A Woman, a Ruler and Two Centers

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Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and to not get discouraged. (Luke 18.1)

This week we are looking at the parable referred to by many as the parable of the unjust ruler and the importunate woman. I want to make it clear from the beginning that we will not look at this parable through a domesticated or conventional “Empire Approved” lens. There are key phrases and clues that cannot be missed, and these phrases tell us explicitly that this is not a parable concerning prayer by those in places of privilege; rather, it is a parable for those who are not merely passively disadvantaged, but who are being actively oppressed in their state of being disadvantaged.

First, here are those phrases and clues:

“A judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.” – Luke 18.2 (The word for “judge” here does not mean someone who tries a case, but rather a magistrate or “ruler” who presides over the affairs of government.)

“A widow” – Luke 18.3 (Widows in this first century, patriarchal culture were among those who were oppressed by those at the top of the economic privilege-pyramid.)

“I will grant her justice” – Luke 18.5 (What this widow was pleading for was equity and what today would be called social justice.)

“Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?” – Luke 18.7 (This phrase, cry to him day and night, would have harkened Jesus’ listeners back to Israel’s slavery in Egypt, when they also “groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God” (Exodus 2.23, emphasis added). Within the narrative of Exodus, God is portrayed as saying to Moses, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters” (Exodus 3.7, emphasis added).

This is not a parable about praying over “first world problems.” These are not prayers by rulers or judges or those who receive their preference. This is not a prayer to get a promotion in an already high-paying job, or an “A” at an ivy league school, or that your favorite sitcom won’t get canceled this season. These are prayers from those who cry out to the “Advocate God” of the oppressed and disadvantaged that we see in the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These are prayers for God to end oppression, violence and injustice against those who are marginalized, mistreated, stereotyped, mischaracterized, and whose plight is ignored. Jesus is saying to these people, keep crying out to God! Don’t give up! This is not a “pray only” parable either. This is a parable where the widow not only prays—she stands up to injustice with her continued prayers. Jesus is saying to the oppressed, “Keep pushing for justice, yes vertically, but also horizontally. And change will come! God is with you. Remember, God is an ‘Advocate God.’ And this God stands in solidarity with you.” Injustice, oppression and violence is a violation of everything that the God we see in Jesus is about. In Jesus we see this Advocate God engaged in a formidable struggle against all oppression, injustice, and violence. As I’ve said so many times before, yes, God loves even the perpetrators of oppression. Yet the God we see in Jesus seeks to overthrow injustice by winning over the perpetrators of injustice, by being the first to stand in solidarity with the oppressed. Yes, this God loves all, yet this God is also seeking to heal all, both oppressed and oppressor. This God is at work to heal the oppressors by setting them free from the systemic evil they themselves are victims of. And this God is seeking to heal those who are being oppressed by putting to right the very injustice that is crushing them.

The greatest proof I can give that the God we see in Jesus is an Advocate God for the oppressed, is the resurrection. Yes, I know that the historical reality of the resurrection is under fire from our scientifically naturalist worldview today. But stop for a moment, and catch the storied truth of the resurrection.

The good news that the early apostles proclaimed was not that someone had been crucified. That happened all the time to anyone who stood up to Roman oppression. Nor was it that someone who had died had come back to life. That, although strange to us today, would not have shocked anyone in the first century. They had all kinds of stories, both Jewish and Hellenistic, of people who had come back post-mortem. What shocked the Jewish and Roman world was that this Jesus, who was deemed a threat to the political, economic and religious privilege-pyramids, whom these systems had joined together in crushing/crucifying, had been chosen by God to stand in solidarity with him, and who had resurrected this same Jesus, and established this Jesus (along with his radical teachings about justice, equity, love, and mercy rather than sacrifice) as Lord. What had been prophesied by the prophets, that God would one day put to right all injustice, oppression, and violence, had now begun in the resurrection of Jesus the “Christ.”

It wasn’t about getting to heaven after one died. It was about turning the world “upside-down” (see Acts 17.6) and placing it right-side up once again.

The resurrection proves that God is not standing in solidarity with political super-powers (“manifest destiny”), nor is God standing within the most exclusive, most holy, central places of religious systems of sacrifice. Rather, the resurrection proves that God was standing with and revealed in the very one who had been crucified by these religious, economic, and political systems.

