When Liberation Becomes Complicated

Herb Montgomery | June 17, 2022


“And what does change cost? Is it this cost that causes us to be more moderate when we should be directly and actively opposed to things in our system that are harming the objects of the Universal Divine love we preach? Do we see ourselves in this story?”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, dont torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.

Jesus asked him, What is your name?”

Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesusfeet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. (Luke 8:26-39)

This week’s story hasn’t aged well. Taking the story literally has born harmful fruit to those with disabilities because the culture in which the Jesus story was written and shared believed that things like mental disabilities and epilepsy were the result of demonic possession.

Josephus, a Jewish historian near the time of Jesus, wrote:

“Exorcism is an exceptionally powerful cure among our own people down to this very day.” (Jewish Antiquities, 8.46)

Today we know better. Things we once did not understand that once had supernatural explanations now have scientific explanations. The history of scientific discovery should make us careful about explaining things we still do not understand today with supernatural explanations, especially explanations like demon possession that have historically only hurt marginalized communities. Stories like this week’s now need to be shared with interpretive explanations to reduce the risk that Christians might use them to wittingly or unwittingly harm others.

In this story, the demonic possession is a metaphor for the very concrete, literal political reality of the Jewish people during this time. The Jewish people were possessed, that is, occupied by the Roman empire. One hint that this story should not be taken literally but as code for political oppression is that the name of the “demon” possessing the man in the story is Legion.

A Roman legion was the Roman army’s largest military unit. This occupying, militaristic presence kept Rome’s invaded and conquered territories in line during the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome. These occupying forces, literally peacekeepers, kept uprisings and rebellions repressed through their continual military presence.

Another sign of metaphor in this story is the presence of pigs and pig farmers in a Hellenized Jewish community. Pigs are unclean in the Torah and forbidden as food. I imagine that the Jewish farmers in this story may have raised them for export to other regions of the Roman empire. Pig farming in this Jewish community indicates the economic entanglement of being “possessed” by the Roman empire. Roman occupation, especially in Hellenized Galilee, was a complex reality where Roman occupation both harmed and benefited the people simultaneously.

And this is a major story theme. To be liberated from Rome would come at a cost, an economic cost at least. The community eventually rejects Jesus’ liberation ministry because even though Roman occupation harmed them in some areas of their lives, it was beneficial in others and they were willing to live with it.

Jesus’ exorcism represented a real, political repudiation of the Roman occupying force. The people’s response to Jesus reveals the sentiment in some Hellenized communities that they didn’t want to be liberated to the extent that they would lose the benefits of Rome’s occupation. They may have wanted independence but that desire simply did not outweigh the benefits occupation brought to their daily lives.

Last month, Renewed Heart Ministries recommended book of the month was Kwok Pui-lan’s Postcolonial Politics and Theology: Unraveling Empire for a Global World. The work of decolonizing our theology and unravelling from empire is relevant to our story this week. The tension we encounter in this story between the desire for liberation and the fear of uncertainty and change that freedom and independence would bring is very real and not something we should brush off too lightly.

I used to read this story with eyes focused primarily on the demoniac. But as I get older, I’m starting to perceive the demoniac as a story device to connect the hearers of this story to its central characters: those so enmeshed and entangled in the system of their oppressors that they no longer want liberation when the possibility arises. Ched Myers reminds us, “Whether personal or political, liberation has a cost, and there will always be those unwilling to risk it.” (*Myers, Ched; Dennis, Marie; Nangle, Joseph; Moe-Lobeda, Cynthia; Taylor, Stuart, “Say to This Mountain”: Mark’s Story of Discipleship, p. 60)

We often have said here at Renewed Heart Ministries that our primary work as followers of the moral philosophy of Jesus in our contemporary context is to, in whatever way we can, work toward shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone, especially those made unsafe in our world and our societies.

As we imagine what a safer, more just world could look like, and as we work toward that kind of world, how do our entanglements with our current society create tension and reluctance for us to change things today?

For some people, this society doesn’t outweigh the desire for change; it doesn’t even come close. But for many others, and I’m thinking of many of my liberal friends who are straddling two realities, the present iteration both benefits them and causes them deep concern for the people who are harmed by capitalism, classism, the patriarchy, White supremacy, heterosexism, gun legislation, or so many other things.

There are times when it is appropriate to take inventory of whether you really want things to change? Is it enough to grant equal opportunity in a system that will continue to produce winners and losers? Or does the system itself desperately need change.

And what does change cost? Is it this cost that causes us to be more moderate when we should be directly and actively opposed to things in our system that are harming the objects of the Universal Divine love we preach?

Do we see ourselves in this story?

When liberation stands on the threshold of our lives, knocking, are we through our choices quietly asking it to also leave because we are “overcome with fear”?

As someone who didn’t ask to be born into my social location, my prayer is that when liberation comes knocking, I will have the courage to open the door and invite the change in.

HeartGroup Application

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

2.  What does change cost? Is it this cost that causes us to be more moderate when we should be directly and actively opposed to things in our system that are harming the objects of the Universal Divine love we preach? Discus 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, and God as Woman

Herb Montgomery | June 3, 2022

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


“We don’t get to go from exclusively gendering God as male for two thousand years in Christianity to describing God as genderless. This conveniently bypasses the internal confrontation many have to face through the practice of gendering God as a woman.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

Philip said, Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: Dont you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, Show us the Father? Dont you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (John 14:8-17)

This week’s gospel lectionary reading has a lot to details to notice. The first thing that strikes me now is the overwhelming maleness of this passage: Jesus is male, reveals the Father as male, and refers to the Divine exclusively in male language and symbols.

The symbols we use for God have a function. Exclusively speaking of God with only male language and symbols has a function too. Elizabeth Johnson explains:

“This exclusive speech about God serves in manifold ways to support an imaginative and structural world that excludes or subordinates women. Wittingly or not, it undermines womens human dignity as equally created in the image of God.”(Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is, Kindle Edition. Location 831)

Describing the Divine as exclusively male or masculine has produced bad fruit throughout Christian history. I offer two examples. The first comes from John Paul Boyer in Some Thoughts on the Ordination of Women:

“Being a Jew, being a Palestinian, being a first century man—all these are what we might call, in the language of Aristotelian metaphysics, the ‘accidents of Christ’s humanity’; but his being a male rather than a woman is of the ‘substance’ of his humanity. He could have been a twentieth-century Chinese and been, cultural differences notwithstanding, much the same person he was; but he could not have been a woman without having a been a different sort of personality altogether.” (In A Monthly Bulletin of the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Vol XLI, No. 5, May 1973, Quoted by Jacquelin Grant in White Women’s Christ and Black Woman’s Jesus, p. 77)

For Boyer, every other detail of the incarnation is incidental, but the fact that Jesus was male is substantive.

The second example is from Pope Paul VI. On October 15, 1976, Pope Paul VI issued a declaration on the question of women and the priesthood. The declaration specifically excludes women from the Imago Dei and justifies the exclusion by referring to Jesus as the exclusive revelation of the Divine:

“The Christian priesthood is therefore of a sacramental nature: The priest is a sign, the supernatural effectiveness of which comes from the ordination received, but a sign that must be perceptible and which the faithful must be able to recognize with ease. The whole sacramental economic is in face based upon natural signs, or symbols imprint upon the human psychology: ‘Sacramental signs’, says Saint Thomas, ‘represent what they signify by natural resemblance.’ The same natural resemblance is required for persona as for things: when Christ’s role in the Eucharist is to be expressed sacramentally there would not be this ‘natural resemblance’ which must exist between Christ and his ministry if the role of Christ were not taken by a man. In such a case it would be difficult to see in the minister the image of Christ. For Christ himself was and remains man.” (Franjo Cardinal Seper; Vatican Declaration, published February 3, 1977)

According to this declaration, because Jesus was male, those who represent Jesus sacramentally must also be male. It is only one step further to state that because Jesus was male and Jesus is the express revelation of God, God is also exclusively male.

