Seeing Others As Part of Ourselves

Herb Montgomery | October 29, 2021


“The closest I will ever come to meeting God in this life is you . . . No one should be excluded from our core practice of loving our neighbor as ourself. We are, after all, connected. We are extensions of each other, and part of the same human family. What affects one, impacts all. You are part of me and I’m a part of you.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Mark. The Rev. Dr. Wilda C. Gafney translates this passage in her A Woman’s Lectionary For The Whole Church, Year W:

Now, one of the biblical scholars came near and heard them [the other biblical scholars, the chief priests, and the elders] discussing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, the scholar asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is: Hear, O Israel: The Holy One our God, the Holy is one; you shall love the Holy One your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the biblical scholar said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that, ‘God is one, and besides God there is no other’; and to love God with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. This is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that the scholar answered wisely he said, “You are not far from the reign of God.” After that no one dared to ask Jesus any question. (Mark 12:28-34, page 271)

This week’s story comes at the end of a series of confrontational challenges between Jesus and others (see 11:27, 12:13, 12:18). By contrast, this interaction is friendly, and I’ll explain why I think so in a moment.

First, let’s unpack what the narrative says is happening.

A scholar who overhears Jesus’ discussions is impressed with him. He then asks his own question of Jesus, and Jesus’ answer in Mark is squarely in the Jewish tradition of the Pharisaical school of Hillel. Rabbi Hillel reportedly once answered a similar question with the response, “What you find hateful do not do to another. This is the whole law. everything else is commentary. Now go learn that!”

So the scholar’s question was not only common among Jewish scholars by Jesus’ time, but Jesus’ responses in Mark are also the core confessions of Judaism::

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

Many scholars have noticed that Mark’s Jesus replaces “all your soul” with “all your mind,” a signal that Mark’s audience was influenced by the Hellenized world.

Jesus also quotes Leviticus in his reply:

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:18)

This passage has an interesting context itself. It comes at the end of a list of prohibitions regarding oppression and exploitation of the poor and/or economically vulnerable:

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God.”

“Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another.”

Do not defraud or rob your neighbor. Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.

Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD.”

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” (Leviticus 19:9-15)

Many today tout loving your neighbor as a religious tenet, but Leviticus shows it originally had very real world economic, social and political implications.

So, again, our story in Mark comes at the end of a series of confrontational challenges, but we get a picture from this exchange of a Jesus who was challenging a system within Judaism, not Judaism itself. Jesus is faithful to Judaism’ core religious beliefs in this story, and at the same time he is also hotly engaged in calls to return to his interpretations of what it meant to be faithful to Torah as he witnessed people being harmed by the system. This is not a Christianity versus Judaism story, then. This is a story that says, yes, Jesus is challenging those in power within his society, but he is doing this as a Jewish man himself and out of concern for what it means to be a faithful Jewish follower of the Torah, not as someone who is anti-Jewish.

Lastly, the scholar talking with Jesus quotes two passages from the Hebrew scriptures that affirm Jesus’ response:

“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6)

“With what shall I come before the LORD

and bow down before the exalted God?

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,

with calves a year old?

  Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,

with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?

Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,

the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

  He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.

And what does the LORD require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy

and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:6-8)

For these writers, love of neighbor is greater than ritual adherence and/or forms of worship.

This exchange between Jesus and the scholar brings to my mind an extended passage from Karen Armstrong that I read years ago and that I believe captures the spirit of Judaism and what early Jesus followers were trying to become. I offer this passage both to affirm Judaism and to critique more regressive and fundamentalist forms of Christianity, which seem to me to making a comeback in our culture.

In Rabbinic Judaism, the Jewish Axial Age came of age. The Golden Rule, compassion, and loving-kindness were central to this new Judaism; by the time the temple had been destroyed, some of the Pharisees already understood that they did not need a temple to worship God, as this Talmudic story makes clear:

It happened that R. Johanan ben Zakkai went out from Jerusalem, and R. Joshua followed him and saw the burnt ruins of the Temple and he said: Woe is it that the place, where the sins of Israel find atonement, is laid waste.Then said R. Johanan, Grieve not, we have an atonement equal to the Temple, the doing of loving deeds, as it is said, I desire love and not sacrifice.’’

