Tag Archives: victim

19 October: Luke, a Nervous Evangelist, Part II

Second right in the bottom row: this could sum up the experience of the widow in Jesus’ parable that Sister Johanna is reflecting upon. ‘I’ve never felt so powerless in my life.’ Or further up: ‘I feel there is nothing to look forward to.’ It’s not something new to the Covid experience that makes people feel this way. 2,000 years ago, they must have said similar things to Jesus, and he put their experience into this parable, now opened anew for us by Sister Johanna.

We are looking at Jesus’ parable of the unjust judge, from Luke 18:1- 8. I recommend that you scroll back to yesterday’s post to catch up with us. We’re looking at an unusually playful parable, starring a curmudgeonly judge, and we’re wondering what Jesus is really getting at by presenting his ideas in this way. We find out by listening to the lines he allows the judge-curmudgeon to say, ‘… I have neither fear of God nor respect for any human person….’ This phrase comes twice in the short parable – the first time Jesus himself uses it to describe the judge, and the second time, he lets the judge say it to describe himself. Repetition is a device used to drive home a home truth. Jesus wants us to hear these words. What is the truth that they contain, then?

I think, first, the words tell us that Jesus understands what it is like for us to pray and not feel heard. He understands how, in our life with God, it sometimes feels as though God himself is the uncaring one, who delays and delays to help us, even though we ‘cry to him day and night.’ When we are going through such an experience, we feel alone, and it seems to us that no one in the history of the world has been through this kind of desolation except us. But in fact, Jesus knows that this is an archetypal experience. Jesus’ listeners at the time would have had it, we have it, all praying people in between us and them have had it. So we can nod our heads as Jesus’ first hearers must have done. Perhaps some in his audience will have begun to cry as Jesus’ words went home and exposed a deeply painful wound or a long-standing problem that felt overwhelming. Jesus is saying here, “I know. It sometimes feels like this when you pray to God for help. He seems unheeding. Here’s me, praying night and day, and nothing changes. Does God care?”

Second: Jesus in this parable is giving us permission to admit that we have these kinds of thoughts and feelings about God. Sometimes it is very difficult not to think of God as anything other than an extremely unjust judge. But why should Jesus encourage us to admit that we feel this way? Because faith is not about pretending to possess a level of ‘holiness’ that we do not really possess. We will return to the subject of faith at the end of our reflections tomorrow. For now, we can say that our faith in God is what allows us to tell God exactly how it feels to be me right now, and, as such, to tell him what we think of him. God knows this already, of course. But perhaps we don’t. Faith is sometimes about discovering who we are, as much as it is about discovering who God is. So, the Lord wants us to tell God all about it, with as much honesty as we can summon, while still hanging on to God for dear life.

The last nine words of the previous paragraph are vital. In light of them, let’s look at the character of the widow in this parable. What role does she play? A widow, in biblical shorthand, represents those who are neediest in society, those who have few human resources, who are alone and must fight hard in order even to be noticed by the current power-base. In this parable we find just such a fighter – a woman in whom the curmudgeonly judge meets his match. Feisty and determined, and as crabby and calculating in her way as he was, she “…kept on coming to him and saying, ‘I want justice from you against my enemy.’” Do I detect a hint of falsetto in Jesus’ rendering of these words? Maybe we all know the type of character the widow represents. Possibly, if we know her well, we are a bit afraid of her. But, don’t we admire her when some film or television drama features a character like this, who refuses to be the victim of whatever or whoever is trying to make her one?

We’re going to pause again here and return tomorrow to continue our meditation.

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11 November: A murky day in Manchester

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It was a murky day in Manchester last winter when I met this column of men from the Great War. The sculpture is based on John Singer Sargent’s painting in the Imperial War Museum, ‘Gassed’. He had been to the front line, though he was in his eighties, and seen the men, British and American, suffering blindness after a mustard gas attack.

They are led by a medical orderly; there is a skill to leading such a group: observing the terrain, being alert for mud, ruts, obstacles, exaggerated dropping of the left or right shoulder to lead the men to turn. There are many ways to love your fellow man: the column of men support each other in what the sculptor, Johanna DomkeGuyot calls ‘Victory Over Blindness’.

Her sculpture loves her fellow human beings: honouring the dead but challenging the living through portraying the gritty, grimy reality of unmedalled, unsought heroism. It is a bold but totally right decision to plant the men at ground level, not way over our heads, like the man on the Manchester cenotaph; an image that all but says, dulce et decorum est – how sweet and right it is to die for one’s country.

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Let us not forget that the victims of war, soldiers or civilians, are men, women and children like us and ours; that cruel things have been done in our name as well as against us. Let us do all we can to bring about peace and reconciliation between nations and peoples, and within our own communities.

Lord grant us peace.

