in our heads that is telling us what we want? Where in our lives do we secretly yearn for this or that, riches, power, a Hollywood romance, a luxury car, a grander home, higher status, the ability to consume all we see before us, etc., etc. The list is long and deep, mimetic desire has its tangled roots buried in our lives.
The satanic entangles us on many levels. Jesus throughout his ministry engages them all. He critiques economic desire in his renunciation of the quest for mammon (Matt 6). He challenges religion by his action in the temple, exposing the substitutional and representational nature of sacrifice (John 2). He threatens the political powers by revealing the new kingdom and the reign of love (Matt 13, Luke 15). He overcomes the spiritual realm by his refusal to be tempted and his casting out of Satan (Matt 4). He engages the mimetic character of social oppression in his announcement of the eschatological jubilee (Luke 4). He rejects intellectual mimesis by overturning the false hermeneutic or mythical knowledge of his opponents (Luke 20). When we acknowledge the Satan as the ‘non real’ reality of the mimetic victimage mechanism (or as Barth says, ‘the impossible possibility’), then Jesus’ entire ministry comes into focus and the place of evil in the world finally makes sense. More so, the conquest of Satan makes sense in the total context of Jesus’ mission to reveal the darkness of the ‘powers and principalities.’
The Luke 8 text demonstrates the entangled character of the demoniac and the community. Girard observes that the Gerasenes had to resort to ‘violence’ (chains and fetters) in order to subdue the demoniac. This is their best effort, their remedy (pharmakos) for the poison (pharmakon) that afflicts the possessed. “The violence of the Gerasenes is hardly reassuring for the possessed. Reciprocally, the violence of the possessed disturbs the Gerasenes. As always, each one tries to end violence with a violence that should be definitive but instead perpetuates the circularity of the process. A symmetry can be seen in all of these extremes, the self-laceration and running among the tombs on the one hand, the grandiloquent chains on the other. There is a sort of conspiracy between the victim and his torturers to keep the balance in the game because it is obviously necessary to keep the balance of the Gerasene community.” (The Scapegoat).
This is the ultimate seduction: we believe we need our victims (those we can blame) and our victims believe they need us. The finger pointing back and forth between victim and community becomes an endless repetition but is necessary for the entire group to maintain its equilibrium. Why then, does the demoniac torture himself? “The possessed does violence to himself as a reproach to the Gerasenes for their violence. The Gerasenes return his reproach with a violence that reinforces his and somehow verifies the accusation and counteraccusation that circulate endlessly within the system. The possessed imitates these Gerasenes who stone their victims, but the Gerasenes in return imitate the possessed. A mirror relationship of doubles links the persecutors who are persecuted and the persecuted who persecutes. This is an example of the reciprocal relationship of mimetic rivalry.” (The Scapegoat)
In modern terms we might ask the question: what is demon possession? What does it mean to say that someone is possessed by the ‘powers of darkness?’ Are we to think of the Medieval Lucifer or the Hollywood Exorcist? Neither, really, for both of these have in common the ‘transcendent Satan’ that is the projection of the myth of religion. Satan is not another principle beside God, a divine sort of yang to balance God’s yin. Although the Satan appears to be such in most cosmic mythological systems, in actuality, the Satan is the structuring principle of victimage, the principle which arises from within (and begets) human consciousness. We sense the need to make the Satan a transcendent being because we stand in awe of evil, horrified by its tremendum. Yet, if we are honest, we, like Jesus, can begin to see that a critical component of the divine revelation in Christ is precisely the destructuring of the Satan and the removal of Satan from a divine to an anthropological category. Satan is the spiritual condition of humanity beset by mimetic rivalry. Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall from heaven as lightning.” No longer shall Satan be considered an element of the ‘heavenly court’ but be demystified and revealed as truly human.
Like the Gerasenes, we too have our ‘demoniacs’; our scapegoats that keep our families, our communities and our nations in some sort of balance. Like the Gerasenes we use “good violence” to limit bad violence. And like the Gerasenes we cannot imagine how we might do without our good violence or our scapegoats. We would prefer that Jesus not redeem our victims. We do not want to forgive them. If they are caught up in the pathology of their victimizing they may well not desire to be forgiven, and so we endlessly perpetuate the cycle of violence begun with Cain and Abel. It takes Jesus, the Son of the Creator abba to show us who we are, what we are like and it takes Jesus to deliver us from the madness of our mimesis.
