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.

Sexual Morality and Social Control: Yeshua Preaches a Silent Liberating Parable about Sex

Readings for 5th Sunday of Lent: Isaiah 43: 16-21; Psalm 126: 1-6; Philemon 3: 8-14; John 8: 1-11

Did you ever wonder why religious leaders seem so preoccupied with sex?

I have.

I bring the question up, because today’s reading from the Gospel of John presents Yeshua as confronting that clerical obsession. I’m referring to the famous case of the woman caught in the act of adultery.

Before I get to that, however, think of the preoccupation itself.

Clerical Preoccupation with Sex

We witness it all over the place, don’t we? Clerics, it seems, constantly worry about a long list of cringe-worthy and curious topics that include abortion, contraception, transgenderism, homosexuality, pornography, masturbation, artificial insemination, sex before marriage, oral sex, vasectomy, divorce, priestly celibacy, male-only priests, and (I guess) pedophilia.

Moreover, the clergy’s own sexual failings never inhibit their volubility on those topics. I mean, the record shows that Catholic priests have rather regularly sexually molested little boys. Famous evangelicals have consorted with prostitutes of both genders. Yet, Catholic or Protestant, both continue to pronounce on the topics just listed as though they retained their long-lost moral authority to do so.

 Why?

I think it’s all about the social control that over centuries religious “leaders” stumbled upon with increasing clarity and emphasis. Here’s what I mean focusing on the Catholic tradition with which I’m most familiar and which, of course, also shaped Protestantism:

  1. To begin with, religion is a very powerful means of social control. That is, if religious authorities can convince people that the clergy’s understandings of life and morality are shared by God, they’ve won the day in terms of power over “the faithful.”
  2. This is where sex comes in. As the second most powerful (and arguably the most enjoyable) drive shared by human beings, there is virtually no human being who can refrain from sexual activity.
  3. Therefore, making all sexual acts sinful outside of marriage (and “mortally” sinful – i.e., deserving of hell) the church guaranteed that every church member would sin and need absolution (which only the clergy was empowered to give.)
  4. Without that absolution, the church taught (infallibly) everyone who thought sexual thoughts or performed sexual acts (looking, touching, fornicating, committing adultery) would be tortured eternally in hell’s Lake of Fire.
  5. Even married couples would suffer such fate if they engaged in contraceptive acts.
  6. And since only the clergy and their Sacrament of Penance (confession) could save people from that horrible fate, the clergy possessed God-like power over the lives and fates of believers.

Incredibly, within my own lifetime, Catholics believed all of that – literally! Consequently, Saturday nights in any given parish would find long lines of people waiting to confess their sins in order to receive the absolution necessary for them to “save their souls” from a vengeful sex-obsessed God. Wow!

Yeshua & the Adulterous Woman

In Yeshua’s day, his religion’s clergy played a similar game. They had established themselves as the sex police. Only, instead of sending sexual transgressors to hell, Jewish law punished adultery with death by stoning.

That was a biblical requirement. However, the Jewish patriarchy applied that law differently to men and women. A man, they said, committed adultery only when he slept with a married woman. But if he slept with a single woman, a widow, a divorced woman, a prostitute, or a slave, he remained innocent. A woman, on the other hand committed adultery if she slept with anyone but her husband.

Yeshua calls attention to such hypocrisy and double standards in today’s gospel episode. You probably remember the story.

The Master is teaching in the temple surrounded by “the people” – the same outcasts, we presume, that habitually hung on his every word. Meanwhile, the Scribes and Pharisees are standing on the crowd’s edge wondering how to incriminate such a man?

As if ordained by heaven, an answer comes to them out of the blue. A woman is hustled into the temple. She’s just been caught in flagrante – in the very act of adultery. What luck for Yeshua’s opponents!

“Master,” they say, “This woman has just been caught in the act of adultery. As you know, our scriptures say we should stone her. But what do you say?”

