Envisioning a World of Care

broken chain

Herb Montgomery | August 5, 2022

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


We don’t see Luke’s Jesus traveling around passing out tickets to heaven; instead we see him teaching a more socialized way of living here on earth that could lift up the marginalized and downtrodden from the harms their society was committing against them.


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak.

“But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Luke 12:32-40)

The first portion of this week’s reading centers on Jesus’ ethic of resource-sharing and wealth redistribution as a universal expectation for all of Jesus’ followers. This is the same ethic Jesus called individuals to elsewhere in the gospel stories (see Luke 18:22, Mark 10:21, and Matthew 19:21). But in Luke, this ethic of sharing and redistribution was not for isolated individuals in specific situations, but for every able Jesus follower.

There’s a similar principle in the companion book to Luke’s gospel, the book of Acts:

“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostlesteaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:41-47, emphasis added)

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

This is the basis for the story of Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5) and the story about the Hellenistic widows in the early Jesus movement being overlooked and not receiving shared resources (Acts 6).

Most Christians exclude this practice from their Jesus-following today but early Jesus followers couldn’t exclude it. It was expected that Jesus followers would practice this principle. We don’t see Luke’s Jesus traveling around passing out tickets to heaven; instead we see him teaching a more socialized way of living here on earth that could lift up the marginalized and downtrodden from the harms their society was committing against them.

Jesus’ vision of a human community was simple: If you find yourself with more than what you need, be the one to provide for those who have less than they need, and hope that one day, if you have less than you need, we’ll have created a community where someone who has more than they need will share with you.

It’s a competing vision for organizing our world. We can follow the path of rugged individualism where isolated people place their assurance in how much wealth they have hoarded to provide for themselves and their needs. Or we can follow the path of Jesus, where we are investing in one another and creating a community that shares resources so that if we ever have needs, we also have each other. No matter what the future brings, we can face it together because we have each other’s back.

This is how I interpret the following passage:

“Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

I don’t interpret this as people storing up treasure “in heaven” for people to enjoy after they are dead. Rather this is about storing up treasure in the ethics of heaven, storing up treasure in a way that couldn’t be stolen or destroyed, and storing up treasure in people, in community, where no thief or moth can touch. Community is Jesus’ solution to our challenge of survival and thriving.

As I shared last week from the work of James Robinson:

“[Jesus’] basic issue, still basic today, is that most people have solved the human dilemma for themselves at the expense of everyone else, putting them down so as to stay afloat themselves. This vicious, antisocial way of coping with the necessities of life only escalates the dilemma for the rest of society.” (The Gospel of Jesus: A Historical Search for the Original Good News, Kindle location 138)

We can store up wealth or invest in building communities where we take care of each other. For wherever our treasure is, there our hearts will be also.

The next part of our reading transitions away from resource-sharing and wealth redistribution and focuses on examples of watchfulness and alertness.

This is another place in the Jesus story where we must be honest about context. The authors of the early Jesus story never assumed a world where some humans were not owned in some form by others. All the way to the final book in the New Testament cannon, we still encounter the language of masters and slaves.

As much as I wish the writers of our sacred texts had had large enough imaginations to envision a world without slaves, the fact is that they didn’t. But today, as Jesus followers, we can and must do better. Rather than using the scriptures as a justification for injustice when we encounter it, we can be honest about the shortcomings of our sacred texts and take the ethics of love, compassion, justice and mercy, the golden rule, etc. to their logical conclusions and applications, further than the authors of our texts could or did. Today we can work toward a world with no more masters and no more slaves. As Marx and Engles used to say, “we have nothing to lose but our chains.”

Lastly, I want to address an unsettled debate among Jesus scholars today. There are two camps among scholars of the historical Jesus. One believes that Jesus, like John the Baptist, Paul, and Paul’s Christian converts, subscribed to apocalypticism and believed the world was about to end. The other camp believes Jesus did not hold this view but was laying down ethical teachings that could become a long-term lifestyle here on earth, a way of living that was salvific in the sense that it saved us from structures of violence, oppression and injustice offering a different way of ordering our world. (If this debate is new to you, let me recommend a small, introductory book: The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Debate by Robert J. Miller and Dale C. Allison Jr.).

This debate has practical implications for how we choose to live today. Were Jesus’ ethical teachings of resource-sharing and wealth redistribution a short-term way of living because the world was about to end? Does that mean that we cannot possibly be expected to practice them long term or apply them to our lives today? This interpretation would be very convenient for the billionaire class or a capitalistic society!

Or, much more challenging, was Jesus different from John the Baptist and Paul in this sense? Was he laying down a livable ethic of community and taking care of one another that we can apply to our lives long term and use to organize our societies and economies in a different way? Was Jesus imagining a world where we didn’t live by a system that produced winners and losers no matter how many had equal opportunity to play the game? Or was he imagining a world where everyone had what they needed to thrive?