Yes, there is good in the world worth fighting for and worth saving (see John 3.17). And when we encounter sickness in this world, whether social, political, economic, or religious, the only remedy is to hear the gospel (good news) being proclaimed by the resurrection of this same Jesus who was crucified by these sicknesses.

In John’s gospel, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be [healed] through him” (John 3.17).

The Two Centers

The cross is the center of appeasement-based theology in the hands of those at the top of privilege-pyramids to take the gospel of the oppressed out at the knees. There is a reason why the resurrection of Jesus was the center of the apostle’s gospel in the book of Acts. The resurrection undoes and reverses the unjust act of the cross by systems of oppression. It is this reason, understood by the apostles, that places the resurrection at the center of all rightly-understood systems of liberation theology. Make no mistake, making the cross the center of one’s theological understanding speaks volumes about the character of the God at the heart of that theology. Yet placing the resurrection as God’s response to the crucifixion of Jesus by human hands also speaks volumes about the character of God at the heart of that theology. And both “centers” place their adherents on a trajectory concerning how they treat the marginalized.

It offers much to ponder for this week, for sure.

It’s time to revisit the Jesus story of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as well as the preachings of those in the book of Acts, and abandon conventional, domesticated, “Empire-Approved” systems of interpretation.

The cross is the center of “how to get to heaven” gospels. The resurrection is the center of “how to bring heaven to earth once again” gospels.

May God guide us to hear what the story is really telling us, for the sake of our fellow humanity “crying out to God, day and night, for justice.”

HeartGroup Application

  1. This week I’d like you to go back and reread Matthew 5.1-11 and Luke 6.20-26. Contemplate which end of the privilege-pyramid (top or bottom) Jesus is saying the arrival of his Kingdom “blesses,” reversing their present state, and which end Jesus’ Kingdom will challenge. See if you can outline some of the changes Jesus is outlining for those at the top of our social constructs as well as those at the bottom.
  1. After you have made this outline, spend some time, sitting with Jesus, prayerfully contemplating these differences, and Journal what Jesus shares with you.
  1. Share what you discover with your HeartGroup this upcoming week.

Till the only world that remains is a world where Christ’s love reigns, keep living in love, loving like Jesus.

I love each and every one of you, and remember, God does too.

See you next week,

Herb

Jesus, ISIS and The West by Herb Montgomery

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For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.—Jesus (Matthew 26.28)

What did Jesus mean when he told his disciples that his blood was being poured out for the forgiveness of sins? We must not answer this from our perspective today, but from the perspective of those to whom these words were originally intended.

To first century Jews, who were longing to be free from Roman oppression, the phrase “forgiveness of sins” did not mean that God would forgive their moral infractions and let them into heaven when they died. No, no! “Forgiveness of sins” within the Jewish context that Jesus used this phrase meant that their time of captivity to foreign powers—and most presently, Rome’s presence in Jerusalem—would be reversed and the hope of Israel would be restored.

Jesus’ blood being poured out through his unjust crucifixion, and the reversing and undoing of that deed by God through the Resurrection, according to Jesus, was not to produce changes in God toward us, but rather radical changes in both the Roman Empire and the Jewish nation that would lead to radical redistribution of how life on Planet Earth is arranged.

Much is missed when we don’t recognize the characters in the story and who their modern-day equivalents are.

Remember, Rome was the superpower of its day—and Jerusalem was a region that resented Rome’s presence. There were even radical, fundamentalist Jews who thought the only way for Jewish voices to be heard by Rome was through barbaric, violent, militaristic terrorism on their part. Those who subscribed to these methods were called Zealots.

What Jesus was demonstrating through the cross, and what God was endorsing through the Resurrection, was that the way to heal the world was not for the Jewish people to resort to barbaric violence to bring about Israel’s liberation and restoration. Rather, it was through forgiveness and love for their Roman enemies, and a desire to awaken the hearts of the Romans’ compassion and win them over through nonviolent direct actions coupled with unconditional enemy love—having their own blood shed rather than staining their hands with the blood of others.

Now, let’s back up and see if we can plug in modern-day equivalents. Rome was the then present superpower of the Jesus story. Zealots were the fundamentalist Jews who were using barbaric violence to try and remove the Roman presence from Jerusalem.

What does the Jesus story say to us if we were to place America in the place of Rome and ISIS in the place of the fundamentalist Jewish Zealots?

