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.”

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 Rejection For Doing What Is Right

family photos

Herb Montgomery | September 2, 2022

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


“If your religion causes you to feel like you must reject your lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender non-binary, queer, or questioning kid, please find a different expression of your faith. Run; don’t walk. Don’t accept any expression of religion that calls you to reject your own children.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. (Luke 14:25-33)

I’m not a fan of this week’s passage. It has been used to abuse and scapegoat marginalized people, and, too often, to justify parents rejecting their LGBTQ kids.

As Patrick Cheng correctly notes:

Many LGBT people were scapegoated by our peers growing up because we did not fit within the typical gender norms . . . Indeed, some of us may have been bullied by classmates in school not because we did anything wrong, but rather because we were perceived as being different or outsiders.” The issue of anti-LGBT bullying and scapegoating has taken on a particular urgency in light of the horrific string of suicides in the United States in the fall of 2010 of young men (some as young as thirteen) who were tormented by their classmates because they were—or were perceived to be—gay . . . In many ways, queer people today can be seen as scapegoats of the larger society. In other words, society often channels its repressed violence—either metaphorically or literally—toward LGBT people, who are seen as different or as outsiders” as a result of our marginalized sexualities and/or gender identities. As such, we are often the target of discrimination, and sometimes even violence, for the sake of preserving order in society. (Patrick S. Cheng, Radical Love, p. 94-95)

In our society, Christians have been among the worst offenders. Too often the stained glass windows of our church communities amplify the bigotry in the rest of society. And readings like this week’s are used by parents rejecting their LGBTQ kids while feeling as if God is calling them to do so.

Parents: if your religion causes you to feel like you must reject your lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender non-binary, queer, or questioning kid, please find a different expression of your faith. Run; don’t walk. Don’t accept any expression of religion that calls you to reject your own children.

Because there is another way to interpret this week’s passage: to prioritize working for a safe, compassionate, just world for everyone, especially those presently marginalized, and to value that above the acceptance of bigoted family members. (If you don’t have bigoted family members, you’re one of the lucky ones.)

Crystal and I have both gone through years of silence and rejection from family members due to our positions on anti-racism, LGBTQ inclusion and affirmation, gender justice, ecological justice, economic justice and other values.

It hurts to be rejected or to be spoken evilly against by extended relatives who raised you. It hurts to be shut out and viewed as dangerous. Crystal and I both have family members who believe that God will ultimately reject and destroy those they think believe or practice “the wrong thing.” It’s little wonder that in worshiping a God who will ultimately do such things, they feel justified and even encouraged to practice that level of rejection with us today.

Part of me feels sorry for them. I know that their behavior is motivated by self-preservation: not wanting to be associated with us so that their God doesn’t reject them too. Part of me is angry at the bigotry that prevents them from waking up to how intrinsically harmful their religious paradigm is. They miss the red-flag warning because a rejecting God resonates with their own prejudices and worldview. And part of me just hurts about it all. Rejection always hurts, but especially from people you care about and love.

This week’s reading calls us to recognize that facing rejection may be part of our journey following Jesus. It’s a cost we should be aware of before we embark on that journey. Our society pushes some people to the margins the way Jesus’ society pushed him out, and we can expect the same treatment. This was a cost I did not consider in my own life, and it was all the more painful as a result.

Jesus’ last phrase describes the context of this passage: “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

This saying is about much more than possessions. It’s also about relationships.

In Jesus’ society, the family was the center of the economy. If you had no family, you didn’t exist politically, economically, or socially. So in these stories, Jesus is confronting the social structures of his own society, structures that benefitted some families above others and at those others’ expense. Those who were benefitting from that way of organizing society didn’t want society to change. They didn’t perceive the change Jesus described as good news but as something to be resisted at every step, even if that meant rejecting a family member who was calling for change. If Jesus’ 1st Century followers had their family reject them for following his vision of organizing our world without marginalization, that rejection had deep economic implications. And if their well-to-do families rejected them, this week’s reading calls us to count the cost and understand what we are signing up for, too.

