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
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.
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.”
Readings for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time: I KGS 19: 16 B, 19-21; PS 16: 1, 2, 5, 7-11; GAL 5: 1, 13-18; I SM 3:9; JN 6: 68C; LK9: 51-62
So, we all watched Thursday’s debate in which Marianne Williamson finally participated and showed the country who she is. And she was magnificent. She demonstrated what her spiritual guidebook, A Course in Miracles calls a refusal to be insane. She embodied that still small voice of conscience – the voice for God – that today’s liturgy of the word distinguishes from the world’s madness.
To begin with consider the madness we witnessed Thursday night. It was a perfect reflection of our insane country, of our insane world, of our insane electoral system. There they were: ten of our presumably best and brightest aspiring to occupy what we’re told is the most powerful office in the world. They shouted, talked over their opponents, self-promoted, bragged, and put their opponents down. They offered complicated “plans” that no one (including themselves) seemed to understand. They ignored the rules of the game, recited canned talking points, and generally made fools of themselves – and of viewers vainly seeking sincerity, genuine leadership and real answers. Except for that brief exchange about busing between Kamala Harris and Joe Biden, it was mostly embarrassing.
And then there
were the so-called moderators who allowed the circus to spin so completely out
of control. They issued stern warnings about time limits, frequently set them
strictly at “thirty seconds,” but then proceeded to allow speakers to go on for
three minutes or more. The celebrity hosts were completely arbitrary in addressing
their questions unevenly. They repeatedly questioned some of the candidates and
there was Marianne Williamson off in the corner almost completely out of sight
and generally ignored by the hosts. When they finally deigned to notice her
polite attempts to contribute, no one seemed to know what to do with her comments.
There was never any follow-up or request for clarification. Instead, what she
said seemed completely drowned out by the evening’s “excitement,” noise, general
chaos, and imperative to change topics. It was as if she were speaking a
foreign language. I mean, how do you respond to that “still small voice of
conscience” that says:
Immigration problems should be understood in historical context; their roots are found in U.S. policy in Central America especially during the 1980s. Such comment invites further discussion. None took place.
Removing children from their parents’ arms is kidnapping; putting preschoolers in concentration camps is child abuse. Such crimes should be treated accordingly. What retribution did Marianne have in mind? The question went unasked.
Health care “solutions” should address environmental questions about chemicals in our foods, water, and air that make Americans sick. The response: “My next question for Vice-President Biden is . . .”
Government programs should be expressions of love, not fear.
expected, the pundits who afterwards declared “winners” and “losers,” generally
put Marianne in the latter category. Their criteria for that judgment were just
what you’d expect: Who was louder? Who was more aggressive, more interruptive? Who
spoke for more minutes? Who more effectively transgressed the debate “rules”
and thereby showed leadership and dominance?
None of this could be further from the spiritual principles Marianne Williamson has espoused for the last 40 years. That spirituality, like Elijah’s, Elisha’s, Paul’s, and Jesus’ in today’s liturgical readings holds that the problems that plague our world have simple answers that have nothing to do with bombast, filibusters, or spectacle. However, the world rejects out of hand the solutions of that still-small-voice of conscience as unrealistic and “out there” in the realm of the irrelevant and impractical. Such blind dismissal is what Paul in today’s reading calls “flesh;” it’s what Jesus elsewhere rejects as “worldly.”
So, in an
effort to put Thursday’s debate in perspective, let me begin by describing where
Marianne is coming from; then I’ll get to the relevant readings.
Course in Miracles
For more than forty years, the foundation of Marianne Williamson’s life and teachings has been A Course in Miracles (ACIM). It’s a three-volume work (a text, 365 daily exercises, and a manual for teachers) that was allegedly (and reluctantly) channeled by Helen Schucman, a Columbia University psychologist and atheist in the three or four years leading up to 1975, the year of the trilogy’s publication. It has since sold millions of copies. Williamson has described ACIM as “basic Christian mysticism.”
a tough read – certainly not for everyone, though Williamson insists that
something like its daily spiritual discipline (a key term for her) is necessary
for living a fully human life bent on serving God rather than self. Its guiding
prayer is “Where would you have me go? What would you have me do? What would
you have me say, and to whom?”
tougher than the cryptic text itself is putting into practice the spiritual
exercises in Volume II whose entire point is “a complete reversal of thought.” According
to ACIM’s constant reminders, we are all prisoners in a cell like Plato’s Cave,
where everything the world tells us is exactly the opposite of God’s truth.
To counter such deception, A Course in Miracles has the rare disciple (possessing the discipline to persevere) systematically deconstruct her world. It begins by identifying normal objects like a lamp or desk and helping the student realize that what s/he takes for granted is entirely questionable. Or as Lesson One puts it: “Nothing I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] means anything.” The point is to liberate the ACIM practitioner from all preconceptions and from the illusory dreams the world foists upon us from birth. Those illusions, dreams and nightmares are guided by fear, which, the course teaches, is the opposite of love. In fact, ACIM teaches that fear and love are the only two energetic forces in the entire universe. “Miracles” for A Course in Miracles are changes in perception – a paradigm shift – from fear to love. For Marianne, Donald Trump’s worldview is based primarily on fear; her’s is based on love (which means action based on the recognition of creation’s unity).
to Williamson’s guide, time, space, and separation of humans into separate
entities are all entirely illusory. Such distinctions are dreams that cause all
the world’s nightmares, including all the topics addressed in Thursday’s debate.
illusion of time has us all living in past and future while ignoring the
present – the only moment that actually exists, has ever existed, or where true
happiness can be found. This means, for example, that inspirational figures
like Jesus are literally alive NOW just as they were (according to time’s illusion)
2000 years ago. His Holy Spirit is a present reality.
dream of space has us taking too seriously human-made distinctions like borders
between countries. Yes, they are useful for organizing commerce and travel. But
the world as God created it belongs to everyone. It’s a complete aberration and
childish to close off borders as inviolable and to proudly proclaim that “From
now on, it’s only going to be America first, America first!”
the dream of separation between humans has us convinced that “we” are here in
North America, while refugees are down there at our southern border. According
to ACIM however, “There is really only one of us here.” This means that I am female,
male, white, black, brown, straight, gay, trans, old and young. And so are you.