ISIS is a barbarically violent, militant, fundamentalist sect—much like the Jewish Zealots of Jesus day—who felt the only way throw off the Roman presence in Jerusalem was through terroristic means. The majority of the Jewish people of Jesus’ day did not feel that the Zealots rightly represented Israel just as the majority of Muslims today do not feel that ISIS rightly represents them. The Zealots, although barbarically violent, and using terrorist tactics, did not feel they were terrorists. None of the Zealots saw themselves as terrorists. They saw themselves as defenders of Israel against a foreign presence. They saw themselves as freedom fighters, and they did not regard their tactics as in any way acts of terrorism. This is exactly how ISIS feels today, not against a Roman Empire, but against the presence of the American Empire in their home. ISIS today sees themselves as mujahedeen (warriors for the faith defending an Islamic State against foreigners). The parallels between ISIS and the Zealots of Jesus day cannot be missed. What we must also take notice of is that it was with these Zealots especially that Jesus would plead to use nonviolent enemy love as their means of arriving at the social changes they desired in relation to Roman oppression. If they would continued on the path of using their present methods, Jesus warned repeatedly, then Rome, being much stronger, would respond, and it would end in gehenna—Jerusalem’s destruction by Rome at the end of the three-year Jewish-Roman War in A.D. 70.

Just as the Jewish nation resented Roman occupation and felt oppressed by Rome’s presence, today those who belong to ISIS resent and feel oppressed by America’s presence in their region as well. What this requires of a Jesus follower is, first, not to look at the present situation as an American but as a Jesus follower. And as Jesus followers, we are not give in to fear or scapegoating, but rather compassion—even for those who others deem as evil and beyond redemption—trying to first understand what would make the members of ISIS feel that the only way to remove the presence of the West is through such barbaric violence.

We must first and foremost look at the situation from the perspective of someone who is being oppressed. ISIS is not the enemy. Matter of fact, labeling someone as enemy, drawing a hard line in the sand that demarks an “us vs. them” is the very first step away from the path that follows Jesus. So let’s first ask the question: What would Jesus say to ISIS today?

It’s the same thing Jesus would say to the Jewish Zealots of his day in the Jesus story. Jesus would say to those who feel oppressed by the West’s presence in their region to choose the way of a nonviolent direct action, coupled with enemy love and the power of truth, to overthrow injustice, violence and oppression rather than simply responding with greater violence. And that if they did not heed his call to nonviolent means of change, the only end in sight was their own gehenna at the hands of their Roman equivalent: America.

Jesus’ call to ISIS would be to seek to liberate themselves from Western occupation through a cross rather than a sword.

There are others who have been oppressed who have discovered Jesus’ way of peace:

“Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale. Love for Gandhi was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation. It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking.”—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Remember that Gandhi, in using methods learned from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, successfully removed Britain’s presence from India. King picked up these same methods and changed the face of civil rights in his generation in America.

So Jesus would first say to ISIS that there is a better way, and warn them of what the superpower they are going up against will end up doing to them if they reject this better way.

But here is MY question. 

As a citizen of a modern “Rome” (the USA), whose foreign presence in a modern “Jerusalem” (the Middle East) is resented by those for whom that place is their home, what is Jesus also saying, not just to ISIS, but to the WEST?

Jesus would say to America what he would have said to Rome in his day. We cannot miss this!

1.  Don’t use violence to protect your position of privilege and oppression.

Using ISIS’ barbaric violence to justify a greater presence and a greater show of force, in a region that possesses resources you may want to control, may be good for the Western economy, but it’s not just toward those for whom this region is home. It’s a contemporary form of disguised colonialism at best. If we think ISIS is the enemy that can’t be reasoned with, which leaves us with no other option than to crush it out of existence, we are no different than Rome in how she viewed militant, fundamentalist Jews of the first century.

2.  Don’t use nonviolence to preserve your position of privilege and oppression either. Rather let go of the pyramid of privilege that, by definition, produces both oppressors as well as those who will continue to be oppressed.

