U.S. Wars on Muslims Continue Even During CV-19 & BLM Uprisings

Readings for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Wisdom 12: 13, 16-19; Psalms 86: 5-6, 9-10, 15-16; Romans 8: 26-27; Matthew 13: 24-43

Despite what you might hear in church today, this Sunday’s liturgy of the word is not about the end of the world and the condemned spending eternity in endless fire. So, don’t be confused by the words Matthew puts in Jesus’ mouth about an afterlife filled with “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

No, today’s readings are much more relevant than that. They’re actually about non-violent resistance in a context of imperial aggression and war. They suggest that Americans withdraw our support for the U.S. military and from Washington’s policy of state terrorism against impoverished Muslims in the Middle East. (Need I remind us that even during the Covid-19 crisis and Black Lives Matter uprising, U.S. wars against Muslims continue unabated?)

At the same time, the day’s three parables attributed to Jesus also imply a message for Middle Eastern followers of Mohammed. Today, as the principal victims of (U.S.) imperialism, Muslims are the closest analogue to the Judeo-Christian understanding of “People of God.” So, all three readings call followers of Islam [which recognizes Isa (Jesus) as the second greatest of the prophets (after Mohammed and before Abraham)] to lay down their arms in favor of Jesus’ own non-violent resistance.

Today’s Readings

To get my meaning, begin by considering my translations of today’s exceptionally beautiful readings. As usual, you’re advised to check the originals here to see if I’ve got them right:

Wisdom 13: 13, 16-19: Our Divine Mother loves all her creatures, even unbelievers. She condemns no one. Her love is the source of justice, easy forgiveness and of human courage. Consequently, the truly powerful on earth are also merciful, lenient, gentle and kind. None of us should worry about our “sins.” They are all forgiven.

Psalms 86: 5-6, 9-10, 15-16: Yes, our Divine Mother is good, understanding and kind. So, in time of trouble, we should feel confident asking for her help. She’s the One we’re all looking for. Deep down, we all want to be like her – forgiving, graceful, patient, gentle and faithful. At our profoundest level, we are!

Romans 8: 26-27: In fact, our Mother is there even for those who don’t know how to pray. Weak, painful groanings are enough. She knows what they mean. She knows we’re trying to do our best.

Matthew 13: 24-43: Our Mother’s world is like a garden sown with radiantly beautiful flowers of all kinds and colors. However, the spiritually unevolved sow weeds of hatred and violence to ruin that splendid paradise. Don’t resist them in kind. That only makes matters worse. Instead, just tend the flowers. Our compassionate Mother will do the rest. Her power is everywhere like yeast in a loaf of bread. That knowledge should give us courage to exercise similar gentle influence everywhere.

Jesus & Nonviolent Resistance

I hope you’re able to see the call to non-violence contained in those selections. They implicitly address all victims of aggression by Americans, today’s ruling empire. This means the selections are most relevant to the Muslim community and the question whether or not (as people of The Book) they should resist their oppressors in kind – i.e. with extreme violence.

That is, Jesus’ parable of the weeds planted by an enemy in a landlord’s field can be read as addressing the Roman occupation forces encumbering Israel during Jesus’ lifetime. [According to John Dominic Crossan, Matthew’s allegorizing of Jesus’ parable – making it about the end of the world – is more reflective of the situation of the Jewish diaspora (following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE) than of the actual revolutionary situation of Jesus’ own day.]

In Jesus’ occupied Israel, the suffocating Roman presence (like our own country’s in the Middle East) was as unwelcome, alien, and destructive as weeds in a garden or field.

The question was how to deal with such odious foreign occupation. Like ISIS and others today, Zealot revolutionaries had their answer: Uproot the weeds here and now. Take up arms; assassinate Romans and their collaborators; drive them out mercilessly. Be as cruel and vicious as the Romans.

Jesus’ response was different. As a non-violent revolutionary, he could surely understand such apocalyptic energy. After all, much of his teaching expressed sympathy to the Zealot cause including land reform, debt forgiveness, and expulsion of the hated Roman occupation forces. Many scripture scholars even identify possibly five members of Jesus’ inner circle as Zealots themselves.

But Jesus’ Parable of the Weeds is more prudent and sensitive to civilian casualties than the strategy of the impatient Zealots – or that of ISIS.

When the landlord’s workers ask, “Should we uproot the weeds?” Jesus’ landlord answers: “No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.”

In other words, Jesus agrees with El Salvador’s Oscar Romero and with Brazil’s Dom Helder Camara that revolutionary violence, though understandable (and justifiable on the grounds of just war theory), is imprudent at the very least.

This is because when faced with a vicious, overwhelmingly armed oppressor (like the United States) resistance inevitably leads to state terrorism – to the war crime of collective punishment impacting women, children, the elderly and disabled. At the very least, that’s why Jesus eschews Zealot violence.

Conclusions for Muslims

How then are Muslims to respond to increasing American domination of the Middle East since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire?

Jesus’ answer? Be like mustard plant, he says. Be like yeast in flour. Both puzzling recommendations are relevant not just to Muslim victims of United States imperialism, but to Christians in our country who wish to dissent from their government’s policies of endless war.