There are signs of this ethic in the ancient Hebrew story too:

“The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.” (Exodus 16:17-18)

I believe the ethics we find in the Jesus story are livable, and regardless of where we land on scholarly debates about the historical Jesus, I hope that we can agree that a world where we take care of each other rather than leaving each person on their own to take care of themselves is a much better world to live in and the kind of world we would all want to live in.

This topic can lead us to heated discussions about things like taxes, wealth limits, redistribution, universal health care and child care, universal basic income, and more. And when I look around at today’s disparities and the harm being produced, these are discussions worth having.

There’s a lot to ponder here. How does our Jesus story where Jesus tells his followers, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor” have any application to our economic challenges today?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What are some present-day applications to current political and economic debates around economic justice in our society today? Rather than labelling positions as liberal or conservative, grade various opinions along a spectrum from closer to far away from the world-vision we have been reading in the past two weeks here in Luke. Discuss with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



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

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

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Sharing More Than We Need

puzzle piece

Herb Montgomery | July 29, 2022

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


Every day, we face the evolutionary challenge of survival. We here in the U.S. have also been deeply conditioned by our culture of individualism, independence, and self-sufficiency. So even if we have solved the survival dilemma for ourselves, that’s usually all we’ve done: solved it for ourselves and too often at the expense of someone else, intentionally or unintentionally. Too often, we’re told that some need to go without so some others can have more. But what if this isn’t true? What if there is actually enough for everyone?


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

Someone in the crowd said to him, Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Jesus replied, Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops. Then he said, This is what Ill do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And Ill say to myself, You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself? This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:13-21)

A pastor friend of mine recently shared some of their vocational challenges with me. Commenting on their congregation, they said, “The challenge of my congregation is not its poverty, but its wealth.” As uneasily as we discuss our wealth or lack of wealth, this week’s reading invites us into that uncomfortable conversation. We are socialized by our U.S. culture to be uneasy here. Lean into this discomfort.

The passage begins with an outburst from one of Jesus’ listeners. Possibly struck by Jesus’ emphasis on justice for those being wronged, the person shouts out for Jesus to intervene with his brother to share the inheritance that their father had left them.

This request comes from a certain social location in Jesus’ society. Those who would even have had an inheritance to fight over in Jesus’ society would have been from the wealthy class. Disputes regarding large inheritances were not the plight of the poor or middle classes in Judea or Galilee. And Jesus didnt view settling disputes between the rich as his purpose.

The Jesus of the gospels stood squarely in the Hebrew prophetic justice tradition’s concern for the poor. So rather than settle this dispute for this man, Jesus called him into solidarity with the poor through a parable.

When we find ourselves with more than what we ourselves need to thrive, then rather than building bigger barns to store that wealth, it is time for wealth redistribution.

“Ill say to myself, You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”

I remember being deeply moved years ago while reading the following statements from James Robinson’s The Gospel of Jesus, In Search of the Original Good News:

“The human dilemma is, in large part, that we are each others fate. We become the tool of evil that ruins another person as we look out for ourselves, having long abandoned any youthful idealism we might once have cherished. But if we each would cease and desist from pushing the other down to keep ourselves up, then the vicious cycle would be broken. Society would become mutually supportive rather than self-destructive. This is what Jesus was up to . . . I am hungry because you hoard food. You are cold because I hoard clothing. Our dilemma is that we all hoard supplies in our backpacks and put our trust in our wallets! Such security” should be replaced by God reigning, which means both what I trust God to do (to activate you to share food with me) and what I hear God telling me to do (to share clothes with you). We should not carry money while bypassing the poor or wear a backpack with extra clothes and food while ignoring the cold and hungry lying in the gutter. This is why the beggars, the hungry, the depressed are fortunate: God, that is, those in whom God rules, those who hearken to God, will care for them. The needy are called upon to trust that Gods reigning is there for them (Theirs is the kingdom of God”).” (Kindle Location 72)

Jesus shares his solution in this week’s parable.

Every day, we face the evolutionary challenge of survival. We here in the U.S. have also been deeply conditioned by our culture of individualism, independence, and self-sufficiency. So even if we have solved the survival dilemma for ourselves, that’s usually all we’ve done: solved it for ourselves and too often at the expense of someone else, intentionally or unintentionally. Too often, we’re told that some need to go without so some others can have more. But what if this isn’t true? What if there is actually enough for everyone?

Jesus’ solution for the dilemma of survival was more social than individual. He encouraged mutually supportive communities, communities where we take responsibility for caring for one another. When we find ourselves having more than what we need for our own thriving, we’re called to share that extra with those who don’t have what they need to thrive. That’s how we all thrive together.