Jesus is not telling America to use nonviolence to defeat ISIS. Jesus is telling America to relinquish her grip on her position at the top of a political pyramid. As a superpower, to co-opt the cross, using Jesus methods to defeat ISIS and gain control of that region is a gross misapplication of what Jesus would say to Rome. Jesus would call upon ISIS to use nonviolence, as he did with Jewish fundamentalist Zealots. But Jesus would call upon America (modern Rome) to abandon the power to kill, and choose the power of compassion, putting herself in the shoes of opponents by asking herself whether there is good reason to. Nonviolent direct action (NVDA) by America will not work as long as NVDA is merely a tactic whose ultimate goal is to establish a greater American presence and oppression in a part of the world only desired out of a felt need to control resources native to that region—again, a region that others call home. (America really doesn’t care about spreading “justice” and democracy in areas where oil fields, or other American interests, don’t exist.)

3.  Don’t scapegoat ISIS as “enemy,” as Rome did with the militant Jews of Jerusalem in the first century to Rome’s citizens.

Reject fear and choose compassion. Choose to see the humanity of those who feel participation with ISIS is the only option they have at their disposal to have their voices heard. Start by providing space for those voices (as well as their concerns) to actually be listened to. Make it easier for members of ISIS to believe that the way of nonviolence might actually work by taking the initiative to demonstratively listen and respectfully respond to concerns of those feeling oppressed by the West’s presence in their homeland. Even if this costs the West its control of commodities it covets as precious, remember that these are commodities that really belong to those who live there. Treat others the way you’d like to be treated if they stormed into your homeland seeking to instill their favorite form of government through violent means for what could be ulterior motives.

Again, we must look at these events, first and foremost, not as Americans who blindly feel America can do no wrong. We must look at the present events through the lens of the Jesus story as followers of Jesus himself, who calls us to be makers of peace.

As a follower of Jesus, we are called not to side with a kingdom of this world in crushing a threat to that empire’s safety. We are to be ministers of reconciliation, calling on ISIS to not resort to barbaric violence but to believe there is a better way, all while calling on the West to relinquish the pyramid of privilege and oppression and to not make members of ISIS feel the only way they can be heard is through such barbaric violence.

As a Jesus follower, you are neither pro America nor pro ISIS. You are pro peace; you are a follower of the Prince of Peace. And within the pyramid of privilege and oppression, which we have discussed in so many eSights previously, we are to call upon those at the top to dismantle the entire pyramid for a better way. We are to stand in solidarity with those who are being oppressed at the bottom of the pyramid, honoring their hunger and thirst for justice while also pleading with them to choose a better way than barbaric violence.

This does not justify ISIS’ use of barbaric violence. That, no doubt, is horrifically evil. But this doesn’t justify America either. It refuses to take a side, calling both sides to follow Jesus. We place ourselves in the shoes of those who feel oppressed, pausing to reflect on what it must be like for them to feel like they are standing against the biggest bully on the planet, and not being able to believe (just like the Zealots in Jesus’ day) that if they use nonviolent means the West will actually hear them.

Yes, Jesus’ call to ISIS is to lay down the sword. But Jesus’ call to the West is also to relinquish its place as biggest bully on the hill, and to stop, listen and give hope to ISIS so that they don’t have to use barbaric violence to be heard. Jesus’ call to his followers is to not allow fear to rob you of compassion. And above all, Jesus is calling to all three parties to avoid just rushing to violent means of solving conflict between those who feel oppressed and those in the position of privilege and oppression.

Jesus calls us all to see both the West and the members of ISIS as, remember, not us vs. them, but as siblings of the same Divine Parents who are going to have to eventually learn how to sit around the same family dinner table again.

Will this come without losses? No, there will be many losses on both sides. There will be losses on ISIS’ side if they should choose to use NVDA to awaken the hearts of those in the West to listen. And there will be losses on the West’s side (in relation to the West’s position of privilege) if those in the West choose to listen and begin treating those in the Middle East the way they would like to be treated if the roles were reversed.

It’s time for humanity to let go of fear of scarcity and an addiction to monopolizing positions at the top of the pyramids. It’s time for humanity to embrace a worldview of abundance, enough for everyone’s need but not their greed—with cooperation and sharing rather than anxiety, competition and violence.

Jesus is calling.

There is a conversation that is said to have taken place between Lord Irwin and Gandhi, where Lord Irwin asked what Gandhi believed would solve the problems between Great Britain and India. The story states that Gandhi reached over and picked up a Bible from off of the desk, and opened it to the Gospel of Matthew’s chapter five—the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Gandhi then said, “When your country and mine shall get together on the teachings laid down by Christ in this Sermon on the Mount, we shall have solved the problems not only of our countries but those of the whole world.”