This is what it means to carry one’s cross. Remember, carrying a cross is not passively accepting injustice or abuse. The Romans used the cross to scare people into not speaking out, not standing up. Jesus was put on a cross because he refused to passively accept an unjust reality. His temple protest is just one example.

How does this apply to us today?

Following Jesus today includes speaking out against social injustices, too. We may also face “crosses” that the powers that be threaten us with. Our reading this week calls us to consider speaking out anyway.

Resist. Get into good trouble. Speak out. Don’t remain silent.

Today our families may reject us using scare words like “socialist” or “communist” or “progressive” or “liberal.” That’s okay. Our reading this week encourages us to recognize ahead of time that we may face negative feedback from those who are benefiting from the systems of this world, even when they are our relatives. Working for a more compassionate, just, and safe world for everyone is hard work, and I believe it’s worth it. We can still be honest about how hard it actually is. We can use these difficulties as waymarks to remind us that we are in the right story. Rather than discouraging us and causing us to quit, these difficulties can spur us to keep pressing on, leaning into the work.

Justice is a touchstone for ensuring that we are interpreting our readings in a life giving way. Is family rejection part of our story because we’re standing up for justice? Then we are in the right story. Are we rejecting a family member because they are different? That is unjust and not the story Jesus calls us to.

Our reading this week doesn’t just call us to count the cost.It also calls us to recognize that if we are being rejected for doing what it right, we do not bear responsibility. We need not blame ourselves for being rejected by our families because we are different or because we are standing up for those who are different. Rejection, unfortunately, may be part of our work of working for a just world.

Count that cost, and work for justice nonetheless.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Share an experience where also faced rejection for standing up for others being harmed. 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

Excluded by Exclusion

color spectrum

Herb Montgomery | March 25, 2022

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


This week’s parable calls us to question whom we are excluding and the basis for our exclusion. And it’s calling us to question the practice of marginalizing and excluding others regardless of the basis . . . There is no conclusion. The elder brother who would exclude his younger brother is left alone by himself in the night, outside the party going on inside, not because he himself wasn’t welcome, but because he could not affirm the one being celebrated. And maybe that’s the point.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable . . . Jesus continued: There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, he said, How many of my fathers hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Lets have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. Your brother has come,’ he replied, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound. The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, Look! All these years Ive been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ ‘My son,’ the father said, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ (Luke 15:1-3, 11–32)

In this week’s story, Jesus is not answering his listeners’ questions about who gets to heaven or not. The context of the narrative isn’t about an afterlife at all. It’s about social and political dynamics in this life, in Jesus’ society. Within that context, the narrative addresses the exclusion of certain ones, tax collectors and those labelled as “sinners”, by those privileged in their society.

I want to note that I do not believe this story accurately represents the Pharisees or Jewish scholars of that time. It might represent some leaders within those social groups, such as the Pharisees of the school of Shammai. But this story does not rightly characterize the more inclusive Pharisees of the school of Hillel. Lumping all Pharisaical and later Rabbinical schools into a monolith and then to use that group perjoratively is deeply antisemitic and has an long history. (See https://truah.org/antisemitism/)

We must also address the label of “sinner.” I’ve written at length about this before:

“The term ‘sinner’ is used in the gospels in a very particular sense. Its not used in the universal ‘everyones a sinner’ sense. We see this in Jesussocio-political context. Imagine a circle. Those at the center controlled and made the decisions for the circle while those pushed from the center toward the edges had less and less say the further away from the center they found themselves. What determined how close to the center someone operated was an idea that we now have a difficult time understanding: this was the idea of purity. Those on the edges were pushed there by labelling them ‘sinners.’ Those on the edges of the circle had no power, privilege, or voice.” (See The Lost Coin)

It would help us in our context today to read “marginalized” where the text reads “sinner.” Sinner was the pejorative religious label that those at the center of Jesus society used to marginalize whomever they chose.