Patriarchal hierarchy has been deeply ingrained not only through teachings based on Jesus’ exclusive male gendering of the Divine, but also the Second Testament practice of describing the church as the bride of Christ. With Christ superior to the church and the church subservient to Christ, the symbols of a male Jesus and a female church unhealthfully reinforce the false belief that men are superior to women and women are subservient to men. This doesn’t even begin to address how harmful a binary, exclusive understanding of gender can be.

I find it telling that it is often the gender of Jesus that defines God, qualifies human men for ordination, and centers men while disenfranchising those who do not identify as male within the church. Rarely do we see Jesus’ ungendered concern for the poor, marginalized, and excluded on the edges of society or Jesus’ ethic of universal love and treating others as you would like to be treated as what defines God, qualifies one for ordination, or impacts how to view and treat those who are not gendered as male.

There are many life-giving symbols of the Divine in the Jesus story. But Jesus’ maleness and the Divine being repeatedly and exclusively gendered as “Father” is not one of them. Because of them, many Christian and non-Christian feminists alike have questioned whether Jesus can be an effective savior or liberator for women at all within deeply patriarchal societies.

To say that Jesus is the “express revelation of God,” as Christianity claims, can be life-giving or death-dealing depending on what someone means by that statement. What do you mean when you say Jesus is a revelation or the revelation of the Divine?

Some, seeing the above challenges, have chosen to adopt genderless symbols for God or the Divine, and use symbols that can be heard and understood in multiple gender expressions. While part of me applauds this as an important step, we may have skipped a step. We don’t get to go from exclusively gendering God as male for two thousand years in Christianity to describing God as genderless. This conveniently bypasses the internal confrontation many have to face through the practice of gendering God as a woman.

A few years ago now, I engaged in a twelve-month practice of exclusively referring to and thinking of God with female gendered language and symbols. I was not prepared for what this would dig up inside of me that I didn’t even know was there. I had to face my own indoctrination and socialization in patriarchal social structures and internal biases that I didn’t know I had. I would now recommend the practice to anyone. It doesn’t take long to realize that gendering God as a women is not only life-giving, but that also not neutral: it’s redemptive and restorative as well—medicinal or therapeutic.

Fish don’t know they’re wet. Many of us don’t realize the misogynistic waters we’ve been swimming in all our lives and how we have inadvertently soaked up some of that water, no matter how hard we have endeavored to swim against the stream. I was raised by a single mother and thought I had evolved past a lot of these gender-based assumptions. I was shocked to discover how much patriarchy had still shaped me.

There are resources that can help if this is a new journey for you.

Just a few of books that I have found of incredible value are:

  • She Who Is by Elizabeth A. Johnson
  • White Women’s Christ and Black Women’s Jesus by Jacquelyn Grant
  • A Woman’s Lectionary for the Whole Church by Wilda C. Gafney
  • Christianity, Patriarchy, and Abuse by Joanne Carlson Brown and Carol R. Bohn
  • The Divine Feminine Version of the New Testament by The Christian Godde Project
  • And, especially for children, there is a new children’s book project due soon from a dear friend of mine, Daneen Akers, author of Holy Trouble Makers and Unconventional Saints. The book, Mama God, helping children imagine and relate to Divine femininity.)

People of all genders should be able to see themselves as bearing the image of the Divine because we all do. In our language for God, in the symbols we use for God, we can and must represent that image more clearly. Language and symbols have a function! We must be honest in asking whether the language and symbols we use genuinely are life-giving for everyone.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. How does imagining the Divine in genders other than male, impact your own Jesus following? Discuss as a group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

 When Unity is Destructive

Unity

Herb Montgomery | May 27, 2022

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


“I don’t read this week’s reading as calling for this kind of unity. I don’t read this week’s passage as placing unity as our value of highest priority. It’s a call for unity, yes.  But it’s not a call for unity at all costs.  If we have to choose between unity and harm being done to those our status quo has made vulnerable, then in the name of justice and love and compassion, our highest concern should not be maintaining unity. This kind of unity leaves the status quo unchallenged and unchanged.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:20-26)

I commented a few weeks ago on the various communities represented in the closing chapters of the gospel of John, as well as the effort of the author(s) of this gospel to offer legitimacy to each of them. We encounter a “big tent” approach for the communities that recognize Mary, John, Peter, and Thomas as all valuable parts of the much larger early Jesus community. (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:12)

This week, we are meeting once again the desire of the Johannine community that all of the varied communities of those seeking to follow the moral philosophy and teachings of Jesus in those early years, would be one.

I don’t think we need to read into this call for oneness a desire for homogeneity. But that each community, with its varied emphasis and characteristics, to recognize one another as fellow Jesus followers as long as no one’s interpretation of Jesus is doing harm to the vulnerable and those on the undersides of community.  Whether that was accomplished is up for historical debate, but we read in this week’s reading at least that desire being present.

Most scholars of John see this prayer as the Johaninne community’s equivalent of “the Lord’s prayer” in the gospel of Matthew and Luke. This passage also includes some provocative statements regarding the relationship between Jesus and “the Father.”  It is ironic and sad that because of this, this prayer in John’s gospel for oneness was also one of the most significant sources of tension (at best) and harm and murder (at worst) between Christians during the 4th and 5th centuries regarding various beliefs of how Jesus was related to divinity. Much harm has been done around the question of the divinity of the Christ.

On this note briefly, early Christianity wasn’t settled on this question. What mattered most to these early Jesus followers was how folks defined and endeavored to follow the moral philosophy of Jesus. Not whether or not they all agreed to how Jesus was or was not divine.

I think we could learn from this today.  Before Christianity turned creedal, it was far more important how one practiced their Jesus following.  Beliefs were important, but they always held in tension with what fruit those beliefs were actually producing in one’s life. Are your beliefs manifesting themselves in life-giving ways or are your beliefs bearing harm.

This is important.  Today, I’d much rather have folks that are endeavoring to follow the moral philosophy of Jesus of love in their practices both personally and socially, politically, and economically, even if they have doubts and questions on the bigger faith claims of orthodox Christianity, than someone who could check off all the theological boxes on the list, but who weren’t genuinely endeavoring to follow Jesus ethical teachings in their daily lives.

Back to the prayer though.

This prayer remember was written by a community already one generation removed from the first generation of Jesus followers. These were second generation Jesus followers writing this.  And the need to repeatedly call for unity is already being felt.

And all of this leads me to a question about unity.  When is unity life-giving and when is unity death-dealing. Considering the above, one example could be unity over orthodox while ortho-praxy is ignored. This means a greater emphasis is placed on all of us believing the same thing as opposed to desire that we all be unified in our effort to follow a practice (praxy) rooted in life-giving definitions of love.

The creeds themselves can be an example of this kind of harmful unity. Take the Apostle’s creed for example:

I [We] believe in God, the Father almighty,

creator of heaven and earth.

I [We] believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son,

our Lord.

He was conceived by the power

of the Holy Spirit

and born of the Virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again.

He ascended into heaven,

and is seated at the right hand of the

Father.

He will come again to judge the living and

the dead.

I [We] believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy Catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting. Amen.

There is a lot here that I find problematic for Jesus followers today, but one of my biggest concerns is right in this section:

Speaking of Jesus, it states,

“conceived by the power

of the Holy Spirit

and born of the Virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried.”