First of all, think of the puzzlement that must have struck Jesus’ listeners. Jews didn’t have much use for yeast. They preferred unleavened bread. Neither would any farmer sow mustard seeds in her field or garden. The mustard plant was like kudzu – itself a kind of weed that eventually can take over entire fields and mountainsides while choking out other plants, weeds or not. The mustard plant was unstoppable.

So, Jesus is saying:

* The Romans are enemy weeds in your garden.
* Don’t try to uproot them by force.
* That will only lead to slaughter of the innocent.
* Rather, become weeds yourselves in Rome’s “garden.” Be like the mustard plant which is much more powerful than ordinary Roman (or U.S.) weeds.
* Resist the Romans by embodying the Spirit of God that is slow to anger, good, forgiving, abounding in kindness.
* Only imitation of Wisdom’s God can defeat the evil of imperialism – or any evil for that matter.

Conclusions for Christians

What does that mean for Christians wishing to express solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters against their cruel “Christian” oppressors? At least the following:

* Reject U.S. militarism in general as counterproductive, since fully 90% of the casualties it inflicts in war are civilians.
* Be instead like the yeast a homemaker puts into 60 pounds of flour, “infecting” the greater culture by non-violent resistance rather than “supporting our troops.”
* Recognize and take sides with the real victims of terrorism – those plagued by U.S. policies of aggressive wars and regime-change – i.e. of state terrorism.
* Lobby against absurd proposals to increase U.S. military spending, when already “our” country spends more on “defense” than the next ten countries combined.

* Refuse to honor the military and dissuade your children and grandchildren from entering that corrupt and corrupting gang of outlaws.

Surely Jesus’ Way of non-violent resistance, forgiveness and love of enemies will strike many (non-believers and believers alike) as unrealistic. But according to the faith we Christians (and Muslims) pretend to embrace, Jesus’ Way is God’s way.

But then perhaps we Christians think we’re smarter and more realistic than Jesus — or our Divine Mother?

What do you think?

Pope Francis Calls Possession of Nuclear Weapons Sinful

Readings for First Sunday of Advent: IS 2:1-5; PS 122:1-9; ROM 13: 11-14; PS 85:8; MT 24: 37-44

Last weekend, Pope Francis outright condemned the manufacture and possession of nuclear weapons. (I’ll bet you didn’t notice that in the mainstream media.)

The pope did so during his visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where he met with survivors of the two Japanese cities which were virtually wiped off the map when atomic bombs were dropped on them in 1945. The weapons of unprecedented mass destruction killed more than 200,000 people in matters of minutes.

During his remarks, Pope Francis said, “A world without nuclear weapons is possible and necessary. . .  The use of atomic energy for the purpose of war is immoral, just as the possessing of nuclear weapons is immoral . . .”

The pope’s visit and sharp condemnation could not come at a more opportune time either historically or liturgically (on this First Sunday of Advent). Historically, they follow hard upon the conviction of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, a group of seven Catholic peace activists who in April of last year entered the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia to symbolically destroy the nuclear weapons housed there. (Kings Bay harbors at least six nuclear ballistic missile submarines. Each of them carries 20 Trident missiles.)

The Seven included Liz McAlister, the wife of deceased peace activist Phil Berrigan, as well as Martha Hennesy, the granddaughter of Dorothy Day, the legendary co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement.  

As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the group’s own “weapons” for accomplishing their task were hammers, crime scene tape, and baby bottles containing their own blood. Once inside, they splashed their blood on the walls of the base’s administration building. They used their hammers to “destroy” the nosecone of one of the Trident missiles. They also posted a formal indictment of the U.S. government charging it with crimes against peace.

At their trial the activists had planned to mount a “necessity defense.”  However, the presiding judge forbade them to cite their religious motivations. That nullified their planned argument that their “crime” was morally necessary to prevent the far greater catastrophe of a nuclear war.

The Seven had also planned to present Daniel Ellsberg as an expert witness to articulate that defense. All of us recall Ellsberg as the most famous whistle blower in U.S. history. In 1971, he risked a lifetime behind bars when he leaked the famous Pentagon Papers that revealed Washington’s hidden strategy behind the Vietnam War. His recent book The Doomsday Machine: confessions of a nuclear war planner details his work as a Defense Department analyst and nuclear weapons strategist.

However, Ellsberg too was forbidden to testify. Had he done so, he would have argued that the Seven were faithfully following the prophet Isaiah’s command to “beat swords into plowshares” (IS 2:4).

(By the way, with the judge’s restrictions in place, the Plowshares 7 were convicted of conspiracy. On their sentencing within 90 days, the activists will face more than 20 years in prison.)

All of this – Pope Francis’ words about the sinfulness of nuclear weapons manufacture and possession as well as the conviction of the Plowshares 7 – is relevant to this Sunday’s liturgy of the word and historically relevant in the way just explained. That’s because today’s first reading contains those words from the prophet Isaiah.

Contradicting his people’s earlier understanding of God as a “Man of War,” Isaiah’s words describe divine opposition to all war and a fortiori, of course, to nuclear war. They envision a precisely enlightened human future when the people of the world will “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks,” and where “one nation shall not raise the sword against another.”

Then in today’s Gospel reading from the 24th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus (like the Buddha before him) calls his followers to simply wake up rather than prepare for war against their Roman occupiers led by a violent “Son of Man.” As Matthew’s readers will discover in his 25th chapter, “waking up” means recognizing Christ’s presence in the “least of the brethren.” Jesus implies that such recognition precludes war of any kind and (again a fortiori) nuclear war.