Others are not simply our sisters and brothers; they are us! What we do to
them, we do to ourselves.
clarifications in mind, the solution to the world’s problems are readily
available and far easier to understand than complicated health care systems or
carbon trading. The solutions are forgiveness and atonement. But for ACIM,
forgiveness does not mean overlooking another’s sins and generously choosing
not to punish them. It means first of all realizing that sin itself is an
illusion. It is an archery term for a human mistake – for missing the mark –
something every one of us does.
then, amounts to nothing more than realizing that truth and acting accordingly –
as though the forgiven one were our Self (because s/he is!). In a world of
complete deception, it means accepting the truth that the ones our culture
blames – like immigrants, refugees, people of color, the poor, Muslims, and members
of the LGBTQQIA community – are not only completely innocent. Accepting them as
our very Self represents the source of our personal and political salvation.
light then, prisons (for particularly dangerous people) become re-education
centers for rehabilitation, not punishment. This means that even pathological
criminals like Trump, Pence, Pompeo, and Bolton can helpfully be sequestered
for a while and then returned to society as reformed, productive people. (I
know that’s hard to believe; but it could happen!)
Williamson, the goal of it all (of life itself!) is atonement – At-One-Ment – practical
realization of a world with room for everyone with illusory distinctions either
ignored, or played with, or celebrated in the spirit of party and game. Practically
speaking, atonement looks like reparations not only to the descendants of
African slaves, but to countries we have destroyed like those Marianne
referenced in Central America – but also like Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Cuba,
and a host of others. Instead of dropping bombs on them or applying sanctions,
we should, in effect, be showering them with schools, hospitals,
infrastructure, technological assistance, and money. It’s all part of the
what that kind of foreign policy would accomplish and how much cheaper it would
be than the trillions we’re now wasting on weapons and war.
books, Healing the Soul of America and A Politics of Love show, Williamson
stood ready to share such convictions last Thursday night. But she was never
asked. And we’re all poorer as a result.
So how is all of that related to this Sunday’s readings? They’re about the contrast between the world’s wisdom – its way of debating, judging, condemning, and praising – and God’s way of interacting with one another and with creation itself. Check out the readings for yourself here and see what you think. My “translations” follow to clarify their cumulative point:
I KGS 19:16B, 19-21
We are called To be prophets Like Elijah And his disciple-successor Elisha A wealthy farmer Who understood That God’s call Required renouncing Everything the world Holds dear: Family, possessions, And independence In order to Comfort the afflicted Afflict the comfortable And feed the hungry.
PS 16: 1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
For what ultimately Belongs to us Is not The world’s Corruption and condemnation But the God We deeply are Who is our very Food and drink, The ability to see Even amidst The world’s darkness, The source of calm, Gladness, and health Who shows The path to life, Joy, and unending delight. GAL 5: 1, 13-18 As Elisha realized: World and Spirit Are completely opposed. Paul terms Those worldly values “Flesh.” It demands Slavery and consumption Of one another! What God values Is Christ’s “Spirit.” Demanding Nothing more Than love Of the other Who is (Believe it or not) Our very Self.
I SM 3:9, JN 6: 68C Deep down We know All of this Is true.
LK 9: 51-62 Jesus did too. So, on the way To ultimate destiny He rejected The world’s spirit Of xenophobia, revenge, Ethnocentrism – And Hell-Fire missiles. Instead, he identified with The homeless, With life, not death, And with the Spirit Of Elisha Who also Left plow and oxen For the sake of God’s reign.
Please think about those readings in the light of what we witnessed on the debate stage a few nights ago. The other candidates represented what Paul calls “flesh” – you know: the world’s wisdom and way of doing things involving corruption, condemnation, devouring one’s opponent, xenophobia, and addiction to those Hellfire missiles. Meanwhile Marianne seemed bemused by it all. Her few thoughtful remarks said far more than the ones filibustering, pointlessly arguing, self-promoting.
As she says herself, Ms. Williamson is not in this campaign to run against anyone. She’s there to run with her fellow Democrats and to help Americans decide which candidate is best.
I think that candidate is Marianne. She deserves better consideration and a closer hearing than she received on Thursday. Like Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, and Paul, she is a voice for our Deepest Self. She was the winner.
Recently Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (AOC) stirred controversy by characterizing U.S. immigration detention facilities as concentration camps. Critics said her comparison was over the top
It was an insult, some said, to families of Holocaust
survivors. After all, none of the U.S. detention facilities is an extermination
camp like Auschwitz or Buchenwald.
In response, AOC doubled down on her charge. Along with others, she was joined by historians, and even by the editors of The National Catholic Reporter in affirming her accusation. Concentration camps, they all said, are not synonymous with extermination camps. In essence, the former are locations where prisoners are held without charge. In that sense, the U.S. indeed maintains concentration camps, but nothing like German practice. The intention in making that distinction was evidently to distance U.S. camps from the horrors and death of Hitler’s infamous hell-holes.
