The Seven Last Sayings of Jesus; Part 9 of 9

Part 9 of 9

by Herb Montgomery

 

The Gospel of an Unstoppable Liberation

Wooden Rosary

“We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.” (Acts 13:32-33)

I want to end this series on the seven last sayings of Jesus, not on Jesus’ execution by the domination systems of his day, but with the reversal and undoing of that execution by the resurrection. This is what the early church proclaimed as the gospel.

Notice that the early church did not preach that Jesus had died to pay a divinely demanded penalty so that you can go to heaven instead of hell when you die. It was not that Jesus had died, but that Jesus had been executed and that his execution had been reversed. Remember that the great Hebrew hope was not of one day becoming some disembodied soul in some far distant heaven. No. The hope of the Hebrew people, that which had been promised to their ancestors, is that the Messiah would come and put right all oppression, violence and injustice.

Salvation, to the early church, was liberation from oppression. And this had been accomplished by God’s resurrection of the one who had been executed by their oppressors.

Notice the following passages.

“And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus…. Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” [Liberation and a New Social Order] (Acts 13:23-38)

You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—this man, given to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power…. This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses…. Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:22-36)

The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” (Acts 3:12-16)

Let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’” (Acts 4:10-11)

“The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Founder and Healer that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 5:30-32)

“We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day…. He is the one ordained by God as LIBERATOR of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:36-43)

The good news was not that Rome had executed someone or that someone had died. That happened all the time. The good news was that this Jesus, whose teachings offered such radical hope for a transformed world, and who had been executed by the systems his teachings threatened, had been brought back to life. This Jesus had triumphed over the religious, political and economic systems of their day, for his execution had been reversed!

In this great reversal, a new world had begun. Those systems, even the religious one that had claimed to house “God” at its heart, had been exposed, shamed and shown to be what they truly were.

The Presence was not found to be with them, but with the One they had shamefully suspended on a Roman cross.

What I want you to notice is that what liberates us, what “saves” us, for the early church, was not Jesus’ execution, but his resurrection, the undoing and reversal of Jesus’ execution by the powers, but the solidarity of The Sacred (i.e. “God”), The Divine, not simply with Jesus, but will all that had been, or would be the recipients of Oppression.

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities [i.e. religious, social, economic, and political oppression], a public spectacle of them was made, triumphing over them by him.” (Colossians 2:15)

The Sacred Dream of the Divine is of a different world, here and now, where everybody has enough, not as a product of charity, but as a result of the way the world is put together. The present way of assembling the world has been exposed and shamed by the way it executed Jesus. And it has been rendered impotent. The power by which the present systems subordinate others–using “the fear of death” and the threat of being executed at the hands of the present domination systems, what I call the “do what we say, or else” system–has been triumphed over and made of no more consequence. Through Jesus’ execution by the powers and then being resurrected by The Divine, Jesus has liberated “those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)

Why Do I Love Easter?

It’s not because of its co-opted pagan roots of celebrating fertility and the rebirth of spring, though I genuinely appreciate both. It’s because this is the one time Christianity remembers, though I think many have forgotten what it means, why Christianity, as a revolution (as opposed to a religion) came into being.

The story of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is of an itinerant teacher from prophetic lineage (just like the prophets of old), who travelled the countryside giving a passionate indictment of the religious, political, economic and social systems of his day and putting on display the beauty of a world assembled in the form of a shared nonhomogenous table where every voice is valued and every story heard. A world where we all, from the varied experiences of life that we each represent, learn together how to integrate our differences into a coherent and meaningful whole.

The old order of things was to be deconstructed. Both the voiceless minorities that had been marginalized to the fringes of their society and the voiceless masses that had been oppressed were to find space at this new shared table. Transformed oppressors and the liberated oppressed  were going to have to learn how to sit beside (neither above nor below) one another, recognizing each other as the image of God, both children of the same Divine Parents, welcomed to the same family table.

This was good news to the outsiders, the disadvantaged and the dispossessed. THIS was the gospel! But to insiders, and those in top positions of privilege in the current domination system (the Pharisees, the Priests and the Scribes), this was seen as anything but “good news.”

Jesus’ nonviolent confrontation and disruption of the system in the Temple (Jesus shut it down) was the last straw. Who did he think he was? They had had enough. The priestly aristocracy and the Pharisees combined efforts to manipulate the economic systems of Herod and the political system of Pilate to create a cooperative act of lynching this radical named Jesus.

The torn veil in the temple [1] revealed the Sacred was not dwelling in the most holy places of those institutions, as they claimed. No, the Divine, as was mentioned previously, was dwelling in the One shamefully suspended on a Roman cross at the hands of those combined domination forces. [2]

THIS is the good news: Liberation has come. And it is a liberation that is unstoppable. Yes, for those placed in the position of “last” by the present system this is good news, as they learn how they are to be treated as those who had arrived “first.” And for those who had arrived “first,” well, it is at least problematic as they discover they will now be treated equally with those who had arrived “last.” The point is that each person will be “paid the same,” as the parable teaches, or treated simply as equal. [3]

This liberation could not be stopped. And I dare say, it cannot be stopped today.

They tried to kill it. But even that didn’t work.

I want to close this week with Mark’s telling of the resurrection. Very early versions of Mark’s manuscript ended at Mark 16:8. I want to highlight the value of those manuscripts. Notice the open-ended way that these Jesus stories would have concluded.

“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?’ But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here.’” (Mark 16.2-6)

Then Mark’s gospel ends with:

“Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8)

What is the unspoken point Mark is endeavoring to make? What is the impression he is trying to leave?

Just as Luke’s gospel would later do, Mark is whispering, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Yes, those in charge killed him—but they couldn’t stop him. They crucified him and buried him in a rich man’s tomb. But imperial lynching and a tomb couldn’t hold him. He’s still loose in the world. He’s still out there, still here, still recruiting people to share, to participate in his mustard seed subversively planted in the garden, his leaven placed within the dough, his pearl of great price revolution toward a radically new social order that he called ‘the Kingdom of God’—a transformed world here and now.”

What Mark is whispering to us is the good news that yes, they killed our Jesus, but… it’s… not… over. This liberation is unstoppable, for it possesses the solidarity of The Divine.