Kindness was the key to the future; Jews must turn away from the violence and divisiveness of the war years and create a united community with one body and one soul.” When the community was integrated in love and mutual respect, God was with them, but when they quarreled with one another, he [sic] returned to heaven, where the angels chanted with one voice and one melody.” When two or three Jews sat and studied harmoniously together, the divine presence sat in their midst. Rabbi Akiba, who was killed by the Romans in 132 CE, taught that the commandment Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” was the great principle of the Torah.” To show disrespect to any human being who had been created in Gods image was seen by the rabbis as a denial of God himself and tantamount to atheism. Murder was a sacrilege: Scripture instructs us that whatsoever sheds human blood is regarded as if he had diminished the divine image.” God had created only one man at the beginning of time to teach us that destroying only one human life was equivalent to annihilating the entire world, while to save a life redeemed the whole of humanity. To humiliate anybody—even a slave or a non-Jew—was equivalent to murder, a sacrilegious defacing of Gods image. To spread a scandalous, lying story about another person was to deny the existence of God. Religion was inseparable from the practice of habitual respect to all other human beings. You could not worship God unless you practiced the Golden Rule and honored your fellow humans, whoever they were.” (Karen Armstrong, The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions, Kindle Locations 7507-7540)

I love this way of defining what it means to be faithful to one’s own spiritual journey. As I’ve often said, the closest I will ever come to meeting God in this life is you, whomever you are, for you, like everyone else I meet, are all unique and yet in this one way alike: you bear the image of God.

I have to ask why our story ends with Jesus saying this scholar was only close to or not far from the reign of God? Why was he deemed close yet not there? Was it because he was interpreting his scriptures in life-giving ways, but was still committed to a system Jesus felt was damaging marginalized and vulnerable people in his own society? Was his scholarship correct, but his employment or survival somehow complicit in harm? Why did Jesus say he was only close? We can’t know because the story doesn’t say. But it is something to ponder.

And that leads me back to the words of Rev. Dr. Gafney one more time. I love this statement from her lectionary comments about this week’s passage. She rightly states:

“If our gospel proclamations are not true for the most marginalized among us—women, nonbinary folk, trans folk, gender non-conforming folk, and LGBTQIA folk—then our gospel is not true.” (p. 273)

We could add more communities to Rev. Dr. Gafney’s list here. The point, though, is that no one should be excluded from our core practice of loving our neighbor as ourself. We are, after all, connected. We are extensions of each other, and part of the same human family. What affects one, impacts all. You are part of me and I’m a part of you. Together, we get to determine what kind of people (no pun intended) we will be.

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. How does seeing others as part of ourselves impact our work for societal justice as well as how we relate to one another within our various faith communities? Discuss with your group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



logo

Renewed Heart Ministries is a nonprofit organization working for a world of love and justice.

We need your support to offer the kind of resources RHM provides.

Helping people find the intersection between their faith, compassion, and justice is work that continues to prove deeply needed.

Please consider making a donation to support Renewed Heart Ministries’ work, today.

You can donate online by clicking here.

Or you can make a donation by mail at:

Renewed Heart Ministries
PO Box 1211
Lewisburg, WV 24901

And to those of you out there who already are supporting this ministry, we want to say thank you.

We continue being a voice for change because of you.

Damage Mitigation Versus Changing the System

black and white picture of hand to illustrate article

Herb Montgomery | October 22, 2021


“It’s not enough to remove the basis for people being treated as less-than. We must also challenge the very systems the create less-thans and greater-thans. Jesus didn’t just give Bartimaeus his sight. He continued on the road to challenge a system that made a blind man a beggar to begin with.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Mark,

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and said, Call him.” So they called to the blind man, Cheer up! On your feet! Hes calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. (Mark 10:46-52)

At the very beginning of our reflection this week, I want to say: I understand the original cultural context of this story, and I still find it deeply ableist. Gospel stories like this one have repeatedly been the seed of society perceiving people with disabilities or different abilities as either less-than or associated with evil. In stories like the one we read this week, blindness is associated with being sinful and at least is a condition that one must be saved from.

Consider the lyrics to one of Christianity’s most famous hymns, Amazing Grace:

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me

I once was lost, but now am found

Was blind but now I see.”

(Italics added for emphasis)

The writer, John Newton, associates being blind with being wretched and lost. For him, being able to see is synonymous with being saved and found.

