When Marriage is Unjust

Herb Montgomery | November 4, 2022

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


“In Jesus’ worldview, if marriage was going to perpetuate patriarchal dominance and dependence, then it would be better for both men and women for there to be no marriage at all. The “age to come” breaking in on the present, even then, was an age when all oppression would cease, all violence would end, and all injustice, including that enacted through marriage, would be no more. For Jesus, then, patriarchal marriage could not persist.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. Teacher,” they said, Moses wrote for us that if a mans brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too. Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

Jesus replied, The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are Gods children, since they are children of the resurrection. But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” (Luke 20:27-38)

Luke’s gospel repeats this story found also in Mark 12:18-27 and Matthew 22:23-33, and doesn’t change much. This story is rooted in the interpretation debates between the more liberal Pharisees and the more conservative Sadducees.

As we’ve discussed before, the Sadducees’ view effectively marginalized many people because they could not economically afford Torah faithfulness as the economically elite Sadducees defined it. This definition worked to preserve the Sadducees’ “purity,” social location, and privilege. As Josephus later wrote, “The Sadducees have the confidence of the wealthy alone, but no following among the populace” (Antiquities, 13.10.6).

The Pharisees had a much larger palette of sacred texts they used to color their theological, political, economic, and social views. Their interpretations put righteousness in the masses’ reach.

These contending political forces also debated whether there was a resurrection and an afterlife and whether this life is all we get. The Sadducees, who valued most of the Torah’s sacred writings, said there was not enough evidence in the Torah for belief in a resurrection. The Pharisees, who valued both the Torah and also a plethora of other sacred texts that we call the Hebrew scriptures today, taught of a resurrection in the age to come.

The Jesus of the gospels agrees with the Pharisees’ more theologically and politically liberal position. That’s why the Sadducees in this week’s reading are questioning Jesus’ belief in a resurrection. His response in each synoptic gospel is telling: and that response doesn’t seem to be good news for the patriarchy, heterosexism, or the social institution of marriage.

Jesus explains that in the age to come, an age of justice, there will be no marriage. How unjustly must the institution of marriage have been that Jesus couldn’t imagine it in the coming age of justice? Jesus states that all who are children of the resurrection will be “like the angels.” We can debate whatever that means, but the implication of the phrase is that marriage will be no more because all injustice will be no more.

Then, in language best fit for the Sadducees, Jesus references the Torah, stating that to God, those who are dead are “all are alive”: the big picture is that, if there is a resurrection, none are really gone and they will live again. This reminds me of the language Jesus uses in the gospels about the 12-year-girl who had died. In that story, he states that she is “Not dead, but only sleeping” (see Mark 5:39; Matthew 9:24; Luke 8:52). The righteous dead are not gone but simply asleep, waiting for the resurrection of the righteous in the age to come.

Let’s unpack this a bit: what relevance might this have to us today given our worldview and justice practices.

First, it helps to understand that the Sadducees are referencing Deuteronomy 25:5-6:

“If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husbands brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.”

I want to be careful here with my critique. What stands out to me in this passage is the way it centers men. It also centers men with language that colors these actions as fulfilling a “duty” to the woman. The passage, though, is concerned with extending the lineage of the husband not the women. The woman here is a conduit through which the first brother can have his lineage live on through the faithfulness of the second brother. This raises many questions in our cultural context today. To the best of our knowledge, this passage was at least redacted somewhere between the 7th and 5th centuries BCE. How much did Assyrian and Babylonian patriarchal practices influence this passage? What was the lived experience of those who tried to follow this passage? Was the bodily autonomy of women respected? Did the woman have a say in this? If she also felt that this was a duty to be fulfilled to her, was this due to internalizing the patriarchal elements of her society? Or was this the price of economic survival in an economy that was patriarchal? Was her role assumed to be passive within the social construct of the way marriage was practiced at this time?

I appreciate the perspective Rev Dr. Wilda C. Gafney offers when she calls us to consider what the experience of this practice would have meant for women. Referring to Jesus’ words about the age to come being sans marriage, from the woman’s perspective, she writes, “Might that not be good news?” (Wilda C. Gafney, A Woman’s Lectionary fo the Whole Church, Year W; p. 175)

This week’s reading challenges all our institutions, systems, and social structures including marriage. If marriage is practiced in a way that creates injustice, it must change. The Jesus of our passage this week is teaching that it’s better for there to be no marriage at all than for marriage to be practiced unjustly.

