Readings for Second Sunday of Advent: IS 11: 1-10; PS 72: 1-2, 7-8, 12-13; ROM 15: 4-9; MT 3: 1-12 http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120813.cfm
Recently articles in OpEdNews (my favorite on-line news source) have been full of revolutionary themes. For instance, Chris Hedges informed us of an invisible revolution simmering and about to erupt. It will be driven, he said, by widespread discontent with wages, wealth disparities, militarism, and climate change denial.
Then in his viral BBC interview, comedian Russell Brand called for revolution stimulated by everyone’s recognition of the futility of politics as we know it. No one should vote, he said; the system is too broken to be improved at the ballot box.
On the other hand, Senator Bernie Sanders’ revolution would be based wider participation in political processes, with everyone voting. That would overcome reactionary moves that disenfranchise voters and empower moneyed interests to determine electoral outcomes against the popular will.
Calling us back to reality, Robert Becker advised that any revolution at all is highly unlikely, since no one on the left offers compelling direction or revolutionary vision.
At the time of its publication, that last remark seemed apt. No world leader capable of mobilizing millions had yet emerged.
However all of that changed two weeks ago. The compelling direction and revolutionary vision whose absence Mr. Becker correctly lamented indeed materialized in an ironically unlikely form – a pronouncement of the Roman Catholic papacy.
On Tuesday November 26th, Pope Francis published his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). It represents the most articulate and detailed “vision” of a revolutionary future yet offered by anyone actually capable of producing results in the street and at the ballot box.
That is, as a member of the world’s super-elite, and virtually above reproach and easy dismissal by his fellow aristocrats, the pope’s pronouncement demands serious consideration. This is especially true on the parts of the bishops and clergy who weekly have before them captive audiences voluntarily come together to meditate upon, pray about, and attempt to internalize the gospel vision which the pope describes as focused on the poor, peace, social justice and on the structural causes of violence, war and terrorism. Moreover, these themes, the pope insists, should be driven home in homilies at Sunday Mass, since such leitmotifs represent the inescapable essence of the Judeo Christian tradition.
Today’s liturgy of the word provides a case in point. It articulates the revolutionary vision and compelling direction the pope finds throughout the Bible. It’s a utopian vision that courageously connects peace with social justice and environmental consciousness.
Consider the first selection from the prophet Isaiah. It directly links peace and social justice – for the poor and oppressed who in Isaiah’s day and our own are typically ignored. By way of contrast, Isaiah’s concept of justice consists precisely in judging the poor and oppressed fairly and not according to anti-poor prejudice – in Isaiah’s words, not by “appearance or hearsay.” (No room here for “Stop and Frisk,” or “Shop and Frisk!”)
Not only that, but according to the prophet, treating the poor justly is the key to peace between humans and with nature. It produces a utopian wonderland where all of us live in complete harmony with nature and with other human beings. In Isaiah’s poetic reality, lions, lambs, and calves play together. Leopards and goats, cows and bears, little babies and deadly snakes experience no threat from each other. Most surprising of all, even believers (Jews) and non-believers (gentiles) are at peace. (Today’s excerpt from Paul’s Letter to the Romans seconds this point. He tells his correspondents to “welcome one another” – including gentiles – i.e. those the Jewish community normally considered incapable of pleasing God.)
Today’s responsorial psalm reinforces the idea of peace flowing from justice meted out to the “least.” As Psalm 72 was sung, we all responded, “Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace forever.” And again, the justice in question has the poor as its object. The psalmist praises a God and a government (king) who “rescue the poor and afflicted when they cry out” – who “save the lives of the poor.”
In his own time, the lack of the justice celebrated in today’s first three readings infuriates Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. Today’s gospel reading has him excoriating the religious leaders of his day as a “brood of vipers.” Unmistakably clothed as a prophet – in garments that absolutely repudiate fashion and the pretenses of his effete opponents John reminds us of the simple lifestyle adopted by Francis I. John lambasts the Scribal Establishment which had identified with the occupation forces of Rome. As opposition high priest, John promises a religious renewal that will lead to a new Exodus – this time from the power of Rome and its religious collaborators.
As part of today’s revolutionary theme, it’s important to emphasize the Exodus dimensions of Matthew’s description of John. The Baptist is presented as preaching and baptizing specifically outside the temple and sphere of the priests. In fact, John appears in the wilderness – in the desert. For Jews, this would not only have evoked overtones of their great myth of national origin. It would also have signaled a subversive significance in John’s work. After all, the “desert” or “wilderness” was the place where contemporary resistance movements were spawned. (I imagine that if the Romans had the power, they would have “droned” John and his followers in a “signature strike.”)