“You killed the author of this way of life, but God raised him from the dead.” — Peter; (Acts 3:15)

HeartGroup Application

  1. This week as Easter is approaching for the West, take a moment and contemplate what the resurrection actually means for us. Lots of people have been killed for standing up against the status quo. Lots of people have suffered for attempting to dismantle the status quo. But Jesus was one with whom the Divine stood in solidarity and brought back to life.
  2. I want you, as you are contemplating the resurrection and its meaning, to also ponder what it means to follow this resurrected One. What is the most important thing you could be doing right now to further the work of healing, restoration, transformation, liberation and redemption that this Jesus began here on earth?
  3. Share what you discover with your HeartGroup.

I want to thank each one of you who has checked in each week for this nine-part series. It is my prayer that you have been inspired and encouraged to put on display, as a community, the beauty of what a world changed by that radical Jesus looks like. And who knows? It may do just that. It may change the world.

I love each of you dearly. And for those of you who will be celebrating Easter this coming weekend, The Lord Is Risen! He Is Risen Indeed!

Keep living in love, loving like Jesus, ’til the only world that remains is a world where Love reigns.

I’ll see you next week.


1. “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Mark 15:38)

2. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world…” (2 Corinthians 5:19)

3. “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:1-15)

 

The  Seven Last Sayings of Jesus; Part 8 of 9

Part 8 of 9

by Herb Montgomery

 

Wooden RosaryIt Is Finished

“When Jesus had drank the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30)

The parallels between John’s telling of the Jesus story and the Hebrew creation narrative of the first few chapters of Genesis are unmistakable. As I shared last week, John is reframing the Jewish creation story, using Jesus, now, as the Christian’s origin story of a brand new world.[1]

When all of the parallels between Genesis 1 and John’s Jesus story are lined up, Jesus’ dying words, “It is finished,” become revolutionarily radical. What John is whispering to us is, “new creation.” In Jesus’ teachings, a new world has begun! (See last week’s eSight here.)

As we have often said in this series, Jesus’ death is the result of his nonviolent confrontation with the current domination system of his day, and his announcement that a new social order had arrived. This is a new world where those who are poor as a result of the way the present world is arraigned will be the first to be blessed. Where those who mourn as a result of the present order will laugh, those who are hungry will be fed. Yet, if we stop to pay attention to John, economic changes are not the entirety of the liberating work of Jesus’ teachings. In other words, certainly liberation for the economically oppressed of this world’s present social order is where the Jesus narratives begin. Jesus’ story is about no less than economic liberation. What John is telling us next, though, in his resurrection narrative, is that economic liberation is simply the starting point. Jesus liberation for the poor [2] is the launching pad. Following Jesus is about no less than “good news to the poor,” and it is so much more about liberating all who are oppressed, whether in matters of gender, race, and even today, orientation. Follow John’s logic.

John moves next to the desire of the religious aristocracy for Jesus’ body to be taken down from the tree. Then two very wealthy men, who would have belonged to this aristocracy, abandon their place to privilege to come out in solidarity, now even more so after his execution, with this Jesus.  It is Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who are caring for Jesus’ corpse. Do not miss the importance of these details. This is John’s demonstration of social movement among two of the economically rich away from their wealth to embracing Jesus’ new world, which begins with a bias for the poor. Then John immediately moves from economic liberation to gender liberation.

In John’s telling, Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb early on the first day of the week. Where the first story of the old Hebrew creation narrative is a story where women become blamed for the entrance of “sin” into this world, forever labelling women as the first to be deceived, John begins the new world with the woman being the first to be enlightened, the first to believe, the first to proclaim the message of a risen Jesus. The first work of John’s resurrection narrative is to liberate women from subservience to men. It is not by accident that women play the superior role in John’s resurrection story. The women believe and are bold, while the men are scared and doubtful. (If any of us men are offended by this, welcome to what women have endured from the telling of the Genesis story for two millennia now.)

This means becoming the first to see Jesus, the first to embrace the reality of his resurrection, is now given a duty by Jesus himself. Jesus sends her forth as an Apostle (“one who is sent”) to the other apostles, “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17)

Have you ever wondered why the resurrection story features women as those who “get it,” while the men are deeply struggling? It’s not by accident and John knows exactly what he is doing.

It would not be long before those of the Jesus movement would have to wrestle also with matters of race, ethnicity, and nationality, at least within their own social context.

“God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.” – Peter (Acts 10:28, emphasis added.)

“In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!” – Paul (Colossians 3:11)

“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” – Peter (Acts 10:47)

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” – Paul (Galatians 3:28)

What we see, therefore, is that although the Jesus story is not about less than economic liberation for the poor, it is certainly about more than that also. It’s about liberation from all that oppresses. Remember, the great Hebrew hope was not of one day becoming some disembodied soul in some far-distant heaven. It was of a time when Messiah would come and set right all injustice, oppression, and violence here on this earth. It was of a time when the Hebrews’ “Eden” would be restored. And just as the Hebrew “Eden” began with Elohim announcing, “It is finished,”[3] John’s new world, rooted in and centered around the teachings of Jesus, begins with Jesus crying out, “It is finished” as well.

The Jesus narratives dismantle a world arranged by pyramids of privilege where some are subordinated for the opulence of others. The Jesus narrative breaks down circles of exclusion where hard lines divide “them” from “us,” marginalizing those we deem as “other” and even in certain cases going beyond marginalization to extirpation. It’s a new world, not characterized by pyramids and circles, but by a shared table, where, regardless of economic status, gender, race, or sexual orientation, all are welcome to share their stories as we all, in our endeavors to follow this Jesus of the early Jesus community, learn to integrate all the varied forms of the Divine’s creation, as well as diverse experience of life into a meaningful and coherent whole. (Maybe I should do a future eSight series titled Pyramids, Circles and a Shared Table.)

Where does this leave us now though?

This new world does not come without a price.

Peter Gomes in his book, The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, states, “When the gospel says, ‘The last will be first, and the first will be last,’ despite the fact it is counterintuitive to our cultural presuppositions, it is invariably good news to those who are last, and at least problematic news to those who see themselves as first . . . 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.”

This is why Jesus emphasized loving one’s enemies, seeking to win one’s enemies rather than simply overcoming them. Those benefited by the present social order (think people like me, white, male, cisgender, straight) will find the embrace of Jesus’ new world problematic at best.

Jesus is careful to add to the list of changes he is going to make, a blessing on the “hated.” “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). Who is it that would hate those promoting this new social order? Those who have everything to lose by its arrival. It must be remembered, when one is hated for turning the present world upside down [4], we are standing in the lineage of prophets who did not call these changes charity, they called it justice.[5]

Jesus would pay the price of losing his life for confronting the present social order of things. And the servant is not greater than the master. Jesus virtually said, “If you belonged to the present social order, then they would love you as their own. But because you do not belong to the present arraignment, but I have chosen you out of it for a new social arraignment—therefore the present social order hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.”[6]

And this is where the purpose of this series comes in.

