(Sunday Homily) U.S. Doublespeak Is More Threatening to the World than ISIS or Khorasan

uncle-sams-lies

Readings for 26th Sunday in ordinary time: EZ 18:25-28; PS 25: 4-5, 8-10, 14; PHIL 2: 1-11; MT 21: 28-32 http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/092414.cfm

If I were you, I’d be careful about air travel. That’s because, as the President reminded us last week, the enemies we’ve so fiercely created over the last 13 years are plotting to blow U.S. commercial aircraft out of the skies. So one of these days Khorasan’s heat-seeking missiles will find the rear end of your plane, and that will be the end of you.

And, when you think about it, those firing the rockets will be justified in doing so. That is, if we allow them to apply the insane logic behind Mr. Obama’s latest justification for bombing his seventh Muslim country in six years.

In doing so the Nobel Peace Prize laureate said last week, “Once again, it must be clear to anyone who would plot against America and try to do Americans harm that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people.”

Wait a minute!

Our “leader’s” logic (if we universalize his pronouncement) has just endorsed an endless cycle of violence that should be completely unacceptable to any human being — not to say any Christian. His words mean that anyone who plots against another country trying to do their citizens harm can claim no safe haven. They will be subject to reprisal.

Tell that to drone victims and to Syrians who lost their children in last week’s bombings – or to similar casualties at weddings and funerals in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The President’s doublespeak logic allows them to say, “Once again it must be clear to the Americans plotting against us and trying to do our citizens harm that we will not tolerate safe havens for such terrorists who threaten our people. There will be reprisals.”

That means that the militants in the countries just mentioned can legitimately respond to the terrorism of drone and outright bombing attacks with similar assaults on American citizens in our own “homeland.”

So as I say, hold your breath on your next airline trip to Miami or New York. The blowback is coming – and the blowback to that blowback too.

Such are the realities of Eternal War.

It’s that sort of damned logic (I’m choosing my words) that is addressed in today’s liturgy of the word. It’s not at all comforting.

The first reading from the prophet Ezekiel sets the tone. It underlines what Easterners call the Law of Karma. Ezekiel says that people die because of their wicked deeds. He says, “When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die.” That’s karma. It’s an inescapable law of the universe.

St. Paul put it this way, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” (GAL 6:7-9). Relative to war, Jesus was even more pointed. He said all those who live by the sword will die by that same instrument (MT 26:52). It’s all karma.

As citizens of a nation that lives by the sword more than any other in world history, what then are we to do? Here, once again, today’s readings supply an answer. We must abandon the destructive path we’re on. That’s what Ezekiel says. Speaking of the potential recipient of negative karma, Ezekiel promises, “But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed, he does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.” That too is karma.

In other words, to avoid the negative consequences of our actions, we must change course radically. More specifically today’s gospel selection addresses that imperative to political leaders. It calls them to make their actions correspond to their words.

Yes, today’s gospel is addressed to leaders like our president and congresspersons. There Jesus addresses those in power and tells the local rulers of his day (“the chief priests and elders”) a parable about lip service and the required change of direction. (Remember, in Jesus’ context there was no sharp distinction between religious and civil government.)

“A man had two sons,” the Great Teacher tells these government officials. “He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not, ‘ but afterwards changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,‘ but did not go. Which of the two,” Jesus asks, “did his father’s will?”

The chief priests and elders answer,”The first.”

Jesus said to them,”Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.”

I’m sure you see that Jesus’ parable is about governmental lip service and deception. The parable calls them to radical change in policy. Jesus implies that the leaders of his day were like the first son. They said the right things, but their actions belied their words. As a result, their deeds excluded them from the New Order (God’s Kingdom) which was always the focus of Jesus’ revolutionary discourse.