So to all my blind friends, I’m deeply sorry. To my friends who do not have disabilities but are tempted to imagine I am making too much of this connection, consider how you would feel if you had a disability that your society repeatedly attached a moral value to . How would it feel having your disability associated with being sinful, lost, and wretched?

The story’s immediate solution doesn’t resonate with me much either. This man, Bartimaeus, is trying to survive within a system that marginalizes him because of his blindness. He is nether privileged nor benefitted by the system, and he is left to scrape out his own survival.

Jesus is about to go to Jerusalem and overturn the tables of the Temple State to protest a system that leaves so many impoverished and marginalized, but on his way there, his solution is to make Bartimaeus “not blind.”

This is comparable to not changing a patriarchal system but instead making all women men, or not changing a White supremacist system but reclassifying people of color, including Black people , indigenous communities, and immigrants as White. It’s comparable to not challenging a cisheterosexist system, but transforming LGBTQ folx into straight, cisgender, and/or gender conforming. This kind of conversion therapy would really be a kind of genocide.

I don’t believe the solution to a system that treats blind people as inferior is to remove everyone’s blindness. Rather the solution is to challenge and change the system so that blind people are not marginalized or excluded.

My critique may create more questions than it answers. Nonetheless, I believe these are the questions Jesus followers today need to wrestle with. Can we follow the values we have found to be life-giving in the Jesus story while acknowledging many of the ableist ways the Jesus story is told in our sacred text?

I believe we can. We can do better.

Some of the most progressive, historical Jesus scholars see in this story a reflection of actual deeds the historical Jesus did. Jericho, where this story happens, was the last stop before the Temple State’s capital, Jerusalem, and there’s an economic thread to this story as well. As I said earlier, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to flip the tables of an economic, social, political and religious system that privileges a few at the expense of many.

Jesus meets Bartimaeus at what would have been a popular location for Jericho’s beggars to gather. With the holiday coming up, many people would making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate. The holiday would have put them in the spirit of giving, and their tithes and offerings would have given them the means to give to so many of the begging people.

Bartimaeus’ name in this narrative also holds meaning. It could mean either “son of him who is honored or highly prized” or “son of the unclean or uncleanness.” In this story, he is both.

This story offers a repeated theme within the gospels: the crowd obstructs Bartimaeus’ attempts to get at Jesus and Bartimaeus’ increased efforts in response. I think of women pastors who belong to religious traditions that oppose women’s ordination, and how much harder they must work to follow their calling. I think of how hard people of color have to work to survive within historically White churches. And I think of the deep homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia present in most of Christianity still today, and how my LGBTQ friends who love and follow Jesus must work to stay in their faith traditions, even on the edges. Then and now, the crowd closest to Jesus is often the biggest obstacle to those on the margins of society who desire an audience with him.

I also love how our story has the poor beggar Bartimaeus “throwing his cloak aside” when he is finally able to get up and go to Jesus. This cloak, which would have been his only one, was also his most prized trade tool. He would have spread out his cloak to collect coins from those passing by: it was his own meager means to get his small livelihood, and he just tosses it aside. Consider the rich man in the last chapter who was called to make reparations and couldn’t let go of anything.

Jesus asks Bartimaeus the same question he had asked of James and John:

What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51 cf. Mark 10:36)

The disciples wanted Jesus to grant them positions of privilege and honor in their own erroneous definitions of what the reign of God would look like. They assumed the reign of God would still mean privilege some at the expense of others.

But Bartimaeus is not asking to be made greater than others. He’s asking to be placed on the same level ground with others in an ableist society that economically, socially, religiously, and politically evaluates him as “last.” He just wants to see. So many disenfranchised and underprivileged people just want to be able to live and thrive on the same level ground as those who are privileged in our present system. For my LGBTQ friends, LGBTQ Pride month doesn’t mean they desire to be better than others: pride for them is the opposite of shame, not the opposite of humility. It is to celebrate being of equal worth to everyone else in a world that continually strives to make you feel inferior.

Bartimaeus just wants to see, and experience all that his sight would enable him to have in his society.

I’m glad the story doesn’t end with Jesus just giving him the ability to see. That wouldn’t go far enough. Fortunately the story doesn’t end with “Immediately he received his sight.” It ends with “Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.”

What road was it that Bartimaeus joined Jesus on?

The road to Jerusalem.

That road ended in a temple courtyard with the tables of money changers being overturned. It ended in actions that so threatened the system that they landed Jesus on a Roman cross with other political rebels within the week.

