On the Brink of Apocalypse: Lock Him Up (and Obama & Hillary too)

Readings for 1st Sunday ofAdvent: Jer. 33:14-16; Ps. 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14; 1 Thes. 3: 12-4:2; Lk. 21:25-28, 34-35 

We’re standing on the brink of Apocalypse. I don’t mean the end of the world. I’m talking about the end of empire.

That’s the point I tried to make here two weeks ago, when our Sunday liturgies began featuring apocalyptic readings from both the Jewish and Christian Testaments. That’s what the biblical literary form “Apocalypse” is about– not the end of the world, but the end of empire.

Apocalypse is resistance literature, written in code during times of extreme persecution by powerful imperial forces like Greece and Rome. The code was understandable to “insiders” familiar with Jewish scripture. It was impenetrable to “outsiders” like the persecutors of the authors’ people.

In our own case, all the provocations of apocalyptic rebellion are there. Our country is following faithfully in the footsteps of the biblical empires against which apocalypse was written: Egypt, Assyria, the Medes and Persians, Babylon, Greece, and Rome.

To say it unambiguously: Our government is headed by gangsters pure and simple. It’s as if Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Nero, Caligula, Domitian –or Al Capone – were in charge. All of them (Trump, Obama, the Clintons, and the Bushes) should be in jail. In fact, as Chomsky has pointed out every single post-WWII U.S. president from Truman and Eisenhower to Carter, Reagan, the Bushes, Clinton, Obama, and Donald Trump has been guilty of crimes that contradict the Nuremberg Principles. The only policy difference between Donald Trump and his immediate predecessors is that he’s blatantly shameless in owning his criminalities.

Here’s what Chomsky has said:

To clarify Chomsky’s point, here’s a short list of our current president’s most recent atrocities. He has the country:

  • Fighting perpetual and internationally illegal wars against at least five sovereign nations. Count them: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen . . . without any sign of ending. (The genocidal war in Yemen has caused a cholera epidemic and will soon have 14 million people starving to death. Can anyone tell me why we’re in Yemen??)
  • Refusing to recognize the validity of a CIA report identifying Mohammed bin Salman as the Mafia Don who ordered the beheading and dismembering of a correspondent for a major U.S. newspaper.
  • Similarly soft-pedaling the climate-change findings of the government’s own scientific panel predicting the devastating effects of climate change for our economy, country, and species including, of course, our children and grandchildren.
  • Spending billions modernizing a nuclear weapons arsenal, while our cities’ bridges, roads, and other infrastructure disintegrate before our eyes.
  • Insisting on wasting billions building a wall along our southern border instead of sea-walls, dykes and levies along our country’s coasts.
  • Following Obama and Hillary Clinton by backing a narco-government in Honduras that has become a street gang making huge profits from the addictions of U.S. citizens while directly producing the immigrants and refugees Trump identifies as our enemies.
  • Using chemical weapons against the resulting caravan of women and children seeking refuge at our southern border and justifying it in a way that would be trumpeted as a casus belli were the perpetrator’s name Bashar al-Assad instead of Donald J. Trump.  

All of that is relevant to today’s liturgical reading, because (as I’ve said) this is the third week in a row that the lectionary has given us readings from apocalyptic literature.

As I indicated, apocalypse differs from ordinary prophecy in that it addresses periods of deep crisis, when the whole world appears to be falling apart. Neither prophets nor apocalyptics were fortunetellers. Instead, they were their days’ social critics. They warned of the disastrous consequences that inevitably follow from national policies that deviate from God’s will – i.e. from policies that harm God’s favorites: widows, orphans, immigrants, the poor – and (we might add) the planet itself.

When Luke was writing his gospel around the year 85 of the Common Era, Jerusalem had been completely destroyed by the Romans in the Jewish War (64-70 CE). The Romans had brutally razed the city and the temple that had been rebuilt after the Babylonian Exile. For Jews that was something like the Death of God, for the Holy City and its Temple were considered God’s dwelling place. The event was apocalyptic.

In today’s gospel, Luke has Jesus predicting that destruction using specifically apocalyptic language. Luke’s Jesus says “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

What can such apocalyptic message mean in our own day faced as we are with a false crisis stemming from U.S. policies in Central America in general and in Honduras in particular that identify the poorest people in the world as the causes of our problems instead of climate chaos and narco-kleptocrats?

Yes, the immigrant crisis is a mere distraction – a completely human and remediable fabrication caused by U.S. policy. Meanwhile, the real threat to our planet is the threat of nuclear war and the environmental cliff that our “leaders” refuse to address. And who’s responsible for that crisis?

Prominent religious leaders would have us believe it’s God. He (sic) is punishing us for opening borders to the poor, for Roe v. Wade, for legalizing same sex marriages, or for allowing women access to contraception. Let’s face it: that’s nonsense. It turns Jesus’ embodiment of the God of love on its head. It turns God into a pathological killer – a cruel punishing father like too many of our own dads.

The real culprit preventing us from addressing climate change is our government. Our elected politicians are truly in the pockets of Big Oil, the Banksters, narco-criminals and other fiscal behemoths whose eyes are fixed firmly on short-term gains, even if it means their own children and grandchildren will experience environmental apocalypse.

