Liberation for the Oppressed

blue skies

Herb Montgomery | January 21, 2022


There are so many contemporary parallels to draw between the way Luke’s gospel characterizes the life and mission of Jesus and the justice needs present in our world today. Since his era, oppression, domination and subjugation have only evolved. What does it mean for Jesus followers to live lives characterized by liberation for the oppressed, equity for the disenfranchised, inclusion of the marginalized, and diverse egalitarianism rather than by disparities of property, power, and privilege?”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:14-21)

In Luke’s version of the Jesus story, Jesus’ ministry begins in and around Galilee. All of us today who feel passionately about the inclusion of those being marginalized or who are concerned with how communities and larger societies experience change can learn from this story.

Galilee was a marginalized region in a marginalized territory. The Jewish people were also a marginalized community within the Roman empire. With the Temple-state being centered in Judea, in Jerusalem, and seated in the temple there, Galilee’s more Hellenized Jewish communities were doubly marginalized.

The canonical gospel authors all locate Jesus primary ministry in that region. This choice not only reveals a passion for those being marginalized in any system, but also points us to how change happens. Change happens from the grassroots or bottom up and from the margins or edges of our societies inward. Change doesn’t usually come from the elite, powerful, or privileged who benefit from how society is structured now. Their experience is vastly different from those on the edges of society. Change usally comes from those for whom the present system is not working.

In this week’s narrative, the author of Luke conflates two passages from the Hebrew scriptures: one from Isaiah 61 and the other from Isaiah 58.

Isaiah 61:1-2

  The spirit of the Most High GOD is upon me,

because the Most High has anointed me;

he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,

to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and release to the prisoners;

  to proclaim the year of the Most High’s favor,

and the day of vengeance of our God;

to comfort all who mourn;

Isaiah 58:6

Is not this the fast that I choose:

to loose the bonds of injustice,

to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,

and to break every yoke?

Of all the passages in the Hebrew scriptures that the author of Luke could have chosen to summarize or characterize Jesus life and mission, these two passages are saturated with the theme of liberation for the oppressed. Notice the differences between the story here in Luke and Mark’s version. What does Luke adding to Mark’s telling?

He [Jesus] left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching. (Mark 6:1-6, cf Luke 4:20-30)

Luke adds to Mark’s version details of the themes of Jesus’ life and work. The reign of God as defined by this Jewish prophet of the poor would be just that: good news for the poor. It would announce liberation for the captives, the imprisoned, including slaves. It would proclaim sight to prisoners with prison blindness (Prison blindness was what was referred to at the time as being in a Roman cell/hole in the ground that was so dark one could not see what was around them.) It would announce liberation for the oppressed and proclaim the year of the Most High’s favor—language used to announce the year of jubilee when slaves were liberated and all debts were wiped out.

These verses make me reflect on the prison industrial complex in our society. Jesus proclaimed release for the slaves yet White Christians claimed to worship Jesus all through the years slavery remains a brutal cornerstone of the U.S. economy to this day. I also think of discussions about wiping out the heavy burden of student debt. Globally, national debt has a new form of colonization’s control and domination. There are so many contemporary parallels to draw between the way Luke’s gospel characterizes the life and mission of Jesus and the justice needs present in our world today. Since his era, oppression, domination and subjugation have only evolved.

What does it mean for Jesus followers to live lives characterized by liberation for the oppressed, equity for the disenfranchised, inclusion of the marginalized, and diverse egalitarianism rather than by disparities of property, power, and privilege? There are so many of us today who benefit from the violence of our present system. Are we allowing passages like this one in Luke to confront us?

Luke’s story continues with an account that foreshadows the early Jesus movement’s expansion in the book of Acts. The movement went through growing pains as it began to include those who had historically been excluded: Gentiles, eunuchs, women, and others. Their experience can teach us too: in our time, for whom is the Spirit making “no distinction between us and them” (see Acts 11:12; 15:9)?

There’s one more thing to note this week. The author of Luke uses an edited version of the Isaiah 61 passage that omits the phrase “the day of vengeance of our God.” Why?

There is a kind of liberation that dehumanizes oppressors while seeking to set the oppressed free. It doesn’t replace a tiered society with a shared table; it replaces the current system with a differently tiered society. Those once subjugated are now at the top, and those who were once the oppressors become oppressed. Communities under this kind of liberation are simply flipped. They aren’t transformed, they’re just rearranged. “God’s favor” for some is simultaneously “the day of God’s vengeance” for others.

Luke doesn’t promote that dualistic approach to liberation. Jesus’ followers rightly perceived that Jesus was about a different kind of liberation. At Jesus’ shared table, the powerful would be pulled down from their thrones, and the oppressed would be lifted up and liberated, but liberation and equality for some would include an invitation to oppressors to experience radical personal change as the system itself changed. Jesus’ liberation was a year of the Most High’s favor for all, and that favor looked different for people in different social locations and in the different areas of their lives.

Very rarely can people be defined in neat categories. We are all oppressed and oppressor simultaneously depending on which parts of our identities and positions in the present system we are contemplating. Our identities are complex and so our privileges and patterns of disenfranchisement are therefore intersectional and complex, as well.

What this means for me is that I need to embrace the kind of world that would be safe, compassionate, just home for everyone, and I need to rejoice in the changes that will transform me so that I want that world. I hope that we can choose a different world and work for it here, now. Change comes from the Galilean regions of our lives. We can each choose to be confronted, challenged, and changed in those areas where we might otherwise oppose a more justly shared world, and in those areas where we have a deep need for that world.

My choice for 2022 is, as a Jesus follower, to continue growing, continue changing myself, and to continue being committed to working for social change, as well.

How are you choosing in 2022?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What personal changes are you leaning into this new year? 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.”

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Following Jesus in the Time of Covid

mask with heart cut out

Herb Montgomery | January 14, 2022


Instead of arguing whether we should mandate vaccinations for the sake of the common good and for those who are vulnerable among us, as Jesus followers we already have a mandate in place: love your neighbor as yourself. This mandate requires us to act not only for our own best interests but also for the best interests of others.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1-11)

This story has received a lot of attention from Christians over the centuries. Whatever we take from this story, we must remember that it only appears in the last canonical gospel to be written and it was written when the Christian movement was becoming deeply anti-Jewish and trying to distance itself from Judaism in the eyes of the Roman Empire. Christians have used this story to contrast the jars used for “Jewish rites of purification” with Jesus’ “best wine” as if to say that Jesus’ teachings, though deeply Jewish, were at the same time superior to other Jewish wisdom and knowledge. We don’t have to disparage any other religion, especially not Judaism, to value the Jesus story. Antisemitic interpretations have historically been at the root of much of the harm Christians have committed against Jewish people. We can and must do better.

This story has also been at the center of teetotaler debates: there are arguments to this day about whether the wine Jesus made in this story was grape juice or alcoholic. These debates are silly to me.

The original audience would have understood that this story established Jesus as a great miracle worker. What can we take away from this story today?

One thing I like about this story is that only a few people were in the know about this miracle: Jesus, Mary, the servants, and the disciples. The wealthy wedding party hosts were oblivious to what Jesus was up to, and this speaks to me of the reality that not everyone experiences life the same way.

Recently, Senator Harry Reid died. Reid grew up in a family in Nevada that fought daily to survive deep poverty, and he carried his experiences with classism into his politics, adult life, and career. So few Congresspeople today have any experience with poverty in the United States and it shows in the decision they make in Congress.

But our story this week gives a nod to the lower social classes for whom the gospel of John was written. Jesus came to be for them. In other gospels, Jesus explains that the reign of God was God’s just future for the poor, outcast, marginalized, and excluded (see Luke 6:22-24, cf. Matthew 5).

And also in this story, Jesus’ mother, Mary, is centered. A woman in that society is the one really responsible for this miracle from the reluctant Jesus. Mary persuaded Jesus to do what John’s gospel treats as Jesus’ inaugural miracle. With Mary’s trust in Jesus, this version of the Jesus story really begins.

Mary’s words to the servants are at the heart of her role in this narrative: “Do whatever he tells you.” I imagine the original audience would have heard this clearly. For us today, following Jesus is much less about the creeds and much more about the ethics we choose to live our lives by. Are we endeavoring to do what Jesus told us? Are we, too, expending our energy to make our world a safer, more compassionate, just home for those our present system makes poor, outcast, marginalized or excluded?

