Readings for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time: IS 56:1, 6-7; PS 67: 2-3, 5, 6, 8; ROM 11: 13-15, 20-32; MT 15: 21-28. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/081714.cfm
“Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” Those are the words that a woman remembered as “Syrophonecian” addressed to Jesus in today’s gospel reading.
Jesus responds by ignoring the woman at first and then by disrespectfully associating his petitioner with dogs – almost calling her a “b_tch.”
We’ll come back to that in a moment.
For now note that “Syrophonecian” meant the woman was not a Jew. She was a native or inhabitant of Phoenicia when it was part of the Roman province of Syria. She was living near the twin cities of Tyre and Sidon – a gentile or non-Jewish region of the Fertile Crescent where Matthew takes trouble to locate today’s episode.
That would have made Jesus’ petitioner what we call a “Palestinian” today. In other words, Matthew’s geographical note serves to remind us that the Jews never controlled all of their “Promised Land.” Instead, they always had to share it with “Palestinians” including Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, Jebusites, Geshurites, Maacaathites, and Philistines.
That in itself is significant in the light of Israel’s ongoing brutal war of extermination against Palestinians. There the State of Israel (with supporters often invoking biblical precedent) has adopted the one-state position that is bent claiming all of Palestine for itself. It relegates Palestinians to Bantustans in a particularly brutal Israeli version of apartheid and ethnic cleansing.
Were Jesus in Gaza today, millions of Palestinian parents could echo the poor mother’s petition in today’s’ gospel selection, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” And the demon in Gaza’s case would be the State of Israel itself – the latest incarnation of the puppets of Empire whom Jesus opposed so strongly in his own day. [Recall that Palestine in Jesus day was controlled by Jewish puppets of Rome. (Jesus clashed with them again and again.) Today those who pull strings on the marionettes reside in Washington.]
The result is that in Gaza over the last five weeks, more than 2000 Palestinians have been slaughtered by the ones considering themselves God’s “chosen” – 25% of the victims being children, at least another 25%, women like the one called “Syrophoenician” and her demon-possessed daughter.
Daniel Ortega, the President of Nicaragua, recently applied the term “demon” appropriately. He said, “Prime Minister Netanyahu appears to be possessed by the devil, he needs Pope Francis to exorcise it, to become appeased.” Ortega wondered, “Why doesn’t anyone condemn or sanction the state of Israel?” In his opinion, Palestine is the victim of “madness” on the part of the Israeli leader, who seeks to “annihilate the Palestinian people.” Ortega meant that Israel is “committing genocide” in the Gaza Strip, a crime so “terrible that it is only comparable to the crimes of the Nazis,” he said.
You might have been surprised at Jesus’ response to the Syrophonecian woman. As I said, at first he gives no reply at all; he ignores the woman completely. If Matthew’s account is accurate, in his silence Jesus was showing himself to be captive to his own cultural norms. It was inconceivable in Hellenistic antiquity for a strange woman to directly approach a man the way the woman in this story did. Above all was it so for a gentile woman to directly address a Jewish man. In other words, Jesus’ silence was part of his “honor culture.”
But it gets worse. When the woman insists, Jesus implicitly calls her a “b_tch.” He says, “I have been sent for the lost children of Israel . . . it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”
The reply seems out of character for Jesus, doesn’t it? In fact, such dissonance has led many to reject the saying as inauthentic. Whatever the case, Jesus’ reply only echoes the rabbinic saying of the time, “He who eats with idolaters is like one who eats with a dog.”
In other words, Jesus’ comparison stands in a long line of likening cultural outsiders to animals. Most recently, in the case of Gaza, Ayelet Shaked, a member of the Israeli Parliament, compared Palestinians like the woman in today’s gospel to snakes. She endorsed the killing of Palestinian women, like the petitioner in the story before us, calling their children not dogs, but “little snakes” worthy only of extermination.
“Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”
The woman in today’s gospel has a very different voice from Ayelet Shaked’s. She replies, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”
The witty reply astonishes Jesus. He exclaims, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” That is, the woman “converts” Jesus; he concedes her argument. The one the gospels present as the master of verbal riposte is vanquished by this simple Palestinian mom.
What does the interaction between Jesus and the woman called “Syrophonecian” mean for us today – in the context of Israel’s demonic attack on the Palestinian descendants of the woman in question? What does it mean for Gaza and for us who watch in helpless disgust?
I think it means that:
• The “faith” of the Syrophoenician woman was not “in Jesus” as the incarnation of God, but rather in the inclusivity of God’s love that extends beyond ethnic and religious differences.
• In that sense, she believed in the New Universal Order Jesus referred to as God’s Kingdom.
• More specifically, today’s gospel reading presents the woman as enlightening Jesus – as reminding him of the Kingdom’s complete inclusivity.
• In view of Jesus’ own “enlightenment” at the hands of this poor Palestinian woman, it is no longer possible to blindly identify “God’s People” with any particular state.