The argument here takes issue with that distinction. It
maintains instead that our burgeoning camps are every bit as brutal as
Hitler’s. In fact, the number of deaths connected with the U.S. system dwarf
the iconic number of six million incinerated, gassed, shot, or otherwise
To begin with, we must first of all realize that U.S. concentration camps are not a new phenomenon begun with the presidency of Donald Trump. No, they have been with us at least since the end of the Second Inter-Capitalist War in 1945.
In fact, the argument can be credibly made that our country
was explicitly founded on extermination, genocide and concentration camps. Using
rationale supplied by John Locke, our Founding Fathers wiped out 90% of North
America’s indigenous peoples, eventually confining survivors and their
descendants in concentration camps (called “reservations”). They employed the
same logic to enslave workers kidnapped from Africa imprisoning them in labor
camps (called “plantations”).
For Locke, who inspired Jefferson’s Declaration of
Independence, the crucial and ironic pronouncement behind such operations was that
“All men are created equal.” But note well that in his formulation, the
statement had no liberating relevance for Native Americans, African slaves,
women or propertyless whites. Instead, its expressed intention was to establish
the right of imperialists like him and his cohorts to steal land and resources
from the continent’s indigenous inhabitants and to exterminate resisters.
Locke’s point (as explained in my book, The Magic Glasses of Critical Thinking) was that just because the “Indians” were here first, they had no special claim on the lands they called home. That is, since (in Locke’s estimation) huge tracts were not being farmed as they would be in England, they were there for the taking by the Indians’ equals from Great Britain.
Locke said that a refusal by the Indians to recognize such
equality amounted to a declaration of war against the British. So, the natives
could be slaughtered with abandon – a task our country’s great Indian Fighters
took on with enthusiasm and relish creating a holocaust that killed millions.
Adolph Hitler himself took inspiration from the examples just cited. He liked the concept of concentration and work camps. He was expressly impressed by the efficiency of U.S. extermination of our continent’s First Peoples. It inspired him and evidently the minds behind contemporary concentration camps.
With all this in mind, it is no exaggeration to say that the
camps are reincarnating today before our very eyes. Our government has set them
up world-wide. They are so ubiquitous and normalized that they remain practically
invisible. But consider their contemporary equivalents in:
The U.S. prison-industrial complex itself for
blacks, browns and poor whites transforming “Americans” into the most
imprisoned population on the planet
Guantanamo Bay for holding “terrorists” who
after years of internment and torture have yet to be charged with crime and
which Fuhrer Trump promises to fill to the brim
Black Sites (sic!) concealed throughout the
world where kidnapped Muslims and others disappear without a trace and are
tortured without mercy
Fort Bliss (sic!), a concentration camp for
Baby Prisons for infants as young as four months
Detention centers for refugees from U.S. wars of
aggression in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere
Family prisons for immigrant workers from Mexico
and Central America as they await trials which can be postponed indefinitely
The Gaza Strip, the world’s largest open-air
prison for Muslim Palestinians, “the Jews’ Jews” – unconditionally endorsed by
U.S. politicians of all stripes
In such hell-holes the criminals (often the guards) commit murders, rapes and inflict torture with impunity. Nonetheless, after Hitler, it is no longer permissible for such polite company to crudely incinerate victims in ovens or to poison them in gas chambers. (That would be too “inhumane” and reminiscent of the unspeakable.) So, today’s executioners murder and incinerate Muslims (today’s “Jews”), and others on site. (It saves the trouble and expense of packing them into box cars.)
In other words, the executioners travel to the victims’ countries of origin in the Middle East and Africa and do the dirty work there – often from 10,000 feet in the air, where the screams of incinerated Muslim children cannot be heard. They cremate their victims more humanely in the targets’ own homes with napalm and white phosphorous. Alternatively, “pilots” seated comfortably in their air-conditioned “theaters” send automated Gestapo (killer drones) to decapitate those suspected of evil thoughts. In the process, the system’s butchers have massacred millions far exceeding anything imagined by that little man with the toothbrush mustache:
Already by 1978, John Stockwell, the highly decorated ex-CIA Station Chief in Angola, estimated that his agency’s “Secret Wars” had killed more than six million in its dirty wars against the world’s poor. In Stockwell’s own words, every one of those wars was illegal and “bloody and gory and beyond comprehension almost.”
Add to that
The hundreds of thousands slaughtered during the 1980s in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras
More than a million victims in the completely illegal war in Iraq
Untold fatalities in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Ethiopia,
The 10,000 already killed in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East – with the numbers increasing each day from cholera and intentionally-inflicted starvation
Again, the numbers are staggering – far beyond anything
accomplished in Hitler’s death camps.
Meanwhile, at home, “Americans” are dissuaded from protest
by a militarized skin-head police force of body-builders and thugs. “Dressed to
kill” in their black or camouflaged flack suits, and anonymous under their
helmets and behind polarized face-shields, they stand ready with batons,
tasers, and AK47s – as well as employing surplus military tanks, and Humvees –
to punish anyone who dares opposition.
So, congratulations to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. She’s right again – this time about concentration camps. However, she and others are wrong to downplay the comparative horror of the U.S. system. It is every bit as horrendous as Hitler’s. To see the misery all one has to do is connect the dots. They’re there and though scattered are just waiting to be linked (exactly as they were in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power).
In fact, their presence is becoming more evident each day as is the emergence of Hitler-like fascism. We have only to open our eyes to see both phenomena, even though the camps, holocausts, and the system itself have been effectively renamed and camouflaged.
Thanks to AOC and others, the veils are beginning to fall; the issue is now before us. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s message: It’s high time for the rest of us to take note before it’s too late!
Readings for Palm Sunday: LK 19:28-40; IS 50: 4-7, PS 22: 8-9, 12-20, 23=24, PHIL 2:6-11, LK 22: 14-23:58.
