Did Jesus Justify Armed Resistance to Roman Imperialism? What about Insurgent Resistance to U.S. Imperialism? (Sunday Homily)

Readings for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time: JER 38: 4-10; PS 40: 2-4, 18; HEB 12:1-4; LK 12: 49-53

Today’s gospel excerpt presents problems for any serious homilist. That’s because it introduces us to an apparently violent Jesus. It makes one wonder; why does the Church select such problematic passages for Sunday reading? What’s a pastor to make of them?

On the other hand, perhaps it’s all providential. I say that because, today’s gospel might unwittingly help us understand that even the best of imperialism’s victims (perhaps even Jesus) are drawn towards reactive, revolutionary, or self-defensive violence. After all, Jesus and his audiences were impoverished victims of Roman plunder. By the standards most Christians today accept, they had the right to defend themselves “by any means necessary.”

Here’s what I mean. Without apology, today’s reading from Luke has the ‘Prince of Peace” saying, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing . . . Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division.”

In a parallel passage, Matthew’s version is even more direct. He has Jesus saying, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Is that provocative enough for you?

What’s going on here? What happened to “Turn the other cheek,” and “Love your enemy?”

There are two main answers to the question. One is offered by Muslim New Testament scholar, Reza Aslan, the other by Jesus researcher, John Dominic Crossan. Aslan associates the shocking words attributed to Jesus in this morning’s gospel directly with Jesus himself. Crossan connects them with the evangelists, Luke and Matthew who evidently found Jesus’ nonviolent resistance (loving enemies, turning the other cheek) too difficult to swallow for people living under the jackboot of Roman imperialism.

For his part, Aslan points out that the only God Jesus knew and the sole God he worshipped was the God of Jewish scripture. That God was a “man of war” (Exodus 15:3). He repeatedly commands the wholesale slaughter of every foreign man, woman, and child who occupies the land of the Jews. He’s the “blood-spattered God of Abraham, and Moses, and Jacob, and Joshua (Isaiah 63:3). He is the God who “shatters the heads of his enemies” and who bids his warriors to bathe their feet in their blood and leave their corpses to be eaten by dogs (Psalms 68: 21-23). This is a God every bit as violent as any the Holy Koran has to offer.

For Aslan, Jesus’ words about turning the other cheek and loving enemies pertained only to members of the Jewish community. They had nothing to do with the presence of hated foreigners occupying and laying claim to ownership of Israel, which in Jewish eyes belonged only to God. Accordingly, Jesus words about his commitment to “the sword” expressed the hatred he shared with his compatriots for the Roman occupiers.

In other words, when it came to Roman imperialists, Jesus was not a pacifist. He issued no call for nonviolence or nonresistance. Quite the opposite.

John Dominic Crossan disagrees. For him the earliest layers of tradition (even the “Q” source in Matthew and Luke) reveal a champion of non-violent resistance. In fact, the Master’s earliest instructions to his disciples tell them to travel freely from town to town. But in doing so, they are to wear no sandals, carry no backpack, and no staff. He instructs: “Take nothing for the journey–no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt” (LK 9:3).

Crossan finds the prohibition against carrying a staff highly significant. The staff, of course, was a walking stick. However, it was also a defensive weapon against wild animals – and robbers.

So, with this proscription Jesus seems to prohibit carrying any weapon – even a purely defensive one like the staff all travelers used.

Apparently, that was too much for the evangelist, Mark. Recall that he wrote the earliest of the canonical gospels we have – during or slightly before the Great Jewish Rebellion against Rome (66-70 CE). Matthew and Luke later copied and adapted his text for their own audiences – one Jewish (in the case of Matthew), the other gentile (in the case of Luke). Mark remembers Jesus’ directions like this: “He instructed them to take nothing but a staff for the journey–no bread, no bag, no money in their belts” (MK 6:8).

Notice that Mark differs from what Crossan identifies as the earliest Jesus traditions upon which Matthew and Luke depended. Instead of prohibiting carrying a staff, Mark’s Jesus identifies the staff as the only thing Jesus’ disciples are allowed to carry. Evidently, that seemed more sensible to a pragmatic Mark than the words Jesus probably spoke. I mean, everyone needs to at least protect themselves from violent others.

Matthew and Luke prove even more pragmatic. By the time we get to them (almost two generations after Jesus’ death and fifteen or twenty years after Mark), we find their Jesus commanding that his disciples carry, not just a staff, but a sword – an offensive, lethal weapon. Matthew even portrays Jesus’ right-hand-man, Peter, actually armed with a sword the night Jesus was arrested. Jesus has to tell him: “Put away your sword. Those who live by the sword will perish by the sword” (MT 26:52). (It makes one wonder if Peter was absent the day Jesus gave instruction about turning the other cheek and loving one’s enemies. Or is Aslan correct about Jesus’ militancy?)

In other words, on Crossan’s reading, it is the gospel authors, not Jesus himself, who subscribe to belief in the blood-spattered God of the Jewish Testament. Jesus’ God was the Forgiving One who recognized no one as enemy, and who (as his later actions showed) refused to defend himself. His dying words were about forgiving his executioners.

