The Republican Tax Plan Prefers Caesar to Jesus & God’s Kingdom

Tax Plan

Readings for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe: EZ 34: 11-12, 15-17; PS 23: 1-3, 5-6; I COR 15: 20-26, 28; MT 25: 31-46. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/112717.cfm

Today’s readings raise the central political question of our day: what is the purpose of government? Is it simply to protect the private property of the well-to-do? Or is it to sponsor programs to directly help the poor who (unlike their rich counterparts) cannot on their own afford adequate food, shelter, clothing, health care, and education – even if they are working full-time?

For the last thirty-five years or so, the former view has carried the day in the U.S. So it has become fashionable and politically correct even (especially?) for Christians to advocate depriving the poor of health care to help them achieve the American Dream, “ennobling” the unemployed by removing their benefits, criminalizing sharing food with the poor, and “punishing” perpetrators of victimless crimes by routinely placing them in solitary confinement.

Today most prominently, the idea that government’s task is to help corporations even it means hurting the poor, elderly, and newly arrived is embodied in Republican tax reform plan. It amounts to a giant give-away to billionaires including the Trump family. Today’s poor, middle class and future generations will pick up the tab for that particular wealth redistribution upward.

Today’s readings reject all of that. And they do so on a specifically political liturgical day – the commemoration of the “Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” Yes, this is a political liturgy if ever there was one. It’s all about “Lords” and “Kings” and how they should govern in favor of the poor. It’s about a new political order presided over by an unlikely monarch – a king who was executed as a terrorist by the imperial power of his day. I’m referring, of course, to the worker-rebel, Jesus the poor carpenter from Nazareth.

Today’s readings promise that the rebel – the “terrorist” – Jesus will institute an order utterly different from Rome’s. That order recognizes the divine nature of immigrants, dumpster-divers, those whose water has been ruined by fracking and pipe lines, the ragged, imprisoned, sick, homeless, and those (like Jesus) on death row. Jesus called it the “Kingdom of God.” It’s what we celebrate on this “Solemnity of Jesus Christ King of the Universe.”

(Btw: in the eyes of Jesus’ executioners, today’s commemoration would be as unlikely as some future world celebrating the “Solemnity of Osama bin Laden, King of the Universe.” Think about that for a minute!)

In any case, today’s readings delineate the parameters of God’s new universal political order. To get from here to there, they call governments to prioritize the needs of the poor and those without public power. Failing to do so will bring destruction for the selfish leaders themselves and for the self-serving political mess they inevitably cultivate.

Today’s first reading gets quite specific about that mess. There the prophet Ezekiel addresses the political corruption Lord Acton saw as inevitable for leaders with absolute power. Ezekiel’s context is the southern kingdom of Judah in the 6th century BCE. It found itself under immediate threat from neighboring Babylon (Iraq). In those circumstances, the prophet words use a powerful traditional image (God as shepherd) to inveigh against Israel’s pretentious potentates. In God’s eyes, they were supposed to be shepherds caring for their country’s least well-off.  Instead, they cared only for themselves. Here’s what Ezekiel says in the lines immediately preceding today’s first lesson:

“Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! . . . But you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.

In other words, according to Ezekiel’s biblical vision, government’s job is to address the needs of the weak, the sick and the injured. It is to tenderly and gently bring back the wayward instead of punishing them harshly and brutally.

A great reversal is coming, Ezekiel warns. The leaders’ selfishness will bring about their utter destruction at the hands of Babylon.

On the other hand, Judah’s poor will be saved. That’s because God is on their side, not that of their greedy rulers. This is the message of today’s responsorial psalm – the familiar and beloved Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd. . . “)  It reminds us that the poor (not their sleek and fat overlords) are God’s “sheep.”  To the poor God offers what biblical government should: nothing but goodness and kindness each and every day. Completely fulfilling their needs, the divine shepherd provides guidance, shelter, rest, refreshing water, and abundant food. Over and over today’s refrain had us singing “There is nothing I shall want.” In the psalmist’s eyes, that’s God’s will for everyone – elimination of want. And so the task of government leaders (as shepherds of God’s flock) is to eradicate poverty and need.