Consider these ancient words found in the epistle of James:

“What good is it, my siblings, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a person is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do nothing to supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. (James 2:14-18, italics added for emphasis.)

We will find this emphasis more subtly spoken later in John’s gospel:

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

What designates one as a follower of Jesus is not the creeds we mentally assent to, but the kind of life we choose to live, the kind of values we seek to embody, the kind of ethics we endeavor to practice.

What we believe does translate into actions, but the emphasis in these teachings is always on which actions our beliefs give birth to.

Christianity’s sacred texts repeat this principle of “doing” and having our doing being defined by love. One of my favorite passages is in Romans 13:10:

“Love does no harm to one’s neighbor.”

This principle is one of the greatest areas of misunderstanding today. Our actions can and do protect us. But they also have implications for others. Like others living lives of compassion, Jesus followers should be choosing a course of action that takes into account the potential for harming others. This is love. Love takes yourself into account, yes, and it also takes into account the wellbeing and safety of those around you.

What does this mean for a Jesus follower in a global pandemic?

It means, if you can get vaccinated, get vaccinated. If you can wear a mask, wear a mask. Concern yourself with your neighbors who may be immunocompromised. At different stages of the pandemic certain communities have been more heavily impacted than others. Concern yourself with those who are particularly affected. Globally, vaccine disparity means that countries ravaged by colonialism are vulnerable to severe outbreaks.

Instead of arguing whether we should mandate vaccinations for the sake of the common good and for those who are vulnerable among us, as Jesus followers we already have a mandate in place: love your neighbor as yourself. This mandate requires us to act not only for our own best interests but also for the best interests of others.

We live in a system that is putting vulnerable people in harms way. What can we do while we are working to change that system? We can take every step to mitigate harms we may cause others. Others might take advantage of our efforts, but that is not our chief concern. Our priority needs to be doing everything we can to protect those our present system makes vulnerable.

In this week’s story, Mary says simply: “Whatever he tells you to do, do it.”

Those words have echoed from within this story over the centuries for every generation of Jesus followers. Jesus has told us to love. As this new year begins, take inventory of your life. Today, how is the Jesus of this story telling you to love?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. How is the Jesus of this story telling you to love in 2022? 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

Jesus’ Baptism as Social Protest

water

Herb Montgomery | January 7, 2021


“Jesus’ baptism has been understood in terms of a salvation that addresses only individuals’ personal or private sins rather than establishing systemic justice in place of systems that harm vulnerable and marginalized people. This creates problems with the text.”


Our reading this week is from Luke 3:15-17, 21-22:

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire . . . Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”

This week, we’re beginning a new calendar year and we are also in the season after Epiphany. Jesus’ baptism in Luke compiles several passages from the Hebrew scriptures, beginning with the story of the inauguration of the ancient King David:

“I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, You are my son; today I have become your Father.” (Psalms 2:7)

This inauguration happened in the context of opposition by foreign oppressors of Israel.

“The kings of the earth set themselves,

and the rulers take counsel together,

against the LORD and his anointed.” (Psalms 2:2 cf. 2:10)

The story of Jesus’ baptism also echoed two passages from Isaiah:

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations . . . He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching. (Isaiah 42:1-4, emphasis added.)

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit [feminine] of wisdom [sophia] and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness [justice] he shall judge [deliver] the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth. ”(Isaiah 42:1-4)

The one “in whom I am well pleased” was to be associated with the world of establishing justice on the earth for the marginalized and oppressed. And the one on whom the spirit of the Lord rested would deliver the poor and bring equity for the meek. In both Matthew’s sermon on the mount and Luke’s sermon on the plain, the reign of God is proclaimed as belonging to the poor, while the earth is the inheritance of the meek, those typically walked on by the powerful and privileged.

These associations set us up to understand Jesus’ baptism in a new way.

Jesus’ baptism has been understood in terms of a salvation that addresses only individuals’ personal or private sins rather than establishing systemic justice in place of systems that harm vulnerable and marginalized people. This creates problems with the text.

John’s baptism called people to repentance. But if that repentance was a rejection of private or personal sins then Jesus’ baptism becomes nonsensical because of the claim that Jesus had no private or personal sins to repent of. The Early Church Father Jerome, who lived in the 4th and 5th Century quotes from the Gospel of the Nazarenes in which Jesus initially rejects being baptized by John because he has never committed a sin.

Jesus’ exceptionalism also made his association with John and John’s baptism problematic for those Christians who no longer wanted be associated with Judaism or who wanted to communicate Jesus as superior to all including John.

To the best of our knowledge, the gospels were written down in this order: Mark, Matthew, Luke and then John. Reading them in that order, we see progressive attempts to distance Jesus from John, to portray Jesus as greater than John, and to declare that John and Johns movement  was only a precursor of Jesus and the movement based on his life and work. By the time of John’s gospel, John the Baptizer doesnt even baptize Jesus. And in Luke, if we take Lukes chronology seriously, John is already in prison by the time Jesus is baptized. This is unlike the early gospels of Matthew and Mark, where John baptizes Jesus.

As we’ve stated, John preached a baptism of repentance, and John was Jesus’ mentor. How are we to make sense of this?

Consider Luke 3:10-14:

And the crowds asked him, What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, And we, what should we do?” He said to them, Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

John’s baptism called for repentance for social, systemic sins. Repentance is a paradigm shift where you being to think about things differently, and so John’s baptism of repentance symbolized rethinking how society was structured in relation to power and privilege, who was included and benefited, and who was excluded and on whose backs the elites profited.

This brings me to this week’s point: an alternative lens for interpreting John’s baptism of Jesus.

John’s baptism invited people to denounce the present order, to cleanse the canvas so to speak for something different to be born.

Consider this commentary:

“It is a genuine act of repentance. As such it ends his participation in the structures and values of society. It concludes his involvement in the moral order into which he was born.” (H. Waetjen, The Construction of the Way into a Reordering of Power: An Inquiry in the Generic Conception of the Gospel According to Mark, quoted with permission by Ched Myers in Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Marks Gospel, p. 129)

When we read the story of Jesus’ baptism through this lens, it was about rejecting, or being cleansed of a society maintained by unjust institutions through which power is unjustly ordered.

It was a rejection of the way Rome had oppressed Jewish society and how Jewish elites had become complicit in Roman oppression of Jewish people. Jesus’ baptism meant rejecting these social constructions, especially the elitist ordering of power, privilege, and profit.

In the gospels, we read of a Jesus who made it his life work to challenge his society’s oppressive structures. It makes perfect sense that he would have initially been a disciple of Johns, been baptized into John’s critique, and then, once John was jailed, embarked on his own mission through the wilderness and into the marginalized regions of Galilee proclaiming that the just reign of God had arrived.

Jesus was the one who, like David, was called “Son” in the context of oppressive structures. He was one in whom the Divine delighted, whose work would be to establish justice in the earth. Jesus was one upon whom the Divine feminine spirit of wisdom (sophia) would rest, and who would deliver the poor and bring justice to the meek.

This makes me wonder what our baptism-like rituals today are. How do we, too, publically reject present systems of injustice? I think of marches I have participated in that were largely symbolic, calling for change at most and rejecting the present way of doing things at least. Protests often use symbolic actions to reject the present order and call for something more just.

So what difference does it make for us as Jesus followers, as we start this new year, to interpret Jesus’ baptism not as repentance for personal sins but rather as rejection of the injustices of the current system? Jesus’ baptism was a cleansing with water, a preparing the way for something better to take root and spread.

What new ways of ordering our world are our baptisms preparing us to engage?

Another world is possible.

And that world begins with our denouncing and turning away from the injustices of our time.


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 ways you are preparing for something new in 2022? 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

Christmas Means Centering the Voices of Women

woman looking into the sun

Herb Montgomery | December 24, 2021


“We, too, can choose to listen when a woman has the courage to tell her story, even if it seems “impossible” to patriarchal men . . . If we are to take these Christmas narratives seriously, then we must center the voices of women in our society. We can choose to listen when they tell their stories . . . we, too, can follow the example of Luke’s Christmas narratives by centering women’s voices and pushing back against present-day expressions of Christianity that are patriarchal, that seek to silence women, or that still refuse to allow women to teach, be ordained, or hold positions of leadership.”


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

Merry Christmas to each and every one of you! Thanks for taking a moment to check in during this busy holiday weekend. I’ll be brief.

Our reading this week is from Luke 2:

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a days journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Fathers house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. (Luke 2:41-52)

There’s a lot to unpack in this week’s reading.