Yes, Jesus was lynched for the changes he had come to make. This new world was his pearl of great price for which he would give up everything. He was the seed that must go into the earth and die in order to produce much fruit. His life, teachings, death, and resurrection would be the mustard seed planted in the soil that would subversively replace the present order of things. This was his passion, that the “earth” would be like “heaven.”[7] His teachings were the leaven that would permeate the entire dough. And although he would lose his life for these teachings, the resurrection would vindicate his life and teachings, showing for all time that the Divine stands in solidarity, not only with Jesus, but with all who have been the oppressed by the injustice and violence of the “present age.” The resurrection is the first morning of the new world. It is the undoing and reversing of the execution of Jesus by the domination systems of the present order. It is the vindication of the world whose arrival Jesus had come to announce. And we need not fear the consequences of our embracing this new world too. At the center of our lives is a narrative, not of old creation, but of a new. We are not people of a Hebraic “fall” in the old stories of Genesis. We are children of the resurrection, which is not Jesus’ alone, but ours as well.

But we will get to all of that next week as we conclude this series.

For now, let’s remember,

Acts 13:32–33 – “We bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors, he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus.”

Acts 17:18 – “He was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.”

1 Corinthians 15:14 – “If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain.”

2 Corinthians 5:17 – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

HeartGroup Application

This isn’t theory. It’s not spiritualizing the lessons. It’s intensely practical.

This week I want you to take the progression of Liberation (from the poor, to gender, to race) of the early Jesus community and go further in our day. Each generation is called to follow Jesus, further up and further in. There are two passage I want you to contemplate this week:

“God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.” – Peter (Acts 10:28, emphasis added.)

“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” – Peter (Acts 10:47)

  1. I want you to hold these two passages in your heart and sit down sometime this week and watch the documentary Seventh Gay Adventist. This is a documentary produced by some dear friends of mine. What I can attest to personally in my own experience over the last two years, is that I too, like Peter of old, have witnessed the Holy Spirit being received by dear Christians who also self-identify as belonging to the LGBTQ community. Just sit down and watch the documentary, for me. My friends have offered you, as a follower of RHM, something special. You can download a FREE Deluxe HD Digital version (the one that is normally $9.99) using the coupon code: watchfreeRHM. You can access it here, select Deluxe Version, $9.99 and enter the code. You can also read all about the film and what others are saying about it here.

2. After you have finished watching it, journal any insights, questions, thoughts, or feelings you may have. Then go back and reread this eSight with these glasses on and see what new insights Jesus gives you in regard to carry forward his work of liberation into Jesus’ new world in our lives today.

3. Share what you experience this week with your HeartGroup.

Easter is coming up for Western Christianity. (For Eastern Christianity, it is a week later.) What marks the greatest contradiction within Christianity today, for me, is celebrating the Divine act of resurrection, vindicating the liberating work of Jesus for this world, while we still leave a marginalized and oppressed group still outside in the cold. Regardless of how one interprets the teachings of the Torah, Jesus’ new world, as we see in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, trumped Torah in matters of economics, gender, and race, too. A new world is coming, characterized by a shared table where we all discover what it means to sit together and share side by side. And in fact, for those who have eyes to see it, this new world has already, subversively, begun.

I’m still praying for your hearts. Praying that as we lead up to the narrative element of Jesus’ resurrection, we all may be able, together, to move through the portals of the tomb to Jesus’ restored, transformed, healed, and liberated new world.

Keep living in Love, till the only world that remains is a world where Love reigns.

I love each of you.

Next week we finally arrive at what all of the Jesus narratives (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) speak of as Jesus’ resurrection and the good news it announces.

I’ll see you next week.


 

1.  Genesis 1 begins with the phrase, “in the beginning . . .” So does John: “In the beginning . . .” (John 1:1). In Genesis 1 there are seven days of creation. In John’s version Jesus’ life is divided up and told with seven “signs.” Genesis 1’s narrative of the physical creation of the world climaxes with Elohim, meaning “It is finished.” So John’s telling of the Jesus story climaxes as Jesus cries out over his restored (new) creation with the words, “It is finished.” As Genesis 1 has Elohim resting on the Sabbath day, so Jesus rests from his work of restoration in the tomb on the seventh day. As the narrative of Genesis then moves quickly into a garden with a woman being the first to be deceived, John’s gospel moves quickly into another garden with a woman being the first to be enlightened, becoming an apostle to the apostles.

2.  Luke 4:18 – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.

3.  Genesis 2:1–3 – “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.”

 4.  Acts 17:6–7 – “When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.’”

5.  Amos 5:24 – “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” Matthew 5:6  – “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 6:33 – “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 5:10 – “Blessed are those who are persecuted for justice’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Justice in these passages, remember, is restorative and transformative justice, not punitive or retributive.)

6.  John 15:19–20 – “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.”

7.  Mathew 6:10 – “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

 

The Seven Last Sayings of Jesus; Part 7 of 9

 Part 7 of 9

by Herb Montgomery

I Am Thirsty

Wooden Rosary

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” (John 19.28)

As we continue in John’s telling of the Jesus story, I want to remind you that what makes his telling unique is that he is writing in conversation with early Gnostics.  A dialectic relationship exists between John’s gospel and the dualism of Gnosticism.  An oversimplified explanation of the Gnostics’ dualism is that they first believed that all matter was evil.  Secondly, they believed that humans possessed an immortal soul which was good.  Thus humanity had a dualistic nature of being simultaneously good and evil.  It is this element of “matter being evil” that John is meeting head on.

Because the Gnostics believed all matter was evil, they taught that the Divine could never become entangled with embodiment (having a body, i.e. “matter”).  Divinity was not dualistic in the fashion that humanity is.  (Their dualism ran deep, dividing humanity and Divinity as well, as contrasted with humanity being fashioned in the image of Divinity and being the very offspring of Divinity.  But we’ll have to save that conversation for later.)  The Gnostics would have taken issue with John’s “incarnation” that the Logos (the Divine) was “made flesh” (matter).  The Divine could not be identified with the flesh. [1]  Gnosticism, as some scholars have pointed out, would have taught that “Jesus walked on the beach but left no footprints.”  The Gnostics’ version of the Jesus story taught that Jesus’ Spirit (the holy part) departed from him prior to him being crucified, because the Divine could not participate with the material human flesh on that level of physical suffering.  This is why John’s Jesus, on the Cross, is not a human victim, but Divinity embodied, as the revelation of the Divine suffering in solidarity with all who have ever been oppressed, or who have suffered injustice at the hands of dominant systems in every age.  John’s telling of the crucifixion is his way of saying “no” to early Gnosticism.  Jesus in John’s Gospel is fully Divine while fully embodied; he is fully human and his physical suffering at the hands of the injustice of his day is not to be dismissed or devalued.