We go from Jesus’ birth directly to his execution.  There are ZERO statements about Jesus’ life and teachings. Zero. And this is for many what defines whether a person is a legitimate Christian or not.  You don’t have to believe anything (much less endeavor to practice) anything regarding Jesus’ teachings if we take the creeds literally.

This is concerning.

I think of other examples of where unity is death-dealing rather than life-giving. I think of how communities that suffer harm and injustice are often called to forgive and reconcile with those who have harmed them while no efforts have been made toward restitution or reparations.

I think of how silence in regards to injustice is called for against those who “speak up for the oppressed” (Psalm 82:3) in the name of not rocking the boat or not causing a stir. Whenever I begin to feel this pressure to remain silent I take some time to go back and reread King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail in its entirety.

Here is just a snippet:

“I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows . . . So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.”

As someone who shares my social location within our present society, I want to be honest about how deep the temptation is at times to just stay quiet, to not have the energy to rock the boat once again, and to justify that silence by a pretense of concern for “unity.”

Wake up! This is that very “unity” that is indeed death-dealing.

I don’t read this week’s reading as calling for this kind of unity. I don’t read this week’s passage as placing unity as our value of highest priority. It’s a call for unity, yes.  But it’s not a call for unity at all costs.  If we have to choose between unity and harm being done to those our status quo has made vulnerable, then in the name of justice and love and compassion, our highest concern should not be maintaining unity.

This kind of unity leaves the status quo unchallenged and unchanged. And nothing could be further from the spirit of the table flipping Jesus we read of in the gospel stories.

To be a follower of this Jesus (and his ethical teachings of love) means, not to place our highest concern on maintaining unity within an unjust system. It means our highest priority being transforming our present world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone, just as we see the Jesus of the gospels modeling in his life.

There is a time for unity. There is also a time for disunity.

May we have the wisdom to know the difference.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Share experiences of where you have witnessed both life-giving and destructive expressions of unity with your communities. What are some ways you can foster one and stand up to the other. Discuss as a 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

Social Advocacy

mist at sunrise

Herb Montgomery | May 20, 2022

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


“The facts are that the early Jesus community was comprised of those on the undersides and margins of their society who were in deep need of advocacy or justice socially, politically, and economically within their own societal structures.  This is the context in which I understand the work of the Spirit as Advocate to bear the most life-giving fruit.” 


Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. (John 14:23-29)

There is a lot in this week’s reading, some speaks into my following the moral philosophy I see in the Jesus story and some is problematic for me.  What I love about this week’s reading is the reference to the Holy Spirit as an Advocate.

This week in the Western Christian calendar, we are post resurrection, between the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus.  And this week’s reading in John’s version of the Jesus story has Jesus taking about his departure. It is through this departure, in John, that the Holy Spirit is bestowed upon Jesus’ followers.  And this spirit is characterized repeatedly in John as Advocate.

Advocacy is public support for or recommendation of a particular cause, policy or community. It is any action that “speaks in favor of, recommends, argues for a cause, supports or defends, or pleads on behalf of others.” (See here.)

I grew up hearing the Spirit as Advocate as interpreted in some way as an intermediary interposing between sinful humans and a holy God.  Today, I reject any interpretation of this language that places humanity and divinity on polar opposites and a mediator in between. I experienced that bearing bad fruit in my own life and I believe it produces bad fruit societally, as well. 

What I now understand (and love) is the fact that the early Jesus community was comprised of those on the undersides and margins of their society who were in deep need of advocacy or justice socially, politically, and economically within their own societal structures.  This is the context in which I understand the work of the Spirit as Advocate to bear the most life-giving fruit.  

One of the social issues facing Jesus followers in the book of John was being removed from the synagogue. This is a large topic which space does not allow for here.  But I do question whether this actually ever happened. Much of the history between Judaism and Christianity is not characterized by Jews persecuting Christians but Christians persecuting Jews. This was written during a time when Gentile Christians were wanting to distance themselves from their Jewish siblings under the Roman Empire. What better way to do so than to villainize them. The following passages include anti-semitic language. We must be honest about this. My purpose in sharing it is to illustrate that John’s idea of the Spirit as an Advocate was as an advocate between humans in matters of justice not between humans and the divine in matters of sinfulness and holiness. 

Consider the following passages in John’s version of the Jesus story where being removed from the synagogue is a penalty for Jewish people who follow Jesus.

“His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Anointed would be put out of the synagogue.” (John 9:22)

“Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue.” (John 12:42)

John’s Jesus repeats the warning in John 12: “They will put you out of the synagogues.” (John 16:2)

For that first audience, “advocate” would have called to mind actual legal proceedings Jewish leaders initated against Jesus’ followers. The theme of being brought to trial appears in the early synoptic gospels as well:

“When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 13:11)

“When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:19-20)

“So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” (Luke 21:14-15)

“When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:11-12)

The Spirit as Advocate would have first and foremost been heard by John’s original audience as an advocate in matters pertaining to this life.  Early Christians were not concerned with saving people from post-mortem realities as much as they were focused on caring about people’s social condition in the here and now. 

We have confirmation of the spirt as an advocate in the context of people’s social conditions in the very beginning of Jesus ministry in Luke’s version of the story.

  “The Spirit of the Most High is on me,

because the Most High has anointed me 

to proclaim good news to the poor.

The Most High has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners 

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

  to proclaim the year of the Most High’s favor.”  (Luke 4:18-19)

Notice it was the Spirit being on Jesus here (as quoted from Isaiah) that caused him to be an advocate for those on the undersides and margins of his society.  It is also telling that he refers to the Spirit in the book of John as a second or “another” Advocate. (see John 14:16)

This work of Advocacy had deeply Jewish roots and is found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.  One such example is Proverbs 31:8 “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute.”

Presently in U.S. society, we are facing a radical departure from progress that has been made over the last four decades in regards to rights of bodily autonomy of women, transpeople and gender queer folk.  With the revelation of the Supreme Court’s intention to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the bodily autonomy of people in these communities is just the latest example of how advocacy work is needed today just as much as it has ever been.  

The words of one such advocate in this fight I found well said this past week.  I have tried to track down their reference. I have had no such luck. All sources of this online that I have found have the author’s name redacted. Nonetheless this is worth sharing here in the same spirit of advocacy we are discussing.

“Here’s the thing, guys. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter when life begins. It doesn’t matter whether a fetus is a human being or not. That entire argument is a red herring, a distraction, a subjective and unwinnable argument that could not matter less. It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about a fertilized egg, or a fetus, or a baby, or a 5 year old, or a Nobel Peace Price winning pediatric oncologist. NOBODY has the right to use your body against your will, even to save their life, or the life of another person. That’s it. That’s the argument. You cannot be forced to donate blood, or marrow, or organs, even though thousands die every year on waiting lists. They cannot even harvest your organs after your death without your explicit, written, pre-mortem permission. Denying women the right to abortion means we have less bodily autonomy than a corpse.”

And one more, this one from Leila Cohan on Twitter:

“If it was about babies, we’d have excellent and free universal maternal care. You wouldn’t be charged a cent to give birth, no matter how complicated your delivery was. If it was about babies, we’d have months and months of parental leave, for everyone. If it was about babies, we’d have free lactation consultants, free diapers, free formula. If it was about babies, we’d have free and excellent childcare from newborns on. If it was about babies, we’d have universal preschool and pre-k and guaranteed after school placements. If it was about babies, IVF and adoption wouldn’t just be for folks with thousands and thousands of dollars to spend on expanding their families. It’s not about babies. It’s about punishing women (and all people with uteruses) and controlling our bodies.” (https://twitter.com/leilacohan/status/1521690766187237377)

As it’s been repeatedly said, you can’t outlaw abortions, only safe abortions.  And, for those who need this to be said, you don’t have to be pro-abortion to be pro-choice.  In fact, there are countless ways to socially, politically, and economically reduce abortions in a society that are infinitely more successful than outlawing abortions and that still protect a person’s bodily autonomy. Outlawing abortions doesn’t stop abortions. It only makes them unsafe. If a person really wants to lower abortions this is the most ineffective way to go about it. 

