On the Brink of Apocalypse: Lock Him Up (and Obama & Hillary too)

Readings for 1st Sunday ofAdvent: Jer. 33:14-16; Ps. 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14; 1 Thes. 3: 12-4:2; Lk. 21:25-28, 34-35 

We’re standing on the brink of Apocalypse. I don’t mean the end of the world. I’m talking about the end of empire.

That’s the point I tried to make here two weeks ago, when our Sunday liturgies began featuring apocalyptic readings from both the Jewish and Christian Testaments. That’s what the biblical literary form “Apocalypse” is about– not the end of the world, but the end of empire.

Apocalypse is resistance literature, written in code during times of extreme persecution by powerful imperial forces like Greece and Rome. The code was understandable to “insiders” familiar with Jewish scripture. It was impenetrable to “outsiders” like the persecutors of the authors’ people.

In our own case, all the provocations of apocalyptic rebellion are there. Our country is following faithfully in the footsteps of the biblical empires against which apocalypse was written: Egypt, Assyria, the Medes and Persians, Babylon, Greece, and Rome.

To say it unambiguously: Our government is headed by gangsters pure and simple. It’s as if Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Nero, Caligula, Domitian –or Al Capone – were in charge. All of them (Trump, Obama, the Clintons, and the Bushes) should be in jail. In fact, as Chomsky has pointed out every single post-WWII U.S. president from Truman and Eisenhower to Carter, Reagan, the Bushes, Clinton, Obama, and Donald Trump has been guilty of crimes that contradict the Nuremberg Principles. The only policy difference between Donald Trump and his immediate predecessors is that he’s blatantly shameless in owning his criminalities.

Here’s what Chomsky has said:

To clarify Chomsky’s point, here’s a short list of our current president’s most recent atrocities. He has the country:

  • Fighting perpetual and internationally illegal wars against at least five sovereign nations. Count them: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen . . . without any sign of ending. (The genocidal war in Yemen has caused a cholera epidemic and will soon have 14 million people starving to death. Can anyone tell me why we’re in Yemen??)
  • Refusing to recognize the validity of a CIA report identifying Mohammed bin Salman as the Mafia Don who ordered the beheading and dismembering of a correspondent for a major U.S. newspaper.
  • Similarly soft-pedaling the climate-change findings of the government’s own scientific panel predicting the devastating effects of climate change for our economy, country, and species including, of course, our children and grandchildren.
  • Spending billions modernizing a nuclear weapons arsenal, while our cities’ bridges, roads, and other infrastructure disintegrate before our eyes.
  • Insisting on wasting billions building a wall along our southern border instead of sea-walls, dykes and levies along our country’s coasts.
  • Following Obama and Hillary Clinton by backing a narco-government in Honduras that has become a street gang making huge profits from the addictions of U.S. citizens while directly producing the immigrants and refugees Trump identifies as our enemies.
  • Using chemical weapons against the resulting caravan of women and children seeking refuge at our southern border and justifying it in a way that would be trumpeted as a casus belli were the perpetrator’s name Bashar al-Assad instead of Donald J. Trump.  

All of that is relevant to today’s liturgical reading, because (as I’ve said) this is the third week in a row that the lectionary has given us readings from apocalyptic literature.

As I indicated, apocalypse differs from ordinary prophecy in that it addresses periods of deep crisis, when the whole world appears to be falling apart. Neither prophets nor apocalyptics were fortunetellers. Instead, they were their days’ social critics. They warned of the disastrous consequences that inevitably follow from national policies that deviate from God’s will – i.e. from policies that harm God’s favorites: widows, orphans, immigrants, the poor – and (we might add) the planet itself.

When Luke was writing his gospel around the year 85 of the Common Era, Jerusalem had been completely destroyed by the Romans in the Jewish War (64-70 CE). The Romans had brutally razed the city and the temple that had been rebuilt after the Babylonian Exile. For Jews that was something like the Death of God, for the Holy City and its Temple were considered God’s dwelling place. The event was apocalyptic.

In today’s gospel, Luke has Jesus predicting that destruction using specifically apocalyptic language. Luke’s Jesus says “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

What can such apocalyptic message mean in our own day faced as we are with a false crisis stemming from U.S. policies in Central America in general and in Honduras in particular that identify the poorest people in the world as the causes of our problems instead of climate chaos and narco-kleptocrats?

Yes, the immigrant crisis is a mere distraction – a completely human and remediable fabrication caused by U.S. policy. Meanwhile, the real threat to our planet is the threat of nuclear war and the environmental cliff that our “leaders” refuse to address. And who’s responsible for that crisis?

Prominent religious leaders would have us believe it’s God. He (sic) is punishing us for opening borders to the poor, for Roe v. Wade, for legalizing same sex marriages, or for allowing women access to contraception. Let’s face it: that’s nonsense. It turns Jesus’ embodiment of the God of love on its head. It turns God into a pathological killer – a cruel punishing father like too many of our own dads.