When we do this, we are creating a new world, setting in motion a world of different quality. When we share with those whose daily needs are not being met today, we create mutuality where if something should happen in the future, those who have more than what they need then will share with us.

We could instead choose to hoard our wealth so that if anything ever happened in the future we could simply take care of it ourselves. But that was not Jesus’ solution. Elsewhere in the Christian scriptures we read:

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

Putting hope in hoarded wealth is an option, but Jesus called us to put our hope in each other. “Be rich toward God,” meant sharing resources with others who are the objects of God’s universal love. We can trust God enough to be the people God is calling to share our extra resources today, and we can trust, too, that if something should happen to us in the future, God will send someone to share their extra resources with us.

Again:

“Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality.” (2 Corinthians 8:13-14)

This can be done in a multitude of ways, one of them being taxation.

Consider this example within the early Jesus community:

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

The community’s practice was in direct response to Jesus’ call for those with more than they needed to sell what they had and give it to the poor. The early church practiced a form of wealth redistribution, not to enrich the church institution, but to redistribute that wealth among those who were in need.

And what was the result? Not universal poverty. Instead, the story says, “there were no needy persons among them.”

This calls into question our society where billionaires exist. Do we want to live in a society where some people have more than they will ever need while there are others who for whom the vast wealth disparity in our society is lethal. Would we rather live in a society with a smaller disparity between the haves and have nots? How can this week’s reading inform our discussions about a possible billionaire wealth tax?

I don’t believe wealth disparity makes a society healthy (see How economic inequality harms societies). I believe it is deeply harmful for all of us, and I want a society with less hoarding, more sharing, and more abundance for all.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What are some ways we can practice sharing our surplus with those in need starting simply within our HeartGroups? 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

Mary’s Perfume and No More Poverty 

feet

Herb Montgomery | April 1, 2022

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


“I want to offer an alternative interpretation. Poverty is a human-made reality, and therefore poverty can be eradicated through our choices in how we structure our societies . . . I don’t believe Jesus’ words in John about poor people should be interpreted as establishing as an existential reality that poverty is an eternal, unchangeable given for our world.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

“Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesushonor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesusfeet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, Why wasnt this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a years wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12:1-8)

John creatively resets this story from previous versions of the Jesus story by including the characters Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. There are both significant differences and consistent story elements. What is common in each version is a meal, a woman interrupting the meal, a container of perfume, objections from some of those present at the meal, and Jesus’ defense of the woman’s actions. Oral storytelling traditions commonly alter story details for the storyteller’s purposes or the needs of their audience. John’s storytelling does that too.

In John’s version of this story, we are in Mary, Martha, and Lazarus’ home, not the home of Simon the Pharisee (Luke) or Simon the Leper (Mark and Matthew). The woman who interacts with Jesus is Mary of Bethany (Martha and Lazarus’ sister), not the woman of ill repute as in Luke, nor an unnamed woman as in Mark and Matthew, and most definitely not Mary Magdalene (contrary to the 6th Century Pope Gregory, Mary of Magdalene is a completely different character in John’s gospel). Mary also anoints Jesus’ feet (not his head as in Mark and Matthew). Foot-washing was a customary hospitality practiced at dinners in a culture where people ate together seated in a reclining position on the floor, not at a table that hid guests’ feet.

In this story, Mary’s act is one of gratitude, specifically for the events of the previous chapter. In that chapter, Lazarus, Mary’s brother, had gotten sick and died, and Jesus brought him back from the dead to live again. This is a repeated theme in the gospels: life and life-giving overturning, undoing, and reversing death and death-dealing. It is one of the strongest, most life-giving interpretations of the Jesus story. The story is not primarily that someone died, but that that the state’s murder of someone who was calling for social change was overturned, undone, and reversed. The life-giving teachings of this Jewish prophet of the poor from Galilee lived on in the life of his followers. In Acts 13:32-33, the early believers say: We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus” (italics added).

The good news in this interpretive paradigm is not that Jesus died, but that Jesus overcame death, death-dealing and the state. His story is a story of life overcoming death, or love overcoming in the end—love that overcomes hate, fear, injustice, and bigotry.

In John 11, Jesus conquered, reversed, and undid Lazarus’ death. Jesus had said to Lazarus’ and Mary’s sister, Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life” (see John 11:25).

Again, in John, Mary is anointing Jesus in an act of gratitude for Jesus’ reversal of sickness and death and his channeling that reversal as “the resurrection and the life.” We must not miss that in John’s story, Jesus states that Mary had been saving this perfume for Jesus’ burial. So the fact that Mary instead uses it now hints that she has learned his lesson—life and love will overcome in the end.