This week, this is where my advocate heart is moved to action. 

Where, as a Jesus follower, is the Spirit as Advocate impressing upon you to take action, this week?

HeartGroup Application

  1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.
  2. How does seeing the Spirit’s work through the lens of advocacy work impact your own Jesus following? Share 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

 Loving One Another and Justice

dominoes

Herb Montgomery | May 13, 2022

 

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

 


“You can’t love another” without desiring that those whom you love have what they need to thrive, and also doing what is in your power for them to have it . . . When we start to really consider what love means, then if we are honest we must begin to perceive love is not only personal, but also social, political, economic, religious, and even global.”


 

Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

When he was gone, Jesus said, Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:31-35)

After Judas leaves the room, Jesus begins to speak about glorification and love.

The theme of glorifying God and being glorified in and by God is rhetoric repeated through and unique to John’s version of the Jesus story. John defines the closing scenes of Jesus’ life, his arrest, crucifixion and resurrection, as how God and Jesus are glorified.

Another difference between John’s version and the synoptics (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) is that John shifts Jesus message from love of neighbor and love of our enemies to love specifically among Jesus’s followers. The author of John, writing this late gospel, paints this shift as a “new teaching.”

These varying objects of love in the canonical gospels—neighbor, enemies, and Jesus’ disciples—point to the tension of love across three concentric circles. The inner circle is Jesus’ disciples. The next circle is those Jesus’ disciples share society with, whether disciples of Jesus themselves or not. And the outer circle includes those who are those outside the disciples’ society or the community in which we do life together. “Enemy” in this context does not necessarily mean those who do us harm; it may simply mean those who are outside the circle we draw around whomever we define as “us.”

In our time, I don’t think it’s helpful to define others as “enemies.” We can be honest about labeling choices or actions as hurtful or not without naming the people choosing them as “enemies.” And rather than speaking of “loving our enemies,” we can speak of loving those who choose to harm us. This kind of love, too, needs careful defining and explanation to be genuinely life giving and not a tool to sustain harm.

But our reading this week focuses on love amongst fellow Jesus followers. By that love, Jesus says, others would know that Jesus’ followers were the disciples of Jesus. In other words, love was to be the primary distinguishing characteristic others could use to know that we are endeavoring to follow the moral philosophy of that Jewish prophet of the poor from Galilee. That marker is not a bumper sticker, nor what station our radios are tuned to. It’s not what church denomination we choose or voting Republican (I do live in West Virginia).

The marker is not even whether we choose live inside or outside of Christianity’s faith claims. What signals to others that our attempts to follow Jesus are genuine is whether we live by an ethic of love. This is not to say that all who endorse an ethic of love as Jesus followers but that you can’t be a Jesus follower without embracing an ethic of love.

Regardless of which object of love a particular version of the Jesus story focuses on (whether neighbor, enemies, or our own community), it is important to define what that love looks like. How we define love matters: including what we define love to be and what we define love as not. Genuine love does no harm.

 

Love and Justice

To paraphrase the great Dr. Emilie M. Townes, when we start with love, justice is isn’t very far behind. Love expresses itself in distributive justice for all. It includes the desire to make sure the objects of our love have what they need to thrive. When we love, in each area of our lives, we desire that resources are shared so everyone’s needs are met and no one has too much while others have too little. When disparities exist between those whose needs are unmet and those who have more than they could possibly need, all parties are harmed. They don’t experience the same level of harm mind you, or even the same kind of harm, but they experience harm nonetheless.

This principle is at the heart of the Hebrew prophetic justice tradition in which the Jesus we encounter in the gospels stands:

 

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)

 

Woe to those who make unjust laws,

to those who issue oppressive decrees,

to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. (Isaiah 10:1-2)

 

A bruised reed he will not break,

and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;

  he will not falter or be discouraged

till he establishes justice on earth.

In his teaching the islands will put their hope. (Isaiah 42:3-4)

 

This is what the Most High says to you, house of David:

  Administer justice every morning;

rescue from the hand of the oppressor

the one who has been robbed” (Jeremiah 21:12)

 

I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak . . . I will shepherd the flock with justice. (Ezekiel 34:16)

 

But let justice roll on like a river,

righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:24)

In love a throne will be established . . . one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness. (Isaiah 16:5)

 

“Maintain love and justice.” (Hosea 12:6)

 

Love without justice is hypocrisy. To read Jesus’ words of love as only sentimental, and not as including a call to social justice is to take Jesus out of his Jewish context and transform him into something else for another purpose. Jesus was a preacher of the kind of love that expresses itself in justice for the oppressed, marginalized, excluded, and downtrodden.

This is why Jesus scholars such as the late Marcus Borg and his co-author John Dominic Crossan made such bold statements such as, “The first passion of Jesus was the kingdom of God, namely, to incarnate the justice of God by demanding for all a fair share of a world belonging to and ruled by the covenantal God of Israel.” (Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week, Kindle location 44.)

 

This is what I think of when I hear Jesus’ admonition us to love one another.

You can’t love another without desiring that those whom you love have what they need to thrive, and also doing what is in your power for them to have it.

All of this leads me to some questions about the intrinsic relationship between love and justice that those of us who are Jesus followers and who share my social location in our society need to allow ourselves to be confronted by.

Are we as White Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love Black people and people of color?

Are we as male Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for women?

Are we as straight Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisxexual, and/or pansexual?

Are we as cisgender Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for transgender people?

Are we as educated Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for those who are less educated?

Are we as middle-class Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for the poor?

Are we as U.S. citizen Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for refugees, migrants, and the undocumented?

Are we as settler-colonial Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for indigenous populations and communities?

Are we as North American Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for those who live in the Global South?

Whom does this list of questions make you think of this week?

When we start to really consider what love means, then if we are honest we must begin to perceive love is not only personal, but also social, political, economic, religious, and even global.

Whom do you think of when you hear Jesus’ words in John?

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

 

HeartGroup Application

 

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

2. How does loving others translate into societal justice for you? Share 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

Being Part of One Another

connected network dots

Herb Montgomery | May 6, 2022

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


We are part of one another. Yes, some of us see life through one lens, some of us see life through others. But we are still connected. We thrive together. We survive together. What harms some, always in some way harms everyone, even those perpetrating or benefiting from that harm. You can benefit from the harm you do to others in one area of your life while being harmed in other areas.”


This week’s reading is from the gospel of John:

Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomons Colonnade. The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Fathers name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Fathers hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10.22-30)

This story begins with Jesus attending the Jewish Festival of lights, which many today know as Hanukkah. This festival has a rich tradition, and its background can be read in the first and second book of Maccabees.

In 167 B.C.E – 164 B.CE., under the Seleucid empire, Antiochus IV goes to great lengths to desecrate the Jewish temple. He orders a statue of Zeus to be erected in the temple and desecrates the altar by slaughtering as an offering to Zeus a pig—an animal defined in the Torah as unclean. This act sparked the Maccabean revolt.

In the revolt, Mattathias Maccabeus and his five sons successfully push the Seleucids out of the area, and Judas Maccabees, one of Mattathias’ sons, rebuilds the altar, has new holy vessels fashioned, and rededicates the temple. This festival receives its names from the lighting of the lamps during this sanctuary dedication or cleansing: the Festival of Dedication (John), Festival of Lights, and Hanukkah.