What I’m saying is that this government has no validity. How dare a small group of climate-change Philistines take it upon themselves to decide the fate of the entire planet in the face of overwhelming evidence contradicting their stupidity?

It all has me wondering when our fellow peasants who don’t share Jesus’ commitment to non-violence will get out their pitchforks and storm the White House and other seats of government.

Remember: It was Thomas Jefferson who advised periodic revolution. He said: “What country before ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. . . The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”

“It’s Over” for the Catholic Church and Its Abusive Clergy

Pedophilia cartoon

Readings for 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: I Kgs. 17: 10-16; Ps. 146:7-10; Heb. 9: 24-28; Mk. 12: 38-44

Last Thursday, the editors of The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) published an open letter to all bishops in the United States. The letter’s topic was the fallout surrounding the clerical abuse scandal. Its theme was “it’s over” – a refrain repeated seven different times in the document.

The repetition is relevant to the Gospel readings for this 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, the episode of the “Widow’s Mite.” The story summarizes the attitude of Jesus towards clerical corruption in his own day – and in our own.

After visiting Jerusalem’s temple just before his own execution, Jesus concluded that Judaism as represented there had no future. His words and actions expressed his clear conclusion, “It’s over!” He gives up on the temple system. His despair tempts me to give up on the Catholic Church.

Before I get to that, let me fill you in about the NCR letter and the apparent meaning of its catchphrase which implies that the Catholic Church has no more future than the Jerusalem temple Jesus cursed.

“It’s over,” the editors said because:

• The clerical abuse scandal has brought the church to rock bottom.
• This is a question of such rot at its heart that the corruption threatens the very identity and unity of the Catholic Church not only in the United States, but worldwide.
• The feds have now entered the picture ordering chancery officials not to destroy the paper trail they’ve been hiding for more than 50 years.
• Abusers and their enablers have been recognized as federal criminals.
• The bishops have nowhere left to hide. Like the king in the familiar fable the bishops and clergy all stand naked before the world; we all realize that they have no clothes. They have lost moral authority.
• Even Washington’s Cardinal McCarrick abused boys and seminarians for decades.
• And the cover-ups go right to the top – to the Vatican itself. The hastily-sainted John Paul II “let wolves roam his flock” because of his falsely inflated idea of a “heroic priesthood” to which no one can any longer subscribe.
• Blaming gay priests for the crisis is so obviously yet another diversionary attempt to block the fundamental reforms required in a clerical culture that has demonstrated a basic ignorance of human sexuality.
• So is blaming Pope Francis who alone among recent popes has exhibited the courage to confront the problem and to remove from office clerics even at the highest levels of the hierarchy.
• The only reason for belated confessions of guilt on the part of bishops is that they have at last been caught with their pants down (literally!) beginning as far back as 1985.
• Without relentless journalistic investigation, clerical abuse would have continued unimpeded and remained covered-up.
• As a result, apologies, studies, conferences, and spiritual retreats for prayer and meditation all ring hollow.
• Only very fundamental changes have any hope of saving the church.
Absent such transformation, it’s over!

And that brings me to the familiar story of today’s Gospel reading, “The Widow’s Mite.” Contrary to what you’ve been told, it’s not about the widow’s generosity. It’s about her exploitation by a clergy every bit as corrupt as the popes, bishops and priests we’ve just been discussing.

As Mark tells it, Jesus and his friends are visiting Jerusalem for the Passover Feast during the final week of his life. They are in the Temple. On the previous day, they had all taken part in (and perhaps led) a demonstration there against the temple priesthood and its thievery from the poor. I’m talking about Jesus’ famous “cleansing of the temple.” Soon the temple priesthood and scribal establishment will offer a reward of thirty pieces of silver for information leading to Jesus’ arrest. Judas will find himself seriously considering collecting that reward.

In the meantime, Jesus continues his on-going instruction about the corruption of the Temple System. In the episode before us, he takes a position, Mark says, “opposite” the temple treasury. The treasury was the place where Jews paid the tithe required by the law as interpreted by the priesthood that Jesus despises. It was a “flat tax” applying the same to rich and poor.

Ever class-conscious, Mark points out that “many rich people” somehow made it clear to all that they were putting in large sums. Then a poor widow came along and furtively put in a penny. Jesus calls attention to the contrast: “large sums” vs. “two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.”

“It’s all relative,” Jesus says. “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Jesus then leaves the temple in disgust.

The standard way of treating this reading runs like this: (1) The widow in the Temple donated to the temple priests “all she had to live on” and was rewarded with Jesus’ praise; (2) follow her example (3) donate generously to your priest and you will be richly rewarded either here, in heaven, or in both places.

That’s a standard treatment we have all heard. However, it has severe problems. To begin with, it ignores today’s responsorial from Psalm 146. That excerpt from Psalms sets a back-drop for the entire Liturgy of the Word and provides a key for interpreting not only today’s reading, but the entire Bible. The psalm reminds us that the poor are God’s Chosen People. God’s concern for the poor is not with their generosity towards God but with God’s securing justice for them. As the psalm says, God gives food to the hungry, sets captives free, gives sight to the blind, protects immigrants, and sustains the children of single moms. God loves those concerned with justice for the poor, the Psalm says. God loves prophets like Jesus. On the other hand, God thwarts the ways of the wicked – those who, like the scribes and high priests, exploit God’s favored poor.