First, I want to address the history of antisemitism in some interpretations of this week’s reading. Many of them imagine Jesus as a child instructing Jewish elders and scholars, and so demote Jewish wisdom and knowledge to a status or quality beneath Jesus. This is not only harmful but also unnecessary.

And the passage doesn’t support such a picture. The text does say that Jesus was, first, “listening” to the scholars, and, second, “asking them questions.” They were amazed at his understanding (including of the explanations he was listening to) and his answers (implying they were questioning whether he grasped the depth of their teaching). The story reminds me of college students who impress their teachers with their understanding and their answers to questions. That in no way implies that those students know more or have greater experience than their teachers. At most, the gospel writer is characterizing Jesus as a gifted student, perhaps even a prodigy, but still very much a child. We don’t have to disparage Judaism or Jewish knowledge to listen to and value Jesus in the gospels.

Second, the Christmas and childhood narratives of Jesus in the gospels are following the format of Hellenistic hero biographies. True to that form, Luke includes a story from his hero’s childhood. These stories were typically included as predictions or prophecies of the nature of the hero’s life work and future accomplishments. Followers of Jesus, especially those for whom the gospel of Luke was originally written, were keenly devoted in proclaiming the value of Jesus’ teachings to others. For those others to take Jesus seriously, he had to be placed at least on the same level as other Hellenistic heroes. This is what we are witnessing in this week’s story. Luke’s hero, Jesus, is a precocious child, possibly a prodigy in understanding Torah, increasing in wisdom, learning, understanding, and respect, and so the narrative predicts that Jesus would grow up to become a great teacher.

In keeping with the Hellenistic hero form, in an almost ominous fashion, the story ends with “His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”

In Luke, Jesus’ wisdom and learning grows and evolves. Readers soon encounter a Jesus who breaks into his society as a man with wisdom, learning, understanding and good news to share. And of all the passages in the Hebrew scriptures this Jesus could use to sum up his own purpose and passion, he chooses a passage from Isaiah.

“He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lords favor.” (Luke 4:16-19)

This great teacher’s wisdom is characterized in the story as good news to the poor. It proclaims liberty to the subjugated, including the imprisoned and oppressed. It also announces a return to Torah faithfulness (“the year of the Lord’s favor”), specifically in the context of economic restructuring that eliminates poverty (cf. Deuteronomy 15).

These are the elements of the Torah that the child in this week’s story will grow up to teach.

Lastly, I want to draw our attention to how Joseph is neither centered nor given any voice at all in this story. The only dialogue is between Mary and Jesus, and Joseph is in the periphery or background. Luke doesn’t ever center Joseph in any of the Christmas narratives.

I was recently contacted by a friend who had been tasked with speaking about Joseph during a church-related Christmas event, and they asked if I could offer some resources. But the more I thought about Joseph in the Christmas narratives, the more this point became clear. Luke’s Christmas narratives center women’s voices like Elizabeth’s and Mary’s. Even Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband, has his literal voice taken away till John’s birth. And we never hear from Joseph in Luke: he isn’t centered in Luke’s birth or childhood narratives of Jesus at all.  This most likely was because Hellenistic heroes were typically assigned divine parentage in some form. Today, we can hear these narratives, though, as centering the voices of women.

And maybe that’s our point that we can take away from these stories in our context.

Even in Matthew’s gospel, Joseph gets a little more stage time than he does in Luke, but not much. An angel tells him to believe Mary no matter how impossible her story might seem, and Joseph chooses to listen and believe her. We, too, can choose to listen when a woman has the courage to tell her story, even if it seems “impossible” to patriarchal men.

I think of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford who told her story during the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to be a Supreme Court Justice. So many disbelieved her testimony. During his nomination hearing, Kavanaugh assured Senator Susan Collins that he respected the precedents around Roe vs. Wade, yet now that he is a Supreme Court justice, he has expressed complete disregard for that precedent in hearings about abortion restrictions in Mississippi. How many times must our society look back with regret and say “we should have listened to ‘her’”?

Social location matters. If we are to take these Christmas narratives seriously, then we must center the voices of women in our society. We can choose to listen when they tell their stories. And we must especially be about this business within our faith communities as well. As people of faith, we, too, can follow the example of Lukes Christmas narratives by centering womens voices and pushing back against present-day expressions of Christianity that are patriarchal, that seek to silence women, or that still refuse to allow women to teach, be ordained, or hold positions of leadership. We must do better. And we can.

As this year comes to a close and we prepare to embark on a new year, may we take these narratives to heart. May we listen to their lessons. And may we spend this coming year more deeply engaging the necessary work of making our world a safer, more compassionate, just home for everyone.

Merry Christmas to each of you!

HeartGroup Application

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

2. With your group, share some things you are thankful for from 2021, something you wish had been different, and some hopes you may have for 2022.

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


End of Year Matching Donations!

2021 has been a year of big challenges. Doing ministry during an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought its share of change along with moments of heartwarming providence and blessings.

As this year is coming to a close, I’m deeply humbled and thankful for all of you who read, listen to, and share RHM’s work.  I’m also grateful for the actions you have taken to make our world a safer, compassionate, just home for all. Thank you for being such an important part of our community, and for your continued support.

Thanks to a kind donor, who also believes in our work, we are able to extend matching donations through the end of month of December.  All donation this month will be matched, dollar for dollar, making your support of Renewed Heart Ministries, and the work we do, go twice as far.

Your support enables RHM to continue providing much needed resources to help Jesus-followers find the intersection between their faith and labors of love, compassion, and justice in our world today.

As 2021 ends, we invite you to consider making a donation to Renewed Heart Ministries to make the most of this very kind offer.

You can donate online by clicking online at renewedheartministries.com and clicking “Donate.”

Or you can make a donation by mail at:

Renewed Heart Ministries

PO Box 1211

Lewisburg, WV 24901

Thank you in advance for your continued support.

This coming year, together, we will continue being a voice for change.

The Feminist Liberation of Advent

End of Year Matching Donations!

2021 has been a year of big challenges. Doing ministry during an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought its share of change along with moments of heartwarming providence and blessings.

As this year is coming to a close, I’m deeply humbled and thankful for all of you who read, listen to, and share RHM’s work.  I’m also grateful for the actions you have taken to make our world a safer, compassionate, just home for all. Thank you for being such an important part of our community, and for your continued support.

Thanks to a kind donor, who also believes in our work, we are able to extend matching donations through the end of month of December.  All donation this month will be matched, dollar for dollar, making your support of Renewed Heart Ministries, and the work we do, go twice as far.

Your support enables RHM to continue providing much needed resources to help Jesus-followers find the intersection between their faith and labors of love, compassion, and justice in our world today.

As 2021 ends, we invite you to consider making a donation to Renewed Heart Ministries to make the most of this very kind offer.

You can donate online by clicking online at renewedheartministries.com and clicking “Donate.”

Or you can make a donation by mail at:

Renewed Heart Ministries

PO Box 1211

Lewisburg, WV 24901

Thank you in advance for your continued support.

This coming year, together, we will continue being a voice for change.


The Feminist Liberation of Advent

Herb Montgomery | December 17, 2021

“In this week’s reading from the gospel of Luke, we read of two more women: Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist and Mary the mother of Jesus. Both Elizabeth and Mary would, for Luke’s listeners, call to mind ancient stories of courageous, scandalous, feminine liberation on behalf of oppressed people, the stories of Jael and Judith.”

Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke, Luke 1:39-55.

I’ve chosen to quote Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney’s translation in her wonderful contribution to the church, A Woman’s Lectionary for the Whole Church; Year W.

Mary set out in those days and went to the hill country with haste, to a Judean town. There she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. Now when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. From where does the [visit] come to me? That the mother of my Sovereign comes to me? Look! As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting in my ear, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Now blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of those things spoken to her by the Holy One.” (p. 6)

And Mary replies,

My soul magnifies the Holy One,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of God’s own womb-slave,

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is God’s name.

God’s loving-kindness is for those who fear God

from generation to generation.

God has shown the strength of God’s own arm;

God has scattered the arrogant in the intent of their hearts.