Here Yeshua’s enemies suspect he will incriminate himself by recommending disobedience of the Bible’s clear injunction. After all, he is the Compassionate One. He is especially known for his kindness towards women – and others among his culture’s most vulnerable. He is the friend of prostitutes and drunkards.

But instead of falling into their trap, Yeshua simply preaches a silent parable. He first scribbles on the ground. Only subsequently does he speak — but only 18 words, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

A wordless parable . . .

What do you suppose Yeshua was scribbling on the ground? Was he writing the names of the guilty hypocrites who had cheated on their wives? Was he writing the laws the Scribes and Pharisees were violating? Some say he was simply drawing figures in the dust while considering how to reply to his opponents?

The first two possibilities seem unlikely. How would this poor country peasant from Galilee know the names of the learned and citified Scribes and Pharisees? It is even unlikely that Yeshua knew how to write at all. That too was the province of the Scribes. The third possibility – that Jesus was absent-mindedly drawing figures in the dust – is probably closer to the mark.

However, it seems likely that there was more to it than that. It seems Yeshua was performing some kind of symbolic action – that mimed parable I mentioned. By scribbling in the dust, he was wordlessly bringing his questioners down to earth. Was he reminding them of the common origin of men and women?

Both came from the dust, Yeshua might be saying without words. The creation stories in Genesis say both men and women were created from dirt and in God’s image – equal in the eyes of God. “In God’s image God created them. Man and woman created he them,” says the first creation account (Genesis 1:27). By scribbling in the dust, Yeshua was symbolically moving the earth under the feet of the Scribes and Pharisees. He was asserting that they had no ground to stand on. They were hypocrites.

If this is true, then Yeshua’s 18-word pronouncement offers his own standard for judging the guilt of others even in the fraught field of sexuality. According to that standard, one may judge and execute only if he himself is without sin. This, of course, means that no one may judge and execute another.

Conclusion

The conclusion from all of this seems clear to me. Human beings don’t need sex police. To regulate the field, it would be enough to simply say “Don’t use your God-given gift of sexuality in any way that hurts another. After all sex is a precious gift from God. Enjoy the pleasure it gives but never in a way that hurts someone else.” 

That may well have been Yeshua’s attitude too. His final comforting words to the woman in today’s Gospel episode indicate that.

Yes, I believe today’s story ended with the words, “Neither do I condemn you.”

And here I’m basing my judgment on one of the criteria used by The Jesus Seminar for separating Jesus’ words from the creations of the early church and evangelists like Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.

For Seminar participants, the more radical the pronouncement, the more likely it is that the words belong to Jesus himself. By the same token, the more conventional the words, the less likely they are to have come from Jesus’ own mouth. The words, “Go now and sin no more” seems pretty conventional to me.

What I’m saying is that the addition “Go now and sin no more” bears all the fingerprints of community elders (those clergy we’ve been focusing on) who were scandalized by the radicality of Yeshua’s response to the woman’s “sin.” They needed to tone down Yeshua’s words for fear of losing social control.

Meanwhile, “Neither do I condemn you,” is beautifully radical and characteristic of the Compassionate Yeshua.

Now that is Good News for us sexual beings.

What Yemen Tells U.S. Christians Blinded by Ukraine

Readings for the Third Sunday in Lent: Exodus 3: 1-8a, 13-15; Psalm 103: 1-11; 1st Corinthians 10: 1-6, 10-12; Matthew 4: 17 ; Luke 13: 1-9

Because the readings for this Third Sunday of Lent celebrate the identity of the biblical God as the champion of the poor and oppressed, they should offer encouragement to war victims in Ukraine but especially in Yemen where the United States is acting far more brutally than Putin.

Today’s selections should therefore give pause to American followers of Moses and Yeshua. Typically, we have no trouble lamenting what’s happening in Ukraine’s “white people’s war” involving middle class people who “look and live like us.”