The past few decades the United States debated how the institution of marriage should be practiced. When marriage was being justly expanded to include LGBTQ people, whose exclusion from marriage led to many political, economic, and social injustices, many Christians argued against it using the rhetoric of “Biblical marriage.” But when we look at Biblical definitions of marriage we see that the institution of marriage has continually evolved over the centuries when our sacred text was written and compiled. Marriage as an expression of love, as some of us know it today, simply didn’t exist in the Bible. It was most often contractual, rooted in economic, political and social considerations, and rarely included romance or being “in love.” By Jesus’ time, marriage had evolved into something so harmful to women that he solved the problem of marrage by leaving it out of the age of justice to come.

In the gospels we encounter a Jesus, like other Jewish voices at this time, who was deeply concerned about injustice to women and how marriage was being practiced in his society.

What is the lesson for us?

Today, we must ask whether our social institutions are being practiced in lifegiving or death-dealing ways. Where those institutions, like marriage, are being practiced harmfully, it’s time for them change. As uncomfortable as those still steeped in patriarchy and heterosexism may find a Jesus who does away with marriage, marriage’s evolution in our society to include same-sex marriages is in perfect harmony with the spirit of our passage this week and the spirit of the Jesus in this passage.

Marriage has a long history of change and social construction.

In Jesus’ worldview, if marriage was going to perpetuate patriarchal dominance and dependence, then it would be better for both men and women for there to be no marriage at all. The “age to come” breaking in on the present, even then, was an age when all oppression would cease, all violence would end, and all injustice, including that enacted through marriage, would be no more. For Jesus, then, patriarchal marriage could not persist. And today we might add that heterosexist marriage and the social injustices it births will also be no more because the social construct of marriage, when practiced in a way that is death dealing, has no place in an age of justice.

Which other institutions and social assumptions are practiced in ways that are death-dealing rather than life-giving?

What social constructs from our time shouldn’t be part of an age of justice?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Which other institutions and social assumptions are practiced in ways that are death-dealing rather than life-giving? What social constructs from our time shouldn’t be part of an age of justice? 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.

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


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

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

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Faith Based Complicity in Social Harm

social harm

Herb Montgomery | October 21, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a reoccurring theme in Luke:

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

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

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

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

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

And Luke 14:

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what does this all mean for us today?

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week.


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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

or Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Jesus, Politics, and the Rights of Cis Women, Trans People and Nonbinary Folk

diveristy

Herb Montgomery | July 15, 2022

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


“Luke’s Jesus does not rebuke Mary for taking up space that is often reserved only for men. He, instead, praises her.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

This story is only found in Luke’s version of the Jesus story, but its inclusion suggests some of the struggles that the early Jesus movement might have been facing. I also think there is something for us today.

This story challenged the gender assumptions and gender roles for women in certain 1st Century cultures. It contrasts the domestic role of hostess with that of the rabbi or teacher. What we miss being so far removed from the culture in which this story was created is that according to Luke, the early Jesus movement opened the role and authority of being a teacher to women.

I don’t disparage Martha’s labor, however. Her role in this story was in her culture and conditioning, and was the best way she knew to express her devotion to Jesus. Within 1st Century Jewish culture, hospitality was deeply important, and it involved food preparation for guests that was generally required of the woman of the house. Martha was doing the best she knew to do in relation to Jesus’ presence as a guest in her home.

We can affirm Martha’s actions in her cultural context while critiquing similar cultural assumptions about women, too.

In this story, Mary is the transgressor. What I mean by this is that Mary chooses to transgress patriarchal, gender binary, gender role assumptions. The story also lauds her as having done a good thing! This is a heavy critique on gender exclusivity. Let’s unpack Mary’s actions a bit more. The following comes from the IVP New Testament Background Commentary:

“People normally sat on chairs or, at banquets, reclined on couches; but disciples sat at the feet of their teachers. Serious disciples were preparing to be teachers—a role not permitted to women. (The one notable exception in the second century was a learned rabbi’s daughter who had married another learned rabbi; but most rabbis rejected her opinions.) Mary’s posture and eagerness to absorb Jesus’ teaching at the expense of a more traditional womanly role (10:40) would have shocked most Jewish men.” (p 218)

Rabbis were typically men, and so those sitting at the feet of other rabbis hoping to learn from and one day become rabbis themselves were also men. In the patriarchal cultural expectations of the time, Mary was supposed to be either at the back of the room standing if she wanted to hear Jesus’ teaching or not in the room at all but helping Martha in the kitchen.

These gender assumptions are being challenged by this week’s story. Women are equals here, in the Jesus movement. And in this story, the role and authority of teacher is open to women just as much as it is to men.