What’s my takeaway from this story?

On our way to creating another world, we are to engage in damage mitigation. While we are working toward a world that a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone, we are to work to mitigate damage that our present world is doing by not being just, or safe, or compassionate for everyone. And yet, damage mitigation isn’t enough.

It’s not enough to remove the basis for people being treated as less-than. We must also challenge the very systems the create less-thans and greater-thans. Jesus didn’t just give Bartimaeus his sight. He continued on the road to challenge a system that made a blind man a beggar to begin with.

And we must do the same.

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. Damage mitigation, while necessary, doesn’t challenge nor change systems of harm.  What are the differences between charity and justice? Why are both necessary? Why does the church seem to excel at charity, but often fail at justice? What are both the risks and rewards of working for a more just world?

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



logo

Renewed Heart Ministries is a nonprofit organization working for a world of love and justice.

We need your support to offer the kind of resources RHM provides.

Helping people find the intersection between their faith, compassion, and justice is work that continues to prove deeply needed.

Please consider making a donation to support Renewed Heart Ministries’ work, today.

You can donate online by clicking here.

Or you can make a donation by mail at:

Renewed Heart Ministries
PO Box 1211
Lewisburg, WV 24901

And to those of you out there who already are supporting this ministry, we want to say thank you.

We continue being a voice for change because of you.

No More Slaves

broken chains illustrating no more slavery

Herb Montgomery | October 15, 2021


“These types of systems are to be eliminated, not reformed. We must not merely seek the lowest positions within hierarchical systems of domination and oppression, we are to reject those systems in their entirety. We need neither lords nor slaves. It’s time to leave both categories behind. What would our world look like with neither slaves or servants nor lords? What would it look like if we instead made commitments of mutual care for one another rather than to  more effectively or efficiently dominate each other?”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Mark:

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. Teacher,” they said, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” You dont know what you are asking,” Jesus said. Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:35-45)

In this week’s narrative, two of Jesus disciples ask for precedence above the other disciples. In modern political terms, and given what they understand the reign of God to allow for, they are asking for the equivalent of the first and second cabinet positions. But before we fault them too harshly for this, they had good reasons from their sacred text for assuming what God’s just future might look like.

In the Psalms we read:

The LORD says to my lord: Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying, Rule in the midst of your enemies!’” (Psalms 110:1,2)

Both Matthew’s and Luke’s Jesus repeat this kind of language:

“Jesus said to them, Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matthew 19:28)

“So that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:30)

In this week’s story in Mark, Jesus replies that they are clueless as to what they are asking for and then asks them, Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

I appreciate that in this passage, Jesus looks at his future cross (“the cup”; see Mark 14:36) as participatory for his followers, just as his baptism was. Jesus had been baptized by John, who ended up beheaded by the powers for his refusal to be silent. Jesus’ options for his followers, cup or cross, are similar to John’s options.

Crucifixion was not a passive acceptance of abuse and injustice. It was Rome’s punishment for those who refused silence in the face of oppression and injustice. Jesus is here stating that leading positions were not arbitrarily awarded in the reign of God. Instead, they belonged to those who refuse to be silent in the face of injustice and abuse when threatened with consequences for speaking out.

James and John were asking for what belonged to those who choose to follow the path of resistance. But the cross for Jesus is not substitutionary or a redemptive sacrifice. It is the price of resisting a system that seeks to silence resistance to its abuses. It calls us not to be passive in response to injustice, even when resistance will bring consequences. (See Taking Up Our Crosses, Injustice, and Abuse; Those Things Which Are Eternal; and Speaking Truth to Those in Power)

Remember that Mark’s narrative was written after Herod had executed James, the first of the two brothers: “It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.” (Acts 12.1-2)

In the story, though, the other disciples respond in anger. We are left to assume that they are not angry because the brothers failed to understand the egalitarian nature of Jesus’ vision for human communities, but because these two disciples outflanked the others in their mutual competition to be first. They all failed to understand Jesus’ lesson of the first becoming last and the last becoming first (Mark 9:35). Jesus does not repeat the teaching in Mark 10:

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”

The reign of God is to be of a different order than the disciples assume. I will push back against this in a moment, but for now, the disciples are to aspire not to be “lords” but “slaves.”

