A Biblical Warning about Stable Geniuses Like Solomon (&DJT)

Readings for 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time: I Kings 3:5, 7-12; Psalms 119: 57, 72-77, 127-130; Romans 8: 28-30; Matthew 13: 44-52  

Do you ever wonder how those claiming to be Christian can support rich billionaires like Donald Trump and those with whom he’s surrounded himself? How can they vote for those who would deprive them of health care, and give tax breaks to the already super-rich, especially when such policies end up being funded by cut-backs in programs that benefit non-billionaires like themselves — programs like Medicare, Medicaid and environmental protection?

Today’s liturgy of the word suggests an answer. It presents us with what Chilean scripture scholar, Pablo Richard, calls the “Battle of the Gods.” The conflict embodies contrasting ideas about the nature of God and God’s order as found within the Bible itself – as well as in today’s “America.”

One concept of God belonged to the rich such as Israel’s Kings, David and Solomon – ancient analogues of Donald Trump and his friends. The other belonged to the poor who surrounded Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth. They were working people like you and me, along with n’er-do-wells: the unemployed, poorly paid, sick, disabled, and underemployed. Many were houseless street people and working girls. To them Jesus embodied and spoke of a God unrecognizable to David, Solomon, or today’s right wing.

The contrast emerges as today’s readings juxtapose the dream of Solomon, the representative par excellence of Israel’s 1% in our first reading, over against Jesus’ own words about the contrasting nature of God’s Kingdom in today’s Gospel selection.

Here are my “translations” of this Sunday’s selections. Check them out here to see if I’ve got them right.

I Kings 3:5, 7-12: So, the wily king David’s son, Solomon, had a convenient “dream” which proved him every bit as clever as his old man. In it, (as he told his fawning court historian) the new king successfully requested from God not riches or triumph over his enemies but understanding and judgment that would distinguish him as the wisest man ever. (Sounds very like a “stable genius,” wouldn’t you say?)

Psalms 119: 57, 72-77, 127-130: Would that we could believe such testimony on the part of self-serving politicians like king Solomon. It would mean that they actually preferred God’s wisdom to their own – God’s law over money. They would be compassionate rather than cruel, value truth over propaganda, and honor wisdom from below rather than the court ideologies of sycophants on the make.

Romans 8: 28-30: How different from the prophet Jesus. As a poor man himself, he was genuinely good, loved God and actually manifested true divine wisdom. We are all called to be like him – not like the always self-congratulatory royals.

Matthew 13: 44-52: However, accepting Jesus’ message calls for complete buy-in – for total commitment. It’s a pearl of great price. It demands wise discernment in choosing between the good and the bad, the old and the new. Making the wrong choice can be disastrous – though (pace, St. Matthew) never finally so.

Notice in that final reading how Jesus calls his would-be followers to a profound paradigm shift – away from one that lionized the imperial order to a divine kingdom in in which the poor prosper. The former was embodied not only in the Roman empire of Jesus’s day, but in Israel itself. Its leaders a thousand years earlier had hijacked the Mosaic Covenant that contradicted their New Imperial World Order.

In today’s first reading Solomon’s court historians mask the hijacking by predictably identifying their employer as “the wisest man ever,” just as before him they had identified Solomon’s cruel and womanizing father, David, as “a man after God’s own heart.” In this royally stolen form, the Covenant connected God and the royal family. It assured a royal dynasty that would last “forever.” It guaranteed God’s blessings on Solomon’s expansionistic policies.

The covenantal truth was much different. In its original Mosaic form (as opposed to the Davidic bastardization), the Covenant joined Yahweh (Israel’s only King) and escaped slaves – poor people all – threatened by royalty and their rich cronies.

The Covenant’s laws celebrated in today’s responsorial psalm protected the poor from those perennial antagonists.  For instance, “Thou shalt not steal,” was originally addressed to large land-owners intent on appropriating the garden plots belonging to subsistence agriculturalists.

Despite such prohibitions, those who established Israel’s basic laws knew the power of money. The rich would inevitably absorb the holdings of the poor as did David and Solomon. So, Israel’s pre-monarchical leaders established the world’s oldest “confiscatory tax.” It was called the “Jubilee Year” which mandated that every 50 years all debts would be forgiven and land would be returned to its original (poor) owners.

The advent of a Jubilee Year represented the substance of Jesus’ basic proclamation. No wonder the poor loved him. No wonder the refrain we sang together this morning repeated again and again, “Lord I love your commands.” That’s the refrain of the 99% locked in life-and-death struggle with the rich 1% represented by Solomon and his court.

In today’s Gospel selection, Jesus indicates the radical swerve necessary for establishing God’s kingdom understood in Jubilee terms. It involves “selling all you have” and buying into the Kingdom concept as if it were buried treasure or a pearl of great price.