This all leads us to the central point, I believe, of this week’s reading. Jesus’ parable was originally aimed at those who excluded or marginalized others and then disparaged Jesus because of the people he embraced, affirmed, and included.

Within Christian faith communities today, many exclude and marginalize LGBTQ people of faith, and then label and exclude as dangerous allies who embrace, affirm and include them. I have firsthand experience with this.

I’m also reminded of patriarchal traditions that exclude women from certain ministerial roles or credentials and then label those who don’t exclude them as dangerous. White churches have practiced similar exclusion over matters of race and multiracial diversity, not only in their congregations, but in who is allowed and supported to take on certain leadership roles.

In our larger society, there are inclusions and exclusions, too. We at Renewed Heart Ministries have condemned Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine and our hearts are with all being harmed by this action. We continue to maintain that the road to peace is not war, but distributive justice, safety and compassion, and we affirm Ukraine’s rights of self-determination and self-defense.

I also notice the disparity in the global support for Ukraine now compared to other humanitarian crises. Journalists have even compared Putin’s problems with Ukraine to the U.S’ historical treatment of other countries. I wondered if they realized what they’re admitting about imperialism, because that is a level of truth-telling I don’t think we in the U.S. are willing to embrace. News reporters have betrayed their own racism when speaking of this conflict and their surprise at the plight of Ukrainian refugees. They use rhetoric as “relatively civilized,” “relatively European,” “blue eyes,” “blonde hair,” “not a developing, third-world nation, but Europe,” “well-dressed people.”

We should care about our Ukrainian siblings and other people living in that country as part of our human family, but we shouldn’t care about them or base our involvement or help on whether we perceive them to be White or European. Refugees from other parts of the world deserve our care and concern just as much.

The U.S. shows these patterns, too. Those who are working toward this country’s high ideals for an inclusive, multi-racial democracy or those working to transform society into a place of equity for women are characterized as dangerous. There are hundreds of legislative attacks against trans people and lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in states like Texas and Florida right now, including efforts to exclude children who belong to the LGBTQ community or have parents who do. Children this age are often asked by grandparents, aunts and uncles, and others, “Do you have a girlfriend/boyfriend yet?” Or their teachers ask them at school to “Share about your family.” But some of those children are being excluded now.

This week’s parable calls us to question whom we are excluding and the basis for our exclusion. And it’s calling us to question the practice of marginalizing and excluding others regardless of the basis.

Jesus’ story ends open-endedly. There is no conclusion. The elder brother who would exclude his younger brother is left alone by himself in the night, outside the party going on inside, not because he himself wasn’t welcome, but because he could not affirm the one being celebrated. And maybe that’s the point. As we are working toward a more inclusive, safe, compassionate, just society for everyone, if any are left out in the end, it won’t because they themselves aren’t welcome, but because they can’t accept other people.

As we consider our own practices of exclusion, this week’s story warns each of us that those we exclude may end up enjoying God’s party, while we, because of our exclusionary practices, may find ourselves outside the party, alone, in the night.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. We have many examples today of folks who have been excluded because of whom they include. Share some examples of how people or communities, today, are being, excluded because of their own exclusion? Discuss with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


March is Donor Appreciation Month at RHM

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

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

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

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

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

(Or you donate by mail by sending your donation to

Renewed Heart Ministries
PO Box 1211
Lewisburg, WV 24901

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

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

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

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

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

Product details:

2022 Wall Calendar: 24 pages

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

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



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Seeing Others As Part of Ourselves

Herb Montgomery | October 29, 2021


“The closest I will ever come to meeting God in this life is you . . . No one should be excluded from our core practice of loving our neighbor as ourself. We are, after all, connected. We are extensions of each other, and part of the same human family. What affects one, impacts all. You are part of me and I’m a part of you.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Mark. The Rev. Dr. Wilda C. Gafney translates this passage in her A Woman’s Lectionary For The Whole Church, Year W:

Now, one of the biblical scholars came near and heard them [the other biblical scholars, the chief priests, and the elders] discussing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, the scholar asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is: Hear, O Israel: The Holy One our God, the Holy is one; you shall love the Holy One your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the biblical scholar said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that, ‘God is one, and besides God there is no other’; and to love God with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. This is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that the scholar answered wisely he said, “You are not far from the reign of God.” After that no one dared to ask Jesus any question. (Mark 12:28-34, page 271)

This week’s story comes at the end of a series of confrontational challenges between Jesus and others (see 11:27, 12:13, 12:18). By contrast, this interaction is friendly, and I’ll explain why I think so in a moment.

First, let’s unpack what the narrative says is happening.

A scholar who overhears Jesus’ discussions is impressed with him. He then asks his own question of Jesus, and Jesus’ answer in Mark is squarely in the Jewish tradition of the Pharisaical school of Hillel. Rabbi Hillel reportedly once answered a similar question with the response, “What you find hateful do not do to another. This is the whole law. everything else is commentary. Now go learn that!”

So the scholar’s question was not only common among Jewish scholars by Jesus’ time, but Jesus’ responses in Mark are also the core confessions of Judaism::

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

Many scholars have noticed that Mark’s Jesus replaces “all your soul” with “all your mind,” a signal that Mark’s audience was influenced by the Hellenized world.

Jesus also quotes Leviticus in his reply:

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:18)

This passage has an interesting context itself. It comes at the end of a list of prohibitions regarding oppression and exploitation of the poor and/or economically vulnerable:

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God.”

“Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another.”

Do not defraud or rob your neighbor. Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.

Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD.”

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” (Leviticus 19:9-15)

Many today tout loving your neighbor as a religious tenet, but Leviticus shows it originally had very real world economic, social and political implications.

So, again, our story in Mark comes at the end of a series of confrontational challenges, but we get a picture from this exchange of a Jesus who was challenging a system within Judaism, not Judaism itself. Jesus is faithful to Judaism’ core religious beliefs in this story, and at the same time he is also hotly engaged in calls to return to his interpretations of what it meant to be faithful to Torah as he witnessed people being harmed by the system. This is not a Christianity versus Judaism story, then. This is a story that says, yes, Jesus is challenging those in power within his society, but he is doing this as a Jewish man himself and out of concern for what it means to be a faithful Jewish follower of the Torah, not as someone who is anti-Jewish.

Lastly, the scholar talking with Jesus quotes two passages from the Hebrew scriptures that affirm Jesus’ response:

“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6)

“With what shall I come before the LORD

and bow down before the exalted God?

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,

with calves a year old?

  Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,

with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?

Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,

the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

  He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.

And what does the LORD require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy

and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:6-8)

For these writers, love of neighbor is greater than ritual adherence and/or forms of worship.

This exchange between Jesus and the scholar brings to my mind an extended passage from Karen Armstrong that I read years ago and that I believe captures the spirit of Judaism and what early Jesus followers were trying to become. I offer this passage both to affirm Judaism and to critique more regressive and fundamentalist forms of Christianity, which seem to me to making a comeback in our culture.

In Rabbinic Judaism, the Jewish Axial Age came of age. The Golden Rule, compassion, and loving-kindness were central to this new Judaism; by the time the temple had been destroyed, some of the Pharisees already understood that they did not need a temple to worship God, as this Talmudic story makes clear:

It happened that R. Johanan ben Zakkai went out from Jerusalem, and R. Joshua followed him and saw the burnt ruins of the Temple and he said: Woe is it that the place, where the sins of Israel find atonement, is laid waste.Then said R. Johanan, Grieve not, we have an atonement equal to the Temple, the doing of loving deeds, as it is said, I desire love and not sacrifice.’’