The Christian scriptures later soften this tension, reducing “lords” to “shepherds”:

“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christs sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of Gods flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” (1Peter 5:1-4)

I appreciate the emphasis on not encouraging lordship, and we must also be honest that our sacred texts and narratives do endorse slavery and its hierarchy.

Jesus challenges political patriarchy and familial patriarchy (these forms are connected) from the beginning of Mark to the end. From the male disciples’ repeated blinkered leadership failures to the ways women disciples practice the vocation of service, Mark shows yet another illustration of those who are last being honored as first while those first made to be last. Some scholars now question whether the gospel of Mark could have been written by women within the early male-dominated Jesus community.

While I find that idea intriguing, today we must be clear that any effort to merely reform a system that includes slaves and lords rather than eliminating these kinds of relationships is not good enough. These types of systems are to be eliminated, not reformed. We must not merely seek the lowest positions within hierarchical systems of domination and oppression, we are to reject those systems in their entirety.

We need neither lords nor slaves. It’s time to leave both categories behind.

What would our world look like with neither slaves or servants nor lords? What would it look like if we instead made commitments of mutual care for one another rather than to  more effectively or efficiently dominate each other? At the heart of that kind of world would be respect for the dignity of every human being and understanding that we are a connected part of one another. As Valarie Kaur states, “You are a part of me I do not yet know” (in See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, p. 4). It would be a world where we chose social, political, and economic systems rooted in the ethic of loving our neighbors as a part of or as connected to ourselves (Mark 12:31).

Mark puts these words in the mouth of Jesus: “ For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Here the early Jesus movement is wrestling with efforts to redeem some meaning from Jesus’ execution. As I’ve stated before, this is one explanation in the gospels. I find a more compelling and life-giving narrative than the language of redemptive suffering and sacrifice in the parts of the gospel narratives and the book of Acts that focus on God overcoming, reversing, undoing, and triumphing over Jesus’ unjust execution through the resurrection event (see Reinterpreting the Easter Story and Imagery of a Good Shepherd). Death is not overcome in these narratives through more death. Death and death-dealing is overcome through the greater power of life—resurrection life. Everything the state accomplished by executing Jesus was undone through the resurrection.

Our goal today is not to passively give ourselves as ransoms for death, but to become channels of death-overcoming life as we relate to one another as individuals and shape social, political, and economic structures as we share space with each other here in our world. For if we take seriously Jesus’ call for no more lords, and we work for a world where there are no more, we will by that same effort create a world with no more slaves as well.

This week’s narrative is call to both imagine and work toward a different world.

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. This week, we have read about being honest regarding our sacred texts rather than a posture of defensiveness and protectiveness.  What are some of the discomforts this level of honesty creates in you, if any? What long term benefit is there in lowering our defensiveness and embracing this kind of honesty? Discuss with your group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



logo

Renewed Heart Ministries is a nonprofit organization working for a world of love and justice.

We need your support to offer the kind of resources RHM provides.

Helping people find the intersection between their faith, compassion, and justice is work that continues to prove deeply needed.

Please consider making a donation to support Renewed Heart Ministries’ work, today.

You can donate online by clicking here.

Or you can make a donation by mail at:

Renewed Heart Ministries
PO Box 1211
Lewisburg, WV 24901

And to those of you out there who already are supporting this ministry, we want to say thank you.

We continue being a voice for change because of you.

Getting Free from Fear and Facing the Future Together

black and white picture of the road ahead to illustrate lookin toward the future

 

Herb Montgomery | October 8, 2021

 


Christians have always come up with ways around stories like these in the gospels, but imagine with me this week, a community didn’t try to get around them. What if we allowed ourselves to be confronted by stories like these?”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Mark:

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. Good teacher,” he asked, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” Teacher,” he declared, all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. One thing you lack,” he said. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the mans face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Then Peter spoke up, We have left everything to follow you!” Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:17-31)

Our passage this week includes a criticism on wealth and there’s a long history of those benefiting from systems that create or maintain wealth disparity and inequity trying to soften it. It will be helpful this week to hold in mind the reality that the early Jesus movement consisted almost primarily of poor peasants. In addition, multiple narratives in our sacred text indicate that wealth redistribution was a central characteristic of early Jesus communities. Consider these from the book of Acts:

“They devoted themselves to the apostlesteaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47, italics added)

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And Gods grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostlesfeet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (Acts 4:32-35, italics added.)

