Encouragement When the Work is Lonely and Hard

mountain top to illustrate transfiguration

Herb Montgomery | February 25, 2022

To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.


“In this story, the early Jesus followers are trying earnestly to make sense of Jesus’ execution at the hands of the Roman empire. Their association of both Elijah and Moses with Jesus pointed Jesus followers to the claim that although Jesus ministry and work of salvation had been interrupted by a Roman cross, God had overturned, reversed, and undone that act of unjust state violence and raised Jesus from the dead, which meant his salvific work lived on. In the Hebrew tradition, Elijah and Moses are figures for whom death did not have the final say.


 

Our reading this week is from the book of Luke:

“About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what he was saying.) While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’ When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.” (Luke 9:28-36)

The first version of this story is found in the gospel of Mark (Mark 9:1-8). Matthew’s gospel elaborates on the story, adding parallels for Jesus that Matthew’s audience would have associated with Moses (cf. Matthew 17:1-8; and Exodus 24:1,15-18; 34:29-35). Matthew also added another association between his version of Jesus’ baptism and the words found in Isaiah 42:1. Luke later adds versus 31-34 and 36, and changes the six days Mark describes at the beginning of the story to eight.

Unfortunately, Christianity has become filled with antisemitic interpretations of the transfiguration, usually contrasting Moses and Elijah with Jesus. With a kind of Christian supremacy, or supercessionism (replacing Judaism with Christianity), some Christians compare Moses and Elijah with “the law and the prophets” and claim Jesus is superior to both.

I want to offer an interpretation of this story that honors Judaism instead of contrasting with it. Jesus was a Jewish man after all. His was a 1st Century Jewish voice among many other Jewish voices, rooted in interpretations of the Torah and other Hebrew wisdom. Jesus, even in these stories, did not envision himself as beginning a new religion: he and his teachings were deeply influenced by the Judaism he was raised within. So when we read the gospels, I find it much more helpful to read the synoptic gospels as a debate within Judaism among Jewish voices on what it means to be faithful to the God of the Torah rather than as an anachronistic debate between Christianity and Judaism as world religions. (I feel the gospel of John breaks from this pattern.) As I’ve said recently, we don’t have to disparage Judaism to value the ethical teachings of Jesus.

What purpose might the gospel authors, who wrote for both Jewish and Gentile Jesus followers, have had in associating Moses and Elijah with Jesus in this story?

First, Jewish tradition held that Moses and Elijah had both talked directly with God (Deuteronomy 34:10; 2 Kings 19:9-13). When they are introduced in the gospels, Jesus has begun his final trek to Jerusalem where he will confront the economic injustices of the Temple state (flipping the tables), and that confrontation will most likely result in state violence against him. Before the week is over, Jesus will be crucified on a Roman cross.

But in this story, the early Jesus followers are trying earnestly to make sense of Jesus’ execution at the hands of the Roman empire. Their association of both Elijah and Moses with Jesus pointed Jesus followers to the claim that although Jesus ministry and work of salvation had been interrupted by a Roman cross, God had overturned, reversed, and undone that act of unjust state violence and raised Jesus from the dead, which meant his salvific work lived on.

In the Hebrew tradition, Elijah and Moses are figures for whom death did not have the final say. Elijah was taken directly to heaven not seeing death (2 Kings 2:11), and Moses’ death was also surrounded with mystery, his burial place of being unknown and several traditions believing that he was taken into the presence of the Divine after death (Deuteronomy 34:6; Jude 9).

Again, early Jesus followers are trying to find a life-giving framing for Jesus’ murder by the system because of his call for change. They are trying to strengthen the claim that he’s been resurrected.

There are other associations, as well. Moses was the law giver and deeply associated with themes of liberation from oppression. Jesus’ early followers, Jewish and Gentile, understood him as another great teacher whose message was of liberation from oppression (see Luke 4:18-19).