There is only one “Savior of the World.” It’s not America, with her military might. It’s the nonviolent Jesus.

HeartGroup Application

  1. This week I’m not going to ask for you to contemplate any passages from the Gospels. I’m going to ask you, every day for a week, to pray for both ISIS and America, that both will follow Jesus instead of the course they are presently on so that this world would be healed (John 3.17) and that what will be enlarged through all of this will be Jesus’ Kingdom rather than simply yet another of this world’s empires.
  1. Journal what Jesus shares with you about the West and about ISIS as you pray.
  1. Share what Jesus shares with you with your HeartGroup this upcoming week.

 

Wherever this finds you this week, choose love and not fear, and choose compassion over violence, until the only world that remains is a world where Christ’s love reigns.

I love each and every one of you. And remember, God does too.

See you next week.

The Footsteps of the Prophets by Herb Montgomery

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“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”—Jesus (Matthew 5.11)

Luke’s version is even more pointed:

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets” (Luke 6.22–23; emphasis added).

The first question I’d like to ask is why were the prophets also treated this way?

The Prophets

Take a moment and look at what the prophets actually said and the reasons they were reviled becomes disturbingly clear.

In his judgment of Israel, Amos said:

Thus says the LORD:
For three transgressions of Israel,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals
they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth,
and push the afflicted out of the way . . .
in the house of their God [the temple] they drink
wine bought with fines they imposed (Amos 2.6–8; emphasis added).

 

Isaiah spoke these words about Judah and Jerusalem:

Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom!
Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.
When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand?
Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.
Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. . . .
your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean. . . .
learn to do good;
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow (Isaiah 1.10–17; emphasis added).
And Jeremiah spoke thus against evil kings:

Thus says the LORD: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place. . . . But your eyes and heart are only on your dishonest gain, for shedding innocent blood, and for practicing oppression and violence (Jeremiah 22.3, 17; emphasis added).

 

For Jerusalem, Ezekiel and Micah had these words:

As I live, says the Lord GOD, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16.48–49; emphasis added).

 

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice,
and to love mercy [rather than sacrifice],
and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6.8)
What were the prophets known for?

Defending those who were oppressed from those who were in a position of privilege.

The prophets spoke against New Moon festivals, Sabbaths, the Temple, and sacrifice, and they spoke up for those who were oppressed by the religiously pious. This vocal opposition would be enough to get anyone in trouble.

In short, the prophets abandoned their own positions of privilege within Israel and Judah and made room for the voices of the oppressed to be heard. The prophets called those who practiced “holy” or “sacred” oppression, injustice, and violence to listen to the stories of those who were trodden upon. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus calls his followers to do the same.

The question we have to ask next is who was it, do you think, who reviled, persecuted, uttered all kinds of evil against, hated, excluded, and defamed the prophets?

 

The Privileged Who Feel Threatened

The answer is the same in every era. When men and women speak up for those who are oppressed, those in positions of privilege, practicing their “sacred” oppression, will treat these prophets who give a voice to the oppressed this same way.

The cross and resurrection prove throughout eternity that God stands not in solidarity with those religious systems that crucify others religiously, politically, or economically, but rather with those who are suspended shamefully upon crosses.

This is God. This is the God revealed through Jesus.

Persecution

And as Paul so eloquently wrote, “all who want to live a godly [god-like] life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3.12).

Make no mistake. If others persecute you, it does not always mean you are doing the right thing. You may just be obnoxious. Persecution does not equal being on the right path. But being on the right path does equal persecution.

The world we live in is comprised of those on the top and those on the bottom, the underdogs. And when you choose to stand in solidarity with the underdogs, you will be targeted by those on top. Again, experiencing persecution doesn’t mean you are doing everything right, but if you are not persecuted, you may need to ask yourself why. Are you fitting in too neatly with those at the top of this world’s pyramids of oppression?

Do not think that you are to go and seek out or try and produce persecution. No, no. But we should abandon our own positions of privilege and call out for the voices and stories of those who are oppressed to be heard. This act alone will ensure that persecution ensues.

This week, when you witness someone being oppressed, whether it’s someone who is poor, or someone who happens not to have the right color of skin, or someone who does not have the “correct” anatomical appendage, or someone whom society has deemed as possessing a non-normative orientation, stand up for them. Call for their stories to be heard, and then get out of the way and let those stories be told.

