The Ukraine War, Serenity & the Dawn of Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MAL 3: 19-20A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s hope that we can.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liberation Theology

Well, you might ask, what is liberation theology?

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

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

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

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

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

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

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

Today’s Readings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abraham & Yeshua Correct My Primitive Understandings of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Do any of you share my experience?)

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

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

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

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

Genesis 18: 20-32

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

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

Now there
Was a great theologian! 

Psalm 138: 1-8

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

That Great
 All Parent
Indeed merits
Praise and thanks.

Colossians 2: 2-14

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

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

Romans 8:15bc

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

Luke 11: 1-13

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

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

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

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

We can’t hear too much of that.

Hallelujah indeed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The Truth behind “Great Replacement Theory”:Capitalism, Imperialism, & Regime Change Are at Fault

Readings for 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Isaiah 66: 10-14C; Psalm 66: 1-7, 16, 20; Galatians 6: 14-18; Luke 10: 1-2, 17-20

You’ve all heard of the “Great Replacement Theory,” right?

It’s the analysis holding that white mostly Christian males have recently come to constitute an oppressed class. They are being “replaced” in the U.S. economy and culture by interlopers – immigrants, women, non-whites, and non-Christians. As a result, white Christian males suddenly find themselves unemployed or working in dead-end jobs for much lower wages than before.

Proliferation of the theory has led to widespread animus against the apparent replacers – non-males, immigrants, non-whites, and non-Christians.

Just another right-wing conspiracy theory, no?

Not really.

The Truth of Replacement

In fact, according to my favorite economist, Richard Wolff (see above video), there is more than a grain of truth in that way of thinking.

According to Wolff, the replacement theorists are correct: white Christian males have indeed experienced substitution by others in the neo-liberal order organized by capitalists over the last 40 years or so.

But the ones responsible for the tragedy are not immigrants, women, and non-Christian people of color. Instead, the fault is systemic. It lies with capitalism itself. That system’s pursuit of profit has capitalists freely choosing to substitute previously high-wage earners with robots, policies of offshoring, and (far less often) by employment of desperate immigrants.

And there’s more (something Professor Wolff doesn’t note). U.S. policies of imperialism and regime change themselves end up being all about replacement of people’s governments with pro-elite puppets. It has removed socialist leaning governments throughout the world (closest to home in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala) and put in their place regimes that favor rich landowners, multinational corporations, drug cartels and gangs. Such replacement has spawned generations of desperate impoverished peasants anxious for a better life even if it means leaving the homeland they love.

Actual imperialism then and regime change (along with the normal dynamics of capitalism) are not just about theory. They are long-standing practices of the United States.

Identifying others as the culprits purposely distracts from the real problem – deregulated capitalism as administered by our own government.  

Today’s Readings

I bring that up in this Sunday’s homily because its readings (translated below) once again focus on the ways the biblical God favors the victims of empire and regime change – the very ones vilified by white Christian males who feel that their previously advantageous position in society is currently being usurped by those displaced workers who are overwhelmingly Christians too. The readings call people like us to re-identify our oppressors.

As suggested by Isaiah, the biblical psalmist, Paul, and Yeshua, the immigrants and refugees that our politicians want us to hate are exiles very like the ancient Hebrews in Babylon. They are the victims of the rich and powerful as were the Jews in Jesus’ day, when Rome occupied his homeland aided and abetted by the Temple clergy.

Put otherwise, today’s biblical selections say that the poorest and most vulnerable among us are God’s own people. The readings call us who live in the belly of the beast to acknowledge that hidden fact. Implicitly, they summon us to replace the true oppressor of white Christian males – the capitalist system itself – with a new order favoring the truly oppressed. Yeshua called that order the Kingdom of God.

Additionally, we’re asked to recognize that the homelands of Christian exiles and immigrants from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua are the very countries whose economies our government purposely and permanently crashed in the 1980s and subsequently.

Then, the Reagan and Bush I administrations used drug money to finance illegal wars that ended up killing hundreds of thousands while replacing governments and social movements whose primary beneficiaries would have been the parents of those at our borders today. The latter have been substituted by the drug lords we established and supported during the ‘80s and who today are doing the same things they did 40 years ago – marketing drugs while terrorizing and murdering the innocent. I’m talking about the generals and other military officers who are now the drug kingpins.

To repeat, it’s been that way from biblical times and before – rich foreigners oppressing poor locals for the benefit of the “Mother Country.” Listen to today’s readings. Or, rather, read them for yourself here. My “translations” follow:

IS 66:10-14c
 
These are the words
Of Isaiah’s prophecy
To exiles re-placed
By Powers
Foreign and domestic:
“Your time of desperation
Is nearly over.
You will soon
Rediscover a home
Like starving infants
Returned to
Their mother.
With hunger satisfied
And incredible
"Prosperity
Along with joy
And comfort, comfort, comfort
At last!”