God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

God has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

God has helped God’s own child, Israel,

a memorial to God’s mercy,

just as God said to our mothers and fathers,

to [Hagar and] Sarah and Abraham, to their descendants forever. (pp. 8-9)

Those who heard Luke’s narrative and were familiar with the stories of the Hebrew scriptures would have recognized Elizabeth’s greeting as an echo of earlier Jewish narratives:

Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, most blessed of tent-dwelling women. (Judges 5:24)

Then Uzziah said to her, “Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth, who guided your blow at the head of the leader of our enemies. Your deed of hope will never be forgotten by those who recall the might of God.” (Judith 13:18)

The first quote about Jael is from the story of Deborah, a prophetess and judge. In the book of Judges, Deborah tells Barak, a military commander, to assemble forces and battle Sisera, commander of the army of King Jabin of Canaan. Jabin “had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years” and “they [Israelites] cried to the LORD for help.” (Judges 4:3)

Barak tells Deborah that he will only go if she goes with him. She agrees, but replies, “because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” (Judges 4:9)

When Sisera escapes the battle, he flees on foot and hides in the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber. He mistakes Jael as a neutral party in the battle. Jael then seduces Sisera only to drive a stake through his temple while he sleeps. Jael ushers Barak in to behold the gruesome scene.

The song of Deborah memorializes this story:

  Most blessed of women be Jael,

the wife of Heber the Kenite,

most blessed of tent-dwelling women.

He asked for water, and she gave him milk;

in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk.

  Her hand reached for the tent peg,

her right hand for the workmans hammer.

She struck Sisera, she crushed his head,

she shattered and pierced his temple.

  At her feet he sank,

he fell; there he lay.

At her feet he sank, he fell;

where he sank, there he fell—dead. (Judges 5:24-27)

This is a violent and bloody story of liberation from oppression by the hands of a woman. Medieval images of Jael often depict her as a prefiguration of Mary the mother of Jesus.

The second reference, from the deuterocanonical book of Judith, is found in the Septuagint. It tells the story of Judith, a courageous and beautiful Jewish widow. Judith uses her beauty and power of seduction to destroy the Assyrian general Holofernes and to liberate her people from oppression.

In Judith 10 we read:

“She removed the sackcloth she had been wearing, took off her widows garments, bathed her body with water, and anointed herself with precious ointment. She combed her hair, put on a tiara, and dressed herself in the festive attire that she used to wear while her husband Manasseh was living. She put sandals on her feet, and put on her anklets, bracelets, rings, earrings, and all her other jewelry. Thus she made herself very beautiful, to entice the eyes of all the men who might see her.” (Judith 10:3-4)

When Judith is captured by Holofernes’ patrol, she tells them, I am a daughter of the Hebrews, but I am fleeing from them, for they are about to be handed over to you to be devoured. I am on my way to see Holofernes the commander of your army, to give him a true report; I will show him a way by which he can go and capture all the hill country without losing one of his men, captured or slain.” (10:12-13)

Her beauty distracts them, and they take her to Holofernes who hears her tale and welcomes her.

Her words pleased Holofernes and all his servants. They marveled at her wisdom and said, “No other woman from one end of the earth to the other looks so beautiful or speaks so wisely! . . . You are not only beautiful in appearance, but wise in speech.” (11:20-23)

Holofernes holds a private banquet and intends to have sex with Judith afterwards. She gets him so drunk that late in the night, while he’s passed out and she’s alone with him, Judith stands beside Holofernes’ bed and prays: “O Lord God of all might, look in this hour on the work of my hands for the exaltation of Jerusalem” (13:4). She then takes down Holofornes’ sword, which hung from his bed post, and decapitates him in two blows.

This is another violent, bloody story of liberation from oppression by the hands of a woman.

In this week’s reading from the gospel of Luke, we read of two more women: Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist and Mary the mother of Jesus. Both Elizabeth and Mary would, for Luke’s listeners, call to mind ancient stories of courageous, scandalous, feminine liberation on behalf of oppressed people.

Elizabeth’s story is of a life miraculously conceived in her though she is past childbearing years. This is a common theme in Hebrew liberation narratives of liberation, including Hannah with Samuel, and Samson’s mother with Samson. Elizabeth’s miracle will prepare the way of liberation for people in hopeless oppression. Hers is a child who will proclaim hope in the face of impossibilities.

Mary’s story, on the other hand, is not one of life being created where it was impossible. Her story, like Jael’s and Judith’s, is much more sexually scandalous. The life growing in her was conceived before she and Joseph were joined in marriage. And that life will not prepare for liberation, like John’s will. No, this life will tell the story of the way of liberation itself. The scandal of Jesus’ conception, with all its surrounding questions, will climax in the scandal of women some thirty years later testifying to the scandal of an empty tomb.

These narratives aren’t perfect. In the ancient stories, it is the women who liberate. In the Christmas narratives women now give birth to sons who are the conduits of liberation. The ancient stories may have been written at a much less patriarchal time than the stories in our gospels; I don’t know. Still, this week’s reading is not about John or Jesus. The reading is about Elizabeth and Mary, who shaped them.

With all of this in mind, go back and read Mary’s Magnificat as translated by Rev. Wil Gafney, Ph.D:

My soul magnifies the Holy One,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of God’s own womb-slave,

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is God’s name.

God’s loving-kindness is for those who fear God

from generation to generation.

God has shown the strength of God’s own arm;

God has scattered the arrogant in the intent of their hearts.

God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

God has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

God has helped God’s own child, Israel,

a memorial to God’s mercy,

just as God said to our mothers and fathers,

to [Hagar and] Sarah and Abraham, to their descendants forever.

One of Advent’s loudest themes is that liberation, salvation, change come from the bottom up and from the outside edges in; from those in more marginalized social locations. In the economy or reign of the God of this gospel, it is the hungry who are filled with good things. It is the lowly who are lifted up. The arrogant are scattered, the powerful and privileged are brought down, and the rich are sent away empty.

As we look around us at our world, societies, and communities today, this way may seem as impossible as Elizabeth’s story. Dare we choose to be people of hope in the face of apparent impossibilities? Some may also deem this way as scandalous as Mary—scandalous in its inclusion, scandalous in its outspokenness, and scandalous in its brazenness.

During this time of Advent and always, this is the kind of life and work we are called to be about. Dare we choose to be people of the scandalous gospel of Jesus?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. On this last weekend of Advent, how are our stories speaking of liberation, change, and societal justice alongside of and in harmony with these ancient stories? 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

Advent as Too Political

End of Year Matching Donations!

2021 has been a year of big challenges. Doing ministry during an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought its share of change along with moments of heartwarming providence and blessings.

As this year is coming to a close, I’m deeply humbled and thankful for all of you who read, listen to, and share RHM’s work.  I’m also grateful for the actions you have taken to make our world a safer, compassionate, just home for all. Thank you for being such an important part of our community, and for your continued support.

Thanks to a kind donor, who also believes in our work, we are able to extend matching donations through the end of month of December.  All donation this month will be matched, dollar for dollar, making your support of Renewed Heart Ministries, and the work we do, go twice as far.

Your support enables RHM to continue providing much needed resources to help Jesus-followers find the intersection between their faith and labors of love, compassion, and justice in our world today.

As 2021 ends, we invite you to consider making a donation to Renewed Heart Ministries to make the most of this very kind offer.

You can donate online by clicking online at renewedheartministries.com and clicking “Donate.”

Or you can make a donation by mail at:

Renewed Heart Ministries

PO Box 1211

Lewisburg, WV 24901

Thank you in advance for your continued support.

This coming year, together, we will continue being a voice for change.


 

Advent as Too Political

Star in the night sky

by Herb Montgomery | December 10, 2021


“If Jesus really did begin as a disciple of John, what was it about John’s preaching that resonated so deeply? Was it concern for what people were unjustly suffering within a system structured to benefit others at their expense? . . . How can we, as Jesus-followers during Advent season, continue John’s and Jesus’ work in our own settings today?”


This weekend is the third weekend of Advent. Our reading is:

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized. Teacher,” they asked, what should we do?” “Dont collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, And what should we do?” He replied, Dont extort money and dont accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them. (Luke 3:7-18)

The followers of John the Baptist comprised a movement that preexisted the Jesus moment and co-existed alongside it for a time. They were quite a broad Jewish community (see Mark 1:5; 11:32; and Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 18:118-119). Most Jesus scholars today see Jesus’ and John’s movements as separate but related, perhaps with Jesus following John before launching out on his own (see Mark 1:14).

The gospel of John, the canonical gospel written last, goes to great lengths to portray Jesus and his movement as being superior to John’s, however, and there are differences between John’s movement and Jesus’, including differences on fasting and baptisms (see Mark 2:18; John 4:1-2).