Generally, however, we are less perceptive about the immeasurably greater slaughter of black and brown Muslims taking place at the hands of our own government in Yemen.

Ironically, in Ukraine our politicians and the media would have us believe we’re on principle against invasion of a sovereign state and indiscriminate slaughter by a cruel tyrant. In Ukraine, we present ourselves as champions of democracy and peace.

However, in Yemen the U.S. is supporting a vastly more deadly and indiscriminate invasion of a sovereign state by an ally (Saudi Arabia) that is specifically anti-democratic and led by a head of state more openly barbaric even than Vladimir Putin.

To get what I mean and its implications for adherents of the Judeo-Christian tradition as presented in this Sunday’s readings, please consider our day’s historical context in the light of today’s liturgy of the word. Then consider what people of faith should do about all of it.

Our Context

Of course, there is no need to rehearse the horrific scenes from Kiev and Mariupol. For the past four weeks they’ve assaulted our eyes and have broken our hearts on behalf of the victims of Russia’s merciless assaults.

Ironically, however, virtually no one in the mainstream media (MSM) connects those atrocities with what our own government has done and continues to sponsor in Yemen.

There, “we” have been supporting the country’s invasion by neighboring Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). He, of course, is a royal prince who (as I said) is specifically against democracy.

For instance, just last week, he had 81 men beheaded in just 12 hours. The executed had no legal representation. Many of the charges against them amounted to thought crimes.  

Additionally, a couple of years ago, MBS had his hitmen butcher with surgical bone saws the Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

More to my point here: for the past seven years, MBS, perhaps the richest man in the Middle East, has waged a genocidal war on Yemen, making it the poorest country in the world. In the process, (with full American support) he has created what the UN’s World Food Program has identified as genocide and the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis. — far greater than Ukraine.

Over those seven years, MBS has come to the aid of Yemeni oligarchs who have kept the country’s rich oil wealth for themselves. The Saudi crown prince thinks that’s a good idea. So, supplied and guided by the U.S., he’s been bombing, blockading, and starving the children of Yemen and their parents. The brutal process has claimed more than 100,000 lives. An additional 85,000 Yemenis are dead as the result of the famine and cholera epidemic produced by our war.

And what is it that the opponents of MBS and the United States are seeking? According to a Newsweek report, rebel groups (the Houthis) are fighting  “for things that all Yemenis crave: government accountability, the end to corruption, regular utilities, fair fuel prices, job opportunities for ordinary Yemenis and the end of Western influence.”  

Today’s Readings

As I mentioned at the outset, today’s liturgy of the word focuses on the character of Israel’s and Yeshua’s God as the protector of the poor and oppressed – the champion of those like the people in Ukraine and especially in Yemen.

In fact, as you’ll see below, the first reading recounts the vocation story of Israel’s great rebel leader, the prophet Moses. When Moses asks God’s name, the Source of Everything says, She is the liberator of the poor and oppressed. The second reading from St. Paul’s letter to a Christian community in Greece expands on that theme.

Then today’s final selection from the Christian Testament presents Yeshua as doing exactly what I’m attempting in this homily. He raises two “current events” connected with the hegemonic force of his own day, the Roman Empire. Of course, it was the invader of Yeshua’s homeland Israel.

In one event the infamous Pontius Pilate, the brutal Roman procurator in charge of Palestine had just slaughtered several Jewish insurgents in the act of offering sacrifice in Jerusalem’s temple. They were honoring the liberating God of Moses.

Meanwhile, another group of insurgents tunneling under a Roman armory (it seems with a plan to steal its arms cache) had caused the tower’s weak foundations crumble and fall not only on top of the tunnellers but people in nearby houses as well. According to Maria Lopez Vigil and her brother, Jose Ignacio, the armory was located in the Tower of Siloam.

In response, Yeshua expresses sympathy for its resisters. “They’re no more sinners than the rest of us,” he says. “All of us are ‘guilty’ of wanting to be rid of the Roman invaders. But actions like Pilate’s and the fate of those undermining the Tower of Siloam foreshadow a more general slaughter that will inevitably take place in response to such “direct action.”  