Do you see what I mean about harnessing the revolutionary power of the Bible’s myth, poetry, utopian visions, and preferential option for the poor? It’s all there in Isaiah, Psalm 72, in Paul’s letter to the Romans, and in Matthew’s portrait of John. And if we look with the eyes of Pope Francis, we can find those themes every Sunday. It’s powerful stuff, I’m sure you agree. And the pope not only sees that himself, he has called 1.2 billion inhabitants of this planet to recognize it along with him and act accordingly.
The action Francis recommends is particular. It consists in combatting a form of capitalism that he describes as systematized murder. He rejects “trickle-down” theory, and demands interference in the out-workings of markets in the name of the common good. The pope calls Catholics and others of good will to recognize access to food, education, and healthcare as human rights.
And the pope does all of this without demanding sophisticated comprehension of history, economic theories, or detailed social analysis.
Instead he relies on the power of myth, poetry, God-talk, and biblical focus on a divine preferential option for the poor and Jesus’ vision of God as universal parent.
All of that is there in today’s liturgy of the word. For any with eyes to see, it’s there every Sunday to assuage our hunger for “vision” and “direction.”
It’s time for progressives to follow the lead of Pope Francis. He’s calling us to set aside our pseudo-sophistication that has intellectuals rejecting the Bible’s power to mobilize huge masses of people. That is, we must reclaim the powerful mythology of the Bible and lay aside our practical disdain for story, myth and symbol. That’s where we’ll find our missing “vision and direction.”
I find that promising, invigorating . . . and somehow ironic.
For the next ten days (Dec. 4th-10th) I’ll be offline. That’s because I’ll be participating in a 10-day long Vipassana Meditation course in a meditation center (pictured above) in Bangalore. That’s a very big city about a 3-hour train ride north of Mysore. As you can see from the orientation material reprinted below, I’ll be forbidden to read or write anything during the retreat, so I won’t be able to do any direct postings on this blog site.
However, I have my homilies already written for the next two Sundays (the second and third Sundays of Advent). If all goes according to plan, they’ll appear automatically this coming Friday and the following Friday. I’ll appreciate your keeping an eye out for them.
In any case, here’s the orientation information provided for Vipassana meditators (It will give you an idea of what I’ll be up to):
Information For Participants
Bangalore Weather: Bangalore experiences a very favorable soothing weather throughout the year, neither too humid nor too dry, and is sometimes referred to as ‘air-conditioned city’.
Warmest month – April, temperatures range from 36 C to 21 C
Coldest month – January, temperatures range from 25 C to 15 C
Please arrive between 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm on the day the course begins. This allows time for you to check in, get your accommodation and unpack. Late arrivals make it difficult for the staff to serve everyone efficiently and to start the course on time.
If you have an emergency and are unable to arrive at the requested time, please notify us as soon as possible. Also, after being accepted into a course, if your plans change in any way, please notify us immediately.
On registration-day, a light meal will be served at 6:00 pm followed by a pre-course orientation talk.
You are required to stay until the course is completed at approximately 7:00 am on the last day of the course. Although the course ends at 7:00 am, please allow enough time to clean your room before you leave.
When making travel arrangements, please allow sufficient time for travel to and from the centre.
What is Provided
The following items are provided by the Centre to all meditators
Top Check-list of Things to Carry
Confirmation letter/email printout
2 bed-sheets and a pillow cover with you for your use.
Enough comfortable, modest, loose clothing (preferably of cotton for your convenience) for the duration of your stay (3 sets recommended)
Torch with sufficient batteries
Basic toiletries kit – toothbrush, tooth-paste, shaving kit, soap, soap-case, shampoo, non-scented personal hygiene articles and feminine sanitary protection
Water bottle to keep at residence.
Lock and key
Umbrella / Raincoat / Sweater / Cap (as per weather)
Address, directions and contact number for the center
Bedsheet + pillow-cover
Watch (alarm clock) – though a bell will indicate the timing.
Piece of cloth for wiping feet
Nylon Rope / clips for drying of clothes
What Meditators Could Avoid
The following items are not allowed during the course. So even if brought to the center, they are to be deposited along with any other valuables, for safe custody with the management on day zero, till the end of the course.
Tight, transparent, revealing or otherwise striking clothing (such as low risers, shorts, short skirts, tights, leggings, trunks, sleeve-less or skimpy tops) should not be worn at the centre. Modest dress is required for both men and women
Books, diaries, journals and other reading/writing materials
Cell phones or palm tops. These may not be used as alarm clocks during the course.
Personal food items (see ‘Health and Food’ section below for more information)
Tobacco in any form.
Perfumes or strongly scented toiletries.
Religious or spiritual objects.
Jewellery or other unnecessary valuables.
Health and Food
A Vipassana meditation course is very demanding both physically and mentally. It is important that you are prepared for the rigorous nature of the course. After you have completed the application process if anything related to your physical or mental health changes, please contact the centre prior to the course.
For the health and safety of all the students, it is important that you are in good health when you arrive at the centre. If you are sick, or should become ill close to the start of your course, please reschedule for a course at a future date.