In John’s version of the Jesus story, Jesus is often portrayed as celebrating his community’s festivals (see 2:13-25; 5:1; 7:1-13). This can remind Christians both of Jesus’ deep Jewishness, and also how often the language of John is both covertly and overtly antisemitic.

In this week’s passage, it would be more life-giving to us and to our Jewish siblings to read “the people” or possibly “the political leaders” where the text reads “the Jews.” These stories are better interpreted as a struggle among classes within Jewish society, a struggle between the powerful elite and the masses, between insiders and the marginalized. These Jewish voices were having an intracommunal conversation on what faithfulness to the Torah looked like socially, economically, and politically. Not until Gentiles who wanted to distance themselves from Jewish people began to tell these stories did people begin telling and interpreting the Jesus story as a religious contest between Judaism and Christianity.

This section of the chapter also continues the Shepherd theme in verses 1-18. This theme repeats through the gospel of John because it reflects the community’s efforts to define itself. Here, the Johannine community are Jesus’ sheep and Jesus is their shepherd. But I’m afraid they define themselves in a way that harms others. We’ll unpack this in just a moment.

In these verses, the Johaninne community is once again seeking to define Jesus here, too. The gospels repeatedly define Jesus’ relation to Abraham, Torah, Judaism, and to God (see versus 31-42).

These verses define Jesus in the context of the Jewish/Christian debate, within Judaism and between Christianity and Judaism, illustrated by Jesus’ reaction to “the Anointed one,” the Messiah.

But the way the Johaninne community defines Jesus and themselves by implication in this week’s story is not life-giving.

There is a contrast between those who believe Jesus is the Messiah and those who don’t. Those who do are believers, and by implication those who do not are unbelievers. Those who believe are Jesus’ sheep and Jesus is their shepherd; those who do not believe are left out. Those who do believe, will live forever, whereas those who don’t will perish.

This is not a discussion about individuals. It’s a discussion between two communities, the Johannine community of Jesus followers and the Jewish community. The Jewish community saw massive destruction at the hands of the Roman empire in the 1st Century before this version of Jesus’ story was written. But the Johannine community implied through these verses that if they had believed Jesus was the messiah, their community would have lived forever, and because they did not believe in Jesus, they perished.

This is wrong. Whatever political and economic events happened to Jewish people in the 1st Century were simply events born out of economic and political structures (Jesus did have something to say about economics and politics). The people’s destruction or “perishing” under Rome was not an arbitrary divine punishment for Jewish rejection of Jesus as the religious, Christian Messiah.

The Johannine community defines itself as “more than” and those who do not define Jesus the way they do as “less than.” This is an intrinsically harmful exceptionalism or supremacy. It is othering that has repeatedly proven harmful to our existence as humans. It’s not life giving to define ourselves in exclusive categories of “us” and “them.” Certainly there are differences among us, yet those differences are not to divide anyone, and to the degree that we define our difference in terms of “us” and “them,” we create harm. Moving away from “us” and “them” and viewing one another with more subtlety, however, will always be life-giving.

We are connected, whether we realize it or not. Othering and dividing doesn’t breathe life; it breathes harm and death.

Many now see this truth. I think of the following statements that have been meaningful to me recently:

We belong to a mutually beneficial web of connection, well-being, and love. At the root of this connection is empathy; the result is kindness, compassion, respect, and understanding. When religion doesnt center on this mutuality, it can become one of the toxic narratives that, in the end, dismantles self-love. (Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis ; Fierce Love, p. 30)

“Gods dream is that you and I and all of us will realize that we are family, that we are made for togetherness, for goodness, and for compassion.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu; quoted by Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis in Fierce Love, p. 129)

All men [sic, —and women, and nonbinary people] are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., The Man Who Was a Fool)

Human beings are made for each other and no people can realize their full humanity except as they participate in its realization for others. (Dr. James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed.)

We are part of one another. Yes, some of us see life through one lens, some of us see life through others. But we are still connected. We thrive together. We survive together. What harms some, always in some way harms everyone, even those perpetrating or benefiting from that harm. You can benefit from the harm you do to others in one area of your life while being harmed in other areas.

Last month’s recommended reading from Renewed Heart Ministries was Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis’ book Fierce Love. There are so many life-giving statements in her book, and my favorite that has been continually popping up in my heart and mind is this one:

Our multifaith community (which includes agnostics and atheists) takes seriously the prayer said every Sunday: Gods will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” For us, faith means partnering with God, whom we call by many names—including Love—to make heaven on earth. That means healing the world of brokenness; that means working hard to dismantle systems of oppression. That means accepting this: If there is such a thing as salvation, then none of us are saved until all of us are saved. Saved from poverty, saved from racism and xenophobia. Saved from gender inequality and discrimination based on whom we love.” (Lewis, Jacqui. Fierce Love, p. 185)

Christians should never have othered the Jewish people, and this week’s reading reminds us of that painful history. Repenting of this history also calls Christians to account for ways we have repeatedly practiced harmful othering with different communities also.

Today, we have the opportunity to do better. It will take some effort to undo old habits, for sure. And it’s worth it.

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 language choices you use to keep yourselves from othering people who are different from yourself? Share 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

 Another Beginning

Spring

Herb Montgomery | April 29, 2022

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


This third weekend after Easter in our western Christian calendar, how is the Jesus of this story calling you to renew how you follow him. In our world deeply in need of love, compassion, justice, and action, what does following Jesus in your context look like? This is a good time of year to reconsider all of these questions.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. Im going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, Well go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, Friends, havent you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, It is the Messiah!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, It is the Messiah,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore.

It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, Do you love me?” He said, Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, Feed my sheep.

“Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, Follow me!” (John 21:1-19)

This week’s story begins with the disciples who were fishermen returning to their occupation after Jesus’ crucifixion, back to where Jesus initially found them. John 21 functions as an appendix to John’s gospel. Most scholars understand this version of the Jesus story to have ended in chapter 20, while they understand Chapter 21 to have been written by a different author. Chapter 21 also adds another post-resurrection appearance of Jesus, and carefully re-establishes Peter’s authority in the early Jesus movement since the other gospel versions paint Peter as denying Jesus during Jesus’ arrest.

The passage states that this is Jesus’ third post resurrection appearance in John. The author has counted wrong or is purposely leaving out one of Jesus’ appearances earlier in John’s gospel. As I shared a couple weeks ago, in these post-resurrection appearances in John’s gospel, three of the early Jesus communities are competing for authority: the community that recognized the leadership of Mary, the community that recognized the authority of Peter (highlighted this week), and the Johannine community in which the rest of the gospel of John was written.

Again, this chapter has more in common with the synoptic gospels than it does with the rest of John. I wrote at length about the imagery of fishing in the synoptic gospels last February in Decolonizing Fishing for People. I want to reference again how the Hebrew prophetic justice tradition interprets fishing, as a metaphor for removing unjust political rulers from power. It is not like the Christian colonialist metaphor of evangelism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt,

you great monster lying among your streams.

You say, ‘The Nile belongs to me;

I made it for myself.’

“But I will put hooks in your jaws

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

I will pull you out from among your streams,

with all the fish sticking to your scales.

I will leave you in the desert,

you and all the fish of your streams.

You will fall on the open field

and not be gathered or picked up.

I will give you as food

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

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

In this last chapter, John imbues this imagery with fresh direction and purpose for the post-resurrection Jesus followers. (Read more in “Decolonizing fishing for people.”)

As noted, we also see the authors taking great pains to reestablish Peter’s authority as a trustworthy shepherd in the early Jesus movement through three confessions that parallel his three, previous denials (John 18:15-27). The end of this appendix, written after Peter’s death, has Jesus foreshadowing the manner of Peter’s death.