Yet the question that we must ask is why is John pushing back so hard against Gnosticism?

Simply put, because the belief in the dualistic nature of humanity, specifically that all matter was evil, was causing a shift among the early Christians.  Toward the close of the first century, they were focusing more on liberating their souls from their physical bodies in some far distant “heaven.”  They were abandoning the core principle of what John felt it meant to follow Jesus—which was the “healing of the world” here and now.  John’s Jesus states unequivocally that “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world [matter is evil] but that the world through Him might be healed*.” (John 3.17, emphasis added.  *Sozo can be translated as heal as well as save.  Jesus was the great healer.)  The goal of the ancient Hebrews was not to one day become some disembodied soul on some far distant cloud, but to see a time when the Messiah would come and end all the injustice, oppression, and violence here on earth.  A Hebrew telling of the Jesus story did not have at the end, as its goal, “getting to heaven”; on the contrary, the goal of Jesus’ coming would have been “the healing of the world” (“tikkun olam”).

I cannot pass up this opportunity to point out that most Christians today (although certainly not all) are more concerned with escaping this world, for which they believe there is no hope, and making it to heaven, than in healing this world and bringing an end to the present order of domination, oppression, injustice, and violence.  Jesus’ “Kingdom” was a new social order here and now!  It was the subversive “mustard seed” planted in the “soil” of this world that was to grow (like leaven in dough) until the old order was choked out and Jesus’ new social order of restorative justice, transformative mercy, and redeeming LOVE was all that remained.

Gnosticism, at the turn of the first century, was transforming Jesus’ followers into “escapists” rather than the subversive force for dismantling privileged pyramids and exclusive circles in the here and now.  Today it matters not whether those pyramids and circles are economic, religious, political, or social.  Wherever we find domination (pyramids) and exclusion (circles), whether in matters of race, gender, wealth or orientation, as a Jesus follower, we are to be more concerned with bringing a healing revolution than reaching some far distant “heaven.”

This may come as a shock to some, but Christianity today is more Gnostic than Christian, if we allow the historical Jesus to be that which defines Christianity.

John foresaw this result in the beginning of what he was witnessing around him in his day.  John’s entire telling of the Jesus story is a retelling of Genesis chapter 1, which was the Hebrews’ origin story.  Genesis chapter one (as contrasted with Genesis 2 [2]) reminded the Hebrews that this earth is good, very good.  That we are all (male, female and any combination of those two book ends that nature may produce) made in the image of God and that none are to be the subject of domination or exclusion by another.  We are all children of the same Divine Parents.  And we are all going to have to learn to sit around the same family table once again.  I’m not saying that the Hebrew people always rightly perceived these insights within the narrative of their origin story in Genesis 1.  What I’m putting forth is that this was Jesus’ subversive interpretation and application of the Hebrew origin story of Genesis 1.  I hope to write on this more at length in a future eSight.

John takes Genesis chapter 1 and frames the entire Jesus story, using Jesus as the Christian origin story.  Genesis 1 begins with the phrase, “in the beginning . . .”  So does John: “In the beginning . . .” (John 1.1)  In Genesis 1 there are seven days of creation.  In John’s version Jesus’ life is divided up and told with seven “signs.”  Genesis 1’s narrative of the physical creation of the world climaxes with Elohim saying, “It is Finished.”  So John’s telling of the Jesus story climaxes as Jesus cries out over his restored (new) creation with the words, “It is Finished.” (We’ll cover this at more depth next week.)  As Genesis 1 has Elohim resting on the Sabbath day, so Jesus rests from his work of restoration in the tomb on the seventh day.[3]  As the narrative of Genesis then moves quickly into a garden with a woman being the first to be deceived, John’s gospel moves quickly into another garden [4] with a woman being the first to be enlightened, becoming an apostle to the apostles.  (I’ll say more about this next week as well.)

In John’s telling of the Jesus story, it is no accident that John focuses our attention on three things:

1.  The very human, physical relationship between Jesus and his mother. (Last week’s eSight.)

2.  The very human, physical sensation of having “thirst.” (This week’s eSight.)

3.  The deep connection between the Hebrews’ human origin story and Elohim’s creation of the physical world by Jesus’ dying cry of restoration, “It is Finished!” (Next week’s eSight.)

What is John saying by all of this focus on the humanity and physicality of Jesus?

John is saying to Jesus’ followers of his day (as well as Jesus’ followers today), “STOP FOCUSSING ON ESCAPING THIS WORLD AND GETTING TO HEAVEN!  GET BACK TO WORK RESTORING, HEALING, TRANSFORMING, AND REDEEMING THE WORLD AROUND YOU!”

The Jesus of John is not an itinerant teacher traveling the countryside offering people an easy way to get to heaven!  John’s Jesus is proclaiming a frequently dangerous, and difficult at times, of healing the world!

The Jesus in John’s gospel isn’t trying to get people to heaven.  He is bringing heaven to the people who live here today!

Current statistics show that 70% of all theists (including Christians), when confronted with injustice, will do nothing.  If this offends you, then this merely shows that you happen to belong to the 30% who actually do something about it.  But that is still a horrible percentage.  Don’t you agree?

As a Jesus follower, I must confess that I have wasted too many years trying to sell a post-mortem insurance policy and arguing with other Christians over what the premium should be.

I’m done.  If John were alive today, I’d tell him, “I hear you!”  I want to follow Jesus.  I, too, want to be a conduit for dismantling systems of dominance and exclusivity.  I, too, want to turn pyramids of privilege upside down. [5]  I, too, want to be an agent of healing change, tearing down walls of marginalization that confine fellow humans to being “others” or “outsiders.”

I know I will do poorly.  I’m not claiming that I ever have, or ever will follow Jesus well.  Yet my heart is captivated by the values of the Jesus story, the ethics of that itinerant Rabbi, the non-homogenous, shared table where all (regardless of race, gender, wealth, or orientation) are invited to take a seat, alongside each other, and share their stories.  This is a table where we are all welcome, and where we, by virtue of valuing each other as fellow Divine image bearers, learn to integrate the many and diverse experiences of life into a meaningful and coherent whole.