This is a strong message and should be weighed carefully by all Christian communities and institutions that relegate women in ministry to some other designation than those open to men. This story may even have been written in response to other statements in the early writings of the Jesus movement that we now call the New Testament. The New Testament is not monolithic, and we must ask ourselves which statements about women in it are life-giving and which are harmful. We have a choice to make when we find a conflict in our sacred texts. Not only should we lean into passages that are most life-giving for all, we should also embrace life-giving interpretations. Luke’s Jesus does not rebuke Mary for taking up space that is often reserved only for men. He, instead, praises her.

I also want to offer a side note about the political purpose of using the title “Lord” for Jesus in Luke. Over the past few weeks of lectionary readings we have bumped into the title “Lord” for Jesus repeatedly, and given the U.S.’ history of people enslaving others, I need to address this.

In 1st Century Rome, “Lord” was the title reserved for Caesar, so to refer to Jesus as Lord wasn’t as much religious as it was political. In Luke especially, from the pre-birth and infancy narratives through the stories of his adulthood, Jesus is over and over again contrasted with the Roman Caesar. When people call Jesus “Lord” in Luke, it meant they subscribed to Jesus’ teaching that society should be organized otherwise than it was shaped and organized under Rome and Caesar. This is one reason the early gospel so appealed to marginalized and vulnerable people pushed to the edges and undersides of Roman society. The concept of Jesus’ Lordship may have begun as a critique of how Jews were treated under the Roman empire (see Mark and Matthew) but by Luke it also included Gentiles who were oppressed and exploited under Rome.

This calls into question a claim making the rounds again on social media: It’s the false claim that “Jesus didn’t use politics.”

We must remember a few things.

First, Jesus wasn’t living in a democracy but an authoritarian empire.

Second, Jesus didn’t even belong to the privileged class of citizens of the Roman empire. Howard Thurman comments on this:

“Jesus was not a Roman citizen. He was not protected by the normal guarantees of citizenship—that quiet sense of security which comes from knowing that you belong and the general climate of confidence which it inspires. If a Roman soldier pushed Jesus into a ditch, he could not appeal to Caesar [like Paul]; he would just be another Jew in the ditch . . . Unless one actually lives day by day without a sense of security, he [sic] cannot understand what worlds separated Jesus from Paul at this point.” (Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, p. 33)

By contrast, Paul did use his political privilege to “appeal to Caesar” when he was imprisoned.

Third, Jesus was deeply political in ways that were available to people living in his social location. What can one do living in an authoritarian society when you are devalued by the state as an outsider? Plenty, and also different things than we might do today. If this is a new thought for you, I want to recommend Ched Myers’ Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus.

We live in a different time and circumstance. Though we can learn from the Jesus story and allow it to speak into and inform our justice work today, the political context and the tools we have at our disposal are not always the same.

Lastly, a word about politics.

Politics are about people, the polis, our larger society, and our smaller local community. It’s about what kind of society we want to live in.

As a Jesus follower, I want to live in a society where people matter. People do matter! Therefore politics matter. We also cannot escape the reality that all theology is political as well.

When it comes to matters of murder and theft against them, privileged Christians have no problem with the state intervening. But when it comes a more distributive just society, or protecting the rights of people who are marginalized or devalued, all of a sudden certain privileged Christians cry out, “We are followers of Jesus and shouldn’t use the state. We should be instead about transforming people’s hearts and minds.”

I can’t tell you how tired I am of this lack of logic. I’m sure those with less privileged social locations are even more so.

Reaching people’s hearts and minds and working to change the state are not mutually exclusive. We need not choose between changing peoples hearts and minds or legislating laws, policies, and rights that the state must recognize the state. We can, and I would argue must, be about both approaches if we genuinely care about people who are being harmed within systems of injustice.

I’m reminded of the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at UCLA on April 27, 1965. On this YouTube link, you can hear the following quotation around 33:33:

“It may be true that you can’t legislate integration, but you can legislate desegregation. It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law can’t make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also. So while the law may not change the hearts of men, it does change the habits of men. And when you change the habits of men, pretty soon the attitudes and the hearts will be changed. And so there is a need for strong legislation constantly to grapple with the problems we face.”

Legislation protecting people from being hurt by others plays a strong role in shaping the hearts and minds of future generations as well. Adults a generation from now will value those different from them according to the way their society’s laws socialized them to.

Jesus was political in ways that were available to him. The various versions of the Jesus story in each canonical gospel are political as well. This week, we looked at the politics of gender equality.

Right now, the bodily autonomy and privacy rights of cis women, trans people, and nonbinary folk are under attack, again, in our society.