• I mean, the State of Israel as such does not represent the biblical God’s Chosen People.
• Today that honor (curse?) belongs to the Palestinians who, as good Muslims, share Jesus’ faith that God sides with the widows, orphans, immigrants and oppressed whatever nation they belong to.
• This means that in the case of Palestine, Jesus’ followers should be one the side of Palestinians rather than the Jewish State.
• Being on their side means petitioning the U.S. government to stop its demonic support of Israel which has moved even further from its identity as “People of God” than it had in Jesus’ day.
As always, this week’s readings invite us to break the chains of our cultural norms – just as Jesus was forced to by the Syrophonecian mother.
Readings for 19th Sunday in ordinary time: I KGS 19: 9A, 11-13A; PS 85: 9-14; ROM 9: 1-5; MT 14: 22-23 http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081014.cfm
In today’s Gospel, we hear Matthew’s account of Jesus walking on water – or rather, of Peter’s refusal to follow Jesus’ example of walking on the waves.
The account is relevant to the man in the Vatican who believes he is Peter’s successor. Israel’s month-long siege of Gaza invited Pope Francis to “walk on water” – to follow the example of Jesus in confronting demons. However uncharacteristic timidity left the pope sinking below the waves, out of sight and ear shot, cowering before Monsters like Obama and Netanyahu.
Let me explain. First off, consider today’s Gospel reading.
The story goes that following Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 (last week’s Gospel episode), Jesus forces the apostles to get into their boat and row to the other side. [The text says, “Jesus made (emphasis added) the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side.” Perhaps these experienced fishermen (as opposed to the land lubber, Jesus) saw a storm was coming and were reluctant to set sail despite Jesus’ urgings.]
In any case, a storm does come up and the apostles fear they are about to drown. You can imagine them in helpless tears.
Then they see a figure walking on the water in the midst of high threatening waves. At first they think it’s a ghost. Then they realize that it’s Jesus. He’s walking on the raging waters.
Peter, the impetuous leader of the apostles, doubts what he sees. So he says, “Prove to me that it’s you, Jesus; let me walk on the waves just as you’re doing.” Jesus says, “Join me then over here.” So Peter gets out of the boat and, like Jesus actually walks on water for a few steps.
Then, despite the evidence, he begins to doubt. And as he does so, he starts sinking below the water line. “Save me, Lord,” he cries out again. Jesus stretches out his hand and saves Peter. Then he asks, “Where’s your faith, man? Why is it so weak? Why did you doubt?”
Of course, this whole story (like last week’s “Loaves and Fishes”) is one of the dramatic parables Matthew composed. If we get caught up in wondering whether we’re expected to believe that someone actually walked on water, we’ll miss the point of this powerful metaphor. It’s about Jesus’ followers doing the unexpected and irrational in the midst of life-threatening crisis.
You see, Matthew’s Jewish audience shared the belief du jour that the sea was inhabited by dangerous monsters – Leviathan being the most fearful. And fearlessly walking on water was a poetic way of expressing what Matthew’s community believed about Jesus, viz. that he embodied the courage and power to do the completely unexpected in the midst of crisis and subdue the most threatening forces imaginable – even the most lethal of all, the Roman Empire.
Jesus’ invitation to Peter communicates the truth that all of us have the power to confront monsters if we’ll just find the courage to leave safety concerns behind even in the most threatening conditions, to confront life’s monsters, and join Jesus in the midst of its upheavals.
Problem is we easily lose faith and courage. As a result, we’re overcome by life’s surging waves and by the monsters lurking underneath them.
And that brings me back to Pope Francis and his ambiguous response to the slaughter that took place in Gaza over the last month.
We expected more. Over the course of his still-young papacy, Francis has demonstrated wonderful courage attempting to join Jesus on the world’s dangerous waves.
• He’s adopted a comparatively simple lifestyle.
• He’s condemned neo-liberalism and growing income inequality.
• His apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel” implicitly endorsed the liberation theology his two immediate predecessors had tried to kill.
• More specifically, he adopted liberation theology’s “preferential option for the poor” as the leitmotif of his papacy.
• In that spirit, his famous “Who am I to judge” gave hope to the LGBTQ community.
• He helped head off President Obama’s plans to bomb Syria.
That last precedent led me to expect more in the context of Gaza. I was in St. Peter’s Square for Francis’ hours-long vigil for peace. There the Pope did as much or more to head off U.S.’ insane plans to bomb Syria as did Russia’s President Putin. Along with Putin, Francis was the hero who subverted the monstrous plans of Obama and his State Department.
But there was no peace vigil for the Gazans. Instead two weeks ago the Pope broke down in tears as he delivered his Sunday remarks from the balcony over St. Peter’s Square. He said:
“Never war, never war! I am thinking, above all, of children who are deprived of the hope of a worthwhile life, a future. Dead children, wounded children, mutilated children, orphaned children, children whose toys are things left over from war, children who don’t know how to smile.” This was the moment when the tears came. “Please stop,” said Francis. “I ask you with all my heart, it’s time to stop. Stop, please!”
