Choosing the Common Good

illustrates the common good

Herb Montgomery | October 30, 2022

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


“Is my Jesus-following contributing to harmful policies toward those who are different from me? Or does my Jesus following move me to listen to those whose experiences in our communities are vastly different from my own, those whom our system makes vulnerable to harm rather than safe?”


I reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’

But Zacchaeus stood up and said, Look! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’

Jesus said to him, Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’” (Luke 19:1-10)

We miss a lot in this story if we don’t understand it in terms of how much Roman imperialism harmed the masses in Judea and southern Galilee. Roman occupation benefitted the elite who had become wealthy to the detriment of others and through the Roman economic system. But for many others, Rome drastically changed the economic landscape and how Rome’s client rulers acted in their region.

In this week’s story, Zacchaeus is a tax collector for Roman imperialism and has become rich through his work.

To understand this context more, read this month’s Renewed Heart Ministries book of the month, Richard Horsley’s book Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder.

Horsley brings to our attention what Roman taxation looked like for many in Jesus’ region:

In one of the most serious omissions, studies of the historical Jesus have failed to investigate the fundamental social forms within Galilean society. The Galileans among whom Jesus worked, indeed the vast majority of people in any traditional agrarian society, would have been embedded in households and villages. Villages were communities of families or households engaged in subsistence agriculture (and/or fishing), a substantial percentage of whose produce was expropriated by their rulers. These rulers intervened in village affairs fairs mainly to extract their tax revenues.” (Kindle Locations 788-789)

Because of heavy Roman taxation, former land owners had become peasant farmers on lands that used to belong to their families. Their role in the economic system became especially oppressive.

“As the productive economic base of the Jerusalem Temple and priesthood and of the Herodian capital cities of Sepphoris and Tiberias in Galilee, the peasants’ role was to render up produce in tithes, taxes, and tribute for the rulers’ support.” (Kindle Locations 516-517)

The placement of Herod Antipas as a client ruler of the Roman empire marked a first in the history of Roman imperialism for this region: a “king” representing Rome lived directly in Galilee. This brought an “unprecedented rigor in the collection of taxes” (Horsley).

Horsley’s research demonstrates that the political climate among the people in response to this deep economic oppression inspired their reimagining the liberation themes and stories within the Hebrew tradition and then expressed in various forms of resistance.

“Judean and Galilean peasants were cultivating their own popular version of Israelite tradition that, far more than the version accepted in Jerusalem, emphasized stories of liberation from oppressive rule . . .” (Kindle Locations 519-520)

“In order to protect their own minimal subsistence, the always marginal peasants regularly sequestered portions of their crops before the tax collectors arrived or found various ways of sabotaging the exploitative practices of their rulers.” (Kindle Locations 700-702)

Roman imperialism through economic oppression also meant that Jesus’ society began to break down:

“Roman conquest and imposition of client rulers, with the resulting multiple layers of taxes and socially disintegrative economic and cultural practices, set the conditions of and for Jesus’ mission and other, parallel movements. In generating and articulating his program, moreover, Jesus drew thoroughly on Israelite traditions of opposition to imperial and oppressive domestic rulers. There is no need to debate whether he was ‘apocalyptic,’ because both Jesus and the apocalypses produced by scribal groups shared the widespread common Israelite pattern of God’s judgment against foreign rulers as a prerequisite of restoration of the subject people, a pattern dictated by the recurrent circumstances of Israelite peoples under imperial rule. In this regard Jesus stands together with activist Pharisees and other teachers and administrators who formed resistance groups such as the Fourth Philosophy. They stand on precisely the same grounds in rejecting the tribute to Rome: they owe exclusive loyalty to God as their only ruler and lord. Surely the vast majority of Judeans and Galileans believed that, and attempted to resist Roman exploitation in whatever ways they could whenever they could.” (Kindle Locations 1339-1346)

We must read this week’s story within this context. This backdrop also gives new insights into the political, economic, and social meaning of the gospels. Jesus’ preaching, teaching, and demonstrations of the “kingdom of God,” the rule of God, or God’s just future must be understood as an answer to the people’s desire for liberation from Roman rule and imperialism.

