The Ukraine War, Serenity & the Dawn of Hope

Readings for 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: MAL 3: 19-20A; PS 98: 509; 2 THES 3: 7-12; LK 21: 28; Lk 21: 5-19

As I read the news each day, I find myself wondering if we’re living in the “end times” described in biblical “apocalyptic” literature like we find in today’s liturgy of the word. I hope we are.

That’s because in the Bible, “apocalypse” isn’t a threat of doom, but a promise of hope. It’s not about the end of the world, but the end of the corrupt (imperial) order in which believers so often found themselves. The Book of Revelation (Unveiling), for example, pulls back the curtain covering first century Roman corruption and promises that it will all soon end.

In that sense, something similar seems to be happening today. (That’s what I try to point out in the video above.) Something new and hopeful is dawning worldwide.

For example, in Ukraine and on behalf of the Global South, Vladimir Putin is digging in the heels of those traditionally oppressed by U.S. imperialism and European colonialism and shouting a firm “NO!” to the bullies involved.

And then last week, I could hardly believe it when China’s President, Xi Jinping quoted Reinhold Niebuhr‘s “Serenity Prayer” at German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz. In effect Xi told Scholz that a new multipolar world has dawned and there’s nothing he or NATO can do about it.

I bring all of that up because this Sunday’s liturgy of the word addresses the promise of God’s new order (aka the Kingdom of God). It promises a reordering of the political, economic, and spiritual status quo that turns everything upside down. The promised purge features the definitive downfall of those now governing the planet. It promises justice, peace, and happiness for the rest of us. That’s the real meaning of the Jesus’ proclamation. It describes what the world would be like if the GREAT SOURCE (not Rome or the United States) were in charge of the world. 

However, the liturgy also affirms the uncomfortable fact that before that Great Reversal, true followers of Jesus must endure severe persecution — very troubled times like our own. According to the Master, great trials must precede the Kingdom’s institution. Jesus promised arrests, judicial silencings, jailings, and general persecution for those with the courage to follow his example as an opponent of empire and injustice.

See that theme for yourself by reviewing today’s readings here. In any case, what follows are my “translations” of those selections. They describe the new order (or what scripture scholar, John Dominic Crossan calls “God’s Great World Clean-up”) as advocated by the Jewish prophetic tradition and by Jesus himself. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus outlines the inevitable consequences for any who act to hasten the Kingdom’s eventual arrival:

MAL 3: 19-20A

 Scorching times are coming
 For the rulers
 Of this world!
 Root and branch
 They will be destroyed
 In purging fire
 When God’s Great Clean-up
 Finally sets things right.

PS 98: 5-9
  
 The Great Purge
 Will at last establish
 God’s justice
 On earth
 Including environmental rectification
 For the entire planet,
 With its seas and mountains.
 Above all,
 It will mean
 Equity and justice
 For the whole human race.
 Everyone should be
 Happy about that.
  
 2 THES 3: 7-12
  
But don’t relax.
Long ago,
 Some in Paul’s community
 Thought the Purge
 Would take place
 “Any day now.”
 So, they stopped working.
 “Don’t do that,”
 Said Paul.
 “Your faith
 Shouldn’t make you 
 A burden to others.”
  
 LK 21:28
  
 However,
 Just because
 The Great Purgation
 Has yet to occur,
 Don’t lose faith.
 Know that it is
 Still somehow
 At hand
  
 LK 21: 5-19
  
So, you’re wondering,
Are you,
When exactly
The Great Clean-up
Will take place?
It will happen in three stages
 
First, there’ll be
Wars, terror and insurrections
Along with natural disasters
That will leave
Religion in a shamble.

Secondly, all kinds of charlatans
Will show up
Claiming to speak for Jesus.

Thirdly, even family members
And religious authorities
Will blame believers for all of it.
They will hate, persecute, and arrest them 
For simply following the Master,
Handing them over
To civil authorities
Deeply fearful
Of the wisdom 
Of their unassailable defenses.

 Jesus’ recommendations?
 1.     Reject false Christs.
 2.     Trust the Holy Spirit within.
 3.     Endure imprisonment.
 4.     Persevere!

All of that represents an extremely high bar, don’t you agree? Following the martyr, Jesus – the tortured one, the one imprisoned on death row, the victim of capital punishment – is never easy.

But does that mean that those of us living beneath the lofty bar set by Jesus are lost? Can we not be part of God’s Great World Clean-up?

Let’s hope that we can.

At the very least however, here’s what we can do in line with today’s final reading:

  • Reject false Christs by realizing that the meek and mild Jesus of mainstream Christianity is a distortion of the one recognized as subversive by the Roman Empire and by the compromised Judaism of his day. Jesus meek and mild represents the false Christ the Master himself warns against in today’s Gospel reading.
  • Instead, embrace Jesus’ rebel Spirit as much as possible by for example refusing to patriotically accept “official stories” about either Russia or China. Despite their very evident limitations, both are resisting imperialism and neo-colonialism.
  • Pray for the Spirit of civil disobedience that inspired great people of faith like the prophet from Nazareth.
  • Don’t be discouraged by delays in the Kingdom’s arrival or by the apparent victories of its enemies. Persevere!

Declaring America “A Christian Nation?” Here’s Hoping 60% of Republicans Get Their Wish!

Readings for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time: AM 6: 1A, 4-7; PS 146: 7-10; I TM 6: 11-16; LK 16: 19-31 

This week’s liturgical readings couldn’t be more relevant to the world that’s unfolding before our eyes. It’s a world where one person dies of hunger every four seconds, while over 215,000 individuals worldwide are now worth more than $50 million.

Ours is also a world where 60% of Republicans find themselves wishing that the United States would officially be declared a Christian nation.

But what would happen if people like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Ron DeSantis got their wish? What if America were truly Christian?

According to today’s readings, it’s not what Republicans think.

If “America” truly became Christian, we’d have to address the issue of hunger on the one hand and extreme wealth on the other. We’d have to deal with the fact (as Richard Wolff argues in the video above) that the tradition in question favors socialism rather than capitalism. We’d be forced to recognize the truth of liberation theology.

Let me show you what I mean by reminding you about liberation theology and then by showing how today’s readings represent a virtual catechism on the movement as the Judeo-Christian tradition’s most authentic interpretation — its enfant terrible so challenging that even popes feared its world changing potential.

Liberation Theology

Well, you might ask, what is liberation theology?

To answer that question fully, please look at my blog entries under the “liberation theology” button. I’ve written a series on the question. In my blogs, you’ll find that I always define it in a single sentence. Liberation theology is reflection on the following of Christ from the viewpoint of the world’s poor and oppressed. That’s the class of people to which Jesus himself belonged. They constituted the majority of his first followers.

When read from their standpoint, accounts of Jesus’ words and deeds – the entire Bible for that matter – take on depths of meaning and relevance to our contemporary world that are otherwise inaccessible to people like us who live in the heart of the wealthy world.

From the viewpoint of the poor, God passes from being a neutral observer of earth’s injustices to an active participant with the poor as they struggle for justice here on earth. Jesus becomes the personification of that divine commitment to the oppressed. After all, he was poor and oppressed himself. The Roman Empire and its Temple priest collaborators saw to that.

Going back to the Jewish Testament, the Exodus (Yahweh’s liberation of slaves from Egypt) was God’s original and paradigmatic revelation. The whole tradition began there, not in the Garden of Eden.

Moreover, the Jewish prophetic tradition emphasized what we now call “social justice.” Even more, Yeshua of Nazareth appeared in the prophetic tradition, not as a priest or king. Jesus directed his “ministry” to the poor and outcasts. The Gospel of Luke (4: 18-19) has Jesus describing his program in the following words:

“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.”

After his death, Jesus’ followers continued along those lines. They lived communally, having sold all their worldly possessions and distributed the proceeds to the poor.

Today’s Readings

All of that finds vivid expression in today’s liturgy of the word. As I said, it’s a kind of catechism of liberation theology. The reading from Amos the prophet describes the sin that most offends God – wealth disparity in the face of extreme poverty. Amos decries a “wanton revelry” on the part of the wealthy that sounds like the “American Way of Life” or the “Lives of the Rich and Famous” that we Americans find so fascinating.

The prophet describes a rich class that lives like King David himself – in luxurious houses, overeating, drinking wine by the bowlful, and generally ignoring “the collapse of Joseph,” i.e., the poverty of their country’s most destitute. For that, Amos says, the rich will ultimately suffer. All their wealth will be confiscated, and they will be driven into shameful exile.