In effect, Yeshua says, “Those who resist the hated Romans by resorting to arms are (understandably) bloodthirsty too. And if we follow their example, we’ll all drown in a bloody deluge.” Or as Yeshua put it, “I tell you, if you do not change your minds, you will all perish as they did!”

And time is running short, he adds with today’s parable about a fig tree. The bloody deluge has been building for at least three years, he says. We have maybe another twelve months before the chickens of the deadly cycle of violence come home to roost. Without replacing violent resistance to Roman butchery with non-violent tactics, we’ll all be cut down like a barren fig tree.

(Jesus’ prediction of bloodbath, of course, eventually came true, but not as soon as he thought. The Romans would defeat the Zealot uprising in the year 70, and definitively squash all Jewish rebellion in 132. Jesus was right however about the extent of the slaughter. It was horrific resulting in the deaths of more than a million Jews. Such disaster is inevitable, Jesus teaches for all who “live by the sword.”)

His words, of course, have implications for our nation which like none other has lived by the sword ever since its foundation.

The Readings Translated

With all of that in mind, here are my “translations” of today’s powerful readings. Please check out the originals here to see if I got them right.

Exodus 3: 1-8a, 13-15
 
A stuttering shepherd 
Tending his father-in-law’s beasts 
In the barren desert 
Encounters a bush 
On fire 
But unconsumed. 
Fantastically, 
The stammering one 
Hears a voice 
From the raging flames 
Frightening him 
Out of his wits, 
Crumbling the man 
To the desert floor 
But calling on Moses 
In the name of 
The Great “I Am” 
To lead A motley horde 
Of slaves 
To freedom, prosperity 
And abundance. 

“This,” says the voice 
“Remains the unchanging 
Will and identity 
Of your people's God – 
The Liberator Of the poor 
And oppressed 
Everywhere.” 

Psalm 103: 1-11 

Yes, the Great “I Am”. 
Is the champion 
Of the downtrodden 
Throughout the world 
Hungering and thirsting 
For justice. 
Yahweh is 
Kind and merciful 
Gracious and loving 
Kinder than anyone 
Can even imagine 
The giver of abundance 
The physician 
Who cures, forgives 
And saves the enslaved 
From destruction. 

Who cannot love 
Such a One? 

1st Corinthians 10: 1-6, 10-12 

Certainly, Paul did
Whose God 
He recalls 
Protected His fugitive people 
With cloud, fire 
Desert and sea 
From pursuing 
Egyptian slave holders 
And then fed 
The liberated ones 
In the desert 
With manna 
And water 
Drawn from a rock 
(Foreshadowing Jesus himself.) 

While complainers 
(“What, manna again?”)
Perished 
Preferring instead 
The fleshpots and security 
Of Egyptian captivity. 

For your own good,
Paul warns, 
Don’t be like them! 

Matthew 4: 17 

I mean, 
Leave behind 
Enslavement 
With all its predictability 
And false security 
Choosing instead 
The insecure 
But imminent realm 
Of God’s New Future 
With all its promised 
Freedom, prosperity 
And abundance. 

Luke 13: 1-9 

That’s the realm 
Yeshua based 
His entire life upon. 
He contrasted it 
With Pilate’s Cruel slaughter 
Of insurgent Jews 
Simply trying 
To worship 
Their Great “I Am” 
And 18 other 
Revolutionaries 
Tunnelling under 
A Roman armory 
That collapsed upon them 
At Siloam. 

“No,” Jesus cautioned 
“Choose Yahweh’s 
Non-violent Order, 
Along with 
Complete abandonment 
Of (sinless) religious naivety 
And equally understandable 
And innocent 
Revolutionary derring do. 
Otherwise, 
You’ll have no future 
At all. 