In our story this week, conviction has come home to Zacchaeus who has participated in the empire and become personally wealthy from systems that were to blame for the disintegration of his own Jewish society. This is a story of repentance and change that manifests through economic and political change for Zacchaeus here and now, not after death. Life as usual doesn’t continue on for Zacchaeus. No: Zacchaeus choosing to embrace Jesus’ program meant him choosing to let go of his ill-gotten wealth and use it for reparations and restoration after the harm Roman imperialism had done. He is rejecting the kingdom of Rome for the rule of the God of the Torah, not just religiously, but also politically, economically, and socially in concrete ways for his community.

In response to this holistic change, Jesus states, “Today, salvation has come to this house.”

As Rev. Dr. Wilda Gafney insightfully comments:

“Riches may buffer some of the hardships of life, but one can have all the wealth in the world and still be deeply lost.” (In A Woman’s Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year W, p. 278)

What does following the Jesus of these gospel stories mean for us, today? This Jesus prioritized the marginalized and disenfranchised. This Jesus called those complicit with social harm, like Zacchaeus, to join his program of liberation?

Today, some who claim the name of Jesus are responsible for the political, social and economic harm being perpetrated against LGBTQ people. Some Christians have chosen to put women’s lives in jeopardy because of their shallow understandings of women’s healthcare needs and basic human rights. My own Appalachian communities have been harmed through politics that Christians have been duped into supporting (i.e. “pro-life” being the opposite of life-giving, as an example), and also Christians have not educated themselves out of forms of Christianity that make them especially vulnerable to political manipulation.

Yes, Zacchaeus’ story has something to say to those whose wealth has come to them through harming others. It also has something to say to all Jesus followers who live in other forms of social privilege. This story speaks deeply to me. I am not wealthy, but I am white, straight, cisgender, male, and have middle-class privilege. Reading this story, I ask myself: Is my Jesus-following contributing to harmful policies toward those who are different from me? Or does my Jesus following move me to listen to those whose experiences in our communities are vastly different from my own, those whom our system makes vulnerable to harm rather than safe? The story of Zacchaeus calls me to question ways in which I, too, am complicit in the harm of others and can choose change.

I and others who share my social location can do better, and our doing better is not an act of charity. It’s the work that Zacchaeus did, of reclaiming our own humanity through acknowledging, valuing, and honoring the humanity of others.

The lessons are deep and life changing this week, and I’m thankful for them.

What would it take today for those who live in social locations of privilege to hear the words, “Today, salvation has come to this house.”

HeartGroup Application

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

2. In our story, Zacchaeus chooses not only to change, but to also make reparations for harms he has committed in the past? Discuss the kinds of reparation you believe we as a society should be making 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.

You can find Renewed Heart Ministries on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If you haven’t done so already, please follow us on your chosen social media platforms for our daily posts. Also, if you enjoy listening to the Jesus for Everyone podcast, please like and subscribe to the JFE podcast through the podcast platform you use and consider taking some time to give us a review. This helps others find our podcast as well.

And if you’d like to reach out to us through email, you can reach us at info@renewedheartministries.com.

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

or Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Faith Based Complicity in Social Harm

social harm

Herb Montgomery | October 21, 2022

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


“It’s not enough to have our faith community’s stamp of approval on our political engagement. We also have to look at the fruit of our political actions. Are we building systems that give life to those who marginalized and vulnerable or are we engaging in political activity that has our religious community’s approval but is actually deeply destructive?”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

This week’s reading is most often explained through a religious lens that weakens the contrast in the text. The passage contrasts humility and exaltation, and strictly religious interpretive lenses miss the political context in it. When we restore this cultural context, new dimensions and hues emerge.

At RHM, we’ve spent a lot of time over the years exploring the politics of the Pharisees politically. This religious and political party sought power and influence within Jesus’ society.  Their most significant competition was the party of the Sadducees. They were financially affluent, the elite in Jesus’ society, and used a much more conservative interpretive lens for the Torah that kept the masses marginalized because they couldn’t afford more strict or stringent interpretations of Torah faithfulness. If the Sadducees’ interpretation of Torah faithfulness was used, faithfulness fell out of reach for many poor people in Jesus’ society simply because they could not afford the affluence needed to live the Sadducee way. (See Worshiping in Vain.)

On the other hand, the Pharisees used more liberal interpretation, defining Torah observance in a less conservative way so that many more people could live out their desire to be faithful to the Torah. This liberalism is what gave the Pharisees their political power in Jesus’ society: they were popular with the people. They were, to use our language today, a kind of working person’s or “blue collar” religious/political party.

