Readings for 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time: IS 6:1-2A, 3-8; PS 138: 1-8; ICOR 15: 1-11; LK 5: 1-8
In today’s Gospel reading, we encounter Jesus’ radical message of social justice and of the abundance-for-all that results from accepting his insights. Significantly for this series on the presidential candidacy of Marianne Williamson, her program parallels that of the Master whose miraculous teaching has constituted the center of her own career for the last 30 years and more.
Before I get to that, however, allow me a word about miracles and Marianne’s presidential campaign.
For starters, she herself is very clear about one thing: without a miracle, our country (and the world) is doomed. But that doesn’t mean her thinking is negative or pessimistic.
That’s because (and this is crucial) Marianne’s use of the term “miracle” does not reference marvels contrary to the laws of nature. Instead, her understanding of the word is something more significant even than the “miraculous” catch of fish reported in today’s Gospel reading. By miracle she means a profound change in consciousness. It’s a change in attitude from one governed by fear and guilt to an outlook inspired by love and forgiveness. As I said, without that change, we’re all finished.
Think about it. Isn’t it true that fear and guilt absolutely govern our lives? We’re taught to be very afraid of the Russians, Iranians, the Taliban, ISIS, Muslims, immigrants, climate change, nuclear holocaust, poverty, the police, gun violence, and death. And standard answers to such threats always include denial and violence in the form of war, more guns, sanctions, walls, prisons, weapons-modernization-programs, and an unlimited consumerism that has us drowning in our own waste.
In fact, it’s precisely that fearful thinking that continues to inform the candidacies of our country’s political classes (Democrats as well as Republicans). All of them except Marianne Williamson are imprisoned in old thought patterns. All of them are locked into political group think which typically dismisses Marianne’s approach as “unrealistic,” “impractical,” “inexperienced,” too idealistic.
Ignored is the fact that their own “realistic” thinking has brought us to the brink of extinction. Their “practical” consciousness has given us the war in Iraq and at least six other countries, the resulting uptick in terrorism, a planet on fire, world hunger in the face of enormous food waste, homeless populations freezing to death outside abandoned buildings, huge wealth disparities, the threat of nuclear war, more prisoners than anywhere else in the word, and a whole host of other problems.
All of those catastrophes, Marianne tells us, will remain without solution absent the miracle – absent the change in consciousness – that her campaign represents. She’s fond of quoting Einstein who said that the same kind of thinking that brought us into a crisis cannot extricate us from its predicament.
Now get ready: For Marianne, the answer to all those perceived threats is love and forgiveness. Yes, she actually dares to say that – to say what Jesus said! But for Williamson, both love and forgiveness are understood in terms of realizing the unity of all human beings. In other words, only a switch in consciousness from seeing others as separate to envisioning humankind’s underlying unity can save us.
Can you imagine seeing ISIS, the Taliban, Muslims, immigrants, refugees, people of all races, religions and skin colors – and Mother Earth Herself – as truly related to us at an intimate level?
Actually, it’s more than that. As Marianne tells us repeatedly, “There is really only one of us here.” All those demonized groups are us. That’s the meaning of Jesus’ teaching about loving our neighbor as ourselves. Our neighbor is our self. When we hate and kill him or her, we’re hating ourselves. We’re committing suicide!
Radicality like Marianne’s is precisely what today’s liturgical readings call us to. They remind us that followers of Jesus (and about 75% of Americans claim to be that) should not shy away from love and forgiveness in the form of wealth redistribution and reparations to exploited classes. No, it’s the heart of our faith. It’s the only realistic solution to our problems, both personal and political.
Consider today’s Gospel story. According to Luke, the crowds of those following Jesus are so thick that he has to get into a boat, a little bit from shore to address the people.
Thanks to what we read from Luke two weeks ago, we know who was in the crowd and why they were so enthusiastic. They were poor people responding to Jesus’ proclamation of a Jubilee Year. (For Jews, Jubilee, “the year of the Lord’s favor,” was good news for the poor. That’s because every 50 years it called for radical wealth redistribution in Israel. Debts were forgiven, slaves were set free, harvests were left un-gleaned and land was returned to its original owners.)
Recall that using the words of Isaiah, Luke had Jesus summarize his Jubilee message like this: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Yes, Jubilee represented biblical law. But it was honored more in the breach than in the observance. Astoundingly, Jesus was calling for its revival. Hence the overwhelming crowd.
Not accidentally, Isaiah’s words are a description not only of Jesus’ highly popular program, but of Marianne Williamson’s presidential agenda. It embodies Jubilee Spirit by advocating:
- Concern for our society’s and the world’s dispossessed (Good News to the poor)
- Prison reform (Release of captives)
- Health care (Recovery of sight to the blind)
- An end to neocolonial wars (Letting the oppressed go free)
- Reparations to descendants of African slaves (Jubilee)
- Wealth redistribution that has the rich paying their fair share (Jubilee)
- Forgiveness of student loans (Jubilee)
Next Jesus demonstrates the counter-intuitive abundance-for-all that inevitably results when his program is implemented. He tells his friends to go out into deeper waters and cast their nets despite the fact that their previous efforts had yielded no results. [Marianne constantly stresses the need for us to “go deeper” if we’re ever to go about Healing the Soul of America (the title of the 20th anniversary edition of her 1997 book.)]
Following Jesus’ instruction, the fishermen net a catch so great that it threatens to tear their nets apart and sink both of their boats. The message: abundance is the result of following Jesus’ program prioritizing “good news to the poor.” Abundance doesn’t trickle down from the elite; it percolates up from the poor.
And, of course, that latter point is underlined by Jesus’ final words in today’s reading, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching men.” In other words, Jesus confirms his “preferential option for the poor” by selecting working class fishermen – not the rich and elite – as his first disciples.
Like Marianne Williamson (and all who miraculously overcome the fear Jesus references), Peter, James, and John leave everything (including evidently the fish they’ve just caught) and follow Jesus into the unknown.
Their audacious act, their detachment from fear, possessions, the past, and the relative wealth they’ve just attained all demonstrate their readiness for further expansions of consciousness – for further miracles.
In our own day, Marianne Williamson’s unusual presidential candidacy summons us to similar changes – to similar miracles.
Yes, it’s true: it may take a miracle to get her elected. But that’s her point. It will also take a profound change in consciousness to save our world.
Let’s work for both wonders. Let’s expect both. We desperately need to change our minds. We desperately need a woman like Marianne Williams as president.