And time’s running out,” 
He warned, 
“You’ve got maybe a year 
Before you’ll reach 
The point of no return.”

Conclusion

As you’ve just seen, the readings for this Third Sunday of Lent call us to repentance – to change of mind about empire, brutal invaders, occupiers, and what to do about all of it.

Followers of the biblical heroes, Moses and Yeshua, are summoned to examine their own consciences about how we see and respond to “current events.” We’re called to repentance.

Many would say that the tragic events unfolding in both Ukraine and in Yemen can be laid at the doorstep of the United States, the bloody successor of the Roman Empire that plagued Yeshua and his people.

Regardless of “the fog of war” that might impede such perception for many regarding Ukraine, the case of Yemen should be crystal clear. It should help us realize that our country’s leaders are not in the least interested in democracy, the deaths of innocents, preventing genocide, or opposing brutality of national leaders considered “friends.”

Instead, the guiding interests of U.S. “leadership” are money, oil, and maintaining hegemony, whatever the cost in human lives. History shows that to realize those interests they’ll ally with anyone – with butchers like MBS, with Nazis like Ukraine’s Azof Battalion, with the Mafia, drug dealers, ISIS, or the devil himself.

Events in Ukraine and Yemen should be forcing us to such shocking conclusions. They should be driving us all towards non-violent revolution — and towards publicizing and resisting U.S. aggression, warmongering and policy hypocrisies on every front.

That is, according to the teachings of Moses and Yeshua, the proper response for believers is unrelenting clarity of thought and analysis, along with non-violent resistance. And we’d better act quickly. As Yeshua warns, time is running out for us too..   

Biden, Saul & David vs. Jesus the Prophet 

Readings for 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time: 1 Samuel 26: 2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23; Psalm 103: 1-13; 1 Corinthians 15: 45-49; John 13: 24; Luke 5: 27-38

More than any other group in the world, American Christians love war, don’t they? At least it seems that way.

Joe Biden’s a case in point. He’s a Catholic. But it looks like he’s doing his best to provoke war with Putin and Russia. It’s like he’d love nothing better than a fight over Ukraine of all places. It’s not clear why. 

(Btw, can someone please tell me what is Ukraine to us or we to Ukraine?  I can’t figure that one out.) 

Nonetheless, the mainstream media (MSM) seems fully on board with war. In a nation where 80% claim to be Christian, journalists love the sound of sabre rattling. It’s what the American elite and its publicists do. By now we should know that.

Today’s Readings

This Sunday’s readings show the elite have always been like that. Gangster kings like Saul and his successor David were just like Biden and the rest. They were like the royal classes depicted in “The Game of Thrones” – constantly at war with one another, with foreign kings – always hungry for more power, more land, more wealth, concubines, and spoils.

In doing so, they invariably claimed that God was on their side. Theirs was a God of war as blood thirsty as the royal classes themselves have always been.

However, biblical prophets like Yeshua of Nazareth consistently opposed such heresy. They insisted that Israel’s God did not belong to kings and queens, but to the indebted poor who constituted the perennial victims of the royals. 

The prophets constantly reminded the powerless that kings and queens were not their friends. How could they be? The poor were always in hoc to them. Moreover, the royals tirelessly tried to convince commoners that the enemies of the rich were also somehow the foes of “the nation,” “the realm.”  If successful, such attempts at persuasion always obliged the non-elite to fight and die in wars against rivals that were not really theirs.

In contrast to all that, a prophet like Yeshua taught his followers to have no enemies at all, to realize that debt and interest that held them in bondage are scams, and that the wealthy should give wealth away rather than hoard it. 

Can you imagine what would happen to our world – what a paradise it would become – if American Christians refused the warmongers and actually accepted wisdom like Yeshua's rather than the propaganda of those involved in contemporary Games of Thrones?

The “translations” that follow suggest what I mean. They contrast the royal games of Saul and David with the prophetic voice of the Master Prophet from Galilee. (Please read the originals here to see if I got them right.)

