Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Additional note on Luke 5 1-11

The theme of prophecy is one of the strands that runs through Luke’s gospel. John the Baptist, Mary and the Apostles stand in continuity with the message of the Old Testament prophets. The call of Simon Peter is described explicitly as though it was a prophetic calling. Jesus, too, has a prophetic role par excellence. But the role Jesus is more complex. Firstly, he is described as being like a prophet, and Luke draws many parallels between Jesus and Moses (LT Johnson, Sacra Pagina – Luke, pp 17-21). But Jesus also acts like God acted in the Old Testament: he himself chooses and appoints prophets, calling the disciples who are going to carry his message to the world.

Simon Peter is, in Luke, the first to be so called. But there is a strange ambivalent dynamic in this encounter. I was struck by how closely it resembles the beginning of mimetic rivalry as described by Girard:

I call this stage ‘double mediation’, where each rival becomes a model/obstacle for the other. The rivals increasingly resemble one another; rivalry produces twins. One of them may win out over the other and regain his illusion of autonomy; the other will then be humiliated to the point of seeing his adversary as sacred. This attraction-repulsion is at the base of all pathologies of resentment: my worship of the model/obstacle and my metaphysical desire for his very being can lead me to murder. The model that I worship and before whom I humiliate myself, in the hope of being able to acquire his supposed power, turns back into an insufferable stranger whom I have to eliminate. (Girard, Battling to the End, p 31)

Simon Peter in fact responds to Jesus with both attraction and repulsion as though he were his model/obstacle, his skandalon. It is not it all surprising that he should behave this way. This is how human beings naturally respond to one another. What Simon Peter misses is that Jesus is not behaving like this, that there is nothing mimetic in Jesus’ actions. Simon Peter cannot see this because he himself is trapped in mimesis. So he becomes Jesus’ rival, even though Jesus is no rival to him. Simon Peter responds as though this were a case of double mediation, even though in fact it is entirely one way.

The drama of Simon Peter’s mimetic rivalry of Jesus is enacted through the gospel and comes to its natural conclusion at the passion, when attraction and repulsion progress to extremes, Peter both promises to die with Jesus and denies that he knows him, until Jesus ends, inevitably, as the “insufferable stranger” who is finally eliminated.

It is only when Peter encounters the risen Christ after his climactic death that he can finally move beyond the skandalon. This encounter reveals to Peter both the innocence of the Victim and the truth that he was never a rival in the first place. Peter’s imagination of the model/obstacle finally gives way in radical repentance and forgiveness. Only then does the stumbling block become the corner stone.

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