(Sunday Homily) Jesus Meets with Terrorists in the Desert

Loaves & Fishes

Readings for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ: GN14: 18-20; PS 110: 1-4; I COR 11: 23-26; LK 9: 11B-17.

In this morning’s Gospel episode, a group of 5000 men— presumably with something to hide – meet in in a secret, out-of-the-way place.

The secrecy is entirely appropriate at this time of revolution against the Romans, their country’s hated occupying force. That context requires it. If such a gathering were discovered, the Roman Pigs (MK 5: 1-13) would surely attack and wipe out all present without a trace of pity. It’s been their consistent track record.

The desert context also evokes in everyone’s mind the halcyon years their ancestors spent in the desert following their liberation from Egypt. It reminds them that deliverance from foreign domination is the very core of their faith heritage. As well, the wasteland context recalls the recently martyred prophet, John the Baptizer who lived among the rocks, sand, wild creatures, heat and cold.  In absentia, his own wildness is the unspoken inspiration for this assembly.

Naturally, many of the men present are armed. They are part of the resistance, the Insurrection. Virtually everyone in the country supports them. They are celebrated as heroes.

This day, one of those sympathizers known for his fiery rhetoric spends hours speaking. It’s the worker-rabbi, Yeshua, the carpenter from Nazareth. He is the heir apparent of the assassinated Baptizer. Like John, Yeshua is a social revolutionary hated by the Scribal Establishment. The same is true for the priestly caste and Roman occupiers. They all think “the Master” is a terrorist – an armed Zealot like many in his audience. In fact it is certain that several in his inner circle bear arms (LK 22:38, JN 18:10). They are suspected of being sicarii – patriotic assassins of Roman soldiers.

In the past, Yeshua has routinely excoriated the rich who collaborate with the oppressors of their own people. He has encouraged the destitute. Today is no different. Over and over he has told his oppressed followers “The Kingdom of God is yours.”

All are familiar with that metaphor – “the Kingdom of God.”  It describes what Israel would look like if it were ruled by their tribal God, Yahweh, rather than by filthy goyim. Everything will be reversed in the Kingdom, Jesus has said. The rich will weep; the poor will laugh. The first will be last; the last, first.

“The Kingdom of God” is not about some “heaven up there,” Yeshua insists. “Don’t let anyone tell you different. It is about this world of body and blood, bread and wine.

“Eventually, it will be about my body and blood,” he has also predicted on several occasions. With such words he has signaled his fearless embrace of his “prophetic script.” Like prophets before and after him, he knows his inevitable fate. The Powers and Principalities simply cannot abide prophets or liberators. They call all such resisters “terrorists“ and butcher them without a second thought.

“But my death,” Yeshua has assured, “will be like a seed giving rise to others like me. There have been many before. Many will emerge after my death. Everyone has a duty to resist oppression. Take long quaffs of my blood,” he has said. “Death suffered struggling for God’s justice is nothing to fear.”

Like most revolutionary groups, the assembly this day is highly organized. After Yeshua finishes speaking, it disarticulates into 100 groups of 50 for discussion. A subsequent plenary centralizes the far-reaching conclusions of a group of fishermen especially close to the prophet Yeshua. The fishermen propose a New World Order where wheat farmers share bread and fishermen distribute the fruits of their labor for free. Such sharing, they’ve concluded is the answer to hunger and poverty. It would yield abundance for all with plenty left over.

And that’s what happens on this day. When everyone shares the lunches they’ve brought with them, 12 baskets of bread and fish are left over.

“It’s a miracle,” everyone agrees.

And it’s true: selfless sharing is revolutionary. It’s the nature of God’s Kingdom.

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

3 thoughts on “(Sunday Homily) Jesus Meets with Terrorists in the Desert”

  1. The Sicarii carried daggers… The Sikhs are a much more recent group who almost always carry daggers. Like 2nd Amendment hardliners in the United States, Sikhs feel a moral obligation to ensure that they can defend themselves against attackers:

    The Khalsa and Kirpan dagger of Sikhs were part of their organization against imperial aggression by a different but hugely important empire, the Muslim Mughals of India. Do you abhor the Mughals for their significant role in the history of India? Or are there standards that somehow apply only in Europe, to native Europeans?


  2. Mike? What is it with this animus against the Romans, who were surely a mixed bag but also brought roads and bread, aqueducts and water, and Pax Romana to a huge swath of territory?

    The overreaching piggishness of Romans is a recurring theme in your writing — especially against a proud but very insular tribal group of ancient Palestine 2000 years ago (people who you would attack today for the same sort of sentiments).

    Reasons are a part of logic, and this seems more emotional than logical… but why the Roman hatred? Did you feel this as a young student of Latin, or is the Roman-bashing a proxy for something else? Just curious… I’ve always enjoyed your classes and your thoughts even when I disagree, but this in particular puzzles me. Do you object to Tamerlane (or the much more recent Ottoman Empire, or ISIS) for their massacres? Or the fairly recent Catholic Habsburg Empire?


    “…It could be a scene from a 21st-century war. But it portrays a realistic moment in Bruegel’s own 16th-century Flanders. The painter is picturing the wars that ravaged the country in his time, wars in which the Spanish Catholic armies of the Habsburg empire tried to crush Protestant resistance.”


  3. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for a compelling perspective on Yeshua as a person of his time.

    That realization, how embedded in his time he was, begs the question: what would spirituality in our age look like if it were to undergo the same transformation as thinking did, starting in about 1600, which is where scholars place the start of the evolution of the Modern Mind.

    Contrary to first thoughts on the subject, the Modern Mind it turns out did not evolve from science, but rather from engineering. Functional machinery was now being built, but was unreliable. The steam engine, in particular, raised the need to measure pressure. The accidents were very loud and injurious. The Mind went from “well, I say you need to make that line bigger” to “hmm, how big would that line have to be to draw off 30 lbs of pressure.”

    The Modern Mind still hasn’t taken hold in most of the world, including most of our country. And resistance to its iconic product, Critical Thinking, is still strong. It isn’t going away, though.

    We have not yet had that revolution in spirituality, however. It’s still embedded in opinion, reified in creed and ritual.

    To make the same leap as the Modern Mind, it will have to be clothed not in mystery, but in experiences that are easily available to all. “If you do this, here is the result you will observe or experience.” It will not require faith, because faith can only exist where demonstration through experience is not available.

    It will deepen our experience of what Merton called the Inner Spirit, some aspects of which are now measurable in terms of brain activity. It will deepen our ability to connect with the inner spirit of others, in that place beyond words: we know, e.g., that people who simply (and only) sit and look at each other for 10 minutes experience brain synchronization.

    It will lead to non-hierarchical models of group organization: we know not only that such is possible (cf. Zappos shoe company) but also that any hierarchical structure is inconsistent with the recognition that the source of our intelligence and creativity lies in a place beyond words, and is amplified when a workgroup is connected with each other (something Quakers call a “Gathered” or “Covered” Meeting).

    Francis is moving his Church in the direction of an evolved, modern spirituality.

    Others are coming from the other direction, to the same target.

    The three legs of the modern spiritual stool, connecting with our own inner spirit, with others’ inner spirit, and working together on that basis, must all be present. That, not the overthrow of the current hierarchy to be replaced by another hierarchy, will be the revolution that lasts.

    Mary B.: your insightful queries, in the context of Mike’s explication, inspired this response.

    thanks to both,


    Liked by 1 person

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