That’s the kingdom – the world order we’re asked to believe in, champion, and work to introduce. It’s what the world would be like if God – not David or Solomon – were king.

In our own country, it’s what “America” would be like if our politics were shaped by God’s “preferential option for the poor,” instead of Mr. Trump’s preferential option for his dear 1%.

The Most Revealing Take-Away from the Nevada Debate: Our Problems Have Been Solved

Readings for Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time: Leviticus 19: 1-2, 17-18; Psalms: 103: 1-13; 1st Corinthians: 3: 16-23; 1 JN 2:5; Matthew 5: 38-48

Last week’s Democratic debate was the most interesting and revealing yet. And we have Mike Bloomberg to thank for that. His tone-deaf buffoonery was stunning and just happens to be intimately connected with this Sunday’s liturgical readings.

Taken together, the readings and Bloomberg’s performance show us that all the problems addressed in the debate have already been solved – especially that of religiously inspired terrorism despite its not being addressed in last Wednesday’s “show.”

I say all that because today’s selections contrast the foolish wisdom of the world (embodied in billionaires like Bloomberg) with the contradictory visions of Moses and Jesus the Christ who are prophets not just for Christians and Jews, but for Muslims as well. As such, their words call us to recognize our absolute unity with our neighbors, and to reject entirely the Bloombergian separative thinking of the world. What we do to others, the readings tell us, we do to ourselves.

But before we get to that, let’s recall what happened on Wednesday. 

As far as I was concerned, the most instructive moment came not when Mr. Bloomberg declined to release women from their non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). It wasn’t even when he arrogantly joked about the inability of TurboTax to help determine his annual attempts at gargantuan tax evasion.

No, it came in a throw-away line in his exchange with Elizabeth Warren about her proposed “two-cent wealth tax.” Almost as an aside, he said something like, “Well, of course I don’t agree with Senator Warren’s tax proposal.” He then went on to make another of his monumentally vacuous non-points.

I only wish one of the moderators or debaters had followed up: “What exactly is your objection to a two-cent tax? Would it somehow diminish your lifestyle or impoverish you?”

Bernie Sanders came closest to asking that question when he raised the issue of capitalism’s immorality. He observed:

“We have a grotesque and immoral distribution of wealth and income. Mike Bloomberg owns more wealth than the bottom 125 million Americans. That’s wrong. That’s immoral. That should not be the case when we got a half a million people sleeping out on the street, where we have kids who cannot afford to go to college, when we have 45 million people dealing with student debt. We have enormous problems facing this country, and we cannot continue seeing a situation where, in the last three years, billionaires in this country saw an $850 billion increase in their wealth — congratulations, Mr. Bloomberg — but the average American last year saw less than a 1 percent increase in his or her income. That’s wrong.”

There, Bernie said it: capitalism is a highly immoral system. No Jewish prophet; not Moses, not even Jesus of Nazareth could have said it better.  We have the money – unlimited resources – to solve the world’s problems. However, those resources remain locked up in the vaults of the world’s 2000 billionaires. Fact is: their living standards would not be lowered by Warren’s 2% tax. Mr. Bloomberg’s lifestyle would even be unaffected if billionaires like him were outlawed altogether and if as a result, he lost 49.1 billion of his 50-billion-dollar bank account.

Yet, those resources (along with similar confiscations from other billionaires) could absolutely eliminate our material problems not merely in the United States, but throughout the entire world. Despite that undeniable fact, the billionaires and their kept allies refuse to entertain even the possibility of such taxation.

Could anything demonstrate more clearly the immorality of the reigning system?

In other words, the super-rich and corporate “persons” along with their servants in the mainstream media, and in the United States Congress prevent us from seeing that the solutions to the world’s problems are already here and staring us in the face. Yes, the world’s major problems have already been solved!

And I’m not just talking about correcting wealth inequality through confiscatory tax rates on the world’s billionaires. I’m also referring to “problems” like immigration, Medicare for all, free college tuition, forgiveness of college loans, the $15.00 an hour minimum wage, the Green New Deal, world peace, and especially (in the light of today’s readings) terrorism. To repeat: all of those problems (and more) have already been solved. It’s just that the prevailing received wisdom prevents us from recognizing it.