Crossan reasons that this more pacifist Jesus is probably the authentic one, precisely because his words (and actions) contradict so radically the Jewish tradition’s violent God.

So, whose words do we encounter in today’s gospel? Can we attribute them to the historical Jesus or to his disciples who found themselves unable to accept the Master’s radical non-violence?

Whatever our answer, the shocking words we encounter today remind us that even people of great faith (Mark, Matthew, Luke – or perhaps even Jesus himself) despise imperial invaders. Their arming themselves and fighting revolutionary wars (like the 66-70 Uprising) are completely understandable.

In any case, by gospel (and Koranic?) standards such rebellion is more justified than the entirely unacceptable violence of imperial invasion.

Does any of this shed light on ISIS response to U.S. Middle Eastern invasions, bombings, torture centers and dronings? As a Christian, what would be your response if foreigners did in our country what U.S. soldiers and pilots are doing in Arabia? Would you be a non-violent resister as Crossan says Jesus was? Or would you take up arms – the way violent insurgents have done in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Ethiopia, and elsewhere?

Which Jesus do you follow? Can you understand religious people who in the face of United States imperialism say: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing . . . Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division.”

Faith Is Belief in What the World Cannot See – In What the Mainstream Denies

Readings for 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time: WIS 18:6-9; PS 33 1,12, 18-19, 20-22; HEB 11: 1-2, 8-19; MT 24:42A, 44; LK 12: 32-48

Despite their apparent obscurity, this week’s readings should be powerful and encouraging for people of faith. They are about faith that enables followers of Jesus to see what remains opaque to a purblind world.

By definition faith cannot adjust to what the world takes for granted. It is commitment to what materialists cannot see – to what the mainstream denies. After all, the world’s normalcy exalts individualism, money-grubbing, meaningless entertainment, oppression of “the othered,” endless war, and the never-satisfied quest for pleasure, power, profit, and prestige.

Faith, on the other hand, believes in a world that remains unseen by the dominant culture. It’s the world as it comes from the hand of God: beautiful, simple, loving, forgiving, and belonging to everyone.

As a result, people of faith are called to stand with those our dominant culture rejects. In “America,” that means standing with the poor and homeless, with immigrants, Muslims, people of color, LGBTTQQIAAP humans, socialists, communists, environmentalists, and social justice warriors. . .  That’s the short list, today’s readings suggest, of those who are favored by God.

Put more simply, faith realizes that all of us are one. All are children of God. All creatures from smallest to greatest are loved by God. It’s that simple. It cannot be said too often. That’s why some of us formally celebrate creation’s oneness each week with others who share our simple outlook. That’s why the world’s spiritual teachers of all faiths insist that each day must begin with some spiritual discipline (such as meditation or centering prayer). Such quiet time reminds practitioners that we do not belong to this world. That’s why Jesus told us to “pray always.”

There is nothing more important than living from the truth that all creation is one. NOTHING! That faith alone can save our world from the impending disaster sadly looming on our near horizon in the form of nuclear war and climate disaster.

But it is so hard to swim against the stream, isn’t it? It’s exhausting. After all, we’re surrounded by daily events that contradict it at every turn. Everything in our world conspires to tell us that we’re atomized individuals hostile to everyone unlike us. Think of the daily mass shootings, endless sanctions of designated enemies, obvious public lies, redefinitions of truth, police brutality, worship of money, resources absolutely wasted on war, and the distortions of God and religion for selfish purposes. Think of our belief that our country, the principal cause of the world’s problems, is somehow special, exceptional, and favored by God. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Thank God for Sacred Scripture that calls us back to Center. (That’s the beautiful thing about the Bible – almost alone in ancient western tradition it represents the consciousness and voice of the poor, rather than those of kings, generals, and court prophets.)  

In any case, and for what they’re worth, here are my “translations” of this week’s readings as they’d be understood by their authors who were themselves marginalized people surrounded by Great Powers intent on exploiting and even obliterating them. Please read them for yourself here. At first, and in their original form, they might strike you as obscure. However, read thoughtfully, they are powerful. So, here’s what I take them to say in these dark times. See if you agree.

 WIS 18:6-9 (A reflection on Israel’s Exodus)
 
Our tradition is that of
An enslaved people
Exhibiting the meaning
Of faith
As courageous commitment
To an unseen glorious future
Where the mighty
Are dethroned
And brought to justice
While the exploited
Are exalted
As God’s own people.
 
PS 33: 1, 12, 18-19, 20-22 (Blessed are the people God has chosen to be his own)
 
Yes, God’s Chosen People
Are the famished
And those threated
By death.
They are driven by
A divine Life Force
Calling them
To struggle for justice.
The Force is kind
And protective
Of the oppressed.
 
HEB 11: 1-2, 8-19 (Follow the example of our forebears)
 
In fact,
Faith is a verb,
An active commitment
By the hopeless poor
To a just future
That the world
Cannot even see.
It’s what our ancient ancestors
Lived by
Giving them hope
Even when they were
Only a few immigrants
Among a hostile
Foreign people
Fearful that the poor
Unbelievably fertile “invaders”
Would eventually outnumber
And replace them.
 