Later in this chapter, outside of our reading this week, we see the tension between the communities that recognized the leadership of John and the communities that recognized the authority of Peter (cf. verses 20-23). The early movement recognizes both John and Peter, and makes room for both communities to co-exist side by side.

Jesus ends this scene by renewing his original call to Peter when he found him fishing in the beginning. We have now come full circle, and Jesus once again calls Peter saying, “Follow me.”

This third weekend after Easter in our western Christian calendar, how is the Jesus of this story calling you to renew how you follow him. In our world deeply in need of love, compassion, justice, and action, what does following Jesus in your context look like? This is a good time of year to reconsider all of these questions: the resurrection marks the beginning of a new year in the Christian calendar. How will your Jesus-following help you participate in shaping our world into a safe, compassionate just home for everyone this next cycle?

May each of us who endeavor to follow Jesus’ moral philosophy and teachings in the coming year do so in life-giving ways. May our presence in each of the communities we live in bless those around us. This spring, may tulips and daffodils not be the only ones waking up from winter, but may the rays of the sun also usher us toward choices that lead to more just world.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. How will your Jesus-following help you participate in shaping our world into a safe, compassionate just home for everyone this next cycle? 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

Breathing In Spirit, Exhaling Love and Justice

Herb Montgomery | April 22, 2022

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


“In the stories, Jesus doesn’t come back from the dead just to live another 30 or so years doing the same thing he’d done before he was executed. The attempted silencing of Jesus and his saving work is only an interruption, not an end. Each resurrection story defines Jesus’ resurrection as causing his life work to continue in the lives of his followers. Jesus commissioned his disciples to continue his life work in the same spirit that inspired him.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Messiah. Again Jesus said, Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyones sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, We have seen the Messiah!” But he said to them, Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, My Savior and my God!” Then Jesus told him, Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:19-31)

This first weekend after Western Christianity’s Easter each year, we begin reading the stories of the early believers after the resurrection. In each post resurrection story, the good news or gospel is not that Jesus died or even died for you, but that this Jesus that was brutally murdered by the state and those who controlled the status quo is risen. He’s alive! The crucifixion and all that Jesus’ death accomplished has been undone, reversed, and overcome!

This week’s story from John is similar to yet still very different from those found in Luke 24:36-49, Mark 16:14-18, Matthew 28:18-20, and Acts 1:8.

In John, Jesus cryptically breathes the Holy Spirit onto his disciples. He then attaches to this gift of the spirit the authority of “loosing and binding,” forgiving, bringing comfort and liberation, and setting people free (cf. Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18).

It’s vital that the power of forgiving or not forgiving is connected to the disciples receiving the spirit of Jesus. Forgiveness divorced from that spirit serves to only perpetuate oppression and harm. I’ll explain.

Jesus uses this language in the gospel of Luke:

The Spirit of the Most High is on me,

because the Most High has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

The Most High has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

to proclaim the year of the Most High’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Here the work of the Spirit is to announce good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for prisoners, set the oppressed free, and announce the year of the Most High’s favor, the year when all debts would be forgiven, regardless of creditors’ wishes. In that year, debtors were released!

Those who are forgiven in the Jesus story are those on the margins, those pushed to the underside and edges of Jesus’ society by those benefiting from the status quo. What about those whose social location was more at the center or upper class? Did Jesus extend forgiveness to them, too?

Remember the story of Zacchaeus? (see Luke 19:1-9) Jesus forgave and loosed him, too. Yet Zacchaeus was not loosed or forgiven from the consequences from his actions. Jesus instead called him to stop participating in oppression. Only then did salvation come to Zacchaeus’ house, because salvation looks like justice for the oppressed. This reminds me of Gandhi critiquing Christianity: he said he didn’t want to be saved from the consequences of his actions but from those actions themselves.

How many times have we seen those who harm others or benefit from that harm being forgiven or assured of no condemnation without being called to make restitution or reparations?

Being loosed is not conditional on acts of restoration like a quid pro quo, tit for tat, or an exchange. Rather, for oppressors, being loosed actually is these acts of restoring that which has been taken from others.

This is why I believe the disciples were given authority not to forgive, too. Reserving “forgiveness” is a way to remind them that their freedom is intrinsically tied to their choice to stop participating in the harm being done to others. Anything less than that is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer described as “cheap grace.” During the 1930s, Bonhoeffer watched Christians giving assurance to the Nazis. Assuring oppressors that everything is okay while they continuing to do harm is akin to expecting victims or survivors to reconcile with those who have harmed them but done no work of restitution. Neither of these are life-giving interpretations of the forgiveness ethic in the Jesus stories.

These stories don’t help us recover so much of the historical Jesus as much as they establish the authority of his disciples. In this week’s reading, the focus is Thomas and the story about him serves a double purpose for the fledgling Jesus movement.

First, it establishes Thomas as an early movement leader. Multiple documents in Christian history would later be attributed to this disciple. Thomas is supposed to have taken the gospel to the Parthians and then on to India. He is credited with establishing the Mar Thoma Church and was martyred there as well. Thomas is also a central figure in Syrian Christianity: his bones are claimed by that faith tradition to have been removed from India and brought to Edessa close to the end of the fourth century.

Second, this story challenges people to believe in the Jesus story even though they haven’t seen Jesus for themselves.

What speaks to me most about these stories is that Jesus didn’t come back from the dead just to live another 30 or so years doing the same thing he’d done before he was executed. The attempted silencing of Jesus and his saving work is only an interruption, not an end. Each resurrection story defines Jesus’ resurrection as causing his life work to continue in the lives of his followers. Jesus commissioned his disciples to continue his life work in the same spirit that inspired him.

I consider again how Jesus’ life work was summarized in passages like Luke 4:18-19: as good news for the poor, release for the prisoners, setting free the oppressed, and proclaiming the most High’s favor or forgiving debts. There are similar teachings in both Luke’s sermon on the plain (Luke 6) and Matthew’s sermon on the mount (beginning in Matthew 5). These are the ethics and values in the Jesus story: Jesus both comforted and challenged individuals and also, in his overturning of the tables, challenged unjust systems, demanding a different order of things in the here and now.

So I ask myself, am I breathing in this same spirit that we read of in this week’s passage? And how closely is my story aligning with the Jesus story?

In what areas does my life harmonize with the Jesus story? Where is there dissonance?

Each of us looses and binds things every day. Are the things I bind and loose similar to or vastly different from the liberation work, the love, compassion, safety and justice in the Jesus story?

This first weekend after Easter, I want to foster more harmony between my life story and this story of Jesus that I hold dear.

I’m sure you do, too.

Here’s to breathing in that spirit, together, and exhaling love and justice with those our lives touch each and every day.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. In what ways are you inspired to breath in spirit and exhale love and justice in your own spheres of influence 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

Easter and the Myth of Redemptive Suffering

empty tomb and easter

Herb Montgomery | April 15, 2021

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


These are valid questions. How can we reconcile seeing the cross event as a salvific divine act without unintentionally inferring that God’s power to save is rooted in willingness to humiliate, physically denigrate, and violate someone’ body to save others?”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

Now it was the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came, early on while it was still dark, to the tomb and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Messiah out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple came and went to the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple ran ahead of Peter and reached the tomb first. And bending down to see, saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not enter. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb, and he saw the linen wrapping lying there. And the facecloth that had been on Jesus’s head, not lying with the linens wrappings but rolled up separately in another place. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, went in and saw and believed. Indeed they did not understand the scripture that it was necessary for Jesus to rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned once more to their homes.