Consider the issues just mentioned one-by-one and how they’ve already been effectively addressed:

  • Immigration: The United States, Canada, and Australia prove that nations made up almost entirely of immigrants (most of them poor at the beginning) cannot only survive but thrive. There is nothing to fear from even the poorest of immigrants. Virtually all of us are descended from such outsiders. Why not make it as easy for immigrants to enter our country today as it was when our parents, grandparents or great grandparents came over? It’s already been done.
  • Medicare for all: Publicly funded healthcare has outperformed (and at much lower cost) the U.S. privately funded system in every industrialized country. The same has happened in the U.S. itself in the form of Medicare, Medicaid, and as plans provided by the Veterans’ Health Administration, and by those extended to U.S. legislators. Medicare for All merely expands already proven systems. There is no need to reinvent the wheel.
  • Free College Tuition: We already have publicly funded elementary and high schools. Why not extend that funding to public colleges and universities? Mr. Bloomberg’s billions could take care of that.
  • College Loan Forgiveness: Michael Hudson has shown that periodic debt forgiveness has been an engine of economic growth since ancient times. It was even enshrined and required in the Hebrew Testament (Leviticus 25: 8-13) as well as centralized in Jesus’ preaching (Luke 4: 19). Moreover, billionaires (like Messrs. Bloomberg and Trump) declare bankruptcy all the time. Why exclude students from such relief?
  • Minimum Wage: A $15-dollar-an-hour minimum wage is already a fact in Seattle, New York, in the Amazon workforce, and elsewhere. It provenly works to raise working class living standards.
  • Green New Deal: In the 1930s FDR’s New Deal fundamentally changed the economic landscape of the United States including (for the first time) a minimum wage, unemployment insurance, social security, and a government jobs program employing millions. The result was the creation of a large, previously non-existent prosperous middle class. Similar even more robust programs were enacted throughout Western Europe even though its infrastructure had been devastated by the Second Inter-Capitalist War. In other words, the Green New Deal is not unprecedented. Its suggested provisions are affordable and have highly successful and popular precedents.
  • World Peace: Think about it. Current crises with Iraq, Korea, Russia, China, Iran, Syria and elsewhere have been manufactured — absolutely pulled out of the air. None of those countries represent mortal threat to the United States. And in any case, the tools for resolving international conflicts already exist under the auspices of the United Nations. Those who routinely ignore those tools and associated laws are not our “enemies,” but ourselves and our “allies.” “We” are the agents who employ force, sanctions, droning, and bombing as a first resort rather than observe international law and UN procedures for avoiding international conflict. Our merely observing international law would represent a giant step towards world peace.

But, of course, the wisdom of the world denies all of the above. It would convince us that reform is without precedent, that those proposing it are radicals, and that their proposals are unrealistic and impossible to implement. They would even have us believe that Bloombergian and Trumpian wealth based on individualism, competition, and separateness are somehow compatible with the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Today’s readings make the opposite point and condemn as heretical such received wisdom. Instead, the readings emphasize the unity of humankind and the need to reject the world’s ideology.

And that’s where the connection with terrorism comes in. The fact is that the world’s leading terrorists are religiously motivated Jews, Christians and Muslims. Yet, all three accept the Bible as inspired. All three recognize Moses and Jesus as hallowed prophets. All three claim to endorse the basic teachings of those prophets as contained in today’s readings. Such convergence represents a basis for eliminating terrorism far more powerful than bombs, drones or boots on the ground.

To see what I mean, please consider today’s readings in my translated form. (And do check them out here to see if I have them right.) They describe the basis for replacing armed conflict with peaceful religious dialog.

Leviticus 19: 1-2, 17-18: Moses called Yahweh’s people to divine holiness outlawing all hatred, grudges and any type of revenge. All such animosity, he warned, ultimately equates with self-hatred.

Psalms: 103: 1-13 This is because God’s very essence is kindness, compassion, generosity, and unbounded forgiveness.

1st Corinthians: 3: 16-23:And that essence is ours too. Hence, destroying another person represents an attack not only on God but on our Selves. Such profound wisdom is 180 degrees opposed to the world’s foolhardy “savoir faire.” Therefore, accepting Jesus means rejecting received wisdom.

1 JN 2:5:  In other words, following Jesus’ teaching (and btw the Buddha’s, Mohammed’s, Krishna’s, Lao Tzu’s, and that of history’s great humanists) is the only way of pleasing God

Matthew 5: 38-48: More specifically, the world teaches eye for eye revenge, retaliation two for one, suing at the drop of a hat, suspicion of borrowers and beggars, and hatred of enemies. However, (along with Moses) Jesus counsels exactly the opposite: gentleness, generosity, having no enemies at all, loving even those who cause us pain, recognition that all are neighbors loved equally by the One whose sun and rain benefit everyone without distinction. Yes, our neighbor (including “enemies”) is our very Self!

Can you see how the wisdom expressed in those readings provide a basis for dialog rather than for armed conflict between Jews, Christians, and Muslims? Can you see how rejecting the “wisdom of the world” reveals that the world’s most pressing problems have already been solved? None of them is new, unprecedented, or insoluble.

