Everyone needs an enemy! Mark 10:35-45 Ordinary 29B

Mark 10:35-45

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

(This classic conflict of interests reminded me of the phenomenon of scapegoating and how Jesus used the scapegoating dynamic for human transformation. One could say Jesus is saying to the disciples you , like me will be scapegoated)

When last did you scapegoat someone and feel so much better?
If you are human, it happens quite frequently. At least according to Rene’ Girard, Stanford University professor of sociology who was converted from atheism to Roman Catholicism by his study of human conflict and violence.
Let me illustrate his theory.

“Picture two young children playing happily, a pile of toys beside them. The older child pulls a G.I. Joe from the pile and immediately, his younger brother cries out, “No, my toy,” and grabs it.
The older child, who was not very interested in the toy when he picked it up, now conceives a passionate need for it and attempts to get it back. Soon a full fight ensues, with the toy forgotten and the two boys busy pummelling each other.
As the fight intensifies, the overweight child next door wanders into their yard, looking for someone to play with. At that point, one of the two rivals looks up and says, “Oh, there’s old fat butt!” “Yeah,” says his brother. “Big fat butt!”
The two, having forgotten the toy, now forget their fight and chase the other child back home. Harmony has been restored between the two brothers, though the neighbour is back indoors crying.”

There are two dynamics significant to this story.
The first is how imitative desire causes conflict. GI Joe increases in value because the other brother also wants it.

The second point is that finding a scapegoat helps reduce the conflict between the brothers.
If you have ever tried to calm domestic violence you will have experienced this when the fighting couple unite, and turn on you!
In these simple dynamics Girard explains the origin and process of all human conflict.
Girard’s research shows that whenever tension exists in societies, the community in the tension find release through some process of scapegoating.

According to Girard, this scapegoating has always been part of human life.
It is the origin of sacrifice.
The killing of an outsider, makes the community in conflict feel better.
But there remains an aftermath of guilt. “How could we have done that?”
To go back to the two boys. Imagine that, having chased off Fat-Butt, the brothers feel remorse about their bullying. One of them says, “You know bro, we had to do that because Dad says, ‘Blood is thicker than water’.”
Dad has become the authorization for their violence.
Girard discovered that religion plays a role in violence by encouraging and condoning scapegoating. Dad/God demanded the scapegoat.
The community that has sacrificed their child, their vestal virgin, their ox, their prophet, at some point feels remorse.
The priest then says, “Relax, God demanded it that way. We are merely being obedient.”
Girard’s conversion came when he saw how Jesus accepted being scapegoated, but for the first time in history, exposed the process to the perpetrators.
“Father forgive them…”

So next time we use our religion to scapegoat someone, let’s ask ourselves, “Is this truly the Spirit?”

Palming off the Donkey King

Luke 19:28-40

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.'” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

And so the climax of the incarnate life of God draws close.

Jesus has just told the parable of the nobleman who goes off to win power in a foreign land and leaves his servants with varied levels of resourcing and on his return exacts an account from them of their use of those resources.

Those who have been entrepreneurial are rewarded with power and authority over regions of the kingdom,but those who have been cautious and cowardly are stripped of even the little they have . The parable ends with Jesus saying I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.'”

Luke moves the action directly from that enigmatic saying to the arrival of Jesus at the Mount of Olives and his requisitioning of a colt.

There can be no doubt that Jesus is casting his actions with direct reference to the prophet Zechariah who was one of those killed in the temple. “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zechariah 9:9

My laziness and thoughts of a whole week of Holy Week preaching that lies ahead, tempts me to go with the conventional themes of Palms Hosannas, the irony of a crowd that a few days later will replace adulation with the mob’s anger that cries for crucifixion.

But there is a question that keeps tapping at the window of my mind and it will not let me duck it by a flight into conventionalism. So as I open the window my mind whispers, Why does he accept the appellation as king now when Jesus has spent his public ministry avoiding it?”

So, on this Public Holiday celebrating Human Rights in South Africa, I have begun to dig around for some possible insights that may answer my tapping question.