I’m done being a Christian Houdini.  I’m done being a feel-good escape artist.  I’m choosing to be a mustard seed, a WEED, nurtured in the soil of this good earth, subversively growing, little by little, toward a safe and compassionate world for all.  I’m choosing a life of restorative justice, transformative mercy, here and now, till the only world that remains is a world where Love reigns.

And I’d absolutely love it if you will go on this journey with me.

HeartGroup Application

The time is fast approaching when many in Western Christianity will celebrate the resurrection.  Next week we will be addressing the seventh of the last sayings of Jesus in the gospels.  After that we will look at the vindication of Jesus and his teachings through the resurrection.

But before we get into all of that, this week I’m asking you to do the following three things in preparation for this series end.

 

1.  Spend some time in contemplation (“sitting with Jesus” is what I call it), reading through John’s gospel with the goal of noticing where John is focusing on Jesus’ body, Jesus’ humanity, Jesus’ physicality, and Jesus’ message of healing this world rather than abandoning it.  Start in John 1 and just read.  I’ll give a few examples to start with.  The first example you’ll encounter is where logos (a gnostic term) becomes “flesh.”  In John 2 you’ll find Jesus making water into wine!  A scandal for those who believed we should deny any pleasure to our physical bodies as a means of liberating our sacred, immortal souls.  And then you’ll encounter Jesus speaking of the temple, the dwelling place of the Divine Presence, but referring specifically to his body.  In John 3, you’ll read of how Jesus tells Nicodemus that the Son’s purpose is not to condemn this world but rather to save or heal it.

That should get you started.

2.  Journal what you discover.  Don’t get distracted.  There are many rabbit holes in John you could go down.  Step back and keep your focus on the forest, not the individual trees.  Remember, you are looking for where John gave us subtle hints that matter is not evil, but the good creation of the Divine, worthy of our efforts in shaping it to be a safer, more compassionate home. [6]

3.  Share with your upcoming HeartGroup what you discover.

As I shared last week, our narrative is one of hope.  A new day has dawned.  A light is shining from an “empty tomb.”  If any are in Christ, “New Creation has come!” [7]

Remember, this week you’re a mustard seed!

Therefore, keep living in love, loving like Jesus, till the only world that remains is a world where Love reigns.

One shared table, many voices, one new world.

I’m still praying for your heart.  I’m praying for it to be enlarged and liberated as you move more deeply into the contemplation of the great healer and liberator, Jesus of Nazareth.

I love each of you deeply.

I’ll see you next week.


 

1. 1 John 4.2—This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.
2 John 7—Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.

2. Jesus contrasts the ethics of Genesis 1 with the ethics of Genesis 2 in Matthew 19.4 and Mark 10.6. I plan to say more on this in an upcoming eSight.

3. This is actually in Genesis 2 but the chapter division is misplaced. The first three verses of Genesis 2 actually belong to the narrative of Genesis 1.

4. John 20.15—Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

5. See the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6.

6. Remember the form of the New Testament we have today ends with our home being here, a new heaven and new earth, reunited. The Greek word for new, used by the New Testament when referencing the New Earth, is not neos, meaning a second earth, but kainos, meaning a restored, healed, and redeemed first.

7. 2 Corinthians 5.17 (NIV)—Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

 

 

The Seven Last Sayings of Jesus; Part 6 of 9

Part 6 of 9

Woman, Here Is Your Son

BY HERB MONTGOMERY

Wooden RosaryMeanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. (John 19:25-27)

This week we begin to move into John’s telling of the Jesus story.

John’s telling is unique among the four canonical gospels. John’s is the latest written, and his Jesus story shows high Christology (Jesus as fully Divine). Unlike other writers in the New Testament whose Christology is more ethically centered (Jesus is defined by what he did and taught), John’s Christology seeks to define who Jesus was ontologically and cosmologically. It it in John’s gospel that the idea of a divine Jesus is most fully developed among the four gospels.

Ever since I read Irenaeus’s Against Heresies, the parallels between Irenaeus and John’s gospel have lead me to believe John was seeking to tell the Jesus story in such a way as to intersect and inform what he felt was the threat of early first-century Gnosticism.

Many aspects of John’s gospel make more sense when we place them in this cultural context. Many regard Gnosticism as the first great Christian heresy. It took the focus of Jesus’ followers off of a renewed and restored earth to an escapist goal of attaining heaven instead. Scholars today see Gnosticism’s dualism between the body and the soul (body or nature is evil/soul is good; body or nature is mortal/soul is immortal) and Gnosticism’s abandonment of the body and the good world around us as evil to have caused a significant shift in the focus of historic Christianity. This shift, coupled with other influences, is why, to a large degree, some Christians today focus on post-mortem bliss rather than the liberation of the oppressed and healing of injustices in our present world. An example of this is how White Christians in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s were committed to “getting to heaven” while ignoring and even perpetrating a very “present hell” here on earth. Ida B. Wells once wrote, “Our American Christians are too busy saving the souls of white Christians from burning in hellfire to save the lives of black ones from present burning in fires kindled by white Christians.” [1]

John’s method then needs to be understood. His intent was to show Jesus to be fully Divine (Holy, from above) and then show how integrated he was in humanity, his body, the earth, and the dirt. He also portrayed Jesus as genuinely human.

This is the controversy John refers to in 1 John 4:2, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” (Emphasis added.)

The Gnostics taught that for Jesus to have truly been Divine or Holy, he could not have genuinely possessed a physical body but only the appearance or “impression” of a body. Therefore to show Jesus as also fully human would have taken the focus of those affected by gnosticism off of their post-mortem bliss, and back onto the work of restoration and healing that we see so markedly evidenced in Jesus’ own life and work.

Reread John’s gospel and see how much John emphasizes Jesus’ body and Jesus’ genuine bodily functions. (We’ll look at this more next week when we look at John’s words of Jesus on the cross, “I thirst.”)

What John wants us to encounter first about Jesus’ experience on cross, unlike any other gospel author, is Jesus’ very human relationship with and concern for his mother. This is the humanity of Jesus that Gnostics would be confronted by and need to address.

Womanism and The Jesus Story

I also want to draw attention to a womanist reading of this passage in John this week.

In James Cone’s phenomenal book The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Cone recounts the experiences of what it was like for African Americans during America’s post slavery era in relation to the lynching being carried out by White Christians.