The words were powerful; the tears were powerful. But unlike the prayer vigil before a potential Syrian fiasco, they remained largely unreported. Nevertheless, for those with ears to hear, the Pope was lamenting Israel’s killing of Palestine’s innocent. (No Jewish children were killed during the Gaza massacre.) However, to overcome the Media’s deafening pro-Israel tilt, the Pope needed to be stronger and more specific.
Yes, his papacy has daringly left the safe harbor and courageously sailed into the storm. Yes, Francis clearly sees Jesus as his role model demanding courage in the face of today’s unprecedented winds and waves. Indeed Francis has gotten out of the boat to trample underfoot the beasts and monsters roiling the seas all around us. But in the case of Gaza, instead of walking confidently on the waters, he sunk in apparent timidity before the threatening monsters, Obama and Netanyahu.
But what more could he have done? What sort of miracle did I expect?
Well, he could have given courage to all of us who are far less daring than he; he could have performed a miracle more stupendous than actually “walking on water” by:
• Owning the fact that as the leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, with far more power than Jesus had, he was truly able to end Gaza’s slaughter.
• Announcing plans to travel to Gaza in the midst of Israel’s monstrous campaign.
• Before leaving, specifically naming Israel’s assault on civilians as sinful.
• Identifying the U.S. as equally culpable with Israel for crimes against humanity.
• Actually traveling to Gaza in a white papal helicopter (even in defiance of Israel’s predictable prohibitions) and landing in the midst of Gaza’s devastation.
• Celebrating Mass in Gaza on a pile of rubble and refusing to leave till the Israelis stopped their slaughter.
• If the slaughter continued, traveling to the key sites of bombing and shelling.
“Impossible!” you say? Such an act would offend Israel and upset Israel-Vatican relations. Ditto for the U.S.
Hmm. Is the pope a politician or a prophetic religious leader? Please use your imagination and spin out what would have happened if the pope walked on water as just outlined. What do you think?
In any case, those much less courageous than Francis need his example so the rest of us might venture forth to walk on water in our own far less powerful ways.
Yes, in today’s Gospel, Jesus invites us all to do the impossible. Why are we doubting? Where is our faith?
Readings for 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time: IS 55: 1-5; PS 145: 8-9, 15-18; ROM 8: 35, 37-39 MT 14: 13-21 http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/080314.cfm
I’ve been vacationing in Michigan over the past month. We’re living in the lovely cottage my wife, Peggy, inherited from her father in the northern part of the state.
The community there is called Canadian Lakes. It’s white, upper middle class, and very pretty. Peggy and I have spent large parts of our summers there ever since we we’ve been married. Our kids feel attached to the place. In a sense, they’ve grown up there.
In a word, life at Canadian Lakes is good. It’s water-centered and comfortable.
That makes today’s liturgy of the word (with its emphasis on the free gift of water) especially poignant for me. So does the fact that our lake home is located in Michigan with Detroit not so far away. Water’s a problem there.
You see, the relationship of Detroit’s poor to water is very different from ours in Canadian Lakes. Unlike our lakeside community, 44% of Detroit residents fall under the poverty line; 83% of the city’s population is African American. Unemployment in the former Motor City is well above 14.5%. Yet, Detroit’s (unelected) City Manager has been cutting off the water of poor people there. Regardless of your circumstances, if you’re an ordinary Detroit resident two months, behind on your bill, you will suddenly find yourself without water for drinking, bathing and flushing toilets.
If you’re rich, however, it’s a different story. Some of the city’s largest corporate water users are also behind on their water bills – even years behind. For instance high-end golf courses, the Detroit Red Wings, the city’s football stadium and more than half the city’s commercial and industrial users owe back water bills totaling over $30 million. No one is cutting off their water.
It’s also worth noting that the price of Detroit’s water system (administered by private contractors) is more than twice the national average and that the water cut-off plan is part of a scheme to move the city towards a completely privatized water system. Some see it as a measure intended to drive Detroit’s poorest from the city for purposes of gentrification.
Detroit’s water policy has recently gotten world-wide attention. A United Nations Human Rights office designated it a clear violation of fundamental human rights.
In the light of today’s liturgy of the word, we might also designate Detroit’s plan (and in general the commodification of God’s free gifts to all of creation) as a violation of God’s order. In fact, today’s liturgy of the word implies indictment of water privatization schemes and the market system’s practice of treating food itself as a commodity. These are gifts of God, the readings say – part of God’s gift economy which is unbelievable in its generosity.
And why should we be surprised? The God celebrated in today’s responsorial is described as “answering all our needs.” According to the psalmist, that God is gracious, just, holy, merciful, slow to anger, hugely kind, and compassionate. S/he gives food to everyone and everything – without cost.
So why pay for water? Isaiah asks. “All you who are thirsty, come to the water!” he says. “You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!”