The Torah regulated debt in ways intended to eliminate poverty in the community. I see these narratives in Acts as having the same spirit of war against poverty, with the authors realizing that poverty is a human-made reality and not something that must always exist.

“At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the LORDS time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your fellow Israelite owes you. However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you.” (Deuteronomy 15:1-4, italics added.)

Whatever humans create can also be changed by human choices. Poverty is not a universal “way-it-has-to-be.” It presents a critique against the systems that create it, and the greater the wealth disparities within economic systems, the stronger the critique for those who have the heart to listen and understand.

The book of Acts includes another narrative that illustrates the wealth-redistributing nature of the early Jesus community.

“Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wifes full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostlesfeet. Then Peter said, Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didnt it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasnt the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.” (Acts 5:1-6)

Whoever included this story in the early narratives of Acts wanted the movement’s ethics of wealth redistribution, resource sharing, and war on poverty to be taken seriously—deadly seriously!

In our narrative in Mark, Jesus recites the phrase “You shall not defraud,” and Ched Myers makes a strong case that this phrase is intended to teach the listener something:

“This is our first indication that much more is being discussed in this story than the personal failures of this one man: judgement is being passed upon the wealthy class.” (p. 273)

We read this story too individualistically in our culture today. The story is not about eliminating wealthy individuals or individual net worth, but rather eliminating an entire wealthy class. It’s a critique of the system that creates such wealth disparity, not a hate narrative against wealthy individuals.

Consider that the story even mentions that “Jesus looked at [the man] and loved him.” Rather than expressing hate against the rich, I want to try and understand them. Societal, systemic change begins with understanding.

I do believe that massive amounts of wealth (billionaire status especially) does something negative to the soul of its possessors when they are an exception in their society—when so many around them have so much less. It must be damaging to have to tranquilize one’s conscience in these cases.

Wealth exercises a stronghold on its possessor, one rooted in fear. Our society is a system of manufactured scarcity: a reality has been created where there is not enough for everyone. This leads to anxiety and a fear of going without, and this fear drives endless efforts of accumulation, too often at someone else’s expense. That drive to accumulate in turn leads to holding more than we need for fear that at some time in the future we may go without. Eventually, wealth-hoarding must be protected against  others who have much less, typically through violence. This whole system is violent.

Within such a system of manufactured scarcity, too many people solve the scarcity problem, but only for themselves: to hell with everyone else. Jesus offered an alternative in his own society that I believe we should consider today. He called people to form communities where members pooled resources and all worked to ensure everyone in the community was taken care of. From his very first call to disciples to leave their fishing nets and follow him, Jesus called people away from individualistic solutions to scarcity—whether that scarcity was natural or manipulated—toward communal solutions.

Yet it’s not easy to get free of the fear of going without that drives the hoarding of wealth. In our story, Jesus talks about camels having an easier time getting through the eyes of needles. The camel/needle illustration has a long history of being softened. Greek scribes or copyists exchanged the word camel (kamelon in the Greek) for the word rope, implying that the task wasn’t impossible if one trimmed a rope just a bit. They and the communities that followed them also created the fiction that the “needle” Jesus referenced was a narrow gate or pass in Jerusalem that was hard, but not impossible, for camels to go through. This was completely untrue, but softened the illustration.

Jesus’ point is that just as a camel can’t go through the eye of a needle, so the wealthy cannot enter the reign of God because a society under the reign of God has no wealthy class. That class has been eliminated. This is why the gospels repeatedly say one cannot serve both God and money.

But our goal isn’t universal poverty either. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality.” (2 Corinthians 8:13-14)

Jesus offered a community structured so that there was enough for everyone’s needs, but not everyone’s greeds. Our passage in Mark bears this out. Those who had the courage to divest from individualist wealth in favor of a genuine commonwealth would risk persecution from those benefiting from the inequities of the status quo, but they would also receive “100 times as much in this present age.” They would not receive that individually as prosperity gospel preachers teach, but communally. Under this model, no matter what the future brought, we wouldn’t face it alone. We would have each other and we could face whatever the future holds with our combined resources.

This is a community where those the present system makes last are first and those the present system makes first are last, because there is no more first or last. We are all simply humans deserving of human dignity, survival, and thriving. Jesus’ vision for human community offered a path for thriving.

