Looking West back towards Burra on the Morgan Road, South Australia

Jesus Trumps Brexit… by not playing the game

Week of Sunday July 3
Gospel: Luke 10:1-20
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” 10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11“Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.” 12I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.

13 ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14But at the judgement it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 15And you, Capernaum,
will you be exalted to heaven?
   No, you will be brought down to Hades.

16 ‘Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’

17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ 18He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’

(This post continues from last week's post and sermon.)

After this…  the first words of Chapter 10 link the reading with what came before. How odd that in the previous reading Jesus forbids revenge and violence against a village, but in the next breath calls down woe upon whole cities, with Sodom at the less bad end of the list!

Sodom was destroyed by the fire which Jesus has just repudiated. And Sodom's inhospitality was legendary.

Because Sodom has other longstanding prejudices associated with it, I have included the following.

Here is Ezekiel speaking to Jerusalem.

46Your elder sister is Samaria, who lived with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who lived to the south of you, is Sodom with her daughters. 47You not only followed their ways, and acted according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways. As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. 49This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 50They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it. 51Samaria has not committed half your sins; you have committed more abominations than they, and have made your sisters appear righteous by all the abominations that you have committed. (Ezekiel 16:46-51)

Rev Dr Patrick Cheng says

… it is clear that the real sin of Sodom is radical inhospitality, or turning one’s back upon the strangers and the neediest in our midst. Rather than welcoming traveling sojourners into their homes and feeding them, the men of Sodom wanted to gang rape them and exert their power over them. (In fact, gang rape is precisely what happens to the unnamed concubine in Judges 19, which is the parallel story to Sodom and Gomorrah in the Hebrew Bible.)

The silence of the anti LGBTI community over the story in Judges is telling.

But more telling are the clear parallels between Jesus' sayings about the cities of Galilee and Sodom, and Samaria and its daughters to the north, and Ezekiel's sayings about Sodom  and Jerusalem. Our judgement of the other is blind to ourselves.

Paul Nuechterlein is correct when he says

The woes on the Jewish towns, in the omitted verses 10:12-15, might be the whole point of this passage, with the sending out and return of the 70 forming an inclusion around it. Last week’s story showed the disciples desiring a divine firestorm upon a Samaritan town and Jesus rebuking them. This week the omitted verses have Jesus telling his disciples that the time of judgment will actually be worse for Jewish towns than for Samaritan towns.

What is the connection between hospitality, judgement, and the wiping of dust from our feet? The pattern of the reading is the same as the reading from last week. In each case, Jesus instructs a non-retaliatory response to the sin and insult of inhospitality and then utters discomforting words which we associate with overzealous hyperbole, with judgement, and with the fire of violence. Since his spirit has taught us this discomfort, should we not at least wonder if there is something more than an embarrassing primitive acceptance of violence and judgement in these words? (There is no hint in Fitzmyer's Luke that the verses are a later insertion.)

What is Luke saying to us about Jesus?

In Luke 9:1-10, we find a similar version of the story of the 70 (or 72) folk who are sent out. One of the key differences between that story and Luke 10 is the report back to Jesus.

Luke 10:10 On their return the apostles told Jesus (him) all they had done. That's it.

Luke 11:17-20 The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ 18He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’

Even the demons submit to us, they say. And he replies, I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven. (Fitzmyer) In the cultural context of Jesus, it means Satan has fallen from the place of his power. In Job 1:1 , for example,

One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.

Satan is the Hebrew ha-satan: the accuser. And accusing is what he does:

The Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.’ 9Then Satan answered the Lord, ‘Does Job fear God for nothing? 10Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.’ (Job 1:8-11. cf Zechariah 3:1-2)

Fitzmyer says of Jesus' words about Satan:

… Jesus "watching" is a symbolic way of summing up the effects of the disciples' mission; his contemplation revealed how their activity expressed victory over Satan's power or influence. (Fitzmyer Luke pp860)

These are crucial words. (Especially because Fitzmyer gives no hint of the Girardian reading I will make of this text.)  It is the disciples' activity that expresses victory over Satan's power or influence. After my first reading I scribbled down that the mission of generous, vulnerable, non-affluent healing, disempowers Satan. This morning, as I work back over the Old Testament texts, what do I see?

The 70 (or 72) disciples are the opposite of Job. Job is a man of the modern West, who lives the good life, goes to church, and thinks, all things considered, he is in a good place with God.