The over-all goal is fullness of life for everyone. That’s Paul’s message in today’s second reading.  It’s as if all of humanity were reborn in Jesus. And that means, Paul says, the destruction of “every sovereignty, every authority, every power” that supports the old necrophiliac order of empire and its love affair with plutocracy, war and death instead of life for God’s poor.

And that brings us to today’s culminating and absolutely transcendent gospel reading. It’s shocking – the most articulate vision Jesus offers us of the basis for judging whether our lives have been worthwhile – whether we have “saved our souls.” The determining point is not whether we’ve accepted Jesus as our personal savior. In fact, the saved in the scene Jesus creates are confused, because their salvific acts had nothing to do with Jesus. So they ask innocently, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?”

Jesus’ response? “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

But more than personal salvation is addressed here. Jesus homage to Ezekiel’s sheep and shepherd imagery reminds us of judgment’s political dimension. So does Jesus’ reference to the judge (presumably himself) as “king.” And then there’s the church itself which centralizes this climactic scene precisely on this Solemnity of Jesus Christ King of the Universe. All three elements say quite clearly that “final judgment” is not simply a question of personal salvation, but of judgment upon nations and kingdoms as well. To reiterate: in Matthew’s account, the final judgment centralizes the political.

And what’s the basis for the judgment on both scores? How are we judged as persons and societies? The answer: on the basis of how we treated the immigrants, the hungry, ill-clad, sick, and imprisoned.

On that basis, Jesus’ attitude towards the United States as earlier described ought to be quite clear. It’s the same as Ezekiel’s when he predicted the destruction of Israel at the hands of Iraq:

“Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.”

Ironically enough that “fire prepared for the devil and his angels” is today being stoked in Iraq just as it was in the days of Ezekiel. This time the Babylonians call themselves the Islāmic Caliphate.

As Ezekiel might say, “You read it here first.”

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 40 years. Three grown children. Four grandchildren.

4 thoughts on “The Republican Tax Plan Prefers Caesar to Jesus & God’s Kingdom”

  1. Thank you Mike for this wonderful post. Hope you don’t mind but I’d like to share with you something I sent out to the 50 some people that I send Gospel reflections every Sunday. It’s a bit long:
    Christ the King Reign of Christ Sunday
    Today is the feast of Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday.

    1) Wes Howard-Brook and Sue Ferguson title their reflection on this Sunday:
    “Confronting Empire with the Word”
    They end their reflection this way:
    As we move through the dark stillness of late autumn, may we live in eager anticipation of the Advent of the Human One, whose kingdom comes, on earth as it is in heaven. May we, like Mary, respond to the angelic invitation to participate in Jesus’ reign by saying, “May it be done to me according to your Word.”
    (Every time we pray the Our Father we say, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”)

    2) Another commentator ends her reflections this way:
    Now the works of mercy may seem like a tall order but we help bring about the Reign of Christ, with each act of kindness and love, each act of creativity, each act of speaking truth. It is small acts performed in our daily lives that reflect God within us, God who is Love, Creativity and Truth beyond our comprehension. Each prayer and action for more peace, love and justice in our world is the Spirit of God working in us; the Spirit of God working in us to bring about the Reign of Christ.

    3) How do the Gospel writers speak of the Reign of Christ?

    a) Listen to Matthew:
    In Matthew 3: 1,2 “In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Footnote NABr “The kingdom of heaven is at hand: “heaven (lit.”the heavens”) is a substitute for the name “God” that was avoided by devout Jews of the time out of reverence.
    Matthew 4: 17 “ From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Footnote NABr: At the beginning of the preaching Jesus takes up the words of John the Baptist (3:2) although with a different meaning; in his ministry the kingdom of heaven has already begun to be present. (12:28) “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

    b) Listen to Mark:
    Mark: 1:14ff “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee preaching the Gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.”