What is a Jesus who teaches gender equality saying to you?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What does a Jesus who teaches gender equality say to you in our present political climate in the U.S.? Discus with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

Jesus, and God as Woman

Herb Montgomery | June 3, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



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

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

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

Social Advocacy

mist at sunrise

Herb Montgomery | May 20, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  “The Spirit of the Most High is on me,

because the Most High has anointed me 

to proclaim good news to the poor.

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

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

  1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.
  2. How does seeing the Spirit’s work through the lens of advocacy work impact your own Jesus following? Share with your group
  3. What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

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

The Feminist Liberation of Advent

End of Year Matching Donations!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or you can make a donation by mail at:

Renewed Heart Ministries

PO Box 1211

Lewisburg, WV 24901

Thank you in advance for your continued support.

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


The Feminist Liberation of Advent

Herb Montgomery | December 17, 2021

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

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

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

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

And Mary replies,

My soul magnifies the Holy One,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

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

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

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is God’s name.

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

from generation to generation.

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

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

God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

God has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

God has helped God’s own child, Israel,

a memorial to God’s mercy,

just as God said to our mothers and fathers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The song of Deborah memorializes this story:

  Most blessed of women be Jael,

the wife of Heber the Kenite,

most blessed of tent-dwelling women.

He asked for water, and she gave him milk;

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

  Her hand reached for the tent peg,

her right hand for the workmans hammer.

She struck Sisera, she crushed his head,

she shattered and pierced his temple.

  At her feet he sank,

he fell; there he lay.

At her feet he sank, he fell;

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

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

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

In Judith 10 we read:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My soul magnifies the Holy One,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

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

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

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is God’s name.

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

from generation to generation.

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

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

God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

God has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

God has helped God’s own child, Israel,

a memorial to God’s mercy,

just as God said to our mothers and fathers,

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



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Jesus, Patriarchy, and the Wellbeing of Women

woman looking on the bridge in fog

Herb Montgomery | October 1, 2021


“I see this passage through a justice-for-women lens where Jesus is more concerned about the wellbeing of women who could be divorced and sent away from their homes with no economic protection within a patriarchal system that was tied to ones economic survival. Jesus’ primary concern was for women’s wellbeing, not the protection of a heterosexual, monogamist marital institution as many in certain sectors of evangelical Christianity define it today.”


Our reading this week is from the gospels of Mark,

Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” What did Moses command you?” he replied. They said, Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. But at the beginning of creation God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:2-16)

Multiple sources in the early Jesus movement attest that Jesus spoke against divorce. These sources both agree and disagree about what Jesus actually said and about what he might have meant by what he said. This week we’ll consider possible reasons Jesus spoke against divorce within his 1st Century Judean culture. Christians today do a great deal of harm by shallowly thinking Jesus was against all divorce, especially divorce as practiced in our society, rather than being opposed to a specific kind of divorce practiced in his society.

In Mark’s narrative, Jesus appears to be anti-divorce. Id like to consider why. The divorce laws referenced are said to have been created because of patriarchal obstinance. Originally, a man could send away any of his wives for the slightest displeasure. But by the time we get to Mark’s gospel, Jesus opposes this kind of divorce, which left women in a male-centered society with little economic protections. Jesus’ opposition was rooted in mitigating harm for women facing little to no recognition, much less protection of their equal rights. So he argues that while men may have created a legal loophole to avoid committing “adultery,” they were not avoiding adultery but simply transforming it.

Verse 12 of this passage states, “And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” On the surface, this sentence seems to distract from Jesus’ opposition and critique of patriarchy, but I believe this sentence is present in Mark because this gospel was written for both Jewish and Roman Gentile Jesus communities. While under Israelite law only men had the right to divorce their wives, Roman marital law permitted divorce to be initiated by men and women..

I see this passage through a justice-for-women lens where Jesus is more concerned about the wellbeing of women who could be divorced and sent away from their homes with no economic protection within a patriarchal system that was tied to ones economic survival. Jesus’ primary concern was for women’s wellbeing, not the protection of a heterosexual, monogamist marital institution as many in certain sectors of evangelical Christianity define it today.

I also want to note that the story describes “some Pharisees.” There were two schools of Pharisaical interpretation in Jesus’ time: the school of Hillel and the school of Shammai. These schools forcefully debated divorce.

As we interpret this passage, let’s acknowledge that interpretations of this passage are often deeply heterosexist. I reject binary interpretations of the Hebrew creation story, and both the Genesis story and Jesus’ words here are not “male or female,” but “male and female.” God created a spectrum: male on one end, female on the other, and a whole graduated spectrum in between these poles of identity. The phrase “Alpha and Omega” doesn’t imply that there are only two Greek letters; rather there a whole alphabet between the first letter, Alpha, and Omega, the last. Each of us lives somewhere on the gender spectrum, identifying gender identity, sexual attraction, gender expression, etc., along that gradation. In the Hebrew creation story we read of the creation of day and night: not a hard binary but two ends of spectrum that can produce beautiful sunrises, sunsets, dawns, evenings, and twilights. These states are neither day nor night alone but somewhere on a spectrum between.