Now Mary stood outside, facing the tomb, weeping. As she wept, she bent down to see in the tomb. Then she saw two angels in white sitting, one at thread and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. They said to her, “Woman, why do you weep?” She said to them, “Because they have taken my Savior, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why do you weep? For whom do you look?” Thinking that he was the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (Which means Teacher.) Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me, because I have not yet ascend to the Father. Rather go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I and ascending to my Abba and you Abba, to my God and your God.” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Savior”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20:1-18, translation by Rev. Dr. Wilda Gafney; A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church: Year W)

This week, we are reading the resurrection narrative found in the gospel of John. This is a combined resurrection narrative developed after the early Jesus movement, and I believe there is something we can glean from this version.

One thing that is common to all the gospel narratives is the presence of women at the tomb of Jesus. In John’s version, notice that Mary uses the word “we.” Women who had the courage to go to the tomb as soon as there was daylight after the Sabbath led to the first proclamation of the resurrection. Those who showed up first got to be the first ones to share the good news. John’s version of this story encourages me to speak out when men and institutions say women can’t posses equal authority or credentials to proclaim the gospel.

Each resurrection narrative also begins in sorrow, and as John tells the story, I can imagine Jesus saying Mary’s name tenderly. I love that she mistook Jesus for a gardener: the detail grounds this version of the story in the interconnectedness with our natural world that gardeners know firsthand. I also love how Mary had to be told to let go. Wouldn’t you have held on as she did if you had just witnessed the brutal murder of someone you cared so deeply for, and now saw him alive again, standing right in front of you?

This version of the story also tells us something about how diverse the early Jesus followers were. Some patriarchal groups eventually won the power struggle and they came to shape the Christian religion. But early on, there were more egalitarian communities of Jesus followers, some who valued Mary Magdalene as others would later value the Apostle John, the Apostle Peter, and the Apostle Paul.

John’s gospel represents the community that valued John, yet even here we can see signs of three early Jesus communities vying for credibility as the Christian church forms. Mary is first to proclaim the risen Jesus, but this version also adds Peter and John racing to the tomb. Peter is first to enter the tomb, but John is the first to arrive and believe. So all three of these early church figures and their communities are competing in this version, and we still have power struggles in the church today.

Every canonical version of the resurrection narrative drives home the importance of believing women when they speak. We can apply this practice in every area of our society today, both within our faith communities and in our larger society.

This coming weekend, most of Western Christianity will celebrate Easter. Perhaps we could deepen our practice of listening to women when they speak by listening to a few perspectives on the crucifixion-resurrection narrative at the heart of so contemporary Christianity.

The perspectives I’m about to share challenge traditional, familiar interpretations of this narrative and many of the atonement theories that have been born from them.

I’ll begin with a short, challenging example from feminist theologian Dr. Elizabeth Bettenhausen and her preface for the classic book, Christianity, Patriarchy, and Abuse.

I want to offer a content warning here: this excerpt contains sexual violence in reimagining the cross event.

“Several years ago I asked a group of seminarians to choose New Testament stories about Jesus and rewrite them imagining that Jesus had been female. The following recreation of the passion story of Luke 22.54-65 was one womans knowing by heart.

They arrested the Christ woman and led her away to the Council for questioning. Some of her followers straggled along to find out what was to become of her. There were seven women and two men followers. (The men followers were there mainly to keep watch over their sisters.) Someone from among the crowd asked a question of a man follower, Havent I seen you with this woman? Who is she, and what is your relationship with her?He replied defensively, She is a prostitute, she has had many men. I have seen her with many!The men who were guarding the Christ [woman] slapped her around and made fun of her. They told her to use magic powers to stop them. They blindfolded her and each them in turn raped her and afterward jeered, Now, prophetess, who was in you? Which one of us? Tell us that!Thy continued to insult her. (Kandice Joyce)

After this story was read aloud, a silence surrounded the class and made us shiver. Ever since, I have wondered would women ever imagine forming a religion around the rape of a woman? Would we ever conjure gang-rape as a salvific event for other women? What sort of god would such an event reveal? (p. xi)

These are valid questions. How can we reconcile seeing the cross event as a salvific divine act without unintentionally inferring that God’s power to save is rooted in willingness to humiliate, physically denigrate, and violate someone’ body to save others?

This is just one reason I believe we must interpret the Jesus story and the crucifixion-resurrection event not in terms of how someone died, died for us, or was executed. It is a story about how the One who was murdered for social, political, and economic reasons by the state, was brought back to life. This is a story of how life conquers death, love conquers hate, sharing conquers greed, and life giving power conquers death dealing.

Last week I shared a little bit from womanist theologian Dr. Delores Williams last week. This week I’ll add Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas’s book Stand your ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God. She offers some absolute gems about the cross beginning on page 178. As she quotes from Williams, “The cross . . . represents historical evil trying to defeat good.”

She then explains how life overcame death in the Jesus story:

Jesus takes on evil. He takes on and defeats . . . not granting the power of death any authority over him . . . he does not respond in kind, by adopting the methods of this power. The final triumph over the death of the cross is the resurrection of Jesus.

The resurrection is God’s definitive victory over the crucifying powers of evil.

The cross represents the power that denigrates human bodies, destroys life, and preys on the most vulnerable in society. As the cross is defeated, so too is that power.

The impressive factor is how it is defeated. It is defeated by life-giving rather than a life-negating force . . . That is, it is not the power that diminishes the life of another so that others might live. God’s power respects the integrity of all human bodies and the sanctity of all life. This is a resurrecting power.

God’s power never expresses itself through humiliation or denigration of another. It does not triumph over life. It conquers death by resurrecting life.

The force of God is a death-negating, life-affirming force.

Next, Dr. Douglas quotes Audre Lorde: “The masters tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” (Sister Outsider, p. 112)

Then she continues, “God does not fight death with death. God does not utilize the violence exhibited in the cross to defeat deadly violence itself.”

If indeed the power of life that God stands for is greater than the power of death, this must be manifest in the way God triumphs over death-dealing powers. The freedom of God that is life requires a liberation from the very weapons utilized by a culture of death. In other words, these weapons cannot become divine weapons . . . The culmination of this liberation is Jesus’ resurrection.

This exegesis resonates with me so deeply. Every fiber of my heart says amen! The Jesus story isn’t about a God who overcomes death by adding one more death, i.e. Jesus’ death. It’s the story of a God who overcame, reversed, and undid death by resurrecting the one the state sought to execute.

For me, this is powerful. This is a story that moves us to believe in love’s ability to win, even in the face of death, and to work toward that end.

We can work more effectively for a better iteration of our world when we believe that that better iteration is actually possible. Ultimately, I believe this was a 1st Century story told in 1st Century language that was intended to inspire early Jesus followers to do just that.

This story can still inspire Jesus followers today.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What does interpreting the Jesus story as a story where life overcomes death and love overcomes hate change for you? Share 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


Understanding and Sharing a Theology of the Cross with Children: Beyond Substitutionary Atonement

Here’s a conversation on talking to children about the violence of the cross during this holiday weekend that was recorded this spring. Grateful to my friends author and pastor Traci Smith of Elmhurst Presbyterian Church and author Daneen Akers of Holy Troublemakers & Unconventional Saints for this conversation.

Listen at:

Understanding and Sharing a Theology of the Cross with Children: Beyond Substitutionary Atonement

A Different Vision for Memorializing the Last Supper

last supper

Herb Montgomery | April 8, 2022

 

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

 


“Next week is Holy Week leading up to Easter for many in Western Christianity. This time of year always amplifies several passages from the passion liturgy that are important for Jesus followers who care about justice to interpret in life-giving ways.”


 

Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:14-20)

Next week is Holy Week leading up to Easter for many in Western Christianity. This time of year always amplifies several passages from the passion liturgy that are important for Jesus followers who care about justice to interpret in life-giving ways. So it was difficult for me to settle on which passage to write on this week.