But the economic teachings of the gospels are so little understood by most Christians today. Consider Christian attitudes to the Occupy Movement years ago, Christian responses to AOC’s dress with the slogan “tax the rich” a couple of weeks ago, or Christian responses to the present movement opposing an economy of billionaires. For wealthy North American Christians who prize their individual wealth and liberties over what is best for society and our collective thriving, this week’s reading offers so much to consider. Christians have always come up with ways around stories like these in the gospels, but imagine with me this week, a community didn’t try to get around them. What if we allowed ourselves to be confronted by stories like these? What would it look like if we set our security and hope, not on wealth accumulation, but on creating the kind of communities that made wealth obsolete?

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (1 Timothy 6:17)

 

HeartGroup Application

 

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. What could a community that makes wealth obsolete look like? Would this community have to be religious, or could it be secular, as well? What safeguards would have to be in place for both? Discuss with your group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone? 

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week

 



 

 

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Renewed Heart Ministries is a nonprofit organization working for a world of love and justice.

We need your support to offer the kind of resources RHM provides.

Helping people find the intersection between their faith, compassion, and justice is work that continues to prove deeply needed.

Please consider making a donation to support Renewed Heart Ministries’ work, today.

You can donate online by clicking here.

Or you can make a donation by mail at:

Renewed Heart Ministries
PO Box 1211
Lewisburg, WV 24901

And to those of you out there who already are supporting this ministry, we want to say thank you.

We continue being a voice for change because of you.

 


Jesus, Patriarchy, and the Wellbeing of Women

woman looking on the bridge in fog

Herb Montgomery | October 1, 2021


“I see this passage through a justice-for-women lens where Jesus is more concerned about the wellbeing of women who could be divorced and sent away from their homes with no economic protection within a patriarchal system that was tied to ones economic survival. Jesus’ primary concern was for women’s wellbeing, not the protection of a heterosexual, monogamist marital institution as many in certain sectors of evangelical Christianity define it today.”


Our reading this week is from the gospels of Mark,

Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” What did Moses command you?” he replied. They said, Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. But at the beginning of creation God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:2-16)

Multiple sources in the early Jesus movement attest that Jesus spoke against divorce. These sources both agree and disagree about what Jesus actually said and about what he might have meant by what he said. This week we’ll consider possible reasons Jesus spoke against divorce within his 1st Century Judean culture. Christians today do a great deal of harm by shallowly thinking Jesus was against all divorce, especially divorce as practiced in our society, rather than being opposed to a specific kind of divorce practiced in his society.

In Mark’s narrative, Jesus appears to be anti-divorce. Id like to consider why. The divorce laws referenced are said to have been created because of patriarchal obstinance. Originally, a man could send away any of his wives for the slightest displeasure. But by the time we get to Mark’s gospel, Jesus opposes this kind of divorce, which left women in a male-centered society with little economic protections. Jesus’ opposition was rooted in mitigating harm for women facing little to no recognition, much less protection of their equal rights. So he argues that while men may have created a legal loophole to avoid committing “adultery,” they were not avoiding adultery but simply transforming it.

Verse 12 of this passage states, “And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” On the surface, this sentence seems to distract from Jesus’ opposition and critique of patriarchy, but I believe this sentence is present in Mark because this gospel was written for both Jewish and Roman Gentile Jesus communities. While under Israelite law only men had the right to divorce their wives, Roman marital law permitted divorce to be initiated by men and women..

I see this passage through a justice-for-women lens where Jesus is more concerned about the wellbeing of women who could be divorced and sent away from their homes with no economic protection within a patriarchal system that was tied to ones economic survival. Jesus’ primary concern was for women’s wellbeing, not the protection of a heterosexual, monogamist marital institution as many in certain sectors of evangelical Christianity define it today.

I also want to note that the story describes “some Pharisees.” There were two schools of Pharisaical interpretation in Jesus’ time: the school of Hillel and the school of Shammai. These schools forcefully debated divorce.

As we interpret this passage, let’s acknowledge that interpretations of this passage are often deeply heterosexist. I reject binary interpretations of the Hebrew creation story, and both the Genesis story and Jesus’ words here are not “male or female,” but “male and female.” God created a spectrum: male on one end, female on the other, and a whole graduated spectrum in between these poles of identity. The phrase “Alpha and Omega” doesn’t imply that there are only two Greek letters; rather there a whole alphabet between the first letter, Alpha, and Omega, the last. Each of us lives somewhere on the gender spectrum, identifying gender identity, sexual attraction, gender expression, etc., along that gradation. In the Hebrew creation story we read of the creation of day and night: not a hard binary but two ends of spectrum that can produce beautiful sunrises, sunsets, dawns, evenings, and twilights. These states are neither day nor night alone but somewhere on a spectrum between.