It’s puzzling to see white Evangelicals rallying around Donald Trump. He’s the one who owns casinos and strip clubs, who has been married three times and brags about sexually assaulting women.
How is it possible for white evangelicals to support such a person whose policies favor the rich and punish the poor, who despises immigrants, advocates torture, and whose appetite for profit seems insatiable.
After all, Jesus was a poor laborer who criticized the rich in the harshest of terms. He and his family knew what it was like to be unwelcome immigrants (in Egypt). He himself was a victim of torture, not its administrator. Far from a champion of empire, he was executed as a terrorist and enemy of Rome. His followers were not about accumulating wealth but shared what they had according to ability and need.
When you think of it, all of this seems antithetical to not only to Trumpism, but to the declared positions of virtually the entire Republican Party. They’re all imperialists. All of them are friends of the one-percent. They all want to increase military spending — apparently without question or limit.
all of that happen?
Palm Sunday readings provide some clues. Luke’s Passion Narratives reveal a
first century Christian community already depoliticizing Jesus in order to
please Roman imperialists. The stories turn Jesus against his own people as
though they were foreign enemies of God.
about the context of today’s Palm Sunday readings.
that Jesus and his audiences were first and foremost anti-imperialist Jews
whose lives were shaped more than anything else by the Roman occupation of
their homeland. As such, they weren’t waiting for a Roman-Greco “messiah” who,
like the Sun God Mithra, would die and lead them to heaven. They were awaiting
a Davidic messiah who would liberate them from the Romans.
this Palm Sunday, what do you think was on the minds of the crowds who Luke
tells us lined the streets of Jerusalem to acclaim Jesus the Nazarene? Were
they shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna!” (Save us! Save us!) because they thought
Jesus was about to die and by his sacrificial death open the gates of heaven
closed since Adam’s sin by a petulant God? Of course not. They were shouting
for Jesus to save them from the Romans.
palm branches in their hands were (since the time of the Maccabees) the symbols
of resistance to empire. Those acclaiming Jesus looked to him to play a key
role in the Great Rebellion everyone knew about to take place against the hated
what do you suppose was on Jesus’ mind? He was probably intending to take part
in the rebellion just mentioned. It had been plotted by the Jews’ Zealot
insurgency. Jesus words at the “Last Supper” show his anticipation that the
events planned for Jerusalem might cause God’s Kingdom to dawn that very
Jesus had his differences with the Zealots. They were nationalists; he was
inter-nationalist who was open to gentiles. The Zealots were violent; Jesus was
And yet the Zealots and Jesus came together on their abhorrence of Roman presence in the Holy Land. They found common ground on the issues of debt forgiveness, non-payment of taxes to the occupiers, and of land reform. Within Jesus’ inner circle there was at least one Zealot (Simon). Indications might also implicate Peter, Judas, James, and John. And Jesus’ friends were armed when he was arrested. Whoever cut off the right ear of the high priest’s servant was used to wielding a sword – perhaps as a “sicarius” (the violent wing of the Zealots who specialized in knifing Jews collaborating with the Romans).
we’re getting ahead of our story. . . Following his triumphant entry into
Jerusalem, Jesus soon found himself and his disciples inside the temple
participating in what we’d call a “direct action” protest. They were
demonstrating against the collaborative role the temple and its priesthood were
fulfilling on behalf of the Romans.
As collaborators, the
temple priests were serving a foreign god (the Roman emperor) within the temple
precincts. For Jesus that delegitimized the entire system. So, as John Dominic Crossan puts it, Jesus’ direct action was
not so much a “cleansing” of the temple as the symbolic destruction of an
institution that had completely lost its way.
this demonstration that represented the immediate cause of Jesus’ arrest and
execution described so poignantly in today’s long gospel reading.
the temple demonstration, Jesus and his disciples became “wanted” men (Lk.
19:47). At first Jesus’ popularity affords him protection from the authorities
(19:47-48). The people constantly surround him eager to hear Jesus’ words
denouncing their treasonous “leaders” (20:9-19), about the issue of Roman
taxation (20:20-25), the destruction of the temple (21:1-6), the coming war
(21:20-24) and the imminence of God’s Kingdom (21:29-33).
however, Jesus has to go underground. On Passover eve he sends out Peter and
John to arrange for a safe-house to celebrate the feast I mentioned earlier.
The two disciples are to locate the “upper room.” They do so by exchanging a
set of secret signs and passwords with a local comrade.
comes Jesus’ arrest. Judas has betrayed Jesus to collect the reward on Jesus’
head – 30 pieces of silver. The arrest is followed by a series of “trials”
before the Jewish Council (the Sanhedrin), before Pilate and Herod. Eventually,
Jesus is brought back to Pilate. There he’s tortured, condemned and executed
between two other insurgents.
Note that Luke presents Pilate in way completely at odds with what we know of the procurator as described for example by the Jewish historian Josephus. After the presentation of clear-cut evidence that the Nazarene rabbi was “stirring up the people,” and despite Jesus’ own admission to crimes against the state (claiming to be a rival king), Pilate insists three times that the carpenter is innocent of capital crime.
of rebellion contradicts Crossan’s insistence that Pilate had standing orders
to execute anyone associated with lower class rebellion during the extremely
volatile Passover festivities. In other words, there would have been no
going on here? Two things.
of all, like everyone else, Luke knew that Jesus had been crucified by the
Romans. That was an inconvenient truth for Luke’s audience which around the
year 85 CE (when Luke wrote) was desperately trying to reconcile with the Roman
Empire which lumped the emerging Christian community with the Jews whom the
account represents an attempt to create distance between Christians and Jews.