And that brings us back to our own leaders and the differences between what they say and do. Think of the events of recent weeks – even last week. During that time our leaders have:

• Paid lip service to national boundaries in the case of Russia and Ukraine, but then have claimed that national boundaries are irrelevant in their own “war on terrorism.”
• Paid lip service to international law – again in the case of Russia and Ukraine, but then ignored that law by going to war with ISIS without the required U.N. resolution.
• Paid lip service to civilization and decency in decrying ISIS’ brutal beheadings (by knife) of innocent civilians, but then beheaded literally untold others via drones and direct bombings. (Yes, drones and bombs inevitably blow heads off bodies.)
• Paid lip service to the human rights of civilians brutalized by ISIS, while ignoring the million and a half civilians their own armed forces have just as brutally killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
• Paid lip service to nuclear non-proliferation in their demands upon Iran, but then have pledged billions to modernize their own overwhelming nuclear arsenal.
• Paid lip service to environmental protection (following last Sunday’s “People’s Climate March”), but the very next day implicitly embraced the possibility of “nuclear winter” through that same weapons modernization program.

Of course, there are many more examples of our leaders’ saying one thing and doing the opposite. In fact, their lies come so thick and fast that confusion and weariness results on the part of listeners. Our leaders’ honeyed words accompanied by unspeakably cruel acts paralyze us from taking action against or even recognizing in our own country a world force that is far more destructive than ISIS, Khorasan, or al-Qaeda. In the words of Noam Chomsky, the latter represent “retail terrorism,” while the U.S. “network of death” (with bases all over the world) embodies “wholesale terrorism” that is far more evil and destructive.

I believe that danger of confusion and consequent inaction is why Jesus shocked his opponents by saying simply, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.”

That would be as scandalous to Jesus’ audience as if he said to President Obama and John McCain, “Amen, I say to you, ISIS, Khorasan and al-Qaeda will enter God’s kingdom before you.”

What does that mean for us who are attempting to follow the Way of Jesus and are trying to be part of his Kingdom revolution? It means that we must realize that:

• Perpetual war contravenes the teachings of Jesus who taught us to love our enemies.
• Our “leaders” (just like the priests and elders of Jesus’ day) are liars to the core.
• The United States is (in the words of Dr. King) the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”
• That the retail terror and brutality of ISIS pales in comparison with the wholesale terror the United States inflicts on the world’s poor.
• That we must work and pray every day for the defeat of the United States in its endless, genocidal wars.

Believe me: that defeat is coming. Better yet, believe Ezekiel. It’s the law of karma.

The End of U.S. Empire Is Simply a Matter of Time: Reflections on a Peace Vigil in St. Peter’s Square (Sunday Homily)

Empire's End

Readings for 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time: HB 1:2-3, 2:2-4; PS 95: 1-2, 6-9; 2 TM 1:6-8, 13-14; KJ 17L 5-10. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/100613.cfm

Last month, just as the United States seemed about to launch a disastrous war against Syria, Peggy and I had the privilege of gathering in St. Peter’s Square in Rome with thousands and thousands of other believers praying for peace. We filled the huge square in an inspiring demonstration of deep faith attempting to address impending catastrophe.

We prayed that the United States would come to its senses and realize (as Pope Francis put it) that violence only begets violence, and war only begets war. There is no other way to peace than by forgiveness, reconciliation, and a dialog that respectfully includes all stakeholders – the al-Assad government, its opponents, al-Qaeda, Iran, and (representing the rest of the world) the United Nations. (Let’s face it: apart from its membership in the U.N., the United States is not a real stake holder in this conflict so distant from its shores.)

So there we stood for hours praying the rosary together, listening to readings from Holy Scripture and the writings of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus. We recited litanies, sang familiar hymns, listened to the pope speak, and passed long minutes of quiet meditation and personal prayer. (It was amazing to experience so many people being so quiet for so long.) Preceding Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, a harpist played, and choirs chanted. On huge TV screens, we saw the pope’s eyes tightly closed in prayer. We saw cardinals, bishops, priests, nuns, rich and poor, men and women, young and old, praying for peace. The vigil lasted from 7:15 p.m. till midnight.

It was entirely inspiring and uplifting.