A simple vegetarian menu, developed to satisfy the needs of most students, is offered at all courses. Please note, no outside food is allowed at the centre and we are unable to accommodate special food requests. However, if you have food requirements because of a medically diagnosed condition such as diabetes or pregnancy, please contact the centre to see if we can meet your needs.
For the last 30 years the religious right (both Protestant and Catholic) has been telling us that Christian values should influence the way we vote. What will they say now that Pope Francis has called 1.2 billion Roman Catholics to move beyond obsessions with sex – abortion, contraception, and same-sex marriage?
How will they respond to his demands in his recent Pastoral Exhortation (Evangelii Gaudium) to centralize instead issues of poverty and the huge income gaps between the haves and have-nots? How will they answer the pope’s call to recognize the futility of directing billions towards a doomed “War on Terrorism” rather than correcting the structural injustices that cause such violence in the first place? What about his suggestion that those billions would be better invested in meeting human rights to food, health and education? (Yes, they are human rights according to the pope!)
All of that puts the Republicans and their fellow-travelers on the spot. After all, they have been the voting booth beneficiaries of obsession with sexual issues. They are the champion privatization, deregulated markets, and huge tax breaks for the rich. They oppose universal health care, investing money in public education, increasing the minimum wage, supporting labor unions, Food Stamp programs, and even Social Security financed by workers’ own savings. Republicans are the “tough on terrorism” bunch who (unlike the pope) attribute such violence to “hatred of our freedom,” rather than to blowback for the injustices of global capitalism.
According to the pope, such right-wing attitudes represent the very causes not only of world hunger and poverty, but of violence and terrorism. Only by interfering in the out-workings of the free market – by regulation (such as Glass-Steagal or the Tobin Tax), redirecting defense spending towards social programs (such as Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps), by increasing the minimum wage, and taxing the rich, – can such problems be solved.
In other words, it’s not possible this time to say “Oh, yes, we all know that good Catholics are expected to give generously to their favorite charities.” That’s not sufficient, Pope Francis asserts. No, the pope has faulted not lack of charitable giving, but the free enterprise system itself for causing the problems of global poverty and hunger as well as those of terrorism and war.
For years at election time, both the political and religious right has inundated us with directions about voting based on what the pope has identified as sexual obsessions.
It will be most interesting to observe any change in tone or direction in the upcoming general election.
Will we now be directed towards voting Democratic – for Hillary? Or will our Christian “leaders” be even more heedful of Pope Francis’ direction and urge voting instead for consumer protectionist Elizabeth Warren, for Socialist Bernie Sanders – or the Green Party candidate?
In red state Kentucky, we anxiously await direction from Mr. McConnell and Lexington’s Bishop Gainer.
Readings for First Sunday in Advent: IS 2: 1-5; PS 122: 1-9; ROM 13: 11-14; MT 24: 37-44 http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120113.cfm
Isn’t it amazing how quickly the world changes? At times radical transformation happens so rapidly that we can miss the significance of events unfolding right before our eyes. One of those events occurred last week. Pope Francis astonished the world by publishing a revolutionary platform (Evangelii Gaudium) for his papacy, church and world. In doing so he is the first world leader among the global elite to call corporate globalization by its true name (systematized murder). As a result, 1.2 billion Catholics suddenly find themselves challenged about the free market, “trickle-down” theory, world hunger and poverty, the roots of terrorism, the unacceptability of war, the surveillance state and obsession of the rich with “defense” and “security.” All of those familiar elements were thoroughly rejected by the pope.
If Catholic Christians (and other fellow-travelers) were to embrace the pope’s message, history’s door would suddenly fling itself open to truly radical change. It would mean for the first time since the 4th century Christians would embrace “the way” of Jesus as opposed to that of Caesar, Constantine and their Euro-American successors. A world at peace would at last be possible.
Today’s liturgy of the word, this first Sunday of Advent, invites us to envision such an unabashedly utopian world. Evangelii Gaudium makes that vision even more compelling and somehow brings it within reach.
Yes, a utopian world! It’s the Judeo-Christian vision. It’s the vision of Pope Francis.
Take the initial reading for this first Sunday of Advent. There the prophet Isaiah identifies Jerusalem as a Center of Peace. He does so in the most unlikely of circumstances – at a time when the city and the entire Kingdom of Judah (as well as the Northern Kingdom of Israel) finds itself under imminent threat from the Assyrian Empire. The threat obscured the vision of Isaiah’s contemporaries –but not the prophet’s.
Despite the fog of war, Isaiah can still see Jerusalem (and the world) as he wants them to be – as he thinks God wants them to be. Jerusalem suddenly becomes a harbinger of a place and time when war will completely disappear from the face of the earth. Then, Isaiah says, resources for battle will be reinvested in agriculture and forestry. Swords will be turned to plows and pruning hooks. No nation will rise against any other. Military training camps will be abolished. An era of light, the prophet promises, will have dawned with Jerusalem (City of Peace) as its center.