With all of that in mind, we are alerted to circumstances in today’s gospel story that summon us to interpret it differently from the standard line.

We are reminded that the episode takes place in an elaborate context of Jesus’ assault on the temple system. In effect, the context is Jesus’ symbolic destruction of the temple itself. Yes, there was that “cleansing” I referenced. But there was also Jesus’ prediction of the deconstruction of the building itself. “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down” (MK 13:1-2). Then there was that strange incident of Jesus cursing a fruitless fig tree as he was entering the temple precincts (11:12-14; 20-24). The fig tree was the symbol of Israel. Here again Jesus pronounces a judgment on an entire system that had become corrupt and forgetful of the poor who are so central to God’s concern.

That judgment is extended in Jesus’ teaching immediately before the episode of the widow’s mite. Again, Jesus takes a position “opposed” to the temple treasury and says, “Beware of the scribes . . . They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.”

With Jesus’ warning ringing in their ears, a case-in-point, a poor widow, arrives on the scene. She pays her tithe – the flat tax – and leaves penniless. Jesus can take no more. He calls attention to the hypocrisy and injustice of the whole situation and leaves the temple in disgust. For him, in the words of the NCR’s Open Letter, “It’s over!”

And that returns me to my own questions about my commitment to the Catholic Church. Increasingly and reluctantly, I’m feeling that’s over too. Having just moved to the Northeast (Westport, CT), I’ve been searching for a community that honors the progressive teachings of the Second Vatican Council (1962-’65) – still the church’s official teaching – with its emphasis on social justice, engaged homilies, ecumenism, and vibrant liturgies.

So, I did an online search for “progressive Catholic Churches near Westport.” The search came up empty – except for a site denouncing progressive Catholicism. Nonetheless, a friend directed me to a church in Norwalk (a 15-minute drive from my new location). I joined a men’s group that meets in the church basement each Saturday morning at 7:00 to discuss the next day’s liturgical readings. However, I soon discovered that one of the ground rules for discussion is “No politics!”

That so leaves me out! The world is burning. And critical, liberationist readings of the Jesus tradition offer perhaps our best hope of putting out the raging fire. Where else but church do hundreds of people come together in every community across the country to ponder questions of goodness, truth, and their relationship to Ultimate Reality? Yet good-willed men are told: Don’t connect this with that.

Why continue?

Until that sort of thing changes, for me it is indeed over. And in leaving in disgust, I’m following the example of Jesus himself.

Synagogue Terrorist, Robert Bowers, Tried to Kill the God of Moses and Jesus

Jewish Bolshevism

Readings for 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time: Dt. 6:2-5; Ps. 18:2-4, 47, 57; Heb. 7: 23-28; Mk. 12: 28b-34

All of us were stunned and disgusted last week when Robert Bowers, an ardent right-wing supporter of Donald Trump slaughtered 11 Jewish worshippers in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg. It was yet another instance of extreme violence by what are proving to be the most dangerous terrorist threats in our nation. They are not Muslims, but white male Christian nationalists with expressed Nazi sympathies.

Such identifications are sharply contradicted by today’s liturgical texts from Deuteronomy and Mark. When you think about them, they turn out to be subversive and even quite anarchistic. They fly in the face of Bower’s sympathies and probably unconscious understandings of Jesus and his teachings.

We’ll turn to those contradictions in a moment.

But first, think about Bowers himself. His despicable act was not an isolated instance of anti-Semitism. It’s much bigger than him. In fact, actions inspired by hatred of Jews are part of the very fabric of western culture. In that tradition, Jews become scapegoats bearing the blame for plagues, poverty, wars, and wealth disparities. The emperor Constantine along with Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, the Inquisition, Ku Klux Klan, Nazis, and now Trumpists have all done their parts to vilify those the Bible identifies as God’s Chosen People. They have tried to murder the Jewish God.

For instance, here’s what Martin Luther had to say about Jews:

“. . . (T)hey are nothing but thieves and robbers who daily eat no morsel and wear no thread of clothing which they have not stolen and pilfered from us by means of their accursed usury. Thus, they live from day to day, together with wife and child, by theft and robbery, as arch¬-thieves and robbers, in the most impenitent security.”

But why the Jews? And even more broadly, why do white male Christian terrorists specifically pick on worshippers not only in synagogues, but in churches and mosques as well? Why did Dylan Roof perform his massacre in a church basement where African-Americans were studying the Bible? Why the assassinations of spiritual leaders like King, Malcolm X? Why shoot Oscar Romero as he was celebrating Mass or slaughter that team of liberation theologians in El Salvador? Why did Salvadoran Treasury Police rape and kill those U.S. nuns in 1980? And, why did the United States decide to wage what Chomsky has called “the first religious war of the 21st century” specifically against the Catholic Church in Central America killing hundreds of thousands of believers in the process?