It’s time for Jews, Christians, and Muslims to unite in a shared project that opens everyone’s eyes to those facts. It’s time to expropriate the Bloombergs, Trumps and their corporate allies who deny solutions that are absolutely staring everyone in the face.  

Pete Buttigieg & Fake “Good News” About Jesus’ Poverty

Readings for Holy Family Sunday: SIR 3:2-6, 12-14; PS 128: 1-2, 3, 4-5; COL 3: 12-21;NT 2: 13-15, 19-23

Last week Pete Buttigieg annoyed white Evangelicals by calling attention to Jesus’ poverty.

As reported in The Washington Post, his Christmas tweet read: “Today I join millions around the world celebrating the arrival of divinity on earth, who came into this world not in riches but in poverty, not as a citizen but as a refugee. No matter where or how we celebrate, merry Christmas.”

In response, many mostly white evangelicals went apoplectic.  “Jesus was not poor,” they countered. “And he certainly was not one of those despicable refugees. At his birth, his parents were simply obeying imperial law by returning to Joseph’s town of origin.  Bethlehem just happened to have all its rooms filled with similar obedient taxpayers. So even though Joseph and Mary were quite capable of paying, their hotel bill, they had to accept an overnight stay in a smelly, rodent-infested stable. Which of us wouldn’t do the same?”

__________

The next day, when we discussed the controversy over breakfast, my daughter asked, “What’s the big deal? Why do those people care so much?”

I answered, “It’s because if Jesus was poor and a refugee from state violence, the whole anti-poor, anti-refugee program of the Republican Party is nullified at least from the standpoint of faith.” It means for instance that:

  • When they support Donald Trump’s exclusion of immigrants and refugees at the U.S. border, Republicans are really excluding the modern-day equivalents of Jesus, his mother and father as depicted in today’s Gospel selection. There, the Jewish King Herod’s planned slaughter of innocent babies drives Joseph and Mary to flee to Egypt with their new son. In other words, the Holy Family sought refugee status in Egypt.
  • Republicans are refusing to recognize Jesus’ later specific identification with such emigrants, when in the clearest representation of final judgment (MT 25), he says, “Whatever you do to the least of the brethren (i.e. the hungry, thirsty, immigrants (“strangers”), the sick and imprisoned), you do to me.” Those words absolutely identify Jesus with the categories of people just mentioned – all of them impoverished.
  • Jesus advised his followers that they themselves must become poor (MT 19:21).  He’s remembered as telling them “. . . sell what you have, give it to the poor, and come follow me.” (Would Jesus recommend poverty to his followers and remain un-poor himself?)
  • The earliest Christian communities took literally Jesus’ injunction about becoming poor. In the Acts of the Apostles we read, “There were no needy ones among them, because those who owned lands or houses would sell their property, bring the proceeds from the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet for distribution to anyone as he had need.” That is, the earliest Christians’ desire to follow Jesus drove them to imitate his lowly social status.
  • Jesus described his entire mission as directed towards the poor. He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Even more, as economist Michael Hudson points out in his monumental And Forgive Them Their Debts, Jesus’ programmatic reference to the “year of the Lord’s favor” points to the Jewish Jubilee Year. “Jubilee” was the biblically mandated period when all debts were to be forgiven and land returned to its original (mostly poor) owners. Hudson points out that such debt forgiveness was practiced throughout the ancient mid-east. It was more general than a biblical mandate.

According to Hudson, when new leaders acceded to the throne, they created a clean slate. All debts were forgiven. The corresponding legislation in the Book of Deuteronomy had Israel following suit.

Jesus’ “Good News” to the poor was that (following Deuteronomy) their debts needed forgiveness. Inevitably, that demand was understood by all concerned (especially by Rome’s imperialists and their puppet clients in Jerusalem’s temple) as a highly threatening call to social justice. (Can you see how that understanding of Jesus’ Good News Gospel would be similarly threatening to Republicans while at the same time encouraging Democrats seeking relief for debt -crushed students?)

As I told my daughter, that’s why it’s important to evangelical Trumpists that Jesus not be a poor man himself, that he not be an advocate for the poor, or that he not be a refugee. The contrary calls everything Republicans stand for into question. It makes Donald Trump, his exclusion of refugees, and his baby jails eerily similar to King Herod as depicted in today’s final reading.

__________

But everything I’ve said so far overlooks an even deeper point that I developed in my Christmas reflections last Wednesday. My point there was that the “infancy narratives” (found only in Luke and Matthew) constitute what biblical scholars for the last century and more have recognized as Midrash and Haggadah. That is, following rabbinic tradition, these accounts represent fictional stories based on readings of the Jewish Testament and intended to make a theological point.