This week, in the context of Advent, I’ll focus on the themes that John’s teachings and Jesus’ held in common.

To the crowds, John taught:

Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

To tax collectors:

Dont collect any more than you are required to.”

To soldiers:

Dont extort money and dont accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

In each of these instances, John reminds us of his own location: he’s not within the system of the temple-state we covered last week but a voice in the wilderness calling for social justice from outside. He’s standing within the Hebrew Prophetic tradition here. His concern is for justice to be practiced within his society because deeds prove social repentance is more than lip service. John demands that those who are exploiting others stop making them vulnerable.

Jesus made similar demands: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” (Luke 12.33; cf. Luke 4:18; 6:20; 11:41; 18:22; 19:8)

John and Jesus were not itinerant preachers traveling the countryside, handing out tickets to a post mortem heaven as an escape from this world’s problems or a reward for religious purity. They were both itinerant prophets of the poor, deeply concerned not about a life hereafter but about the concrete realities of those suffering in the here and now.

In this light, and especially during the season of Advent, a Christianity that focuses on achieving entrance into heaven without regard for injustices being committed right now is out of harmony with the teachings of both John and Jesus.

For many Christians, it’s rare to speak out against real world injustice. I’ve bumped up against this disconnect myself. As I’ve spoken out against racism and White supremacy, patriarchy and misogyny, classism and predatory capitalism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and exclusion, for many years now, too often it’s my Christian friends who’ve told me that we are to be “not of this world” and that I was reading the Jesus story too “politically.”

By “too political,” my friends don’t mean that I was endorsing and promoting a certain political party or specific candidate. But in our highly charged environment, speaking out against harm being done to vulnerable communities is political. Jesus was also political in that he taught that the reign of God belonged to those the present system makes poor.

Both Jesus and John are religious in the sense that they both interpreted their religious commitment to the God of the Torah, but their teachings were also political, economic, and social as well. You can’t separate Jesus’ and John’s teachings along these hard lines or categories. If you begin with an understanding that God loves everyone, then any harm being done in the present to the objects of that love should be opposed. This is what we see happening in the lives and ministries of both John and Jesus. Speaking out got John beheaded. It got Jesus crucified.

I’m reminded of the words of the late Dr. James H. Cone in this regard:

“What has the gospel to do with the oppressed of the land and their struggle for liberation? Any theologian who fails to place that question at the center of his or her work has ignored the essence of the gospel.” (James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed, p. 9)

Whether speaking out against harm to vulnerable communities is political all depends on which communities you claim are being harmed. If, for example, I were saying that Christian religious freedoms are being limited by recognition of same-sex marriage, or that men are at risk because of the accusations of the Me Too movement, or that White folks were being harmed by the teaching of critical race theory, or, especially at this time of year, that Christmas itself was under attack, then I would probably be applauded. I wouldn’t be accused of being “too political.” I’m guessing I wouldn’t hear that as Christians “we are not of this world.”

The problem, then, isn’t that I’ve taken a side, but which side I’ve have taken. Have I taken the side of those who are losing their positions of privilege and power in a changing society, or have I, reading the Jesus story through the lens of oppressed people, chosen to speak out alongside communities that for too long have been crying out for justice and change? Social location matters. Which communities in which social locations have we chosen to speak out alongside?

This Advent season, may we stand in the spirit of John and Jesus, and carve out time to listen to those calling for justice and change in our day. May we make time to listen to Indigenous communities and immigrants; to trans, lesbian, gay and bisexual people; let’s listen to Black and Brown people; to women and religious minorities in our communities; and let’s listen to those who, economically, daily scratch and scrape to survive on the losing side of our economic games.

If Jesus really did begin as a disciple of John, what was it about John’s preaching that resonated so deeply? Was it concern for what people were unjustly suffering within a system structured to benefit others at their expense? Jesus repeated and enlarged these themes in his own life and teachings.

How can we, as Jesus-followers during Advent season, continue John’s and Jesus’ work in our own settings today?

 

HeartGroup Application

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

2. How does Advent call you to focus on concrete forms of justice work in our society 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


 


 

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

Advent, Hope, and Living on the Margins

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

ornament with a church in it's reflection

Herb Montgomery | December 3, 2021


“The gospel message here, and one of my favorite Advent themes, is that salvation, change, and liberation don’t come from the center of our societies, but from the margins. . . . Advent tells a liberation story that 2,000 years ago inspired hope in those who were being forced to live on their own society’s margins. Can it for us today?”


Our reading this week is from the Gospel of Luke:

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

  A voice of one calling in the wilderness,

Prepare the way for the Lord,

make straight paths for him.

Every valley shall be filled in,

every mountain and hill made low.

The crooked roads shall become straight,

the rough ways smooth.

And all people will see Gods salvation.’ ” (Luke 3:1-6)

I love this week’s Advent reading for so many reasons.

The narrative has the “word of God” coming to John in an unusual location. John was a son of Zechariah the priest (Luke 1:5) and therefore, by lineage, he should not be in the wilderness acting like an ancient Hebrew prophet. He should have been occupying his place in the temple services, being a priest like his father. Instead, John rejected the path of working in the system or changing the system from the inside. I can imagine the struggle John might have gone through when he told his father that he wasn’t going to follow the family expectations and abandon a path toward priesthood for the margins of his society, the edges, and the wilderness.

The narrative’s contrast between the temple versus the wilderness resurrects a tension repeated by the Hebrew prophets: the centralized temple state and its priesthood versus those on the margins or edges of their society. The Hebrew prophets in the wilderness called for justice, for liberation, and for all violence against society’s vulnerable to cease.

This contrast takes on even more meaning when one realizes that one national myth of the Judean Temple-state was that Jerusalem and the Temple would eventually become the center of the world and all nations would flow to it. Consider these passages. All emphasis is added:

Psalms 2:6I have installed my king

on Zion, my holy mountain [the temple in Jerusalem].”

Psalms 14:7 Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! [Jerusalem and the Temple]

When the LORD restores his people,

let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad! (emphasis added)

Psalms 69:35-46- for God will save Zion [Jerusalem and the Temple]

and rebuild the cities of Judah.

Then people will settle there and possess it; the children of his servants will inherit it,

and those who love his name will dwell there.

Psalms 102:15-16 The nations will fear the name of the LORD,

all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.

  For the LORD will rebuild Zion [Jerusalem and the Temple]

and appear in his glory.

  He will respond to the prayer of the destitute;

he will not despise their plea.

  Let this be written for a future generation,

that a people not yet created may praise the LORD:

  The LORD looked down from his sanctuary on high,

from heaven he viewed the earth,

to hear the groans of the prisoners

and release those condemned to death.”

So the name of the LORD will be declared in Zion [Jerusalem and the Temple]

and his praise in Jerusalem

when the peoples and the kingdoms

assemble to worship the LORD.

Isaiah 4:5- Then the LORD will create over all of Mount Zion [Jerusalem and the Temple] and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over everything the glory will be a canopy.

Isaiah 18:7 At that time gifts will be brought to the LORD Almighty

from a people tall and smooth-skinned,

from a people feared far and wide,

an aggressive nation of strange speech,

whose land is divided by rivers—

the gifts will be brought to Mount Zion [Jerusalem and the Temple], the place of the Name of the LORD Almighty.

Isaiah 60:10-14Foreigners will rebuild your walls,

and their kings will serve you.

Though in anger I struck you,

in favor I will show you compassion.

Your gates will always stand open,

they will never be shut, day or night,

so that people may bring you the wealth of the nations

their kings led in triumphal procession.

For the nation or kingdom that will not serve you will perish;

it will be utterly ruined.

The glory of Lebanon will come to you,

the juniper, the fir and the cypress together,

to adorn my sanctuary;

and I will glorify the place for my feet.

The children of your oppressors will come bowing before you;

all who despise you will bow down at your feet

and will call you the City of the LORD,

Zion of the Holy One of Israel. [Jerusalem and the Temple] (emphasis added)

In the gospels, John rejects all of this. He turns his back on the city and its temple and takes up residence along the margins or the wilderness of his own society. The gospel message here, and one of my favorite Advent themes, is that salvation, change, and liberation don’t come from the center of our societies, but from the margins.