It’s because religion, be it Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, represents a particularly powerful tool for inciting criticism of and resistance to oppression that serves the world’s ruling classes whose laws justify the exploitation, marginalization and exclusion of whole classes of people — women, orphans, day-laborers, the unemployed, the homeless, those with non-binary gender-identities, refugees and immigrants.

In his posting on the alt-right Gab social media site, Bowers himself railed against refugees. He justified his planned attack by referring to Tree of Life’s commitment to HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which was founded in 1881. In Bowers’ mind, the synagogue’s connection with HIAS’ traditional commitment to immigrants and refugees has it importing “foreign invaders that kill our people.” For that reason, he shouted, “All Jews must die.” He might just as well have yelled, “The Biblical God must die!”

More specifically, Bowers’ words suggest that the enemy of the right (including — let’s admit it – the U.S. government) are those who find in the Bible (and Holy Koran) a “higher law” that inspires them to relativize human laws that the most vulnerable among us find oppressive.

After all, these oppressed groups intuit that human laws by definition are not neutral or just. They were formulated by power-establishments specifically for the purpose of solidifying existing relationships of superiority and inferiority. Human laws decidedly isolate those I’ve just mentioned in positions of distinct inferiority. For that reason, those locked into positions of subservience and subordination – those locked into refugee prisons with their children in “baby jails” – find great meaning in the basic Judeo-Christian tradition that prioritizes the needs of people like them: widows, orphans, and foreigners. Yes, that’s precisely what the Judeo-Christian tradition does. And in doing so, it inspires resistance. (Just witness the caravan of more than 6000 refugees now approaching our border to the south.)

All of that proves relevant to this Sunday’s liturgical readings which place God’s law above all human legislation – including, when you think about it, those governing borders, identification papers, green cards, sexual identity, voting practices, and women’s bodies. That’s what I meant about the readings being subversive, anarchistic, and resistance-provoking.

Those characteristics are made evident in today’s Gospel reading. There a member of the Scribal Establishment asks Jesus what is the most important law of all? Of course, Jesus does not say “the laws of imperial Rome.” Neither does he identify even Sabbath law as the most important. Instead, he simply quotes the Hebrew Shema, which according to today’s first reading from Deuteronomy originated with Moses himself.

Jesus response: The most important law is “‘Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord our God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

In other words, according to both Moses and Jesus, all human laws must take a back seat to love of God and love of neighbor. And (crucially here) neighbor in foundational Jewish texts is always epitomized in widows, orphans and resident aliens. This is shown by any quick perusal of Exodus, Deuteronomy, the Psalms, and prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Zechariah, and Malachi. According to all these sources, widows, orphans and resident aliens constitute God’s Chosen People.

Jesus, of course, appears in that prophetic tradition. In fact, his words in today’s Gospel indicate that he actually considers sinful any attitude that places other laws above God’s. Jesus’ response to the scribe is subversive of any religion or empire (like Rome’s or the United States’) that stands willing to sacrifice women, children, and foreigners to “law and order.”

Why then do right wingers like Robert Bowers, Donald Trump, and Republicans in general do exactly that? Why do they prioritize human-fabricated borders along with supporting laws intended to solidify privilege, over what Jesus’ Jewish tradition identified as supreme?

The short answer is that the subversive character of the Judeo-Christian tradition was lost following the conversion of Constantine at the beginning of the 4th century C.E. Afterwards, the anarchistic Mosaic tradition championed by Jesus became Romanized, as those in power reinterpreted the Bible in the light of their own experiences as imperial servants. Subsequently, the laws of empire turned on their heads the teachings of Moses and Jesus. Imperialists championed state law over divine law which was increasingly relegated to the private sphere.

Even worse, the teachings of Moses and Jesus with their overriding concern for widows, orphans, and resident aliens became vilified as somehow heretical, diabolical, and disloyal to Caesar. More to our point here: Luther and Calvin referred to such concerns as “Jewish Madness,” and “Jewish Materialism.”

That, of course, was the theme adopted by Hitler’s Third Reich whose anti-Semitism was inflamed by Russia’s October 1917 Revolution and its insistence on social justice. From that point on, and even from the middle of the nineteenth century, socialism too was constantly referred to as specifically “Jewish madness,” and as “Jewish materialism.” Hitler called it “Jewish Bolshevism.” Winston Churchill agreed. [Karl Marx, of course, was a Jew. German theologian, Bernard Haring (one of my great teachers in Rome) even referred to Marx as “the last of the great Jewish prophets.”]

In this light, Hitler’s persecution of the Jews was part of his offensive against communism and capitalist liberalism. It was really an attempt to kill the Jewish God of Moses and Jesus. Der Führer’s anti-Semitism was also in complete harmony with a widespread anti-Semitism which found open expression throughout Europe and in the United States in movements such as the Ku Klux Klan. All of those legalistic projects represented attempted deicide.

So, there we have our answer.

Whatever Bowers’ consciousness, his anti-Semitism is really hatred of the forgotten and anarchistic Jewish God who champions the poor and vulnerable and places love of neighbor above all national laws. That God stands with the enslaved, with mothers who have lost husbands, with children orphaned by wars and “zero tolerance policies,” and with refugees, immigrants and undocumented residents.