MT 24: 42A, 44 (Don’t give up the fight)
 
So, wake up!
God’s future will dawn
Just when the World’s saying
“That can never happen.”
 
LK 12: 32-48 (These readings are meant for everyone)
 
Yes, we might be small in number
And it might take a long time,
But we are the agents
God has chosen
To bring about
Our Master’s future
Where money’s not important,
The rich serve the poor,
The thieves are thwarted,
And empires overthrown
By true humanists,
Yes, humanists
Like Jesus
And us!

Marianne Williamson and the “Dark Psychic Forces” of Capitalism (Sunday Homily)

Readings for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time: ECC 1:2; 2:21-23; PS 90: 3-6; 12-14; 17; COL 3: 1-5; 9-11; MT 5:3; LK 12: 13-21

Marianne Williamson shone brightly again during the first night of the second Democratic debate. This time, with only nine minutes of exposure, she had the whole country talking.

As with her first appearance, her name was the most Google-searched among her nine debate rivals. And afterwards, the Washington Post, for instance, noted her contributions with headlines like “Marianne Williamson Had A Big Night in the Democratic Debate,” “Marianne Williamson Made the Most of Her Limited Time . . .,” “Marianne Williamson Makes the Case for Reparations in her Breakout Debate Moment,” and “I’ve Worked for Marianne Williamson. She’s No Kook.”

Additionally, “Democracy Now,” the following day gave more time than ever to Marianne’s remarks about the Flint water crisis, and about reparations, though, in the process, Intercept columnist, Mehdi Hasan felt compelled to dismiss her (without explanation) as “a little bit kooky, let’s be honest.”

Meanwhile Cody Fenwick writing for AlterNet favorably included Marianne’s comments about reparations among his “Nine Best Moments” of the primary debate. However (significantly for our focus here) his article, “Here Are 9 of the Best Moments and 7 of the Worst from the 2020 Democratic Primary Debate,” created a special category for what her campaign considers her most significant remark. Fenwick classified the following as a “Moment that Defied Category.” He wrote, “In the course of a rousing speech about the shameful government-triggered water crisis in Flint, Michigan, the author’s speech took a bizarre turn: ‘If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country, then I’m afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days.’” Without further comment, that statement concluded his article.

Thinking it somehow “bizarre,” Fenwick was evidently confused by the reference to a “dark psychic force,” even though Williamson immediately explained its meaning. She was referring to “the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country.” His confusion resulted, I think, from Williamson’s entry into unexplored debate terrain as she attempted to drive the conversation deeper than the clichés and normalized insanity that characterized many of Tuesday’s exchanges (like Steve Bullock’s disagreement with Elizabeth Warren about first use of nuclear weapons).

What “dark psychic forces” did Williamson have in mind? Judging from her books Healing the Soul of America, and The Politics of Love, they are habits of mind and spirit inculcated by a culture that tolerates, if not celebrates:

  • The collectivized hatred she specifically referenced
  • The mind-set that actually considers first (or any!) use of nuclear weapons as acceptable
  • White supremacy and white nationalism
  • American exceptionalism
  • Imperialism and neo-colonialism
  • Child abuse at our borders
  • Regime change wars
  • An all-encompassing gun culture reflected not only in law, but in our films, novels, newspapers, and magazines – and especially in military policy

That’s just the short list of the dark forces in question. But for Williamson, all of them can be synopsized in the single term “fear.” Systemically, they can be summarized in the term “capitalism” and the terror-filled interlocking systems of individualism, competition, and greed that system inspires.

And that brings us to the theme of the liturgy of the word for today’s 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time. On my reading, all of them present a light-hearted critique and rejection of the underlying spirit of capitalism. But see if they speak to you in that way. Take a look at them here.

In any case, what follows are my “translations”:

ECC 1:2; 2:21-23 (A Book of Hebrew Wisdom)
 
Accumulating property
And money
Working hard to get it
Worrying about it
Losing sleep over it . . .
Is all foolishness.
And in the end,
You can’t take it with you.
How silly to fret
About possessions!
 
PS 90: 3-6; 12-14; 17
 
So, soften your heart.
Life is short
It passes
Like the seasons
Like grass.
You might even die
In your sleep tonight.
Instead, enjoy life NOW.
Be happy and kind
And careful
In whatever you do.
That’s true prosperity.
 
 
COL 3: 1-5; 9-11
 
As St. Paul says,
Use your Christ consciousness
To look beyond
The material
To discover
True wealth –
Your invisible life
Within.
After all,
Happiness
Has nothing to do
With idolizing money
Or pleasure, or deceit.
It’s all about
Living with
The consciousness of Jesus
That all humans
(wherever they come from)
Are sisters and brothers.
 
 
MT 5:3 (Blessed are the poor in spirit)
 
In fact,
Christ’s values
Are the exact opposite
Of the world’s.
 