Kindness was the key to the future; Jews must turn away from the violence and divisiveness of the war years and create a united community with one body and one soul.” When the community was integrated in love and mutual respect, God was with them, but when they quarreled with one another, he [sic] returned to heaven, where the angels chanted with one voice and one melody.” When two or three Jews sat and studied harmoniously together, the divine presence sat in their midst. Rabbi Akiba, who was killed by the Romans in 132 CE, taught that the commandment Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” was the great principle of the Torah.” To show disrespect to any human being who had been created in Gods image was seen by the rabbis as a denial of God himself and tantamount to atheism. Murder was a sacrilege: Scripture instructs us that whatsoever sheds human blood is regarded as if he had diminished the divine image.” God had created only one man at the beginning of time to teach us that destroying only one human life was equivalent to annihilating the entire world, while to save a life redeemed the whole of humanity. To humiliate anybody—even a slave or a non-Jew—was equivalent to murder, a sacrilegious defacing of Gods image. To spread a scandalous, lying story about another person was to deny the existence of God. Religion was inseparable from the practice of habitual respect to all other human beings. You could not worship God unless you practiced the Golden Rule and honored your fellow humans, whoever they were.” (Karen Armstrong, The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions, Kindle Locations 7507-7540)

I love this way of defining what it means to be faithful to one’s own spiritual journey. As I’ve often said, the closest I will ever come to meeting God in this life is you, whomever you are, for you, like everyone else I meet, are all unique and yet in this one way alike: you bear the image of God.

I have to ask why our story ends with Jesus saying this scholar was only close to or not far from the reign of God? Why was he deemed close yet not there? Was it because he was interpreting his scriptures in life-giving ways, but was still committed to a system Jesus felt was damaging marginalized and vulnerable people in his own society? Was his scholarship correct, but his employment or survival somehow complicit in harm? Why did Jesus say he was only close? We can’t know because the story doesn’t say. But it is something to ponder.

And that leads me back to the words of Rev. Dr. Gafney one more time. I love this statement from her lectionary comments about this week’s passage. She rightly states:

“If our gospel proclamations are not true for the most marginalized among us—women, nonbinary folk, trans folk, gender non-conforming folk, and LGBTQIA folk—then our gospel is not true.” (p. 273)

We could add more communities to Rev. Dr. Gafney’s list here. The point, though, is that no one should be excluded from our core practice of loving our neighbor as ourself. We are, after all, connected. We are extensions of each other, and part of the same human family. What affects one, impacts all. You are part of me and I’m a part of you. Together, we get to determine what kind of people (no pun intended) we will be.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. How does seeing others as part of ourselves impact our work for societal justice as well as how we relate to one another within our various faith communities? Discuss with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



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A Preferential Option for the Excluded

woman sitting alone

Herb Montgomery | June 25, 2021


“This is what liberation theologians refer to as a preferential option. The word preferential means a preference or partiality and implies favor or privilege. The word option does not mean that the preference is optional, but rather implies a choice between multiple possibilities. In other words, a preferential option means a deliberate choice among many possibilities and the choice to prefer those whom the present system marginalizes or makes vulnerable to harm.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Mark.

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leaders house to say, Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the childs father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, Talitha cum,” which means, Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. (Mark 5:21-43)

The story of Jairus’ daughter and I have history. Over twenty years ago now, between our elder daughter and our younger daughter, Crystal and I went through the horrible experience of having two still births back-to-back. During this chapter of our lives, we were both pretty fundamentalist, and the story of Jairus’ daughter, especially the phrase talitha cum, held special meaning for us.

Today, this story is meaningful to me for different reasons. As is typical in the gospel of Mark, our reading this week includes one story interrupted by another. Mark repeatedly uses the narrative technique of interrupting one story with a secondary one. The first story envelopes a second story to direct listeners’ focus and understanding of both.

We are meant to compare these two stories, giving both stories space to explain the other. One hint of this is their parallelism: Jairus’ daughter is 12 years old and the woman with the vaginal hemorrhage has suffered for 12 years as well.