I also see Jesus’ phrase, “at the beginning of creation God made them male and female’” as stating that from the beginning God did not create patriarchy, but men did. In the Hebrew creation story, God creates male and female side by side, both in the image of God. The woman is not given to the man to continue his lineage as patriarchal social structures do, but both male and female (and the spectrum) bear the image in God equally. They are male and female: one body, one flesh, spread out by creation and combined again in equity to create another oneness, a commonality, a new social relationship, a new kinship.

Any time people join together to create a new kinship, we see this reunifying creativity at work. Being “flesh of one’s flesh” in the Hebrew scriptures is not about the sexual unity of one man and one woman. It’s about creating a new kinship bond between humans, making family from previously un-joined people. As Laban said to his nephew Jacob, “You are bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (see Genesis 29:14, cf. 2 Samuel 5:1; Judges 9:2; 2 Samuel 19:12, 1 Chronicles 11:1).

I interpret Jesus as not being against divorce wholesale in this passage. Rather he’s against the patriarchal practice of his day that undermined the coupling and equality communicated in the Hebrew origin story and left a woman in his society with few means to survive. He is standing in the spirit of Malachi 2:16, also written again in a patriarchal context: ‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘does violence to the one he should protect,’ says the LORD Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.”

Some translations of Malachi 2:16 do state “God hates divorce” but even if that is an accurate translation, I grew up witnessing multiple abusive parental relationships and I believe there are some marriages God hates more than divorce.

Our reading this week ends with Jesus’ blessing of the children.

I like the way Rev. Wilda C. Gafney, Ph.D., translates this portion of our reading in her A Woman’s Lectionary for The Whole Church: Year W.

“Now people were bringing little children to Jesus in order that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, he was angry and sad to them, “Let the little children come to me, do not prevent them; for it is to such as these that the realm of God belongs. Truly I tell you all, whoever does not receive the reign of God as a little child will never enter it.” And Jesus took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.” (p. 296)

I read this story on the blessing of the children as primarily about social location. It grounds the early Jesus moment in the work of blessing and liberating those on the most peripheral edges of any society. In The Shape of the Past: Models and Antiquity, Thomas Carney describes childhood at the time of Jesus, “Early training was harshly disciplined. It was not until early adulthood that the young person began receiving serious consideration as a member of the family group.” (p. 92)

In most societies, children within marginalized groups are the most marginalized, the most outcast among the outcast, the most disenfranchised among the disenfranchised. How children are treated then, is the proverbial canary in the coal mine.

In this story, Jesus states that those with privilege and power must be willing to live in in solidarity as those forced to the bottom and edges by their present society to enter the reign of God. This is one reason why it’s also very “hard for the rich to enter” the reign of God in the gospels. (see Mark 10:23, 25.)

Something else I appreciate in Jesus’ blessing that I rarely hear spoken about is his anger. This story legitimizes anger toward attempts to keep hindering anyone from coming to Jesus. More broadly, it also legitimizes anger as a valid emotion for Jesus’ followers to have toward all injustice. It’s not just okay but it’s actually right for us to be angry when we see vulnerable people and communities being harmed.

There’s a lot to ponder in this week’s passage. Regardless of your own interpretations, may the way we interpret these stories lead us ever deeper into our work of making our world a safer, more compassionate, just home for everyone.

Till the only world that remains is a world where love reigns.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What does Jesus’ teaching on the liberation of women within both Roman and Jewish patriarchal structures imply for Jesus followers within patriarchal structures 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



logo

Renewed Heart Ministries is a nonprofit organization working for a world of love and justice.

We need your support to offer the kind of resources RHM provides.

Helping people find the intersection between their faith, compassion, and justice is work that continues to prove deeply needed.

Please consider making a donation to support Renewed Heart Ministries’ work, today.

You can donate online by clicking here.

Or you can make a donation by mail at:

Renewed Heart Ministries
PO Box 1211
Lewisburg, WV 24901

And to those of you out there who already are supporting this ministry, we want to say thank you.

We continue being a voice for change because of you.