There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. 2There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. 3He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. 4His sons used to go and hold feasts in one another’s houses in turn; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5And when the feast days had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt-offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, ‘It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.’ This is what Job always did. (Job 1:1-5)

Here are the disciples:

See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”

There is some very different activity happening in these two places. I express it this way very deliberately. We never just happen to be like Job. Being a healthy, wealthy, comfortable Job,  involves actions, and choices, and allegiances. The disciples have none of the power of Job's affluence, possessions and social respect. And neither do they seek it.

It is this which lets them "stand on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy." I take the enemy to be Satan the Accuser. Only a poor reading takes "snakes and scorpions" literally. It forgets that God has said to the serpent that Eve's offspring "will strike your head, and you will strike his heel." (Genesis 3:15) Fitzmyer says

The serpent and the scorpion were not only well-known sources of physical evil in Palestinian life, but were Old Testament symbols of all kinds of evil." (Luke pp863.  Luke 11:11-13 reflects this. See also Deuteronomy 8:1-20)

The mission of generous, vulnerable, non-affluent healing, disempowers Satan. It overcomes evil.

Why?

Girard teaches us that the Satan is mimetic violence. That is, Satan is the outworking, or the effect, of our rivalry with each other.

I am still working this out, but it seems to me that Satan is an objective projection of ourselves. That is, Satan is not real in the sense that there is no thing there; there is no Satan in the sense that there is an Andrew. But Satan is objectively more than an idea or a "myth," or mere superstition. We are talking about a real force which damages and destroys us. It has power.

The Satan has power because the Satan tells the truth of us. We are trapped in our rivalry with each other. Our fear of being less than each other breeds the violence we seek to settle by murdering the scapegoat. And this solves nothing because the rivalry remains. We seek to put a fence around ourselves and our house. We make possessions, and the possession of ourselves, a God.

This is obviously what is happening with Brexit, and with the current lifting up to heaven of Donald Trump. It's expressed much better than I can manage in a Facebook meme ascribed to "Nicholas in the Financial Times."

… it was the working classes who voted for us to leave because they were economically disregarded, and it is they who will suffer most in the short term. They have merely swapped one distant and unreachable elite for another.

The EU was the scapegoat, but only on the surface. The real story was one of "I'm not racist, but*…" Just like in Australia, the scapegoat is the boat people— read refugees— and the Muslims. Why does Trump want to build a wall? Somewhere, in his twisted fear, Mexicans are related to Muslims. They are other. They are the Tyre and Sidon of his fear filled world. (* For US friends: I'm not racist but… is a too common saying here in Oz.)

The trouble is that the Satan is a spiritual force like Jesus. He walks through locked doors and walls with ease. The power which Jesus gives us lies not in some magic by God, but in walking away from the weakness of Job, which is his possessions, and in walking away from our desire to be like him.

Trump and those with him are defining themselves over and against the other, which means they actually become the other, because they are ascribing to whatever other they choose, the fear and loathing they cannot face in themselves. This is the scapegoat mechanism "writ large."

To repeat: Our fear of being less than each other breeds the violence we seek to settle by murdering the scapegoat. And as Girard would say, this is Satan casting out Satan. It is no healing at all. (cf Luke 11:14-23)

But the disciples take no possessions with them. They simply bless peace, and heal. They do not compete to be up there with the rest of society, so Satan falls, for he no longer has power over them. They have nothing to lose. They have not sought to make a possession even of themselves.

Of course, this makes them extraordinarily vulnerable. They are the disruptors of society, but without the monetary power of the new tech companies. They are the disruptors  because they disempower the myth of the scapegoat. When I see you living without recourse to the scapegoat; when you teach me I am wrong; when I am shamed by my scapegoating, I have to say, "I am not racist, but…" And that leaves me with a question— albeit usually unconscious: "Who can I hate now, instead of facing myself?" The obvious answer is: You.

So Jesus says

I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

The spirits will strike back. The only power we have is that we are the citizens of a new city. We are living in a new way. Only that gives us victory. If we glory in the power it gives us, we tear our page out of the book, for we will become rivals for power again. We see this in our boasting: my church has greater miracles, or more people, or bigger buildings, than yours. Or in our longings (read rivalry,) when such claims pull at us.

This is what makes sense of the words of woe and judgement. Position and power mean nothing. Jesus' saving act lies in being powerless. If we, of all people, are proud— if like Capernaum we say we are exalted up to heaven because Jesus did great things here among us, then we are worse than Sodom and Tyre and Sidon. Indeed, in our pride of being on the A-Team we will not even notice that even the people of Tyre and Sidon "had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured." (Luke 6:17) We will not notice because we will have walked away from our healing.

Rejoice that your name is written in heaven; it is written in the new way of living outside the power of the accuser.

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!


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