If, with the New Testament, we are to bear witness to Jesus ‘conquering the powers’ (as e.g., Col 2:13ff), we must rethink the place of Satan in our theologies, particularly in our atonement theories. The satisfaction theory of the atonement, where God pours wrath out on Jesus so Jesus might pay for our sins, requires a transcendent Satan who functions as a heavenly Prosecutor, as the finger of God who points out all of our sin for which we must pay. The doctrine of the satisfaction view of the atonement is a complete myth, the highest expression of the ‘‘Christian myth.’ On the other hand, if we hear the New Testament aright, we can still refer to the conquering of Satan, but now it is of a piece with the conquering of sin and death. That is, we may appreciatively use the Christus Victor model of the atonement to expose the ‘darkness’ of negative mimesis and the Exemplary model of the atonement to illumine positive mimesis. If we do this, we can have a complete understanding of the atonement that is congruent with all of the other actions and teachings of Jesus in the Gospels.
As long as we keep on justifying violence (seeing Satan as a ‘double’ of God), we will fail in our preaching of the gospel. We will not be able
to free ourselves from the mimetic possession that afflicts our modern theology, keeps us in chains, and demands more and more victims with greater urgency.
At this point commentators expose the limits of their comments because they engage a text like ours today by having to somehow finesse the discussion around the ‘reality’ of demons. As moderns, they refer to ‘Jesus’ worldview’ as though it was antiquated or outdated. So they talk about mental illness or some other explainable human affliction. They are correct to do this, but they fail to see that these modern expressions of affliction are phenomena attributable to victimage (as Michel Foucault has shown in The Madness of Civilization or Susan Sontag in Illness as Metaphor). Nor do they note the reciprocal character of the violence in the story and the repetition of violence as necessary for the continuation of culture (community).
Girard’s demystification of Satan is the only modern view that adequately follows the New Testament in describing the expulsion of the Satan from the heavenly court and thus is able to discuss the Satan in terms both ancient and modern with equal vigor and clarity. Virtually all commentators are caught up in myth because they are not able to recognize this essential aspect: Satan is not other than us, Satan is our human ‘dark side.’
What would it mean for our theologies if we demystified Satan? What would it mean if Satan looked more like us and less like God? Would we not be able to understand why there is evil in the world? Would we not begin to see that from the beginning, we are liars and murderers? Would we not be able to see the power of the cross as the place where the prince of this world is expelled? Would we not begin to see the multiplicity of forms the Satanic takes and how Jesus addressed, revealed and conquered them all during his earthly ministry? And in the light of this revelation, would we not be able to renounce Satan in all of his aspects as the early Christians did in their baptismal liturgies?
Satan will always do his best to hide himself behind the cloak of transcendence, behind a veil of illusion. It is an element of his deception. If we acquiesce, it is proof that we are deceived. Because Jesus has exposed the principalities and powers of mimetic violence in his death on the cross, we no longer need fear them, nor hearken to their voices, nor follow and imitate them. We no longer need be enmeshed in cyclic (= ‘sicklic’) pathologies that seek to blame, expel and violate. Because of Jesus, we have an Exodus, a way out, a new model to follow. Because of Jesus we can be freed from the contagion of negative mimesis (the Satanic power), liberated to live in wholeness of mind and spirit. And in that liberation we can bear witness to God’s power. And we are freed to do this on all of the levels that we have been affected by mimetic contagion, including, especially including, our spirituality. How shall we then live?
Some, reading our site from the topos of the victimage mechanism, will say of us, “They deny the reality of Satan! That is Satan’s greatest triumph, to convince us he doesn’t exist!”
Let us be very clear here. We do not deny the reality of Satan, only the traditional, transcendent understanding of his identity. The removal of Satan from our vocabularies is not the result of the triumph of “secular humanism” but the result of the destructuring of the ancient version of Satan that has allowed us to perpetuate the victimage mechanism by keeping it below the level of consciousness.
Satan is real, Satan, in his lies, is incredibly powerful, but Satan Is not a negative version of the divine.
As preachers, we have to take Satan seriously. I don’t hesitate to refer to the satanic and demonic when I feel called to in preaching. What we mustn’t do, though, is use these terms to label others, as they’ve been used so frequently before. This is the route of the Gerasenes. We are all victims/perpetrators of the scapegoating mechanism.
Rather than point to those possessed in our preaching this week, we do well to identify the ways we have tried to confine others with chains in our own society. We use the terms “crazy” and “insane” frequently to label those with whom we disagree. We bind others with a variety of chains these days. Some are in our prisons (Since we closed most of the beds in our asylums, most of their inhabitants have found their way from the streets to our jails.) others are in our subway tunnels. Some have been bound with chains of debt, others are in the thrall of alcohol or drugs.
Like the Gerasenes, we need our alcoholics, our homeless. And we need our violence against them, or think we do. And they usually can’t see beyond the mechanism that imprisons us, too, so they continue to harm themselves for the sake of the system.
There’s plenty of Good News here, though. If we but open our eyes to the trap that holds us, Jesus can and will deliver us. We cannot do it on our own. The moment we try to free ourselves, we do it at the expense of the other. But the power of Christ, present to us in the Spirit, has the power to deliver us. God will be our deliverer.