To get what I mean, please read for yourself today’s biblical selections. You can find them here. Despite their obscurity (especially in today’s apocalyptic Gospel passage), you’ll see that they’re about waking up and renunciation of war. At least that’s what I see in them, as you can tell from my “translations” immediately below:  

IS 2:1-5

For the prophet Isaiah,
Jerusalem and its Temple
Called people everywhere
To lift their gaze
Above the world’s
Hills and highest mountains
To the realm of peace and light
He believed possible.
To get there, he said,
Disarm and demilitarize.
Transform all
Weapons of mass destruction
Until they look like
Hoes and shovels,
Tractors and cultivators.
PS 122: 1-9
Yes, it’s possible to turn this world
Into a house of worship –
A City of Peace –
Where all human beings
Enjoy the prosperity
That disarmament makes possible.
That’s the key to reconciliation and happiness.
ROM 13: 11-14
St. Paul calls us to wake up!
Only our selfishness,
He says,
Prevents the advent
Of that other peaceful world.
So, don’t be deceived, he said,
By the world’s empty promises
Of fulfillment by (Christmas) consumption
And militarization.
Instead, seek that other world first
And everything else you need
Will follow automatically.
PS 85:8
Lord, please show us
How to get from here to there!
MT 24: 37-44
Jesus warned his friends
About using violence
To achieve peace.
They hoped that
Daniel’s “Son of Man”
Would dethrone imperial Rome
By force of arms.
“Be careful what you wish for,”
Jesus cautioned.
“Your hoped-for apocalypse
Will recall the devastation
Of Noah’s Flood.
Civilian casualties
Will run at 50% —
Killing innocent
Men and women alike
(Just as at Hiroshima
And Nagasaki).
True change however
Comes from disarmament
(as Isaiah taught)
And from extreme wakefulness
(as the Buddha instructed).
Pray then for blessed insomnia!
Wake up
To the signs of the time!”

Don’t you agree that Pope Francis is wonderful? His faithful following of Jesus and of St. Francis of Assisi has led him to call things by their right names. Nuclear war is sinful, he has said unmistakably. Possessing nuclear weapons is immoral. Catholics and the entire world need to take those words to heart and act upon them.

The Plowshares Seven show us what such open-hearted action means. The Seven are willing to go to prison for enacting the logical consequence of the words of Pope Francis and of Jesus in a world cursed by nuclear weapons.

But few are paying attention. Few take notice. Since Francis’ words weren’t about abortion, homosexuality, or refusing communion to politicians, the pope’s words of condemnation received little attention in the mainstream media. Moreover, those words seemed pointed sharply at the U.S. which alone has ever used nuclear weapons and possesses more of them than any nation on earth. And who among us (much less, among the corporate media) is willing to endure such condemnation?

Fewest of all among us are willing to take seriously the challenge of the Plowshares 7. Who among us is willing to do prison time for the sake of following the prophetic ones who identified disarmament, wakefulness and enlightenment as the only effective path to happiness and peace?

Advent is the time for entertaining those questions. What are your answers? What are mine?

(Discussion follows)   

How Marianne Williamson Won Thursday’s Debate (Sunday Homily)

Readings for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time: I KGS 19: 16 B, 19-21; PS 16: 1, 2, 5, 7-11; GAL 5: 1, 13-18; I SM 3:9; JN 6: 68C; LK9: 51-62

So, we all watched Thursday’s debate in which Marianne Williamson finally participated and showed the country who she is. And she was magnificent. She demonstrated what her spiritual guidebook, A Course in Miracles calls a refusal to be insane. She embodied that still small voice of conscience – the voice for God – that today’s liturgy of the word distinguishes from the world’s madness.

To begin with consider the madness we witnessed Thursday night. It was a perfect reflection of our insane country, of our insane world, of our insane electoral system. There they were: ten of our presumably best and brightest aspiring to occupy what we’re told is the most powerful office in the world. They shouted, talked over their opponents, self-promoted, bragged, and put their opponents down. They offered complicated “plans” that no one (including themselves) seemed to understand. They ignored the rules of the game, recited canned talking points, and generally made fools of themselves – and of viewers vainly seeking sincerity, genuine leadership and real answers. Except for that brief exchange about busing between Kamala Harris and Joe Biden, it was mostly embarrassing.

And then there were the so-called moderators who allowed the circus to spin so completely out of control. They issued stern warnings about time limits, frequently set them strictly at “thirty seconds,” but then proceeded to allow speakers to go on for three minutes or more. The celebrity hosts were completely arbitrary in addressing their questions unevenly. They repeatedly questioned some of the candidates and ignored others.  

Meanwhile, there was Marianne Williamson off in the corner almost completely out of sight and generally ignored by the hosts. When they finally deigned to notice her polite attempts to contribute, no one seemed to know what to do with her comments. There was never any follow-up or request for clarification. Instead, what she said seemed completely drowned out by the evening’s “excitement,” noise, general chaos, and imperative to change topics. It was as if she were speaking a foreign language. I mean, how do you respond to that “still small voice of conscience” that says:

  • Immigration problems should be understood in historical context; their roots are found in U.S. policy in Central America especially during the 1980s. Such comment invites further discussion. None took place.
  • Removing children from their parents’ arms is kidnapping; putting preschoolers in concentration camps is child abuse. Such crimes should be treated accordingly. What retribution did Marianne have in mind? The question went unasked.
  • Health care “solutions” should address environmental questions about chemicals in our foods, water, and air that make Americans sick. The response: “My next question for Vice-President Biden is . . .”
  • Government programs should be expressions of love, not fear.