Those hearing this story are being prepared for how John’s version of the Jesus story will turn out: Perfume will not be needed to anoint a dead body lying lifeless in a tomb. No, that tomb will be found empty. Mary has embraced Jesus as the resurrection and life, and has chosen, not to save her perfume for a dead body but to use it now in gratitude. Love will win in the end. She won’t need this perfume later, and she is banking on it.

So many social sicknesses are in need of reversal in our society, today: the sickness of White supremacy, the sickness of patriarchy and misogyny, the sickness of classism and greed, the sicknesses of bigotry against LGBTQIA people, and many more sicknesses that lead to death. What does it mean for us to live as people who overcome, who genuinely believe that love wins?

Lastly, I want to address Jesus’ words, “You will always have the poor among you.” This statement, which appears in each gospel, has been used by the wealthy to discourage Jesus’ followers from working toward economic justice and social change. In this interpretation, Jesus’ phrase is a prediction that trying to end poverty is futile, that poverty is an eternal social reality and there is nothing we can really do to prevent it. They would like us to think that all we can do to ease poverty in society is acts of charity and creating a society where poverty doesn’t exist is impossible.

But this interpretation benefits those who are enriched by the status quo and don’t want to see structural change. Charity is not justice, remember. Charity can ease injustice but leaves an unjust system unchanged.

I want to offer an alternative interpretation. Poverty is a human-made reality, and therefore poverty can be eradicated through our choices in how we structure our societies.

Consider this passage from the Torah:

“At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the LORDS time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your fellow Israelite owes you. However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today.” (Deuteronomy 15:1-5)

This passage states that there doesn’t need to be “poor people” among Israelites. They are being given instruction on how to eradicate poverty. Later in the same chapter, we read, “There will always be poor people in the land [i.e. the surrounding societies outside of Israel]. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land [as opposed to the larger societies in which poverty will always exist because the way those societies are shaped] (italics and capitalization added).

I don’t believe Jesus’ words in John about poor people should be interpreted as establishing as an existential reality that poverty is an eternal, unchangeable given for our world. Even if one does, however, then we can read Jesus as saying that Israelite society has become like the surrounding nations in Deuteronomy where poverty “will always exist” because of their structure. Jesus words here are an indictment of his society’s rejection of the mandate to forgive debts every seven years. Therefore, they were choosing to structure their society by immortalizing poverty as the surrounding nations in Deuteronomy 15 had. These choices can be reversed. We can structure our societies differently. The early Jesus followers in the book of Acts eradicated poverty from their own community in Jesus’ name:

“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.”

Remember, it was not that Jesus had died, but that he had been resurrected. His death had been reversed.

“And Gods grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales.” (Acts 4:33-34, italics added)

Last year, I mentioned these words of Nelson Mandela and Gustavo Gutierrez in Declaring War Against Poverty:

Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the action of human beings.” (Nelson Mandela, in a 2005 speech at the Make Poverty History rally in Londons Trafalgar Square)

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

There is a lot to consider here.

How are you being called to be a conduit of love, healing, life, and life-giving in your own contexts, this week?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. How do you perceive poverty as something that could be prevented in our society? What would our society have to incorporate in order to eradicate poverty? Discuss (and imagine) 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


 Injustice is Not Sustainable

 

fig tree at dusk

Herb Montgomery | March 18, 2022

 

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

 


Democratic societies must be made to birth a distributively just society where the needs of everyone and not only an elite few are collectively met. The alternative is not sustainable, and ends with that society falling into the rubbish bin of history.”


 

Our reading this week is from the book of Luke:

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Then he told this parable: A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, For three years now Ive been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and havent found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ ‘Sir,the man replied, leave it alone for one more year, and Ill dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (Luke 13:1-9)

No other ancient writing describes the incidents that begin our passage this week. Quite honestly, we do not know what the phrases “the Galileans” or “those on whom the tower in Siloam fell” refer to. The message to the audience, though is one found often in sacred texts: repent or perish.

But repent of what? What about their present course points to self-destruction?

While we have no definite proof of what these two examples are referring to, some scholars connect them to a failed Galilean revolt where Roman soldiers surprised and slaughtered Galilean insurgents as they made sacrifices in preparation for their revolt.

In this week’s story, the religiopolitical elite question whether the people revolting had been morally upright or whether their sinfulness was to blame for their lack of success. Jesus says to them, Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”

Similarly, a few scholars identify the tower of Siloam as a tower where Rome stored its weapons. Galilean insurgents might have tried to dig a tunnel under the tower to seize the weapons for a violent revolt. But the tunneling compromised the towers foundation, the entire structure suddenly collapsed, and several of these Galileans died. Jesus again denies they are responsible for their deaths: No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

When Jesus calls for repentance in our story, I dont hear the moralistic idea of repentance so many of us are used to today. I hear a Jewish prophet of the poor calling for social change. The elites would blame the insurgents’ failures on their lack of moral uprightness, but Jesus rather points to an unjust economic structure that oppresses folks and creates insurgents who long to experience the distributive justice that the Hebrew prophets called for (see the book of Amos).