The point of contrasting God’s “gift economy” with our exploitive “exchange economy” is driven home in today’s Gospel episode from Matthew the evangelist. The famous “miracle of loaves and fishes” is actually a dramatic parable about God’s Reign and its order. The event may even be factual in the way I’m about to explain.
In any case, the tale is symbolic. It’s about the way the world would work if God were king instead of Caesar. In God’s dispensation, the gifts of creation – food and drink – are given to all without payment. God’s order contradicts our own where food production and even water delivery reap huge profits for the rich.
You know the story. Jesus meets with 5000 men in the desert (“not to mention,” Matthew says, “the women and children”). It’s late in the day. People are hungry and no-doubt getting restless. Jesus’ disciples offer a market solution to the problem of the crowd’s hunger. They say, “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.”
Jesus’ solution is different. He says. “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.”
The disciples almost mock Jesus’ suggestion. They say, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” We can imagine them rolling their eyes and smirking ironically in disbelief at Jesus’ naivety. Did he really think that the loaves and fishes they had would be enough to feed 5000 hungry men and their families?
Nevertheless, Jesus “ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.” Mark adds the detail that he had them break up into small groups of 50 and 100. In those smaller groups, people could see each other’s faces. Inevitably, they must have introduced themselves and shared some personal background, a joke, laughter and human warmth. Friendships blossomed.
Then Jesus “said grace:” That is, with everyone’s eyes on him, the Master Teacher broke the bread, divided the fish and gave it to those around him. No doubt he did so with gestures inviting the crowd to do the same.
As a result, the “miraculous” happened. And it wasn’t a “popcorn miracle” where five loaves suddenly popped into 5000 or where two fish suddenly multiplied by 3000. Instead, the good mothers in the crowd must have followed Jesus’ example. (Can we imagine any good Jewish mamma leaving home for a day in the desert without packing a hearty lunch for their husbands and children?) The mothers opened their picnic lunches and shared them with the people they’d just gotten to know.
It was a “miracle of enough.” Everyone shared. So even the improvident were able to eat with plenty left over – 12 baskets Matthew tells us.
No, I’m not saying the miracle of loaves and fishes was just about food. No. As John Dominic Crossan puts it, the “miracle of loaves and fishes” was not just about food; it was about just food – about just distribution where no one is left hungry. Why? Because that’s the way God and his order are. God gives food, drink – the earth itself – to everyone and everything without cost.
That’s the order Jesus’ followers are called to imitate here and now.
And it is Detroiters (as well as many others throughout the world) who doing just that. They’re busy not only sharing water, but gardening and eating free from their plots on vacant lots – taking grateful advantage of God’s free gifts. You might be surprised to know that Detroit has the largest number of urban gardens in the United States.
We would do well to follow the example of people there and expand on it, taking advantage of God’s free gifts by:
• Opposing water privatization schemes
• Supporting local farmers
• Installing water catchment systems
• Heating water (and our homes) with solar energy
• Bicycling to work
• Getting to know our poor neighbors
• Sharing food with them
• Even paying their water bills
• Opposing military spending (e.g. in Israel and the Ukraine) while U.S. citizens go without water.
To repeat: today’s readings are not just about food and drink; they’re about just food and drink. They’re about sharing God’s free gifts rather than turning them into commodities to benefit the 1%.
Just this morning it was reported that the Israeli State bombed another U.N. designated refugee shelter in Gaza killing children sleeping beside their parents. The attack raised to 1300 the number of Palestinians killed by Israel since the siege of Gaza began. Most of those killed are civilians – at least 20% children. Meanwhile 53 Israelis have lost their lives – all but a handful were soldiers laying siege to Gazan homes and cities protected by their inhabitants.
The ongoing slaughter of Palestinians by the Israeli State makes crystal clear the identity of the real terrorists in Israel-Palestine. They are the State of Israel on the one hand and its unconditional supporter, the U.S. government on the other. Both in fact are terrorist states.
I’ll go even further and argue here that in the present phase of the conflict between Jews and Palestinians, the Jews have little or no right to claim they are acting in self-defense. They are clearly the aggressors guilty of extreme war crimes.
This time I base that argument on helpful analytic distinctions concerning “violence” commonly made be liberation theologians in general and by Palestinian liberation theologians in particular. I interviewed the latter back in 2006 at the Sabeel Ecumenical Center for Liberation Theology in Jerusalem.
Like liberation theologians everywhere, those at the Sabeel Center attempt to analyze their context (and the Judeo-Christian tradition) from the viewpoint of those without public power or voice. Of course, in Palestine that viewpoint belongs to the Palestinians not the Jews.
According to Sabeel analysts, there are really four types of violence at work in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Three of them are employed by Israel’s leadership against the Palestinians. None of the three is justified. In fact, according to liberation theologians, only one level of violence can ever be excused – in very limited circumstances. And that violence happens to be the very type our media uniformly designates as “terroristic” – ironically, the crime of Palestinians defending themselves against criminal Jewish aggression.