So, he makes up an account that exonerates Pilate (and the Romans) from guilt
for Jesus’ execution. Simultaneously, he lays the burden of blame for Jesus’
execution at the doorstep of Jewish authorities.
way, Luke made overtures of friendship towards Rome. He wasn’t worried about
the Jews, since by the year 70 the Romans had destroyed Jerusalem and its
temple along with more than a million of its inhabitants. After 70 Jewish
Christians no longer represented the important factor they once were. Their
leadership had been decapitated with the destruction of Jerusalem.
Jesus’ crucifixion would have meant that Rome perceived him as a rebel against
the Empire. Luke is anxious to make the case that such perception was false.
Rome had nothing to fear from Christians.
suggesting that such assurance was unfaithful to the Jesus of history. It
domesticated the rebel who shines through even in Luke’s account when it is
if you wonder why Christians can support Donald Trump . . . if you wonder why
they so easily succumb to empires (Roman, Nazi, U.S.) you’ve got your answer.
It all starts here – in the gospels themselves – with the great cover-up of the
you wonder where the West’s and Hitler’s comfort with xenophobia in general and
anti-Semitism in particular come from, you have that answer as well.
point here is that only by recovering the obscured rebel Jesus can Christians
avoid the mistake they made 80 years ago. Then instead of singing “Hosanna” to
Jesus, they shouted “Heil Hitler!” to another imperialist torturer, xenophobe,
readings for Palm Sunday present us with a cautionary tale about these sad
Readings for 3rd Sunday of
Lent: Ex. 3:1-8A, 13-15; Ps. 103: 1-4, 6-8, 11; I Cor. 10:1-6, 10-12; Lk. 13:
entire world was shocked last week when a right-wing gunman and admirer of
Donald Trump slaughtered at least 50 worshippers in two mosques in Christchurch,
At the same time, the
world edified when the New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, the world’s youngest head
of state, donned a hijab in a sign of solidarity with the Muslim community. The
Muslim worshippers, she said “are us.” She
resolved immediately to change her country’s gun laws (in defiance of the
international gun lobby) including a ban on assault weapons.
Her response contrasted sharply with that of President Trump following a similar massacre in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue last October. Then, instead of calling for solidarity and disarmament, the president famously advised placing armed guards at synagogue doors.
Minister Ardern’s words and symbolic action were a demonstration of the very
type of repentance to which the non-violent Jesus called his own community (and
us!) in the puzzling episode recounted in today’s Gospel reading for this third
Sunday of Lent.
his point, Jesus comments on two contemporary tragedies that were “in the news
of the day” as prominently as last week’s New Zealand catastrophe. Then he adds
an explanatory parable underlining the time-urgency of his summons to
non-violence. All three elements are highly relevant to Christchurch and our president’s
and our culture’s tendency to solve everything with violence.
between Christchurch and the Gospel’s first-mentioned tragedy are undeniable. Like
what happened in New Zealand, it involved the slaughter of worshippers by
reactionary outsiders who despised their victims’ religious faith. Some
Galileans (no doubt identified as insurgents) were killed by Roman soldiers
while offering sacrifice in the temple.
asks, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way because
they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?” Then he answers his own
question, “By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all
perish as they did!”
second tragedy had eighteen people killed by the collapse of a tower located in
the section of East Jerusalem called Siloam. In this case, it seems that a
tower had fallen by chance and killed some innocents.
that second tragedy, Jesus asks, “Or those eighteen people who were killed when
the tower at Siloam fell on them— do you think they were guiltier than everyone
else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!”
what does Jesus expect his audience to repent from? Does he want them to stop
being insurgents against Rome? Does he want them to be more faithful to the Ten
Commandments or something?
Jesus would say, “By no means!”
then do these two events connect?
the connection, put the incidents in context. There they become statements
about violence, counter-violence and the need for non-violent resistance.
Again, that contextualization sheds light on the Christchurch tragedy and our
own culture’s worship of guns, as well as the permission it gives our military
to kill people in their mosques and schools, at their funerals and weddings.
approach takes seriously the political intent of the news item shared with
Jesus at the very outset. Luke tells us, “Some people told Jesus about the
Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.”
doubt, this was not news to Jesus. The opening words of today’s gospel were not
meant to communicate news but to complain about the Roman occupiers. Those
introducing the topic were looking for sympathy and agreement. Jesus does not
of course, would have claimed that his temple victims were insurgents against
the Roman occupation; they were “guilty” as terrorists, he would have said.
That was his official line.
says, “Don’t believe it” – as if his audience were tempted to believe Roman
lies. “Do you think they were guilty?” Jesus asks. “By no means,” he answers.
Jesus is agreeing with his Galilean compatriots. If the ones Pilate killed were
terrorists, he says, so are all Galileans; we’re all guilty in Pilate’s eyes.
None of us wants the Romans here, Jesus implies. After all, it wasn’t the
Galileans who threw the first stone; it was Pilate and the Roman soldiers who
did so by invading Israel’s sovereign territory.
then Jesus suddenly takes another tack. He connects Pilate’s butchery with
another headline of his day – an act of counter-violence taken by the “Zealot”
forces Pilate was attempting to punish. (Zealots were the revolutionary force
committed to ousting the Roman occupiers from Palestine.) Pilate’s action,
Jesus suggests, started the cycle of violence that evoked a disaster at Siloam
at a spot near the Fountain of Ezekias. Siloam was the location of a small
arsenal, where the Romans kept their swords, shields, battering rams and other
According to Maria and
Ignacio Lopez-Vigil, a group of Zealot
insurgents had tried to dig a tunnel up to the tower with hopes of seizing the
weapons and turning them against the Romans. But the tower’s foundation was
already in a state of decay, and the tunnel caused the entire construction to
suddenly collapse. The falling tower claimed the lives of several Galilean
families who had built their houses near the arsenal.
point: Pilate is certainly a bloodthirsty man. None of us want him or his
armies on our soil. However, those who resist the hated Romans by resorting to
arms are bloodthirsty too. And if we follow their example, we’ll all drown in a
bloody deluge. Or as Jesus put it, “I tell you, if you do not repent, you will
all perish as they did!”
time is running short, he adds with his parable about a fig tree. The bloody
deluge has been building for at least three years. We have maybe another twelve
months before the chickens of the deadly cycle of violence come home to roost.