Urban renewal with a vengeance will result. That’s what today’s responsorial psalm (# 122) says. It had us chanting “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.” The psalm goes on: Let us go to Jerusalem for it is not only a City of Peace, but of the prosperity that inevitably follows the abolition of war and the reinvestment of military resources. Jerusalem’s infrastructure is completely rebuilt. It is as if (in the psalmist’s words) peace had penetrated the city’s very walls and the stones of its buildings. It’s the result of people reinvesting resources in peace, internalizing peaceful aspirations, and adopting the mantra “May peace be within your walls, prosperity in your buildings . . . “Peace be within you!” Action follows thought.
In Chapter 13 of his Letter to the Romans, Paul agrees. He takes up Isaiah’s theme of peacemaking as “walking in light.” If you insist on arming yourselves, he says, let it be with light. This is a reference to the Enlightened Jesus. “Walking in Light,” Paul says, means embodying the Christ’s very presence. So Paul urges us to “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ” – as if he were a garment – so that all who see us find themselves looking at Princesses and Princes of Peace. Paul contrasts walking in light with working in darkness – idolizing pleasure along with competition, jealousy, blind consumption, and drunken oblivion that saps awareness of who we really are. These are the very evils Pope Francis identified as underlying corporate globalization’s systematized oppression.
Finally today’s gospel excerpt from Matthew calls us away from business as usual – the business of war. It challenges us to choose between destroying ourselves and working for the advent of God’s Kingdom.
We stand on the cusp of a new era, Jesus insists – a new beginning as radical as the new world facing Noah after the Great Flood. As then, today’s order is about to be destroyed, Jesus warns. (And it was, when Rome invaded Israel and turned Jerusalem to a pile of rubble.)
It doesn’t have to be that way, the Master insists. Instead of war’s destruction, there could be universal peace. Jesus called it “The Kingdom of God” – what the world would be like if the Parent of All were King – instead of Caesar, the great patron of war and oppression. Like Isaiah’s, Jesus’ vision too is utopian. In God’s Kingdom each treats the other as kin – as sister, brother, friend, and lover. The Golden Rule applies. The earth’s resources are shared, not horded or carelessly destroyed. There are no poor, because everything is shared in common, just as happened in the idealized community of Jesus’ earliest followers (Acts 2:44, 4:32, 5:9).
That Kingdom (or its opposite – it’s up to us) will arrive sooner than we expect, Jesus promises, “like a thief in the night.” This means most might not even know a new era has dawned till after the dreams that sleepwalkers cherish have disappeared. If they don’t wake up, it may even seem that the somnambulants’ very selves have been “taken” – like the man in the field and the woman at the mill Jesus mentions. They simply vanish while their minds and hands are focused on work that then becomes irrelevant.
Like Jesus (and Pope Francis), Noah tried to warn such people about the karma they were creating for themselves. But they were asleep – in denial really – concerned merely with eating, drinking, starting families and laboring as though Noah’s warnings were nonsense.
But then . . . la deluge!
Of course, most progressives hearing all of this today are about as believing as Noah’s audience – or Jesus’ for that matter. We find it hard to believe that real positive change can happen to our world. The evil surrounding us seems so permanent; its forces so overwhelming. But that’s only because we’re asleep. “Wake up!” is the message of Isaiah, the psalmist, Paul and Jesus.
It we do so, it immediately becomes apparent that eras really do change – and sometimes for the better. And I’m not just referring to Evangelii Gaudium. Think about it. All of a sudden, it seems:
• The Soviet Union dissolves – unexpectedly in a matter of weeks. No one saw it coming.
• Someone in the neo-colonial world decides “enough!” and 9/11 happens. In a single day, everything changes. With minimum expenditure, in one fell swoop empire’s victims begin dismantling an “indestructible” behemoth.
• Similar frustrations erupt throughout the empire in rebellions that the imperialists are powerless to control. It’s called an “Arab Spring.” Alternatively, the rebellions are characterized as “terrorism.”
• The Big Brother, who controls by watching us, suddenly becomes the object of our scrutiny and surveillance, and empire’s credibility is lost seemingly overnight. (Thanks, Edward Snowden.)
• In response, empire’s order crumbles before our eyes with its “leaders” themselves doing most of the destroying. That is the elite respond to attacks by looting the empire’s treasuries while they still can. They dismantle everything that made the empire proud. They destroy the basis of their country’s wealth – its infrastructure, the “freedoms of its citizens,” their jobs, the empire’s very Constitution. (Meanwhile, those responsible for 9/11 stand in the wings and laugh.)