As expected, the pundits who afterwards declared “winners” and “losers,” generally put Marianne in the latter category. Their criteria for that judgment were just what you’d expect: Who was louder? Who was more aggressive, more interruptive? Who spoke for more minutes? Who more effectively transgressed the debate “rules” and thereby showed leadership and dominance?

None of this could be further from the spiritual principles Marianne Williamson has espoused for the last 40 years. That spirituality, like Elijah’s, Elisha’s, Paul’s, and Jesus’ in today’s liturgical readings holds that the problems that plague our world have simple answers that have nothing to do with bombast, filibusters, or spectacle. However, the world rejects out of hand the solutions of that still-small-voice of conscience as unrealistic and “out there” in the realm of the irrelevant and impractical. Such blind dismissal is what Paul in today’s reading calls “flesh;” it’s what Jesus elsewhere rejects as “worldly.”  

So, in an effort to put Thursday’s debate in perspective, let me begin by describing where Marianne is coming from; then I’ll get to the relevant readings.

A Course in Miracles

For more than forty years, the foundation of Marianne Williamson’s life and teachings has been A Course in Miracles (ACIM). It’s a three-volume work (a text, 365 daily exercises, and a manual for teachers) that was allegedly (and reluctantly) channeled by Helen Schucman, a Columbia University psychologist and atheist in the three or four years leading up to 1975, the year of the trilogy’s publication. It has since sold millions of copies. Williamson has described ACIM as “basic Christian mysticism.”

The book’s a tough read – certainly not for everyone, though Williamson insists that something like its daily spiritual discipline (a key term for her) is necessary for living a fully human life bent on serving God rather than self. Its guiding prayer is “Where would you have me go? What would you have me do? What would you have me say, and to whom?”

Even tougher than the cryptic text itself is putting into practice the spiritual exercises in Volume II whose entire point is “a complete reversal of thought.” According to ACIM’s constant reminders, we are all prisoners in a cell like Plato’s Cave, where everything the world tells us is exactly the opposite of God’s truth.

To counter such deception, A Course in Miracles has the rare disciple (possessing the discipline to persevere) systematically deconstruct her world. It begins by identifying normal objects like a lamp or desk and helping the student realize that what s/he takes for granted is entirely questionable. Or as Lesson One puts it: “Nothing I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] means anything.” The point is to liberate the ACIM practitioner from all preconceptions and from the illusory dreams the world foists upon us from birth. Those illusions, dreams and nightmares are guided by fear, which, the course teaches, is the opposite of love. In fact, ACIM teaches that fear and love are the only two energetic forces in the entire universe. “Miracles” for A Course in Miracles are changes in perception – a paradigm shift – from fear to love. For Marianne, Donald Trump’s worldview is based primarily on fear; her’s is based on love (which means action based on the recognition of creation’s unity).

According to Williamson’s guide, time, space, and separation of humans into separate entities are all entirely illusory. Such distinctions are dreams that cause all the world’s nightmares, including all the topics addressed in Thursday’s debate. For instance:

  • The illusion of time has us all living in past and future while ignoring the present – the only moment that actually exists, has ever existed, or where true happiness can be found. This means, for example, that inspirational figures like Jesus are literally alive NOW just as they were (according to time’s illusion) 2000 years ago. His Holy Spirit is a present reality.  
  • The dream of space has us taking too seriously human-made distinctions like borders between countries. Yes, they are useful for organizing commerce and travel. But the world as God created it belongs to everyone. It’s a complete aberration and childish to close off borders as inviolable and to proudly proclaim that “From now on, it’s only going to be America first, America first!”
  • Similarly, the dream of separation between humans has us convinced that “we” are here in North America, while refugees are down there at our southern border. According to ACIM however, “There is really only one of us here.” This means that I am female, male, white, black, brown, straight, gay, trans, old and young. And so are you. Others are not simply our sisters and brothers; they are us! What we do to them, we do to ourselves.

With such clarifications in mind, the solution to the world’s problems are readily available and far easier to understand than complicated health care systems or carbon trading. The solutions are forgiveness and atonement. But for ACIM, forgiveness does not mean overlooking another’s sins and generously choosing not to punish them. It means first of all realizing that sin itself is an illusion. It is an archery term for a human mistake – for missing the mark – something every one of us does.

Forgiveness, then, amounts to nothing more than realizing that truth and acting accordingly – as though the forgiven one were our Self (because s/he is!). In a world of complete deception, it means accepting the truth that the ones our culture blames – like immigrants, refugees, people of color, the poor, Muslims, and members of the LGBTQQIA community – are not only completely innocent. Accepting them as our very Self represents the source of our personal and political salvation.  

In this light then, prisons (for particularly dangerous people) become re-education centers for rehabilitation, not punishment. This means that even pathological criminals like Trump, Pence, Pompeo, and Bolton can helpfully be sequestered for a while and then returned to society as reformed, productive people. (I know that’s hard to believe; but it could happen!)