 
LK 12: 13-21 (Parable of the wealth-obsessed rich man who dies in his sleep)
 
So, don’t be foolish
Worrying about
Inheritance and money
You didn’t even work for.
After all,
Life’s not about
How much you have.
Instead,
Laugh with Jesus
At fools who spend
Entire lives
Focused on mammon
Only to die
Before they’ve had time
To enjoy the rich Life
God has given
To everyone
Equally.
Notice how the readings lament and make fun of lives based on greed and focus on material accumulation. Such goals produce anxiety, sleeplessness, jealousy, and frustration. They end with a completely wasted life and early death. 

As opposed to the Prosperity Gospel, this is what Jewish Wisdom Literature, the prophets, Jesus of Nazareth, and leaders like Marianne Williamson have to say about excessive material wealth. It's not the point of life. Instead, love, justice, and the inner peace and community they produce is what fullness of life is about. 

Readings like today's remind us of the gloomy and literally unspeakable (i.e. off-limits for discussion) forces that drive our culture. They are encapsulated in our economic system that emphasizes individualism, competition, violence and fear. The system is capitalism-as-we-know-it.

By bringing that up and in terms of "dark psychic forces," Williamson places herself beyond normal political discourse. To mainstream commentators, that makes her puzzling, bizarre, weird, and "kooky," even kookier than those advocating the omnicide of nuclear war.

However, to those of us seeking escape from business as usual, it made her the best candidate on last Tuesday's stage.
 
The favorable reaction to Williamson's statements there shows that increasing numbers are recognizing her truth.

	

The Profound Miracle a Marianne Williamson Presidency Would Bring About (Sunday Homily)

Readings for 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time: GN 18:20-32; PS 138: 1-8; COL 2:12-14; LK 11:1-13

Today’s readings are about the role of prayer in changing consciousness. On this topic, they share with us the understandings of Abraham, the Psalmist (sometimes called David), Paul of Tarsus, John the Baptist, and Jesus himself.

As you’ll see immediately below, all of the readings address changing our ideas about God from the One who punishes and kills to a merciful Father who wants us to be happy. The readings are about God’s mercy towards enemies and kindness to strangers. They’re about persistence, generosity, abundance, about sharing bread, eggs, and fish – and about debt forgiveness. As always, in a Christian context, they explain the New World Order that Jesus called the Kingdom of God.

In this (over-long) election season, I can’t help but make the connection between those readings about prayer and its mind-changing power on the one hand, and the candidacy of Marianne Williamson on the other. That’s because Marianne is the most prayerful spiritual leader I’ve come across in my lifetime of engagement with theology and with people attempting to connect with the Reality that some still call “God.” As such, Marianne’s candidacy credibly promises to change world consciousness from one dominated by fear and necrophilia to one characterized by forgiveness and reverence for life. I’ll explain how in a minute.

Today’s Readings

However, before I get to that, here are my “translations” of today’s readings about the miraculous power of prayer even as exemplified by Ms. Williamson and the great biblical figures just mentioned. Please check here to see if they coincide with your own understandings:


GN 18: 20-32
 
Sheik Abraham,
The product
Of bedouin violence,
Comes gradually to understand
That Yahweh listens
To prayers
On behalf of innocents
Otherwise lost
As collateral damage
In mayhem
Inspired by
Tribal lust
For war.
 
PS 138: 1-8

Yahweh, then,
Is not vengeful
But kind and truthful,
Close to the lowly
And far from the proud
Protecting his petitioners
And saving them
From those who
Would do them harm.
 
Col 2: 12-14

Thank you, Jesus,
For freeing us from
The world’s lie
That we are condemned
By a necrophilic God
And morbid legal system
Instead of freed
By One
Who forgives
And offers us
An entirely new
Way of Life."
 
 
LK 11: 1-13

To get there,
Jesus taught his friends
The prayer of his mentor,
John the Baptist:
“May God’s Kingdom
Come soon
With its abundant daily bread
And the same mercy
(And debt forgiveness!)
That Abraham
Came to understand.”
In God’s New Order,
And despite human reluctance
(And the midnight hour)
Bread, eggs and fish
Will be shared
Even with inconvenient
And rudely persistent visitors
In God’s Holy Spirit
That enables it all.

The Marianne Connection

Those readings about prayer evoke reflections on the candidacy of Marianne Williamson. As I was saying, I’ve never come across a person who so naturally, easily, and comfortably prays. Unabashedly, she invokes miracles one after another – just what we need in these troubled times.

But please note this: for Marianne Williamson, “miracles” do not refer to woo-woo magic events “out there” contrary to the laws of nature. Instead, they are profound interior changes in consciousness just like the one experienced by Abraham in that reading from Genesis.

And change in consciousness is precisely what we need in these times of overriding threat from systems-induced climate chaos, from nuclear war, and from the underlying fears and insecurities fostered by “leaders” such as Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Manuel Duterte, Jair Bolsonaro and the other fascist heads of state.

With those monsters in mind, I’m driven to imagine how a Marianne Williamson presidency would change planetary (yes planetary!) thinking from processes governed by fear embodied in those men, by (mostly state) terrorism – a specifically fear-inducing tactic – to one governed by love and reverence for life.