• Nature itself cooperates and sympathetically unleashes its fury on a way of life that interferes with her laws. Mountains are literally moved as ice and glaciers melt. The corresponding world-wide deluge gives new meaning to Jesus’ reference to Noah in this morning’s gospel selection.
• Suddenly the imperial order finds itself discarded on the ashbin of history along with its counterparts – most recently Great Britain and the Soviet Union.
Will our future simply be more of the same with some other empire replacing the old one? Or will the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics and 2.5 billion Christians in total finally wake up, truly follow the Enlightened Jesus, and transform the world – as the pope has invited us to do?
That’s the Advent project set before us today!
What will you do this week – what will I do – to hasten the advent of the world without war that Isaiah, Paul and the Prince of Peace imagined?
Readings for the feast of “Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe”: 2 SM 5: 1-3, PS 122: 1-5; COL 1: 12-20; LK 23: 35-43. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/112413.cfm
Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of “Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” The contrast between the feast’s grandiose title and the readings prescribed for the occasion illustrate a basic reason behind the irrelevance of the church (and Jesus) to the post-modern world. It’s irrelevant to the social and economic transformations necessary to redeem the church’s overwhelmingly Third World membership from globalized oppression.
The contrast I’m referring to involves the great makeover of Jesus of Nazareth changing him from the leader of an anti-imperial revolutionary movement into a pillar of the exploitative status quo.
Let me put it this way: through 4th century sleight of hand, the Jesus who sided with the poor and those oppressed by empire – the one who promised a new heaven and earth belonging to the simple and poor, and who was executed as a terrorist by Rome – was made to switch sides. He was co-opted and domesticated – kicked upstairs into the royal class. He became not only a patron of the Roman Empire, but a “king” complete with crown, purple robes, scepter and fawning courtiers.
Following that transformation, kings and popes (now themselves transformed into gaudy temporal rulers) claimed to govern by divine right on behalf of Jesus as his representatives and vicars. In this way, the poor and oppressed (who then and now constitute the world’s majority) lost their paradigmatic leader, example and advocate. Jesus became instead a key part of the apparatus oppressing them.
Reza Aslan’s recent best-seller, Zealot, attempts to rescue the revolutionary historical Jesus from the distortions of the royal classes just mentioned. Aslan connects his salvage project specifically with today’s account of Jesus’ crucifixion in Luke, Chapter 23. In doing so, the author pays particular attention to Jesus’ cross, to the Roman inscription identifying Jesus as “King of the Jews,” and to the dialog between Jesus and the two “thieves” presented as sharing his fate.
According to Aslan, all three – cross, inscription and dialog – mark Jesus as a dangerous revolutionary “terrorist” rather than a domesticated upholder of the given order. That terrorist remains as threatening to today’s dominant empire, the U.S.A., as he was to imperial Rome. So he continues to be erased from history and by “feasts” like today that mask his true identity.
Take the cross first. It was the mode of execution reserved primarily for insurrectionists against the Roman occupation of Palestine. The fact that Jesus was crucified indicates that the Romans believed him to be a revolutionary terrorist. How could it have been otherwise, Aslan asks? After all, Jesus was widely considered the “messiah” – i.e. as the one, like David in today’s first reading, expected to lead “The War” against Israel’s oppressors.
Moreover, he proclaimed the “Kingdom of God,” a highly politicized metaphor which could only be understood as an alternative to Roman rule. It would return Israel, Jesus himself promised, to Yahweh’s governance and accord primacy to the poor and marginalized. The Romans drew logical conclusions. Put otherwise, the Roman cross itself provides bloody testimony to the radical threat the empire saw personified in Jesus.
That threat was made specific in the inscription the Romans placed over the head of the crucified Jesus. It read, “King of the Jews.”
Typically, those words are interpreted as a cruel joke by the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate – as if he were simply poking fun at those who saw Jesus as the worthy successor of Israel’s beloved King David.
However, according to Reza Aslan, nothing humorous was intended by the inscription. Instead it was a titulus. Every victim of crucifixion had one – a statement of the reason for his execution. The motive for Jesus’ crucifixion was the same as for the many others among his contemporaries who were executed for the same crime: aspiring to replace Roman rule with home rule – with an Israel governed by Jews instead of Romans. The titulus on Jesus’ cross, along with the cross itself identify him as the antithesis of what he eventually became, a Roman tool.
And then there are those two thieves. Aslan says they weren’t “thieves” at all. That’s a mistranslation, he points out. A better translation of the Greek word, lestai , would be “bandits” – the common designation in the first century for insurrectionists. And there probably weren’t just two others crucified the day Jesus was assassinated. There may have been a dozen or more.
And, no, the whole world wasn’t watching either. As scripture scholar John Dominic Crossan observes, Jesus would have represented hardly a blip on the screen of Pontius Pilate. And Jews would have averted their eyes from the spectacle depicted in this morning’s gospel. They wouldn’t want to see “one more good Jew” suffering the fate of so many heroic patriots.