Yes, for Williamson, the goal of it all (of life itself!) is atonement – At-One-Ment – practical realization of a world with room for everyone with illusory distinctions either ignored, or played with, or celebrated in the spirit of party and game. Practically speaking, atonement looks like reparations not only to the descendants of African slaves, but to countries we have destroyed like those Marianne referenced in Central America – but also like Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Cuba, and a host of others. Instead of dropping bombs on them or applying sanctions, we should, in effect, be showering them with schools, hospitals, infrastructure, technological assistance, and money. It’s all part of the reparations due.

Imagine what that kind of foreign policy would accomplish and how much cheaper it would be than the trillions we’re now wasting on weapons and war.

As her books, Healing the Soul of America and A Politics of Love show, Williamson stood ready to share such convictions last Thursday night. But she was never asked. And we’re all poorer as a result.

Today’s Readings   

So how is all of that related to this Sunday’s readings? They’re about the contrast between the world’s wisdom – its way of debating, judging, condemning, and praising – and God’s way of interacting with one another and with creation itself. Check out the readings for yourself here and see what you think. My “translations” follow to clarify their cumulative point:

I KGS 19:16B, 19-21
We are called
To be prophets
Like Elijah
And his disciple-successor
A wealthy farmer
Who understood
That God’s call
Required renouncing
Everything the world
Holds dear:
Family, possessions,
And independence
In order to
Comfort the afflicted
Afflict the comfortable
And feed the hungry.
PS 16: 1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
For what ultimately
Belongs to us
Is not
The world’s
Corruption and condemnation
But the God
We deeply are
Who is our very
Food and drink,
The ability to see
Even amidst
The world’s darkness,
The source of calm,
Gladness, and health
Who shows
The path to life,
Joy, and unending delight.
GAL 5: 1, 13-18
As Elisha realized:
World and Spirit
Are completely opposed.
Paul terms
Those worldly values
It demands
Slavery and consumption
Of one another!
What God values
Is Christ’s “Spirit.”
Nothing more
Than love
Of the other
Who is
(Believe it or not)
Our very Self.
I SM 3:9, JN 6: 68C
Deep down
We know
All of this
Is true.
LK 9: 51-62
Jesus did too.
So, on the way
To ultimate destiny
He rejected
The world’s spirit
Of xenophobia, revenge,
Ethnocentrism –
And Hell-Fire missiles.
Instead, he identified with
The homeless,
With life, not death,
And with the Spirit
Of Elisha
Who also
Left plow and oxen
For the sake of
God’s reign.


Please think about those readings in the light of what we witnessed on the debate stage a few nights ago. The other candidates represented what Paul calls “flesh” – you know: the world’s wisdom and way of doing things involving corruption, condemnation, devouring one’s opponent, xenophobia, and addiction to those Hellfire missiles. Meanwhile Marianne seemed bemused by it all. Her few thoughtful remarks said far more than the ones filibustering, pointlessly arguing, self-promoting.

As she says herself, Ms. Williamson is not in this campaign to run against anyone. She’s there to run with her fellow Democrats and to help Americans decide which candidate is best.

I think that candidate is Marianne. She deserves better consideration and a closer hearing than she received on Thursday. Like Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, and Paul, she is a voice for our Deepest Self. She was the winner.  

“The Walking Dead” R Us (Sunday Homily)


Have you been following the cable TV series “The Walking Dead?” It’s already in its fifth season, and at one point at least, it was the most-watched dramatic telecast series in basic cable history. I see the show as connected with today’s readings about widows, dead children, and how to bring the dead back to life.

In the TV series, sheriff’s deputy, Rick Grimes, awakens from a coma to find a changed world. The apocalypse has happened. Normal life has broken down completely, and the world is dominated by zombies. They are flesh-eaters or “biters.”

So Grimes becomes a “walker” (i.e. a survivor as opposed to a zombie) as he sets out to find his family. Along the way he encounters many other like himself. Those encounters and the flight from the zombies, whose bite is infectious, constitute the premise of each show’s episode.

Many reviewers have attributed the popularity of “The Walking Dead” to its reflection of life in our 21st century. They see our own world largely populated by people who if not walking dead themselves, are at least asleep on their feet.

And it’s worse than that. Today’s walking dead, they say, actually live off the flesh of others. That’s because what we call “life” depends on economic and military systems that cause the hunger-related deaths of people in far off countries as well as the destruction of Mother Earth.

That is, we’re dependent on those who supply us with cheap food, housing and clothes, while the commodities’ producers themselves are paid insufficiently to keep body and soul together. The result is that 21,000 children under five die each day from diarrhea and other absolutely preventable causes. In a sense, according to these critics, when we eat cheap food, we are actually eating those children.

And yet, most of us are totally unaware. As zombies we don’t think about the children whose lives we devour. Our vacant eyes see only the superficial – as though dollar signs had taken the place of our eye-balls. We’re taught to value only what those dollar signs see and measure. Dollar signs can’t penetrate below surface appearances. They isolate us from fellow-felling.

We are the walking dead. Think about that the next time you watch the series.

Can the Walking Dead process be reversed? Today’s liturgy of the word suggests that it can if we follow the examples of Elijah, Paul and Jesus.

Elijah, you recall, was the great prophet of Israel who lived during the 9th Century BCE. In today’s reading from the First Book of Kings, Elijah has found refuge in the home of a widow. The widow’s child, who is young enough to be sitting in her lap, dies from unexplained causes – probably associated with hunger.