The miraculous change intimately connected to today’s topic of prayer, would go something like this: 

  • On Marianne’s accession to the presidency (actually, long before), the entire world would scour her books for clues to her real identity – just as they did with President Obama’s Dreams from My Father and with Mr. Trump’s The Art of the Deal.
  • Some would read Marianne’s spiritual guidebook, A Course in Miracles (ACIM) or (more likely) what Marianne describes as her ACIM CliffsNotes, A Return to Love.
  • Others would even take up the daily discipline described in ACIM’s volume II, A Workbook for Students.
  • In any case, the resulting analysis, commentary and direct experience would get people everywhere discussing ACIM’s basic ideas with the same fervor currently given to Mr. Trump’s “fake news” and “alternative fact.”  Those ACIM ideas hold that:  
  1. Our world of fear-induced violence is a completely human fabrication making Americans in particular (as Chris Hedges puts it) “the most illusioned people on earth.”
  2. No one is actually attacking us. Instead, according to Marianne’s analysis, most of the world’s violence is induced by an economic system that financially rewards human destruction fostered by the Military Industrial Complex, Big Pharma, and Big Oil. In other words, capitalism-as-we-know-it is our enemy including its ideological defenses.
  3. The way out of the resulting morass is forgiveness. That is, we must realize that the ones our culture habitually blames are actually innocent. Our problems are not caused by immigrants, non-whites, LGBTQQIAs, not by the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans, Syrians, Libyans, Somalis, Iraqis, Iranians, Yemenis . . . Forgiveness means accepting the fact that all of those just mentioned are not only our sisters and brothers. THEY ARE OURSELVES. Or as ACIM puts it, “There is really only one of us here.”
  4. Such forgiveness leads to atonement – to At-One-Ment, i.e. to specific policies reflecting the unity that exists between human beings and between humans and nature. Policies include reparations to the descendants of African slaves, to Native Americans, and to countries whose economies and cultures have been destroyed by imperialist wars encouraged by capitalism-as-we-know-it. Atonement with Mother Nature includes a Green New Deal.   

Conclusion

When Marianne Williamson is asked about her inexperience as a politician, she invariably invokes Franklin Roosevelt who said that the primary role of the presidency is not governmental management, but moral leadership. In fact, once elected, presidents can turn over day-to-day policy management to carefully chosen experts in each relevant field.

Moreover, the policies in question will end up virtually the same under any of the Democratic candidates all of whom claim to be “progressive.” They’ll all hire similar technocrats to implement Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, $15.00 minimum wage, and forgiveness of college loans. Except for Marianne and Tulsi Gabbard, with their emphasis on peace-building and military disengagement, all the candidates promise to support the same tired U.S. foreign policy.

Besides such crucial peace-building emphasis, what really separates the twenty or so candidates are their character, credibility, and personal values that will enable them to change the national and international conversation.

In a perverse way, Donald Trump has actually demonstrated the importance of character traits in the oval office. Think about it. In Trump we have a nihilist of questionable intellectual competence, completely without moral principle and with virtually no understanding of policy, how Washington runs, or even of basic history or geography.

And yet, Trump has changed the tenor of the national and international conversation more profoundly than any formally educated nihilist philosopher possibly could. He has literally reshaped the world by giving courage to fascists, racists, homophobes and misogynists of all stripes everywhere in the world.

What our liturgical readings for the day suggest (at least to me) is that Marianne Williamson’s life-long commitment to prayerful change in consciousness equips her better than anyone else not simply to return the world to normality after the Trump disaster. She can do more than that. She can move the entire world to the unprecedentedly deeper level of consciousness that our times and impending disasters require.

Marianne’s mindset represents what’s really required to implement the values of love, forgiveness, generosity and at-one-ment that we’ve read about today. They are precisely the values required by our desperate times. Implementing those values world-wide is the profound miracle a Williamson presidency could bring about.  

Jesus (& Mary Magdalen) Rejects the American Work Ethic (Sunday Homily)

Readings for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gn. 18: 1-10A; Ps. 15: 2-5; Col. 1: 24-28; Lk. 10: 38-42. 

This week’s Gospel reading is fun. It’s about work and relaxation. It contains Good News for workers that contrasts sharply with the attitude of their employers.

The reading has Jesus and his closest companion, Mary Magdalen, exemplifying the Master’s habitual attitude towards work which is exactly what American capitalists condemn as laziness. Its take-away: forget Martha’s overwork. Instead, be more like Jester Jesus and Lazy Mary.

I’ll explain that in a minute. But before I do, let me offer an amusing reminder of our culture’s deification of work. It came a couple weeks ago in a Fox News interview with Donald Luskin, the CEO of Trend Macrolytics, a prominent Wall Street consulting firm. As such, it’s his job to forecast market trends and offer stock market advice to institutional investors. I imagine he spends his day making phone calls, having three-martini luncheon meetings with clients, or maybe advising them on the golf course or in a luxury suite at the local baseball stadium. For him, that’s work. It ultimately ends in pressing computer keys to implement his momentous decisions to “buy” or “sell.” Whew!