In Say to This Mountain by Ched Myers, Marie Dennis, Joseph Nangle, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, and Stuart Taylor, the authors write,

“The experience of wilderness is common to the vast majority of people in the world. Their reality is at the margins of almost everything that is defined by the modern Western world as ‘the good life.’ This wilderness has not been created by accident. It is the result of a system stacked against many people and their communities, whose lives and resources are exploited to benefit a very small minority at the centers of power and privilege. It is created by lifestyles that deplete and pollute natural resources . . . Wilderness is the residue of war and greed and injustice.” (Say to This Mountain: Mark’s Story of Discipleship, p. 11)

Advent begins by birthing hope within people who live in the wildernesses of their society: it tells  them that their lived experience on the margins of any society is not the result of divine will but the result of social, political, economic and religious forces wielded by the privileged and the powerful in our communities.

Our reading from Luke this week also corrects a conflation of passages we first read in Mark’s gospel:

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

  I will send my messenger ahead of you,

who will prepare your way” —

a voice of one calling in the wilderness,

Prepare the way for the Lord,

make straight paths for him.’ ” (Mark 1:1-3)

These words were not from the same source but from Exodus, Malachi, and Isaiah.

See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.” (Exodus 23:20)

I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 3:1)

These words from Exodus speak of the liberation of Hebrew slaves and those from other groups who left Egypt with them. I question what the indigenous peoples of Canaan thought about this, given the history of how this same narrative was used against indigenous people here in America. We must be careful to remember that the liberation of one community should not mean the genocide of another.

The context of the passage from Malachi is God coming to God’s temple opposing “those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice” (Malachi 3:5). Because of this passage, I think of those today who must work more than 40 hours each week for less pay than they need to on .

Luke’s gospel drops these references to Exodus and Malachi and keep only the passage from Isaiah, though Luke will use the passage from Exodus and Malachi later in the Jesus story to refer to John:

“This is the one about whom it is written: I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.” (Luke 7:27)

The passage in Isaiah reads, “A voice of one calling: In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.”

Both John and Jesus emerge from the margins of their society and come to liberate oppressed people and restore justice to them. The gospels describe John as the forerunner for the reign of God that Jesus taught. Jesus came calling for change. But change doesn’t just happen.

Before any social change has ever taken place, years of groundwork has been laid. Many of those who did that initial ground work never lived long enough to see the fruit of their labor. They worked for a generation yet to come. Change doesn’t always take that long either: we can always choose change today.

But I think of changes taking place presently in the state of Georgia as just one example. The political changes we are witnessing in Georgia result from years of ground work by so many people including Stacey Abrams.

Changes today also depend on the work of generations who have gone before us. People chose to do the work they did not knowing for sure that change would come. They chose to live the kind of lives they lived because that was the type of people either they were and they refused to let the system shape them. They lived their life in a way that, even if they didn’t change the system, at least the system wouldn’t change them. Others did their work simply because it was the right thing to do. And still others labored because they hoped that one day, society would “reach the promised land” whether they were there to witness it or not.

This week’s reading includes two highly charged religious words: repentance and forgiveness.

If it helps, think of repentance as “thinking about things differently.” It’s much more about experiencing a paradigm shift than it is about the negative connotations religious abuse usually attaches to the term. Remember, too, that although contemporary Christianity often discusses forgiveness in the context of personal, individual morality, for the Hebrew prophets forgiveness and repentance sat in the context of calls for systemic justice and liberating a nation from injustice’s harmful effects. The Hebrew prophetic tradition speaks of sin as social injustice, repentance as turning away from that social injustice, and forgiveness as social restoration from that social injustice.

This is the context of John’s message that his listeners change their unjust ways for God’s reign. God’s just future was near.

I think of our society now. I think of LGBTQ justice work, racial justice work, and justice work for women. I think of economic justice for those our system pushes into poverty. I think of indigenous justice, and climate justice. So many justice movements are presently engaging our world, seeking to make it a safer, compassionate, just home for everyone.

During this Advent season, I also think of the Jesus story, not as only a Christian story to celebrate at Christmas time, but as a liberation story that 2,000 years ago inspired hope in those who were being forced to live on their own society’s margins.

What does Advent have to say to those living on the margins in our world today?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. How does Advent speak of liberation 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



End of Year Matching Donations!

2021 has been a year of big challenges. Doing ministry during an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought its share of change along with moments of heartwarming providence and blessings.

As this year is coming to a close, I’m deeply humbled and thankful for all of you who read, listen to, and share RHM’s work.  I’m also grateful for the actions you have taken to make our world a safer, compassionate, just home for all. Thank you for being such an important part of our community, and for your continued support.

Thanks to a kind donor, who also believes in our work, we are able to extend matching donations through the end of month of December.  All donation this month will be matched, dollar for dollar, making your support of Renewed Heart Ministries, and the work we do, go twice as far.

Your support enables RHM to continue providing much needed resources to help Jesus-followers find the intersection between their faith and labors of love, compassion, and justice in our world today.

As 2021 ends, we invite you to consider making a donation to Renewed Heart Ministries to make the most of this very kind offer.

You can donate online by clicking online at renewedheartministries.com and clicking “Donate.”

Or you can make a donation by mail at:

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Thank you in advance for your continued support.

This coming year, together, we will continue being a voice for change.

Advent and a Different Iteration of Our World

advent candles

by Herb Montgomery | November 29, 2021

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

 


“As we enter this Advent season this weekend, we are called again to build a better world. Hope can give way to despair if instead of change, we witness unjust systems evolving to perpetuate harm in new ways. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can choose something different. We have the power to begin the world over again.”


 

Happy Advent!

As we enter the Advent season this weekend, our reading is from the gospel of Luke,

There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” He told them this parable: Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:25-36)

As I wrote about our reading from Mark’s gospel two weeks ago, by the time this week’s reading was written, the Jesus movement was living in the wake of several destructive events including the Jewish-Roman war. The followers of Jesus are trying to make sense of all these events in both Luke and Mark.

In Mark we read a similar passage:

But in those days, following that distress,

  the sun will be darkened,

and the moon will not give its light;

  the stars will fall from the sky,

and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.

At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” (Mark 13:24-27)

I like how the early Jesus community, even in the chaos of their changing world, could perceive an opportunity to make the world a just, more compassionate place. Let me explain this idea.

The phrase “son of man” in Mark and Luke has a deeply Jewish, apocalyptic, liberation context. It’s from the late book of Daniel, and when that portion of Daniel was written, it was written in the context of deep “world change” for the Jewish community reading it. It was meant to inspire hope in the place of fear and anxiety.

Let’s look at a section of Daniel to understand this context. I’ve bolded the key words we’ll be focusing on in Daniel chapter 7:

“In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream. Daniel said: In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea. The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a human being, and the mind of a human was given to it. And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, Get up and eat your fill of flesh! After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule. After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beastterrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns. While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a human being and a mouth that spoke boastfully.

As I looked,

  thrones were set in place,

and the Ancient of Days took his seat.

His clothing was as white as snow;

the hair of his head was white like wool.

His throne was flaming with fire,

and its wheels were all ablaze.

  A river of fire was flowing,

coming out from before him.

Thousands upon thousands attended him;

ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.

The court was seated,

and the books were opened.

Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

As with all of the Bible’s prophetic passages, people have spent endless hours arguing over possible interpretations from the themes to the most minute details—so much so that these arguments can cause us to miss the forest for the trees.

What is the overall narrative theme here? World empires that oppressed the Jewish people are likened to violent beasts of prey who dominate and destroy. The scene has tension from the beginning: the first beast-empire is both beast or monster and human. From there, the text speaks of a divine intervention where each empire meets the end of its unsustainable exploitation and is consumed. Then we meet a fifth being, not a beast but a human or human-like one. This being is “one like the son of humanity,” a person who replaces all the empires of this world and represents both the Jewish people’s triumph over their oppressors and a just future where all the violence, injustice, and oppression of our world is put right. This very apocalyptic narrative therefore repeats the Hebrew prophetic hope of God’s just future in our world. Consider how the narrative in Daniel 7 ends:

But the court will sit, and his [little horn’s] 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. His [the son of man’s] kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.(Daniel 7:26)

Following this model, a Hebrew way of interpreting the end of violent empires and the chaos such transitions create is that they could be the end of something beastly making way for the creation of a more humane world.

The fact that beasts and humans symbolize the contrast between societies that are destructive and those that are life-giving brings to mind the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. regarding power, love, and justice.