Without repentance, without replacing violent resistance to Roman butchery with
non-violent tactics, we’ll all be cut down like a barren fig tree. (Later on,
remember, Jesus himself demonstrates the kind of non-violent direct action he
had in mind, with his “cleansing” of Jerusalem’s temple.)
Jesus’ prediction of bloodbath, of course, eventually came true, but not as soon as he thought. The Romans would defeat the Zealot uprising in the year 70, and definitively squash all Jewish rebellion in 132. Jesus was right however about the extent of the slaughter. It was horrific resulting in the deaths of more than a million Jews. Such disaster is inevitable, Jesus teaches for all who “live by the sword.”
does all of this say to us today? The message is quite relevant. It reminds us
first of all that empire represents the systematized oppression of the poor and
defenseless by the rich and powerful. That was true of Rome; it’s true of U.S.
empire today. We’re still killing those identified as insurgents in their
churches and mosques. In fact, our soldiers do it every day. And far from being
outraged, we applaud them as heroes.
this passage calls us to non-violence and warns us about where the cycle of
violence will inevitably lead. Christchurch NZ provides a window into the world
created by the worship of guns. Another window is provided by Afghanistan and
Iraq, Vietnam, Hiroshima, the Cold War, and the general impoverishment of our
country and world brought on by so-called “defense” spending. All of it has us
drowning in a deluge of blood. And it promises to get worse and eventually
destroy us all. How much time do we have before our chickens come home to roost
– three years, one year. . .?
represent about 30% of the world’s inhabitants. There are more than two billion
of us. Imagine the world we’d create if we insisted on following the call to
non-violence represented by Jesus’ words in this morning’s gospel!
Imagine the country we’d
create if our politicians followed the example of Jacinda Ardern ‘s
identification with the Muslim community instead of following the divisive
policies of Donald Trump and endorsing the genocidal violence of our armies.
Last Sunday, The New York Times published an editorial on the Green New Deal (GND). It was called “The Green New Deal Is Better than Our Climate Nightmare.”
Though its title purports to second the GND proposal sponsored by Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D MA), the article actually damns the measure with faint praise. It also endorses remedies for the climate crisis much less comprehensive and closer to what corporate America favors than to the broad worker-friendly recommendations of the Markey-Cortez proposal.
By doing so, the authors obscure the proposal’s historical connections to FDR’s daring New Deal as well as those between climate change and a failed capitalist system itself. Finally, the article’s half-measures imply an unexpressed reservation about paying for the GND that shows little appreciation of the problem’s gravity and of the fundamental socio-economic changes necessarily connected with transition to a truly non-fossil fuel economy.
Begin with the article’s faint praise. True, the Times editors rightly chastise the Trump
administration’s policies as “boneheaded,” including its denial of the problem,
rolling back of Obama-era limits on emissions, opening more lands to oil and
gas exploration, weakening of fuel economy standards, and its formation of a
special committee bent on debunking the climate crisis.
Granted: all of that reflects the thinking of GND advocates.
So far, so good.
But then, the Times
editors criticize the proposal first because its initial draft was poorly
written by Ms. Cortez’s staff and, secondly, because the proposal is too extensive.
As one respondent in the editorial’s “Comments” section
observed, the Times editorial devoted
twice as much space (150 words) to critiquing the proposal’s initial “poorly
written talking points” as it did to describing the actual resolution (72
And what about the Times’
disagreement with the broad character of the Green New Deal?
To answer, consider the (in progress) proposal so far . . .
It suggests nothing less than a complete overhaul of capitalism-as-we-know-it.
In doing so, it purposely parallels the measures implemented by Franklin Delano
Roosevelt in his original New Deal.
Following the Great Stock Market Crash of ’29, the latter
didn’t content itself with bailing out banks and Wall Street. Instead it more
comprehensively addressed the concerns of Main Street providing minimum wage
legislation, unemployment benefits, government-funded jobs for the unemployed,
and a Social Security retirement plan for all. It also legalized labor unions.
By adopting that strategy, FDR not only addressed the
deep-seated problems of capitalism such as widespread unemployment, low wages
and huge wealth-disparities. He also met the genuine needs of the country’s
majority and secured their buy-in to the New Deal despite pressure by the elite
to reduce the great depression to a technical matter solvable by the monied
classes. The working class was won over; its members’ anger against the system
was mollified; they put down their pitchforks, Roosevelt was elected four times
in a row, and capitalism was saved.
This time around, the green version of the New Deal does something similar. It includes not merely a transition to a renewable energy economy powered by wind and sun, but rejection of any nuclear power options, of technology allowing fossil fuel plants to capture and store their own emissions, and of market-based solutions such as carbon taxes and cap and trade policies. As described by the New York Times, and in the spirit of FDR’s program, the GND proposal suggests:
Free higher education
Universal health care
Affordable housing for all
Remedies for “systemic injustices” among the poor, elderly
and people of color
Family-sustaining wage guarantees
Adequate family medical leave
Paid vacations for all workers
Retirement security for everybody
Like Roosevelt’s measures, these provisions are aimed at securing
the required support of the country’s majority who might otherwise be persuaded
to continue ignoring the problem by the propaganda of elite climate-change
deniers and by the forbidding specter of austerity measures. The generous GND
provisions are intended to acquire buy-in on the part of those who also might otherwise
be too distracted by simply trying to make ends meet than to comprehend and face
up to the very real threats posed by climate chaos.