In any case, Luskin was asked on Fox about a recent report showing that retirement is becoming a thing of the past. In fact, nearly one in four Americans will never have enough money to quit the daily grind. When asked if he found the trend worrisome, Luskin said it didn’t concern him personally. On the contrary, and employing theological language, the man actually called it a “blessing” and a “miracle” that people have been relieved of the burden of retirement that workers had to endure in less fortunate times.

He said:

“It doesn’t worry me personally. I guess I’m one of those people who plans never to retire. I mean, I’ve got to tell you, what do people do when they retire? You know, how do you spend a day? I mean, is bowling that interesting? Is fishing that interesting? I mean, I happen to love my work. Why do I want to stop it? You know, it’s not like it hurts. Why would I stop it? This is great. What a great country where we have the opportunity to keep working. What a miracle where our lives are long enough and we’re healthy enough and mentally alert enough, so we don’t have to retire like generations before us. This is a great blessing. You should embrace it.”

Such words need very little comment. What do retired people do? Are you serious? How about: what you always wanted to do but couldn’t while working two or three meaningless jobs involving physical activity, danger, heavy lifting or boring repetitious tasks for clueless employers like Luskin himself. How about: volunteering for Habitat, working for Marianne Williamson‘s campaign (with its commitment to changed political consciousness); how about spending time with your spouse and grandchildren? How about traveling, reading, writing poetry, listening to or playing music, making love, taking naps, meditating, playing checkers or chess, hiking, learning a new skill, painting – and yes, bowling or fishing.

What Luskin reflects is our entire culture that locates “real life” in the shop or market place. In fact, we’re taught to prize overwork. This is especially true of “American” culture where unlike our European counterparts, we spend an average of three hours per week more on the job. That adds up to something like a month more of work each year than our European sisters and brothers. Most important, Americans take fewer (and shorter) vacations. The average American takes off fewer than six weeks a year; the average Frenchman almost 12. Swedes take the longest vacations – 16 ½ weeks per year.

Today’s gospel reading from Luke urges us to correct our tendency to overwork before it’s too late. In doing so, it directs our attention to the counter-cultural nature of Jesus’ teachings about how we should spend our days.

Yes, Jesus was extremely counter-cultural even about work. We shouldn’t forget that. As Deepak Chopra points out (in his The Third Jesus), the Sermon on the Mount, which captures the essence of Jesus’ wisdom, has him explicitly telling his disciples not to earn a living, save money, plan ahead or worry about the future. He actually does! Read it for yourself.

And did you notice the description of the “Just Person” in today’s responsorial psalm? Man or woman, they harm no one, do not slander, speak ill of no one, and refuse to accept bribes. All of that raises no eyebrow. We yawn: none of that seems particularly counter-cultural.

But how about, “They lend not money at usury?” Could anything be further from the work Mr. Luskin idealizes? Yes, lending at interest is considered robbery and is forbidden in the Bible. [What if all Christians (and Jews) kept that commandment? Our world with its economy based on credit and interest, would be entirely different.]

More to the day’s point: the world would also be different – our lives would not be the same – if we acted like Mary instead of Martha.

The misdirection of traditional sermons obscures that possibility. Customarily homilists understand the story of Martha and Mary in a strictly spiritual sense. Their commentaries use the two sisters to compare the active and the contemplative lives – as though poor Martha stood for lay people having to wait on others with no time for prayer like the more otherworldly Mary. Martha’s sister “choses the better part” like a contemplative “religious” eschewing “the world of work” and spending their time pondering the spiritual teachings of Jesus and living a life rapt in prayer and contemplation.

I used to think that too – until I read Un Tal Jesus (“A Certain Jesus”) written by Maria Lopez Vigil and her brother, Jose Ignacio. (The book has been translated into English under the title Just Jesus.) The authors are Cuban and now live in Nicaragua. Maria is a former nun; Jose Ignacio, a former priest.

Together the Lopez-Vigils created a series of radio programs broadcast all over Latin America. The shows dramatized the four gospels and presented a very human Jesus – the one who emerges from recent scholarship on the historical Jesus.

In Un Tal Jesus, Jesus is black, has a winning smile, and a very down-to-earth sense of humor. (The photo at the top of this blog entry shows Jesus as depicted in the Lopez-Vigil’s book.) The human Jesus portrayed in that radio series scandalized many and inspired even more throughout the Latin world and beyond.

As the Lopez-Vigils envision it, today’s episode takes place in a Bethany tavern owned by Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary. It’s a place of eating, drinking and lodging for travelers. It’s a place of laughter, joking, over-eating and drunkenness. And Jesus is right there in the middle of it all.

Passover is approaching, and the inn is full of pilgrims. It’s steamy, noisy, and loud. Martha is on the job, waiting on tables and controlling the rest of the staff. Meanwhile Mary (whom scholars increasingly identify with Mary Magdalene, Jesus closest female companion) is distracted by conversation with Jesus, who is bantering with his friends.