Readings Translated

1 Samuel 26: 2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23

Like a scene from
“Game of Thrones”
The crown seeker
David
Steals into the field barracks 
Of the throne sitter 
Saul 
Who’s asleep
And surrounded by his gang
Of 3000 brainwashed thugs
All snoring, belching  
And farting away.
(Imagine the din!)

The insurgent’s acolyte
Abishai 
Whispers
“Let me kill the S.O.B.
Right now.
I’ll nail him to the ground
With my spear
You know how good I am
With steel.
No one would even hear.”

“Hell no!” 
David whispers back.
“The Game’s rules 
Forbid killing 
A throne sitter
Who claims he’s been 
Appointed by God.
Who knows?
Maybe he was.
It might be unlucky.”

So, instead
The intruders 
Silently steal
Saul’s own spear
And water jug,
Run to a safe distance,
Wave their plunder
And taunt:
“Coulda killed you
But didn’t.
Your days 
Are numbered, old man.”

It all
Frightened the hell
Outta Saul!

Psalm 103: 1-13

Despite the pretensions
Of gangsters
Like those,
Life’s Great Spirit
Has nothing to do
With Throne Games
Taunting, killing, or war.

The Great Spirit is instead
Kind and merciful
Compassionate and benevolent.
It’s a healer
Full of grace
And above all
Forgiving.

1 Corinthians 15: 45-49

Source
Has been like that
Since before
It breathed life
Into the first Earth Creatures.
The Spirit loves what’s living,
Loves the earth
And everything natural.

That’s the order 
Human beings 
Misleadingly call
“Spiritual” and “heavenly.”
It’s found here on earth
Not somehow
“Up there.”

To be spiritual
Is to love everyone
And Life’s natural order.
That’s what
Yeshua taught us.

John 12: 24

By his
Very life
And words.

Luke 6: 27-38

Specifically,
Here’s what
The Master said and implied
About earthy spirituality
In contrast to
Games of Thrones
Played by kings 
And would-be’s:

Have nothing to do 
With their values.

Games of wealth
And accumulation
Contradict 
God’s natural order.

It demands
Hating no one
Having no enemies.
Loving the haters.
Striking no one
Even if they hit you first
Or take 
What you think is yours.

Instead,
Loans should be free
And without interest
Or expecting repayment.
Don’t judge or condemn
Anyone
Or hang on to wealth.
Give and forgive
Again, and again.

If you do all that
You’ll be like
The Great Spirit
Earlier described
In Psalm 103
Experiencing
Unbelievable abundance
Beyond anything
Sought by “kings”
Gamers and gangsters
Like Saul and David. 
(Or their counterparts
Today!}
. 

Conclusion

The bottom line here is don’t listen to Biden or the MSM. According to Yeshua’s words, Putin is not our enemy. Ukraine is not our concern. All of that is the business of our “royals” and Russia’s with their shared preoccupations about presidential polling, gas pipelines, arms sales, market share, and imagined threats. Those are the concerns of the elite rich; they are not ours.

In the light of today’s readings, what should be our concern is the New Order proclaimed by Yeshua. He called it the “Kingdom of God” It’s a world without enemies, war, debt, interest payments, violence, taunting, or retaliation.

Accepting that viewpoint would change our world. Don’t you agree?

Christmas Reflection: “Oh, Come Let Us Ignore Him”

Every year at this time, the entire Christian world of more than 2.5 billion people pauses to observe the birth of a martyred Jewish construction worker about 2000 years ago. In America, we tirelessly observe this winter festival with increasing intensity from about Halloween, through Thanksgiving, and the entire month of December – for two solid months.

All during that time, our radio airwaves, and every shop we enter repeat the familiar songs and hymns we’ve come to associate with Christmas. Many of the carols celebrate “the newborn king.” Some even issue the invitation, “Oh, come let us adore him” – as God. Only occasionally (as in the “Little Drummer Boy”) is there the slightest hint that Jesus was “a poor boy too.” But that insight is quickly obscured by that same song’s four references to Jesus as “king.”

