Readings for the 5th Sunday of Easter: ACTS 6: 1-7; PSALMS 33: 1-2, 4-5, 18-19; 1 PETER 2: 4-9; JOHN 14: 1-12
Although it might not be apparent at first glance, the readings for this Fifth Sunday of Easter address homelessness. During this COVOD-19 pandemic, it’s an exceptionally vexing problem that finds many Americans unable to pay their rent or mortgages. In New York City, for example, many of those rendered homeless end up seeking shelter and the possibility of social distancing within the city’s subway cars.
As if in response to such developments, today’s selections centralize the concern of the Great Cosmic Mother for her children in similar situations of powerlessness and abandonment.
These, the readings tell us, were also the concern of Yeshua’s Jewish followers immediately following his death and the mysterious experience they came to call his “resurrection.” For those reformers of Judaism, social problems like hunger and homelessness were not to be solved by force or organized abandonment, but by compassion, sharing, service, and loving kindness.
Homeless in America
But before I get to that, think for a moment about homelessness in America. It’s deeply connected with the U.S. prison system which has actually become the de facto form that low-income housing assumes here.
That point was made last week on “Democracy Now,” when Amy Goodman interviewed Dr. Ruth Wilson Gilmore. She’s the co-founder of California Prison Moratorium Project (CPMP). CPMP represents an abolitionist decarceration movement in the United States which houses approximately one in four prisoners in the entire world. (Perhaps coincidently, the U.S. has also produced the same proportion of COVID-19 deaths.)
To begin with, Wilson Gilmore contrasted the U.S. approach to crime with those of other industrialized countries. Within our borders the emphasis is on deprivation, isolation, punishment, pain and force. By contrast, many other systems emphasize rehabilitation.
Of their “Reformative Justice” dispensations the interviewee said “Where life is precious, life is precious. In places where the state, the government, municipalities, social justice organizations, faith communities, labor unions work together to lift up human life, the incidence of crime and punishment, including incidents of interpersonal harm, are less likely to occur. . . We also see that in places where inequality is the deepest, the use of prison and punishment is the greatest.”
In the same interview, Wilson Gilmore went on to specifically address the problem of homelessness here and what she called our country’s strategy of “organized abandonment.” By that she meant urban organization like New York City’s, where working class neighborhoods are routinely razed to make room for gentrified condos and exotic shopping experiences.
There, displaced lower-class renters are left on their own. Some, of course, are welcome to return to their old neighborhoods as waitpersons, delivery personnel, janitors, nannies and caregivers. That’s bad enough, but others are excluded altogether. They’re left homeless and find themselves with nowhere to seek shelter and social distancing but in those MTA subway cars I just mentioned.
Nevertheless, instead of dealing with the real problem of homelessness, NYC’s mayor and the state’s governor have justified increased deployment of transit police who apply to the systemically abandoned the same sort of force that their counterparts use in American prisons.
In the U.S., Wilson Gilmore observed, force and violence turn out to be the default strategy employed to address most problems.
All of that contrasts sharply with the approach to homelessness depicted in today’s readings. They describe the first Christian community of Jewish Reformers. After all, they were followers of the great Hebrew prophet from Nazareth whose family found itself without shelter at the time of his birth. He later promised the poor that in God’s New Order (what he called God’s “Kingdom”) far from being displaced, they would inherit the earth itself.
What follows immediately are my “translations” of the readings in question. Please look at the originals here to see if I’ve captured their spirit in relation to hunger and homelessness.
ACTS 6: 1-7: Soon after Jesus died, a cultural social justice rift surfaced among members of his Jewish Reform Movement. Some (called “Hellenists”) were not Jewish enough for the rest of Jesus’ followers. Hellenists were too Greek – too like the despised goyim. So, in the daily distribution of food, Hellenized widows were neglected. In response, Jesus’ apostles appointed “deacons” precisely to provide daily bread for those women and their children. As a result, the Jesus Movement grew spectacularly among the Hellenists. Even many Jewish priests joined up.
PSALMS 33: 1-2, 4-5, 18-19: It is this sort of concern with fairness and justice that mirrors the love, trustworthiness, kindness, and generosity of our Great Mother Goddess. Even in times of severe famine, it is her will that no one starve or go homeless. She is merciful, and we place our trust in her.
1 PETER 2: 4-9: Jesus’ nickname for his friend Simon was “Rocky” (perhaps because he was especially good at throwing stones at Roman soldiers during the first recorded Intifada). In any case, Rocky (Peter) called early members of Jesus’ Reform Movement “living stones” in a divine House of Spirits. Jesus himself, Peter said, was its “corner-stone.” (Speaking from experience, Peter knew what stones can do to confuse enemies and bring them down.)
JOHN 14: 1-12: More than three generations after Jesus’ death, John the Evangelist, recalled Jesus as continuing the House of Spirits imagery. He has Jesus say: “In God’s GREAT HOUSE there are no homeless or hungry people. When you shelter the homeless, you are really sheltering me. That is the way of the Great Mother; it is my way too – the one I’ve manifested time and again by my concern for and identification with the unhoused, hungry, sick, blind, widowed, mistreated and despised. Follow my example. Even exceed it,” Jesus urged.
Taking seriously the centralization of housing as expressed in today’s readings should lead believers to dissent from our culture’s treatment of the incarcerated and homeless. Imprisonment and organized abandonment are no way to treat those left without shelter by policies favoring the wealthy instead of God’s favorites – those unhoused, hungry, sick, blind, widowed, mistreated and despised just referenced.
The readings also suggest the need for new policy initiatives. Such measures will include not merely taking care of food needs of single moms and their children (as depicted in today’s episode from the Acts of the Apostles) but also support for :
- Outlawing evictions and foreclosures
- Widespread cancelling of rents and mortgages
- Building 12 million green housing units over the next 12 years
- Massive investment in public housing under community control.
- Rent freezes, rent control, tenant protections, and anti-displacement measures across the nation.
Of course, the chances of those measures taking legislative shape under the current political dispensation are about nil.
But that in itself shows how far Christians have strayed from actually following Yeshua.
Instead, we’re more like those among early Christians who looked down upon the culturally diverse Hellenists and neglected their widows and children.
So, today’s readings issue a special call to us to from Jesus, his main man, Rocky and the entire cadre of Jesus’ surviving apostles to become deacons – service workers at the disposal of the hungry and homeless.
After all, it’s the way of the Great Cosmic Goddess.