    4) I personally have been profoundly moved by two books I have read, studied and marked up: The First: ‘COME OUT MY PEOPLE’ (God’s Call out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond). The Second: ‘EMPIRE BAPTIZED (How the Church Embraced What Jesus Rejected 2nd-5th Centuries.) Both were written by Wes Howard-Brook.
    Both of these books distinguish between the “religion of empire” and the “religion of creation.” This distinction is on powerful display under the Trump administration. An article titled THE DEATH OF CHRISTIANITY speaks to the religion of empire. This appeared in Baptist News Global. To my amazement the author (Miguel De La Torre professor of social ethics and Latino/a studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colo.) ended by declaring: “As a young man, I walked down the sawdust aisle at a Southern Baptist church and gave my heart to Jesus. Besides offering my broken heart, I also gave my mind to understanding God, and my arm to procuring God’s call for justice. I have always considered myself to be an evangelical, but I can no longer allow my name to be tarnished by that political party masquerading as Christian. Like many women and men of good will who still struggle to believe, but not in the evangelical political agenda, I too no longer want or wish to be associated with an ideology responsible for tearing humanity apart. But if you, dear reader, still cling to a hate-mongering ideology, may I humbly suggest you get saved.” The entire article is well worth reading: https://baptistnews.com/article/death-christianity-u-s/#.WhnapVWnGM8
    There is a clear distinction between the religion of empire (some would call it the religion of Satan) and the Kingdom of God or the reign of Christ. The Gospel for the last Sunday of the liturgical year tells of the separation of the sheep and goats. On clear display are the list of what we will be judged on:
    ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
    Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
    For I was hungry and you gave me food,
    I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
    a stranger and you welcomed me,
    naked and you clothed me,
    ill and you cared for me,
    in prison and you visited me.’
    Then the righteous will answer him and say,
    ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
    or thirsty and give you drink?
    When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
    or naked and clothe you?
    When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
    And the king will say to them in reply,
    ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
    for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
    Then he will say to those on his left,
    ‘Depart from me, you accursed,
    into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
    For I was hungry and you gave me no food,
    I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
    a stranger and you gave me no welcome,
    naked and you gave me no clothing,
    ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
    Then they will answer and say,
    ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
    or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
    and not minister to your needs?’
    He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you,
    what you did not do for one of these least ones,
    you did not do for me.’
    And these will go off to eternal punishment,
    but the righteous to eternal life.”

    WISHING EVERYONE A GOOD ADVENT,
    David Jackson

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  2. Excellent post. I agree with every word. Let’s not assume, however, that things would be a lot better for the poor if the Democrats were in charge. Bill Clinton bragged about ending welfare. Both Obama and Hillary have shown strong concern for Wall Street and corporate profits. Neither has even tried to help the poor. They are elitists and proud of it. Obama promised Goldman Sachs he would protect them from the people with pitchforks. In 2008 the only people he bailed out were the billionaires, the very ones who were oppressing the poor and the working class. Hillary Clinton told Goldman Sachs she was out of touch with ordinary people. She spend most of her campaign schmoozing up to the .01%.

    There was a time when a few Democrats (only a few) fought for the poor. The last one I can remember was Paul Wellstone, and he has been dead for many years.

    I have no hope for the Republicans. They have never cared about the poor and never will. Therefore I direct my anger at the Democrats. They have abandoned both the poor and the working class. They have become politically-correct closet Republicans. They have chosen mammon over the justice of God’s kingdom. Jeremiah and other Biblical prophets (including Jesus) would have pointed fingers at them and said “Shame!”

    Christians, also, have been showing little interest in helping the poor. Where is Dorothy Day when we need her?

    Liked by 1 person

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