In railing against the rich and defending the poor, Amos was calling Judah back to the worship of Yahweh whose attributes are described in today’s responsorial psalm. There God is depicted as loving the just and thwarting the ways of the wicked. The psalm describes Yahweh as securing justice for the oppressed, giving food to the hungry, and setting captives free. He gives sight to the blind and protects resident aliens, single mothers, and their children.

Then today’s excerpt from 1st Timothy outlines the characteristics of those who worship that God by following in Jesus’ footsteps. They keep the commandment which is to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

According to St. Paul, that means pursuing justice and living with devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.

Finally, the gospel selection from Luke chapter 16 dramatizes the sinful relationship between rich and poor and the destinies awaiting both. Luke tells the story of the rich man and “St. Lazarus” who is honored by the poor throughout Latin America and especially in Cuba.

It is significant that Lazarus is given a name in Jesus’ parable. Usually, we know the names of the rich, while it is the poor that remain anonymous. Here matters are reversed. To remedy this anomaly, tradition has assigned the wealthy man a name. He’s called “Dives,” which is simply the Latin word for rich man.

For his part, Lazarus is quintessentially poor, hungry, and lacking medical care. His sores are open and the only attention they receive are from dogs that lick his wounds.

Meanwhile, Dives seems completely unaware of Lazarus’ presence, though the beggar is standing at his very doorstep. Within the sight of Lazarus, the wealthy one stuffs himself with food to such a degree that the scraps falling from his table would be enough to nourish the poor beggar. But not even those crumbs are shared. How could Dives share? He doesn’t even know that Lazarus exists.

So, the two men die, and things are evened out. The rich man goes to hell. We’re not told why. Within the limits of the story, it seems simply for the crime of being rich and unconsciously blind to the presence of the poor. For his part, Lazarus goes to the “bosom of Abraham,” the original Hebrew patriarch.

Lazarus is rewarded. Again, we’re not told why. Within the story, it seems simply because he was poor and Yahweh is partial to the poor, just as he was to the slaves God intervened to save when they were starving in Egypt.

Seated with Abraham, Lazarus feasts and feasts at the eternal banquet hungry people imagine heaven to be. Dives however is consumed by flame in the afterlife. Fire, of course, is the traditional symbol of God’s presence, or purification, and of punishment. This seems to suggest that after death, both Dives and Lazarus find themselves in the presence of God. However what Lazarus experiences as joyful, Dives experiences as tormenting.

And why? Simply, it seems because Dives was rich, and Lazarus was poor.

Conclusion

In the “Ask Prof. Wolff” video posted above, Marxist economist, Richard Wolff responds to the question, “What is the relationship between Christianity and capitalism?”

Prof. Wolff answers perceptively (as does liberation theology) that Christianity started out from its Jewish roots as a slave religion. In fact, the Judeo-Christian tradition is unique in the corpus of great western literature for recording the experience, faith, and hopes of oppressed people.

However, even within the tradition itself, it’s easy to detect a struggle between Israel’s royal classes (epitomized in King David) and their poor subjects (defended by the prophets). More often than not, the royals wanted to wrest away from the poor their experience of God as on the side of the oppressed.

Professor Wolff points out that that sort of “battle of gods” continued far beyond biblical times.

And so, the tradition’s God of the oppressed was co-opted by ruling classes under imperial Rome, and under systems of slavery, feudalism, and now capitalism. In this way, the ruling classes turned a liberator of slaves into the oppressor of the poor.

The Christianity that 60% of Republicans favor celebrates such a God. “He” (sic) is concerned abortion, LGBTQ+, and trans issues – none of which are even mentioned in the Bible. He even supports American nationalism, a “prosperity” understanding of salvation, and an accompanying disregard and even hatred of any Lazarus people dying every four seconds at our very doorstep.

Today’s readings expose the wrongheadedness of all that. And In the process, they suggest the power of Yeshua’s own understanding of God. The readings address and propose wealth-sharing remedies for the planetary hunger and wealth disparities that plague a world divided between a starving St. Lazarus at our gates and the super-satiated Dives that we Christians have become.

Abraham & Yeshua Correct My Primitive Understandings of God

Readings for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Genesis 18: 20-32; Psalm 138: 1-8; Colossians 2: 2-14; Romans 8: 15bc; Luke 11: 1-13.

My remarks this Sunday will be brief. All day yesterday, I worked hard on a revision of my letter to my granddaughter, Eva. Recall that last Thursday she left for a two- week service project in Panama. That made me want to help her understand her context and how it related to U.S. history and even to U.S. support for the war in Ukraine. You can find that revised text here. I published it on OpEdNews where I’m a senior editor.

But even as this Sunday is running out (It’s now 5:00 in the afternoon) I find myself unable to resist reflecting on the extraordinarily beautiful readings for this 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (as if these times could in any way be described as “ordinary!”).

My inability to shut my mouth is sparked by the fact that this Sunday’s readings speak directly to my lifelong struggle to free myself from a very primitive understanding of God inflicted on me (and so many others) by my strict Catholic upbringing. Thankfully, today’s readings end up offering liberation from that understanding.

I mean, here I am a would-be theologian formally trained in that discipline for 12 years in the Catholic seminary, and for five years in Rome till I got a doctorate in moral theology. And then I taught theology-related courses for 40 years at Berea College — all the time studying liberation theology with some of its greatest proponents in Italy, Germany, Brazil, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and India.

And though it’s true that all that study long since caused me to change my idea of God INTELLECTUALLY, I must confess that PSYCHOLOGICALLY and EMOTIONALLY, I’ve struggled to liberate myself from an idea of God inflicted on me initially by the good Sisters of St. Joseph (whom I still love and admire) at St. Viator’s Elementary School on Chicago’s Northwest side. (I went to school there from 1946 to 1954.)

It was an idea of God as strict patriarch, law giver, and judge. Yes, he (sic) was one who judges, condemns, and punishes especially any transgressions connected with sex.

(Do any of you share my experience?)

Anyway, that idea was driven even deeper by my pre-Vatican II seminary training in the Society of St. Columban by the wonderfully good and sincere Irishmen who taught me there from 1954-1967. But at least until Vatican II (1962-’65) they too were captives of this Great Judge who (in retrospect) I now see as closer to a devil figure than the Divine One manifested in Yeshua of Nazareth — along, of course, with the Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed, and untold (literally) indigenous religious figures.

I’m pleased to say that my post-Vatican II studies in Rome (1967-’72) liberated me from my primitive conceptions — at least, as I said, intellectually. Ironically, I was saved there (and in my late seminary years) from “God” (or should I say “Satan?”).

Well, it’s that more angelic Divine One replacing the diabolic Great Punisher who receives welcome emphasis in today’s lessons. Please read them for yourselves here. Then check out my “translations.” I hope I got them right.

I know that I’ve joyfully tried to capture their liberating spirit.

Genesis 18: 20-32

Imagine a man,
A human being,
Mere dust and ashes
Proving himself 
More moral,
More just,
More compassionate,
Than his entire tribe
And even
(It seems)
Than God Himself!

That was 
Our Ancient Father
Abraham
Who incredibly
Defied his 
Vengeful people 
And persuaded
Its wrathful 
War God
Not to massacre
The 50,000
Of arch-enemy Sodom
If only 
10 innocents
Could be found
Among them.

Now there
Was a great theologian! 

Psalm 138: 1-8

Yes,
Abraham replaced
Israel’s unforgiving 
Warrior God
With a loving Parent,
Responsive to human need,
Truthful and kind,
Especially to the oppressed
Protecting them 
From all harm.

That Great
 All Parent
Indeed merits
Praise and thanks.

Colossians 2: 2-14

And imagine
That Great Parent
Further manifesting
Compassionate divinity
Even more fully
Than Abraham.

Yes,
It happened in Yeshua,
The precious expression
Of God’s boundless
Forgiveness
Though our transgressions
Might be greater
Than Sodom’s
And condemned 
By merciless human law
Even demanding
Our execution
As it did Yeshua's.

Romans 8:15bc

Far from
A cruel War God,
Yeshua said
We could
Call such a 
Source of Life
Daddy!
Yes “Daddy!”
Halleluiah!!

Luke 11: 1-13

That’s what
Yeshua meant
When his friends
Asked for 
A prayer like John’s.