But as I participated with as much faith as possible, I couldn’t help thinking: What good is all of this doing? As the reigning imperial power, the United States government and its brutal military are completely secular and tone-deaf to such demonstrations. They have absolutely no awareness of, much less respect for, the spiritual, moral, or faith dimensions of life.

Instead, from its highest levels, United States’ policy is entirely controlled by power-lust, money and by the personal, class and national interests of its so-called “leaders.” They laugh at popes and believers with their silly prayers and naïve talk of forgiveness, reconciliation, dialog, diplomacy, and beating swords into plowshares. Power and money rule their world. “God” is entirely irrelevant, except as one more tool in the arsenal – this time to persuade the people they despise to support policies driven by their selfish interests and realpolitik.

Even more fundamentally, I wondered: Is God Himself tone-deaf to demonstrations like these? “He” and the Blessed Virgin (who often seemed to overshadow God and Jesus in this intensely Catholic gathering) won’t really do anything to prevent the blood-bath that’s threatening.

Can they even do anything, I wondered? I couldn’t remember the last time they did. They didn’t answer prayers to prevent U.S. inflicted slaughter in Vietnam, Central America, Iraq, or Afghanistan. They didn’t do anything about the Jewish Holocaust (at the hands of Christians no less!). Can they answer our prayers for peace? Or are they as impotent as we are?

Today’s liturgy of the word seems to address those questions. It’s about faith and what we mean by that term. More specifically, the readings call us to revise our understandings of God – from the “Man Upstairs” micromanaging the world and intervening to prevent wars like the tragedy in Syria.

Instead, the readings invite us to see God as the One who empowers us to figuratively transplant trees and relocate mountains by simply saying “Move from here to there.” On the other hand, our readings call us to be slow, patient, persevering and trustful in the face of our desires for instant solutions to imperial madness.

In today’s first reading, the prophet Habakkuk apparently believes in the Man Upstairs. Faced by imperial hubris, he openly and impatiently questions that God.

Towards the beginning of the 6th century BCE, the prophet was witnessing the rise to power of the Chaldeans (or Babylonians). Like the U.S. today, that particular empire ruled by means of a sickening and genocidal violence.

“Are you blind to their wanton destruction?” Habakkuk cries out to God. “Why don’t you do something?”

And then comes the unexpected divine response: “Don’t worry, Habakkuk; things will get a lot worse before they get better!”

What kind of response was that? God seems to be answering Habakkuk’s challenge with one of his own. Change your idea of God, s/he seems to be saying. “I’m not the Man Upstairs. My modus operandi is not to eliminate the Babylonians according to your time table. Be patient. Change your idea of God.

The reading from Habakkuk is complemented by the discussion of faith in Luke. It’s about faith too. At the beginning, the apostles say to Jesus, “Increase our faith.” What do you suppose they meant by that? What do we mean when from the bottom of our hearts we echo their request as so many thousands did last month in St. Peter’s?

Is it our desire – was it that of the apostles – to have fewer questions about the virgin birth, Jesus’ divinity, the existence of God, or papal infallibility? Is it our prayer that we become more convinced that God can prevent and stop wars like the slaughter in Syria? Is that what we mean by faith – believing things about God, Jesus, or the doctrines of the church? Does faith mean believing that God will defeat the apparent omnipotence of the rich and powerful who themselves would occupy God’s throne?

Or is faith the power we achieve when, like Jesus, we realize that the divine dwells within us – that we are in effect God? That faith would lead us to act like Jesus and to share in his unshakeable commitment to God’s Kingdom of peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation despite setbacks and complete failure before the might of the Romans who killed him.

Yes, that’s the kind of faith Jesus had. As Paul says today in 2nd Timothy, such faith is synonymous with courage. It is identical with the power of God as revealed in Jesus – a human being who could cure the sick, drive out evil spirits and even raise the dead.

Problem is, Jesus didn’t use that power to dismantle the Roman Empire, block its destruction of Jerusalem, or even prevent his own death by Roman decree. Despite the miraculous powers the gospels attribute to him, he seemed impotent before imperial Rome, even though like the rest of his contemporary Jews he struggled for its replacement with the Kingdom of God. To repeat: in the end, he was empire’s victim and died an apparent failure overwhelmed by realpolitik.