What will be the result? Ultimately, the result will be a world changed by Jesus. But along the way, you will be, according to Jesus, reviled, persecuted, hated, excluded, and defamed and have all kinds of evil spoken about you by those who have not yet abandoned their own positions of privilege, those who have not yet heard for themselves the stories of those who have been so grossly mischaracterized and wrongly depicted.

It will be scary at first, but have courage. You will quickly find you are not alone. You stand in a long line of those who have gone before—a line filled with martyrs, apostles, and prophets, at the beginning of which stands Jesus of Nazareth.

 

Peter Gomes

The following paragraph is from Peter Gomes, an American preacher and theologian, about whom it was said that he was, “one of the great preachers of our generation, and a living symbol of courage and conviction.” (Harvard Gazette. 1 March 2011) Peter understood what it meant to walk in the shoes of those who are oppressed for he belonged to at least two communities that experience oppression in our societies—one because of his race, the other because he was gay. Pay close attention to his profound recapturing of Jesus’ Kingdom.

“Good news to some will almost inevitably be bad news to others. In order that the gospel in the New Testament might be made as palatable as possible to as many people as possible, its rough edges have been shorn off and the radical edge of Jesus’ preaching has been replaced by a respectable middle, of which “niceness” is now God. When Jesus came preaching, it was to proclaim the ends of things as they are and the breaking in of things that are to be: the status quo is not to be criticized; it is to be destroyed.” (The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus)

 

Enemy Love 

Lastly, I would be amiss if I did not close with this reminder.

Right after Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who will create many enemies because they follow Him, Jesus says:

But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat, do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Luke 6.23–36, #mercyratherthansacrifice).

Remember, we are not called to defeat those who benefit at the expense of others. We are called not to defeat them, but to win them. We are called to put on display the beauty of a world changed by Jesus. We are called to recognize where Jesus’ Kingdom is already at work, whether in principle or by name as well, and honor it. We are also called to inspire those who have not yet encountered and embraced Jesus’ revolution of justice, mercy, and love to rethink everything. We are to call for a reevaluation of the scripts we have been given and by which we currently play the game of life. And, lastly, we are called to challenge oppressive, unjust, and violent ways of seeing God, ourselves, and everyone else around us.

It’s what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called winning the “double victory”:

“I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up against our most bitter opponents and say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. . . . But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory (Martin Luther King Jr., A Christmas Sermon for Peace on Dec 24, 1967).

THIS is what it means to follow in the footsteps of apostles, prophets, and Jesus himself, according to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Certainly there is more at the heart of following Jesus, but there is most definitely not less than standing up for the oppressed.

The time is now. Don’t wait for there to be an easier time, for that time will only come when you are no longer needed. Won’t you take a stand, too?

“If you’re neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Desmond Tutu

 

HeartGroup Application

  1. Spend some time this week contemplating the following words of Jesus:

“The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?” (Luke 9.22–25)

  1. As you sit with Jesus this week with this passage, write down what insights, thoughts, questions, challenges, fears, or hopes Jesus may share with you.
  1. Share what you discover this week with your HeartGroup.

Wherever this finds you this week, may you—and may we all—stop striving to ascend to our own positions of privilege and begin, rather, speaking up for those for whose stories have yet to be heard. Till the only world that remains is a world where Christ’s love reigns.

I love each and every one of you. And, remember, God does, too.

See you next week.

 

Mercy Seeds by Herb Montgomery

acorn

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” (Matthew 5.7)

It’s back-to-school season for most this time of year. And on our morning drive to drop off the kids this past week (I have three kids of three different ages being dropped off at three different schools this year) we’ve been batting back and forth different ideas concerning the Sermon on the Mount. We’ve had some good discussions, as we’ve tried to take the Beatitudes out of the economical context they were originally spoken in and apply their principles to the context of elementary, middle, and high school. What we’ve found is that the principles are pretty universal. Everywhere you find an underdog, or those being marginalized, the Sermon on the Mount becomes exceptionally pertinent.

From listening to my kids, too, I’ve come to the conclusion that there may be no better testing ground for the ethics of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, no greater context to experiment with the truth value of these teachings, than high school.  But that’s a side note.

