Readings for 2nd Sunday of Easter: Acts 5:12-16; Ps. 118: 2-4, 13-15, 22-24; Rev. 1: 9-11A, 12-13, 17-19; Jn. 20: 19-31.
By the time you see this, many of you will have been yet again outraged by the crude cynicism of Mike Pompeo, America’s Secretary of State and former head of the CIA. This time, I’m referring to his embarrassing throw-away line following a speech at Texas A&M last week. Secretary Pompeo said:
“. . . When I was a cadet, what’s the first – what’s the cadet motto at West Point? You will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do. I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. (Laughter.) It’s – it was like – we had entire training courses . . . (Applause.) It reminds you of the glory of the American experiment.”
In this election season, Pompeo’s arrogant disregard for the disastrous effects of the actions he described (in terms of governments overthrown, innocents slaughtered, and our own democracy discredited) offers an instructive foil to recommend the contrasting approach of Marianne Williamson, whose presidential campaign is based on what she terms a “politics of love.” The contrast between Pompeo and Williamson is further illumined by the familiar story of Doubting Thomas which is the focus of today’s liturgy of the word. It locates divine presence precisely in a victim of the imperial double-dealing and cruelty Pompeo finds so amusing and that Williamson finds abhorrent.
But before I get to that, please watch the secretary’s remark for yourselves:
What I found noteworthy in what you just saw was not so much what Pompeo said. (Anyone who knows anything about the CIA would not find that surprising.) What I found amazing was the audience laughter and applause. Both suggested not only rejection of U.S. ideals, but of the faith Americans commonly claim. Pompeo’s words absolutely contradict the Jewish tradition’s Ten Commandments. The laughter and applause also suggested that Pompeo’s audience recognized that lying, cheating, and stealing somehow have more power than the teachings of Jesus about the primacy of love and doing to others what we would have them do to us. (Let’s face it: that’s the underlying reservation many have about Marianne Williamson’s candidacy as well.) Even more, the audience’s approval cynically endorsed Pompeo’s position that such actions constitute something glorious about Americans and their country!
I suppose the secretary would hasten to explain that we’re living in a dangerous world, where enemies lie, cheat, and steal all the time; so, we must do the same. But just imagine if Vladimir Putin or Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro had uttered Pompeo’s words! We’d never hear the end of it.
It’s principled response to such cynicism that fuels Marianne Williamson’s campaign for president. And in the light of today’s Gospel reading, which endorses miracles over “realism,” she should be taken seriously. More directly, and at a far deeper level than any of the other 20 (so far!) Democratic candidates, Williamson actually believes in a “Politics of Love,” and says so openly.
In fact, Williamson is running on a platform that holds that there is no distinction between personal and public morality. As she points out, the world and our country have a long history of acknowledging that fact. Jesus himself embodied that teaching. So did Gandhi. Abolitionists were Quakers, as were many of the suffragettes. Martin Luther King was a Baptist preacher. The Berrigan brothers were Catholic priests; so was Thomas Merton. None saw any distinction between the personal and political.
However, it’s not that Ms. Williamson is any less aware of our world’s evils than Mr. Pompeo. She doesn’t claim that the Judeo-Christian tradition invites anyone to ignore immorality and violence. Quite the contrary. As she points out, the entire Jewish tradition stems from rebellion precisely against the horror of slavery (in Moses’ Egypt). And the Christian tradition is founded on the teachings of a prophet who was tortured and executed by one of history’s most brutal empires. To ignore such evils, Williamson says, is not transcendence; it’s denial.
And that thought brings us to today’s Gospel reading. It’s the familiar story of Doubting Thomas, whom in today’s context we might call “Realistic Thomas.” That’s because the story is finally about Christ’s call to recognize his own presence in the tortured victims of the kind of empire Pompeo’s audience applauded. It’s a parable told 80 years after Jesus’ death to encourage believers who, unlike Thomas, had not seen the risen Christ, yet believed anyway. The story is about the early Christian community coming to realize the truth of Jesus’ words, “Whatever is done to the least of my brethren, is done to me” (MT 25). Williamson recognizes all those truths. Evidently, Pompeo does not.
Recall the parable.
The disciples are in the Upper Room where they had so recently broken bread with Jesus the night before he died. But Thomas is not present. Then suddenly, the tortured one materializes there in their midst.
“Too bad Thomas is missing this,” they must have said to one another.
Later on, Thomas arrives. Like the believers for whom the story was written (at the end of the first century) he hasn’t met the risen Lord.
“Jesus is alive,” they tell him.
However, Thomas remains unmoved. He protests, “I simply cannot bring myself to share your faith. Things like that don’t happen in the real world.”
The words are hardly out of his mouth, when lightning strikes again. Jesus suddenly materializes a second time in the same place. He tells the realistic one to examine his wounds – to actually probe them with his fingers. It’s then that Thomas recognizes his risen Lord. Yes, he realizes, Jesus is present in the tortured and victims of capital punishment – in those crucified by empire. The story invites hearers to join in Thomas prayer before such victims, “My Lord and my God.”
And that brings me back to Marianne Williamson . . . Let’s be honest: when we heard Williamson’s phrase, “politics of love,” did any of us find ourselves rolling our eyes? If so, that probably means we’ve somehow joined Secretary Pompeo in his cynical realism – in his implicit denial of the power of today’s parable. It suggests that we too believe that lies are more powerful than truth, that cheating is more rewarding than acting justly, that might makes right, that violence represents a more effective strategy than love.
In summary, we’re in denial about the truth of Jesus’ teaching – and that of virtually all of history’s sages. Williamson asks: “How’s that been working out for you – and for the world?” It’s time for a change of heart and soul like that of “Realistic” Thomas and like that represented by the campaign of Marianne Williamson.
She needs about 10,000 more individual contributions to qualify for appearance on the debate stage with the other candidates. If you want to see her there, contribute $1.00 or more right now!