All of this brings us to our passage. This week’s passage is about a lot more than just humility.  It’s also about complicity with political harm. To wield any type of collective political power in Jesus’ society, whether Sadducees, the chief priests, teachers of the law, scribes, or even the Pharisees in Luke’s story, a group had to function in some way that made them complicit with Roman imperialism and its economic abuse of those in Jesus society (see Luke 20:19-26).

Consider what we said a couple weeks ago regarding the healing stories in the gospel:

“Jesusministry was not to start a new religion, but to socially and economically renew his own Jewish society. His ministry involved restoring people to communal life in villages in a context where Roman imperialism was destroying communities . . . In these stories, Jesushealings represent the restoration of the rule or kingdom of the God of the Torah and the victory of Gods rule over Roman rule.” (See Trading Individualism for Community)

The tax collector in our reading this week was rejecting his complicity with Roman imperialism, occupation, and colonialism, and the harm it was doing to Jewish society. The Pharisee, on the other hand, based their moral superiority on their religious observances around Yom Kippur, the only fast prescribed in the Torah. We know that the Pharisees also fasted twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays (see Vincent Taylor, The Gospel According to St. Mark, p. 209). There were other fasts commemorating significant events in Jewish history too. The Pharisee, though religiously observant in their own eyes was still politically complicit in the concrete harms being committed against the vulnerable in society.

This is a reoccurring theme in Luke:

Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God.” (Luke 11:42)

The tax collector in our story is more than humble, and he expresses his humility by rejecting his participation in the oppression of vulnerable people in his society. This man goes home justified.

Reading the passage this way causes the language of humility and exaltation to take on a more Lucan flavor.

From the very first time Luke contrasts humility and exaltation, the context is political and systemic, not personal, moral, or individualistic. Consider Luke 1:

“He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53)

And Luke 14:

“For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)

As we shared in The Bodies We Inhabit, the rhetoric in Luke 14 of contrasting the humble with those who exalt themselves had a long political/economic history in the Jewish scriptures. In this tradition, the contrast is much more than privatized morality It’s consistently used to critique harmful systems.

“Do not exalt yourself in the kings presence, and do not claim a place among his great men; it is better for him to say to you, ‘Come up here,’ than for him to humiliate you before his nobles.” (Proverbs 25:6-7)

“If they make you master of the feast, do not exalt yourself; be among them as one of their number. Take care of them first and then sit down; when you have fulfilled all your duties, take your place, so that you may be merry along with them and receive a wreath for your excellent leadership.” (Sirach 32:1-2)

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace; but wisdom is with the humble.” (Proverbs 11:2)

“For you [YHWH] deliver a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.” (Psalms 18:27)

So what does this all mean for us today?

I cannot help but think of the Religious Right and Evangelical groups directly responsible for many harm people are experiencing in our American society now. There is a longer history here to their relationship with the GOP than this week’s commentary allows us to explore. For now, though, we can say that the Republican Party has for decades courted certain religious communities in the U.S. in its bid to stay in power. To get the vote of these religious members and groups, the GOP has catered to the political/religious demands of their leaders. Yet, the Religious Right and these Evangelical groups have also demonstrated that they couldn’t care less about politicians’ moral character as long as these politicians will be tools or conduits to achieve their political goals. We’re now witnessing legislation across the country that represents bigotry toward vulnerable communities in the guise of religiosity. Christian Nationalism has taken root in this power-seeking soil, and is growing into the ugly manifestations we witness today.

Those of old who viewed themselves as religiously or morally superior to others while actively supporting systems of harm—how are we seeing this dynamic repeated in our communities today?

It’s honestly difficult to channel my anger in life-giving ways when I see religiously observant people whose pastors and other influencers have convinced them that certain political actions are their Christian duty, and who are nevertheless engaging in political activities that only produce system of concrete harm for so many. Like the man in our story this week, they feel thankful that they aren’t “sinners” like others while simultaneously being responsible for so much societal harm being done to those our society has made vulnerable.

It’s not enough to have our faith community’s stamp of approval on our political engagement. We also have to look at the fruit of our political actions. Are we building systems that give life to those who marginalized and vulnerable or are we engaging in political activity that has our religious community’s approval but is actually deeply destructive?

