Epiphany IV, Year C
1 Cor 13:1-13
Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD." Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."
(1 Corinthians 13:1-13)
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph’s son?" He said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’" And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian. " When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
The gospel is rejected by both the church and the world. With regard to the church, it is possible to trace The Subversion of Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986) as Jacques Ellul has shown. From our earliest articles in mimetic theory through this website we have sought to show specifically how the church has capitulated to a sacrificial hermeneutic. Christians reject the gospel because it is an affront to their sacrificial hermeneutic. The Christian sacrificial hermeneutic is no different than the Jewish version, the Muslim version, the mythic version or any religious ideology that bears the marks that mimetic theory says will be there: mimesis, rivalry, victimage and the sacralization of violence.
One does not have to go far to demonstrate this. We offer just three simple Protestant examples. First is a popular theory of the atonement, where Jesus’ death satisfies the demands of a just God, as the perfect sacrifice for sin upon whom God can pour a righteous wrath. The ‘satisfaction’ theory of the atonement clearly bears the marks of a sacrificial hermeneutic. Violence is an aspect of divinity. There is no more blasphemous projection than this, yet it is asserted all of the time, almost everywhere.
Or look at the way the doctrine of election has functioned for the Reformed tradition and Evangelicalism. God is essentially arbitrary, electing some to heaven, others to hell. Now election may well have been intended to guard the freedom of God’s grace, but behind the western doctrine of election looms a God who has a hell. From eternity hell exists. Violence is an aspect of divinity. (Yet when pressed, these same Christians will fall into the trap of having to argue that the reason God has elected them is because God foreknew they would believe thus throwing out the Reformation ‘sola gratia.’)
How can you justify a sacrificial hermeneutic? It’s rather simple, it is logical and it demonstrably false. We refer to theories of the inspiration of Scripture that utilize the language of infallibility or worse still, inerrancy. This view posits that 1) God is perfect, and 2) God wrote the Bible, therefore 3) therefore the Bible must be perfect. Everything written in the Bible is God’s holy word. Everything. This way of viewing ‘holy’ literature can also be found in Judaism and Islam. Did God write all three? Is God that confused?
A doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture is only necessary when the generative mimetic scapegoating mechanism must justify its retaliatory posture. Or we might say it is our way of seeking divine approval for our violence. A theory of inspiration is a hermeneutic; it is the postulation of the interpretive grid to be used. The scapegoat mechanism needs such a theory. If the Bible says God is retributive then God is retributive, it is part of the divine nature. All of this may be muted with the language of justice, honor, righteous indignation and such. But essentially God suffers a mental disorder. God can’t decide whether we are to be loved or punished. Violence is an aspect of divinity.
There are so many other examples of Protestant ‘doctrines’ currently preached and practiced that could be mentioned. This is to say nothing of the effects of negative mimesis on any other branch of Christianity. When you take a long look back through the history of Christianity through the lens of mimetic theory, it is startling to see the results.
The world has also rejected the Gospel in many ways. The scientific demystification of the creation and the creation process has laid a formidable challenge before the church. Almost all of the problems that beset Christianity in the present can be traced to encroachment of scientific inquiry in all of its forms. Heat is generated when scientific inquiry is able to prove that the Bible is not perfect as is claimed by those whose theory of inspiration is such. And so the Christian sacrificial theorists go up against the scientific sacrificial spirit in a titanic struggle for the minds of humanity.
We believe it is possible to say that this struggle is negatively mimetic on both sides. They both share what they reject in the other: mimetically conceived guardianship of truth = power. But, from our perspective, science has also played an important role in relation to Scripture. Like the church, science is apparently unaware that it is a vehicle of and for the Spirit. Girard has argued in many places that the scientific rejection of the gospels and the Gospel message is because science has first read the Bible through the lens of sacrificial thinking. And so in rejecting the arbitrary God of Christianity, science has contributed to the deconstruction of the mythology as it surrounds the gospel in the church. This deconstruction is the work of the Spirit.