Jesus isn’t preaching in the vein of the Christian fire and brimstone preachers who have cried “repent or perish” from their pulpits. He’s teaching much more like the Hebrew prophets who saw the intrinsic connection between an exploitative system and its lack of sustainability. “Injustice is not sustainable” is the message we are encountering here.

This is a good time to pause and reflect on how injustice is unsustainable in our day as well. I think of those who long for the days of White, straight, cisgender and male privilege or domination in contrast to the multiracial, multicultural, varied, heterogeneous democracy that many are working toward today. This doesn’t just apply to our secular society. It applies to our faith communities, too.

Our faith traditions include voices that bemoan a society they have judged as morally corrupt. Yet they are merely witnessing those in society calling for equality and ways to make our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone. I think of those who see the end of patriarchy in faith communities as an evil rather than a good, and those who see LGBTQ inclusion and affirmation as a sign of the times, rather than as a change where life is overcoming death and love is overcoming fear, bigotry, and hate.

Again, so many of us, like those in our story, are quick to judge as inferior those who are different than ourselves. Instead, the Jesus of our story this week would tell us the reality: that unless we change and become more just, we will perish.

Lastly, this week’s passage uses a common metaphor for the condition of Israel’s society, one that appears in both the Hebrew scriptures and the rabbinic literature (see Isaiah 5). A healthy, distributively just society was a healthy fig tree that produced much fruit for all to enjoy. Fig trees, after all, were an important source of food in the Ancient Middle East. But a sickly, desolate, or barren fig tree was an unhealthy society that benefitted only a select few through exploiting the masses. The fruitful fig tree symbolized a blessed society where everyone’s needs were being met: there was enough for everyone. A barren fig tree was cursed and under judgement from the Hebrew prophets for trampling the vulnerable.

Our story this week answers the cry to immediately cut the fig tree down by encouraging the gardener or owner to keep trying to make it healthy for one more year, to fertilize it and see if things turn around before giving up on it.

There is a love of the fig tree seen here in the desire to make it healthy.

This has applications for us today, too, in our faith communities, and in our larger society as well.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve scratched my head in wonder at LGBTQ people of faith who keep trying to change their homophobic, transphobic, biphobic faith communities. I’ve often asked myself, why don’t they just shake the dust from their feet and say good riddance! I wonder if they’d be better off. But the reality is these faith traditions are their homes. Many have grown up in them and there is love for these faith traditions rooted in their hearts. They’d rather endure pain from continued effort than grief of leaving the barren fig tree of their faith tradition to die. I see their stories in our story this week.

In our larger society, as well, so many have said that how many minorities have been treated within the “American dream” has been a nightmare. Yet so many people from minoritized communities genuinely love the principles that the United States is supposed to embody and want to see America genuinely live out its highest ideals. They live in hope that their choices to keep at it will help this country become “that more perfect union” one day.

Recently my daughter introduced me to the play Indecent by Paula Vogel. It is a deeply moving story of the lives of Jewish immigrant actors and how they were mistreated here in America while involved with the beautiful, life-changing Yiddish Broadway play The God of Vengeance: Drama in Three Acts by Sholem Asch. Censors unjustly shut down the play, accusing it of being indecent. All the actors were arrested and thrown in jail. But in fact, the play was shut down as a result of antisemitism.

In the story, finally coming to the end of his patience, one of the central characters, Lemml, bursts out, “I’m done being in a country that laughs at the way I speak. They say America is free? What do you know here is free? All over Europe we did this play with no Cossacks shutting us down. Berlin, Moscow, Odessa—everywhere there is theater! You don’t have money for a ticket? Tickets over there cost less than a cup of tea. Then you dress up nice in your best coat and maybe you stand up in the second gallery, but you can say to your grandchildren: ‘I saw the great Rudolph Schildkraut in Sholem Asch’s The God of Vengeance!’ I am leaving this country!”

The sad end for Lemml is that he leaves America and returns to his homeland in the midst of the Holocaust and ends up dying at the hands of the Nazi’s.

At this spot in the play, I could not help but hear the echo of those for whom America has not been a blessing but a curse. Not a fruitful fig tree, but a barren one.

To all who are working for change, keep digging. Keep fertilizing. Perhaps it will ultimately bear fruit for all those who live here. But my own country is the context for how I hear the message in this week’s reading.