The widow immediately blames the prophet. She evidently thought that giving refuge to a “man of God” would protect her from misfortune. She complains, “Why have you done this to me, O man of God.”

Apparently stung by the widow’s complaint, Elijah uses a strange ritual to restore life to her child. Three times he stretches himself on top of her little son while praying, “Let breath return to this child.” Suddenly the widow’s son starts breathing again, and Elijah restores him to his mother.

What was the meaning of his ritual? Was Elijah somehow identifying with the dead toddler? Was he doing something like mouth-to-mouth resuscitation?

Hold those questions.

We encounter another widow and her son in today’s reading from Luke. It has Jesus meeting a funeral procession. The crowd is accompanying a widow who has lost her only son. Unlike the case confronted by Elijah, this son is older – Jesus calls him “young man.”

And Luke takes time to mention that the crowd following the coffin was large. Might it have been one of those “demonstration funerals,” we’re used to seeing in Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan? I mean where victims of occupation armies use the occasion to express anti-imperial rage. Remember, Jesus’ Palestine was occupied by Rome. And Nain (where this miracle took place) was in the Galilee, a hotbed of anti-Roman insurgency.

I raise the question because in revolutionary settings like Jesus’, occupation forces (like the ones created by the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan) routinely identify young men of military age as legitimate targets for the occupiers. The foreign troops kill such men in what our government calls “signature strikes.” I mean this particular widow’s son might well have been killed by Rome. In that hypothesis, Jesus’ restoration of life to the fallen insurgent would have had great political import in terms of Jesus’ relation to the resistance.

In any case, Jesus’ act certainly had important social meaning in the context of Israel’s patriarchy. The mother after all is a widow. And in her male-dominated society, she’s left entirely without means of support. No wonder she is crying.

Jesus is touched by the woman’s tears. Luke says he was filled with compassion for the widow. “Do not weep,” he says. And he touches the coffin. Then Jesus addresses the corpse, “Young man, I tell you arise.” Immediately, Luke tells us, the young man sat up and “began to speak.”

What do you suppose were his first words? Maybe he shouted the Aramaic equivalent of “Viva la revolucion!” or “God is Great!” We’re only told what the people in the funeral procession said, “A great prophet has arisen in our midst. God has visited his people!”

Paul recalls his own visit from God in today’s second reading. And in Paul’s case, there is no doubt that his visit was associated with rejection of empire. Paul had worked for Rome, he reminds his readers. Or more accurately, he worked for the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court that cooperated hand in glove with Palestine’s occupiers.

The Sanhedrin had used Paul to hunt down Jesus’ followers. The court wanted them dead for the same reason they and Palestine’s occupiers had wanted Jesus dead – because both they and Jesus were seen as part of the Jewish resistance to Rome. So Paul was hunting down his fellow-Jews and turning them over to the Sanhedrin. In other words, Paul was a widow-maker. He was a killer of the sons belonging to the widows he made.

Then came Paul’s famous conversion on the road to Damascus. He had a vision and heard Jesus’ voice asking, “Why are you persecuting me?” Those words told him that Jesus and the widows Paul was making, as well as the widows’ sons he was killing, were identical. There was a Jesus-presence in all of them, Paul realized.

What do these readings mean for us today?

I’m suggesting that they yield principles for us as we seek escape from the zombie consciousness that prevents us from seeing our own cannibalism and widow-making as walking dead shuffling through those aisles in Kroger and Wal-Mart.

Do we wish to return to the land of the living? Elijah says, identify with those 21 thousand children our eating habits devour each day. Stretch yourselves over their dead bodies, the prophet suggests. Breathe life back into them. Identify with the children is the Elijah principle.

Do we want to walk the path of Jesus rather than the one dictated by our culture? Let compassion be your guide, Jesus suggests. Compassion for widows and orphans was Jesus’ guiding principle as it was for all the great biblical prophets.

And that includes compassion for our widowed Mother Earth. The patriarchy has abandoned her. She has been left to fend for herself and she watches her offspring die. I mean, species after species is disappearing at the hands of the same economic and military systems that kill those 21,000 toddlers each day. Our widowed Mother Earth needs our compassion too. Jesus’ example calls us to action impelled by that sentiment.

And what action might that be?

Paul’s conversion supplies an answer this morning. Stop cooperating with empire, it tells us. Eat lower on the food chain. Stop shopping in the big boxes. Resist the wars empire depends on to keep those boxes filled. Stop honoring the military and encouraging sons and daughters to “sacrifice” themselves on behalf of the corporations that require war and widow-making to retain and increase market shares.

In summary, today’s readings call us away from business as usual. They tell us that we don’t have to be zombies. They ask us all to leave behind our lives of lethargy and sleep. The readings invite us to imitate Elijah and his identification with a dead child. They ask us to be like Jesus in his compassion for a suffering single mom. Paul tells us to dis-identify with empire. The readings urge us to become “Walkers” on the Jesus path of compassion.

