Preaching Peace Lectionary

Lent 4, Year A

Gospel Anthropological Reading

Positive mimesis will profane the sacred. This, according to the authorities (vs 16), is what Jesus did when he healed the man born blind. He profaned the sacred. Not for nothing but the number 1 charge brought against the early Christians was that they were atheists.

True Christianity is profane in the eyes of the world. It declares the sacred places, customs, practices and dogmas of religion profane. True Christianity desacralizes and deconstructs false Christianity. True Christianity is about healing, about insight and enlightenment; at least it was for the man born blind. It certainly is for the Johannine community. This is a community for whom ‘God is light’, God enlightens. This is a community for whom God is also ‘love’, a love shown in the character and person of Jesus. The Johannine God is benevolent. God loves the kosmos. There is no dualism in the FG, so it must also be said that there is no malevolence in God either. This is important for it explains the Johannine restructuring of apocalyptic which as a genre taught a vindictive God.

As we have suggested, the gospels all reflect the rejection of the benevolent, healing, life-giving God spoken of, borne witness to and acted out in Jesus. The same also occurred for the Johannine community. When it comes to our religion, we seek always to retain the ingredients of our mimetic making. In the case of the Pharisees in John 9, it is their interpretation of Torah and the Sabbath commandment. We would note that never in the New Testament is Torah thrown out; it is radically reinterpreted though. As Andre LaCocque (Ruth) has shown, Jesus and the New Testament writers engage the hermeneutic of hesed or agape when they interpret Torah. Not only can this be found in the book of Ruth but in his bible studies on Isaiah, Tony Bartlett clearly evinces this hermeneutic. (See Tony’s Bible Studies on Preaching Peace.) Girard has found proto-stages of the deconstruction of a non-hesed approach to Torah in the book of Job. Jesus also found it in the Psalter.

There is an interesting irony that happens in our text for both the man born blind and Jesus are presumed to be sinners. The disciples still retain their sacralizing mentality reflected in their belief that God rewards good and punishes sin. (Indeed, in his response to his questioners, the man born blind suggests that he too subscribes to a sacralizing understanding of God. “We know that God does not listen to sinners…” Among other things, this undermines any notion that we must be delivered of all our mimetic misconceptions before God’s power can be manifest in us.) Jesus rejects this view and transcends it. Jesus’ acts of healing went right to the heart of Torah interpretation. God was either a healing God or he was a god of “religion” (of law, ritual and myth). Like the people excoriated by the Hebrew Prophets, Jesus’ contemporaries did not want to accept the kind of God Jesus was preaching.

This is a theological battle that is occurring between Jesus (and the Johannine community) and the authorities. It has to do with the character of God. Are sinners to be defined as the ancient Pharisees and modern Christians do? Or rather, in seeing God differently do we in fact begin to see one another differently, in the light of agape instead, as Jesus did?

Can we find the Jesus of the Gospels in the Church today? Where shall we look?

We know where to look for the Jesus of the “religion” (in Girard’s sense) called Christianity. We know that we are dealing with the Jesus of religion when we hear folks say, “It doesn’t matter how much healing that person brings to her/his ministry. S/he is a sinner. It can’t be of God.” We know that we are dealing with the Jesus of religion when we hear it suggested, as we have heard recently, that there is a relationship between the deaths of hundreds of thousands in Asia and Africa from a terrible tidal wave, and the sin of child prostitution for which the West creates the most lucrative market. We know that we are dealing with the Jesus of religion when we hear it said that the obscene wealth concentrated in the United States is somehow a reward for our “Christian” heritage.

Where, then, shall we look for the Jesus of the Gospel? Where God’s work is recognized by the compassion demonstrated, not the correctness of the doctrine involved. We can find the Jesus of the Gospels where compassion drives humans to care for others whose “righteousness” is not apparent to them. We can find the Jesus of the Gospels when the Church rejects the work of “sinners” to bring the kingdom into being. We note that the blind man puts the pointed question “Do you want to become his disciples too?” which only succeeds in really angering his interrogators. The ‘Pharisees’ argue from their theological presuppositions, the blind man from his experience. It has always disturbed the religious when they find God acting outside their little boxes.

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Gospel Historical/Cultural Questions

There are no significant issues that occupy us today.

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Gospel So What?

Does our God punish? Does our God afflict with suffering the unrighteous? Can we infer that anyone suffering is being punished and therefore must be unrighteous? Are these not presuppositions of many traditions within Christianity? Is the contemporary church so different in it’s thinking than the religious of Jesus’ day or the authorities encountered by the Johannine community? Our preaching, if we are bearing witness to Jesus, will come as enlightenment to the blind and blasphemy to the religious. The demystification of the vindictive God, the revelation of the healing God, this is the stuff of the Gospels.Since Lent is about repentance and since repentance is changing our way of thinking, is it fair to say that now is the time for us to change our way of thinking? A lot has changed in the last four years. A new world is being born, it remains yet to be seen though, who is the birth father.

We have a chance, an opportunity, a calling and an obligation to let ourselves be healed of our darkness, our blindness, our ignorance. Jesus heals today, heals us, heals of infirmities, heals our spirits, heals even our theologies. The question is will we let him?

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Epistle Anthropological Reading

This section of this particular page is not yet completed, but will be done a few weeks before the Sunday in question. It will be the heart of the discussion, offering an anthropological (“Girardian”) reflection on the lectionary texts. It will be complemmented by the other sections, but this will be the primary material.Back to top

 

Epistle Historical/Cultural Questions

This section of this particular page is not yet complete. In it, there will be materials pertinent to the historical/cultural setting of the texts under consideration, to the extent that they contribute to a non-violent understanding of the text. (We won’t re-hash historical/cultural materials that are well known and add nothing to the “peace” discussion.)Back to top

 

Epistle So What?

The “so what” section for each week will go here. Less scholarly, more reflective. In this section, we’ll try to give our answer to the questions, “Okay, that anthropological stuff is nice, but “so what?” How do I use this in a sermon? How do I relate this to my congregation’s world?”Back to top