“True demystification has nothing to do with automobiles and electricity, contrary to what Bultmann imagined. Real demystification comes from our religious tradition. We ‘moderns’ believe we possess intuitive knowledge solely because we are completely immersed in our ‘modernity.’ Let us not confuse true enlightenment with the idolatry of the here and now.” Rene Girard I See Satan Fall Like Lightning
“The invention of science is not the reason that there are no longer any witch hunts, but the fact that there are no longer any witch hunts is the reason that science has been invented. The scientific spirit, like the spirit of enterprise in an economy, is a by-product of the profound action of the Gospel text. The modern Western world has forgotten the revelation in favor of its by-products, making them weapons and instruments of power; and now the process has turned against it. Believing itself a liberator, it discovers its role as persecutor. Children curse their fathers and become their judges. Contemporary scholars discover traces of magic in all the classical forms of rationalism and science. Instead of braking through the circle of violence and the sacred as they imagined they were doing, our predecessors re-created weakened variations of myths and rituals.” Rene Girard The Scapegoat
As we saw last week, the gospel is rejected because in the gospel God is telling us that God goes to our enemies. That is the Gospel! God telling us that he is going to our enemies means that the fight is over.
And God is not going to our enemies the way we want, with righteous retribution and horrible wrath and some kind of terrible swift sword. No, God is going to our enemies to announce liberation and tidings. By going to our enemies, God is effectively saying that he is on their side. He is on the side of the enemy.
The good news for you and I is that we too are someone else’s enemy and there, God is on our side. What if, because God was on the side of our enemies, having heard this message that God loves and forgives them, what if, our enemies should forgive us? What if, God being on our side as another’s enemy, we should forgive the one who hates us? Would there not be peace on earth?
We cite a couple of paragraphs from the book “Luke’s Use of Matthew” to summarize:
Jesus, anointed by the Spirit, comes into his home territory and delivers a message rife with the major themes of his early Galilean ministry (Lk 4:16-30). These themes, which constitute the fulfillment of the Isaianic hopes, inclue: (1) the announcement of good news to the poor (Lk 4:18; cf. 4:31-41; 5:12-6:11); and the extension of the benefits of the new era even to the most marginalized persons (Lk 4:24-27). The latter themes, with their direct references to particular incidents in the prophetic mission of Elijah and Elisha (1 Kgs 17:1-24; 2 Kgs 4:1-14) are especially significant since, at the end of this part, Jesus the Prophet-Messiah recapitulates these wonderful deeds of the earlier prophets (Lk 7:1-23). All of these marvelous happenings are structured by Luke into a lengthy trip from Capernaum to Capernaum that spans the greater part of this section (Lk 4:31-71).
Yet, already as early as Lk 2:34-35, an ominous tone of possible rejection by the venerable leaders of the established order within Israel is introduced. This is symbolized by the rejection of Jesus’ message by the people of Nazareth (Lk 4:28-30); and later by the Pharisees and their scribes (Lk 5:21, 30; 6:2, 7).
(Luke’s Use of Matthew, p. 85)
What does this mean for us as preachers?
Surely, the task that you are considering, if you are visiting this site, is a prophetic one. What does it mean to us to hear that a prophet will not be heard at home?
It is exceedingly difficult to preach peace from within a system that rewards/depends upon scapegoating. Unless we are willing to be expelled ourselves for naming the process, our witness will ring untrue.
It might occur to some of us to say, “Yes, but I preach to a marginalized group, so I can name the process of exclusion without risking expulsion.” This would be a dangerous thing to think. Because we are human, because we are sinful, because we are caught up in the mimesis from infancy, all of us need to be called to repentance, not just the “rich.” If we are on the “outside,” and harbor, however secretly, the desire to be “inside,” then we are caught up in the mimetic system, and we need to hear the prophetic word.
When Jesus is confronted with the question of paying taxes to Caesar (Lk 20:20-26) it is thought that it will work because Jesus must, in answering, alienate either the emperor (don’t pay taxes) or the people (do pay taxes). In other words, the questioners are counting on the mimetic hatred of the powerless for the powerful. Mimesis is the perfect mechanism, because it ensnares the victims of injustice just as thoroughly as the perpetrators.
The prophetic word, the word that declares that our labels and boundaries are all false, will always risk rejection, most especially by our “home town” folks. The added difficulty of preaching this peace in our home town is that there is an assumed contract between us and those who think they “know” us. We are permitted to assume the mantle of leadership in return for the implied promise that we will confine our criticism to those who are “outside,” especially if that outside comprises the wealthy or powerful. Preaching Peace, however always means naming our “insideness,” even if our insideness involves our being poor or powerless, as a characteristic of our mimetic blindness.
No wonder Jesus spent his time moving from one place to another….