PS 66: 1-7, 16, 20
  
Our liberator
From exile
So kind and powerful
Is the answer
To the prayers
Of replaced people
And a source of joy
For the whole
Human race
And all of creation.

No obstacle
Can impede
Our Great Parents' destiny
Of liberation
Joy and freedom
From oppression.
  
 GAL 6: 14-18
 
Yes, our true inheritance
Is an entirely
New World!
Where distinctions
Between rich and poor
Oppressor and oppressed
Are meaningless.

Anticipating
This New Order
Now
Will bring
Everyone
Compassion and peace.
However empires
Might crucify us
For this belief.

Nonetheless,
We are called to
Bear their torture
And scars
Gladly
As did Yeshua himself.

LK 10: 1-12, 17-20
 
Paul’s words
Agree with the Master
Who sent
Thirty-six pairs
Of “advance men”
And women
To announce
(Like Isaiah)
Liberation
From oppression
By powers imperial.
Like lambs among wolves
Like monks
With begging bowls,
They healed and proclaimed
God’s Great Cleanup
Of a world
Infested by demonic
Imperial oppressors.

And it worked!
Every one of those 72
Cast out evil spirits
Just like Yeshua.
(Despite powerful opposition
And crucifixion.)

Conclusion

Today’s readings should awaken those attracted by right-wing replacement theories. The selections call for a shift of blame for job loss and low wages from capitalism’s victims (both here and abroad) – from non-males, people of color, women, and immigrants. Instead, we’re reminded, blame for replacement belongs to the dysfunctional system that impoverishes all but the imperialists and regime change artists themselves.

In other words, the Great Replacer is the deregulated capitalist system of globalization that victimizes all concerned. The vilification of immigrants, people of color, and women is meant to distract us from that fact.

Today’s readings remind us that it has always been thus. Ancient Israel under the Babylonians and Yeshua’s Palestine under the Romans both had their governments replaced by imperialists. The result was predictable: impoverishment of empire’s victims, rebellion, and revolution.

In sum, the liturgy of the word for this 14th Sunday in ordinary time represents a prophetic reminder that imperialism and regime change despite their banal normalcy are not part of our Great Parents’ plan. The readings call us to join a band like Yeshua’s 72 emissaries who accepted, proclaimed, and lived according to the New Order the Master envisioned – a borderless world with no despised outgroups, but with room and abundance for everyone.

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.

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.

“Game of Thrones”: Belated Theological Reflections

I’m probably the last person in “America” to finally watch the fantastically popular video series “Game of Thrones” which concluded in 2019. But that’s what I’ve done over the last month. In a very belated effort (initially at least) to see what all the fuss was about, I watched all 73 episodes.

Like most others, I was hooked from the get-go.

However, because of my peculiar theological background, the whole thing moved my octogenarian self far beyond any superficial desire for cultural literacy. It turned my thought squarely to what many still call “God.”

I mean the behavior of those playing the violent, sadistic game of musical thrones greatly resembled that of the God I and most others in the “Christian” west were taught to believe in. That’s because the dominant understandings of God as king, judge, condemner, and punisher were solidified precisely during the period depicted in the HBO series.

Let me show you what I mean by first briefly recalling what viewers saw on “Game of Thrones,” and then adding what the series revealed about medieval ideas of God. Finally, allow me to describe the alternative suggested by the insights of modern science – of quantum physics in particular.   

My hope in doing this is to bring back from the dead a version of the divine that I at least find more worthy of belief, and helpful (if not necessary) to the project of saving the planet. The resurrected belief also holds promise of redeeming the rest of us from our age-old habit of unquestioning acquiescence while our “betters” repeat with impunity the atrocities depicted on HBO.

Game of Thrones

But first some reminders of what most of us witnessed in the series. It treated us all to kings, lords, and ladies beheading, castrating, and inflicting other forms of torture including skinning victims alive.

Then there were the endless swordfights and battlefield massacres – the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of armed men (and a few women) including spectacular giants, armored soldiers, terrifying ghosts, assaulting castles of various descriptions – wildly setting fires, swinging long knives, daggers, hammers, spears, and scythes, or launching flaming cannonballs, and shooting hundreds of arrows in deadly unison. Fire breathing dragons joined the mayhem to devastating effect.

Significantly, it was all, well, “biblical” in scope and carnage.  

Even closer to the topic at hand, viewers witnessed supposed spiritual masters, witches, and military hierarchs supporting compulsory celibacy, slavery, shaming of women, and a sometimes-prudish morality also enforced by torture and death, along with solitary confinement to dungeons where prisoners were starved, and subjected to insistent commands to “confess.”