What does that tell us about Jesus-inspired faith? At least the following:

• Faith is not about believing doctrines or things about God and Jesus.
• Rather, it’s about commitment to the Kingdom of God – to a world ruled by love, community values, justice, and peace, despite the apparent futility of our best efforts before empire governed by power-lust, greed, and violence.
• The prayer “Increase our faith” is about deepening commitment to God’s Kingdom in terms of patience with God’s time table without reducing our efforts to thwart imperial ambitions in the here and now.
• In other words, faith is about the long haul, about God’s time, compared with which our notions of time are laughably brief and insignificant. (In God’s time, empire of Babylon, the Roman Empire, the British Empire, and the American Empire are mere blips on the screen of evolution and eternity.)
• We should take comfort in realizing that in the divine long haul, God’s law of karma (“We reap what we sow”) is at work to answer our prayers for peace and the defeat of empire.
• According to that law, the U.S. will ultimately reap the harvest of violence and destruction its policies so consistently disseminate.
• The world will see the humiliation of the United States for which its majority so ardently longs.
• No, for followers of Jesus, God is not impotent before U.S. violence, destruction, brutality and hypocrisy.
• It’s simply a matter of time.

God’s time. Evolutionary time. Kingdom time.

Jesus Is Cutting Your Lawn! (Sunday Homily)

immigrant jesus

Readings for 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Wis. 18: 6-9; Ps. 33: 1, 12, 18-20, 22; Heb. 11: 1-2, 8-19; Lk. 12: 32-48. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081113.cfm

Today’s liturgy of the word invites us to consider the hot-button issue of immigration. The issue is contentious because conservatives in our country generally oppose immigration reform. More accurately, they tie changes in the legal status of immigrants to strengthening border security with Mexico and the building of walls along our southern border to keep undocumented immigrants out. Until such measures are foolproof, conservatives generally promise to oppose reform of immigration laws.

That’s ironic because Evangelical Christians make up the strongest component of the U.S. conservative party, the GOP. So the dominant attitude of that party on immigration ends up militating against American Christians’ brothers and sisters in faith. After all, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, an estimated 83 percent, or 9.2 million, of the 11.1 million people living in the United States illegally are Christians from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Our readings this morning call into question such exclusionary attitudes about immigration. They suggest that far from excluding immigrants, insisting on observance of law, and building walls to keep them out, Christian response to immigrants should take the form of welcoming, wealth-sharing and service.

Let me show you what I mean.

To begin with, today’s first passage from the Book of Wisdom underlines the point that the biblical People of God were all immigrants. They were unwanted strangers whose ancestors had come to Egypt to escape famine in Palestine. Remember those Bible stories of Joseph and his brothers? Read them again (Genesis 37-50). Those legends explain how the families of Jacob’s sons came to be enslaved in Egypt in the first place. As you no doubt recall, Joseph’s brothers sold him into Egyptian slavery.

However, in Egypt, Joseph landed on his feet and eventually became the Pharaoh’s Minister of Agriculture. That meant that when famine struck Joseph’s former homeland, his brothers were forced to come hats-in-hand to beg food from the very one they had betrayed. However, when they came into Joseph’s presence, his own brothers didn’t recognize him. In one of the most beautiful stories in all of world literature, the unrecognized Joseph finally discloses his true identity. Instead of punishing them for their betrayal, Joseph feeds his brothers and invites them to join him in Egypt.

In other words, Joseph’s response to immigrants and refugees was to recognize them as members of his own family and to welcome them “home.”

In today’s second reading, Paul digs further into Israel’s past only to find that Abraham himself (the original father of Israel) was himself an immigrant. He entered a land that God decided was to belong to Abraham and his descendants though the ones dwelling there didn’t share that secret understanding. (The Canaanites, of course, thought Canaan belonged to them.)