The last association is the most meaningful to me: the association of Jesus with Elijah. In the Jewish stories, Elijah’s mountaintop experience in 1 Kings 19 was one of epiphany as his life was threatened for speaking truth to power and while he was deeply discouraged about his mission. I can identify with moments of discouragement while considering one’s life work. I can also imagine Jesus, too, wrestling similarly to Elijah during the last days of his life before the cross.

“He [Elijah] traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the Sovereign One came to him: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Sovereign One God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’ The Sovereign One said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Sovereign One, for the Sovereign One is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Sovereign One, but the Sovereign One was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Sovereign One was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Sovereign One was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Sovereign One God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’ The Sovereign One said to him, ‘Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.’”

In our story this week, both Elijah and Moses appear, possibly to encourage Jesus during his own time of discouragement as his own life is in jeopardy. Even the Divine shows up in the story, with words of encouragement, of filial approval repeated from Jesus’ baptism, and the admonishment for Peter, James and John to listen to Jesus.

I can see why the early Jewish Jesus followers would have found solace and encouragement through these associations.

I, too, think of those who I’ve journeyed with along the way who have been an encouragement to me when I’ve had difficult decisions to make. I’m thankful for each of them.

Have you had moments when you, also, have had to make some pretty difficult decisions? Moments where doing the right thing was not the easy choice? Who in your life were your Moses and Elijah? Who was there to encourage you? And lastly, who do you know who is engaging the work necessary for a better iteration of our present world, working to shape our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for us all, who right now could use your encouragement?

Take a moment this week and reach out. You never know what difference your just showing up could make. It doesn’t have to be a blinding light with radiant clouds and big voices from the sky. It could just be a text, or a phone call. However you choose to show up, take some time this week to let someone know that, in this work, they are not alone.

Here’s to a better world.

And here’s to all who right now are working toward it.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Share a story with your group from your own experience when someone was your Elijah or Moses and encouraged you when you had a difficult decision to make in a context of justice, liberation, or compassion.

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



Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

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 Setting in Motion a Safe, Compassionate, Just Society

pendulum in motion

Herb Montgomery | February 18, 2021

(To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.)


“The passage describes the reciprocal nature of judgment, of condemnation, of forgiveness, and of giving. Our choices show not only what kind of people we want to be; they also indicate what kind of community or society we are setting in motion with our choices.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:27-38)

No other section of Luke’s version of the Jesus story has a denser concentration of the rich teachings that Jesus’ early followers attributed to him than this passage. There is so much for us to unpack this week in these eleven verses, so let’s dive right in.

Enemy Love

Right away, I want to unequivocally reject any interpretation that demands we feel some kind of love or positive emotion toward our abusers or oppressors. That interpretation only furthers the harm that abusers and oppressors have committed against survivors.

So how are we to interpret Jesus’ teaching to love our enemies?

One possibility that deeply resonates with me is Barbara Deming’s two hands metaphor for nonviolence:

With one hand we say to one who is angry, or to an oppressor, or to an unjust system, Stop what you are doing. I refuse to honor the role you are choosing to play. I refuse to obey you. I refuse to cooperate with your demands. I refuse to build the walls and the bombs. I refuse to pay for the guns. With this hand, I will even interfere with the wrong you are doing. I want to disrupt the easy pattern of your life.But then the advocate of nonviolence raises the other hand. It is raised outstretched – maybe with love and sympathy, maybe not – but always outstretched . . . With this hand, we say, I wont let go of you or cast you out of the human race. I have faith that you can make a better choice than you are making now, and Ill be here when you are ready. Like it or not, we are part of one another.’” (in Pam McAllister, You Can’t Kill the Spirit, p. 6-7)

Enemy love means we can still hold those who harm us accountable, and in so doing, we need not lose hold of their humanity or our own. It leaves room for those who have harmed us to choose to change, too. Enemy love doesn’t mean we feel something warm and fuzzy for those who have harmed us. It means we view them as still humans, still part of our human family, and because of that do not allow them to continue committing acts of harm while we wait for them to change.