The contrasting social locations of these recipients of Jesus’ work is one of the most consequential comparisons for our justice work today. We’ll discuss more in a moment which social location is centered.

There is so much to address in both of these stories. Worth exploring in our limited time this week is the woman’s willingness to violate the letter of the Torah and her community’s taboos about uncleanliness and touching those considered unclean. By violating those rules, she arrives at the life-giving spirit and intention of the Torah according to her interpretation. Imagine how the woman in this story had to wrestle with the Torah’s commands to find the courage to reach out and touch even the hem of Jesus’ garment.

When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening. Anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will be unclean. Anyone who touches her bed will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening. Anyone who touches anything she sits on will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening. Whether it is the bed or anything she was sitting on, when anyone touches it, they will be unclean till evening. If a man has sexual relations with her and her monthly flow touches him, he will be unclean for seven days; any bed he lies on will be unclean. When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period. (Leviticus 15:19-25)

In the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Temple Scroll, we read of special places, quarantine spaces, that were to be kept outside the city and its population for lepers, those with skin diseases, those “afflicted with discharge,” menstruating women, and women giving birth (see Johann Maier, The Temple Scroll: An Introduction, Translation, and Commentary, p. 14).

This passage from Leviticus, the social taboos for those considered unclean, and restricting those considered unclean to areas designated for quarantine away from the rest of the community might also explain why she was so reluctant to come forward in the story. She feared reprisal for the violation of even being in a crowd bumping into each other, much less touching Jesus too.

This leads me back to the subject of social location and the tension we find in this narrative between the stories of Jairus’ daughter and the woman sick for 12 years. Not all teachings are universal. Today, some things are acceptable for those in marginalized social locations but not acceptable or even offensive if practiced by those who are more centered or socially privileged. There are things women can say and do that men should not. There are actions appropriate for Black communities and other communities of color that are not acceptable for White people. During Pride month, for example, there are some actions that straight people should not do because they would be appropriative. Social location matters.

When we read this week’s narrative, we typically contrast the social locations of Jairus, a named synagogue leader, and this nameless woman who, because of her condition, is meant to live her life in quarantine and exiled from the rest of the community, including her family.

But the story actually prioritizes and centers this marginalized woman over the named, male, synagogue leader.

This is what liberation theologians refer to as a preferential option. The word preferential means a preference or partiality and implies favor or privilege. The word option does not mean that the preference is optional, but rather implies a choice between multiple possibilities. In other words, a preferential option means a deliberate choice among many possibilities and the choice to prefer those whom the present system marginalizes or makes vulnerable to harm.

In this story, Jesus practices a preferential option for someone his society is excluding, and he deliberately chooses to prioritize her over someone his society shows great preference for. The fact that the male synagogue leader gets a name in this story while the woman remains nameless is a hint.

Consider the playground teeter-totter for a moment. When one side is lifted up higher than the other, placing the same equal force on both ends of the board would result in no change whatsoever. For the board to balance, one side must receive the upward force or pressure while the other side is left alone.

In the same way, in a hospital, more critical cases are prioritized over less critical ones, and not because some lives are more valuable than others but because some lives are in danger of greater threat. This is exactly the reality missed by those who respond to Black Lives Matter with “All Lives Matter. It’s because all lives matter that Black lives matter. Black lives are under greater threat in our present system and therefore, Jesus followers especially should practice a preferential option for Black lives.

The practice of a preferential option is also at the heart of the reparations debate, which received media attention this spring around the anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre. Tulsa was not an isolated event. All throughout this country, systems and individuals who practice a preferential option for Whiteness have stolen generational wealth from Black communities. For equity to be reestablished and for distributive justice to be achieved, we must now practice a preferential option for those whose material wealth has been stolen.