The real culprit preventing us from addressing climate change is our government. Our elected politicians are truly in the pockets of Big Oil, the Banksters, narco-criminals and other fiscal behemoths whose eyes are fixed firmly on short-term gains, even if it means their own children and grandchildren will experience environmental apocalypse.

What I’m saying is that this government has no validity. How dare a small group of climate-change Philistines take it upon themselves to decide the fate of the entire planet in the face of overwhelming evidence contradicting their stupidity?

It all has me wondering when our fellow peasants who don’t share Jesus’ commitment to non-violence will get out their pitchforks and storm the White House and other seats of government.

Remember: It was Thomas Jefferson who advised periodic revolution. He said: “What country before ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. . . The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”

Hondurans “Crossing Over” into the United States Are Today’s “Hebrews”: They Are God’s Chosen People!

Refugee Caravan

Readings for 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Jer. 31:7-9; Ps. 126: 1-6; Heb. 5:1-6; Mk. 10: 46-52

Today’s Gospel reading centralizes spiritual blindness and the nature of the cure Jesus offers. By extension, it provides perspective on the caravan of more than 6000 Central Americans (mostly Hondurans) currently approaching our southern border.

True: on the surface, the episode is simply about Jesus working yet another miracle – this time for the sightless beggar called Bartimaeus. However, in reality the story represents two fundamental biblical paradigms — one describes the true nature of conversion. The other identifies God’s “Chosen People.”

Let me unpack all of that.

Begin by recalling the relevant story as written by Mark.

A blind man is sitting by the roadside. His garment is spread out on the ground before him. The cloak invites passers-by to throw a coin on its fabric. Bartimaeus hears that Jesus is near accompanied by a large crowd. So, he cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!”

Jesus’ followers try to shut the man up. But the beggar won’t hear of it. He shouts even louder, “JESUS HAVE PITY ON ME!”

Finally, Jesus hears the blind man’s voice over the crowd’s din. He calls him over. The man jumps up and throws aside his garment (his only source of income). [In other words, unlike the Rich Young Man Mark presented two weeks ago (MK 10:17-30), this specifically poor man has no trouble renouncing everything he has and confronting the Master empty-handed.]

So, Jesus asks, “What would you have me do?”

The man responds, “I want to see!” Jesus replies, “Your faith has saved you.” So, the blind man is given sight. He then follows Jesus “on the way” of non-violent compassion.

Bartimaeus, then, is a model of conversion.

In performing this wonder, Jesus was acting as compassion itself. As a prophet, he was following in the footsteps of Jeremiah whose words we read in this morning’s first reading. There Jeremiah was a spokesperson for a God announcing good news specifically to women, their children, the exiled, blind, and lame. As today’s readings from the Book of Psalms recalls, that God makes such people’s dreams come true, and turns their tears to laughter, not to guilt and shame.

And that brings me to the Honduran Caravan presently approaching our borders. They say that this caravan of more than 6000 people, mostly from Honduras, constitutes the largest mass exodus we’ve ever seen in this hemisphere.

When I say “Exodus,” I’m choosing my words carefully. The word is loaded, as it recalls the key Jewish Testament paradigm I mentioned earlier. The word reminds us of the original “Exodus,” when a motley horde of slaves stormed the borders of what we now call Palestine.

For Jews today, that first Exodus was the beginning of Hebrew history. In fact, the word Hebrew means the people who cross-over or pass through. Again, that refers to the origins of the ones who thought of themselves as The People of God – as God’s chosen ones. According to their tradition, the Hebrew refugees were God’s chosen ones — God’s favorites.

The Cross-Over People were seeking land. They thought of themselves as on a divinely-inspired mission to take possession of acreage from those who had too much of it. The refugee-invaders believed that the earth belongs to God, and that God’s intention is a world with room for everyone – not just for those who have sufficient resources to claim ownership of the Great Commons God created.

However, such claims made no difference to rich Canaanite landowners. Like many today, they had appropriated the Great Commons as their own. And in doing so (at least according to the Cross-Over People) they transgressed God’s fundamental intention.

As would-be followers of Jesus, self-proclaimed Christians (as well as all Jews) should be the first to recognize and welcome today’s Cross-Over People as contemporary Hebrews.

Moreover, in the case of Hondurans, we should be clear in drawing connections between our government’s oppressive policies that have created the conditions the Hondurans desire to escape. Our government has treated them the way the Egyptian Pharaohs treated their Hebrew slaves. To wit, remember:

• The decades-long support of the United Brands (now Chiquita) Banana company against workers seeking higher wages and better living conditions.
• The wars waged by the U.S. in Central America all during the 1980s.
• The Central American Trade Agreement (CAFTA) that disemployed small farmers and removed protections from workers throughout the region and in Honduras specifically.
• The United States-supported military overthrow of the democratically elected Honduran government in 2009
• U.S. support of the current Honduran president who was elected in a fraudulent election.

With all of this in mind, our prayer today should be, “Lord, I want to see. Help me to ignore those (including those claiming to be your followers) who would shut me up. Lord, let me hear instead the voices of the poor, the widows, orphans, and refugees. Cure my blindness to the true identity of your people. Help me to voice my fearless support for the Honduran refugees.”