Turning the Other Cheek

I’ve written so much over the past few decade about what these passages could have meant in the social political context of their day. In a ten-part series I wrote back in 2019 on self-affirming nonviolence, I address this section of Luke with more depth, context, and nuance. You can find the beginning of that series at A Primer on Self Affirming, Nonviolence (Part 1).

I do not interpret these words of Jesus as encouraging oppressed or abused people to remain passive in suffering with those who are doing them harm. But to arrive at a life-giving interpretation we must read the passage in its cultural context.

Jesus’ culture strictly forbade the use of the left hand in interpersonal interactions. Since most people are right-handed, they only used their left hand for “unclean” tasks and even gesturing at another person with the left hand carried the penalty of exclusion and ten days penance (see Martínez, Florentino García, and Watson in The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: the Qumran Texts in English [2007], p. 11). Therefore, one would not hit someones right cheek with the left hand.

One would also never strike an equal on the right cheek. A blow between equals would always be delivered with a closed right fist to the left cheek of the other. The only natural way to land a blow with the right hand on someones right cheek was with a backhanded slap. This kind of blow was a show of insult from a superior to an inferior—master to slave, man to woman, adult to child, Roman to Jew—and it carried no penalty. But anyone who struck a social equal this way risked an exorbitant fine of up to 100 times the fine for common violence. Four zuz (a Jewish silver coin) was the fine for a blow to a social peer with a fist, but 400 zuz was the fine for backhanding them. Again, to strike someone you viewed as socially inferior to yourself with a backhanded slap was perfectly acceptable (see Goodman in Jews in a Graeco-Roman World [2004], p. 189). A backhanded blow to the right cheek had the specific purpose of humiliating and dehumanizing the other.

What did Jesus command dehumanized people do? A retaliatory blow would only invite retribution and escalating violence. Instead, Jesus taught us to turn the other, left cheek so the supposed superior could strike correctly—as an equal. This would demonstrate that the supposed inferior refused to be humiliated, and the striker would have only two options: either a left-handed blow with the back of the hand, and its penalty, or a blow to the left cheek with a right fist, signifying equality. Since the first option was out of bounds culturally, and the second option would challenge the strikers supposed superiority, the aggressor lost the power to dehumanize.

Naked Protest

Jesus issued this teaching in the context of the Hebrew law. Many of the very poor had only two articles of clothing to their name, and the law allowed a creditor to take a poor person’s inner garment (chiton) or outer garment (himation) as a promise of future payment if they lacked means to pay a debt. However, the wealthy creditor had to return the garment each evening for the owner to sleep in:

If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest. If you take your neighbors cloak as a pledge, return it by sunset, because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can they sleep in? When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.” (Exodus 22:25–27)

When you make a loan of any kind to your neighbor, do not go into their house to get what is offered to you as a pledge. Stay outside and let the neighbor to whom you are making the loan bring the pledge out to you. If the neighbor is poor, do not go to sleep with their pledge in your possession. Return their cloak by sunset so that your neighbor may sleep in it. Then they will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the LORD your God.” (Deuteronomy 24:10–13)

Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge.” (Deuteronomy 24:17).

In that society, before the invention of modern underwear, it was more shameful to see someones nakedness than to be naked. Remember Noahs son Ham?

Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their fathers naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.” (Genesis 9:22-23)

Because of this context, a debtor stripping off one cloak or the other in public court would turn the moral tables on their creditor and put the poor person in control of the moment. Compare Matthew 5:40 and Luke 6:29: If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt [chiton], hand over your coat [himation] as well” (Matthew 5:40). If someone takes your coat [himation], do not withhold your shirt [chiton] from them” (Luke 6:29).

A debtor exposing their body would also expose the exploitative system and shame the wealthy and powerful person who took their last valuable object from them. Jesus was endorsing public nudity as a valid form of nonviolent protest or resistance: Jesus recommended nakedness in protest over returning violence with more violence.