Terrorists like Bowers, Roof, Trump, along with present and past U.S. governments (both Democrat and Republican) realize all of that. So, they hate such people and by extension the God those people study, worship, serve and invoke.

Consequently, prophets like King, Malcolm X, and Romero must die. So must liberation theologians and oppressed people who take seriously the God of Moses and Jesus.

That God must die.

When you think about it (thanks to agents like Luther, Calvin, the Inquisition, the Klan, Hitler and Trump) perhaps such deicide is already a fait accompli.

Ironically however, those slaughtered at Tree of Life remind us that the resurrection of Jesus’ subversive and anarchistic God might still be possible.

Hondurans “Crossing Over” into the United States Are Today’s “Hebrews”: They Are God’s Chosen People!

Refugee Caravan

Readings for 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Jer. 31:7-9; Ps. 126: 1-6; Heb. 5:1-6; Mk. 10: 46-52

Today’s Gospel reading centralizes spiritual blindness and the nature of the cure Jesus offers. By extension, it provides perspective on the caravan of more than 6000 Central Americans (mostly Hondurans) currently approaching our southern border.

True: on the surface, the episode is simply about Jesus working yet another miracle – this time for the sightless beggar called Bartimaeus. However, in reality the story represents two fundamental biblical paradigms — one describes the true nature of conversion. The other identifies God’s “Chosen People.”

Let me unpack all of that.

Begin by recalling the relevant story as written by Mark.

A blind man is sitting by the roadside. His garment is spread out on the ground before him. The cloak invites passers-by to throw a coin on its fabric. Bartimaeus hears that Jesus is near accompanied by a large crowd. So, he cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!”

Jesus’ followers try to shut the man up. But the beggar won’t hear of it. He shouts even louder, “JESUS HAVE PITY ON ME!”

Finally, Jesus hears the blind man’s voice over the crowd’s din. He calls him over. The man jumps up and throws aside his garment (his only source of income). [In other words, unlike the Rich Young Man Mark presented two weeks ago (MK 10:17-30), this specifically poor man has no trouble renouncing everything he has and confronting the Master empty-handed.]

So, Jesus asks, “What would you have me do?”

The man responds, “I want to see!” Jesus replies, “Your faith has saved you.” So, the blind man is given sight. He then follows Jesus “on the way” of non-violent compassion.

Bartimaeus, then, is a model of conversion.

In performing this wonder, Jesus was acting as compassion itself. As a prophet, he was following in the footsteps of Jeremiah whose words we read in this morning’s first reading. There Jeremiah was a spokesperson for a God announcing good news specifically to women, their children, the exiled, blind, and lame. As today’s readings from the Book of Psalms recalls, that God makes such people’s dreams come true, and turns their tears to laughter, not to guilt and shame.

And that brings me to the Honduran Caravan presently approaching our borders. They say that this caravan of more than 6000 people, mostly from Honduras, constitutes the largest mass exodus we’ve ever seen in this hemisphere.

When I say “Exodus,” I’m choosing my words carefully. The word is loaded, as it recalls the key Jewish Testament paradigm I mentioned earlier. The word reminds us of the original “Exodus,” when a motley horde of slaves stormed the borders of what we now call Palestine.

For Jews today, that first Exodus was the beginning of Hebrew history. In fact, the word Hebrew means the people who cross-over or pass through. Again, that refers to the origins of the ones who thought of themselves as The People of God – as God’s chosen ones. According to their tradition, the Hebrew refugees were God’s chosen ones — God’s favorites.

The Cross-Over People were seeking land. They thought of themselves as on a divinely-inspired mission to take possession of acreage from those who had too much of it. The refugee-invaders believed that the earth belongs to God, and that God’s intention is a world with room for everyone – not just for those who have sufficient resources to claim ownership of the Great Commons God created.

However, such claims made no difference to rich Canaanite landowners. Like many today, they had appropriated the Great Commons as their own. And in doing so (at least according to the Cross-Over People) they transgressed God’s fundamental intention.

As would-be followers of Jesus, self-proclaimed Christians (as well as all Jews) should be the first to recognize and welcome today’s Cross-Over People as contemporary Hebrews.

Moreover, in the case of Hondurans, we should be clear in drawing connections between our government’s oppressive policies that have created the conditions the Hondurans desire to escape. Our government has treated them the way the Egyptian Pharaohs treated their Hebrew slaves. To wit, remember:

• The decades-long support of the United Brands (now Chiquita) Banana company against workers seeking higher wages and better living conditions.
• The wars waged by the U.S. in Central America all during the 1980s.
• The Central American Trade Agreement (CAFTA) that disemployed small farmers and removed protections from workers throughout the region and in Honduras specifically.
• The United States-supported military overthrow of the democratically elected Honduran government in 2009
• U.S. support of the current Honduran president who was elected in a fraudulent election.

With all of this in mind, our prayer today should be, “Lord, I want to see. Help me to ignore those (including those claiming to be your followers) who would shut me up. Lord, let me hear instead the voices of the poor, the widows, orphans, and refugees. Cure my blindness to the true identity of your people. Help me to voice my fearless support for the Honduran refugees.”