Taking Up Our Crosses, Injustice, and Abuse

rosary with cross

Herb Montgomery | September 10, 2021

[To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast click Episode 388:Taking Up Our Crosses, Injustice, and Abuse]


“Oppressors throughout history have used the concept of ‘taking up one’s cross’ to prioritize themselves over survivors and to encourage oppressed people to passively and patiently endure violence rather than resist . . . This story is, on the other hand, encouraging Jesus’ followers to resist as he did flipping tables in the temple courtyard, even though it resulted in the state violence of a cross.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Mark:

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, Who do people say I am?” They replied, Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, You are the Messiah.” Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. Get behind me, Satan!” he said. You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Fathers glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:27-38)

In this week’s reading, we encounter Jesus’ admonition to his followers that they also “take up their cross.” This saying has a long history of religious abuse, so I want to give a word of caution about it.

Years ago now, I was invited to a conference on nonviolence and the atonement. I chose to speak on the violence of interpreting the cross event itself as salvific—how atonement theories that treat the violent death of Jesus as salvific have borne death dealing fruit to oppressed communities and/or those who belong to marginalized communities. I explained how the atonement theory of penal substitution has historically produced various forms of social abuse, and how abuse has also been the fruit of alternative atonement theories such as moral influence theory and Christus Victor.

Oppressors throughout history have used the concept of taking up ones cross” to prioritize themselves over survivors and to encourage oppressed people to passively and patiently endure violence rather than resist. This interpretation has proven very convenient for oppressors and those who dont want to disrupt the power imbalance of the status quo. It also impacts intimate relationships as well. When one spouse suffers physical or emotional abuse at the hands of another, for example, how many times have Christian pastors counseled the abused spouse to bear their cross,” be like Jesus,” and simply turn the other cheek”? I have written at length on other ways to interpret Jesus’ turning of the other cheek as a call to creative, nonviolent forms of disruption, protest, and resistance (see A Primer on Self-Affirming Nonviolence Parts 1-10). I interpret the turn-the-other-cheek passages as did the late Walter Wink, who understood them to give those pushed to the undersides and edges of Jesus’ society a way to reclaim and affirm themselves despite being dehumanized.

This week, alongside the feminist and womanist scholars who have deeply influenced my thinking, I want to suggest that taking up ones cross” is not a call to patiently, passively endure the violence of systemic or relational oppression and abuse, but rather is a call to take hold of life and stand up against injustice even if there is a threat for doing so. This saying is not a call to passively suffer, but to protest even if the status quo threatens suffering if you speak out.

The implications are huge. What we are discussing this week is called the myth of redemptive suffering. I have often repeated Joanne Carlson Brown’s and Rebecca Parker’s statement in their essay God So Loved The World?:

It is not acceptance of suffering that gives life; it is commitment to life that gives life. The question, moreover, is not, Am I willing to suffer? but Do I desire fully to live? This distinction is subtle and, to some, specious, but in the end it makes a great difference in how people interpret and respond to suffering. If you believe that acceptance of suffering gives life, then your resources for confronting perpetrators of violence and abuse will be numbed.” (also in Christianity, Patriarchy, and Abuse, p. 18)

So what did Jesus mean, then, when he said take up your own cross?”

First, Borg and Crossan correctly remind us that Jesus’ cross in the gospels was about participation, not substitution:

For Mark, it is about participation with Jesus and not substitution by Jesus. Mark has those followers recognize enough of that challenge that they change the subject and avoid the issue every time. (Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan. The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesuss Final Days in Jerusalem; Kindle Locations 1589-1593)

While I agree with Borg and Crossan about the theme of participation rather than substitution, I disagree with their interpretation that suffering on a cross was intrinsic to following Jesus, and I don’t subscribe to the idea that suffering is an intrinsic precursor to triumph or success. Suffering only enters the story of following Jesus if those benefitting from the status quo feel threatened by changes that Jesus’ new social vision would make, and threaten his followers with a cross. Being willing to take up ones cross is not a call to be passive in the face of suffering, but a call to protest and resist even in the face of being threatened with a cross.

“Taking up one’s cross” in this context means being willing to endure the results of disrupting, confronting, resisting, and protesting injustice. The cross in the Jesus story is a symbol of the state violence that those in power threaten protestors with to scare them into remaining passive. Remember, as Carlson Brown and Parker wrote, the question is not how much am I willing to suffer, but how badly do I want to live!

If those in power threaten you with a cross, then and only then it becomes necessary for you to “take up a cross” and stand up against injustice. Protesting, for instance, does not always involve being arrested, but if it does, protest anyway!

The goal in scenarios like these is not to suffer, but to refuse to let go of life.