DULCE ET DECORUM EST

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen

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May 14. What is Theology Saying? LI: Jesus did not compete with others.

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austinWhen we are aware that our meagre resources seem ill suited to the enormous responsibility of mission, we are not in an unfortunate situation, rather are we not best suited for what is being asked of us? Jesus had none of the attributes proper to power in his own day. He was not outstanding by his technical competence, he did not shine because of his education or cultural training. He did not try to present logical arguments, to compete with others engaged in similar processes.

Jesus walked around unarmed and defenceless, and that is how he wanted to be. He wanted to reach people at the level of common humanity, to be relevant to the lowliest. The fact that so many responded to him suggests his success. Unarmed, with nothing to defend allowed him complete openness to truth. But it is clear that to be at the complete service of truth involves weakness and vulnerability. This also reveals the real nature of sin. Without this pre-eminence of truth being shown to us such things as lying, manipulation and the like would remain hidden under various degrees of respectability: “It is better to have one man die than to have the whole nation destroyed” – John.11.50.The helplessness of the victim is all too apparent.

But without such vulnerability Jesus could not have spoken to the hearts of ordinary folk. If his words were undercut by fear and by respect for the “strong”, playing it safe, then his work and his preaching would have been no more than an aid to help people integrate into the prevailing culture. This would have been true even if he had preached rebellion, since rebellion is little more than the last step in trying to integrate people.

AMcC

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11 December: Visitors to Isis Prison.

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Prison ministry can be demanding and discouraging. I remember Fr H telling me how the father of one of my pupils had at first been keen to speak with him, but kept out of H’s way when he returned to prison after being caught offending again. Drugs were a problem for him: and despite that discouraging incident, I think Fr H must have played some part in his rehab. When next I saw my pupil’s dad he was clean and looked 20 years younger.

Our friend Fr Valentine left us for prison chaplaincy. Wisely, he has recruited volunteers, including these university students, to bring a breath of fresh air into the place. On this occasion they spent an evening debating with the prisoners. Read about it here:

  • Where can you exercise a ministry of friendship?
  • Let us pray for all prisoners who will be inside at Christmas, especially those who will receive no messages, or very few, from outside. And let us pray for the prisoners’ families, as well as those affected by their crimes.

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October 21. What is Theology Saying? XXXIV: My “me” is dependent on desires.

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The fact that my way is illusory means that it cannot be natural, a mistake cannot be of the essence of anything. That this is world-wide and world-old cannot make it natural. Revelation has something to tell us about living together; and we must avoid supposing an autonomy of social science, which forgets that modern social theory is formulated specifically against theology. It shares the same illusion of seeing reality as setting one against another. As a consequence of faith in the Incarnation, we receive the awareness that self-awareness comes from seeing self as total gift – no rivalry, as each one is unique.

Why does the infant struggle to repeat words and sounds; a process we take for granted? It isn’t automatic [and often missing in the Autistic]. This pull we feel confronting us as gravity is for the planets. It is a call to imitate, it is repetitive learning. We move into adult life through relating and, like gravity, such imitating both attracts and repels. We are attracted and we imitate, but eventually imitation leads to rivalry, using the same model differently. Our model is now our rival through whom we define ourselves against.

We imitate not just what the model looks like – but also what he/she has; it is this moving towards an object other than the model that we call desire. It pulls us away from the model into a kind of autonomy. But something more is required to fashion me. This involves focussing on the model as being – wanting to be who the model is. It is this imitating that eventually leads to rivalry: an impossible rivalry. Rivalry is resolved by exclusion or marginalising the victim – asserting individual self over the self of the other – I establish me through many victories gained in this way.

Does this mean we are all victimisers? The sense of self is always given – not acquired. It is the tension set in place by my sense of self as given, and as self acquired by violent means – this is the essence of Original Sin. My sense of self is unstable, changeable, other-dependent – the other who is there before me. My “me” is dependent on the desires that gave rise to it. Christian scholars understood the way in which humans relate to God in terms of where we come from, where we are going and how to get there.

AMcC

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5 April: The Passover Sequence, II. The Soldier.

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Enough, lads!

Leave it,

Go … go … leave it!

Why do they tell us to do these things?

Soldiers of Caesar … are we not human?

They had their fun

Till it sickened

And they laboured.

And I stayed.

Here! Put this back on!

See he shivers in the shock,

Such violence!

Not the usual cursing, angry vagrant,

Shouting, struggling,

Shivering. Yes,

Their bodies react like that,

But his eyes are calm.

He looked at me.

I am ashamed.

Here, let me help you.

Why do they do this?

Why mock the man?

Why strike?

Why spit?

No-one seems to know.

But for their satisfaction

And more to come I hear.

Well, I’ll leave you here … where else?

I’m off duty soon,

My wife will have my meal,

I’m hungry now.

But you!

What for you?

