A new commandment I give to you.

I am going to my death to make possible for you a model of creative practice which is not governed by death. From now on this is the only commandment which counts: that you should live your lives as a creative overcoming of death, showing that you are prepared to die because you are not moved by death, and you are doing this to make possible a similar living out for your friends. The measure in which they are your friends is the degree in which, thanks to the perception which they have of your creative acting out of a life beyond the rule of death, they come to have their imagination expanded in the same way, and they too become capable of entering into this creative living out of a life that is not ruled by death.

John 13:34-35, as paraphrased by James Alison in Raising Abel, p.71.

(See also Tapestries of Love.)

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4 Responses to A new commandment I give to you.

  1. Chris says:

    Can this really be called a “paraphrasing”? There is no mention of love, or anything akin to it (“imagination” and “perception” are not love).

    I say Jesus said it better, so much better that no paraphrase would ever be necessary. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

    With love, Chris

    • “Paraphrase” is my word, not Alison’s. What he’s trying to do here is explicate exactly what that “love” entails — which is something I think does need paraphrasing, because the American English word “love” has a wide range of meaning — in a specifically Girardian anthropological framework.

      Which is all I’ve got time for before heading off to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper tonight. Blessed Triduum!

  2. Chris says:

    Hmmm – “explicate” – analyze (a literary work) in order to reveal its meaning.

    Is Christ’s meaning more clearly revealed by Alison’s work? Would the average person on the street understand the intent better by Christ’s own words or by Alison’s words? (Or, is that person even Alison’s target?)

    I’ll ponder that one. God bless.

    • Hi Chris,

      Sorry I was so terse earlier! Now that I have a bit more time…

      Indeed, the average person on the street is not Alison’s target here. The passage I quoted comes from the third chapter of a book subtitled “The Recovery of the Eschatological Imagination”, and the book was based on a course of the same subtitle, taught for an interdisciplinary postgraduate program in Brazil that focused on the interface between the social sciences and theology. In this chapter, Alison is exploring (John’s highly literary presentation of) Jesus’ imagination about, or to use a more traditionally religious word, his vision of, the reign of God that he preached was at hand. And the anthropological model with which Alison is working is one in which human beings tend to be easily fascinated (in the sense of entranced or almost hypnotized, as in “the glamor of evil”) by recurrent social patterns of desire, rivalry, expulsion, violence, and fear of death.

      So this language of creativity, imagination, and perception speaks directly to breaking us out of those patterns, and giving us a different model to follow so that we can “live as if death were not.” I think that language is very consistent with Jesus’ startling behavior in washing the disciples’ feet, which is the context for these verses (and for that matter, his startling addition to the rituals of blessing the bread and the cup). This verses, and the words of institution, are so familiar to us that it’s easy to forget how shocking they must have been when he first did them.

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