Let me explain by reviewing each level of violence identified in liberation theology, connecting each to the conflict under discussion here:
1.Institutionalized Violence:This refers to the destructive social, political and economic “structures” that shape human activity. For instance, the maintenance of a global economic system that causes 35,000 children to die each day from absolutely preventable hunger is a form of institutionalized violence. It kills children, the sick and elderly as predictably as if victims were shot in the head – 35,000 times every day.
In Palestine, the wall snaking through the region is a violent structure. So is the Israeli Army (IDF). Meanwhile Palestinians have no army. So laws preventing Palestinians from arming themselves also represent violent structures depriving them of their right to self-defense. Even legal arrangements which have prevented Palestinian authorities from paying 40,000 workers (because of alleged connections with Hamas) represent structural violence. In Palestine the primary victims of structural violence by far are Palestinians, not Jews.
Structural violence kills Palestinian children every day.
2.The Violence of Self-Defense:Institutionalized violence inevitably gives rise to a response. In the case of Palestine, blowback first took the form of non-violent protests. In 1947 general strikes and demonstrations by Palestinians were so effective that they led the United Nations to suspend its “Partition Plan,” which had awarded 55% of Palestine to Jews, even though they represented only 30% of the area’s population. But when Jewish settlers responded with heavy-handed military measures, violent resistance on the part of Palestinians became more frequent. It eventually culminated in the Six Day War in 1967 and in the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
Later, Palestinian children threw rocks at soldiers illegally occupying their neighborhoods during the First and Second Intifadas in 1982 and 2000. Then in 2009 Palestinian insurgents began firing rudimentary homemade rockets into Israeli neighborhoods. (I will address suicide bombers below.)
Because the first (institutionalized) level of violence goes unidentified as such, this second level of violence typically appears unprovoked. It is therefore identified as “terrorism” pure and simple – an act of evil people who for some reason (e.g. self-interest, racism or sadism) enjoy killing the innocent. This is how Palestinian rocket attacks are portrayed in the U.S. mainstream media to justify Israel’s third level response.
In reality, Palestinians are defending themselves from structural violence and from the third level of violence – its reactionary form.
3.Reactionary Violence: Reactionary violence is the response of the defenders of violent structures to self-defensive, second level violence. This third level violence is routinely overwhelming and shocking in its disproportionality. It is what we are currently witnessing in Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip, where Palestinian casualties dwarf Israeli deaths (currently 1300 to 53). The victims of third level response are overwhelmingly civilian – 20% of them children. Third level violence destroys houses, schools, hospitals, homes for the elderly, playgrounds and refugee shelters.
Regardless of such disproportionality and direct attacks on civilians, the media portray this third level of violence as justified and therefore not really “violence” in the negative sense. Such portrayal leads many to think that the resisters have merely gotten or are getting what they have asked for and deserve. After all, the police and military are merely upholding the law.
4.Terrorist Violence:This category is complicated – again by bias (on the part of governments, police, media and academia) favoring violent structures and their defense. Though more aptly applied to what has here been termed “reactionary violence,” the term “terrorism” is usually (and erroneously) applied indiscriminately to category two (above), the violence of self-defense. In the official or popular mind, it almost never finds application to categories one or three.
Such error is rendered nearly inevitable by official definitions of “terrorism” For instance, the F.B.I. defines terroristic violence as “The unlawful (emphasis added) use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”
This definition is noteworthy for its emphasis on law (or legal structures). Terrorism, it says, is “unlawful” use of force and violence. That is, following this definition, the possibility of unjust legal structures is rendered completely invisible and ruled out of consideration.
Yet is it is clear that the enforcement of law itself (by the British in colonial America, the Nazis in the 1930s, the Afrikaners in South Africa, by State governments in the Jim Crow South, or by the State of Israel in Palestine) can intimidate or coerce entire “civilian populations or segments thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”
In other words, state terrorism is not only possible, but has arguably been far more destructive than non-state terrorism. Chomsky and Herman recognized this in their classic The Real Terror Network. There they call state terrorism (such as that directed towards Palestinians by the State of Israel) “wholesale terrorism,” and responses to it (even like suicide bombers) as “retail” terror.
[That raises the question of Palestinian suicide bombers, who first appeared in 1995. For most, this is correctly identified as a quintessential act of terrorism. However distinctions made here suggest the following question: In terms of terrorism, what is the difference between suicide bombers and the Israeli response we are now witnessing in Gaza?
To begin with, the suicide bombing was not “original” violence but a response to first-level (structural) and third level (reactionary) violence. Moreover the response of the Israeli State on average takes ten to twenty times the number of Palestinian civilian lives as the original attack – just as indiscriminately as any suicide bombing.
Such figures describe state “terrorism” writ large. They illustrate Chomsky and Herman’s distinction between wholesale and retail terrorism.]
With all of this in mind, the distinctions offered by liberation theologians in Latin America and in Palestine lead the following conclusions:
• Since it is defending the structural violence of illegal occupation (in violation, for instance, of UN Resolution 242), Israel has no justifiable claim to self-defense.