Saving Jesus from Paul and John (Sunday Homily)


Readings for the 4th Sunday after Easter: Acts 13:14; Ps. 100: 1-2, 3-5; Rev. 7:9, 14B-17; Jn. 10: 27-30. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/042113.cfm

As I’ve been reporting here, a group of about 25 people met weekly during Lent for an intensely rewarding study of “The Historical Jesus.” The group included members of our local Catholic church in Berea, Kentucky along with an equal number from our Ecumenical Table in nearby Richmond. In the aftermath of that experience, I find it impossible to read selections like those in today’s liturgy of the word without making connections with our little seminar.

For instance, today’s readings remind me that would-be followers of Jesus might more accurately call ourselves “Paulists” rather than “Christians.” That observation is sparked by the tension between Paul and “the Jews” in this morning’s selection from Acts. The tension reminds us that our belief system has been shaped more by Paul of Tarsus than by Jesus of Nazareth who was himself a Jew. The same holds true for the gospel selection from John the Evangelist with its emphasis on Jesus’ divinity (“I and the Father are one”). As a result of the influence of Paul and John, our faith tends to be other-worldly and de-politicized. Our Jesus tends to be one-dimensionally divine rather than the enlightened very human rabbi who graced the Palestinian landscape 2000 years ago. Let me explain.

To begin with it’s important to point out that we know more about Paul than we do about the historical Jesus. And we know more about the historical Jesus than did the rabbi from Tarsus. The reasons why are simple. On the one hand, most of the Christian Testament is written by or heavily influenced by Paul. The New Testament, then, is more Pauline than Christian.

On the other, Paul never met the historical Jesus and shows almost no knowledge of Jesus’ words and deeds in his epistles. Meanwhile, scholarship based on manuscript discoveries at Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt in 1945 and at the Dead Sea in 1947 (the famous Dead Sea Scrolls) has yielded unprecedented knowledge of the historical Jesus. That means we know more about the rabbi from Nazareth than did Paul.

Think about the Pauline nature of the faith we’ve inherited. There are 27 books in the “New Testament.” Thirteen of those 27 are letters written by Paul. Then there’s the “Acts of the Apostles” which really is a travelogue about the mission and adventures of Paul written by Paul’s companion, Luke the evangelist. Luke also wrote his own Gospel, which, of course, was heavily influenced by his mentor. Finally, as the earliest entries in the New Testament, Paul’s epistles (written from about 50 to 64 CE) evidently exercised great influence on the other evangelists Mark, Matthew and John who wrote much later.

That means that nearly half of the New Testament (13 of 27 entries) is comprised of letters attributed to Paul. Fifty-five percent (15 of 27 entries) was written by Paul or Luke. And more than 66% (18 of 27 entries) was arguably more influenced by Paul than by Jesus.

I say “more influenced by Paul than by Jesus” because what we have in Paul’s letters, the Acts of the Apostles and in the gospels themselves are proclamations about Jesus rather than the proclamation of Jesus. Remember, Jesus’ proclamation was about the Kingdom of God, “Repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand.” In contrast, the New Testament’s proclamations about Jesus are “Jesus is Lord.”

The differences between these two “gospels” are enormous and they are, as I indicated, illustrated in today’s readings on this fourth Sunday after Easter. Today’s selection from John’s Gospel (written about 70 years after the crucifixion of the Enlightened Yeshua) has Jesus discoursing about himself. He speaks of himself as a “shepherd” leading his sheep and about offering them “eternal life.” He concludes by claiming to be God’s Son equal to the Father. “I and the Father are one,” he says. (The historical Jesus could never have made such statements without being stoned by his fiercely monotheistic Jewish audience.)

However, Jesus’ discourse as reported in John’s gospel is completely coherent with the gospel of Paul. Paul, I repeat, never met the historical Jesus. In fact, as we all know, before his famous conversion on the road to Damascus, he was a persecutor of Christians. He pursued them on behalf of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court, which worked hand-in-glove with the Romans.

The Romans were hunting down Christians for the same reason they arrested and executed Jesus – because he was perceived as the Jewish Messiah whose overriding responsibility was the overthrow the Roman occupation of Palestine. With good reason, the Romans considered Jesus’ followers to be subversives.

In other words, the Romans, their Sanhedrin collaborators, and their point-man, Saulous (Paul’s name before his conversion) were cooperating in a counter-revolutionary program that targeted Jesus’ nationalistic followers.
Those followers had actually lived with Jesus. They were Jews primarily – members of a Jerusalem community gathered around Jesus’ brother, James, the apostles, and Jesus’ “inner circle” of followers including many women and numbering perhaps 120 people or more. Together they constituted a group of reformed Jews. Many of them had been eye-witnesses of Jesus’ deeds and followers of his teachings.

Those teachings centralized a new understanding of “the Law” which Yeshuaists called “the Way.” It emphasized love and forgiveness over fear, punishment and a purity code that divided people into “clean” and “unclean.” It emphasized justice for the poor and oppressed and freedom from foreign domination. The Jerusalem community of The Way recognized Jesus as the True Prophet predicted in their scriptures – a wonder-working Messiah and liberator who would usher in an era reminiscent of the Exodus from Egypt under the great rebel Moses. This Jewish messiah was human (the Son of Man) not a divine Son of God.

Paul, as I said, had never met the Son of Man. His writings show neither knowledge of Jesus’ deeds nor of specific teachings which were so important to the Jewish Yeshuaist community. Instead, Paul preached a kind of mythological Jesus who was entirely recognizable to the gentile audiences which interested him. Paul’s Jesus was born, crucified, risen and ascended to heaven. Evidently, Paul considered nothing between Jesus’ birth and death worth reporting.