Giving Based on Need Rather than Worthiness

A more accurate translation for the next section of this week’s passage is “give to everyone who begs from you.” Consider the spirit of this injunction.

Jesus was trying to foster the kind of human community where we place people’s needs above our attachment to our own material possessions. In that community, when someone is in need, we don’t stop to ask if they are deserving. We simply give as we are able. Our actions aren’t to be about what kind of people others are but about what kind of people we want to be. If we have more than we need today, we should share with those whose needs are not met. We should do this, trusting that if at some point in the future our needs are not being met, the kind of reciprocal world we’ve created would be populated with people who can share with us from their surplus as we have shared from ours.

Demanding Return of Property

Some interpretations of this passage would forbid people who are disenfranchised or live in marginalized social locations from demanding justice, restitution, accountability, and reparations for harms committed against them.

But what could Luke’s Jesus have been referring to?

In our time, those who richly benefit from our predatory, exploitative, capitalist system often demand that their privilege, power and property be protected when others organize and call for justice. They’re the opposite of the priest in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables who, when Jean Val Jean stole his silver and was caught by the police, gave Jean his candlestick, too. In the book A Black Theology of Liberation, James Cone wrote that those who were enslaved did not consider taking from the slave master’s possessions as theft or stealing as the slavocracy stole so much from them every day.

Our teaching says to those whose property and privilege have come at the expense of and harm of someone else: don’t demand it back when it’s ultimately taken from you.

Reciprocal Nature of Our World

This week’s passage also includes the universal golden rule found in most of the world’s religious traditions. It includes an unconditionally and universally compassionate description of the divine’s orientation to the ungrateful and wicked that harmonizes more with Christian universalism than with the Christian teaching of eternal torment. And Jesus calls on those who subscribe to unconditional, compassionate images of the divine to be those kinds of people in response: people of mercy and kindness without regard for the worth of recipients.

Lastly, the passage describes the reciprocal nature of judgment, of condemnation, of forgiveness, and of giving. Our choices show not only what kind of people we want to be; they also indicate what kind of community or society we are setting in motion with our choices.

“For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

A dear friend of mine, Dr. Keisha McKenzie, often says, “Society is a group project.”

In school, I never much cared for group projects. I often felt that the weight of success was disproportionately pulled by those of us who cared about our work. That’s true in our society as well. But given the past two years, it especially behooves those of us who care to be more intentional. Group projects fall on the shoulders of those who care most, and what we choose to do, the kind of people we choose to collectively be, will contribute to the kind of world we bring into existence during our short time here.

I’m choosing the path of love: a path of distributive justice, of sharing, of caring. How about you?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Share something from our passage that you believe is especially applicable still in our social context, today. Discuss that 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



Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

Free Sign-Up at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/Contact-forms?form=EmailSignUp

When Social Justice is Rejected and Spoken of as Evil

Herb Montgomery | February 11, 2022

(To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.)


But things never remain as they are. Change is the nature of reality. We can choose to bend the arc of the universe toward justice for everyone. That arc is going to bend one way or another. Either we will bend it to benefit a few at the expense of the diverse masses or, in the face of being spoken of as evil, we can continue shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke

He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.

Looking at his disciples, he said:

  Blessed are you who are poor,

for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who hunger now,

for you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who weep now,

for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you,

when they exclude you and insult you

and reject your name as evil,

because of the Son of Man.

  Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

 “But woe to you who are rich,

for you have already received your comfort.

  Woe to you who are well fed now,

for you will go hungry.

Woe to you who laugh now,

for you will mourn and weep.

  Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,

for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:17-26)

Even the most liberal Jesus scholars today accept that at least the first three sayings in our reading this week, and possibly some form of the fourth as well, were the words of the historical Jesus. These four blessings can be found in similar forms in both Matthew’s beatitudes and the gospel of Thomas.