• Its present offensive in Gaza does not even qualify as (unjustifiable) “reactionary violence.”
• Rather, it represents an act of wholesale terrorism in its indiscriminate attacks on civilians, homes, schools, playgrounds, power plants, and refugee centers.
• Meanwhile Palestinians have the right to self-defense. As Chris Hedges has recently pointed out, this is supported by Article 51 of the U.N. Charter and by Article III of the Geneva Convention regarding the Protection of Civilians during Time of War.
• Nevertheless suicide bombing is an act of terrorism and cannot be morally justified.
• But Zionist response is no different in moral terms and far more destructive as an act of wholesale terrorism.
• In comparison to Israel’s structural, reactionary, and terroristic violence, Hamas’ rocket fire into Israel turns out to be more symbolic than destructive. Its nearly victimless effect is to keep the Jewish population aware of the ongoing injustice of illegal occupation, of the illegal separation wall, and the seven year siege of Gaza, the largest prison camp on the face of the earth.
My conclusion to all of this is the following: It is time for media coverage to abandon their pro-Israel coverage which is itself part of the structural violence destroying Palestinian lives. Even more, it is time for peace activists everywhere to find their voices on behalf of the voiceless.
Regardless of threats to our organizations and careers, we must all speak out clearly on behalf of Palestinians and condemn ethnic cleansing by the State of Israel.
Peggy and I are in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. We’re here to give papers at the “Moving beyond Capitalism” conference of the Center for Global Justice (CGJ). I’m honored to be part of a panel with Rabbi Michael Lerner (editor of Tikkun Magazine, the Jewish left-progressive quarterly). My job will be to present the Palestinian viewpoint on the conflict with Israel.
Frankly, there’s only one reason I’ve been invited. It’s because of a crisis I created in San Miguel eight years ago when I spoke on the same topic. It nearly brought the end of the Center for Global Justice. It even threatened my job at Berea College.
The whole incident illustrates the way even small-time publications and good-willed advocates of social justice can be intimidated and silenced by champions of Zionism. The incident represents a summons to such agents to break the silence and speak the truth regardless of Zionist bullying and threats.
You see in 2006, Peggy and I were working with the CGJ directing a summer intern project for students from the U.S., Mexico and Cuba. Out of the blue, one week the program chair of the local Unitarian Universalist (U.U.) meeting asked me to speak at their Sunday gathering. I had done that in several places before and accepted without a second thought. The invitation came specifically because of my connection with the Center for Global Justice.
“Why do you want me to speak about?” I asked the organizer.
“Anything you want,” she replied.
“Well, I speak on conflicting understandings of Jesus,” I said. “As a liberation theologian, I like that topic.”
“Oh no,” came the immediate reply. “The last time someone spoke on Jesus we were all bored to tears. Can you talk about something else?”
That gave me pause. . . . But I had just returned from a three week trip to Israel sponsored by Berea College where I taught for 36 years. So I said, “How about sharing observations from my recent trip to Israel?”
“That sounds great,” the program chair said. “Let’s call your talk, ‘A Report from Israel.’”
I agreed, prepared my remarks, and delivered them the next Sunday. My thesis was clear and unambiguous. “The real terrorists in Israel, I said, “are the Jewish Zionists who run the country.” I didn’t consider my basically historical argument particularly original or shocking. Chomsky and others had been making it for years.
What I didn’t realize was that almost everyone in my audience was Jewish. (I didn’t even know about San Miguel’s large Jewish population – mostly “snowbirds” from New York City.) Nonetheless, my remarks that Sunday stimulated an engrossing extended discussion. Everyone was respectful, and the enthusiastic conversation even spilled over beyond the allotted time.
Immediately afterwards, during breakfast in the U.U. center, one of the founders of the CGJ said, “That was great, Mike. You really ought to put all of that down on paper. You can publish it as an article in San Miguel’s weekly English newspaper, Atencion. They give us column space there each week.”
“Great,” I said. (I already had the talk written out.) I sent it into Atencion and it was published about a month later. By then I was back in the states teaching at Berea.
I’ll never forget what followed: all hell broke loose:
• A barrage of angry letters flooded the Atencion pages for the next two weeks and more.
• As a result, Atencion threatened to cancel the CGJ’s weekly column.
• San Miguel’s Bibliotheca talked about ending the CGJ’s access to meeting space there.
• My article was removed from Atencion’s archives and (I think) from the archives of the Center for Global Justice.
• Someone from the AIPAC (American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee) phoned my provost at Berea College reporting me for my inflammatory article, asking whether I really taught there and if my credentials were genuine.
• The CGJ’s leadership was forced to do some back-pedaling distancing itself from me and my remarks.
• They lit candles of reconciliation at a subsequent U.U. meeting begging forgiveness from the community and absolution for that mad man from Berea.
• The guiding assumption in all of this was that my argument was patently false.