For Paul’s gentile audience, any wonder-working “messiah” had to be a divine incarnation like the gods Romans and Egyptians worshipped — Mithra, Isis, Osiris, the Great Mother God. These “dying and rising gods” descended from heaven, lived for a while on earth, died, and then rose from the dead. Typically, they offered “eternal life” beyond the grave to believers who ate sacred meals together sharing the gods’ body and blood in the form of bread and wine. These are the terms Paul used to explain Jesus to his gentile audiences.

As reformed Jews, the Jerusalem community along with most unreformed (non-Yeshuaist) Jews had trouble with such explanations which offended their strictly monotheistic beliefs. How could Jesus be uniquely “one with the Father?” That sounded like two Gods and was entirely offensive and unacceptable.

Moreover, Paul’s version of the gospel seemed to remove the Kingdom of God to an other-worldly heaven. It left the Romans in charge of Palestine ruled by a god (the Roman emperor) who was a rival of Yahweh, who, for good Jews, alone was God and who alone was the legitimate ruler of the Palestinian homeland. Such a gospel along with Paul’s background of cooperation with the Romans made all Jews (Yeshuaist and orthodox) deeply suspect of Paul. They remained adamant in their hope of the “Second Coming” of Jesus who would finally defeat the Romans and introduce God’s Reign to replace Caesar’s.

We pick up the tension between Paul’s message aimed at gentiles and the anti-imperial faith of Jews (including Yeshuaists) in today’s readings. In the selection from Acts, Paul proclaims his version of Jesus. And “the Jews” respond as expected. To them Paul’s (and John’s) understanding of Jesus as God’s only Son, his understanding of salvation as “eternal life” rather than messianic liberation from foreign domination was completely blasphemous. So Paul and Barnabas end up “shaking the dust” of Antioch’s streets from their feet against “the Jews.”

Eventually, Paul’s gospel (with the deeply engrained seeds of anti-Semitism) ends up triumphing completely. This is because the base of the Jerusalem Yeshuaist community (the inner circle referenced earlier) was completely destroyed during the Jewish war with Rome (64-73). In the absence of strong Yeshuaist leadership, the way was thus opened for the triumph of a divine Jesus proclaiming himself (rather than God’s Kingdom) and offering an other-worldly “eternal life” rather than a new revolutionary social order characterized by love, forgiveness, justice, and room for everyone.

That other-worldly “Christianity” was finally canonized by Constantine in the fourth century (325 at Nicaea). Afterwards, in his zeal for uniformity of belief, the emperor and his church accomplices ordered the destruction of documents reflecting anything other than the Pauline and Johannine understandings of Jesus. The rest is history. The historical Jesus was lost. We’ve been worshipping a Roman Mithra instead of a prophetic Enlightened Jewish Jesus ever since.

Luckily disobedient monks ignored Constantine’s order to destroy manuscripts reflecting understandings of Jesus other than Paul’s. That happened at the Dead Sea and at Nag Hammadi.

Thank God for their crime! At this late date it has directed our focus away from the Gospel about Jesus to the Gospel of Jesus. It calls us to work not for an after-life heaven, but for God’s Kingdom in the here and now.

Who Was the Historical Jesus? Introduction

Let’s face it: there is no God “up there.” “Up there” is simply a metaphor for the transcendence of the divine, which is found within, around, above and below all of us. What St. Paul said is true:  God the One in whom we live and move and have our being. Moreover, that God did not “send” some pre-existing Second Person of the Blessed Trinity to die on our behalf. Like all of us, Jesus was not anxious to die; nor did the God of life want him sacrificed. Rather, the Romans killed Jesus because as colonial occupiers of his homeland, Palestine, they (correctly) perceived his words and deeds as a political threat. Those words and deeds centered neither on himself, nor on life after death but on the Kingdom of God – a very this worldly reality, that would change the condition of the poor, who are God’s chosen people.

The point of Jesus’ “miracles” was to demonstrate that choice; they were basically either faith-healings or entirely symbolic creations of the early church.

In fact symbolism and metaphor are so central to the fundamental message of the Bible and to human thought itself that it would be more accurate to treat most of Sacred Scripture metaphorically rather than as factual. This includes any references to hell, angels, and devils, which turn out to be poetic inventions. Over the history of the church those inventions have been cynically manipulated as tools of “conscience control” (especially of women) by a basically Caucasian, rich and patriarchal religious establishment that in practice has come to regard Jesus’ actual teaching (about the kingdom, poverty and wealth) as “heretical.”

To get back to the authentic teaching of the historical Jesus, believers need to acquaint themselves not only with another Jesus. They need another God to replace the one before whom they are called to be atheists. Despite formidable obstacles placed in our way by our pastors and others, meeting and embracing that other God is entirely possible. It is indispensable to save our species, our world and ourselves.

These are basically the findings of modern scripture scholarship and the theologies based on that research. And, of course, they can be shocking to conservative Christians encountering it for the first time. However, for those truly interested in developing an adult faith, the shock must somehow be absorbed.

In an attempt to assist in that process of absorption, the Monday series to be posted here will attempt to organize and unify the disparate concepts in question and to re-present them as an aid to understanding and disciplined discussion. Next week’s posting will review key events in the history of biblical interpretation.