This is what I have found and share as speculative explanations.

Jesus could not accept the association with Kingship and rule until he had opportunity to correct the popular experience and understanding of what that meant. Lord knows, the current exemplars of kingship and rule were far from Jesus’ concept. The two Herods in his lifetime, Quirinius, Procurator Pilate and of course the Caesars of Rome, modelled their leadership from the same Macchiavellian mud. (Yes I know Machiavelli doesn’t time synch, but what a fun alliteration?) Power, control and brutal consequences for those who dissented.

This was not what Jesus wanted to be associated with and so he avoids being proclaimed king until he had had a time to reorient his disciples understanding of kingship.

In three and a half years he has modelled what kings are intended to do for their people:

  • He has healed the broken and restored them to full participation in community
  • He has forgiven those who missed the mark of required ethical and religious standards and included them in his new community.
  • He has raised the dead so as to offer social security to those women who would be destitute by the deaths of the men (Lazarus, Widow of Nain)
  • He has raised and healed children to break the bondage of bad theology that blamed bad things on parental conditions and culture (Children of Jairus and the Canaanite woman)
  • He has been inclusive, unconditionally accepting, and restorative in his words and actions.

This is who kings and rulers are meant to be and now it is time for him to own the archetype and to associate with the kingship that the stoned prophets were trying to bring to the palaces of Palestine.(yes probably both meanings of “stoned”, they were high on God remember?)

There is another dimension to this parade that is a hard sell in a church that has invested so heavily in the “lamb to the slaughter” image of Christ.

It is that late in life convert to Christianity Rene’ Girard who reminded me, in a interview recorded in The Girard Reader , edited by James G Williams

R.G.: The Gospels speak of “sacrifices” only in order to reject them and deny them any validity. Jesus counters the ritualism of the Pharisees with an anti-sacrificial quotation from Hosea: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice'” (Matt. 9:13). The following text amounts to a great deal more than ethical advice; it at once sets the cult of sacrifice at a distance and reveals its true function, which has now come full circle: So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matt. 5:23—24)

Interviewer: Surely the crucifixion is still the sacrifice of Christ?

R.G.: There is nothing in the Gospels to suggest that the death of Jesus is a sacrifice, whatever definition (expiation, substitution, etc.) we may give for that sacrifice. At no point in the Gospels is the death of Jesus defined as a sacrifice. The passages that are invoked to justify a sacrificial conception of the Passion both can and should be interpreted with no reference to sacrifice in any of the accepted meanings. Certainly the Passion is presented to us in the Gospels as an act that brings salvation to humanity. But it is in no way presented as a sacrifice, If you have really followed my argument up to this point, you will already realize that from our particular perspective the sacrificial interpretation of the Passion must be criticized and exposed as a most enormous and paradoxical misunderstanding — and at the same time as something necessary — and as the most revealing indication of mankind’s radical incapacity to understand its own violence, even when that violence is conveyed in the most explicit fashion.

If you are not familiar with Girardian thinking you may want to click through to The Girardian Lectionary

The crux of Girard’s insight for my thinking this week is simply that in the Palm Procession we do not have a Lamb to the Slaughter, pre-programmed robotic Jesus, we have a living, choosing, inviting Jesus making one of his final offers to the people and powers of Jerusalem. An offer they reject not because they are scripted to do so, but because the cost of compassion and inclusive community is far greater than the system of scapegoating shame and blame religion and power that is in place.

Jesus the Zecharian, “King on a Colt” comes with an offer of alternative living. An inclusive community of compassion and companionship. Where servants not swordsman have power,… the power of love. A kingdom of healing and restoration where humans blossom into fruitful beings. A kingdom which all the democrats and despots of this world even two millennia after the Palms waved, have yet to be able to bring to reality.

The offer still stands, and notfor a limited time only” as the End Time Enthusiasts would have it.

No it is an eternal offer, always available for any who can sing Hosanna and hold back on hatred.

Look! here comes the Donkey King again!