How one interprets taking up one’s cross has deep implications for survivors of relational violence, and for all who are engaging any form of social justice work. When those who feel threatened try to intimidate and silence your voice through fear of an imposed cross,” this week’s reading calls us to count the cost and refuse to let go of life. Do not be silenced! Though it may sound like an oxymoron on the surface, speaking out in the face of a threat is a form of rejecting death.

Let’s take relational violence as an example. First there is the relational violence itself. Then we have a choice in our response:

illustration

Too often, Jesus’ teaching of taking up the cross is interpreted so that the abuse itself is the cross.

illustration

But the abuse is not the cross but an initial injustice, and the cross is the threats one receives for standing up to or resisting injustice.

Illustration

Jesus is encouraging his followers to resist as he did flipping tables in the temple courtyard, even though it resulted in the state violence of a cross.

If a cross comes into the picture, then resist anyway. Jesus’ nonviolence was rooted in resistance, and sometimes change happens before oppressors send a cross. At other times, change happens after the cross. In both cases, suffering may come, but it is not redemptive.

Jesus emerged in his Jewish society as someone calling for the just distribution of food and land and the inclusion of those presently marginalized. His way of structuring human community threatened imperial Roman society and those who most benefited from the Roman system. And the early Jesus movement that grew out of an encounter with this Jesus resulted in a way of doing life together that was also seen as a threat to those in positions of power and privilege.

When those in power choose to threaten crosses for those standing up to systemic injustice, dont let go. Keep holding on to the hope of change even in the face of impossible odds. Keep holding on to life! For, Jesus says, what does it profit if you gain the whole world by your silence and yet lose your humanity?

Whoever wants to save their life through remaining silent in the face of injustice will actually be letting go of life. But whoever is willing to fight for life, for equity and equality, for love and compassion, for inclusion, for a just and safe world that is home for everyone, even if you’re threatened with death and death-dealing for doing so—all who refuse to let go of life and those things that are life-giving are the ones through whom life is saved, life is found, and another world is not only seen as possible but created in those moments of refusal.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What difference does it make for you to define ‘taking up your cross’ as a possible response to your speaking out and resistance, rather than passively bearing abuse and injustice? 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



logo

Renewed Heart Ministries is a nonprofit organization working for a world of love and justice.

We need your support to offer the kind of resources RHM provides.

Helping people find the intersection between their faith, compassion, and justice is work that continues to prove deeply needed.

Please consider making a donation to support Renewed Heart Ministries’ work, today.

You can donate online by clicking here.

Or you can make a donation by mail at:

Renewed Heart Ministries
PO Box 1211
Lewisburg, WV 24901

And to those of you out there who already are supporting this ministry, we want to say thank you.

We continue being a voice for change because of you.

Openness to Change

sunset

Herb Montgomery | September 3, 2021

[To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast click Episode 387: Openness to Change]


“In our present system, those whose difference causes them to be seen or treated as less-than should be heard. By being open to their experience and stories, we can expand our own understanding of what a just and safe world for everyone looks like. We can be like Jesus, the Jesus in this specific story: to follow Jesus, to mimic his example. We can choose in these moments, not to get defensive, but to apologize when our own faults are pointed out, and to be humble enough and willing to embrace change.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Mark:

Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, for it is not right to take the childrens bread and toss it to the dogs.” “Lord,” she replied, even the dogs under the table eat the childrens crumbs.” Then he told her, For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the mans ears. Then he spit and touched the mans tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, Ephphatha!” (which means Be opened!”). At this, the mans ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. He has done everything well,” they said. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (Mark 7:24-37)

This week we read one of my favorite stories in the gospels of Mark—the Syrophoenician woman. I love this story because it paints a very human view of Jesus. This woman is the hero in the story who points out Jesus’ limited way of viewing Gentiles and the scope of his liberation. I believe this story was specifically aimed at early Jesus followers who suffered from the same limitations as Mark’s Jesus did.

The story illustrates what we would call intersectionality today. Intersectionality is a way of describing the relationships between systems of oppression, domination, and discrimination. The model, first developed by Kimberlé Crenshaw, describes oppression as an interlocking matrix and helps us to examine how biological, social, and cultural categories such as gender, race, class, ability, sexual orientation, religion, caste, species and other axes of identity interact on multiple and often simultaneous levels and so contribute to systematic injustice and social inequality. The woman in this story experienced multiple social oppressions that also connected to the oppression of Jewish people under Rome: “The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia.”

Jesus questions her using the worst language: Is it right to give the childrens bread to the dogs?”

No human should be called a dog, especially a woman of another race or ethnicity than one’s own.