Jesus’ Supreme Court: His Preference for Blasey-Ford’s Style over Brett Kavanaugh’s

Kavanaugh

Readings for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Is. 53:10-11; Ps. 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22; Heb. 4: 14-16; Mk. 10:35-45

Like many of you, perhaps, I’m still reeling in the aftermath of the confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh.

I bring this up because of today’s Gospel reading. There two of Jesus’ disciples, the sons of Zebedee, actually make application for a much higher Supreme Court than any SCOTUS we might imagine. James and John ask to sit one on Jesus’ right hand and one on his left, when he “comes into his glory” precisely (as Matthew puts it) to judge the 12 tribes of Israel (MT 19:28). They want to be Supreme Court justices on steroids! James and John want power – the highest they can imagine.

How male of them! How patriarchal!

But Jesus’ response is surprising. It’s surprising, because it indicates that Jesus’ idea of judicial power is not masculine power-over, but servant leadership – something more, well . . . feminine. It is not what Bret Kavanaugh sought, but what was demonstrated in the attitude of Christine Blasey-Ford.

To get what I mean, please recall the final day of the Kavanaugh hearings. It was a perfect portrayal of patriarchal judgment contrasted with servant-leadership.

In the Senate chambers, Republicans – all of white men; many quite elderly – enjoyed tremendous power-over. And they could do for Brett Kavanaugh exactly what James and John wanted Jesus to do. In fact, they could give Kavanaugh much greater power-over the rest of us than even the senators themselves possess.

In doing so, they appeared to sit in judgment, not over Judge Kavanaugh, but (ironically) over a bright sensitive woman, who displayed the qualities that Jesus highlights in his statement on judicial leadership. Her testimony was a model of dignity, restraint and self-sacrifice. She explained that she had decided to put her own life and the safety of her family in danger to fulfill what she considered her patriotic duty.

And the way she carried herself as a witness bore out the truth of her words. Her answers to her questioners were always on point. There was no hint of self-promotion, defensiveness or ad hominem claims about her own virtue, intelligence, or scholarly accomplishments. Instead, she spoke sincerely and sometimes through quiet tears.

Her dignified manner and humble words stood in sharp contrast to Brett Kavanaugh’s blustering patriarchal harangue. He did what patriarchs typically do and what women could never get away with. He played “poor-me,” shouted indignantly, huffed and puffed, wept uncontrollably, accused, and talked over his interrogators. He evaded answers, changed the subject when he found questions uncomfortable. He bragged shamelessly about his accomplishments, virtue, and hard work. He “proved” his case by appealing to the testimony of Mark Judge, the very man Dr. Ford had identified as Kavanaugh’s accomplice in the crime she alleged.

If it weren’t so tragic, it would have been quite comical. On “Saturday Night Live,” Matt Damon made that point as you’ll see here:

Just imagine if Dr. Ford had acted similarly! Game over in that case.

Yet, in the final analysis, the aged patriarchs sitting on their thrones of judgment over one of their own dismissed Dr. Ford out-of-hand. They chose to believe Brett Kavanaugh. As I said, they actually turned the tables. They gave the impression of sitting in judgment over the accuser rather than over her alleged assailant; they proceeded as though Kavanaugh himself, not Dr. Ford, was the victim-of-the hour. They found his absolute denials convincing as (like Clarence Thomas, Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton before him) he predictably and emphatically denied any wrongdoing.

To put a finer point on it: the patriarchs gave every indication that they would believe Bill Cosby if (similarly to Kavanaugh) he argued, “How dare you accuse me of rape! I’ve played Cliff Huxtable. And your accusations don’t coincide with the image I’ve believably cultivated over the years. Millions have looked up to me as a fatherly role model. I’ve received honorary degrees for my work. So, I couldn’t possibly violate women. Cliff Huxtable certainly wouldn’t do that. It’s preposterous to believe I would! I’m Cliff Huxtable!”

Put otherwise, the all-male Republican panel followed a theatrical script aired 27 years earlier (and countless times in western history) when Anita Hill, accused another SCOTUS candidate, Clarence Thomas, of habitual sexual harassment. And they were led in their skepticism by the president of their men’s club (and of the country), who himself has gleefully admitted his general habit of objectifying and assaulting women, and who has been accused by many of quite particular sexual misconduct.

As if he could be trusted in such matters, the man in question, President Donald Trump, actually made fun of and mocked Dr. Ford. While dismissing her, he expressed compassion for Judge Kavanaugh and for young men and boys who, he said, find themselves vulnerable to false testimony by devious women exactly like Christine Blasey Ford – and his own accusers.

How male of him! How patriarchal!

Yes, that’s the way of patriarchy pure and simple. In terms of today’s Gospel, the Republicans (along with Democrat Joe Manchin) gave reality to Jesus’ words, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Ford’s demeanor and testimony was more in accord with Jesus’ description of justices in his much higher Supreme Court: “But it shall not be so among you,” Jesus said. “Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

In summary, Jesus’ idea of judicial wisdom reflects “servanthood,” self-sacrifice and putting the needs of others first. It is far more like what we witnessed in Dr. Blasey-Ford’s testimony. It’s the model of female leadership and judicial restraint displayed by women throughout Mark’s Gospel.