Democratic societies must be made to birth a distributively just society where the needs of everyone and not only an elite few are collectively met. The alternative is not sustainable, and ends with that society falling into the rubbish bin of history.

Injustice is not sustainable.

 

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What are some examples of how you see injustice as unsustainable in our various communities, both our faith communities and our larger society, today? Discuss with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week

 


 

 


 

March is Donor Appreciation Month

During the month of March, we want to do something special to thank you for supporting the work of Renewed Heart Ministries.

Renewed Heart Ministries provides deeply needed resources that help enable Christians to discover the intersection of their love for Jesus and their work of healing our world through actions of love, justice and compassion; actions Jesus modeled and called us to follow.

Engaging our communities in ways that shape our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone is often hard work and its worth it. We appreciate the actions, big and small, each of you take each day to engage this work.

This month, we are partnering with Watchfire Media to offer a free thank you gift, shipping included. We want to offer you Watchfire Media’s absolutely beautiful Holy Troublemakers & Unconventional Saints 2022 Wall Calendar to everyone who makes a special one-time donation of $50 or more through the following special link during the month of March to support RHM’s work.

The online donation link to use is https://bit.ly/RHMCalendar.

(Or you donate by mail by sending your donation to

Renewed Heart Ministries
PO Box 1211
Lewisburg, WV 24901

*If donating by mail, simply make sure that your donation is specially marked indicating you would like a HolyTroublemakers & Unconventional Saints 2022 Wall Calendar as a thank you.)

If you are unfamiliar with this special calendar, The Holy Troublemakers & Unconventional Saints 2022 Wall Calendar features 12 “holy troublemakers,” people of faith from different faiths and different eras who worked for more love, kindness, and justice in their corner of the world. Each of them did the right thing even when it was the hard thing, and even when it rocked the religious boat.

Like the book Holy Trouble­makers & Unconventional Saints, this calendar centers holy troublemakers who are women, LGBTQ, Black, Indigenous, and other people of color who have too often been written out of religious narratives. Their stories inspire, educate, challenge, encourage, and move us all towards more love and a faith that works for the common good of everyone.

Packed with original artwork, short bios, and inspiring quotes, the calendar also includes important holidays from diverse faith traditions, social justice movement anniversaries, and dates that help us remember that joy is an essential part of holy troublemaking.

Thank you in advance for supporting the work of Renewed Heart Ministries. Together we will continue being a voice for change. And thank you to Watchfire Media, as well, for partnering with RHM this month to be able to share this special thank you gift with our supporters. We appreciate all you do, too!

Product details:

2022 Wall Calendar: 24 pages

Publisher: Watchfire Media
Language: English
Product Dimensions: 12” x 13”
Shipping Weight: 1 lb.
ISBN: 978-1-7340895-1-6

 Myth of Redemptive Sacrifice

ash bowl for ash wednesday

Herb Montgomery | March 4, 2022

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


In the wilderness story, Jesus rejects the temptation to sacrifice himself and tempt God to save him in the end. This calls into question how we interpret Christian narratives of Jesus’ death and resurrection as we walk through Lent toward Easter. I can think of no better way to begin the season of Lent than by calling into question the myth of redemptive suffering.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, It is written: humans shall not live on bread alone.’” The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, It is written: Worship the Sovereign God and serve God only.’” The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. If you are the Son of God,” he said, throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “ ‘God will command the angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered, It is said: Do not put the Sovereign God to the test.’” When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:1-13)

For many Christians, this weekend marks the first weekend of Lent, which commemorates the 40 days and nights that Jesus spends in the wilderness before embarking on his ministry of healing, liberation, inclusion, and establishing justice.

Luke’s version of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness has much to teach us today. There are so many good, life-giving, holistic, political, liberation, and justice-rooted interpretations of these three temptations, and this week I want to mention some highlights relevant for us.

Forty days and nights held special meaning in Hebrew tradition. This was the amount of time Moses spent on Mt. Sinai before receiving the tablets of stone with the law and commandments (Deuteronomy 9:9-11). It was also the amount of time Moses spent interceding for Israel (Deuteronomy 9:18, 10:10). Israel explored the land of Canaan for forty days and nights, and spent a comparable amount of time journeying in the wilderness—a year for each day (Numbers 14:34). Also remember how the flood rains in the time of Noah lasted forty days and nights (Genesis 7:12), and Jonah warned Nineveh for forty days that it would be destroyed (Jonah 3:4). Each of the synoptic gospels builds on this tradition, preparing Jesus for his ministry of liberation by sending him into the wilderness for forty days (cf. Mark 1:13, Matthew 4:2, and Luke 4:2).

Profit, People, and the Environment

Matthew and Luke add significantly more detail to Mark’s story, and both gospels list Jesus’ first temptation as turning bread to stone after forty days of fasting. In our passage this week we read:

The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: humans shall not live on bread alone.’