Two of the most popular interpretations of this story explain that Jesus is merely play-acting to teach onlooking disciples an important lesson in generosity. I find this interpretation lacking, motivated not by honesty about the narrative but by a desire to protect Jesus from anything that might make him look bad. While I sympathize with this protectiveness, it is unconvincing.

The other more plausible and valuable explanation is that, in real time, Jesus is growing in his own understanding and experience of intersectionality.

This woman belonged to a people group that had once oppressed the Jewish people (i.e. Greeks), yet there is absolutely no indication she felt superior to Jewish people herself. She was also a woman trying to survive in a patriarchal culture. The patriarchal setting of this story begs the question, where is her husband? Why is her husband or the girl’s father not making this request of Jesus as other fathers do in Mark (cf. 5:22)? Is she a single mother? In a patriarchal world, what does it mean for this woman to speak for herself and her daughter?

The author of Mark has Jesus wrestling out loud: is it right for a Jewish male to help her, a Gentile and a woman?

Intersectionality helps us that every person has a complex identity. Just as the Greeks had once sought to exterminate the Hebrews, the ancient Hebrews had once engaged in the genocide and colonization of the Canaanites. The Hebrews also participated in cultural patriarchy similar to that in Hellenistic Tyre and Sidon, and though they suffered economic poverty under Romes high taxes during Jesus’ time, the Hebrews had also oppressed the poor with their own kings (Amos 2:6; 5:7, 11, 24). Yes, this Greek woman belonged to a people who had once oppressed the Hebrews, but that day, she needed liberation. Did Jesus have enough mercy for her as well?

What I appreciate about this story is that this woman has the courage to push back against Jesus’ harmful language to get him to see her humanity and the ugliness of his language. In the end, Jesus does understand and his compassion for her wins out. But we must not fail to see the depth of his struggle between genuinely questioning what was right, and allowing his questions to give way, not to rightness,” but to compassion itself.

I think of Christians who still need the permission of their own sacred text to tell them that compassion is allowed or “right.” In this story, Jesus doesn’t wait for permission. He allowed compassion to govern his thinking, and ultimately arrived at the right choice.

Im thankful for a woman who didnt give up, but persisted in helping Jesus and his disciples see her shared humanity and immediate need despite their culturally conditioned prejudice. In that moment, she was the teacher of the teacher.

Im also thankful for a Jesus who was willing to listen to her, a Jesus open to being shown a larger view even of his own world. Had Jesus sent her away, one could have argued, he would have done the right” thing according to some of his peers, yet a great injustice would have been committed and therefore it would have been wrong. Instead he listened to her, and he entered into a fuller experience of his own ethical teachings of love and justice that day, thanks to this woman.

Jesus models for us how we, too, can grow in the way we understand our world by being open to listening to the experiences and stories of those who are unlike ourselves. We are not all the same. We are all of the same worth. Yet there is vast diversity within humanity, and these differences should not only be celebrated, they should also be heard, attended to, and learned from.

In our present system, those whose difference causes them to be seen or treated as less-than should be heard. By being open to their experience and stories, we can expand our own understanding of what a just and safe world for everyone looks like.

We can be like Jesus, the Jesus in this specific story: to follow Jesus, to mimic his example. We can choose in these moments, not to get defensive, but to apologize when our own faults are pointed out, and to be humble enough and willing to embrace change.

As a white, straight, cisgender, middle-class male, I’m reminded of the times those who are different from me have called me to understand the world in much larger ways. I’m thankful for my feminist, womanist, LGBTQ, Black, and Brown friends, and many others who, like the woman in this story, cared about me enough to push back on my limited way of perceiving the world. They expended energy to help me understand how hurtful my behavior was, and they not only called me to be better, but also believed I could be. For each of them, I am deeply grateful. They didn’t have to do that. They could have just left me as ignorant as they found me, but instead, like the Syrophoenician woman, they engaged a labor of love on my behalf. I’m also glad I chose to listen.

This story also calls me to continue this process. It calls me to look out for places I still need to grow in my understanding of others and our work of making our world a safe, just home for everyone.

In a way, the Jesus of this story in Mark faced the same dilemma we each face when navigating social realities, and so Im thankful to see this side of Jesus. Im just as thankful for the woman who helped him grow in compassion and justice.

I wish we had more time to discuss the second story in this week’s reading, but we’ll get to it another time. It’s a story with a long history of ableist interpretations that have done much damage to disabled people.

For now, may we show the same willingness to perceive the world in much larger ways that we see in the Jesus of our story this week. If Christians would follow Jesus in just this one thing alone, what a difference it would make!

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Share an experience of where you choose in a difficult moment, not to get defensive, but to apologize when your own faults were pointed out, and chose to be humble and willing to embrace change. 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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