They lie at the heart of Luke’s liberation message in Luke 4 (see Liberation for the Oppressed), and they single out four sectors of Jesus’ society: those the present system makes poor, those the present system leaves hungry, those whom the present system causes to weep, and those the present system hates, excludes, insults, rejects, and labels as “evil” because of their calls for change.

Again, as we read that last blessing, just because you’re being criticized doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on the right track, and being praised doesn’t necessarily mean you are on the wrong path. It’s important to take note of which parts of society are speaking negatively or speaking well of you. Let me explain.

This week’s reading divides society into two sides: those an unjust system disenfranchises and harms, and those the present system benefits and privileges, enriches, makes well fed, and causes to laugh. So we have to ask which community is speaking well of us and which community is speaking negatively.

If the elite and privileged all speak well of you, then chances are this week’s saying applies most directly to you. And if those the system harms speak well of you, but those the system benefits speak negatively of you because they see you as a threat to the status quo or represent change that threatens their privilege, then you could rejoice. As this week’s saying states, that’s how the prophets who called for justice were treated, too. You’re not alone. In fact, you’re standing in good company.

Again, it’s not enough to be spoken well of or be spoken not so well of. We have to ask ourselves who, or which community, is doing the speaking.

I’ll give a personal example. Many in my faith tradition used to speak extremely well of me. I was a guest speaker in high demand at various events and conferences across the United States. All of that changed when I came out as affirming of the LGBTQ community. When I called for inclusion and justice for LGBTQ people of faith, and began drawing attention to the tradition’s exclusive practices and mischaracterizations of LGBTQ people, I became anathema.

Today, I still have much in common with those in that tradition who call for racial justice or greater inclusion of and justice for women. Yet they do not welcome me in their organizations because I don’t hide the fact that, in addition to those passions for justice, I also affirm LGBTQ folks. I’ve been told I take Jesus’ justice for the excluded “too far,” farther than many progressives in that community are comfortable with.

But in this week’s reading, Jesus predicted a great reversal. Jesus is stating that those the present system harms will experience that harm reversed in the reign of God, God’s just future. And while that is good news for them, those who benefit from the present system would not perceive it as good. For these people, this blessing would be seen as a message of damnation: it would change the system that privileged them.

In our society, some, such as people in Appalachia, are still holding on to the hope that coal will somehow make a comeback in our economy. A Green New Deal is good news for those who recognize the environmental changes that need to take place and the benefit to workers who will be retrained in new fields of labor, but to those who financially benefit from the coal industry, the Green New Deal is the enemy.

Then there are those who are working for a safe, robust, diverse, multiracial, multicultural, pluralistic democracy, all while their efforts are mischaracterized as anti-White and destroying the fabric of America. For those benefiting from a system rooted in White supremacy, those working toward a multiracial democracy are the enemy. Terms like “socialist” or “socialism” are used to scare those harmed in the present and prevent them from voting in their own best interest or for changes that would close the wealth gap and be good for everyone.

These ancient words in our story still have a very contemporary application.

Whenever we find people calling for change now, we will see the same dynamics as we see in our passage. What some perceive as a blessing, others will perceive as a curse. I’m reminded of something the late Peter J. Gomes wrote.

“When the gospel says, ‘The last will be first, and the first will be last,’ despite the fact that 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. This problem of perception is at the heart of a serious hearing of what Jesus has to say, and most people are smart enough to recognize that their immediate self-interest is served not so much by Jesus and his teaching as by the church and its preaching. Thus, it is no accident that although Jesus came preaching a disturbing and redistributive gospel, we do not preach what Jesus preached. Instead, we preach Jesus.” (The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, p. 42).

Just ten pages earlier in the same volume, Gomes wrote,

“When Jesus came preaching, it was to proclaim the end 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 . . . Most people do not go to church to be confronted with the gap between what they believe and practice and what their faith teaches and requires. One of the reasons that religious people are often cultural conservatives, and that cultural conservatives take comfort in religion, is that religion is seen to confirm the status quo.” (The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, pg. 31-32)

What would it look like if we as Jesus followers leaned into the difference Gomes speaks about here? What if we spent less energy this year preaching Jesus and more effort speaking about the things Jesus actually taught?