There, from outset to conclusion, it is women who are referred to in servant language. In the beginning of Mark (1:31), the first act of Peter’s mother in law upon being cured by Jesus is to serve food to her benefactor and his companions. And at the end (MK 15:41) Mary Magdalene along with another Mary and Salome are identified beneath Jesus’ cross as “those who used to follow him and provide for him when he was in Galilee.”

To repeat, all of that suggests that in today’s reading, Jesus is proposing the notion of “servant leadership” on his Supreme Court — and, it seems, on ours. It suggests that the practical content of that concept is typically embodied not in men, but in women.

It seems then, that in Jesus’ eyes, a woman like Christine Blasey-Ford would have been a far worthier choice for Supreme Court justice than any Brett Kavanaugh.

I for one am going to keep all of this in mind on November 6th.

Jesus Was against Machismo Not Divorce

Today’s readings: Gn. 2:18-24; Ps. 128:1-6; Heb. 2:9-11; Mk 10:2-16 http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/100718.cfm

I shared Tammy Wynette’s award-winning song “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” because it captures the pain that more than half of married people go through when they decide to divorce. Tammy’s opening words, “I want to sing you a song that I didn’t write, but I should have,” as well as the way she sings capture the very sad experience that divorce is for couples who all started out so full of love and hope. As all of us know, divorce is often characterized by regret and feelings of failure especially relative to the children involved. The irony is that many divorced people will come to church this morning and find their pain compounded by today’s readings and no doubt by sermons they will hear.

However today’s liturgy of the word is surprising for what it says about Jesus and his teachings about divorce. The readings tell us that Jesus wasn’t really against divorce as we know it. Instead as the embodiment of compassion, he must have been sympathetic to the pain and abuse that often precede divorce. As a champion of women, he must have been especially sensitive to the abandonment of divorced women in his highly patriarchal culture.

What I’m suggesting is that a sensitive reading shows that what Jesus stands against in today’s Gospel is machismo not divorce as such. Relative to failed marriages, he implicitly invites us to follow his compassionate example in putting the welfare of people – in his day women specifically – ahead of abstract principles or laws. Doing so will make us more understanding and supportive of couples who decide to divorce in the best interests of all.

By the way, the gospel reading also tells us something important about scripture scholarship and its contributions towards understanding the kind of person Jesus was and what he taught on this topic.

First of all consider that scholarship and its importance relative to the topic at hand.

To begin with, it would have been very unlikely that Jesus actually said “let no one” or (as our translation went this morning) “let no human being” put asunder what God has joined together. That’s because in Jesus’ Palestine, only men had the right to initiate a divorce. So in prohibiting divorce, Jesus was addressing men.  The “no one” or “no human being” attribution comes from Mark who wanted Jesus’ pronouncement on divorce to address situations outside of Palestine more than 40 years after Jesus’ death. By the time Mark wrote his Gospel, the church had spread outside of Palestine to Rome and the Hellenistic world.  In some of those communities, women could initiate divorce proceedings as well as men.

Similarly, Jesus probably did not say, “and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” Such a statement would have been incomprehensible to Jesus’ immediate audience. Once again, in Palestine no woman could divorce her husband. Divorce was strictly a male right. Women could only be divorced; they couldn’t divorce their husbands.

So what did Jesus say? He probably said (as today’s first reading from Genesis puts it) “What God has joined together let no man put asunder. “ His was a statement against the anti-woman, male-centered practice of divorce that characterized the Judaism of his time.

And what was that practice?

In a word, it was highly patriarchal. Until they entered puberty, female children were “owned” by their father. From then on the father’s ownership could be transferred to another male generally chosen by the father as the daughter’s husband. The marriage ceremony made the ownership-transfer legal. After marriage, the husband was bound to support his wife. For her part however the wife’s obedience to her husband became her religious duty.

Meanwhile, even after marriage, the husband could retain as many lovers as he wanted provided he also able to support them. Additionally the husband enjoyed the unilateral right to demand divorce not only for adultery (as some rabbis held), but also according to the majority of rabbinical scholars for reasons that included burning his food, or spending too much time talking with the neighbors. Even after divorce, a man’s former wife needed his permission to remarry. As a result of all this, divorced women were often left totally abandoned. Their only way out was to become once again dependent on another man.

In their book Another God Is Possible, Maria and Ignacio Lopes Vigil put it this way: “Jesus’ saying, ‘What God has joined together, let no man put asunder’ is not the expression of an abstract principle about the indissolubility of marriage. Instead, Jesus’ words were directed against the highly patriarchal marriage practices of his time. ‘Men,’ he said, should not divide what God has joined together. This meant that the family should not be at the mercy of the whimsies of its male head, nor should the woman be left defenseless before her husband’s inflexibility. Jesus cut straight through the tangle of legal interpretations that existed in Israel about divorce, all of which favored the man, and returned to the origins: he reminded his listeners that in the beginning God made man and woman in his own image, equal in dignity, rights, and opportunities. Jesus was not pronouncing against divorce, but against machismo.”

Here it should be noted that Mark’s alteration of Jesus’ words is far less radical than what Jesus said. Mark makes the point of the Master’s utterance divorce rather than machismo. Ironically, in doing so and by treating women the same as men, Mark’s words also offer a scriptural basis for legalists who place the “bond of marriage” ahead of the happiness (and even safety) of those who find themselves in relationships which have become destructive to partners and to children.