Cone writes, “The fear of lynching was so deep and widespread that most blacks were too scared even to talk publicly about it. When they heard of a person being lynched in their vicinity, they often ran home, pulled down shades, and turned out lights—hoping the terror moment would pass without taking the lives of their relatives and friends.” [2]

Cone retells the story of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s father, who witnessed a lynching at a very young age. Daddy King states, “All I could do was to run on home, keep silent, never mentioning what I’d seen to anyone, until many, many years later, when I understood it better.” [3]

The parallels between the lynching of African Americans in America and the lynching of Jesus in the first century are astounding. [4] The horror of crucifixion by Rome and the nightmarish atrocity of lynching in America by White Christians served very similar purposes within their perspective cultures. Both were forms of terrorism used by the dominant system of the day.

The fact that John tells us there were those who didn’t “run home” when Jesus was lynched is a testament to the Jewish women John lists, a testament we come to understand and appreciate more deeply when seen through the lens of what Black women experienced in America’s lynching history. These women did not run home, as did most of the followers of Jesus, but stood by, not abandoning Jesus when the dominant system “strung him up.”

Black women should not be made invisible in America’s lynching history. They were not exempt to White Christian mob violence in America. Not only were Black women lynched as well, but those who were not, “not only suffered the loss of their sons, husbands, brothers, uncles, nephews, and cousins but also endured public insults and economic hardship as they tried to carry on, to take care of their fatherless children in a patriarchal and racist society in which whites could lynch them or their children with impunity, at the slightest whim or smallest infraction of the southern racial etiquette.” [5]

Jewish women belonged to a similarly patriarchal society. For Mary, the mother of Jesus, to lose Jesus, the specific male she was economically dependent on, to mob violence in her day also meant economic hardship and poverty as she would be left to try and carry on.

Yet John’s Jesus is no victim. John’s Jesus will leave behind no orphans [6], and as we also see here, no widows.

John’s Jesus looks down from the cross and, much to the dismay of the Gnostics of John’s time, the first thing Jesus attends to is the human, intimately familial relationship between himself and his mother.

Again, we get a window into the reality of the necessity of Jesus’ connecting his mother to a new son through womanist perspectives today.

What we also receive from looking at this narrative detail of the interchange between Jesus and Mary through the lens of womanist theology is the knowledge that we do not have to interpret

Jesus’ death as some sort of righteous surrogacy or surrogate suffering. Remember, the cross is not the salvific act, according to the book of Acts, as much as the resurrection is [7], for it is the resurrection that undoes and reverses everything accomplished by the lynching of Jesus by the dominant system. The death of Jesus was the temporary victory of the oppression and injustice that Jesus was confronting and resisting. Far from understanding Jesus’ death as the glorification and justification of innocent suffering, the death of Jesus was a travesty of justice. It was the unjust response of evil and oppression to the threat of Jesus as he sought to heal and liberate.

Jesus in John’s gospel is not a victim. Nor is he passive. Jesus is an activist whose advocacy for the marginalized and outcast resulted in suffering. Jesus’ death was the natural result of Jesus’ confrontation of the dominant system. And as followers of Jesus we, too, are to actively oppose evil rather than passively submit to it. Yes, Jesus taught nonviolence, but we are not to interpret this as Jesus’ teaching passivity. Jesus taught a nonviolent, direct confrontation of injustice, oppression, and violence as the means of changing the world around us.

Jacquelyn Grant in her book White Women’s Christ and Black Women’s Jesus: Feminist Christology and Womanist Response rightly states, “The significance of Christ is not found in his maleness, but in his humanity,” [8] and the history of Black women today, “the oppressed of the oppressed,” can inform and educate our understanding of Jesus’ death and resurrection in life- transforming, world-transforming, ways.

What we see in John’s interchange between Jesus and Jesus’ mother is Jesus’ humanity first and foremost. We see the cultural need for making sure his mother was provided for in a patriarchal society oppressive to women. We begin to understand Jesus’ death for what it is, not an act by which justice was satisfied but an act of inhumane injustice that was the result of Jesus’ confrontation with injustice. And last, we see Jesus’ death as that which the Divine Being of the Jesus story would reverse and undo. The dominant system does not have the last world in this narrative. The story does not end with a lynching but with a Divine Being standing in solidarity not simply with Jesus but with all who have been lynched (directly or indirectly) throughout history, whispering that this is not where our stories have to end. The climax of the Jesus story is that over and against those at whose hands Jesus was lynched, stands a Voice, calling the world, both oppressed and the oppressors, to a better way.

Southern trees bear strange fruit/Blood on the leaves and blood at the root/Black body swinging in the Southern breeze/Strange fruit hanging from the poplar tree.
—“Strange Fruit,” Abel Meeropol (a.k.a. Lewis Allen)

“They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.” (Acts 10:39)

Perhaps nothing about the history of mob violence in the United States is more surprising than how quickly an understanding of the full horror of lynching has receded from the nation’s collective historical memory.—W. Fitzhugh Brundage

HeartGroup Application

We are getting closer to when the western Christian world celebrates Easter with each passing week.

This week I want you to dedicate some time to contemplating what a difference it makes to see Jesus’ death not as the appeasement of an angry God so that those who have sinned can escape this world and be let into heaven, with the resurrection being a neat little affirmation of post- mortem bliss, but as the lynching that it was, a result of Jesus’ standing up to the injustice, oppression, and violence of the dominant system of his day. Try to see Jesus’ resurrection not as a tidy ending but as a Divine Being’s solidarity with all those who have been oppressed, violated, and affected by injustice throughout time, whispering to us that in this Jesus and the values he espoused and taught, a new world is coming. In fact, as a result of the resurrection, it has already arrived.

1. As an aid in helping you shift in your contemplation of Jesus’ death this week, I recommend you watch Billie Holiday’s performance of Strange Fruit. One free way to do this would be to simply go to YouTube here. Allow Billie to inform your understanding of the Jesus narrative as you overlay Jesus’ lynching on one of the most effective teaching moments in America’s recent history. Allow Billie’s performance to help you step back into and understand anew the death—and resurrection—of Jesus.

2. Journal what you discover.

3. Share what you discover with your HeartGroup this upcoming week.

As Jesus followers, we subscribe to a narrative that does not end in the defeat of Jesus by the lynching mob. The narrative ends with Jesus’ God standing in solidarity with him in his confrontation of injustice, even to the undoing and reversing of their murderous actions. Jesus’ death is not his nonviolent protest to injustice. It was the fatal result of this nonviolent protest. The resurrection is Jesus’ God’s having the last word over the lynching mob. This should give us pause to reflect.