Failing to see all of that, the Times editorial board asks in effect, what do the social goals
listed above have to do with meeting the climate change crisis? Wouldn’t it
would be better, the authors imply, to be less radical and more focused on setting
a national electricity standard, including the nuclear and carbon capture
options along with wind and solar alternatives, providing tax incentives for
electrical vehicles, improving the efficiency of buildings and the electrical
grid, and intensifying efforts at carbon sequestration?
More specifically, the editors ask, “Is the Green New Deal aimed at addressing
the climate crisis? Or is addressing the climate crisis merely a cover for a
wish-list of progressive policies and a not-so-subtle effort to move the
Democratic Party to the left?”
(See what I meant by “faint praise?”)
In other words, the Newspaper of Record, wants readers to
focus narrowly on remediating climate change while overlooking what GND
advocates identify as the root cause of the catastrophe. It wants its readers
to ignore what Green New Dealers consider the
indissoluble link between capitalism-as-we-know-it on the one hand and worker
exploitation along with environmental destruction on the other.
Think about the
connections first with workers and then with the environment. (Sorry: but doing
so might evoke painful memories of ECON 101.)
With both workers
and the environment, capitalists are forced by the logic of market competition
to adopt exploitative practices whether they want to or not. That’s because,
for one thing, wage workers in particular are compelled to enter a labor market
whose compensation level is set by rivalry among laborers seeking the same job.
As a result, each
prospective employee will bid his competitors down until what economists have
called the “natural” wage level is attained. Marx for one, found this “natural”
level below what workers and their families need to sustain themselves in ways
worthy of human beings. In other words, wage competition represents nothing less
than a race to the bottom. Capitalism’s unregulated labor market assures an
inadequate wage for the working class.
this is the major point in the context of climate change) the capitalist system
also necessarily devastates the
environment. That is, the market’s reliance on competition all but eliminates
the presence of environmental conscience on the part of producers.
example, environmentally sensitive entrepreneurs might be moved to put
scrubbers on the smokestacks of their factories, and filters on the sewage
pipes to purify liquid effluents entering nearby rivers, streams and oceans.
Doing so would, of course raise the costs of production, Meanwhile, however,
competitors who lack environmental conscience will continue spewing unmitigated
smoke into the atmosphere and pouring unfiltered toxins into nearby bodies of
water. Their lowered costs will enable them to undersell the conscientious
producers, and eventually drive the latter out of business. In this way, the
market rewards absence of environmental conscience.
In other words,
fighting climate change and protecting workers’ rights are intimately
connected. They are both aspects of resistance to the destructive logic of
According to proponents of the Green New Deal, such
realizations uncover the failure of the market system itself. That system has
proved incapable not only of addressing climate change. It has also failed to
provide a living wage for its unskilled workers, jobs for those displaced by
technology, affordable housing to the working class, and inexpensive health
care – not to mention repair of the country’s crumbling infrastructure. That
array of problems calls for remedies far beyond the band-aid solutions suggested
by the Times board. It also requires
extensive buy-in from the affected majority including those who work for wages.
The GND achieves both ends.
Paying for the Green
Not far in the background of almost any criticism of the Green New Deal is the question unspoken or emphasized, how are we going to pay for such “generous provisions?” The incredible and ironic implication here is not only that it makes sense to do a cost-benefit analysis about saving the planet and the lives of our grandchildren. The implication is also that some price might be too high or some social change (like abandonment of capitalism-as-we-know-it) too drastic!
But overlooked in such mystifying thought processes are the considerations
that, among other benefits, abandoning a fossil-fuel-dependent economy will:
In the end provide very low-cost energy to consumers
Save government subsidies currently extended to the fossil fuel industry
Make unnecessary the resource wars currently waged against countries in the Middle East and threatened in Venezuela
Therefore, render unnecessary the tremendous expenditures such wars entail
And remove a major stimulus to terrorism
In summary, necessitate a basic restructuring of our economy including precisely the provisions sought by GND advocates
It’s that fundamental restructuring of everything that the
Green New Deal anticipates. The proposal of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Ed
Markey recognizes that necessity far better than the editorial board of the New York Times.
As Naomi Klein has put it, the climate crisis “changes everything.” It calls for a comprehensive New Deal – for a new start beyond business as usual. It requires recognizing the intrinsic weaknesses of capitalism-as-we-know-it and remediating those weaknesses by incentivizing and including the working class in any solution that has the slightest hope of success.
How are we to think about the crisis in Venezuela when the main proponents of U.S. policy are known liars and war criminals? Specifically, of course, I’m thinking about Donald Trump and Elliot Abrams — not to mention John Bolton. That, for me is the question.
It seems to me in such tragic circumstances, our attitude towards the crisis (regardless of our judgments about Nicolas Maduro and socialism) should be governed by principle.
In fact, the current policy of the United States violates at least half a dozen principles. They include:
National Sovereignty: Venezuela’s political and economic problems should be of no concern to our government.
Self-Determination: Venezuela has the right to choose its own form of government and economy.
Anti-Imperialism: Revealingly, most of the countries aligned with the Trump administration are either charter members of Europe’s Axis of Colonialism or representatives of Euro-American client states. Meanwhile those opposing Trump’s policy are former colonies of the U.S. and Europe and/or have been invaded by the military forces of those inveterate imperialists. The latter include Russia, China, India, South Africa, and Mexico along with countries such as Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua. All of those countries know a thing or two about European and U.S. imperialist tyranny.