There is a lot to consider here. What is the fruit of your political actions? It’s not about which political party or parties you support. Considering the fruit of our actions also means mitigating harm as we engage the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone. Thinking of the fruit means following the Jesus of our sacred stories. Thinking only of the political ends we’ll achieve at any cost is just being a political tool for empowering a few while harming many more.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What are some examples of societally harmful policies being presently favored by certain Christians that you are concerned about, today? Discuss some of these 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.

You can find Renewed Heart Ministries on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If you haven’t done so already, please follow us on your chosen social media platforms for our daily posts. Also, if you enjoy listening to the Jesus for Everyone podcast, please like and subscribe to the JFE podcast through the podcast platform you use and consider taking some time to give us a review. This helps others find our podcast as well.

And if you’d like to reach out to us through email, you can reach us at info@renewedheartministries.com.

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

or Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Persistence Toward Justice

persistence

Herb Montgomery | October 14, 2022

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


No effort invested in working toward a safe, compassionate, just world that is home for everyone is in vain. We never know what new concession from those who wield power is just around the next corner.


Our reading this week continues from the gospel of Luke:

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, Grant me justice against my adversary.

For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, Even though I dont fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she wont eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)

Historical Jesus scholars attribute this week’s parable to the Jewish Jesus although they also allow for the possibility that the author of Luke created the story given the overall focus of the gospel of Luke. The story only appears here in Luke’s version of the Jesus story. And the message encourages persistence.

The widow in the story demands justice. In the patriarchal culture of Jesus’ society, a widow had a fragile economic status, and the justice tradition of Judaism had ways of addressing that.

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in God’s holy dwelling.” (Psalm 68:5)

“The Most High watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but the Most High frustrates the ways of the wicked.” (Psalms 146:9)

“The Most High tears down the house of the proud, but the Most High sets the widows boundary stones in place.” (Proverbs 15:25)

“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)

“Your rulers are rebels, partners with thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widows case does not come before them.” (Isaiah 1:23)

“…To deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.” (Isaiah 10:2)

“…If you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm . . .” (Jeremiah 7:6)

“This is what the Most High says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” (Jeremiah 22:3)

“In you they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the foreigner and mistreated the fatherless and the widow.” (Ezekiel 22:7)

“Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.” (Zechariah 7:10)

“‘So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,’ says the Most High, the Almighty.” (Malachi 3:5)

I share this lengthy collection of passages so that we can begin to get the cultural context for our parable: what we would today describe as Jesus’ concern for social justice. Working for social justice is at the heart of what it means to follow the Jesus of synoptic gospels. It is a central theme of the Hebrew prophets’ justice tradition, and it is to this tradition that Luke’s version of the Jesus story adds its voice.

It strikes me as very odd today when I hear Jesus followers making fun of or speaking derisively of those who work for  social, political and economic justice in our time. The Jesus of our stories was speaking throughout Galilee’s villages to communities whose entire social fabric was being impacted by Roman imperialism. This impact enriched the elite at the expense of the masses. In Jesus’ audience, then, there would have been widows who knew this story by experience. Jesus wasn’t giving them a spiritual focus on post mortem bliss to pacify them while they continued to suffer. Jesus’s story would have inspired them to continue, to persist, to keep on going in their striving for concrete, temporal justice. They would also have prayed for God to match their persistent efforts by making a way for them. This parable is about prayer for sure, but it’s not only about prayer. The phrase we read in the introduction is to “always pray and not give up.”

If you are working toward justice and you find yourself feeling as if  you are swimming upstream against our society’s strong currents, don’t give up!

Also noteworthy is the unjust judge’s motive in this story.

His motive is not fidelity to God or concern for what people may think of him. The judge in the story is concerned that this widow may “eventually come and attack me.” The language for attack here would have been used to describe slapping someone in the face or giving them a black eye. So the judge acquiesces to the widow’s demand for justice for fear of her demands might turn violent. This reminds me of the political motives that lead to partial victories of the civil rights movement during the Johnson presidency. Faced with the demands of the King’s nonviolent movement versus the potential violence of other movements if changes weren’t made, the government partially heeded demands for change. Nearly 60 years later, we still have a long way to go to repair the harm born from our national sin of racism.

The author of Luke ends this section with a reference to the “Son of Man” and a question about where faith can be found. Again, this language is not concerned with post-mortem bliss but with present world realities. The title “Son of Man” comes from Jewish apocalyptic literature, specifically Daniel 7. In Daniel 7, world empires are depicted as monstrous beasts that will one day stand trial before the throne of justice to face judgment for their atrocities. In the end, the son of Man comes and gives liberation to the people.