In this context the dialog between Jesus and two of the terrorists crucified with him takes on great significance. Actually, it documents the beginning of the process I described of changing Jesus’ image from insurrectionist to depoliticized teacher.
Think about it. Luke’s account of Jesus’ words and deeds was first penned about the year 85 or 90 – 20 years or so after the Roman-Jewish War (66-70 C.E.). By then the Romans had utterly defeated the Jews, destroyed Jerusalem and its temple as well as slaughtered the city’s population including practically all of the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ messianic campaign. Virtually the only Christians left standing were foreigners – gentiles living in population centers like Rome, Alexandria and Antioch. Few of these had any understanding of or sympathy for Judaism much less for Jewish politics and its liberation movements.
Besides that, in the war’s aftermath, both Jews and Christians sought to distance themselves from the socio-political expectations that had brought on the disaster of the Jewish War. So Judaism tried to transform itself from a Temple-centered religion to one focused on the local synagogue and rabbinic teaching – both overwhelmingly concerned with simply preserving the culture and identity of a people in diaspora.
For their part, Christians became anxious to show the Roman world that it had nothing to fear from their membership.
One way of doing that was to distance the dying Jesus from the Jewish insurgents and their terrorist actions against their oppressors. So in Luke’s death-bed dialog among three crucified revolutionaries, one of the terrorists admits that Jesus is “under the same sentence” as he and his comrade in arms. Given what Aslan said about crucifixion, that fact was undeniable. All three had been sentenced as insurrectionists.
But now comes the distancing between Jesus and Israel’s liberation movements. Luke has the “good thief” (read good terrorist) say, “. . . indeed we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.”
In other words, Luke (writing for a post-war Roman audience) dismisses insurrection as “criminal,” and removes Jesus from association with such crime – a fact endorsed, Luke asserts, by insiders like the honest lestai crucified with Jesus. Luke’s message to Rome: the killing of Jesus was a terrible mistake; he meant no harm to Rome. And neither do we, his followers.
Loss of the radical revolutionary Jesus is not a trivial matter in terms of Christianity relevance to a world ruled by a nation that styles itself as Rome’s worthy successor. Like its ancient archetype, the U.S. (and a majority of first-world Christians) found the historical Jesus so threatening, that it determined that Jesus’ followers deserved the same fate as their crucified Master. For this we have the evidence of the war that the U.S. fought against liberation theology when it first emerged following the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council (1963-65).
Liberation theology committed the unforgiveable sin represented by this homily. It was guilty of connecting the Jesus of history described by scholars like Aslan to post-colonial independence movements and struggles against the neo-colonialism spearheaded by the U.S. and its oligarchical clients in the Third World.
In that struggle Pope John Paul II and his henchman, Josef Ratzinger, threw in their lot with a neo-imperial Ronald Reagan. It was deja-vu all over again: Reagan as Pilate and J.P.II and Ratzinger as the temple priesthood. It was the deja-vu of the church melding its interests with Rome towards the end of the 4th century.
More specifically, the two reactionary popes looked the other way and actively supported Reagan’s policies that assassinated hundreds of thousands of Christians (200,000 in Guatemala alone!) who found the radical Jesus threateningly relevant to their struggles in Latin America, Africa, and South Asia.
To balance liberation theology’s threat, Reagan patronized Evangelical Christians who eventually morphed into the Tea Party. It finds Aslan’s understanding of Jesus anathema. Meanwhile, John Paul II and Ratzinger “cleaned house,” eliminating every single progressive bishop from the hierarchy and transforming seminaries into hot houses to nurture a pre-Vatican II reactionary clergy.
Recently Pope Francis delivered a long-winded, very general and content-less speech to the National Council of Bishops in Brazil. That group used to head a church that was a hot-bed of liberation theology I’ve been describing here. The term was never mentioned in the new pope’s remarks. Instead, he presented John Paul II and Pope Ratzinger as champions of Vatican II.
He’ll have to do better than that to fulfill his aspiration towards making the church relevant to the poor he professes to care so much about.
He’ll have to confess the Church’s sins against liberation theology and revive the cult of the historical Jesus – instead of the depoliticized imperial “King of the Universe” today’s feast calls to mind.
In his recent article, “The Two Snowdens,” Philip Giraldi issued warnings about making Edward Snowden an unqualified hero. (Giraldi is the executive director of the Council for the National Interest, and a former CIA and military intelligence officer.) Matters are more complicated than that Giraldi advised. Honoring the complication, he made the case for recognizing the existence of a good Edward Snowden on the one hand and a treasonous Snowden on the other.
According to Giraldi, the good Snowden is a true whistleblower. As such he rightly released documents about government surveillance of U.S. citizens. Such surveillance clearly violates the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and deserves to be exposed as criminal. On Giraldi’s analysis, this good Edward Snowden truly merits our admiration.
