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!

Women (Not Jesus) Work the “Miracle” of Loaves & Fishes (Sunday Homily)

Enough Food
Readings: 2 Kgs. 4:42-44; Ps. 145: 10-11, 15-18; Eph. 4:1-6; Jn. 6: 1-15

Thirty thousand children die every day of absolutely preventable causes associated with hunger. Mostly they die from diarrhea connected with unsafe drinking water.

Thirty-six million people in all die every year from those same easily remediable causes. That’s like the death toll from 300 jumbo jets crashing each day for a year, with no survivors, and with most of the victims children and women.

Can you imagine 300 jumbo jets crashing every day? Of course, you can’t. Just three jumbo jets crashing on a single day would throw the airline industry into complete panic. It would recognize that something was deeply wrong with the system. More regulation would be demanded by everyone.

And yet, with hunger, the equivalent of one hundred times those crashes with the horrendous figures I just mentioned happen each day, throughout each year, and no one in authority will say that the system is defective. In fact, we celebrate it as the very best possible. Politicians commonly champion less regulation rather than more. They believe the free market is the solution to all of the world’s problems.

But is unregulated market the answer to world hunger? According to the U.N., the problem of world hunger is not lack of food production, but its faulty distribution. Through no fault of their own, but through the fault of the reigning market system, people in hungry countries just don’t have the money to buy food. According to the same U.N., a mere 4% tax on the world’s richest 250 people would solve that problem.

Each year those 250 people receive as much income as the world’s nearly 3 billion people who live on $2 a day or less. Taxing the 250 by a mere 4% would provide enough to make the hunger I’m referencing disappear – and not just hunger, but unsafe drinking water itself, along with illiteracy, poor housing, and lack of medical care.

That sounds so easy. But such a tax is not even discussed – not even by Christians like us who profess to be “pro-life” and concerned about defenseless human life forms – at least before they’re born. In defense of the unborn, such Christians want to force women to bring all pregnancies to term. However, they see forcing the super-rich to part with an infinitesimal portion of their great wealth an unfair limitation on the wealthy’s freedom – even if it is to save thousands of already born children each day.

In the face of such intransigence (not to say hypocrisy) on the part of those who see the free market as the solution to everything, many in hungry countries have turned to the violence of revolution or terrorism in efforts to change the system.

So, our question becomes: free market or violence against that system? Which way did Jesus approve?

Today’s gospel reading indicates that Jesus approved of neither. Instead, he offers a third alternative – a non-violent system of sharing led by his followers with women in the forefront.

Let me explain what I mean.

Today’s Gospel reading comes from John the Evangelist. Bread holds an extraordinarily prominent and symbolic place for him. But note that in John’s version of Jesus feeding bread to 5000 men, there is no mention of the women and children inevitably in the crowd. (As we’ll see, Mark’s version of this story importantly centralizes their presence.)

It is also important to note that there is no mention of a “miracle” in either John’s or Mark’s account.

Instead, the story goes like this: People have followed Jesus “to the other side” of the Lake of Galilee. They are hungry. Testing him, Jesus asks Phillip where to buy bread for so many. Phillip has to confess that the market system cannot even begin to feed them all. There’s nowhere to buy, and even then, a year’s wages would be insufficient to give each person even a morsel. To reiterate: in the story, the market system proves incapable of meeting the challenge. Jesus and the women in the crowd are about to offer an alternative.

[Before we get to that, however, let me offer an aside about men. Armed violence, of course is the traditional “manly” way of dealing with almost any problem, isn’t it? However, John the Evangelist underlines Jesus’ rejection such “manliness” – even though the Master evidently gives revolution and insurrection much more consideration than the market alternative he considered briefly with Phillip.

Think about it. In John’s account, the time is near the Passover feast of national liberation – a traditional period of civil unrest in Jesus’ Palestine. Moreover, the episode we’re considering takes place in the desert – the time-honored place of insurrectionary resistance. Revolution is evidently on the minds of the 5000.

Jesus knows, John says, that the men want to make him king by means of violence. Perhaps that’s the whole reason they’ve stalked Jesus and cornered him in his desert get-away. In any case, after a day-long dialog with Jesus, the intention of the 5000 evidently remains unchanged.

Nevertheless, instead of acceding to “manly” impulses, Jesus enacts a parable about how to deal with the frustration of unmet needs that drives men to violence. By contrast, he adopts a typically female solution to the immediate problem of hunger. What he demonstrates might be called “The Kingdom Sharing System.” It begins by first establishing personal friendships and ends by sharing.]

To begin with, Jesus has everyone relax – to sit down on the soft grass that nature has provided. In Mark’s account of this same event, the evangelist notes that Jesus divided the huge crowd into small groups of ten or so each. That gave all present a chance to introduce themselves and exchange pleasantries.

Then a child shows the way. A small boy brings forward five loaves and two fish and places them before Jesus. Jesus calls everyone’s attention to what the child had done. And that starts a “miracle of sharing.” The crowd is touched. People begin to offer one another the plenty collectively present among them, but that everyone was apparently reluctant to share.

The abundance was surely there, thanks to the way women work. I mean, can you imagine a Jewish mother going on a day-long trip to the desert without packing a lunch for her husband and children? Of course not. In fact, there’s such abundance that even after everyone has eaten, 12 baskets remain to bring back to those not present to witness this “miracle of enough.” The dramatized parable’s point is: that’s the way the Kingdom of God works. (And note how women must have been central to it all.)

What’s the lesson in all of this? First of all (as today’s responsorial psalm says) it’s God’s will that everyone might have enough to eat. Bread is God’s gift to us all, without exception. And whether people eat or not shouldn’t be dependent on their ability to buy. In fact, if someone is hungry, humans and their market system are the sinfully responsible ones.

The bottom line here is that the way to satisfy hunger is not by depending on blind market forces or by waging violent, manly revolution. Rather it is exemplified by the child in the story and the women in the crowd. That’s the way that Jesus calls us to deal with the problem of hunger with which our reflections began this morning.

And it’s Jesus’ followers, people like you and me who should be following the women who typically lead the way.

How best can we best enact “The Kingdom Sharing System” in our hungry world? (Discussion follows.)