“But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High.” (Daniel 7:26-27)

So, from start to finish, the entire context of our story is  of establishing justice on Earth, ending violence, and restoring what oppression has stolen.

Lastly the question is asked, when the son of Man comes, will there be faith on the earth?

My challenge this week is not to switch tracks at the end and hear faith in terms of religious or metaphysical claims. Contextually, given the focus of our story, faith is synonymous with persistence in praying for and working toward justice here on our earth. It’s about concrete change in our present systems. It’s about persistence in our reordering this present world.

This week’s story moves me to do two things. In matters where I, like the judge in this week’s story, have the power to change things and make our world a safer, just place, this week’s story moves me to do so. In matters where, like the widow, I don’t have the power to change things myself, this week’s story moves me to make those with the power continually uncomfortable until they do.

I don’t know about you, but there are seasons when I get tired swimming against the various currents of injustice and voices that perpetuate them in our society, both inside of and outside of Christianity. I do believe it’s okay to rest sometimes, and we can accomplish more in the long run if we take time to rest today.

There is also a time to persist rather than to quit. My mother used to remind me when I felt like giving up, “It’s always darkest just before the dawn.” This week’s reading encourages Jesus followers not to give up. No effort invested in working toward a safe, compassionate, just world that is home for everyone is in vain. We never know what new concession from those who wield power is just around the next corner. Keep going!

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What are some ways that you balance rest and persistence in your own justice work? Share some of these 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.

You can find Renewed Heart Ministries on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If you haven’t done so already, please follow us on your chosen social media platforms for our daily posts. Also, if you enjoy listening to the Jesus for Everyone podcast, please like and subscribe to the JFE podcast through the podcast platform you use and consider taking some time to give us a review. This helps others find our podcast as well.

And if you’d like to reach out to us through email, you can reach us at info@renewedheartministries.com.

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

or Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Trading Individualism for Community

community

Herb Montgomery | October 7, 2022

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


“Those of us from Western cultures have a lot we can learn from cultures that value community wellbeing over or alongside individual thriving. There are ways of structuring our society where the common good is emphasized, where the community thrives alongside each person comprising it, where we collectively take responsibility for taking care of every person.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesusfeet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19)

This story appears only in Luke. It may be modeled on a story in Mark (see Mark 1:40-45 ) and on Jewish tales of Elisha’s healing Naaman (see 2 Kings 5:1-15).

We can glean something from this week’s reading, and we have a few things to unpack first. We are far removed from the cultural setting of our story, but if we give it a moment, wisdom will come to the surface.

First, let’s understand how the Torah approached skin abnormalities. Anyone with a skin problem was to show it to the priest. If the issue was thought questionably contagious and a danger to the community, the person would be isolated for a period and re-examined before regaining access to the community. The result was either re-inclusion or continued isolation.

“If the shiny spot on the skin is white but does not appear to be more than skin deep and the hair in it has not turned white, the priest is to isolate the affected person for seven days. On the seventh day the priest is to examine them, and if he sees that the sore is unchanged and has not spread in the skin, he is to isolate them for another seven days.” Leviticus 13:4-5

Leprosy was an especially harmful skin disease socially. Not only did the person have to deal with the negative effects of the disease itself, they also had no social reinstatement to look forward to. Lepers were sentenced to an isolated life, living away from their community and alone for the rest of your days. Leper communities were invented so that lepers could still have some type of community with whom to survive.

Survival in Jesus’ world depended on belonging to one of many village communities. Belonging to a community comprised of a network of rural families was how you survived. A person would not survive on their own.

Now let’s look at the purpose of the healing stories in the Jesus story.

We could interpret these healing stories through a post-Enlightenment, naturalistic worldview that challenges all miracles as a violation of natural laws. We could question the historicity of each of these stories too. But I find many more life-giving lessons from interpreting the healing stories as Richard Horsley does in his excellent volume Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder. This approach asks us to take the healing stories, not within our context today, but in the context the original audience would have heard them, given their assumptions. In the four canonical versions of the Jesus story we have today, we must hear each of these stories in the debilitating context of Roman imperialism.

Leprosy broke down a person’s place in their village community, isolating them from a community-based system of survival to an individualistic mode of survival on the edges of their society. They were on their own.