Our narrative is one of hope. Hope that injustice does not have the last word, ever. A new day has dawned. A light is shining from an empty tomb.

Keep living in love, loving like Jesus, until the only world that remains is a world where love reigns.

One shared table, many voices, one new world.

I’m praying for your hearts to be enlarged and liberated as you move more deeply into the contemplation of Jesus’ death and resurrection and their implications for us today.

I love each of you deeply. I’ll see you next week.


 

1. Wells, Ida B. Crusade for Justice, pp. 154-55

2. Cone, James H. (2011-09-01). The Cross and the Lynching Tree (p. 15). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.

3. Daddy King, p. 30.

4. Acts 5:30—The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree; Acts 10:39—They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. (Emphasis added.)

5. Cone, James H. (2011-09-01). The Cross and the Lynching Tree (pp. 122–123). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.

6. John 14:18—“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”
7. Acts 13:32-33—And we bring you the gospel that what God promised to our ancestors God has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus.

8. Jacquelyn Grant, White Women’s Christ and Black Women’s Jesus: Feminist Christology and Womanist Response

The Seven Last Sayings of Jesus; Part 5 of 9

Part 5 of 9

Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit

by Herb Montgomery

Wooden Rosary

Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last (Luke 23.46).

Out of all the last sayings of Jesus in the four versions of the Jesus story, this one, this week, has come to be my favorite.

When Constantine elevated Christianity from disadvantaged to privileged in the fourth century, the apparent failure of Jesus’ revolution on the cross became a source of embarrassment.  Then, coupled with the guilt-ridden consciences of the crusaders in the 11th century, the cross took on a wholly different meaning than it had for early Jesus followers.  It is no coincidence that just as Christian soldiers of the crusades returned from the violence of war with bloodstained hands, Christianity, for the first time, began to interpret the cross as God’s doing, God’s violent punishment of humanity’s sins in Jesus, and as Jesus paying for those sins, freeing humans from their deep sense of guilt.  An interpretation of Jesus death that today is labelled as a “Penal Substitutionary Atonement” arises for the first time in Christian history just when Christian military soldiers need some way of dealing with the post-traumatic stress of the merciless slaughter of Jews, Muslims, and heretics.  These soldiers, just like all soldiers exposed to the ugliness of war, were wrestling with the weight of what they had done.  Therefore, the message that Jesus had mercifully paid for their sins came as a great relief.

This interpretation of Jesus’ death, in addition to doing untold damage to Christian theists’ understanding of the character of their God, simply did not exist in the early church.

To the early followers of Jesus, the cross was the failure of Jesus’ revolution.  It was seen as the triumph of the dominating system, both political and religious, of Rome and the Temple aristocracy, over the prophetic ministry of Jesus. [1]

The victory of Jesus was not on the cross, but in his resurrection, which triumphed over and undid his unjust execution.

We will look at this more historically, and more deeply, in the ninth and final installment of this series, but for now, we must hold in mind that the good news to the early followers of Jesus was not that Jesus died, nor was it that someone had come back to life, but that this specific Jesus, who was executed by the dominating system, had been resurrected by God and that this resurrection marked the beginning of a new age when God was not in solidarity with those on the top of the pyramid’s social structures, but in solidarity with those subordinated, marginalized, and oppressed by those social structures.

In order to see and appreciate the resurrection of Jesus as a triumph, we must first see the execution of Jesus for the temporary failure that it was.  We must understand that Jesus’ death is not the victory of God, but the victory of those who opposed Jesus and his radical revolution.

This is why Jesus’ final saying in Luke holds such meaning for me.

When someone chooses to align their story with the Jesus story, when one chooses to stand up for the marginalized, those on the social fringes, and to embrace those whose society has rejected them, a “cross” of some sort will always loom in their near future.

Whether their community is political, economic, social, or religious, when one chooses to stand in solidarity with those whose community has labeled as “sinners,” the threatening nature of that solidarity to the community itself cannot be ignored.

If I could be transparent for a moment, I know something of what I’m writing about here.

This past year (2014), I chose to make some significant shifts in who I was going to stand in solidarity with.  Believing that the Jesus of Luke’s Jesus story was seeking to change the world by, one “table” after another, modeling a “shared meal” (with all its cultural implications in the first century) with those his religious, political, economic, and social community had defined as “other,” as “outsider, as the “marginalized,” I chose to position myself in a way that was intentionally standing in solidarity those whom, today, I perceive my communities treats, at times, as “other.” As a white Jesus follower, I chose to position myself in such a way that was standing in solidarity with those of us who are non-white. As a male Jesus follower, I chose to position myself in such a way that was standing in solidarity with those of us who are non-male. As someone who identifies as cisgender, I made decisions that intentionally positioned me into a space of solidarity with those of us who identify as non-cisgender.  As someone who identifies as straight, I made decisions that intentionally positioned me into a space of solidarity with those of us who identify as non-straight.  There is a Jewish blessing that states that before every person there marches an angel proclaiming, “behold the image of God.”  A Jewish blessing that a friend of mine is very fond of and recently shared with me is, “Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the Universe, Who varies Your creation.”

I have chosen to embrace every person I meet as the “image of God” [2] and thus deserving of compassion.

This has had consequences for me.

To make a very long story short, as the director of a nonprofit ministry, the words Jesus spoke in the Sermon on the Mount have become intensely meaningful to me, now more than ever:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ … your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But strive first for the kingdom of God [Jesus’ new way of arranging the world; Jesus’ new social order] and his justice, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:25–32, emphasis added)

I have begun to see how it was that Jesus’ ministry, by its nonviolent yet confrontational nature, ended on a Roman cross.  This was a death reserved for the enemies of the dominating system of his day.  This was how Rome, which maintained control of Judaism through its Temple, treated those whom they viewed as a threat.  Jesus’ revolution was a threat to both the Temple as well as the Empire’s control:

If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation. (John 11:48)

You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed. (John 11:50)

In Luke’s version of the gospel, as a result of Jesus’ teachings and demonstration (overturning the tables) in the Temple, Jesus’ ministry had finally reached a climax and had to be addressed: “The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him” (Luke 19:47).

They found their way.

Very quickly, before the next Sabbath even, Jesus was suspended on a Roman cross by their doing.

