Escaping the Sacred Lie

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

Psalm 75, 76 (Morning)
Psalm 23, 27 (Evening)
Ezra 9:1-15
Rev. 17:1-14
Matt. 14:22-36


Escaping the Sacred Lie

Today’s passage from Ezra is quite xenophobic, isn’t it? That seems to be a theme in Ezra and Nehemiah, set after the end of the Babylonian exile. Perhaps it’s not surprising, in light of the feelings expressed about the exile in Psalm 137 (the subject of my last reflection). Given the freedom to assert their cultural identity again, the group that was persecuted overcompensates by trying to achieve purity and persecuting others. Ezra claims this is necessary because “for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been handed over … to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame.” As is often the case, calamity is interpreted as a sign of God’s wrath. It still happens today.

One of my favorite theologians, James Alison, addresses this tendency in the first chapter of his book On Being Liked. He describes the attempt to find meaning (i.e. God’s wrath) from meaningless acts of violence, creating a false, or at least transient, sense of unanimity based in fear and grief, as a sacred lie. He goes on to show how Jesus dismantles this model of the sacred.

In Luke 13:1-5, Jesus asserts that certain victims of catastrophe were not worse sinners than any others. Alison says, “Jesus completely desacralizes the event, removing any link between God and what has happened. … It has nothing to do with God. But if we are caught up in the world of giving sacred meanings [to calamitous events], then we will be caught up in the world of reciprocal violence, of good and bad measured over against other people, and we will likewise perish. … If our minds are the mind of Christ, then we will not need to defend ourselves, because the spirit of truth which undoes the sacred lie, the Holy Spirit which makes available to us a wholly benign secular createdness, will be speaking through us.”


Written by Noah Meeks

Noah has been peripheral to St. Paul’s since 1998. It has influenced his life greatly, especially his decision to join the Episcopal Church in 2010. He spent a semester with missionaries from St. Paul’s in the Dominican Republic in 2002 and participated in the Ark Fellows program in 2013-2014. He completed EfM in 2017, serves as a lector, and is joining the Healing Touch ministry.

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