"Say this," 
The Master replied:
“Papa, we love you,
Keep all of us
Safe,
Well fed,
Debt free, just, 
Unthreatened,
And filled
With your Spirit.

"The One
Who always gives
Good Gifts
(Never stones or snakes)
Inevitably responds
To a simple prayer 
Like that
Or even a silent one
Breathed 
Only from 
Your heart’s 
Holy Spirit." 

Isn’t that great? Far from being a harsh Patriarch, Judge and Punisher, Yeshua’s Yahweh (and Abraham’s at least in this tale) is more like a soft loving Mother, one who frees from reactionary human laws, and who loves, appreciates, and rewards.

We can’t hear too much of that.

Hallelujah indeed!

Christian Dominionism, White Supremacy, and Yeshua’s Law of Love

Readings for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time: DT 30: 10-14; PS 69: 14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37; COL 1:15-20; LK 10: 25-37

Recently, Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and current Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley published an article called “The Ideology of Christian Nationalism.”

The piece reviewed the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” conference held in Nashville in June. The meeting promoted the theology of Dominionism which (ignoring American pluralism) holds that Christians have a duty to take over all aspects of government, culture, and society.

According to Reich, speakers at the convention including Donald Trump and Florida senator Rick Scott, promoted not only a union of church and state but the promotion of “gun violence, the subjugation of women through forced birth, and strongman authoritarianism.”  

It all represented, Reich said, an effort of white supremacists to “hold onto power in the face of massive demographic shifts: toward women (who now constitute 60 percent of all university enrollees, and therefore the future power structure) and people of color, and away from formal religion.”

Of course, over the long term, such denial of irreversible social realities is doomed, since (to repeat) it ignores our culture’s religious pluralism and the widespread secularism.  

It also runs contrary to the simple message of the selections in today’s liturgy of the word on this 15th Sunday in ordinary time. Their emphasis is not on the culture wars around abortion (which is nowhere mentioned in the Bible) and gun rights but on love even for enemies (which represented, of course, the heart of our Great Master’s teaching). Much less is the emphasis on the values of the dominant culture.

Promoting love and even admiration of enemies, today’s liturgy presents the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan – the religious and socially rejected outsider whose generosity and compassion put to shame the Jewish dominionists of Yeshua’s day.  

(Samaritans were considered enemies of the state, because their ancestors back in the 8th century BCE, intermarried with Assyrian occupiers of the Jewish homeland. Intermarriage rendered Samaritans unclean. They were simply sub-human.)

So, Jesus’ making a Samaritan the hero of his challenging parable and contrasting the outcast’s compassion with the “couldn’t-care-less” attitude of professional holy men – the priest and the Levite – also connects directly with the hypocrisy of Christians who lack understanding and compassion towards those who don’t share their identity politics or faith.

In doing so, they’ve actually criminalized God’s law of love as described throughout today’s liturgical readings. Read the descriptions for yourself here. For what they’re worth, what follows are my “translations” of their main ideas:  

DT 30: 10-14
  
 The Great Liberator, Moses
 Exhorted the former slaves
 To return to LOVE
 The most obvious, uncomplicated 
 Reality
 In the world.
  
 PS 69: 14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37
 
 Love is all we need
 From Life Itself.
 It is always kind 
 And helpful
 Overflowing with gifts
 And ready to protect 
 The poor, the imprisoned,
 The exiled,
 And those in pain.
 Yes: All we need is Love.
  
 COL 1:15-20
  
 Jesus, the Christ 
 Shows what Love means – 
 That absolutely everything
 Was created for Love,
 The bond, the glue
 That holds us all together
 In complete at-one-ment
 Transforming the human race
 Into a single body
 Despite resistance
 And crucifixion
 By a hostile world.
  
 LK 10: 25-37
 
 For Jesus (like Moses)
 Love of God and Neighbor
 Is the only law
 Promising fullness of life.
 The two laws are one.
 
 Being “neighbor”
 Means rejecting 
 The ignorance of 
 Professional holy men
 And politicians,
 Adopting instead
 The compassion of
 The very minorities 
 We’re taught to hate
 Who provide
 Health care, transportation, 
 Lodging, mercy
 Follow-up,
 And money,
 For those they have every reason
 To hate.
 
 That’s what it means
 To love Our very Self! 


So, Moses was right after all: Love is really all we need. It couldn’t be clearer. Yeshua was right too: Love is God’s only law. There is no other.

Consequently, the theology of Christian Dominionism is wrong. It disrespects not only the Constitution’s separation of church and state, but the religious and moral convictions of human brothers and sisters not sharing their beliefs in the context of a pluralistic culture.

Most importantly however, for the followers of Moses and Yeshua such disrespect violates their teachers’ supreme law of love.

When They Ask : “Why Do You Hate America?”

Readings for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: I Kings 19: 16b, 19-21; Psalm 16: 1-11; Galatians 5: 1, 13-18; Luke 9: 51-62

I’m taking this Sunday’s readings quite personally. They’re about prophets leaving behind family and tribe for the sake of the divine order Yeshua called the “kingdom of God.” In the Master’s parlance, that referred to a world with room and abundance for everyone.

The readings are personal for me, because lately I’ve been feeling abandoned by my tribe – the people in the world I hold dearest – my own family. Especially in the context of the Ukraine war and my refusal to accept our culture’s official story about it, most in my tribe has decided that I’ve gone off the deep end.

I wonder how many readers here are experiencing similar rejection.

Tribal Abandonment

More specifically, my tribe’s abandoned me because I refuse to parrot the simplistic narrative: “Russia bad; NATO good.” Instead, as I’ve written here, here, here, here, here, and here, I find the truth to be much more complex.

NATO, I’ve concluded, started the war. Putin is only acting according to the same logic of self-defense and sphere of influence that the United States has used repeatedly to justify its illegal wars of aggression for more than 200 years. (See the above short list of such heinous interventions.)

Moreover, Putin is even more justified in using that tired logic because he’s responding to threats on Russia’s very border – not to those represented by Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan thousands of miles away.

In fact, Russia’s experience is even closer to home than the Soviet menace “we” perceived during the Cuban missile crisis. In that case, the U.S. government was prepared to incinerate the world itself – to end it all – rather than allow communists to install weapons of mass destruction on an island 90 miles distant from Florida.

But my family doesn’t get all of that. For most of them it’s still “Russia bad; NATO good.” It leads some of them to ask me the pointed question, “Why do you hate America?”

Of course, I don’t hate America, although I sometimes find myself saying that our planet would be much better off without the United States. At the same time I dearly love the American places where I’ve spent so much time studying our nation’s crimes — Cuba, Brazil, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Panama.

But anyway, here’s what I tell my folks.

Hating the U.S.   

It’s all very simple, I say. The United States has 4.6% of the world’s population. Yet, it consumes something like 40% of its product. As George Kennan noted years ago, it wants to keep things that way by occupying the very position of world domination to which Adolf Hitler aspired in the 1930s and 40s.

As cited repeatedly by Noam Chomsky, here’s what Kennan said:

“We have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population…. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity…. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives…. We should cease to talk about vague and … unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”

In other words, since the Second Intercapitalist War (1939-’45) U.S. policy has been about preventing the world’s majority from acquiring its fair share of the world’s resources. It bullies the world.

Meanwhile, Russia occupies the largest land mass on the planet. China has almost 20% of the world’s population. So does India and Africa. Yet those countries and the African continent have traditionally been controlled by the U.S. and its NATO allies, the most powerful of which (as colonial powers) have looted their treasures for more than a century.

Currently, the Global South countries (sometimes called “The Group of 77 and China”) continue as victims of an imperial order administered by the United States and enforced by nearly 800 military bases scattered across the globe. In summary, though nations of the Global South constitute most of the world’s population, they have until recently wielded little political influence on a global scale.

Of course, all of that is changing now. The world’s white minorities, led by the United States, are being pressed by the world’s non-white majorities to yield them political and economic powers commensurate with their populations, land mass, and resource wealth.

However, United States policies enforcing unipolarity, its forever and regime change wars, NATO expansion, and “full spectrum dominance” (including in Ukraine) are still intended to shove minority white control down the throats of all those non-whites.

That’s arrogant, illogical and morally repugnant.

And in the context of this homily, it’s quite contrary to the prophetic tradition of the Judeo-Christian tradition as embodied in great prophets like Moses, Elijah, Elisha, John the Baptist, and Yeshua of Nazareth. The latter lived under imperialism and hated it.