However, Jesus’ unmistakable poverty, his conception out of wedlock, his homelessness at birth, his status as asylum-seeker and immigrant in Egypt (MT 2:13-18), his social location in the working class, his association with Zealot insurrectionists (MT 10:4; MK 3:18; LK 6:15; ACTS 1:13), and the fact that he ended up a victim of torture and capital punishment at the hands of empire reveal far more about Yeshua than those popular sentimental Christmas jungles and hymns about a “newborn king.”

But even if we take those latter glorifications seriously, they unwittingly communicate a revolutionary message that the Christmas season completely ignores – one that finds important application to our troubled times.

I’m referring to the fact that calling the impoverished Yeshua “king” turns upside down reigning conceptions about the One some call “God,” and about the people divinely designated to rule the world.

Such references unconsciously point to the truth of Jesus’ words that the “meek” or (better put), the lowly, the humble, the unpretentious, those without public power, the despised and discarded, the gentle and non-violent, are (in God’s eyes) the ones divinely destined to “have the earth for their possession” (Psalm 37: 11; Matthew 5:5). History belongs to them. Despite appearances, it is on their side.

What else can it mean that we call “king” a brown or black homeless child born in a barn and who will remain poor, deep in political trouble all his life and will finish on death row? What else can it mean that such a one was selected to be (according to Christian faith) the ultimate revelation of life’s meaning.

On this Christmas Day 2021, all such considerations should send us to look for God in today’s people and places Yeshua was so deeply a part of. Christmas reflections on the historical Yeshua should find him living in those tents that now dot all our big cities. He’s sleeping under some bridge in DC or NYC. He’s dodging drive-by bullets on Chicago’s South Side and shivering in the cold on the Tijuana border. He’s walking his last mile after his appeal for a stay of execution has been ignored by Trump’s SCOTUS packed with “pro-life” Catholics. His appeal is ignored by governors opening gifts with their lily-white children and filling their bellies with turkey and all the trimmings, after singing “Silent Night” with misty eyes in their heretical megachurch based on prosperity gospel lies.

In the face of all that, the proper hymn to sing is “Oh, come let us ignore him.” Yes, ignore that white supremacist, Jesus. And instead, let us adore the real Yeshua in that filthy, stinking barn. He’s there sharing a roof with the rats and beasts with whom our police forces equate those whose neighborhoods and barrios their militarized platoons occupy as enemy terrain.

If we were to find Yeshua in those unlikely places, how different our interminable Christmas season would be. Yes, suppose Americans (and the world’s other two billion Christians) spent two months each year giving serious reflection to Jesus’ social circumstances as presented in the biblical texts that scholars call “the infancy narratives.”

Doing so would change “the season” to one of national repentance, instead of the orgy of “Christmas shopping” for those who already have more than they need. We’d double down on support for Rev. Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign. We’d organize to spend the season (any beyond) doing everything possible to eliminate the specific elements that plagued the life of Yeshua — namely:

  • Identification of “God” with scepters, armies, priests, and “power over”
  • Royalty of all kinds
  • Poverty
  • Homelessness
  • Persecution of asylum seekers
  • And immigrants
  • Imperialism in all its expressions
  • Honoring imperial military service as though it were heroic (It’s not!)
  • Infanticide (today by drone instead of sword)
  • Wars invariably waged against the world’s poor
  • Torture of those same impoverished souls
  • Capital punishment of the poor [never (please note) the rich]
  • Etc.

In other words, historical reflection would cause us to embrace the one whose life and rejection by organized religion and the imperial state reveal the true social location of divine incarnation.

As for the Jesus of our hymns, carols, and Christmas jingles, “Oh (please!), come let us ignore him.”

P.S. We might replace the ignored one’s hymns with Woody Guthrie’s “Jesus Christ:”