Nuremberg (forbidding the punishment of civilian populations)
Skepticism about the statements of proven liars
For starters, let me focus here on consistency. This
principle dictates that:
If we’re worried about foreign interference in our own electoral process, we should stay out of Venezuela’s.
If Maduro’s jailing of political opponents concerns us, the same should be true relative to Brazil and Bolsonaro’s jailing of Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva, the country’s most popular politician. (And yet, our government had no hesitation in recognizing Bolsonaro’s legitimacy.)
If we worry about humanitarian crises, we should stop cooperating with Saudi Arabia and its war against Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East. That war has caused the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
If crooked elections are cause for delegitimizing governments, we shouldn’t recognize the current government of Honduras, whose election of Juan Orlando Hernandez was certified as unfree and unfair by the OAS. It called for new elections. (But, of course, both the Obama and Trump administrations have recognized Hernandez as a legitimate head of state.)
If we’re outraged by police violence against demonstrators, we should cut off all aid to Israel for killing hundreds of unarmed demonstrators (including women and children) at the Gaza border and wounding thousands of others.
But none of these issues matter at all to the Trump
administration. They care not a bit about humanitarian crises, fair elections, the
right to protest or the jailing of political opponents. As both Trump and John
Bolton have said openly, their concern is Venezuelan oil, controlling it and
profiting from that control. That’s imperialism.
Moreover, the so-called “humanitarian aid” at the country’s borders in Brazil and Colombia is a pittance worth some millions of dollars, while the profits frozen from the country’s sale of oil and its access to its own gold reserves are worth billions – as are the mercantile transactions with other countries now prevented by the U.S. embargo. According to the Red Cross and the U.N. (both of whom refuse to participate in its distribution) the disputed humanitarian aid is nothing more than a political ploy. In other words, if the U.S. truly cared about the welfare of the people of Venezuela, it would stop its embargo and allow Venezuela access to its money and markets so the country itself could buy food and medicine on the open market.
The appointment of Elliot Abrams as the Trump’s point man for Venezuela speaks volumes about the administration’s criminal intentions. Abrams, of course, is a convicted felon. He was the U.S. brains behind the genocidal policy of Rios Montt in Guatemala during the 1980s, when more than 200,000 Guatemalans (mostly indigenous) were slaughtered by Montt and his generals. Elliot Abrams is a war criminal. And his selection by Mr. Trump to run his show in Venezuela indicates an embrace of the old CIA playbook used again and again in its more than 68 regime-changes operations since World War II – with most of the removed officials having been democratically elected.
The playbook runs like this:
Any country attempting to establish an economy
that serves the interests of its poor majority
Is routinely accused of being run by a dictatorship
It is subject to regime change by direct U.S.
Or by right wing (often terrorist) elements
within the local population
To keep said country within the capitalist
So that the U.S. might once again use the
country’s resources for its own enrichment
And for that of the local elite.
Standardly, the strategy is to use a combination of
terrorism, sanctions, embargoes to make civilians within the country so
miserable that even the poor will rise up and join forces with the elite to remove
the so-called “dictator” from office. That’s what’s happening in Venezuela at this
very moment. To repeat: it’s a violation of the Nuremberg Principles forbidding
punishment of civilian populations.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Venezuela is how we believe our politicians on the subject of regime change. You’d think that at least after Iraq and Libya (not to mention Panama and Grenada) we’d show some skepticism. What was it that Great Man tried to say a few years ago? “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”? I mean, how many times do we have to be fooled before we’re shamed out of our minds by our collective stupidity?
After all, these people (the Trumpists) are proven liars.
Everybody knows that. It’s the subject of jokes every night on Colbert and on
Saturday Night Live. Trump is a laughing stock. And yet when he speaks about
his compassion for the Venezuelan people, about the lies of its government (!!),
his concern for democracy and the integrity of elections, or about Maduro’s
corruption (!!) the press actually takes him seriously. Give me a break,
Let me say it clearly, Donald Trump and his administration
have not a shred of credibility. Period! Not a shred! Whatever he says
(whatever they say) should be taken as an outright lie unless proven otherwise
by absolutely unimpeachable sources.
And by the way, let me conclude by saying that it’s clearly
wrong to blame Venezuela’s problems on socialism. First of all, Venezuela is
not a socialist country. It’s governed by a socialist party, but its economy is
dominated by private corporations. So is its news media.
France is more socialist than Venezuela. And besides, under Hugo Chavez, the economy thrived (largely because oil prices remained high). And just six years ago (after 14 years of so-called Bolivarian Socialism), polls determined that Venezuela was the happiest country in South America. As a matter of fact, it won that distinction two years in a row – in 2012 and 2013. Worldwide, in those years, its happiness index came out ahead of France, Spain, Italy, and Germany.
Right now, of course, it is not a happy place. Its condition is roughly the same as when Chavez took over in 1999 after decades of governance by its white elite creols. And, it’s true, the current unhappiness is surely due to mismanagement and corruption on the part of the Maduro administration. But it also has a lot to do with the fall of oil prices on the world market, but especially with the U.S. embargo and sanctions against Venezuela.
Bottom line: Please realize that we are being lied to about
Venezuela! Our government is the main criminal there. Whatever we might think
of Maduro or of socialism, the principles articulated at Nuremberg, as well as
those of national sovereignty, self-determination, anti-imperialism,
consistency, and common-sense skepticism before liars should be our guides.
Tell the president, your senators and congressional
representatives: Yankee go home! Get out of Venezuela!