As shown in today’s readings, all of those prophets (and many more) knew the loneliness of tribal abandonment for the sake of a human family much larger than that of their parents and remote ancestors.

For yourselves, please consult the selections here. Then look at my “translations” below to see if I’ve got them right.

Today’s Readings       

I Kings 19: 16b, 19-21

Thankfully,
We will never
Be without prophets
Who renounce everything,
Even family and nation
(For God’s sake!)
Without counting the cost.

That’s God’s honest truth
Exemplified, they say, 
In Elisha’s succession
To Elijah,
The prophet whose
Fiery chariot famously
Whisked him away
From death’s dread gate
To immortality.

“Come follow me,”
Elijah said  
To the young plowman.

Elisha replied,
“Yes, but let me first
Say goodbye 
To mom and dad.”

“There’s no time 
For such triviality!”
Elijah growled.
“Instead, burn your plow
Here and now!
Roast your oxen
Over its fire
And feed the poor
With their flesh.”

Elisha obeyed,
Charred everything
Leaving it all behind
Never once looking back.

Psalm 16: 1-11

Indeed, prophets 
Like Elijah and Elisha teach
That our real inheritance
Is neither silver nor gold,
Nor the equivalent
Of fields, plows, oxen,
Or family ties
But the Source of life itself –
(What some still call
“God”)
The Font of all nourishment.

Source makes us 
Calm and wise
Even when surrounded
By rejection,loneliness, 
Terror and darkness.

Source renders us 
Joyful and confident
Saving us from the abyss
Of the world’s contradictions

Showing instead 
The true path
Of life and joy.

Galatians 5: 1, 13-18

Yeshua, some claimed,
Was Elijah redivivus.
(Or was it John the Baptist?
I forget.)

No matter, Paul said.
The Master’s example
Has burnt away
Oxen’s yokes
That once bound 
Our bullish
Slave-stiffened necks.

Instead, Paul proclaimed:
Everyone’s free
From the culture’s 
Selfish, all consuming
Fools’ “wisdom”
That devours everything
And spits it out again.

We can
Love others
Without restriction
(Because they are 
In fact
Our true family
Our very selves!).

That’s the wisdom
Of Expanded Consciousness
(Aka the “Holy Spirit”)
That never agrees
With the world’s “truth” 
Or its elite-serving law.


Luke 9: 51-62

“Worldly wisdom,”
(What Paul called “flesh”)
Counsels revenge
And even violence
Simply for hurt feelings. 
(All in the name of God!).

“Don’t be like that,”
Yeshua laughed,
“Just forget it, 
And move on.

“Instead, follow me
Like Elijah’s Elisha.
Leave behind
Even your parents and family
Without bothering
To say goodbye.

“Choose to be homeless
(No better than birds and foxes)
For the sake 
Of Cosmic consciousness
And the order it dictates – 
Our only home
That truly matters.”

Conclusion

Do I “hate America” as my tribe alleges? Not really, if you’re asking about Yosemite or the Grand Canyon and certainly not about its heroes like Dorothy Day, the Berrigans, Malcolm, King, Liz Theoharis, and William Barber.

But if you’re asking about the system now controlling the world, Ms. Day’s words capture my own thinking inspired by today’s readings.

She said, “We need to change the system. We need to overthrow, not the government, as the authorities are always accusing the Communists ‘of conspiring to teach [us] to do,’ but this rotten, decadent, putrid industrial capitalist system which breeds such suffering in the whited sepulcher of New York.”

Those are the sentiments my tribe finds so hard to accept. Yeshua, I believe, would not find them so.

Buddhism and Catholic Belief in Eucharistic “Real Presence”

Readings for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ: Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110: 1-4; 1st Corinthians 11: 23-26; Luke 9:11b-17

This Sunday Catholics celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Before the Second Vatican Council (1962-’65), it was called Corpus Christi (Latin for “the Body of Christ”).

It’s a day when restorationist priests will preach “Catholic” fundamentalist and literalist notions of Jesus’ “Real Presence” in the “Blessed Sacrament” that even St. Augustine rejected way back in the 4th century. He wrote: “Can Christ’s limbs be digested? Of course, not!”

Most thinking Catholics have come to similar conclusions. But rather than see the beautiful symbolism of the Eucharist’s shared bread, many of them have simply rejected the ideas of “Holy Sacrifice” and “Real Presence” as childhood fantasies akin to belief in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

To my mind, that’s tragic. That’s because such rejection represents a dismissal of Jesus’ insightful and salvific teaching about the unity of all creation. In an era of constant global war, that teaching is needed more than ever. It’s contained in the Master’s words, “This is my body . . . this is my blood . . . Do this in remembrance of me?”

Let me explain.

To begin with, according to contemporary historical theologians like Hans Kung, the Great Reformers of the 16th century had it right: The Eucharist of the early church was no sacrifice. It was a commemoration of “The Lord’s Supper.” The phrase however does not refer to “The Last Supper” alone. Instead it references all the meals Jesus shared with friends as he made meal-sharing rather than Temple sacrifice the center of his reform movement, from the wedding feast at Cana (JN2:1-12), through his feeding of 5000 (MK 6:31-44) and then of 4000 (MK 8: 1-9), through his supper at the Pharisee’s home (LK 7:36-50), and with the tax collector Zacchaeus (LK 19:1-10), through the Last Supper (MK 14:12-26), and Emmaus (LK 24:13-35), and his post-resurrection breakfast with his apostles (JN 21:12). Jesus treated shared meals as an anticipatory here-and-now experience of God’s Kingdom.

But why? What’s the connection between breaking bread together and the “salvation” Jesus offers? Think about it like this:

Besides being a prophet, Jesus was a mystic. Like all mystics, he taught the unity of all life.

“Salvation” is the realization of that unity. In fact, if we might sum up the central insight of the great spiritual masters and avatars down through the ages, it would be ALL LIFE IS ONE. That was Jesus’ fundamental teaching as well.

That was something even uneducated fishermen could grasp. It’s a teaching accessible to any child: All of us are sons (and daughters) of God just as Jesus was. Differences between us are only apparent. In the final analysis, THERE IS REALLY ONLY ONE OF US HERE. In a sense, then we are all Jesus. The Christ-Self (or Krishna-Self or Buddha-Self) is our True Self. God has only one Son and it is us. When we use violence against Muslims and immigrants, we are attacking no one but ourselves. What we do to and for others we literally do to and for ourselves.

That’s a profound teaching. It’s easy to grasp, but extremely difficult to live out.

Buddhists sometimes express this same insight in terms of waves on the ocean. In some sense, they say, human beings are like those waves which appear to be individual and identifiable as such. Like us, if they had consciousness, the waves might easily forget that they are part of an infinitely larger reality. Their amnesia would lead to great anxiety about the prospect of ceasing to be. They might even see other waves as competitors or enemies. However, recollection that they are really one with the ocean and all its waves would remove that anxiety. It would enable “individual” waves to relax into their unity with the ocean, their larger, more powerful Self. All competition, defensiveness, and individuality would then become meaningless.

Something similar happens to humans, Buddhist masters tell us, when we realize our unity with our True Self which is identical with the True Self of every other human being. In the light of that realization, all fear, defensiveness and violence melt away. We are saved from our own self-destructiveness.

Similarly, Buddhists use the imagery of the sun. As its individual beams pass through clouds, they might get the idea that they are individuals somehow separate from their source and from other sunbeams which (again) they might see as competitors or enemies. But all of that is illusory. All light-shafts from the sun are really manifestations emanating from the same source. It’s like that with human beings too. To repeat: our individuality is only apparent. THERE IS REALLY ONLY ONE OF US HERE.

In his own down-to-earth way, Jesus expressed the same classic mystical insight not in terms of waves or sunbeams, but of bread. Human beings are like a loaf of bread, he taught. The loaf is made up of many grains, but each grain is part of the one loaf. Recognizing the loaf’s unity, then breaking it up, and consuming those morsels together is a powerful reminder that all of life — all of us – are really one. In a sense, that conscious act of eating a single loaf strengthens awareness of the unity that otherwise might go unnoticed and uncelebrated.

Paul took Jesus’ insight a step further. In his writings (the earliest we have in the New Testament) he identifies Christ as the True Self uniting us all. Our True Self is the Christ within. In other words, what Jesus called “the one loaf” Paul referred to as the one “Body of Christ.”