And in the case of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents and the Holy Family’s seeking refugee status in Egypt, Matthew’s theological point for his specifically Jewish audience (vs. Luke’s gentile readers) is that Jesus is the New Israel. As such, he relives his people’s early history. [And that entire history from its very beginning (and repeated in its occupation of Palestine in 1948) is that of a refugee people – refugees from Pharaoh’s enslavement to Hitler’s genocide and ubiquitous anti-Semitism.] We might even say that the Jewish Testament’s very message (reiterated in the case of Jesus) is that REFUGEES ARE GOD’S CHOSEN PEOPLE.

Put otherwise, the story of the Holy Family’s “Flight into Egypt” is far more than a rabbinic riff on Moses’s escape from the slaughter of Hebrew children under the Egyptian pharaoh 1200 years earlier. It actually has Jesus:

  • Begin is life, like the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in “The Promised Land”
  • Go down into Egypt to escape disaster
  • Leave Egypt
  • Spend 40 days in the desert (recapitulating Israel’s 40 years there)
  • Like Moses, dispense a New Law (i.e. the Beatitudes)
  • Precisely on a mountain (the analogue of Mt Zion) — as opposed to Luke’s location of the same teaching “on a plain.”

In summary, and in the context of Mayor Pete’s observation about Jesus’ poverty and refugee status, the point made in today’s Gospel reading is not the relatively superficial one that Jesus was poor. By all accounts he was.

No, it’s the much deeper theological point that the earliest Christian believers (like Matthew) identified Jesus with an entire people whose very essence was their refugee status. They were enslaved, had no possessions at all, had no liberty, were completely despised by their captors, and were victims of imperialism, infanticide and even genocide.

And yet this man rejected and executed by empire ended up (according to early Christian faith) destined to rule the entire cosmos.

Could any message be more revolutionary or encouraging to the world’s refugees, immigrants, poor, victims of slavery and genocide? It’s that the future belongs to them; the world belongs to them. In God’s eyes, borders are irrelevant. God is on their side. History is on their side. They have nothing to lose but their chains!

Thanks, Mayor Pete, for starting a dialog that in this election year might help Christians recognize and embrace the real Jesus and his implications for today’s problems of poverty, state-sponsored violence, immigration, and debt.

Evidently, they are not implications Republicans care to entertain.

President Marianne Williamson?? Yes, That Miracle Can Happen!

Readings for 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time: IS 6:1-2A, 3-8; PS 138: 1-8; ICOR 15: 1-11; LK 5: 1-8

In today’s Gospel reading, we encounter Jesus’ radical message of social justice and of the abundance-for-all that results from accepting his insights. Significantly for this series on the presidential candidacy of Marianne Williamson, her program parallels that of the Master whose miraculous teaching has constituted the center of her own career for the last 30 years and more.

Before I get to that, however, allow me a word about miracles and Marianne’s presidential campaign.  

For starters, she herself is very clear about one thing: without a miracle, our country (and the world) is doomed. But that doesn’t mean her thinking is negative or pessimistic.

That’s because (and this is crucial) Marianne’s use of the term “miracle” does not reference marvels contrary to the laws of nature. Instead, her understanding of the word is something more significant even than the “miraculous” catch of fish reported in today’s Gospel reading. By miracle she means a profound change in consciousness. It’s a change in attitude from one governed by fear and guilt to an outlook inspired by love and forgiveness. As I said, without that change, we’re all finished.

Think about it. Isn’t it true that fear and guilt absolutely govern our lives? We’re taught to be very afraid of the Russians, Iranians, the Taliban, ISIS, Muslims, immigrants, climate change, nuclear holocaust, poverty, the police, gun violence, and death. And standard answers to such threats always include denial and violence in the form of war, more guns, sanctions, walls, prisons, weapons-modernization-programs, and an unlimited consumerism that has us drowning in our own waste.

In fact, it’s precisely that fearful thinking that continues to inform the candidacies of our country’s political classes (Democrats as well as Republicans). All of them except Marianne Williamson are imprisoned in old thought patterns. All of them are locked into political group think which typically dismisses Marianne’s approach as “unrealistic,” “impractical,” “inexperienced,” too idealistic.

Ignored is the fact that their own “realistic” thinking has brought us to the brink of extinction. Their “practical” consciousness has given us the war in Iraq and at least six other countries, the resulting uptick in terrorism, a planet on fire, world hunger in the face of enormous food waste, homeless populations freezing to death outside abandoned buildings, huge wealth disparities, the threat of nuclear war, more prisoners than anywhere else in the word, and a whole host of other problems.

All of those catastrophes, Marianne tells us, will remain without solution absent the miracle – absent the change in consciousness – that her campaign represents. She’s fond of quoting Einstein who said that the same kind of thinking that brought us into a crisis cannot extricate us from its predicament.