What I want you to see in this week’s focus text is the intrinsic “reaping what we sow” principle, especially in the context of mercy. The previous verse spoke about hungering for justice. The justice Jesus taught was not retributive, but restorative—not punitive, but redemptive. And the mercy we are to practice is not out of harmony with this kind of justice, and it does not need to be brought into harmony with this type of justice. Restorative justice and the mercy we are talking about this week are simply two sides of the same coin. They are both expressions of the same thing: love.

Let’s take an example from Jesus’ cultural context first. Many people miss the economic context of Jesus’ words today. Let’s say we have a wealthy creditor in the first century and a debtor who has defaulted on a loan. The creditor has every legal right to foreclose. But Jesus asked creditors to stop and look at the circumstances of their debtors and to choose a more economically rehabilitative and restorative option than foreclosure.

Let’s look at it from the perspective of the debtor now. Let’s consider those that are being oppressed by an economic system that they can never possibly recover from. (Think of the global debt crisis between superpowers and developing countries around the world today.) The temptation is violent revolution, something to reset the scales of capitalism. A “year of jubilee” by force, if you will. I’m reminded of Gandhi’s words: “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.” Jesus is calling us to change the world through mercy.

What the Sermon on the Mount makes clear is that a new world (the Kingdom) is coming; and, in fact, it has already arrived. Jesus is Lord. And this new world is going to be a world where life is arranged very differently than the way it has been. This world, under the reign of love, is a “blessing” to those the present arrangement oppresses, and it will be a “blessing” to those who stand in solidarity with, and give a voice to, those who have been oppressed. Jesus is, in this week’s statement, giving us a way to this whole new world, this new creation—and that way is mercy.

For those who are being oppressed: set in motion mercy. I’m reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words in my favorite sermon ever preached: “So, if you’re seeking to develop a just society, they say, the important thing is to get there, and the means are really unimportant; any means will do so long as they get you there—they may be violent, they may be untruthful means; they may even be unjust means to a just end. There have been those who have argued this throughout history. But we will never have peace in the world until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process, and ultimately you can’t reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree” (A Christmas Sermon for Peace).

That may be the thing many revolutions miss. We are seeking to plant trees of justice without sowing the proper seeds: the seeds of mercy. For mercy awakens mercy, and mercy is the mother of justice.

For those who are in a position of privilege, even unknowingly: practice mercy.  Don’t justify injustice. Practice mercy and this new world, along with all the changes it will bring, will go much easier on you. Remember that the Sermon on the Mount is a blessing for some, but a curse for others (see Luke 6.24–25). This is the sermon that changes everything.

My kids are looking for the underdogs presently in each of their schools. Looking for those whom they can stand with, be an ally for, and make space for their voices to be heard. This week, whether it be in matters of economics, gender, race, social status, orientations, and/or normativity, I want to encourage you to be on the lookout for those disadvantaged by the present arrangement. I wonder whom Jesus will draw your attention to this week, whom you will get the opportunity to practice mercy toward, rather than sacrifice. And if you are oppressed, I know this part is the most difficult to believe, but the way to a world rooted in restored justice is not to passively enable continuation of the present injustice, but rather to direct restorative mercy that awakens in the hearts of those advantaged, and to listen to the voices of those who are not.

A new world is coming. It has already begun. Let’s go enlarge the Kingdom this week together.

HeartGroup Application

Whether you are in a position of privilege this week or a position of disadvantage, practice mercy. Experiment with it. Start out small and see what happens. As a person of privilege, it may open your eyes to a whole new world; I know it has for me. And I am very much still in that process. I can testify that the Sermon on the Mount has radically changed the way I see God, myself, and those—I’m ashamed to admit—that I used to condemn simply because they were different from me. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount has changed everything for me. It has changed my life. I’m quite sure it has the power to do that for you, wherever it finds you, as well.

The oak tree is in the acorn. A just world is contained in the seeds of mercy, for the merciful will receive mercy.

1. This week, step outside of your normal routine and find an opportunity to practice mercy in a way that you wouldn’t normally.

2. Journal what happens as a result. If nothing happens, keep experimenting with it. If something beautiful does happen, write it down.

3. This upcoming week, share with your HeartGroup the stories of your experiments with Matthew 5.7 and the way of mercy.

Wherever you are right now reading this, keep living in love, loving like Jesus in the way he taught us to love, until the only world that remains is a world where Christ’s love reigns.

Next week, we’ll be looking at Matthew 5.11. And you won’t want to miss it.

I love each and every one of you. And remember, God does too.

See you next week.