In other words, an article that should have stimulated discussion of its thesis (with CGJ activists leading the way as a voice for the voiceless) was met instead with denial and apology.
However, the ongoing slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza only confirms my original thesis. So let me repeat it here: the real terrorists in Israel are the Jewish Zionists. I’ll go even further and say that in the present phase of the conflict between Jews and Palestinians, the Jews have little or no right to claim they are acting in self-defense. They are clearly the aggressors guilty of extreme war crimes.
This time I base that argument on helpful analytic distinctions concerning “violence” commonly made be liberation theologians in general and by Palestinian liberation theologians in particular. I interviewed the latter back in 2006 at the Sabeel
Ecumenical Center for Liberation Theology in Jerusalem.
I’ll explain the relevant distinctions in the second part of this posting. For now my points are these:
• Zionist defenders are afraid of open discussion of the conflict in Palestine.
• Zionist media control extends far beyond The New York Times.
• It even blacks out Palestinian viewpoints in small-time publications like San Miguel de Allende’s Atencion.
• It threatens academic integrity as well attempting to reach into classrooms like my own at Berea College.
• It even intimidates well-meaning and highly informed activists like those at the CGJ.
My conclusion for now: the media and even would-be “radicals” need to own their power in fearlessly denouncing the war crimes of Israel’s Zionists which will be discussed in the article following this one: “The Conflict in Israel: the Perspective of Palestinian Liberation Theology.”
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
The whole world was surprised when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1989. The dissolution represented an earth shaking paradigm shift to say the least. However, virtually no one claims foreknowledge on that one. One wonders how such oversight was possible.
Something similar is happening today. The poor of the world are asserting themselves against U.S. hegemony. Yet, virtually no one in the mainstream seems to notice. Once again, the revolution is not being televised.
Not even followers of Jesus’ Way are commenting. And this despite the fact that before all others, we should be attuned to paradigmatic shifts in world order connected with what Jesus termed the Kingdom of God.
Such paradigm contrast is suggested by today’s liturgy of the word. It juxtaposes the dream of Solomon, Israel’s would-be empire builder, and Jesus’ words about the contrasting nature of God’s Kingdom.
Let me show you what I mean by connecting the three elements I’ve just mentioned: (1) today’s untelevised revolution, (2) Solomon’s imperial ambitions, and (3) Jesus’ contrasting Kingdom of God.
Begin by noting that the current world order is dissolving before our very eyes. That became apparent two weeks ago at the Sixth Summit of Heads of State and of Governments of BRICS which took place in Fortaleza, Brasilia. Besides leaders from the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), the presidents of UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations, all participated including Kirchner (Argentina), Bachelet (Chile), Santos (Colombia), Morales (Bolivia), Correa (Ecuador), Mujica (Uruguay), Maduro (Venezuela), and Umala (Peru).
Those present at the conference represent more than half the people in the world and fully 25% of its gross domestic product. That’s more economic power than the United States which controls 20% of the world’s GDP with 5% of the planet’s population.
And what did the BRICS Conference participants discuss? Not bombings, sanctions, debt ceilings, presidential impeachments, or lawsuits against heads of state – not birth control, abortion, gay marriage or border security. Instead they actually confronted the shared problems of the world – all the situations our provincial U.S. Congress systematically avoids, denies, and/or manipulates for political purposes.
Even more importantly, BRICS Conference attendees specifically planned the de-Americanization of the global economy and the creation of a multilateral, multipolar world prioritizing the needs of the Global South. Deliberation topics included:
* Third World development in general
* The industrialization of Africa in particular
* The Creation of a BRICS development bank to replace the World Bank and the IMF
* New international currencies to supplant the U.S. dollar as the world reserve
* Sustainable responses to climate change
* Building a railway from the Pacific Ocean in Peru to the Atlantic in Brazil
* Installation of an IT cable from Vladivostok to Shantou, Chennai, Cape Town and Fortaleza (bypassing the United States).
* BRICS collaboration with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) which binds Russia and China into a common security policy with Central Asia.
Such matters are world-transforming.
In fact, they represent practical steps towards something like the global wealth tax suggested by Thomas Picketty in Capital in the 21st Century – a tax dismissed by U.S. mainstream media as excessively idealistic, impractical and never-to-be implemented.
The thing is: those willing to impose such tax for the benefit of the developing world belong to the developing nations themselves. They are going their own way free from the hegemony of the United States.
All of this is relevant to today’s liturgical readings.
The selections implicitly compare the paradigm shift heralded by Jesus and his proclamation of God’s Kingdom to replace the imperial order not only of Rome, but of Israel itself. Israel’s leaders a thousand years earlier had hijacked the Mosaic Covenant favoring God’s poor.
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 hijacked 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. (That’s like the clap-trap we have to endure from American Exceptionalists and from those anticipating a New American Century.)
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 their perennial antagonists, Israel’s court and its cronies. 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. So Israel’s 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.
Like the BRICS Conference, the Mosaic Covenant prioritized the needs of the poor.