Now get ready: For Marianne, the answer to all those perceived threats is love and forgiveness. Yes, she actually dares to say that – to say what Jesus said!  But for Williamson, both love and forgiveness are understood in terms of realizing the unity of all human beings. In other words, only a switch in consciousness from seeing others as separate to envisioning humankind’s underlying unity can save us.

Can you imagine seeing ISIS, the Taliban, Muslims, immigrants, refugees, people of all races, religions and skin colors – and Mother Earth Herself – as truly related to us at an intimate level?

Actually, it’s more than that. As Marianne tells us repeatedly, “There is really only one of us here.” All those demonized groups are us. That’s the meaning of Jesus’ teaching about loving our neighbor as ourselves. Our neighbor is our self. When we hate and kill him or her, we’re hating ourselves. We’re committing suicide!

Radicality like Marianne’s is precisely what today’s liturgical readings call us to. They remind us that followers of Jesus (and about 75% of Americans claim to be that) should not shy away from love and forgiveness in the form of wealth redistribution and reparations to exploited classes. No, it’s the heart of our faith. It’s the only realistic solution to our problems, both personal and political.

Consider today’s Gospel story. According to Luke, the crowds of those following Jesus are so thick that he has to get into a boat, a little bit from shore to address the people.

Thanks to what we read from Luke two weeks ago, we know who was in the crowd and why they were so enthusiastic. They were poor people responding to Jesus’ proclamation of a Jubilee Year. (For Jews, Jubilee, “the year of the Lord’s favor,” was good news for the poor. That’s because every 50 years it called for radical wealth redistribution in Israel. Debts were forgiven, slaves were set free, harvests were left un-gleaned and land was returned to its original owners.)  

Recall that using the words of Isaiah, Luke had Jesus summarize his Jubilee message like this: “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.”  

Yes, Jubilee represented biblical law. But it was honored more in the breach than in the observance. Astoundingly, Jesus was calling for its revival. Hence the overwhelming crowd. 

Not accidentally, Isaiah’s words are a description not only of Jesus’ highly popular program, but of Marianne Williamson’s presidential agenda. It embodies Jubilee Spirit by advocating:

  • Concern for our society’s and the world’s dispossessed (Good News to the poor)
  • Prison reform (Release of captives)
  • Health care (Recovery of sight to the blind)
  • An end to neocolonial wars (Letting the oppressed go free)
  • Reparations to descendants of African slaves (Jubilee)
  • Wealth redistribution that has the rich paying their fair share (Jubilee)
  • Forgiveness of student loans (Jubilee)

Next Jesus demonstrates the counter-intuitive abundance-for-all that inevitably results when his program is implemented. He tells his friends to go out into deeper waters and cast their nets despite the fact that their previous efforts had yielded no results. [Marianne constantly stresses the need for us to “go deeper” if we’re ever to go about Healing the Soul of America (the title of the 20th anniversary edition of her 1997 book.)]

Following Jesus’ instruction, the fishermen net a catch so great that it threatens to tear their nets apart and sink both of their boats. The message: abundance is the result of following Jesus’ program prioritizing “good news to the poor.” Abundance doesn’t trickle down from the elite; it percolates up from the poor.

And, of course, that latter point is underlined by Jesus’ final words in today’s reading, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching men.” In other words, Jesus confirms his “preferential option for the poor” by selecting working class fishermen – not the rich and elite – as his first disciples.

Like Marianne Williamson (and all who miraculously overcome the fear Jesus references), Peter, James, and John leave everything (including evidently the fish they’ve just caught) and follow Jesus into the unknown.

Their audacious act, their detachment from fear, possessions, the past, and the relative wealth they’ve just attained all demonstrate their readiness for further expansions of consciousness – for further miracles.

In our own day, Marianne Williamson’s unusual presidential candidacy summons us to similar changes – to similar miracles.

Yes, it’s true: it may take a miracle to get her elected. But that’s her point. It will also take a profound change in consciousness to save our world.

Let’s work for both wonders. Let’s expect both. We desperately need to change our minds. We desperately need a woman like Marianne Williams as president.

The Battle for the Bible: What God Do You Worship, Jesus’ or Mr. Trump’s?

Early Church

Readings for Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: I KGS 3: 5, 7-12; PS 119: 57, 72, 76-77, 127-130; ROM 8: 28-30; MT 13: 44-52; http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/072714.cfm

Do you ever wonder how those claiming to be Christian can support rich billionaires like Donald Trump and those with whom he’s surrounded himself? How can they vote for those who would deprive them of health care, and give tax breaks to the already super-rich, especially when such policies end up being funded by cut-backs in programs that benefit non-billionaires like themselves — programs like Medicare, Medicaid and environmental protection?