In our individualistic culture, we have the myth of success being the result of pulling up oneself up by one’s own bootstraps. One of the deepest fall-outs of colonialism is the repression of Indigenous community ways, such as  the community coming together to make sure everyone is cared for, and where individual wellbeing was balanced with the common good or the community thriving. Colonialism has left each of us a “leper” today, isolated from community and having to make it on our own. This has been quite convenient for the capitalist elite, who can consolidate more power and wealth if we are only individuals working for our own survival, receiving only a portion of our work’s value, having the majority of our hard work only go to make someone else richer.

Jesus’ ministry was not to start a new religion, but to socially and economically renew his own Jewish society. His ministry involved restoring people to communal life in villages in a context where Roman imperialism was destroying communities, transforming landowners belonging to a small village community into isolated, individual, workers on land they’d once owned but lost through oppressive Roman taxation and defaulted debt.

In these stories, Jesus’ healings represent the restoration of the rule or kingdom of the God of the Torah and the victory of God’s rule over Roman rule. Jesus’ world was one where people were restored from the economic isolation of self-reliance to a community dedicated to making sure everyone had enough (see Acts 2 and 4). The leprosy is a real disease, and it was also used in the Jesus stories as a metaphor for the very real isolating effects of Roman imperialism. Roman rule was a disease that transformed the way people lived with each other.

So Jesus acted to heal and reverse the effects of Roman occupation. He called his listeners to rebuild their community life. And in this week’s story, we see yet another example of people being healed of that which kept them on the margins or edges of their society. His goal was not just to heal people as individuals, but that they also present themselves to their priests so they could be restored to their community.

If this is a new idea to you, I recommend the section “Healing the Effects of Imperialism” in Horsley’s book, Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder.

Horsley writes:

“Like the exorcisms, Jesus’ healings were not simply isolated acts of individual mercy, but part of a larger program of social as well as personal healing…

In these and other episodes Jesus is healing the illnesses brought on by Roman imperialism.

He was pointedly dealing with whole communities, not just individuals, in the context of their meeting for self governance. He was not dealing only with what we moderns call ‘religious’ matters, but with the more general political-economic concerns of the village communities as well, as we shall see below.” (Kindle Locations 1391-1392, 1406, and 1440-1442)

He explains further:

“Jesus launched a mission not only to heal the debilitating effects of Roman military violence and economic exploitation, but also to revitalize and rebuild the people’s cultural spirit and communal vitality. In healing various forms of social paralysis, he also released life forces previously turned inward in self blame. In these manifestations of God’s action for the people, and in his offering the kingdom of God to the poor, hungry, and despairing people, Jesus instilled hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. The key to the emergence of a movement from Jesus’ mission, however, was his renewal of covenantal community, calling the people to common cooperative action to arrest the disintegration.” (Richard A. Horsley. Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder, Kindle Locations 1634-1638)

At the end of this story, the writer states that the only leper who was thankful was a Samaritan. With this point in the narrative, we can see the antisemitism growing in Christianity by this point. So I don’t find this part of the story very life-giving for us. Jewish people had always believed that the restoration of justice and end of oppression and violence was for all people. Bringing up the Samaritans seems like just another Gentile Christian attempt to distance their group from their Jewish siblings and cast those Jewish siblings in a negative light. Had they wanted to extend Jesus’ liberation beyond the borders of Judea and Galilee, the author could have been accomplished this without this plot point, but since it’s in this story, it’s important that we as Jesus followers today be honest about it.

What is the gem of wisdom in this story?

As I briefly stated earlier, we are living in the wake of colonialism’s global destruction of so many indigenous cultures and repression of their communal way of life, including here in the United States. This week’s story calls into question the myth of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and calls us to lean into communal ways of living.

Those who have much more wealth to gain from our isolated way of living will try to scare us with labels like “socialism” or “communism.” Pay them no mind. Realize the game that they are playing.

Lean instead into the Jesus story. Those of us from Western cultures have a lot we can learn from cultures that value community wellbeing over or alongside individual thriving. There are ways of structuring our society where the common good is emphasized, where the community thrives alongside each person comprising it, where we collectively take responsibility for taking care of every person. They can call it “socialism.” I disagree because socialism doesn’t go far enough to follow the Jesus we read about in these gospel stories.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. List some of the ways you see our present system pushing us toward isolated individualism for our survival? Discuss these 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.

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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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