“What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.” (Martin Luther King Jr., Where Do We Go from Here, p. 38)

The son of man is not the only image borrowed from the Hebrew scriptures in this week’s reading: it also includes the fig tree. This reference also hints to its hearers that we may look through the chaos to the hope of God’s just future.

“All the stars in the sky will be dissolved

and the heavens rolled up like a scroll;

all the starry host will fall

like withered leaves from the vine,

like shriveled figs from the fig tree.” (Isaiah 34:4)

For the scriptures’ first audiences, a leafy fig tree meant that summer and the time of harvest was near. For both Isaiah and the gospel writers, “the time of harvest” was the time when societies would finally reap what the powerful had sown.

Mark and Luke also both use the phrase “being on guard,” but they use it differently.

In Mark, being on guard means being wary of false messiahs and being handed over to local councils. It is connected to the watchfulness Jesus implored his closest disciples to join him in in the garden of Gethsemane as he was about to face state execution for standing up in the Temple courtyard to an unjust status quo.

By the time of Luke’s writing, though, being on guard has expanded to include carousing, and this shift may reflect struggles within the Jesus community at the time Luke was written.

Luke’s gospel also shifts our vision of God’s just future as a time of reversal that “traps” some kinds of people. Mark used this idea of entrapment to refer to those who were powerful and using their power in unjust ways, but in Luke the trap captures those who are distracted:

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.” (Luke 21:34)

Lastly, where Mark’s gospel focuses on the Jewish community, Luke’s gospel expands the focus to the entire world: “For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth.”

How can we as Jesus followers read the above passage in Luke today?

Today I think of the beast of Daniel 7 when I think of our era. We are living in what some observers see as the final stages of predatory capitalism, and we are also transitioning to a post-pandemic world too. In the U.S.’s consumerist culture, we are experiencing rising prices in the cost of living, supply chain breakdowns, increased demand for services and goods, labor shortages, and people who still can’t return to their workplace and/or are feeling strained by working 40 hours weekly for pay they can’t survive on. Over the last two years, many of us have experience personal losses while witnessing others’ gains, especially the wealthy whose net worth increased exponentially during the pandemic. This week we once again see our legal system’s disparities on display via the Rittenhouse trial, the trial of those who killed Ahmaud Arbery, and the trial of those who orchestrated the racist violence in Charlottesvile.

Dare we see in these moments an opportunity to build a better world? If we can, it would be characteristic of the Jesus story itself.

As we enter this Advent season this weekend, we are called again to build a better world. Hope can give way to despair if instead of change, we witness unjust systems evolving to perpetuate harm in new ways. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can choose something different. We have the power to begin the world over again.

The lectionary texts our Advent season begins with this year are interpreted by certain Christians to point not to the first advent that many celebrate at Christmas but to a second advent, or God’s reign, or God’s just future in some form at some point in the future. Certain Christians see these as two advents. I want to challenge us to move past surface distinctions.  I want to encourage us to see not two advent events (first with baby Jesus and a future second with an adult returning Jesus), but instead as one entire process of transforming our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone; a process that is distributed over time. The events of our text this week, and the narratives of a baby in a manger, are both parts of the same whole. As we move into Advent, remember, the hope and belief that a new iteration of our world is possible, and that the creation of that new iteration has begun, is what Advent is genuinely all about.

 

HeartGroup Application

 

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

2. As Advent begins this year, what does Advent in our social context mean for you 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

 


#GivingTuesday 2021

 

Tomorrow is #GivingTuesday!

This year we are asking you to support the work of Renewed Heart Ministries on this special day.

All contributions this #GivingTuesday 2021 to RHM will be matched, dollar for dollar, thanks to a generous and kind pledge to from a few of our supporters.

On this special day, November 30th, go to renewedheartministries.com and click “Donate.”

 

#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving that harnesses the collective power of individuals, communities and organizations to encourage philanthropy and to celebrate generosity worldwide.

#GivingTuesday is held annually on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (in the US) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday to kick off the holiday giving season and inspire people to collaborate in improving our communities and to give back in impactful ways to the charities and causes they support.

#GivingTuesday is a global giving movement that began in 2012 that has been built by individuals, families, organizations, businesses and communities in all 50 states, and in countries around the world.

#GivingTuesday is endeavoring to transform how people think about, talk about, and participate in the giving season. It inspires people to take collective action to improve their communities, give back in better, smarter ways to the charities and causes they believe in, and help create a better world.

#GivingTuesday demonstrates how every act of generosity counts, and that they mean even more when we give together.

Every year millions of people come together on this special day to give back and to support the causes they believe in.

This November 30th, consider making a donation to support the ongoing work of Renewed Heart Ministries as one of your chosen nonprofits and help make this #Giving Tuesday the best one yet.

Again, on this special day, tomorrow, go to renewedheartministries.com and click “Donate.”

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Declaring War Against Poverty

Picture of a pottery bowl

November is A Shared Table 2021 month!  Find out more here.


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


by Herb Montgomery | November 12, 2021

“Seen through this lens and given Jesus’ love for the poor of his own society, Jesus’s criticism of the state was a criticism of a system that had both created poverty and then further exploited those forced to live in that poverty . . . In the gospels we get a picture of Jesus who, focused on sustainable (eternal) life, would have criticized any system that created luxury for a few at the expense of the many.”

Our reading this week is from the gospel of Mark:

As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” Jesus said to them: Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, I am he,and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.” (Mark 13:1-8)

By the time this week’s reading was written, the Jesus movement was living in the wake of destructions including the Jewish-Roman war (66-70 C.E.) that culminated in Rome’s razing Jerusalem and the Jewish temple to the ground. These followers of Jesus are trying to make sense of all these events.

Mark’s gospel therefore paints Jesus as critical of Jerusalem and the temple as the capital seat of the Temple State to the point of foretelling their destruction. Each gospel’s version of the Jesus story describes Jesus as critical of Jerusalem and the temple, and Mark even includes Jesus’ criticism as one of the charges brought against him in his final trials:

“Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: ‘We heard him say, I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.’ Yet even then their testimony did not agree.” (Mark 14:57-59)

I want us to wrestle with why Jesus, a faithful Jewish male in early 1st century Judaism, would have been critical of the temple or Jerusalem? Think of the term “Jerusalem” here in much the same way as many say “D.C.” or “Washington” when speaking of the system of government centered there.

Christians have long interpreted the events fo 70 C.E. as God punishing the Jews for rejecting Jesus, and that’s been deeply harmful to our Jewish siblings. I want to offer an alternative interpretation.

The Temple was the heart of Judaism during the time of Jesus, but let’s look at this week’s passage in more than its religious context. As the seat of the Jewish Temple State, the Temple was also the heart of the banking system and the food industry (both meat and grain), and the seat of political power for Judea under Rome.

Jesus’ criticisms should not be interpreted as anti-Jewish or anti-Judaism. Jesus was a faithful Jewish man debating within his own society, and his voice was one of many at the time arguing about what it meant to be a faithful Jewish follower of the Torah given the Torah’s teachings on the poor and eliminating poverty. Seen through this lens and given Jesus’ love for the poor of his own society, Jesus’s criticism of the state was a criticism of a system that had both created poverty and then further exploited those forced to live in that poverty.

Those living after the Jewish-Roman War of 66-70 C.E. would have recognized the events described in this week’s passage. As we’ve discussed, the Jewish-Roman War began an initial uprising of the poor against rich Temple elites who served as conduits of the Roman Empire. The poor people’s revolt began with their overrunning the Temple and burning all the debt records held against the poor, and each stage of the takeover escalated. Once the Jewish rebels gained control and Rome was brought in, a war broke out between the rebels and Rome while the Jewish elites futilely endeavored to maintain allegiance to Rome as violent uprising erupted all around them.

Josephus corroborates Mark’s descriptions of this era. In The War of the Jews, he describes “a great number of false prophets” who with “signs and wonders” promised “deliverance” or liberation. But in the end, their movements only resulted in masses of the “miserable people” who followed them being slaughtered by Rome (Book 6.285-309). Josephus also writes of the famine in Jerusalem that resulted when the grain storehouses “which would have been sufficient for a siege of many years” were burned by various “treacherous faction in the city” (5.21-26).Finally, he describes the burning the Temple itself (6.249-266).

Many more than Jesus called the people to address the plight of the poor and to end a system that financially benefited wealthy families at the poor’s expense. The rich got richer and the poor only got poorer.