And what are they talking about? Religion? God? Spirituality? No, they’re joking. Jesus is posing riddle after riddle. And Mary finds it completely entertaining. In part, their dialog goes like this:

Jesus: What’s as small as a mouse but it guards the house like a lion. One, two, three: Guess what it is!
Mary: Small as a rat…and…it’s a key! I guessed it, I guessed it!
Jesus: Listen to this one: It’s as small as a nut, has no feet but can climb a mountain.
Mary: Wait… a nut going up the mountain…a snail!…Ha, ha, ha, tell me another one!
Jesus: You won’t guess this one right. Listen well: It has no bones, it is never quiet, with edges sharper than scissors.
Mary: It has no bones… I don’t know…
Jesus: It’s your tongue, Mary, which never rests!

Well, Mary and Jesus might have found that sort of patter entertaining, but Martha did not. She’s in charge of the inn and is worried about her guests waiting impatiently for their food while bread is burning in the oven. So, she makes her complaint to Jesus: “Stop your chatter and let my sister do her job!” It’s then that Jesus makes that remark about Mary’s choosing the better part. She’s chosen socializing and play over work.

Does that scandalize you – Jesus distancing himself from work? Well, it seems completely consistent with what I said about Jesus earlier. It coincides with his general approach to work, money, profit, saving, and anxiety about the future.

What difference would it make in our own lives if we accepted that message: socializing, community, and fun are more important than the work people like Donald Luskin would have us devote our entire lives to?

What difference would it make in our culture if, in a context of underpaid labor and long hours on the job we elected candidates advocating “spreading the work around,” spreading the money around, shortening the work week, and affording us more time with friends and family, eating, drinking, joking, and playing?

That’s the message of today’s Gospel reading: we need more free time, more vacations, and assured dignified retirement.

Wake up, Mr. Luskin! Wake up, American workers: You have nothing to lose but your chains.

P.S. Here’s the actual interview with Donald Luskin along with commentary by TYT‘s John Iadarola

This Is What A Good Samaritan Looks Like (Sunday Homily)

Today’s Gospel selection, the familiar story of the Good Samaritan, couldn’t be timelier.

It’s read at a juncture in American history, where a Christian acting specifically according to the teaching of Jesus’ parable faces 20 years in prison. His crime? He provided food, water, lodging and hospitality to people whom the Trump administration would rather see die of thirst and exposure, because the president considers them sub-human.

I’m talking about Dr. Scott Warren (pictured above), a humanitarian aid volunteer and immigration rights activist. For years, he has worked with an organization called No More Deaths (NMD). Its members leave water jugs, clothing, and medical supplies for refugees and immigrants crossing the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona. Warren and NMD also keep track of the numerous cadavers they find there and have filmed U.S. border agents emptying more than 3000 NMD water jugs in their clear effort to create more deaths by dehydration. In fact, those border agents are the sadistic executioners who staff Mr. Trump’s concentration camp system. (Watch what they do in this film clip. Doesn’t their sadism remind you of the Nazis we’ve all seen in all those WWII movies?)

Coincidently, I guess, and soon after filming the murderers, Warren was arrested and tried for aiding two undocumented migrants. A hung jury failed to convict him. However, the Trump administration wants the man retried – again, for the crime of obeying Jesus’ mandate in today’s reading. (In fact, most reports of Warren’s case specifically invoke the imagery of “the Good Samaritan.”) His second trial will take place in November.

The sad irony is that so many of Trump’s supporters consider themselves Christians. Their single “Christian” issue seems to be abortion about which Jesus and the Bible in general says absolutely nothing. Nothing at all! And yet, when someone obeys Jesus’ clear and unambiguous teaching as in today’s Gospel, they want Jesus’ follower punished to the full extent of the law whose essence Moses describes as Love in today’s first reading.

It’s like what happened in Germany after Hitler came to power. There, the birthplace of Luther and his Reformation, Christians not only enthusiastically approved of der Fuhrer; they worked in his concentration camps. And then (as Elie Wiesel puts it) after cremating Jews all week, they went to confession on Saturday and received communion on Sunday. They could do so, because, mirroring Trump’s attitude towards immigrants, they believed Jews were sub-human.

That’s the same attitude Jews themselves in Jesus’ day had towards Samaritans. They were considered enemies of the state, because their ancestors back in the 8th century BCE, intermarried with Assyrian occupiers of the Jewish homeland. Intermarriage rendered Samaritans unclean. They were as sub-human as Trump’s immigrants or Hitler’s Jews.

So Jesus’ making a Samaritan the hero of his challenging parable, and contrasting the outcast’s compassion with the “couldn’t-care-less” attitude of professional holy men – the priest and the Levite – connects directly with the hypocrisy of Christians, the Trump administration, and those border agents all of whom have criminalized the fundamental human right of immigration.

No; I’m wrong:  they’ve actually criminalized God’s law of love as described throughout today’s liturgical readings. Read them for yourself here. In any case, what follows is my “translation” of their main ideas:  

 DT 30: 10-14
 
The Great Liberator, Moses
Exhorted the former slaves
To return to LOVE
The most obvious, uncomplicated
Reality
In the world.
 
PS 69: 14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37

Love is all we need
From Life Itself.
It is always kind
And helpful
Overflowing with gifts
And ready to protect
The poor, the imprisoned,
The exiled,
And those in pain.
Yes: All we need is Love.
 