In the game of Monopoly, you can’t give one player an advantage and then halfway through the game say preferential options are now unfair so no one gets any special treatment. That would leave the original preferential treatment in place. No, a preferential option must benefit those who’ve been disenfranchised until each person can experience an equitable chance in the game. Only then will both sides of the table be playing with the same rules.

Pride month is another example. The LGBTQ community has been shamed into hiding, denied basic human rights of employment, housing, and basic accommodations, and so during Pride month people can reject that shame and heterosexists’ attempts to label them as “less than.” Pride is not, as some Christians say, a rejection of humility. Pride for the LGBTQ community rejects being labelled as of less worth than others. Those who are falsely claiming that we should also have a “straight pride” month ignore the fact that we already have twelve months in a year when straight people are prioritized and told that they belong. As an LGBTQ friend of mine says, “LGBTQ Pride is the opposite of shame, not the opposite of humility.”

What this story doesn’t address is the way that Jairus’ daughter remains subsumed by him and his social location. A good question for us to wrestle with today is what is the right preferential option for Jairus’ daughter, the actual patient? Does she have to pay for the social status of her father? In the end, Jairus’ daughter also receives healing. In the end, both parties receive what they need. But to arrive there, Jesus chose a preferential option for a nameless woman forced to live on the outside of her community, over prioritizing the named leader that typically would have received the priority over others.

Who is the Jesus story calling you to practice a preferential option for this week?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Who is the Jesus story calling you to practice a preferential option for this week? 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


Peace, Be Still.

 

calm sea scape

Herb Montgomery | June 18, 2021


I need a Jesus that can challenge the great windstorm and the waves of deep homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in the Christian church that threatens to capsize the lives of LGBTQ young people — not just the winds and waves of a Galilean lake. These young people wonder if anyone cares that they are perishing. They need a Jesus to speak to their Christian families and, in the face of bigotry, speak in the name of inclusion, affirmation, celebration, and love, saying, ‘Peace be still.’”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Mark:

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41)

The story of Jesus calming the storm is the first nature miracle in the gospel of Mark. Until this point, the author of this gospel has been structuring narratives that subverted Jesus’ society. Jesus is an exorcist or healer in stories that subtly call into question the social power structures and who they benefited and marginalized.

But with this story, the author introduces a new side of Jesus. Now Jesus is also seen as having authority in relation to nature itself.

The first “sea” (lake) crossing in Mark’s gospel is part of a pattern in Mark of pairing important narratives. The second sea crossing is in Mark 6:45-53. The two feedings of the multitudes are another example.

Most scholars believe that the gospel of Mark was intended for both Jewish and non-Jewish Jesus followers. In the early church, making the Christian tent large enough to bring together both Jewish followers of Jesus (in Galilee and Judea) and Gentile followers of Jesus (from Paul’s travels and ministry) was a top priority. So in this first sea crossing, the author of Mark is invoking narratives that would have been meaningful to both groups of Jesus followers. By calling the lake “sea” this gospel recalls Hebrew narratives about Yahweh and the sea,” such as the ark of Noah, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the reference to storms in the Psalms:

“By his power he stilled the Sea; by his understanding he struck down Rahab [mythical sea monster, symbol for Egypt].” (Job 26:12)

“He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. (Psalms 107.29)

“He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry; he led them through the deep as through a desert.” (Psalms 106:9)

For Hellenistic Jesus followers, Jesus’ ability to command the wind and the sea would have been one of the few acts in the gospel of Mark comparable to the stories of Hellenistic miracle workers. Having the ability to command wind and sea associated a person with the powers attributed to Zeus (wind) and Poseidon (sea).

There may be another apologetic association being made in this story as well. Many scholars throughout the centuries have noticed in this story parallels with stories told about a contemporary of Jesus, Apollonius of Tyanna. Placing Jesus on the level of Apollonius and other wonder-workers in that world highly honored Jesus. Because of classism, for those who favored the miracle narratives of Apollonius, Jesus was the imposter, a miracle worker for the uneducated, the poor, and those on the margins of society. (Mark’s Christology had not yet evolved to the levels we see in the much later gospel of John.)