Jesus’ response resonates deeply with me. How many times have you had to choose between “bread” and doing what you feel is right? In this world, profit is sovereign. People’s needs and what is right for their wellbeing are continually less prioritized than or even sacrificed to the almighty profit margin. Greed or desire for more and more bread while so many around the globe are starving fuels the international economy, and control or power over that bread drives decisions at the highest levels of our world.

In Rome’s day, those who controlled the supply of bread ruled the world. Today, the same is true. Whoever controls the supply of resources that humanity needs for its survival rules the world. This has environmental implications as well as economic ones.

From the beginning, capitalism’s ruling principle has been “bread.” Profit has caused us to devalue and therefore destroy our most precious resources, especially those natural resources used to produce profit that are not infinite. Today, many are realizing as never before that if we, the grand human family living on earth, will survive, we must first embrace our connectedness to both each other and every living thing on earth. We must say, as Jesus said in the wilderness, humans shall not live by bread alone. The means by which we obtain our bread—whether those means are just, life-giving, and sustainable—matters as much as the bread does. Bread alone is not life-giving enough.

Ends That Don’t Justify the Means

In Luke’s version of the story, Jesus’ next temptation offers him all the kingdoms of our world if he would worship the tempter. To understand this story, enlarge your definition of worship beyond religiosity. Our society worships profit. Our society worships war and sacrifices generations of people for war. Many in our society subscribe to and worship various expressions of White, European, patriarchal, straight, and cisgender supremacy. Worship is about what we choose to reverence, honor, or value.

In this temptation, Jesus is called to subscribe to a value system, a way of doing life. The promise is that if he will subscribe to the tempter’s value system, all the world will be within his grasp. Jesus rejects the offer, and his model prompts us to consider not just what goals we seek to accomplish through the lives we live, but also how we try to accomplish those goals.

Justice, safety, compassion are our goals. They must also be the means we use. Dr. King held in tension his goal for peace and his rejection of the means many offered him during his sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church entitled When Peace Becomes Obnoxious:

If peace means a willingness to be exploited economically, dominated politically, humiliated and segregated, I dont want peace. If peace means being complacently adjusted to a deadening status quo, I dont want peace. If peace means keeping my mouth shut in the midst of injustice and evil, I dont want it. Peace is not simply the absence of conflict, but the existence of justice for all people.

In my sacred imagination, I picture Jesus considering his own burden for justice. Perhaps he meditated on the passage from Isaiah, He will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth” (Isaiah 42:4). Considering what that goal could mean for him, and responding to the tempter’s offer, he whispered, “But not like this.”

Myth of Redemptive Sacrifice

Next in Luke’s version, Jesus goes from the mountaintop where he saw all the empires of the world to the capital of his society’s temple state. There he is tempted to throw himself from the highest point of the temple, to sacrifice himself with the promise that it will all work out in the end.

I see in this the temptation that many who work for justice face: to sacrifice themselves for the cause in the belief that their self-sacrifice will be redemptive. Within Christianity, Jesus himself is held up to sell this myth. As Rev. Drs. Joanne Carlson Brown and Rebecca Ann Parker wrote in their seminary-hall-shaking essay, For God So Loved the World?:

If the best person who ever lived gave his life for others, then, to be of value we should likewise sacrifice ourselves. Any sense that we have a right to care for our own needs is in conflict with being a faithful follower of Jesus. Our suffering for others will save the world. The message is complicated further by the theology that says Christ suffered in obedience to his Father’s will. Divine child abuse is paraded as salvific and the child who suffers “without even raising a voice” is lauded as the hope of the world. Those whose lives have been deeply shaped by the Christian tradition feel that self-sacrifice and obedience are not only virtues but the definition of a faithful identity. The promise of resurrection persuades us to endure pain, humiliation, and violation of our sacred rights to self-determination, wholeness, and freedom. (p. 2)

I cannot encourage you enough to take the time to read their entire essay slowly and thoughtfully.

In the wilderness story, Jesus rejects the temptation to sacrifice himself and tempt God to save him in the end. This calls into question how we interpret Christian narratives of Jesus’ death and resurrection as we walk through Lent toward Easter. I can think of no better way to begin the season of Lent than by calling into question the myth of redemptive suffering.

Are our rituals shaping us into life-giving people, not only for others but for ourselves as well? Over the next few weeks, we’ll address this more thoroughly.

For now, hold in tension the Jesus we encounter in the wilderness who firmly rejected self-sacrifice and the Jesus we usually view sacrificing himself to save the world and believing that in laying down his life, it would be given back to him.

Much to ponder! Behind every answer is another question. And in the end, our stories must be about life, and not glorify death.