Today’s liturgy of the word suggests an answer. It presents us with what Chilean scripture scholar, Pablo Richard, calls the “Battle of the Gods.” The conflict embodies contrasting ideas about the nature of God and God’s order as found within the Bible itself – as well as in today’s “America.”

One concept of God belonged to the rich such as Israel’s Kings, David and Solomon – ancient analogues of Donald Trump and his friends. The other belonged to the poor who surrounded Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth. They were working stiffs like you and me, along with n’er-do-wells: the unemployed, poorly-paid, sick, disabled, and underemployed. Many were homeless street people and street-walkers. To them Jesus embodied and spoke of a God unrecognizable to David, Solomon, or today’s right wing.

The contrast emerges as today’s readings juxtapose the dream of Solomon, the representative par excellence of Israel’s 1% in our first reading, over against Jesus’ own words about the contrasting nature of God’s Kingdom in today’s Gospel selection. In the latter, Jesus calls his would-be followers to a profound paradigm shift – away from one that lionized the imperial order to a divine kingdom in in which the poor prosper. The former was embodied not only in the Roman empire of Jesus’s day, but in Israel itself. Its leaders a thousand years earlier had hijacked the Mosaic Covenant that contradicted their New Imperial World Order.

In today’s first reading Solomon’s court historians mask the hijacking by predictably identifying their employer as “the wisest man ever,” just as before him they had identified Solomon’s cruel and womanizing father, David, as “a man after God’s own heart.” In this royally stolen form, the Covenant connected God and the royal family. It assured a royal dynasty that would last “forever.” It guaranteed God’s blessings on Solomon’s expansionistic policies.

The covenantal truth was much different. In its original Mosaic form (as opposed to the Davidic bastardization), the Covenant joined Yahweh (Israel’s only King) and escaped slaves – poor people all – threatened by royalty and their rich cronies.

The Covenant’s laws celebrated in today’s responsorial psalm protected the poor from those perennial antagonists.  For instance, “Thou shalt not steal,” was originally addressed to large landowners intent on appropriating the garden plots belonging to subsistence agriculturalists.

Despite such prohibitions, those who established Israel’s basic laws knew the power of money. The rich would inevitably absorb the holdings of the poor as did David and Solomon. So Israel’s pre-monarchical leaders established the world’s oldest “confiscatory tax.” It was called the “Jubilee Year” which mandated that every 50 years all debts would be forgiven and land would be returned to its original (poor) owners.

The advent of a Jubilee Year represented the substance of Jesus’ basic proclamation. No wonder the poor loved him. No wonder the refrain we sang together this morning repeated again and again, “Lord I love your commands.” That’s the refrain of the 99% locked in life-and-death struggle with the rich 1% represented by Solomon and his court.

In today’s Gospel selection, Jesus indicates the radical swerve necessary for establishing God’s kingdom understood in Jubilee terms. It involves “selling all you have” and buying into the Kingdom concept as if it were buried treasure or a pearl of great price.

That’s the kingdom – the world order we’re asked to believe in, champion, and work to introduce. It’s what the world would be like if God – not David or Solomon – were king.

In our own country, it’s what “America” would be like if our politics were shaped by God’s “preferential option for the poor,” instead of Mr. Trump’s preferential option for his dear 1%.

Jesus Calls the Rich Man to Practice Wealth Redistribution (And “Communism”)

Today’s Readings: Wis. 7:7-11; Ps. 90: 12-17; Heb. 4: 12-13; Mk. 10:17-30 (http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/101412.cfm)

On October 19th, 1998, President Barrack Obama speaking at Loyola University in Chicago said that he believed in wealth redistribution. In this campaign season, the president’s opponents have revived that statement and denounced it as “Marxist,” “socialist,” “communist” and “un-American.”  Opponents also characterized Mr. Obama’s words as inciting class warfare. Please keep that in mind as I speak.

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It is very difficult to understand Jesus’ words in today’s gospel about the impossibility of rich people entering the Kingdom of God as long as we identify that kingdom with an after-life “heaven.” If we do that, then Jesus’ words about the exclusion of the rich from God’s kingdom seem very threatening, punitive, and almost unfair – as though a severe and angry God were unreasonably excluding the rich from the eternal happiness they desire and sending them all to hell. We’re all too familiar with that understanding of God. Most of us have had enough of it.

But Jesus wasn’t a punitive person; he was compassion itself. And the focus of his preaching was never the afterlife. His reference to “heaven” in today’s gospel is a circumlocution Jews of his time used to avoid pronouncing the unspeakable holy name YHWH. The “Kingdom of Heaven” was synonymous with the Kingdom of God — a vision of what life on earth would be like if God were king instead of Caesar.