Traditionally that emphasis on the inviolability of the marriage bond has represented the position of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. It is very unlikely that the historical Jesus with his extremely liberal attitude towards law and his concern for women would have endorsed it.

Instead however, it never was Jesus position that any law should take precedence over the welfare of people. In fact, his refusal to endorse that precedence – his breaking of religious laws (even the Sabbath law) in favor of human welfare – was the main reason for his excommunication by the religious leaders of his own day. In other words, Jesus was the one who kept God’s law by breaking human law.

So instead of “Anti-Divorce Sunday,” this should be “Anti-Machismo Sunday.” It should remind us all of what a champion women have in Jesus.

Sometimes feminists complain that Christian faith finds its “fullness of revelation” in a man. But as one Latin American feminist theologian put it recently, the point of complaint shouldn’t be that Jesus was a man, but that most of us men are not like Jesus. Today’s Gospel calls us men to take steps towards nullifying that particular objection.

White American Evangelicals and Catholics Hate Children: They Hate Jesus!

babyjail

Readings for 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

What’s the worst thing you can do to a child? What’s the worst form of child abuse?

No, it’s not abusing them sexually, though that’s bad enough. Of course, pedophilia is the horrendous crime so many Catholic priests have committed from time immemorial. It is nearly unspeakable in its selfish cruelty. It deserves absolute contempt and condemnation.

However, the worst crime is not sexual abuse. No, it’s separating children from their parents. A little introspection about your own children or grandchildren might tell you that. Picture them deprived of your presence and love — forever. Can you imagine having your child snatched from your paternal arms or from your nurturing breast?

Incredibly, that’s the crime committed by white Evangelicals who represent the largest constituency of Present Donald J. Trump. They commit it by their unconditional support of the one who has actually created baby jails. Yes, baby jails that permanently separate the most innocent creatures we can imagine from the ones that love them dearly. This crime tortures not only the babies, but their mothers and fathers too.

Of course, both Catholics and Evangelicals camouflage their misopedia by pretending to care about unborn embryos and fetuses – creatures for whom they cannot possibly exercise practical responsibility and whose parents tend to be “those others:” blacks and browns, immigrants and the poor in general. Opposing abortion represents what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” It’s costs the opponents absolutely nothing.

Yet, once the unborn come to term – once the newly born and young might cost taxpayers a few dollars – erstwhile Christian child-defenders disappear. They wash their hands of the whole affair. They effectively tell parents “Now you’re on your own, good luck.” They even oppose “Big Government” programs like SNAP and TANF that have proven in other countries to reduce abortions by significantly relieving the financial worries of new parents.

Worse still, patriotic Christians support killing the young by the hundreds of thousands and without a second thought. They do so in places like Yemen, Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Ethiopia. That’s the short list of killing fields where children are slaughtered mercilessly and on an hourly basis by “American” bombs effectively blessed by the “Christians” I’m referencing. (Secretary of State and devout Christian, Mike Pompeo, nakedly supports such slaughter because it’s good for the U.S. arms industry.)

All of this conflicts with the portrayal of Jesus in today’s Gospel reading. There, Jesus embraces a real child of the kind Trump-supporters show little concern about once the creatures advance beyond fetal status.

This is how Mark describes the episode: “Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.’”

In fact, Jesus uttered not a word about abortion. But Mark’s portrayal speaks volumes about Jesus’ attitude towards the kind of children Catholics and Evangelicals tend to hate. He could not have been clearer In his absolute identification with them: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

To repeat, in doing that Jesus is not embracing a fetus, but an actual living child about whose human status there can be no debate. Moreover, the child in question was probably of the type many opponents of abortion have little use for or sympathy with. After all today’s gospel scene takes place in Capernaum, the urban center that Jesus adopted as his home town after he was thrown out of Nazareth precisely because of his programmatic concern for the poor.

Remember: Jesus spent his time among the poor who represented his own origins. So, the child Jesus embraces was probably a smelly street kid with matted hair and a dirty face. He or she was probably not unlike the street kids found in any city today – the ones hooked on sniffing glue and who have learned to sell their bodies to dirty old men from way across town, and often from across the world.

I make all this supposition because the reason Jesus embraces the child in question is to present his disciples with a living example of “the lowest of the low” – God’s truly chosen people. In Jesus’ world, all children were at the bottom of the pecking order whose rabbinical description ended with “idiots, deaf-mutes and the young.” And among the young, street children without father or mother would indeed represent scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Embracing children like that doesn’t mean practicing “tough love,” nor forcing impoverished mothers to bring their children to term and then telling them “You’re on your own.” Rather, embracing poor children – truly being pro-life – means creating a welcoming atmosphere that receives children as we would receive the Jesus who identifies with them in today’s gospel.

Yes, it suggests supporting those “Big Government” programs that work so well elsewhere – the programs Donald Trump and his supporters are hell-bent on eliminating.

Remember all of that when you hear your pastor’s sermon on abortion this Sunday. Remember it when you cast your vote on November 6th.