All of Jesus’ followers, the apostle taught, make up that body.

Evidently, the early church conflated Jesus’ insight with Paul’s. So, their liturgies identified Jesus’ One Loaf image with Paul’s Body of Christ metaphor. In this way, the loaf of bread becomes the body of Christ. Jesus is thus presented as blessing a single loaf, breaking it up, and saying, “Take and eat. This is my body.”

And there’s more – the remembrance part of Jesus’ “words of institution.” They are connected with Paul’s teaching about “The Mystical Body of Christ.” His instruction is found in I COR: 12-12-27:

“There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body. It is the same with Christ. We were all baptized by one Holy Spirit. And so, we are formed into one body. It didn’t matter whether we were Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free people. We were all given the same Spirit to drink. So the body is not made up of just one part. It has many parts. . . You are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of it.”

Here it’s easy to see the beauty of Paul’s image. We are all members of Christ’s body (Paul’s fundamental metaphor for that human-unity insight I explained). As individual members, we each have our functions – as eye, ear, nose, foot, or private parts. However, the fact that we live separately can lead us to forget that we are all members of the same body. So, it helps to RE-MEMBER ourselves occasionally – to symbolically bring our separate members together. That’s what “re-membering” means in this context. That’s what the Eucharist is: an occasion for getting ourselves together – for recalling that we are the way Christ lives and works in the world today.

In the final analysis, that’s the meaning of Jesus’ injunction: “Do this to RE-MEMBER me. And then afterwards – as a re-membered Christ — act together as I would.”

Do you see how rich, how poetic, how complex and mysterious all of that is – ocean waves, sunbeams, bread, Christ’s body, re-membering?

It’s powerful. The Eucharist is a meal where the many and separate members of Christ’s body are re-membered so they might subsequently act in a concerted way in imitation of Christ.

That’s why it’s important to recover and make apparent the table fellowship character of The Lord’s Supper. It is not a Jewish or Roman sacrifice; it is a shared meal.

The world our grandchildren will inherit needs everything symbolized by all of that. The Eucharist is not childish fantasy. It’s a counter-cultural challenge to our era’s individualism, ethnocentrism, and perpetual war.

Keep that in mind this Sunday, when your priest lectures you on “the real presence.”

The real presence is us.

Trinity Sunday: Making Sense of the Threes in our Lives

Readings: Psalm 33: 4-6, 9, 18-20, 22; Deuteronomy 4: 32-34; 39-40; Romans 8:14-17; Matthew 28: 16-20

What a difference a week makes!  Last week, Pentecost Sunday, everything seemed so easy. The disciples received Jesus’ Spirit in the Upper Room. Peter spoke to the crowds in Jerusalem. He proclaimed at the top of his voice that God’s Spirit belongs to everyone. Barriers of gender, language, culture, class, and religion were irrelevant.

What good news and how simple! You and I are vessels of the Holy Spirit; we can channel Jesus’ Spirit any time we choose. We are the way God appears in the world. Treat yourself as God; treat others as God and “be saved” – not in some afterlife, but here and now. Everyone understood Peter’s message whether they spoke Hebrew or not. It was the message of Jesus.

But alas, this week seems to reverse all that simplicity. It’s “Trinity Sunday.” And what can you say about that?  The doctrine is so complex: The Father, Son, and Spirit are One God, but three persons. Jesus is one divine person with two natures (one divine, one human). Through the “hypostatic union,” Jesus is “consubstantial” with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Dick Vitale would say “Headache City!”

To repeat, no one understands it. And do you know why? Because it really doesn’t make sense – at least to us in the 21st century.  To be charitable, it may have meant something to a very few people in the 4th century. But it sounds like gibberish to us – and probably always has to most people. So do the “clarifications” offered by church councils and theologians. For instance, this is how the Second Council of Constantinople (in the 6th century) shed light on the way Jesus fit into the Holy Trinity:

. . . the union of the two natures in Christ is achieved “according to the hypostasis” (kathypostasin) of the divine Word, or “by synthesis” (kata synthesin), so that from the moment of the incarnation there was in Jesus Christ a single hypostasis/person (subject, autos), of both the divine nature and the human nature, which remains whole and distinct from the divine in the “synthesis” or “composition”.

Aren’t you happy they cleared up the confusion? What we find in a statement like that are theologians who take themselves too seriously. Even worse, they are people who have lost sensitivity to the language of faith which is always the language of metaphor. The fact is, every statement about God is metaphor. “Person” is metaphor; “Father” is metaphor; so are “Son,” “Spirit,” and “Word of God.”  All of that constitutes beautifully imaginative language trying to express the various ways human beings experience the One who is Transcendent and completely beyond the power of words to describe.

Jesus understood metaphor and he kept things simple. More than anything else, he called himself the “Son of Man.” “Son of Man” simply means “human being.” Jesus thought of himself as a human being. You can hardly get more basic than that. By calling himself the “Son of Man” again and again, Jesus emphasized that he is the same as we are. What’s true of him is true of us. “Son of Man” was an expression of solidarity with us.   

If that’s the fact, “Son of Man” makes Jesus’ other title “Son of God” terrifically important for us. I mean besides referring to himself as “the human one,” Jesus apparently also referred to himself as the “Son of God.” So if Jesus is the exemplary “human being” (like us, as Paul said, in all things but sin) and if he’s also the “Son of God,” that seems to mean that all of us are sons and daughters of God just as he was.

It was as if Jesus said: (1) I am a human being like you in every way; (2) You are a human being like me in every way; (3) I am the son of God; (4) Draw your own conclusions. . . . Or better yet, Jesus drew the conclusion for us: Every human being is a son or daughter of God just as I, the human one, am.

But all of that almost sounds blasphemous, doesn’t it? Jesus is God. You are God. I am God. Evidently, theologians from the 2nd century on saw blasphemy there too. So they went into denial and constructed an incomprehensible doctrine of the Holy Trinity to explain how Jesus could be uniquely God who prayed to his Father who is God and sent his Spirit who is also God – all without there being three Gods. Trinity gibberish is the result.

And yet . . .  and yet, there is something “three” about our experience of God – about our experience of life – something that shouldn’t be lost. Think about it. Our initial experience of life is three. There is our father, our mother, and us. That’s our first experience of trinity – and of God.

Besides that, all of reality just in terms of language is described in terms of three. Our verbs are conjugated as 1st person, 2nd person, and 3rd – I (or we), you, and it (or they).  Anything we talk about is addressed either as 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person. And that includes God. We can talk about God in the 3rd person as St. Paul does when he says “God is love.” Or we can address God in the 2nd person, as we do in prayer, “O God, please help me.” Or we can speak of God in the 1st person as they say Jesus did when he said, “I and the Father are one.”

The fact is that Christians are very good at 3rd person language about God. We talk about God in the 3rd person all the time in homilies like this one. We’re also quite at home using 2nd person references. We do that when we pray, when we address God as “thou” or “You.”  But Christianity’s not very good at 1st person references. We have a hard time – even after Pentecost – acknowledging the divine within us and speaking as Jesus did about our unity with “the Father.”

That’s where we can learn from other faiths. Hindus, for instance, excel at recognizing the divine within each human being.

I remember when I was studying for my doctorate in theology in Rome forty some years ago. I was in a seminar at an international theologate. Aspiring theologians from all over the world sat around that seminar table at the Anselmianum, one of my alma maters in “the holy city.” We were discussing the Trinity and Jesus’ identity as God’s unique Son. One of my colleagues, a priest from Kerala State in India, raised a question that made a profound impact on me. He said, “How are we in India to express Jesus’ supposed uniqueness as the God-Human Being?  In our culture, everyone is believed to be a God-Human Being?” Obviously, I’ve never forgotten that question. It made me wonder: If you translated Hindu concept for concept so it could be understood in the West, would it come out Christianity. And vice-versa.

But even apart from that, the young priest-theologian’s question made me realize how rich Hinduism is in its grasp of what Christians profess to believe. God is present within each of us and in everything we encounter. We can and should act accordingly.

I’d even go so far as to say that Hindu belief in 300 million Gods – yes, 300 million – is more understandable and helpful than the Christian doctrine that there are three persons in one God. The meaning of the Hindu belief is that there are about a million manifestations of God for each day of the year – 300 million for 365 days. It means that if we were really attuned to God, we’d see God’s presence everywhere in every moment of every day.