The bad Snowden, however, is another story. He’s the one who indiscriminately revealed U.S. espionage on foreign governments. Granted, Giraldi admits, eavesdropping on the cell phone conversations of the likes of Angela Merkel was stupid. Any possible gains were more than cancelled by the potential danger of getting caught.
But otherwise, Snowden’s revelations did irreparable damage to the legitimate espionage the U.S. requires for its national security and economic prosperity. After all, everyone spies on everyone else. The U.S. needs to follow suit otherwise it will be hopelessly disadvantaged.
More specifically, Giraldi continues, Snowden’s revelations have crippled U.S. efforts not only at counter-terrorism, but in its economic competition with China and Russia. While these latter are no longer our “enemies,” they are “competitors” and “opponents.” In any case, Snowden’s revelations give them unfair advantage in the marketplace.
It’s there that I fear Mr. Giraldi’s argument unravels. It misses the big picture that I suspect Edward Snowden sees. I mean, the ex-CIA officer assumes that market competition is somehow neutral and has a right to be protected. It further assumes that the U.S. is just one competitor among others, and that its activities also need to be safeguarded.
In so doing, Mr. Giraldi ignores the real “American Exceptionalism,” – i.e. its leadership of a system that is destroying the planet through its endless wars and its refusal to address the climate change unfettered capitalism causes. Meanwhile the system mercilessly takes advantage of workers privileged enough to be exploited.
That system, whether Snowden sees it or not, needs to be subverted, not supported as Mr. Giraldi would prefer. Anyone aiding and abetting the process of subversion in a non-violent way deserves support not criticism.
First of all, consider the assumptions about the neutrality of global capitalism. In reality, market competition as in the corporate globalization and “free trade” agreements championed by the United States is far from neutral. Its deck is stacked against the environment and the global workforce. It not only outsources jobs from the U.S. home front; it also exploits cheap labor in the former colonies, and takes advantage of lax environmental and labor laws.
The results include disastrous climate change and the deaths of more than 35,000 children each day – from absolutely preventable hunger-related causes. Free-marketers refuse to address those causes, because doing so would mean “interference” in the marketplace which they find anathema to their religious devotion to free market doctrine.
These are criminal charges – life and death matters. They reduce to insignificance the violations of the U.S. Constitution that Mr. Giraldi forefronts. They suggest that Mr. Snowden’s revelations about foreign espionage are even more laudable than his domestic disclosures.
Secondly, consider the overall U.S. project in the world. That project remains best described by George Kennan in the aftermath of the Second Inter-Capitalist War (aka World War II). In his capacity as National Security Advisor of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, Kennan is considered by all, the architect of U.S. Cold War policy. All contemporary indications confirm that his vision still guides U.S. policy – with the likely exception that it is even more tightly embraced today than it was in 1947. It was then that Kennan wrote:
“We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 percent of its population. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction. We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans the better.” <a
Once again, it turns out that Kennan’s project is a criminal enterprise. It is about keeping the world as it is – about the rejection of world benefaction, altruism, human rights, democracy, and raising living standards – so that the U.S. might control a disproportionate amount of the world’s limited resources. Today Kennan’s employment of “straight power concepts” to keep the envious and resentful at bay employs wars of aggression, torture, suspension of habeas corpus, extra-judicial (drone) executions, and the threat of nuclear holocaust.
To reiterate, that U.S. project needs to be undermined.
So rather than characterizing someone who does so as a “spy,” such a heroic individual deserves our unconditional support – and imitation.
Snowden represents non-violent resistance and international civil disobedience at its finest.
Readings for 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: MAL 3: 19-20A; Ps. 98: 5-9; 2 THES 3: 7-12; LK 21: 5-9. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/111713.cfm
Today’s readings appear to centralize “the end of the world.” So you can expect your preacher this morning to focus on the after-life, pie-in-the-sky, and all the “Left Behind” nonsense that has become the staple of Christianity ever since the 4th century.
Expect them to point to natural disasters, “plagues” like the AIDs pandemic, and the wars of choice so near and dear to our politicians – as signs that the end is near, that God is pissed, and we’d better repent and accept Jesus as our personal Lord and savior.
And, Oh yes, there’s Paul’s dictum in today’s reading from Second Thessalonians “. . . if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.” Expect that one to evoke anti-welfare themes of bootstrap self-sufficiency, references to God-helps-those-who-help-themselves, and easy references to “welfare queens.”
I’m not kidding, 2 Thessalonians 3: 10 is a favorite of the Christian right. North Dakota congressman, Kevin Cramer, used it recently to justify his vote to cut nearly $40 billion from the Food Stamp program that keeps the children of poor families from starvation, along with the elderly and disabled. Tea Part darling, Michelle Bachman, did the same thing. When trying to get her party’s nomination for president, she said, “Our nation needs to stop doing for people what they can and should do for themselves. Self-reliance means, if anyone will not work, neither should he eat.”