I also see Jesus’ phrase, “at the beginning of creation God made them male and female’” as stating that from the beginning God did not create patriarchy, but men did. In the Hebrew creation story, God creates male and female side by side, both in the image of God. The woman is not given to the man to continue his lineage as patriarchal social structures do, but both male and female (and the spectrum) bear the image in God equally. They are male and female: one body, one flesh, spread out by creation and combined again in equity to create another oneness, a commonality, a new social relationship, a new kinship.

Any time people join together to create a new kinship, we see this reunifying creativity at work. Being “flesh of one’s flesh” in the Hebrew scriptures is not about the sexual unity of one man and one woman. It’s about creating a new kinship bond between humans, making family from previously un-joined people. As Laban said to his nephew Jacob, “You are bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (see Genesis 29:14, cf. 2 Samuel 5:1; Judges 9:2; 2 Samuel 19:12, 1 Chronicles 11:1).

I interpret Jesus as not being against divorce wholesale in this passage. Rather he’s against the patriarchal practice of his day that undermined the coupling and equality communicated in the Hebrew origin story and left a woman in his society with few means to survive. He is standing in the spirit of Malachi 2:16, also written again in a patriarchal context: ‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘does violence to the one he should protect,’ says the LORD Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.”

Some translations of Malachi 2:16 do state “God hates divorce” but even if that is an accurate translation, I grew up witnessing multiple abusive parental relationships and I believe there are some marriages God hates more than divorce.

Our reading this week ends with Jesus’ blessing of the children.

I like the way Rev. Wilda C. Gafney, Ph.D., translates this portion of our reading in her A Woman’s Lectionary for The Whole Church: Year W.

“Now people were bringing little children to Jesus in order that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, he was angry and sad to them, “Let the little children come to me, do not prevent them; for it is to such as these that the realm of God belongs. Truly I tell you all, whoever does not receive the reign of God as a little child will never enter it.” And Jesus took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.” (p. 296)

I read this story on the blessing of the children as primarily about social location. It grounds the early Jesus moment in the work of blessing and liberating those on the most peripheral edges of any society. In The Shape of the Past: Models and Antiquity, Thomas Carney describes childhood at the time of Jesus, “Early training was harshly disciplined. It was not until early adulthood that the young person began receiving serious consideration as a member of the family group.” (p. 92)

In most societies, children within marginalized groups are the most marginalized, the most outcast among the outcast, the most disenfranchised among the disenfranchised. How children are treated then, is the proverbial canary in the coal mine.

In this story, Jesus states that those with privilege and power must be willing to live in in solidarity as those forced to the bottom and edges by their present society to enter the reign of God. This is one reason why it’s also very “hard for the rich to enter” the reign of God in the gospels. (see Mark 10:23, 25.)

Something else I appreciate in Jesus’ blessing that I rarely hear spoken about is his anger. This story legitimizes anger toward attempts to keep hindering anyone from coming to Jesus. More broadly, it also legitimizes anger as a valid emotion for Jesus’ followers to have toward all injustice. It’s not just okay but it’s actually right for us to be angry when we see vulnerable people and communities being harmed.

There’s a lot to ponder in this week’s passage. Regardless of your own interpretations, may the way we interpret these stories lead us ever deeper into our work of making our world a safer, more compassionate, just home for everyone.

Till the only world that remains is a world where love reigns.

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. What does Jesus’ teaching on the liberation of women within both Roman and Jewish patriarchal structures imply for Jesus followers within patriarchal structures today? Discuss with your group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone? 

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



logo

Renewed Heart Ministries is a nonprofit organization working for a world of love and justice.

We need your support to offer the kind of resources RHM provides.

Helping people find the intersection between their faith, compassion, and justice is work that continues to prove deeply needed.

Please consider making a donation to support Renewed Heart Ministries’ work, today.

You can donate online by clicking here.

Or you can make a donation by mail at:

Renewed Heart Ministries
PO Box 1211
Lewisburg, WV 24901

And to those of you out there who already are supporting this ministry, we want to say thank you.

We continue being a voice for change because of you.