The hordes are ravenous,

Whipped up for blood.

Do you not have friends?

Family?

Who speaks for you?

Defends you?

I must go.

Someone will come for you soon.

But wait here ….

here ….

I’m sorry ….

SPB.

 

 

The Crowning with Thorns, Strasbourg Cathedral, West Front.

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November 13: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xiii – ‘Resurrection is the affirmation of a life fully lived.’

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He is risen!

 

Little by little, slowly and gradually, the process of dis-covery [uncovering] is worked out to the subversion of the persecutors when the innocence of the victim becomes more and more evident: Joseph, Job, and Songs of Suffering Servant in Isaiah – when God is distinguished from the violence of the gods, and clearly on the side of the victim.

This is the genius of Judaism, having nothing equivalent elsewhere. This is what we call Revelation, God’s self-revelation by means of the innocent victim. We never reach the full revelation of this in the Old Testament, nor a full revelation of the innocence of the victim, nor a separation of God from involvement in the sacred self-deceiving violence. Such fullness occurs only in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

If we diminish the significance of Jesus’ death are we not undermining the very essence of the Resurrection? If we honour, as did Jesus, the primary role of the Kingdom, life radically lived to the full, then resurrection is not so much about the vindication of his death as about the affirmation of life fully lived. Resurrection belongs to life rather than death, an affirmation and celebration of what fully alive means.

Following Jesus has become synonymous with belonging to a denomination, and inevitably came to see Jesus as a ruling Lord – with scant reference to the freedom and empowerment of the powerless which is his hallmark. By the time of Emperor Constantine the Kingdom of God was clothed in the imperial system of Rome. Whereas the freedom Jesus brought would happen not by intervention from above but by empowerment from the ground up. The one and only time Jesus approved of them calling him king was when he chose to ride on a donkey – he embraced kingship but turned it on its head.

AMcC

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September 7. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, 5: Perceiving God as Creator and Redeemer

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The Chosen People perceiving God as Creator was not done rapidly. They moved from a view that saw God as one god among many gods, towards God as the only God, Creator of all things, even Israel’s enemies. However, the fact that God created everything is not the same as God created everything out of nothing. This came later along with belief in resurrection from the dead [2Macaabees]. The order of the world does not correspond to God’s order – since those who follow God’s ordering are persecuted in this world. God is not responsible for the ordering of the world – establishing order out of chaos is the work of human violence – creation is prior to this and not party to it.

The resurrection reveals that persecution is not the monopoly of any particular group, but the consequence of the fact that all humanity is locked into violence. That this is universally so is seen in the fact that the Chosen People suffered equally, and in no way deserved what the Church used to speak of the perfidious Jews; rather is it that the very best of nations was locked into this violence also. Jesus was working to bring about what God always desired but which had become trapped into the violent charade we have made.

Creation, therefore, is not finished until Jesus dies shouting it is accomplished – opening up creation to this new yet original way. Understand creation starting in and through Jesus. God’s bringing into existence what is from nothing, is exactly the same as Jesus’ deathless self-giving out of love, breaking through the culture of death.

It is not as if creation was a different act happening alongside the salvation worked by Jesus, but this salvation was the completion of creation – the bringing into existence and making possible of human living together which knows nothing of death. Jesus was in on this from the beginning. Such is what we have done to our world that God could only be seen as Creator by means of overcoming death.

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Rather than the creation-fall-redemption-heaven model we have: The redemption reveals creation by opening its fulfilment in heaven and reveals at the same time the fall as that which we are in the process of leaving behind. All these realities were discovered only through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus didn’t come to tell us that God is our Father. He came to create the possibility that God be our Father; it needed someone to die to have us understand better our Father – that there is no access to him except within the process of total self-giving. Jesus says he will ask the Father to send someone other than Jesus as counsellor, and when this Spirit comes he will glorify Jesus – making clear everything he said. Jesus going deliberately to his death, opens up his way of living, his self-giving to become a gift to any who seek to live in this way.

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From the moment when death has its lie revealed through Jesus living as if death were not, from that moment it becomes possible for us to be possessed by his spirit – it is accomplished means that there is now a fully human way – from birth through and including death. The Spirit makes it possible to do the same for the Father as Jesus did, to live as if death is not. There are two elements to the mission of the Spirit – as advocate, and as one who leads to truth.

The Advocate absolves from accusations, whereas the Prosecution [from persecution] representing the order of this world ruthlessly seeks out a victim; and justifies the need for murder to maintain order – all the while convinced that this truly serving God. The Advocate knows the victim is hated without cause [as was Jesus] and brings this to light by constantly recalling the real memory of what happened to Jesus and why. The Spirit pleads our cause – which means forgiveness of sin. This means that forgiveness of sin and the recreating of the actual happening of the passion in the lives of disciples are one and the same.

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