If we did, some would see it as a blessing, as steps in the direction of positive change. I’m quite sure others would feel threatened and want things to remain just the way they are.

But things never remain as they are. Change is the nature of reality. We can choose to bend the arc of the universe toward justice for everyone. That arc is going to bend one way or another. Either we will bend it to benefit a few at the expense of the diverse masses or, in the face of being spoken of as evil, we can continue shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. If the above blessing and cursing were rewritten in our society, today, who would be the recipients of each? 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



Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

Free Sign-Up at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/Contact-forms?form=EmailSignUp

Decolonizing Fishing for People

fishing nets

Herb Montgomery | February 4, 2022

(To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.)


“Fishing for people was about hooking or catching a certain kind of person, a powerful and unjust person, and removing them from their position of power from where they were wielding harm. This wasn’t about saving souls so they could enjoy post mortem bliss, but about changing systemic injustice in the here and now.”


Our reading this week is from the book of Luke:

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:1-11)

This story in Luke’s gospel conflates two stories found in other gospels. The author of Luke rearranges and modifies the account of how the first disciples joined Jesus (see Mark 1:16-20). In Mark, the initial calling takes place before Jesus begins to teach and heal (Mark 1:16-39). In Luke, it makes for better storytelling to put the disciples’ call after Jesus teaches in his hometown (Luke 4:14-5:11). Luke also adds a story about the disciples fishing all night and catching nothing, a story that John’s account places after the crucifixion (John 21:1-14).

Luke’s version of this story offers us a lot, but first we must unsettle the language of fishing for or “catching” people.

The metaphor of fishing for people has had a long tradition within Christianity for centuries. More recently, it has been interpreted in terms of evangelism, savings souls, missionary work, or “converting the heathen.” This interpretation has made Christian missionary efforts vulnerable to being coopted by European and later American colonial, capitalist abuses and the genocide of Indigenous people. Under the mantle of “reaching the world,” people who wanted to be fishers of people have done concrete harm while desiring to do spiritual good.

What if the phrase “fishing for people” was never intended to encourage Jesus followers to “save souls,” but to liberate those who were being harmed by bringing down the wealthy and powerful from their positions of privilege.

“Catching People”

Mark’s gospel reads, ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’” (Mark 1:17)

I first learned an alternative interpretation of this metaphor from Ched Myers of Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries. I believe that if Jesus’ followers had chosen this interpretation, Christians would not have harmed or been complicit in the harm of Indigenous people through colonialism or Christianity:

“There is perhaps no expression more traditionally misunderstood than Jesus’ invitation to these workers to become ‘fishers of men.’ This metaphor, despite the grand old tradition of missionary interpretation, does not refer to the ‘saving of souls,’ as if Jesus were conferring on these men instant evangelist status. Rather the image is carefully chosen from Jeremiah 16:16, where it is used as a symbol of Yahweh’s censure of Israel. Elsewhere the ‘hooking of fish’ is a euphemism for judgment upon the rich (Amos 4:2) and powerful (Ezekiel 29:4). Taking this mandate for his own, Jesus is inviting common folk to join him in the struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege.” (Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, p. 132)

“In the Hebrew Bible, the metaphor of ‘people like fish’ appears in prophetic censures of apostate Israel and of the rich and powerful: ‘I am now sending for many fishermen, says God, and they shall catch [the people of Israel]…’ (Jeremiah 16:16) ‘The time is surely coming upon you when they shall take you away with fishhooks…’ (Amos 4:2) ‘Thus says God: I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt…. I will put hooks in your jaws, and make the fish of your channels stick to your scales…’ (Ezekiel 29:3f) Jesus is, in other words, summoning working folk to join him in overturning the structures of power and privilege in the world!” (Ched Myers, Marie Dennis, Joseph Nangle, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Stuart Taylor; Say to This Mountain: Mark’s Story of Discipleship, p. 10)

As Myers explains here, in several Hebrew scriptures, fishing for people was about hooking or catching a certain kind of person, a powerful and unjust person, and removing them from their position of power from where they were wielding harm. This wasn’t about saving souls so they could enjoy post mortem bliss, but about changing systemic injustice in the here and now.