And the reactions of both palace officials and commoners to all of it? Apart from the Wildlings or Free Peoples, the universal response was blind obedience. Everybody but the Wildlings accorded to the royal classes absolute power even if orders given were foolish, cruel, selfish, suicidal, sadistic, genocidal, lustful, or completely demeaning. Everything was justified for the sake of “the realm.” Child sacrifice? “Yes, your grace, as you wish.”   

Thrones and God

My point here is that all those medieval practices shaped western ideas of God who ends up being seen primarily as a potentate just like the ones in “Game of Thrones” – or in the Bible. As such he (sic) emerged for western believers primarily as a king, a legislator, judge, condemner, and punisher. God ended up being a torturer too. According to resultant doctrine, he was prepared to commit to an eternal lake of fire (hell) unconfessed sinners who (for Catholics at least) ate meat on Friday, did anything sexual outside of marriage, or even missed Mass on Sunday.

Not only that but, according to the extremely influential Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), one of the principal delights of those lucky enough to “get to heaven” would be their witnessing the torments of those tortured in hell. They’d take great pleasure in observing the agony of others.

To that point, here’s what Aquinas said: “In order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to perfectly see the sufferings of the damned …” [Summa Theologica, Third Part, Supplement, Question XCIV, “Of the Relations of the Saints Towards the Damned,” First Article]

It’s no wonder then that so many Christians accept torture on the one hand, but on the other have left aside unacceptable theological convictions straight out of Kings’ Landing, Winterfell, and the Seven Kingdoms depicted in “Game of Thrones.”

Problem is that the removal of such beliefs has confined us to a meaningless world in terms of life’s transcendent dimensions. And it apparently has done little to make us less obedient subjects of the realm.   

A Quantum Alternative

Despite everything however, at least according to the Pew Research Center, 90% of Americans retain belief in some sort of Higher Power, though not always in the God of the Bible. But if “God” is neither that deity described by the bloodier passages in the sacred scripture, nor the eternal torturer celebrated by Thomas Aquinas, what is left to believe in?

It’s here that quantum physics might offer some help. I mean, even those only marginally acquainted with the subject know that contemporary physicists see everything in the universe not as ultimately solid objects, but as packages of light waves – of energy.

Such understanding suggests not only that in a very real sense all of us form a single substance united with each other and with everything that exists – with animals, plants, minerals, soil, air, and water. All of it expresses the same energy, including that of consciousness. In some sense then, everything is united and aware. All reality is one.

Scientific insights like those suggest a Ground of Being who might be described simply as the sum of all the energy in the universe and in the universe of universes of which our solar system is an infinitesimal part. That unfathomable quantum would include, of course, the energy of consciousness. It might even be addressed personally as a Thou. It finds incarnation in each of our apparently solid bodies.

Such realizations have salutary consequences. That is, if we are one with each other, with the natural world, and ultimately with the one we used to call “God,” then wars, borders, and us-and-them thinking of any type should find no place among any but the psychopathically insane.

Moreover, the wisdom of one of the world’s great prophets, Jesus of Nazareth, who instructed us to “Love your neighbor as yourself” becomes evident. Our neighbor is everyone. And everyone is our Self. There is no real distinction, no real separation among us. Loving one’s neighbor makes sense because one’s neighbor is in fact oneself.

Conclusion  

I suppose what I’m saying is that my binge watching of “Game of Thrones” helped me better understand firstly where our ideas of a sadistic god come from. Secondly, it made clear why so many of us have abandoned belief in that God. We can’t any longer accept a deity who acts as cruelly and arbitrarily as King Robert, Cersei, Joffrey, Ramsey Bolton, or Daenerys. 

Thirdly, and even more importantly, such rejection yields practical conclusions that might save us from the insanities of our contemporary political powers whose slaughters, genocides, ecocides – their omnicides – massively eclipse anything depicted in “Game of Thrones.” I’m thinking of modern weapons of war even well below civilization-ending nuclear weapons. So many of them make the fire breathing dragons and “Game of Thrones” massacres look like children’s pets.

And finally, all of this suggests resistance on the part of citizens like us. I mean, when you think about it, we’re not much different from those commoner subjects of the kings and royalty depicted in “Game of Thrones.” “Nuclear war, Mr. President? As you wish, your grace.”

I mean, most of us stand quite ready to turn off our rationality and consciousness and proceed to sacrifice our children and ourselves at the whim of those whose words and actions reveal them to be psychopathic and quite stupid.

It’s time we realize our “kings’” lunatic nature and deny them any authority whatsoever.  The revolution against the medieval mindset of “Game of Thrones” is still incomplete.