It’s all so tiresome and predictable.
The right loves embracing Paul’s out-of-context remark. Tea Baggers love ignoring Jesus’ feeding thousands free of charge. It’s as if Jesus’ parable about sheep and goats in Mt. 25 didn’t base everything on a practical recognition of his identification with the hungry, thirsty, homeless, imprisoned, and ill-clad. The right loves “tough love.” It loves apocalypse.
But, of course, there’s not a trace of “tough love” in Jesus’ treatment of the poor. And “apocalypse” is not about the end of the world. It’s about unsustainability. The word apocalypse means “unveiling.” It’s about “revelation” in that sense – making evident what’s hidden about the world and who’s in charge. Apocalypse affirms the unsustainability of empire. Radical change is inevitable.
Apocalypse emerged a few centuries before the birth of Jesus. To convey its message of impending radical change, it employed stock images of natural catastrophe, plagues, wars, earthquakes, and portents involving the sun, moon, and stars. The change would be cosmic.
The audience of this strange literary form was empire’s victims. It was meant to encourage the poor and dispossessed, the unemployed, sick, widowed and orphaned – not the rich and well-off. Apocalypse assured the poor that all systems of oppression end in flames whether they’re Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, or Roman. (Those are the global giants that oppressed Israel at one time or another in its history.) Where are they today? They’ve been swept away by the tide of history. And the apologists for “Eternal Rome” find themselves somewhere in antiquity’s dustbin.
So it’s ironic that apocalypse should be embraced by conservatives and their rich patrons – by those who want to keep things as they are. Things do not have to be that way. And “by God,” they won’t be! That’s the message of apocalypse. A new era is dawning, and you’d better be on the right side of history or you’ll lose out. Being “left behind” means supporting the old order that’s doomed.
The problem is that right from the beginning, believers took literally the cosmic and highly poetic symbolism of apocalypse. (We always get in trouble for being too literal.) That’s the attitude that caused Paul to tear his hair out in today’s second reading. Some in the early Christian community took the imminence of this expectation so seriously that they even stopped working.
What was the point of work, they reasoned? Everything was about to change profoundly by God’s intervention. That made human work meaningless. All believers had to do was sit back and wait for Jesus’ triumphant arrival. Eat, drink, be merry, and whistle past the graveyard in the meantime.
Those are the people Paul addresses in this morning’s excerpt from Second Thessalonians. He’s clearly exasperated. He says, “Look I’m working. And I’m the one responsible for your believing in Jesus’ Second Coming! Get real, people. Go back to work. Stop sponging off the community. Instead, be like me and do your part to bring about the new order we all expect. “
Paul’s words bring to mind the people who refuse to work today because they deem apocalyptic expectations divinely ordained or “natural.” And I’m certainly not referring to welfare queens.
Instead, I’m talking about people so committed to the old order that (with Margaret Thatcher) they’re convinced that “There is no alternative,” even though the “inevitable order” they support threatens the very survival of their own grandchildren. So they do what must be done to perpetuate what in God’s eyes is unsustainable.
Such “busy-bodies” refer to their endeavors as “work,” but in reality, their occupations represent a refusal to work. That is, if we identify that term with what contributes to life and the establishment of the Kingdom community Jesus proclaimed.
On this understanding, involvement in the military and the military-industrial complex is certainly not work. Neither is labor in financial market casinos or in the health-insurance and fossil fuel industries and their nuclear power counterparts. Advertising, fashion, professional sports, or much of what we refer to as “education” and journalism might also qualify as anti-work. Such occupations are not only highly questionable in terms of building up human community and protecting the planet. They are often positively destructive. Their purpose is to ward off or distract from the impending Big Change promised by the great unveiling.
Do I mean followers of Jesus should renounce such “work?” Yes I do. Or at least, we need to work to bring about a world where such occupations are not rewarded with pay – i.e. with a ticket to overconsumption even in terms of food and drink. And, to quote St. Paul, if arms manufacturers want to continue their anti-work as inevitable, let them starve! The world will be better off.
What about the unemployment caused by such radical change? It’s simple: share the remaining work. Make sure everyone is working – say for four hours each day, or three days a week, or six months each year. Get everyone to work building or rebuilding infrastructure, paving highways and covering rooftops with solar cells, and cleaning up the dump sites where all our toxic waste has been buried.
Think of the freedom such changes would create for building up God’s kingdom – to play, to garden, write, converse, make love, raise our children, and do all the things that make us human!
“Totally unrealistic” you say? Precisely! Apocalypse is by nature unrealistic. It calls us to work for an entirely different order we can hardly imagine. It calls us to reclaim our humanity from the insanity of destructive anti-work.
I’ll bet you won’t hear much of that from your preacher today!