According to that vision, everything would be reversed in God’s realm. The rich would see themselves as poor; the poor would be rich; the first would be last; the last would be first. Jesus’ was a vision of a world with room for everyone – where everyone had a decent share of the pie. He knew however that getting from here to there would require wealth-redistribution and a kind of communism. Hence Jesus’ words to the rich man in today’s gospel, “Sell what you have and give it to the poor.”

Just think about what Jesus meant in Jewish biblical terms.  He was asking the rich man to join the poor in a “Jubilee Year” as mandated in the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, in his world characterized by extortionist creditors and money-lenders, in his world of extremes of wealth and poverty that “Year of Grace” became the central point of Jesus’ message.

Recall what Jubilee was. It was a divinely appointed time of wealth redistribution. Such a year occurred every fifty years (i.e. after every “seven weeks of years,” or once in a person’s lifetime). During that special year, the land was to be left fallow, slaves were to be set free, debts were to be cancelled, and land was to be returned to its original owner. This was not voluntary; it had been central to God’s law since the time of Moses as recorded in Leviticus 25:8-18. In other words, this type of communism had been essential to the Jewish tradition from the very beginning.

Jubilee was also a critical part of Jesus teaching from the outset. That’s what he was talking about in Luke’s version of Jesus’ first preaching in the synagogue of his hometown, Nazareth (Luke 4:18-19). There, using the words of Isaiah 61:1-2, he summed up the program that would characterize his entire public life: to “…proclaim release to the captives…to set at liberty those who are oppressed…to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Jesus’ proclamation of Jubilee was sanctioned in the prayer he taught his disciples: “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

Of course the rich don’t want to enter the kingdom of wealth redistribution and debt forgiveness. So they enthusiastically or sadly but almost inevitably exclude themselves. They prefer the poor enjoying pie in the sky after they die rather than here on earth. The rich don’t like wealth redistribution; they have no use for communism. So they willingly walk away from Jesus’ utopia just as the rich man did in today’s gospel. They enclose themselves in their gated communities and from their verandas judge the poor as unworthy – as their enemies instead of as God’s Chosen People. And so it’s nearly impossible for the rich to enter the Kingdom — by their own choice.

Nearly!  That is, Jesus leaves hope. When his disciples object, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus answers, “What is impossible for human beings is possible for God.”  That is, without God’s help, it is impossible for the rich to redistribute their wealth.  Jesus’ joke was that it’s about as impossible as a camel passing through the eye of a needle. Someone today might say, a rich man’s opting for wealth redistribution or communal sharing is about as unlikely as Warren Buffett squeezing through the night deposit slot in the Chase Manhattan Bank. But with God’s help, Jesus suggests, even old Warren could find the strength to actually sell his goods, give them to the poor, and follow Jesus. Metaphorically speaking, even W.B. could actually squeeze through.

Once inside, Jesus promises, the miraculous occurs: to their surprise, the rich discover that in giving all away, they end up with unlimited wealth, houses and possessions. That promise reflects the experience of the earliest Christian communities as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. There they practiced a kind of Christian communism. Or in the words of Acts:

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common . . . There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to any as had need.”  (Acts 4:32-36).

Those are the words of the Bible not of Marx or Engels. In other words the formula “from each according to his ability to each according to his need” comes straight from the Acts of the Apostles. Yet, those critical of President Obama’s statement about wealth redistribution speak as though Jesus were a champion of capitalism. It’s almost as if the passage from Acts had read:

Now the whole group of those who believed lived in fierce competition with one another, and made sure that the rights of private property were respected. They expelled from their midst any who practiced communalism. As a consequence, God’s ‘invisible hand’ brought great prosperity to some. Many however found themselves in need. The Christians responded with ‘tough love’ demanding that the lazy either work or starve. Many of the unfit, especially the children, the elderly and those who cared for them did in fact starve. Others raised themselves by their own bootstraps, and became stronger as a result. In this way, the industrious increased their land holdings and banked the profits. The rich got richer and the poor, poorer. Of course, all of this was seen as God’s will and a positive response to the teaching of Jesus.

On a world scale, most of us hearing these words are rich. Jesus’ advice to the man in today’s gospel is actually addressed to us. In order to enter the kingdom, we are called to somehow redistribute our wealth and support wealth redistribution programs. How are we to do that? Some would say by strictly voluntary “charity.” Jesus Jubilee proclamation suggests something more structural – something demanded by law.

Does that have anything to do with Warren Buffet’s idea of the rich and the rest of us paying our fair share of taxes? If used to improve the life of the poor rather than to fight wars against them, could progressive taxation represent the contemporary way of fulfilling Jesus’ injunction?

Ironically, is Warren Buffet trying to show us the way to squeeze thorough that night deposit slot? What do you think?

(Discussion follows)