May 23, 2007

This week we finally reached the cross. We shared a handout illustrating the unmasking of scapegoating violence we see in the Passion narratives. Borrowing from Girard and Heim, we called this illustration the on-stage story and the back-stage story of the Passion. The Passion narrative show both stories juxtaposed.

In the on-stage story, we see the classic scapegoating dynamic. During a politically and religiously volatile Passover week in Jerusalem, the Romans and the Jews find a scapegoat--Jesus of Nazareth--that will bring communal peace. In this, they are successful. We see in Luke's narrative Herod and Pilate, former enemies, are reconciled (i.e., the death of the scapegoat brings an "atonement" between them). Also, we see the claim of the High Priest--kill one to save many--vindicated. The "peace" and power structures are preserved by killing Jesus. In sum, the death of Jesus brings atonement, peace, and salvation.

But there is a deep, dark irony here. This is an old and wicked salvation. It is the peace and salvation that comes from bloodshed.

Juxtaposed to this "on-stage" story is the back-stage story, were we get to see the self-interested plotting and power grabs. Jesus isn't scapegoated because he's guilty of sedition and blasphemy (the two great sins across all ages). Those are the on-stage reasons, the publicly stated reasons. The real reason Jesus is scapegoated is human sin. Our lust for power and status drives us to bloodshed. These motives are exposed in the passion narratives by the declaration at each stage of the process that Jesus is innocent. This back-stage story--where we see the powers structures killing an innocent person for their own ends--is told alongside the on-stage story to expose the scapegoating machinery with its lies and obfuscations. This exposure leads to the Grand Indictment of Human Violence. And, in the face of this indictment, scapegoating violence must cease. This peace--the cessation of violence--is the true peace Jesus brings. It is a non-violent salvation. A salvation purchased with the blood of Jesus so that no more blood would be shed.

Here are the two sides of the handout illustrating the Girardian reading:


Eric said...


This has been a great class so far. Thanks for taking this on. I had some questions from last week's class regarding salvation.

Through this paradigm, the cross saves us from human violence. That seems to me to be a very communal atonement. As we view the cross with this lens, what/where is our personal salvation? Where does our salvation from greed, pride, malice, idolatry, etc. come? Is that accomplished through confession? Baptism? The cross?

Just curious how this would tie into Heim's theology.

Richard Beck said...

That is a good question. Heim's focus is narrow (i.e., saving us from scapegoating violence) leaving lots of stuff on the table.

I guess you could go with one of two ways (or hold them in tension).

1. Still retain aspects of the PSA model which focuses on a "personal" salvation.

2. Adopt a participatory and eschatological notion of salvation, where "salvation" is increasing participation in the life of God culminating in the Eschaton.

The difference between #1 and #2 is the classic tension between justification (I am saved) and sanctification (I am being saved). The NT seems to hold both visions in tension. My only point here is that we may have leaned too heavily on justification in the past. That is, we may wish to reclaim notions of sanctification, where my salvation from vice (the stuff in your list) is a process rather than a discrete moment in time.

Eric said...

Good stuff. Thanks for the response.

I thought I had worked through a lot of these world views from my upbringing, but years of wiring are hard to undue.


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