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% in 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.
I’m not saying that the Kingdom has arrived with the BRICS Conference. I’m not claiming that Jubilee is about to dawn. However a power has emerged which actually prioritizes benefitting the poor instead of the 1%. And followers of Jesus’ Way should buy into it. We need to celebrate it and anticipate it in our own lives.
The New World Order anticipated by BRICS is certainly not perfect. However it’s far from the imperial order which protects the given order, constantly threatens sanctions if you disobey, and whose policies inevitably target the poor and most vulnerable.
In other words the emphasis of the BRICS Conference is not on policies causing Matthew’s “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Instead it’s on cooperation, mutual respect and common good.
Now that’s a move Jesus’ followers can endorse. It’s moving us towards global change even more significant than the unforeseen fall of the Soviet Union.
That’s reason for hope.
The entire world stands aghast at the cruelty of Israel’s vicious and illegal collective punishment of Palestinian civilians for the perceived “crimes” of Hamas – the group of Palestinian resisters committed to the expulsion of illegal Zionist occupiers from the Palestinian homeland.
Today’s liturgy of the word implores the Zionists to abandon their butchery.
It also challenges Christians to denounce such ethnic cleansing and to withdraw the last vestiges of support for a group that more resembles their former Nazi persecutors than the “People of God” celebrated in the Hebrew Bible.
At the same time, today’s readings support rabbi Michael Lerner in cautioning Hamas against its policy of violent resistance. Though many of us would agree that Hamas’ tactics are understandable and often justified by principles of self-defense, today’s Gospel reading identifies them as counterproductive and ultimately harmful to the very people Hamas seeks to defend.
Instead, Jesus suggests that violent resistance should be replaced by greater reliance on more subtle and patient strategies. Such strategies are reflected in the three basic themes of today’s readings. They emphasize (1) the power of God expressed in leniency and forgiveness, (2) the futility of violent response to unwanted foreign presence, and (3) resistance that takes the form of patient trust that God’s forgiving power will prevail. In succession, the themes suggest challenges for Jewish Zionists, Palestinians, and Christians.
Begin with the first reading from the Jewish Testament’s Book of Wisdom. It is particularly relevant to Zionist Jews. The reading says explicitly that God’s power is not expressed in violence but in leniency to all, Jew and non-Jew alike.
That theme is repeated in today’s responsorial psalm with equal relevance to Zionists. There God is described as belonging to all nations. The divine Spirit, as Paul insists in today’s second reading, dwells within all humans regardless of nationality. It is slow to anger, good, forgiving, abounding in kindness.
From this, Jewish wisdom insists that the “People of God” must in turn be kind, lenient and forgiving to all – presumably even to their worst enemies. There is no room here for exceptions involving the indigenous tribal people of Palestine.
The second theme of today’s liturgy enjoys direct relevance to contemporary Palestinians. Whether they are Muslims or Christians (and many are Christians), they also recognize the Bible as the Word of God. I point to Palestinian relevance because this second theme addresses the question of resisting illegal occupation.
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 occupied Israel, the suffocating Roman presence was as unwelcome, alien, and destructive as weeds in a garden or field. It was like the presence of basically European Zionist colonizers who have encumbered Palestinian land since their colonial invasion in 1948.
The question was how to deal with such odious foreign presence. 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 the more apocalyptic strategy. After all, much of his teaching expressed sympathy to the Zealot cause which included 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 Hamas.
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 Zionist state) 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.
How then respond to illegal occupation like Rome’s in the 1st century or Israel’s over the last more than 60 years?
Jesus’ response? Be like mustard plant, he says. Be like yeast in flour. Both puzzling recommendations are relevant not only to Palestinians, but to Christians who wish to help their brothers and sisters in Palestine against the Zionists-turned-Nazis.
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 weeds in your garden.
* Don’t try to uproot them.
* That will only lead to slaughter of the innocent.
* Rather become weeds yourselves – like the mustard plant which is much more powerful than simple Roman (or Zionist) 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.
What does that mean for Christians wishing to express solidarity with Palestinians against their cruel 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.
* To bring about change, be instead like the yeast a homemaker puts into 60 pounds of flour, “infecting” the greater culture by non-violent resistance rather than seeking to destroy enemies.
* Recognize the Zionists for what they are: an outlaw European “settler society” illegally occupying Palestinian land.
* Take sides with Palestine’s indigenous tribal People.
* Recognize them for what they are: “the Jews’ Jews” – treated by Zionists in the same way the Nazis treated Jews in Germany.
* Petition the U.S. government to withdraw its support of Israel (more than one million dollars per day) unless the Zionists obey UN Resolution 242 and abandon the occupied territory while tearing down the odious Wall of Shame protecting the illegal Zionist settlements.
* Support boycotts of Israel’s products by not buying them and by urging our churches and places of business to do the same.
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 pretend to embrace, Jesus’ Way is God’s way.
But then perhaps we think we’re smarter and more realistic than Jesus — or God?