I love the story of Jesus’ protest and demonstration in the temple courtyard against the economic exploitation that was taking place there. I believe both his protest and his burden for those being harmed by systemic injustice have much to teach us. I love the story of Jesus humbly washing his disciples’ feet, which Christians now celebrate each year on Maundy Thursday. I also believe it’s important to interpret the holy week narrative beyond death and dying, even though at the end of the week Jesus is the victim of state violence in response to his protest, calls for change, and growing popularity with the exploited masses in his society. It’s more life-giving to interpret Holy Week as a story of how life overturns death and death-dealing, how everything accomplished through the execution/death of Jesus was undone, reversed, and overcome through the resurrection. The cross was not Jesus’ saving act, but the state’s attempted interruption and halting of Jesus’ saving life-ministry. The resurrection reversed and undid the state’s violence, and Jesus’ life-saving ministry lived on in the actions of his followers.

So as we begin this holy week, I’ve chosen to address Luke’s version of Jesus’ last shared meal with his disciples. I’ll begin with an important point from Delores Williams’ womanist theology classic book, Sisters in the Wilderness.

On page 131, Williams reminds us that “The cross is a reminder of how humans have tried throughout history to destroy visions of righting relationships that involve the transformation of tradition and transformation of social relations and arrangements sanctioned by the status quo.” She goes on to point her readers to the resurrection and the kingdom of God theme in Jesus’ life ministry as the salvific conduit that teaches humankind how to “live peacefully, productively and abundantly in relationship.” She lists Jesus’ beatitudes, parables, moral directions, and reprimands. She reminds us of Jesus’ healing ministry of “touch and being touched,” and how Jesus ministry was militant, too, expelling evil forces that harm people including during his temple protest.

This is how she characterizes Jesus’ saving life: a life grounded in the power of faith “in the work of healing,” compassion and love. She demonstrates with multiple examples how Jesus conquered sin in life, not in death. Considering the persistence of evil and oppression (and sin) still centuries after the life of Jesus in our world, she wonders whether or not most people can believe that Jesus’ death on the cross overcame evil and sin. I agree with her assessment that it seems “more intelligent and more scriptural to understand that redemption had to do with God, through Jesus, giving humankind new vision to see the resources for positive, abundant relational life” (p. 131).

A major theme in William’ work is the surrogacy of black women and how various atonement theories and ways of interpreting the cross substitutionally have historically supported that surrogacy rather than subverted it.

She concludes:

Humankind is, then, redeemed through Jesusministerial vision of life and not through his death. There is nothing divine in the blood of the cross. God does not intend black women’s surrogacy experience. Neither can Christian faith affirm such an idea. Jesus did not come to be a surrogate. Jesus came for life, to show humans a perfect vision of ministerial relation that humans had very little knowledge of. As Christians, black women cannot forget the cross, but neither can they glorify it. To do so is to glorify suffering and to render their exploitation sacred. To do so is to glorify the sin of defilement. (Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist GodTalk, p. 132)

And this leads me to the tension in this week’s passage. Jesus’ last meal in the gospels seems to lead Jesus followers to glorify the cross through the rite of the Eucharist and by glorifying the suffering of the exploited, render their suffering and exploitation sacred.

But as with everything in our sacred text, it all depends on how we choose to interpret the story.

The early Jesus community was not monolithic in how they remembered and interpreted Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. Paul transformed the last supper into a ritual reenactment of Jesus’ broken body and shed blood (see 1 Corinthians 11:23-26), but there were many Jesus followers who didn’t connect the last supper with the passion of Jesus at all, so much so that the first Christian document to explicitly instruct Jesus followers in celebrating the last supper doesn’t mention the passion of Jesus. This document is the Didache. To the best of our knowledge it was composed at the end of the 1st Century or the beginning of the 2nd Century. In it we read:

“Concerning eucharist, this is how you are to conduct it:

First, concerning the cup, ‘We thank you, our Father, for the sacred vine of David, your child, whom you made know to us through Jesus, your child. To you be glory forever.’

Then concerting the fragments of bread: ‘We thank you, our Father, for the life and knowledge that you made known to us through Jesus, your child. To you be glory forever. Just as this loaf was scattered upon the mountains but was gathered into unity, so your church should be gathered from the ends of the earth into your domain. Yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever.’

No one is to eat or drink from your eucharist except those baptized in the name of the Lord. Recall what the Lord said about this: ‘Don’t throw what is sacred to dogs.” (Didache 9:1-5)

This tradition has led quite a few modern Christians to reinterpret how they memorialize Jesus’ last supper, especially at this time of year when our attention is drawn to it once again. Many Christians today, given what we just read in the Didache, see Jesus’ last supper as the same kind of meal he frequently ate with his disciples and with anyone else who desired to eat with them. Jesus’ open table practice in a culture where whom one ate with had social and political meaning was another example of the inclusiveness he practiced every day. Most scholars today believe that the earliest rituals around Jesus’ last supper took the form we see described in the Didache. The supper was later attached to Jesus’ death as we read in Paul (1 Corinthians 11:23-26), a connection that is then picked up by Mark, Matthew, and in our passage in Luke. In John’s gospel, however, Jesus’ last supper is not associated with the imagery of his death (the passion) but rather with images of his life.

Whereas Mark and Matthew follow Paul’s eucharist order (bread then cup), in our passage this week from Luke, we see signs of early Jesus followers memorializing his last supper both ways: we see both the form found in the Didache and the form found in Paul blended together. This would make sense as Luke’s gospel repeatedly attempts to tell the Jesus story in a way that provides a big tent view of following Jesus. Luke is telling a narrative so that it can be valued by the largest number of Jesus followers. Regardless of which Jesus community readers belonged to, they could nonetheless find what they believed to be meaningful and sacred in Luke’s version of Jesus story.

So let’s take a look at our passage once again.

First, the form found in the Didache:

“’For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.’ After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them’”

Then the form found in Paul:

“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’”

Because Luke’s trying to include both forms, Luke’s version of the last supper is the only version to include two cups. In the Didache’s order, you have cup then bread. In Paul’s order, you have bread then cup. And in Luke, which blends both ways of memorializing Jesus last supper, we have a cup (Didache), then bread (Didache and Paul), then a cup again (Paul). Mark and Matthew repeat the form found in Paul, and thus only have one cup.

Why all this “nerding out” over the story detail differences in the gospels, Paul, and the Didache? What’s the point?

The the point is that there is no one right way to celebrate or memorialize Jesus last supper. If you, like me, have come to find more life in a story that isn’t about someone dying, but about how life and love overcame and reversed everything the state attempted by executing Jesus, how love and life overcome death, fear, bigotry and hate, then you also have options in how you remember Jesus’ last supper. We don’t have to remember Jesus’ last supper in a way that glorifies death, even if it’s Jesus’ death. We don’t have to perpetuate the harms pointed out by Williams above and others.

Jesus most certainly broke bread and shared cups with people from all social and economic locations, those at the center and those on the margins. The egalitarian inclusivity he demonstrated with his meal practice of sharing resources, specifically food, was at the heart of the vision Jesus had for human community. And it also can become a ritual for us, when we interpret it as such, that transforms and shapes us into people who share resources with one another in our own ways and contexts today. How we celebrate rituals determines the kind of humans those rituals shape us into being. I like the shared table way of remembering a Jesus who, realizing what was coming, chose to share an open table with his disciples one last time.

Ritualizing this reminds me of the kind of world I want to be creating every day.

It’s a world where our bread and wine are not hoarded but shared. A world where we are all connected. A world where no one is fully thriving till we are all thriving.

 

 

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Does this way of interpreting Jesus’ last supper change the way you engage the Eucharist? If so how? Share 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