November 29, 2022
image above: Peaceable Kingdom (1833) — Edward Hicks
WN: My friend Gerry Ayotte forwarded notice of this moving reflection. I have copied some of it. Please now go and read its entirety. The link to the first is immediately below.
Then I will also link you to the profound meditations by René Girard on the Greek word for scandal: skandalon. I’ll also offer a few excerpts below. The link is below the asterisks. Please go also and read it.
There is great blessing in both ruminations.
A Reflection for Tuesday of the First Week of Advent
Find today’s readings here.
Today in the first reading we hear that famous Isaian vision of God’s kingdom to come, which the Quaker artist Edward Hicks so famously captured in his paintings: The Peaceable Kingdom. [Over 60 versions were painted!] “The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest.” It’s basically a return to Eden.
I know that what we’re being told is that even the most vulnerable human beings will be safe here, but the idea of a baby playing near a cobra is still impossible to reconcile. In a sense I don’t care what the reading is saying; on a gut level I need those children to be taken to safety right now. Babies should not be left near snakes.
I think Isaiah intends that reaction. It points to just how inconceivably different the kingdom to come is from our own current reality, so different that it seems not just impossible but somehow scandalous.
René Girard and the New Testament Use of skandalon
1. When René Girard wants to show that Jesus understood the human situation in terms resonant with mimetic theory, he develops the theme of skandalon — first developed more fully at the conclusion of Things Hidden, pp. 416-431. On skandalon and the cross, for example, Girard has this to say (after quoting 1 Peter 2 on Christ the cornerstone which the builders had rejected):
The Cross is the supreme scandal not because on it divine majesty succumbs to the most inglorious punishment — quite similar things are found in most religions — but because the Gospels are making a much more radical revelation. They are unveiling the founding mechanism of all worldly prestige, all forms of sacredness and all forms of cultural meaning. The workings of the Gospel are almost the same, so it would seem, as workings of all earlier religions. That is why all our thinkers concur that there is no difference between them. But in fact this resemblance is only half the story. Another operation is taking place below the surface, and it has no precedence. It discredits and demonstrates all the gods of violence, since it reveals the true God, who has not the slightest violence in him. Since the time of the Gospels, mankind as a whole has always failed to comprehend this mystery, and it does so still. So no empty threat or gratuitous nastiness is involved in the text’s saying exactly what has always been happening and what will continue to happen, despite the fact that present-day circumstances combine to make the revelation ever more plain. For us, as for those who first heard the Gospel, the stone rejected by the builders has become the permanent stumbling block. By refusing to listen to what is being said to us, we are creating a fearsome destiny for ourselves. And there is no one, except ourselves, who can be held responsible.
Christ plays this role for all who remain scandalized by the wisdom embodied in the text. His role, though understandable, is paradoxical, since he offers not the slightest hold to any form of rivalry or mimetic interference. There is no acquisitive desire in him. As a consequence, any will that is really turned toward Jesus will not meet with the slightest of obstacles. His yolk is easy and his burden is light. With him, we run no risk of getting caught up in the evil opposition between doubles. (pp. 429-430)