More on this in the coming weeks.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Share an example of how moving away from the myth of redemptive suffering has changed how you follow Jesus? 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



March is Donor Appreciation Month

During the month of March, we want to do something special to thank you for supporting the work of Renewed Heart Ministries.

Renewed Heart Ministries provides deeply needed resources that help enable Christians to discover the intersection of their love for Jesus and their work of healing our world through actions of love, justice and compassion; actions Jesus modeled and called us to follow.

Engaging our communities in ways that shape our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone is often hard work and its worth it. We appreciate the actions, big and small, each of you take each day to engage this work.

This month, we are partnering with Watchfire Media to offer a free thank you gift, shipping included. We want to offer you Watchfire Media’s absolutely beautiful Holy Troublemakers & Unconventional Saints 2022 Wall Calendar to everyone who makes a special one-time donation of $50 or more through the following special link during the month of March to support RHM’s work.

The online donation link to use is https://bit.ly/RHMCalendar.

(Or you donate by mail by sending your donation to

Renewed Heart Ministries
PO Box 1211
Lewisburg, WV 24901

*If donating by mail, simply make sure that your donation is specially marked indicating you would like a HolyTroublemakers & Unconventional Saints 2022 Wall Calendar as a thank you.)

If you are unfamiliar with this special calendar, The Holy Troublemakers & Unconventional Saints 2022 Wall Calendar features 12 “holy troublemakers,” people of faith from different faiths and different eras who worked for more love, kindness, and justice in their corner of the world. Each of them did the right thing even when it was the hard thing, and even when it rocked the religious boat.

Like the book Holy Trouble­makers & Unconventional Saints, this calendar centers holy troublemakers who are women, LGBTQ, Black, Indigenous, and other people of color who have too often been written out of religious narratives. Their stories inspire, educate, challenge, encourage, and move us all towards more love and a faith that works for the common good of everyone.

Packed with original artwork, short bios, and inspiring quotes, the calendar also includes important holidays from diverse faith traditions, social justice movement anniversaries, and dates that help us remember that joy is an essential part of holy troublemaking.

Thank you in advance for supporting the work of Renewed Heart Ministries. Together we will continue being a voice for change. And thank you to Watchfire Media, as well, for partnering with RHM this month to be able to share this special thank you gift with our supporters. We appreciate all you do, too!

Product details:

2022 Wall Calendar: 24 pages

Publisher: Watchfire Media
Language: English
Product Dimensions: 12” x 13”
Shipping Weight: 1 lb.
ISBN: 978-1-7340895-1-6

 Setting in Motion a Safe, Compassionate, Just Society

pendulum in motion

Herb Montgomery | February 18, 2021

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

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

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

Enemy Love

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

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

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

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

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

Turning the Other Cheek

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

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

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

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

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

Naked Protest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giving Based on Need Rather than Worthiness

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

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

Demanding Return of Property

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

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

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

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

Reciprocal Nature of Our World

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



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When Social Justice is Rejected and Spoken of as Evil

Herb Montgomery | February 11, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke

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

Looking at his disciples, he said:

  Blessed are you who are poor,

for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who hunger now,

for you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who weep now,

for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you,

when they exclude you and insult you

and reject your name as evil,

because of the Son of Man.

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

 “But woe to you who are rich,

for you have already received your comfort.

  Woe to you who are well fed now,

for you will go hungry.

Woe to you who laugh now,

for you will mourn and weep.

  Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

Liberation for the Oppressed

blue skies

Herb Montgomery | January 21, 2022


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

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

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 61:1-2

  The spirit of the Most High GOD is upon me,

because the Most High has anointed me;

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

to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and release to the prisoners;

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

and the day of vengeance of our God;

to comfort all who mourn;

Isaiah 58:6

Is not this the fast that I choose:

to loose the bonds of injustice,

to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,

and to break every yoke?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How are you choosing in 2022?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What personal changes are you leaning into this new year? Discuss with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

Declaring War Against Poverty

Picture of a pottery bowl

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


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


by Herb Montgomery | November 12, 2021

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

Our reading this week is from the gospel of Mark:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



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

A Widow, Taxes, and Giving More Than What is Life-Giving to Give

Picture of a pottery bowl

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


Herb Montgomery | November 5, 2021


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


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

Our reading this week is from the gospel of Mark,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Learn to do right; seek justice.

Defend the oppressed.

Take up the cause of the fatherless;

plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I also don’t subscribe to an interpretation of this story that makes light of the gifts of the wealthy and places an inequitable burden on the poor. Those who see in their wealth as a call to share their superfluous “plenty” with those who have less or whose daily needs are not being met are following the principle we read elsewhere in the Christian scriptures: “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality” (2 Corinthians 8:14).

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


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