To all appearances, they had triumphed over this Jesus.  He was getting what every person receives when they color outside of their community’s defined lines.

And yet, Jesus was not dying at their hands without hope.  Jesus was incredibly courageous in the very moment when I am tempted to despair.  This week, Fr. Shay Kerns sent this quotation from Richelle E. Goodrich out via email:

Courage to me is doing something daring, no matter how afraid, insecure, intimidated, alone, unworthy, incapable, ridiculed or whatever other paralyzing emotion you might feel.  Courage is taking action … no matter what.  So you’re afraid?  Be afraid.  Be scared silly to the point you’re trembling and nauseous, but do it anyway.

Although Jesus stood alone, he had a courageous confidence that he had done the right thing.  The cross did not rob Jesus of his assurance that his life and teachings had not been in vain.  He died believing that even his death would be ultimately triumphed over.  In his most “defeated” moment, he committed to his Father the bringing of his revolution to triumphant fruition.  Jesus’ last words in Luke were, “Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.”

There are multiple things that could be said about this dying statement. One is that it shows the confidence that Jesus had that his cause was on the side of what is right. Next, we should discuss  the title Jesus chose to use: “Father.” We are not to derive from this that the God of the Jesus story has male genitalia.  No no!  Calling God “Father” was deeply political within first century Judaism.  “Father” is not a title for the Hebrew God in the Old Testament that could be used by just anyone.  This is directly from Psalms 89.  Calling God “Father” was a right reserved only for Israel’s King [3]:

The enemy shall not outwit him, the wicked shall not humble him.   I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him.  My faithfulness and steadfast love shall be with him; and in my name his horn shall be exalted.  I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers.  He shall cry to me, “You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation! I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. (verses 22–27, emphasis added)

This psalm harkens back to Psalm 2 where David retells the decree of this same God:

I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you.  Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. (Psalms 2.7–8, emphasis added)

Of King David’s royal offspring, the Hebrew God had declared, “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me” (2 Samuel 7.13–14).

Lastly, to a Hebrew, death was the moment when the body returned to the earth from which it came and one’s spirit returned to God. [4]  For those Hebrews who believed in a resurrection at the end of the age, one’s spirit rests in God’s safe keeping, awaiting the resurrection when it will be reunited with a restored body.

Jesus had stated earlier to his disciples in Luke, “The Son of Man [5] must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised (Luke 9.22, emphasis added).  What Jesus is saying to his disciples here in Luke is that the way to the new world he was inaugurating would be through rejection, crucifixion, and resurrection. This was Jesus’ confidence:  resurrection! Yet resurrection required crucifixion, and crucifixion required rejection.

Do you feel rejected, at times, by your community because you have chosen to follow Jesus in confronting the dominating system of your day?

Jesus, in his final moment, still believed in the intrinsic value of what he had taught and demonstrated throughout his life.  “Seek first God’s new social order and its justice and all these things (and more) will be given back to you.” [6]  This is Jesus, dying in full confidence that, although it looked like the dominating system was winning, this was not going to be the end of the story.  His revolution would not end this way.

What does this mean for us today?

In Luke chapter 9, just after Jesus tells his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, be rejected by the Temple aristocracy, be executed on a Roman cross, and then be resurrected, he turns to his disciples and says, “‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me’” (Luke 9:23, emphasis added).

Christianity is the only major religion whose central figure was executed by society’s dominant power structure.  And yet our Jesus died in full confidence, committing the keeping of his mission, in his dying moment, to the promise of his Father: “I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” (Psalms 89.27) [7]

The cross would not be the end for Jesus, and a cross will not be the end for us as well.

When we, too, embrace the way of the cross, we are at our bleakest moment; when we, too, are rejected as a result of practicing Jesus’ radical inclusivity of those our community deems as “other”; when our sky is “brass over our head and iron under our feet,” we can have that same assurance, knowing that, although this moment looks dark, the heart of the dominating system is being “torn in two” [8] and it is not the end.  We too can, in full assurance of faith, whisper: Father God, Mother God [9], into your safe keeping, “I commit my spirit.”

We need not fear our confrontation of the dominating systems of our day for we stand in the victory of Jesus over all injustice, oppression, violence, subordination, “other-ing,” privileging some while excluding and marginalizing others who are also made in “the image of God” to the fringes of our societies.  This is a victory that has already been won.  Though Jesus’ shared table and Temple confrontation lead him to being put on a cross, that was not the end of the story.

“You won’t find Jesus in the land of the dead.  He is still with us.  

The powers killed him—but they couldn’t stop him.  They crucified him and buried him in a rich man’s tomb.   But imperial execution and a tomb couldn’t hold him. 

He’s still loose in the world.  He’s still out there, still here, still recruiting people to share his passion for the Kingdom of God—a transformed world here and now.  It’s not over.”

—Marcus Borg

HeartGroup Application

  1. What is it that holds you back from standing in solidarity with those who are being excluded from a “shared table” in our world today?  This week, I would ask that you simply spend some time in contemplation, allowing this last statement by Jesus, “into your hands I commit my spirit,” to challenge whatever fears you may be entertaining.
  2. Journal what you discover.  Write down your fears, your concerns, and any breakthroughs you experience through this contemplation.
  3. Share what you experience through this exercise with your HeartGroup this upcoming week.

Whenever I became discouraged as a child, my mother, when she was alive, would always remind me, “You can gauge the size of the victory by the size of the battle.  It is always darkest just before the dawn.”

A new world is coming.  In fact, for those who have eyes to see it, it is already here, growing subversively like a mustard seed in a garden.

Keep living in love till the only world that remains is a world where love alone reigns.

Many voices, one new world.

I love each of you, and I’ll see you next week.

 


1. See Part 1 on the prophetic lineage of Jesus.

2.  Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed; for in God’s own image God made humankind. (Genesis 9.6)

3.  “He [David’s offspring] shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings” (2 Samuel 7.13-14).

4.  “And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave
it” (Ecclesiastes 12.7; NRSV). “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12.2; NRSV).

5.  “As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed” (Daniel 7.13-14, emphasis added). What Jesus is saying to his disciples in Luke is that the way in which this promise in Daniel would come to fruition would be through rejection, crucifixion, and resurrection.

6.  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6.33)

7. Remember that Jesus would redefine Kingdom away from hierarchical authority structures to egalitarian mutuality ones in their place. “But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22.25-27)

8.  “It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two” (Luke 23:44–45).

9.  “So God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God, God created them; male and female God created them” (Genesis 1:27, emphasis added).