That sounds a lot like the message of Pentecost; we are temples of Jesus’ Holy Spirit. God is the one in whom we live and move and have our being.

That’s the real message of Trinity Sunday as well.

U.S. Empire, Haiti, and the Tragic Suppression of Liberation Theology

Readings for Ascension Sunday: Acts 1: 1-11; Ps. 47: 2-3, 6-9; Eph. 1: 17-23; Lk. 24: 48-53 

Today, Christians throughout the western world celebrate the end of the Easter season with their commemoration of what their mythology calls “the Ascension of Jesus.” The midrash tells the story of Yeshua’s bodily removal from the earth and passage into the World of Light.

The readings for this Sunday are noteworthy because they reveal to the attentive eye a conflict that afflicts the Christian community to this day. It pits those who understand Yeshua as summoning his followers to actively resist empire in favor of a this-worldly Kingdom of God over against those who reduce the Master and his teaching to the other worldly irrelevance rejected by our children.  In contemporary terms, it pits liberation theology against its more domesticated counterpart.

As such, today’s readings connect firmly with the struggle for justice throughout the Global South and particularly in Haiti.

Let me explain.

Haiti & Liberation Theology

I reference Haiti in particular because just last week the history of that long-troubled island was brought to our nation’s attention by a shocking series of articles in The New York Times. The series is called “The Ransom.”

Its articles detail how ever since Haiti’s black population successfully rebelled against the slave system imposed by France at the beginning of the 19th century, both France and the United States have been mercilessly punishing Haitians with unimaginable cruelty.

France even went so far as to force Haiti (under threat of invasion) to pay reparations to former French slaveholders for their lost “property.” Over more than 200 years, the reparations in question systematically devastated the Hattian economy. They’ve condemned the island’s inhabitants to more than two centuries of extreme, grinding poverty.

For Americans, the U.S. role in the tragedy is especially revealing. It uncovers a pattern of American imperialism that has caused similar devastation throughout the Global South. I’m speaking of regime change, alliances with local elites, and habitual support for dictators and generals with their harsh repression including practices of torture, disappearances, death squads, rigged elections, and lootings of national treasuries. That’s what the U.S. has always been about in the Global South.

If you don’t think so, just go to Wikipedia’s entry on “U.S. Regime Change Policies.” There you’ll find an astonishingly long list of such imperialistic interventions. In Haiti, interference like that saw the U.S. actually occupying the country from 1915 to 1934.

The exploitation at the hands of our country and France in turn gave rise to a decades long demand for reparations on the part of the island’s non-elite who didn’t get a democratically elected president until 1991. It was then that Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, took office. As a liberation theologian, he promptly owned his faith’s prophetic tradition and gave voice to his country’s poor and their demands for reparations.

As documented by the Times series, the response of the United States was familiarly predictable. It involved the removal of Aristide from office in a coup that restored the rule of the island’s elite enforced by the brutal Tonton Macoute goon squads.

This is the way (despite the example of Yeshua himself) that those espousing their hero’s anti-imperialism have been treated throughout the history of the church. The Jewish prophets were killed one after another. Jesus himself was the victim of torture and a form of capital punishment (crucifixion) that the Romans reserved for insurgents. Most of his inner circle were martyred. And, of course, the persecution of Christians at the hands of Roman imperialists and their Colosseum lions is legendary.

Meanwhile, believers favoring an other-worldly understanding of their faith were embraced and rewarded (as they are today) by imperial powers.

Today’s Readings  

I bring all of that up in an Ascension Day homily because today’s readings highlight the conflict just noted between followers of Yeshua of Nazareth who, like Fr. Aristide, see him as the defender of the poor and oppressed on the one hand and those who insist on kicking that poor Galilean construction worker upstairs on the other.

The former see Jesus as a messiah intent on replacing empire’s oppression with what he called “the Kingdom of God.”  There the world’s order will be reversed. The rich are accursed. This tradition records Yeshua saying– “Woe to you rich, for you have already received your reward”/ “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God”)./ “If you will be a follower of mine sell what you have, give it to the poor and come follow me.”  Meanwhile, the poor will “have the earth for their possession.”

Those who espouse the competing understanding of the Yeshua tradition (like most believers in the United States) find poverty, hunger, imperialism and its wars irrelevant. For them it’s all about life after death – being “saved” and avoiding eternal punishment in hell. For them, far from being the enemy of humankind, empire is somehow divinely ordained. 

All of that is centralized in today’s liturgy of the word. There the attentive reader can discern a conflict brewing. On the one side there’s textual evidence of belief within the early church that following Jesus entails focus on justice in this world. And on the other side there are the seeds of those ideas that it’s all about the promise of “heaven” with the threat of hell at least implicit. The problem is that the narrative in today’s liturgy of the word mixes each view with its alternative.

According to the story about following Jesus as a matter of this-worldly justice, the risen Master spent the 40 days following his resurrection instructing his disciples specifically about “the Kingdom.” For Jews that meant discourse about what the world would be like if God were king instead of Caesar. Jesus’ teaching must have been strong. I mean why else in Jesus’ final minutes with his friends, and after 40 days of instruction about the kingdom would they pose the question, “Is it now that you’ll restore the kingdom to Israel?” That’s a political and revolutionary question about driving the Romans out of the country.

Moreover, Jesus doesn’t disabuse his friends of their notion as though they didn’t get his point. Instead, he replies in effect, “Don’t ask about precise times; just go back to Jerusalem and wait for my Spirit to come.” That Spirit will “clothe you in justice,” he tells them. Then he takes his leave.

Presently two men clothed in white (the color of martyrdom) tell the disciples to stop looking up to heaven as if Jesus were there. He’s not to be found “up there,” they seem to say. Jesus will soon be found “down here.” There’s going to be a Second Coming. Jesus will complete the project his crucifixion cut short – restoring Israel’s kingdom. So, the disciples who are Jews who think they’ve found the Messiah in Jesus return in joy to Jerusalem and (as good Jews) spend most of their time in the Temple praising God and waiting to be “clothed in Jesus’ Spirit” of liberation from Roman rule.

The other story (which historically has swallowed up the first) emphasizes God “up there,” and our going to him after death. It’s woven into the fabric of today’s readings too. Here Jesus doesn’t finally discourse about God’s kingdom, but about “the forgiveness of sin.” After doing so, he’s lifted up into the sky. There Pseudo Paul (probably not Paul himself)  tells his readers in Ephesus, that Yeshua is enthroned at the father’s right hand surrounded by angelic “Thrones” and “Dominions.” This Jesus has founded a “church,” – a new religion; and he is the head of the church, which is his body.

This is the story that emerged when writers pretending to be Paul tried to make Jesus relevant to gentiles – to non-Jews who were part of the Roman Empire, and who couldn’t relate to a messiah bent on replacing Rome with a world order characterized by God’s justice for a captive people. So, they gradually turned Jesus into a “salvation messiah” familiar to Romans. This messiah offered happiness beyond the grave rather than liberation from empire. It centralized a Jesus whose morality reflected the ethic of empire: “obey or be punished.” That’s the morality spiritual seekers find increasingly incredible, and increasingly irrelevant to our 21st century world.

Conclusion

Empire has never liked prophets. Like its Roman counterpart, the U.S. version hates Jesus.

That’s why it vilified and couped Jean Bertrand Aristide in Haiti. That’s why it killed those six liberation theologians in El Salvador. That’s why it raped and murdered those three nuns and their lay associate also in El Salvador. That’s why it joined with two anti-liberation theology popes (John Paul II and Benedict XVI) to crush liberation theology and the priests, nuns, catechists, activists, teachers, social workers, and union leaders influenced by liberation theology wherever it dared to raise its ugly (to them) head. The popes in question stood by silent as America and its allies killed as many liberationists as they could.

And all those reactionary forces have apparently succeeded – just as the Roman Empire and its biblical predecessors enjoyed apparent success in stamping out the prophetic tradition of the authentic Judeo-Christian tradition.

And by the way, that success in turn is why so many of our children have left behind an increasingly irrelevant version of Christianity that has no connection with a world shaped by the cruelty recounted in the NYT series.

To get a fuller picture of what I mean, please read “The Ransom” for yourself or at least view the “Democracy Now” segment at the head of this blog entry.

And please consider this homily a call to rethink your assessment of Yeshua and his Jewish prophetic tradition. It is more relevant and necessary than ever before for combatting the evils of imperialism.