So Mark’s gospel called its audience to see the overthrowing of such economically exploitative systems not as “the end,” but as the “beginnings of birth pains” for a new world.

This makes me think of how so many living at this stage of the pandemic now long for a return to normal. I don’t want to go back to that normal, a world that disproportionally harmed certain sectors of society while giving others privilege, power, and property. I don’t want a post-pandemic world that looks like the pre-pandemic world. We can do better. And we have an opportunity to do just that now. With all the talk of “building back better,” we must continue to ask “better for whom?” Over the last year, the billionaire class has only become more wealthy despite almost 5 million lives lost globally and over 742,000 within the U.S.

So Jesus’ critique of the Temple and Jerusalem was not about being against Judaism, but rather his opposition to an economic, political, and social system that creates and worsens poverty. I wonder what Marks Jesus would say of the United States today if he were on earth?

Jesus’s path pointed us toward life, life to the full (John 10:10), specially for the poor (Luke 6:22)—life and life more abundantly for all. In the gospels we get a picture of Jesus who, focused on sustainable (eternal) life, would have criticized any system that created luxury for a few at the expense of the many. Following Jesus’ path means following him in rejecting any system that manufactures scarcity to create wealth at the expense of vulnerable people.

I’m reminded of the words of liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez:

The poor person does not exist as an inescapable fact of destiny. His or her existence is not politically neutral, and it is not ethically innocent. The poor are a by-product of the system in which we live and for which we are responsible. They are marginalized by our social and cultural world. They are the oppressed, exploited proletariat, robbed of the fruit of their labor and despoiled of their humanity. Hence the poverty of the poor is not a call to generous relief action, but a demand that we go and build a different social order.” (Gustavo Gutierrez, The Power of the Poor in History, p. 44)

Gutierrez’ words resonate with Mark’s picture of Jesus. What would a different social order look like to you? Can you imagine a world without poverty? What would we need to have in place to eliminate poverty? Jesus’ gospel spoke of a God of life who loved all and desired “life to the full” for all the objects of that love.

Are these just words? Do we who follow this Jesus really believe that a world like that is possible? Can poverty really be overcome? The child tax credit that has already lifted 40% of children out of poverty here in the U.S., and the US just approved billions of increased dollars for the U.S. military budget. I wonder what would happen if we apportioned that same money toward a war against global poverty instead?

It’s convenient for Christians to interpret Jesus’ criticism of the Temple as being about Judaism rather than being about addressing poverty. After all, poverty is a matter of human responsibility. We create it. We can change it. If we choose to interpret Jesus’ words as the latter, then we, too, are called to address poverty. That is the life-giving interpretation; the other bears the fruit of poverty being inevitable or unchangeable and therefore the fruit of death and harm.

I’ll close this week with the words of Nelson Mandela from a speech he gave in 2005 at the Make Poverty History rally in London’s Trafalgar Square:

Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the action of human beings.”

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Over the last couple weeks, we’ve been discussing what life-giving sharing looks like? Are there societies that in your opinion are managing wealth disparity well.  What is it about those societies that you like? What are things in those societies that you feel still need addressed? What parts would you like to see reproduced here in the U.S.? 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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A Widow, Taxes, and Giving More Than What is Life-Giving to Give

Picture of a pottery bowl

November is A Shared Table 2021 month!  Find out more here.


Herb Montgomery | November 5, 2021


“This story does not praise the piety of the poor within a system that takes economic advantage of their piety. It condemns any system that conditions and then exploits people to give more than what is life-giving for them to give.”


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

Our reading this week is from the gospel of Mark,

As he taught, Jesus said, Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widowshouses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12.38-44, emphasis added.)

I interpret this week’s critique as aimed at the political economy of Jesus’ society, not its religions. Some of those who were deeply religious made the lives of poor people more difficult and exploited their situation. I reject any interpretation that would place Judaism itself in a poor light, because Jesus’ concern for the widow in this story is in perfect harmony with deeply held Jewish values.

Deuteronomy, for example, imagines a society where poverty is eliminated:

“There need be no poor people among you.” (Deuteronomy 15:4)

And the Hebrew scriptures repeatedly single out and express concern for the kind of people centered in our story this week: widows.

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

“When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.” (Deuteronomy 24:19-21)

“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)

“This is what the LORD 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)

See also Isaiah 1:23 and 10:2; Jeremiah 7:6; Zechariah 7:10; and Malachi 3:5.

Common interpretations of our story this week fall short. Typically they exalt the poor widow’s religious piety, her willingness to give her all rather than critique a system that would take her all. These interpretations often communicate the idea that God values the gifts of the poor more than the contributions of the affluent, and they praise the sacrificial nature of the worship of poor people.  I find these interpretations deeply harmful and oppressive to the poor.

Social location always matters. How we interpret any sacred text depends on what questions we bring to it, and those questions are determined by how we experience life. We don’t all experience life the same way. Therefore, those in different social locations bring to their sacred texts a different set of questions and get a different set of answers as they read. To get life-giving answers, we must first ask life-giving questions, and the common interpretations of this week’s story are not life-giving. They are the interpretations of those with privilege and status.

This week, I want to offer a different reading of this story, a reading grounded in Mark’s Jesus repeatedly stating that the reign of God means a great reversal: those who are presently valued as last are centered and made first and those presently privileged as first are made last.

First, Jesus accuses the pious, elite class of his society of devouring widow’s houses. Then, in the very next story, Mark offers an example. Far from praising the widow for giving all, Mark’s story condemns all systems, whether religious, political, economic, or social, that condition her to give her all and gleefully take it from her.

“Jesus condemns the value system that motivates her action, and he condemns the people who conditioned her to do it.” (A. Wright, The Widow’s Mite: Praise or Lament? A Matter of Context, CBQ, 44, p 256.; Quoted in Ched Myers’ Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, p. 321)

So just as Jesus warned, the widow in this story is being “devoured,” i.e., being robbed of her very means of existence.

I think of taxation systems that devour the resources of poor people today. Regressive tax systems place a greater weight of sharing space in society on the poor. Progressive taxation is rooted in the concern that the wealthy pay their fair share of the cost of sharing space in society.

Earlier this year here in WV, some legislators pushed to remove West Virginia’s income tax. It would have been a regressive move that would have further transferred society’s tax burden away from the wealthy to the poor and middle class. For now, this harmful push has failed. I want my taxes to be used for the common good, to help those in need, and I favor tax systems that do so progressively not regressively. In this week’s story, Mark’s Jesus condemns a flat, regressive tax structure that “devours the houses” of those already struggling to live through poverty.

I also don’t subscribe to an interpretation of this story that makes light of the gifts of the wealthy and places an inequitable burden on the poor. Those who see in their wealth as a call to share their superfluous “plenty” with those who have less or whose daily needs are not being met are following the principle we read elsewhere in the Christian scriptures: “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 8:14).

I think, too, of the multitude of nonprofits in the world doing good with individuals and working for systemic change .They exist solely from contributions given by people with the means to support that work. These gifts are the lifeblood of those organizations. As we work toward a day when these kinds of organizations may not be needed, we must also acknowledge how vitally necessary their work is in the meantime.

We should reject any interpretation of this week’s story that either diminishes the wealthy as they follow the ethical call of the gospel to give their wealth away or praises systems that burden those barely surviving. These interpretations contradict the overarching economic themes found in the teachings of Jesus in the gospels. The same Jesus that called the rich man to give his possessions to the poor also condemns any system that devours widows’ houses under the guise of something praiseworthy such as national fidelity, cultural pride, and/or religious piety. The widow’s motive in the above story could be any of these.

Ultimately, Jesus’ desire in the stories is that people would have life and have it more abundantly—“to the full” (John 10:10). This isn’t abundance in a prosperity gospel or capitalist sense but in the sense of a human community where every person in the community is thriving. Whether we call it eternal life, abundant life, or just a sustainable life, this is a community where no one has too little while others have too much. It’s an imaginative vision of a world where every person is connected to and committed to others, where every person’s needs are being met, and where no one is becoming wealthy off the exploitation of another. No matter how glorious exploitative systems of luxury may look on the outside, they are not sustainable. As Mark says of the eventual end of these systems, Not one stone here will be left on another” (Mark 13:2).

This story does not praise the piety of the poor within a system that takes economic advantage of their piety. It condemns any system that conditions and then exploits people to give more than what is life-giving for them to give.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What does a life-giving sharing the cost of shared public space, giving to causes and organizations, or sharing with those who have less than they need look like 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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