COL 1:15-20
 
Jesus, the Christ
Shows what Love means –
That absolutely everything
Was created for Love,
The bond, the glue
That holds us all together
In complete at-one-ment
Transforming the human race
Into a single body
Despite resistance
And crucifixion
By a hostile world.
 
LK 10: 25-37

For Jesus (like Moses)
Love of God and Neighbor
Is the only law
Promising fullness of life.
The two laws are one.
Being “neighbor”
Means rejecting
The ignorance of
Professional holy men
And politicians,
Adopting instead
The compassion of
The very minorities
We’re taught to hate
Who provide
Health care, transportation,
Lodging, mercy
Follow-up,
And money,
For those they have every reason
To hate.
That’s what it means
To love Our very Self!

Moses was right: Love is really all we need. It couldn’t be clearer. Jesus was right: Love is God’s only law. There is no other.

Trump, his followers and agents are wrong. They are criminal.

Or as the Master put it in another place (MT 10:42) “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

Marianne Williamson & the Immigration Crisis (Sunday Homily)

Readings for 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time: IS 66:10-14C; PS 66: 1-7, 16, 20; GAL 6: 14-18; LK 10: 1-12, 17-20.

The theme of today’s liturgy of the word is exile and deliverance from captivity. In its light, I can’t help thinking of all those refugees at our southern border and of Marianne Williamson’s wise and unique response in last week’s second Democratic Debate.

According to our readings, the immigrants and refugees our politicians want us to hate are exiles like the ancient Hebrews in Babylon. They are the victims of the rich and powerful as were the Jews in Jesus’ day, when Rome occupied his homeland aided and abetted by the Temple clergy. That is, today’s biblical selections say that the poorest and most vulnerable among us are God’s own people.

Yet incredibly, the richest and most invulnerable at the top of our contemporary social order – the very ones who crashed our economy, looted our common treasury, and escaped unscathed with the handouts we ourselves provided – somehow want us to believe that the poor exiles from their beloved homes in Central America are the cause of all our problems.

But remember: the home lands of these exiles from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua are the very countries whose economies our government purposely and permanently crashed in the 1980s. Then, the Reagan and Bush I administrations used drug money to finance illegal wars that ended up killing hundreds of thousands and replacing governments and social movements whose primary beneficiaries would have been the parents of those at our borders today. The latter are victims of the drug lords we established and supported during the ‘80s and who today are doing the same things they did 40 years ago – marketing drugs while terrorizing and murdering the innocent. I’m talking about the generals and other military officers who are now the drug kingpins.

That’s the point Marianne Williamson tried to make at the first Democratic debate. But no one picked it up. None of the other candidates elaborated on Ms. Williamson’s observation that today’s immigration “crisis” amounts to our government’s reaping what it sowed. The other candidates still haven’t seconded Marianne’s point. Instead, they and their interlocutors remain stuck in the same old, same old. They mouth the standard political platitudes while ignoring the shameful history that explains today’s headlines.

It’s been that way from biblical times and before – rich foreigners oppressing poor locals. Listen to today’s readings. Or, rather, read them for yourself. Here are my “translations.”

IS 66:10-14c

These are the words
Of Isaiah’s prophecy
To all in captivity
By Powers
Foreign and domestic:
“Your time of desperation
Is nearly over.
You will soon
Return home
Like starving infants
To Mother-Jerusalem.
With hunger satisfied
And prosperity
Incredible
Along with joy
And comfort, comfort, comfort
At last!”
 
PS 66: 1-7, 16, 20
 
Our liberator
From exile
So kind and powerful
Is the answer
To the prayers
Of captive people
And a source of joy
For the whole
Human race
And all of creation.
No obstacle
Can impede
God’s destiny
Of liberation
Joy and freedom
From oppression.
 
GAL 6: 14-18

Yes, our destiny
Is an entirely
New World!
Where the world’s distinctions
Are meaningless.
Acting accordingly
Now
Will bring
Everyone
Compassion and peace.
However,
The World
Crucifies us
For this belief.
Nonetheless,
We’re called to
Bear its torture
And scars
Gladly
As Jesus did.
 
LK 10: 1-12, 17-20

Paul’s words
Agree with Jesus
Who sent
Thirty-six pairs
Of “advance men”
And women
To announce
(Like Isaiah)
Liberation
From oppression
By powers imperial.
Like lambs among wolves
Like monks
With begging bowls,
They healed and proclaimed
God’s Great Cleanup
Of a world
Infested by demonic
Imperial oppressors.
And it worked!
Every one of those 72
Cast out evil spirits
Just like Jesus.
(Despite powerful opposition
And crucifixion.)
Some have ridiculed Marianne's debate performance. However, that only shows how our country thought-leaders have become tone-deaf to biblical values. They consider them ludicrous.

For me, that only signals the necessity of doubling-down on support for the only one in the crowded Democratic field who courageously insists on the values embedded in today's readings which identify the keys for solving the problems caused by "experienced" politicians. As Marianne says, those keys are love and forgiveness precisely for and of those the rich and powerful vilify.