Easter Reflection: Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?

Readings for Easter Sunday:ACTS 10:3A, 37-43; PS 118: 1-2, 16-17, 22-23; COL 3:1-4; JN 20: 1-9.

Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Or is belief in his physical resurrection childish and equivalent to belief in the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus?

I suppose the answer to those questions depends on what you mean by “really.” Let’s look at what our tradition tells us.

Following Jesus’ death, his disciples gave up hope and went back to fishing and their other pre-Jesus pursuits. Then, according to the synoptic gospels, some women in the community reported an experience that came to be called Jesus’ “resurrection” (Mt. 28:1-10; Mk. 16: 1-8; Lk. 24:1-11). That is, the rabbi from Nazareth was somehow experienced as alive and as more intensely present among them than he was before his crucifixion.

That women were the first witnesses to the resurrection seems certain. According to Jewish law, female testimony was without value. It therefore seems unlikely that Jesus’ followers, anxious to convince others of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection, would have concocted a story dependent on women as primary witnesses. Ironically then, the story’s “incredible” origin itself lends credence to the authenticity of early belief in Jesus return to life in some way.

But what was the exact nature of the resurrection? Did it involve a resuscitated corpse? Or was it something more spiritual, psychic, metaphorical or visionary?

In Paul (the only 1st person report we have – written around 50 C.E.) the experience of resurrection is clearly visionary. Paul sees a light and hears a voice, but for him there is no embodiment of the risen Jesus. When Paul reports his experience (I Cor. 15: 3-8) he equates his vision with the resurrection manifestations to others claiming to have encountered the risen Christ. Paul writes “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

In fact, even though Paul never met the historical Jesus, he claims that he too is an “apostle” specifically because his experience was equivalent to that of the companions of Jesus who were known by  name. This implies that the other resurrection appearances might also be accurately described as visionary rather than physical.

The earliest gospel account of a “resurrection” is found in Mark, Ch. 16. There a “young man” (not an angel) announces Jesus’ resurrection to a group of women (!) who had come to Jesus’ tomb to anoint him (16: 5-8). But there is no encounter with the risen Jesus.

In fact, Mark’s account actually ends without any narrations of resurrection appearances at all. (According to virtually all scholarly analysis, the “appearances” found in chapter 16 were added by a later editor.) In Mark’s original ending, the women are told by the young man to go back to Jerusalem and tell Peter and the others. But they fail to do so, because of their great fear (16: 8). This means that in Mark there are not only no resurrection appearances, but the resurrection itself goes unproclaimed. This makes one wonder: was Mark unacquainted with the appearance stories? Or did he (incredibly) not think them important enough to include?

Resurrection appearances finally make their own appearance in Matthew (writing about 80) and in Luke (about 85) with increasing detail. Always however there is some initial difficulty in recognizing Jesus. For instance, Matthew 28:11-20 says, “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him; but some doubted.” So the disciples saw Jesus, but not everyone was sure they did. In Luke 24:13-53, two disciples walk seven miles with the risen Jesus without recognizing him until the three break bread together.

Even in John’s gospel (published about 100) Mary Magdalene (the woman with the most intimate relationship to Jesus) thinks she’s talking to a gardener when the risen Jesus appears to her (20: 11-18). In the same gospel, the apostle Thomas does not recognize the risen Jesus until he touches the wounds on Jesus’ body (Jn. 26-29). When Jesus appears to disciples at the Sea of Tiberius, they at first think he is a fishing kibitzer giving them instructions about where to find the most fish (Jn. 21: 4-8).

All of this raises questions about the nature of the “resurrection.” It doesn’t seem to have been resuscitation of a corpse. What then was it? Was it the community coming to realize the truth of Jesus’ words, “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me” (Mt. 25:45) or “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst” (Mt. 18:20)? Do the resurrection stories reveal a Lord’s Supper phenomenon where Jesus’ early followers experienced his intense presence “in the breaking of the bread” (Lk. 24:30-32)?

Some would say that this “more spiritual” interpretation of the resurrection threatens to destroy faith.

However, doesn’t such perception of threat reveal a quasi-magical understanding of faith? Does it risk limiting faith to belief in a God who operates outside the laws of nature and performs extraordinary physical feats that amaze and mystify? Doesn’t it flatten the significance of resurrection belief to simply one more “proof” of Jesus’ divinity?

But faith doesn’t seem to be principally about amazement, mystification and proof analogous to the scientific. It is about meaning.

And regardless of whether one believes in resurrection as resuscitation of a corpse or as a metaphor about the spiritual presence of God in communities serving the poor, the question must be answered, “What does resurrection mean?”

Surely it meant that Jesus’ original followers experienced a powerful continuity in their relationship Jesus even after his shameful execution. Their realm of experience had expanded. Both Jesus and his followers had entered broadened dimensions of time and space. They had crossed the threshold of another world where life was fuller and where physical and practical laws governing bodies and limiting spirits no longer applied. In other words, the resurrection was not originally about belief or dogma. It was about a realm of experience that had at the very least opened up in the context of sharing bread – in an experience of worship and prayer.

Resurrection meant that another world is possible — in the here and now! Yes, that other world was entered through baptism. But baptism meant participation in a community (another realm) where all things were held in common, and where the laws of market and “normal” society did not apply (Acts 2:44-45).

In order to talk about that realm, Jesus’ followers told exciting stories of encounters with a revivified being who possessed a spiritual body, that was difficult to recognize, needed food and drink, suddenly appeared in their midst, and which just as quickly disappeared. This body could sometimes be touched (Jn. 20:27); at others touching was forbidden (Jn. 20:17).

Resurrection and Easter represent an invitation offered each of us to enter the realm opened by the risen Lord however we understand the word “risen.” We enter that realm through a deepened life of prayer, worship, community and sharing.

We are called to live in the “other world” our faith tells us is possible – a world that is not defined by market, consumption, competition, technology, or war.

Pope Francis’ encyclical, Fratelli Tutti supplies the details.

Why Jesus’ Followers Should Never Support an Empire Like America’s — Not Even in Ukraine

Readings: LK 19:28-40; IS 50: 4-7, PS 22: 8-9, 12-20, 23=24, PHIL 2:6-11, LK 22: 14-23:58.

Can a follower of Jesus ever be pro-empire? Can genuine Christians support an empire like the United States?

If you answer “yes,” you’re in good company. That’s because ever since the 4th century, mainstream Christians have given empire hearty endorsements that Jesus could never have tolerated.

I bring that up because today’s Palm Sunday readings pinpoint not only Jesus’ anti-imperialism, but the precise moment when Christians began their fatal departure from the stance against empire that the Master evidently adopted throughout his life. (After all, he was executed by Rome as an insurgent and terrorist.)

And that departure has made it possible for us who now live in the belly of the imperial beast to naively think that representatives of empire are actually capable of telling the truth when empire’s criminal interests are involved — for example in Ukraine.

From the viewpoint of the imperialized (like Jesus and his counterparts in today’s Global South) imperialists have no idea of truth.  

This whole question is related to the process of discernment in Ukraine as puzzled over recently on OpEdNews.

Let me explain by first looking at questions asked there about the war, truth and falsehood. Then I’ll compare those queries with Jesus’ attitude towards the Roman Empire as described and eventually distorted in today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke. Finally, I’ll return to the Ukraine question with some practical conclusions about truth discernment in the light of the gospel.  

Truth & Ukraine

Last week, Meryl Ann Butler published a thoughtful and soberly reasoned article headlined under the title “Russia, Ukraine, and the Elusive Truth.” Towards helping readers uncover that furtive reality, she stated indisputably that “Each one of us can’t physically go all over the globe to find out for ourselves what is actually going on.”

Given that obstacle, she wondered what is a truth seeker to do?

I think Jesus’ example in today’s liturgy of the word suggests an answer. The readings imply that at least for Christians (and leftists and progressives in general) determination of truth relative to wars fought by imperialist powers can be reached much more easily than by on-site visitation or even intense study of each case of imperial involvement in far off corners of the world.

I mean, the case of the colonized Jesus indicates that imperial intervention can NEVER be justified – and certainly not in modern terms of protecting democracy or human rights. This is because (like all victims of imperialism) Jesus must have somehow realized that by definition, empires can NEVER be genuinely interested in realities that contradict their very essence.