If this interpretation is life-giving, and I believe, given the examples in Jeremiah, Amos, and Ezekiel, that it is, this gives Jesus’ call to the disciples a very different context. These were common fishermen who had failed in the past but now were experiencing immense, overwhelming success. They had fished all night on their own and caught nothing. With Jesus, they’d caught so many fish they needed to ask for help with the net.

What might this have meant for the original audience, people who had failed to remove harmful people from their places of power to abuse? What hope might this story have given early Jesus followers, whose past efforts to change harmful systems had had discouraging results?

Remember these disciples as fishermen first. It’s much easier to walk away from fishing for fish when you’re failing. It would be immensely harder to walk away from fishing for fish and embrace fishing for people when fishing for fish has just resulted in the largest haul you have ever seen. What did that night meant for their profit? In this story, Jesus calls them to walk away from their profits to take up the justice work spoken of by the Hebrew prophets.

Now, as then, Jesus calls his disciples to place people before profit—especially people who are being harmed, marginalized, excluded, and killed. This makes me think of our current capitalist system, which places profit above every other priority. I think of ministries and Jesus followers who have chosen to stand up for people being harmed rather than remaining silent and preserving their donor base. When I consider the communities being harmed, I think of those Christians who suffer great loss for joining the voices saying “Black Lives Matter,” or for celebrating LGBTQ folks rather than just including or affirming them; who advocate for the egalitarian treatment of women. I’ve had speaking events cancelled because of my solidarity with these and other communities. One event in the Dakotas was even cancelled because I blogged in solidarity with those speaking out at Standing Rock for both environmental justice and in solidarity with indigenous sovereignty. One of the church’s wealthiest donors worked for a pipeline company and had requested I not be allowed to come to their church. Because the church didn’t want to risk that person’s financial support, they canceled me. I’m still in awe that they were so transparent with me on the phone about their motive.

What would it mean for Jesus’ followers today to put people before profits, even and especially when the fishing is good, and to take up fishing for people as Jeremiah, Amos, and Ezekiel would have defined it?

Speaking of those who do harm within their positions of power, Jeremiah reads:

But now I will send for many fishermen,” declares the LORD, and they will catch them. After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks. (Jeremiah 16:16)

Speaking of those who “oppress the poor and crush the needy,” Amos reads:

The Sovereign LORD has sworn by his holiness: The time will surely come when you will be taken away with hooks, the last of you with fishhooks.” (Amos 4:2)

Speaking of the abusive Pharaoh, king of Egypt, Ezekiel reads:

In the tenth year, in the tenth month on the twelfth day, the word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt and prophesy against him and against all Egypt. Speak to him and say: This is what the Sovereign LORD says:

  ‘“I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt,

you great monster lying among your streams.

You say, The Nile belongs to me;

I made it for myself.”

  But I will put hooks in your jaws

and make the fish of your streams stick to your scales.

I will pull you out from among your streams,

with all the fish sticking to your scales.

  I will leave you in the desert,

you and all the fish of your streams.

You will fall on the open field

and not be gathered or picked up.

I will give you as food

to the beasts of the earth and the birds of the sky.

Then all who live in Egypt will know that I am the LORD. (Ezekiel 29:1-6)

This way of understanding what it means to fish for powerful people who do harm resonates with me.

How are these stories in the spirit of liberation calling you to go fishing today?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What are some of the areas of difference this alternate interpretation makes for you? 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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