So Abraham and his sons were forced to live in poor housing – in tents, Paul recalls for us. All the while, however (like most immigrants) they dreamt of better lodging “with foundations.”

Meanwhile Yahweh saw to it that Abraham’s family grew prodigiously. They begat and begat until they seemed to everyone to be “as numerous as the stars of the sky;” they were as plentiful as grains of sand on the beach. Such legendary fertility eventually came to be seen as threatening and led one pharaoh to order the death of all of the Hebrew immigrant boys (Ex. 1:22). By Yahweh’s special intervention, Moses alone was saved from such genocidal population control.

Again, this was Israel’s God protecting immigrants as his chosen people. That’s the point today’s responsorial psalm underlines with its refrain, “Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.” Ironically those people were persecuted immigrants.

Then in today’s Gospel, Jesus presents a riddle about the identity of his faithful servants. Jesus asks, “Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute the food allowance at the proper time?” His answer has implications for immigration reform measures.

In any case, you can imagine a lengthy interchange between Jesus and his audience about his riddle. No doubt, some identified “faithful and prudent stewards” with those who kept the absolute letter of the law. Others probably cited the Jewish purity code and said fidelity meant keeping the bloodline pure; it meant keeping foreigners out of the Holy Land and preventing inter-marriage with gentiles. Still others may have responded in economic terms. For them the faithful and prudent steward was probably the one who defended Jewish livelihood by keeping foreigners from taking Jewish jobs.

Jesus’ own response is different. He replies in terms of generosity, as well as in terms of service with its “law of abundance.” Jesus also invokes the law of karma. God’s faithful servants are those who sell what they have and give it to the poor. They are not the ones who are served, but those who serve. Meanwhile those who mistreat God’s servants will reap what they sow.

Above all, notice that the emphasis in Jesus’ words today is on service. His riddle brings us entirely from the “upstairs” culture of dominance into the “downstairs” culture of servants. The steward is the head servant. He’s in charge of others, but his service consists in distributing food allowances to his fellow servants. Even the Master ends up serving. When he returns from the wedding, his servants don’t wait on him. Rather as an expression of gratitude, he brings them upstairs, sits them at table and waits on everyone! (How consoling is that?! The “law of abundance” says that what we receive in life is determined by our own generosity.)

Similarly, we can’t mistreat others without harming ourselves. The law of karma decrees that we reap what we sow. Jesus endorsed that law in today’s reading. More specifically Jesus says that those who mistreat God’s servants will find themselves similarly mistreated. Here Jesus gets quite graphic: to the degree that they beat others, they themselves will be beaten. Again, it’s the law of karma; and it’s inescapable.

What does Jesus’ riddle have to do with immigration? First of all, remember it’s told by a former immigrant. According to Matthew’s story, Jesus lived in Egypt when Mary and Joseph sought refuge from Herod’s infanticide. Yes, Matthew’s Jesus must have known first-hand the experience of being an unwanted immigrant. In Egypt he spoke with a Jewish accent. Or maybe his family didn’t even bother to learn Egyptian.

Remember too that the riddle about faithful servants is posed by the Jesus who identifies with “the least of the brethren.” He said that whatever we do to the least, he considers done to him. In terms of today’s considerations, does that mean that what we do to immigrants, we do to Jesus?

As for Jesus’ response to his own riddle, it reminds us to receive immigrants as we would our Master returning home – yes, as our Master, Jesus himself – the one who ends up serving us! Again, Jesus identifies with the least of our brothers and sisters.

Does that mean that Jesus appears to us today in our service industries and in the informal economy where immigrants work as our kids’ nannies, our house cleaners, as construction workers, hotel maids, and gardeners?

At this very moment might Jesus be out there cutting my lawn, roofing my house or cleaning my bathroom?

When our border guards beat “illegals” (and worse!) are they beating Jesus?

And what does that mean for their karma – and for ours?

Those are riddles worth discussing and solving!

The way we answer will determine the side we come down on in the immigration debate.
(Discussion follows)