I mean that whatever their pretensions, all empires are essentially rapacious systems of tyranny. Again, in terms foreign to Jesus (but relevant nonetheless) they’re all definitively anti-democratic violators of human rights. So, without the strongest evidence to the contrary, interventions by empires MUST BE understood as aggressive self-extension, larcenous enrichment, and anti-democratic control.

With all of that in mind, all that’s required for progressive critical thinkers to evaluate information and disinformation coming from Ukraine is acknowledgment of the above facts coupled with recognition of the presence in Ukraine’s case of established historical patterns followed elsewhere by U.S. empire.

Yes, you might say, but isn’t Russia imperial too?

Not really. The only empire involved in Ukraine is the United States which proudly owns the designation. Russia (whose economy is smaller than Italy’s) is economically incapable of imperialism. In fact, the war in Ukraine pits a David against a huge menacing Goliath – or, as Richard Wolff has expressed it, against at least 15 Goliaths (NATO has 30 members).

Instead of imperialist aggression (like it or not) Russia is simply following the long-established malpractice of the United States by protecting its own “backyard” from imperial aggression, but this time precisely by the U.S. and its NATO clients against a country 6000 miles from U.S. borders. In other words, Russia’s interest in defending itself from an enemy at the gates is on the face of it far more credible and legitimate than the more remote interests of NATO and especially of America.

Jesus Anti-Imperialism

If all of that is true, how did Jesus become a champion of empire? Why would adherents of the Judeo-Christian tradition support U.S.. policy in Ukraine?

Today’s Palm Sunday readings provide some clues. Luke’s so-called “Passion Narratives” reveal a first century Christian community already depoliticizing their leader in order to please Roman imperialists. The stories turn Jesus against his own people as though they were foreign enemies of God.

Think about the context of today’s Palm Sunday readings.

Note that Jesus and his audiences were first and foremost anti-imperialist Jews whose lives were shaped more than anything else by the Roman occupation of their homeland. As such, they were awaiting a Davidic messiah who would liberate them from empire.

So, on this Palm Sunday, what do you think was on the minds of the crowds who Luke tells us lined the streets of Jerusalem to acclaim Jesus, the messianic construction worker? Were they shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna!” (Save us! Save us!) because they thought Jesus’ sacrificial death was about to open the gates of heaven closed since Adam’s sin by a petulant God? Of course not. They were shouting for Jesus to save them from the Romans.

The palm branches in their hands were (since the time of the Maccabees) the symbols of resistance to empire. Those acclaiming Jesus looked to him to play a key role in the Great Rebellion everyone knew was about to take place against the hated Roman occupiers.

And what do you suppose was on Jesus’ mind? He was probably intending to take part in the rebellion just mentioned. It had been plotted by the Jews’ Zealot insurgency. Jesus words at the “Last Supper” show his anticipation that the events planned for Jerusalem might cause God’s Kingdom to dawn that very weekend (Luke 22:18).

Clearly Jesus had his differences with the Zealots. They were nationalists; he was an internationalist open to gentiles. The Zealots were violent; Jesus probably was not.

And yet the Zealots and Jesus came together on their abhorrence of Roman presence in the Holy Land. They found common ground on the issues of debt forgiveness, non-payment of taxes to the occupiers, and land reform. Within Jesus’ inner circle there was at least one Zealot (Simon) . Indications might also implicate Peter, Judas, James, and John. And Jesus’ friends were armed when he was arrested. Whoever cut off the right ear of the high priest’s servant was used to wielding a sword – perhaps as a “sicarius” (the violent wing of the Zealots who specialized in knifing Jews collaborating with the Romans).

But we’re getting ahead of our story. . . Following his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Jesus soon found himself and his disciples inside the temple participating in what we’d call a “direct action” protest. They were demonstrating against the collaborative role the temple and its priesthood were fulfilling on behalf of the Romans.

As collaborators, the temple priests were serving a foreign god (the Roman emperor) within the temple precincts. For Jesus that delegitimized the entire system. So, as John Dominic Crossan puts it, Jesus’ direct action was not so much a “cleansing” of the temple as the symbolic destruction of an institution that had completely lost its way.

It was this demonstration that represented the immediate cause of Jesus’ arrest and execution described so poignantly in today’s long gospel reading.

Following the temple demonstration, Jesus and his disciples became “wanted” men (Lk. 19:47). At first Jesus’ popularity affords him protection from the authorities (19:47-48). The people constantly surround him eager to hear his words denouncing their treasonous “leaders” (20:9-19), about the issue of Roman taxation (20:20-25), the destruction of the temple (21:1-6), the coming war (21:20-24) and the imminence of God’s Kingdom (21:29-33).

Eventually however, Jesus has to go underground. On Passover eve he sends out Peter and John to arrange for a safe house to celebrate the feast I mentioned earlier. The two disciples are to locate the “upper room.” They do so by exchanging a set of secret signs and passwords with a local comrade (Matthew 21:2).

Then comes Jesus’ arrest. Judas has betrayed Jesus to collect the reward on Jesus’ head – 30 pieces of silver. The arrest is followed by a series of “trials” before the Jewish Council (the Sanhedrin), before Pilate and Herod. Eventually, Jesus is brought back to Pilate. There he’s tortured, condemned and executed along with other insurgents.

Note that Luke presents Pilate in way completely at odds with what we know of the procurator as described for example by the Jewish historian Josephus. After the presentation of clear-cut evidence that the Nazarene rabbi was “stirring up the people,” and despite Jesus’ own admission to crimes against the state (claiming to be a rival king), Pilate insists three times that the carpenter is innocent of capital crime.

Such tolerance of rebellion contradicts Crossan’s insistence that Pilate had standing orders to execute anyone associated with lower class rebellion during the extremely volatile Passover festivities. In other words, there would have been no drawn-out trial.

Conclusion

What’s going on here relative to our questions about empire and Ukraine? Two things.

First of all, like everyone else, Luke knew that Jesus had been crucified by the Romans. That was an inconvenient truth for his audience which around the year 85 CE (when Luke wrote) was desperately trying to reconcile with the Roman Empire which lumped the emerging Christian community with the Jews whom the Romans despised.

Luke’s account represents an attempt to create distance between Christians and Jews. So, he makes up an account that exonerates Pilate (and the Romans) from guilt for Jesus’ execution. Simultaneously, he lays the burden of blame for Jesus’ execution at the doorstep of Jewish authorities.

In this way, Luke made overtures of friendship towards Rome. He wasn’t worried about the Jews, since by the year 70 the Romans had destroyed Jerusalem and its temple along with more than a million of its inhabitants. After 70 Jewish Christians no longer represented the important factor they once were. Their leadership had been decapitated with the destruction of Jerusalem.

Relatedly, Jesus’ crucifixion would have meant that Rome perceived him as a rebel against the Empire. Luke is anxious to make the case that such perception was false. Rome had nothing to fear from Christians.

I’m suggesting that such assurance was unfaithful to the Jesus of history. It domesticated the rebel who shines through even in Luke’s account when it is viewed contextually.

And so what?

Well, if you wonder why Christians can so easily succumb to empires (Roman, British, Nazi, U.S.) you’ve got your answer. It all starts here – in the gospels themselves – with the great cover-up of the insurgent Jesus.

And if you wonder where the West’s and Ukrainian Nazis’ comfort with xenophobia in general and anti-Semitism in particular come from, you have that answer as well.

The point here is that only by recovering the obscured rebel Jesus can Christians avoid the mistake Germans made 80 years ago and Ukrainian Nazis are making today. Then (and now in Ukraine) instead of singing “Hosanna” to Jesus, they shout(ed) “Heil Hitler!” to imperialist torturers, xenophobes, and hypocrites found so plenteously in “neo” form within the Ukraine government and military.

The readings for Palm Sunday present us with a cautionary tale about these sad realities.

As for the search for truth, my practical conclusion here is that the reason for imperial interest in a far distant country like Ukraine can be determined by what I call “historical pattern analysis,”

I mean, the well-established U.S. pattern of imperial aggression involving oil-rich nations strongly suggests that the operative reason for United States interest in Ukraine is not only connected with threatening and controlling NATO’s prime enemy (its very raison d’etre), but with capturing Russian oil and liquid natural gas markets – along with astronomical profits benefitting the military industrial complex – not to mention rehabilitating the status of a president with precipitously plunging poll numbers.

Statements by U.S. spokespersons contradicting the above are at best highly questionable and at worst outright lies.

They also contradict the experience and example of Jesus.