Also noteworthy are parallels between this story and the stories told during the Flavian dynasty of Roman emperors’ miraculous powers over nature. The Flavian era was the time period most scholars believe the gospel of Mark was written. Jesus commands the winds and waves of the body of water referred to as Lake Tiberius (after Tiberius Caesar Augustus). All four canonical gospels compare Jesus with Roman imperialism and contrast the Pax Romana with the peace resulting from Jesus’ teachings on including the marginalized, community resource-sharing, and redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor.

As we’ve found in the gospels, if Jesus is to be a superior choice to other options in the world of the gospel writers and their audiences, the authors must first portray Jesus on equal ground with others competing for followers in that time.

But what does this story say to us today? How can the Jesus story inform our work of justice, love and compassion in our various contexts and social settings?

I don’t think that we now have to portray Jesus as superior to everything else around us to follow the teachings of that Jewish prophet of the poor from Galilee. Superiority, supremacy, exceptionalism, and/or a “chosen” status’ have only proved to divide us within the human family. These ways of telling our stories have been harmful at best and lethal at worst. I believe it’s enough to consider the values, ethics, and teachings within the Jesus story and determine whether the fruit of those teachings still have anything of intrinsic value to offer us and can inform our work of making our world a safe, compassionate just home form everyone. If they can, then following the Jesus of the gospel stories in our context of the 21st century will be life-giving, too.

These are the questions we should be wrestling with as Jesus followers two thousand years removed from these stories’ beginnings. And I believe there is a lot within the Jesus stories that is still worth listening to. The golden rule, certain themes found in the Sermon on the Mount, the value of love above all else—these alone are worthy of our practice.

I don’t believe Jesus still needs to “command the wind and the waves” in our postmodern, post-enlightenment world to still be worthy of being following. In fact, the supernatural story elements that were persuasive in the 1st Century are too often now obstacles in our 21st Century.

I don’t need a Jesus who supernaturally commands our natural forces. I need a Jesus who can speak into our racial struggle for justice today. I need a Jesus who speaks into our economic crisis alongside the poor and in the face of those made richer in this pandemic. I need a Jesus who can speak into our ecological crisis and humanity’s threatened existence on our planet. I need a Jesus who can speak into women’s struggle for an equitable society where misogyny in all its ugliness still threats to capsize their thriving. I need a Jesus that can challenge the great windstorm and the waves of deep homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in the Christian church that threatens to capsize the lives of LGBTQ young people — not just the winds and waves of a Galilean lake. These young people wonder if anyone cares that they are perishing. They need a Jesus to speak to their Christian families and, in the face of bigotry, speak in the name of inclusion, affirmation, celebration, and love, saying, “Peace be still.”

What storms of injustice in your world, in your society, in your community, in your family do you need someone to add their voice to, alongside yours, and speak peace, love, compassion, “peace, be still?” We don’t need a peace that is only a passive lull in our struggle for equality. We need a peace that is the fruit of an established justice; a peace where we can do more than just survive, but find what we need to thrive. It’s not a stilling of the voice of those crying out for justice that we need; we need a stilling of the forces that threaten those lives daily.

The Jesus who speaks that peace is the Jesus I need and I would guess you do, too.

As Jesus followers in our contexts today, the peace in these gospel stories that can speak most loudly to us and our present, concrete, material need in our natural world and bring genuine peace rooted in established justice?

The Jesus that speaks that peace is the kind of Jesus I want sleeping in the bow of our society’s boat today.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Where would you like to see a societal peace that is rooted in distributive justice end the tempest of injustice and exclusion that threatens to capsize people’s thriving, 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


Misclassifying As Weeds

rainbow heart

Herb Montgomery | June 11, 2021


This weeks reading calls us all to question our classification of trees as weeds. Similarly, the call to affirm, embrace, and include LGBTQ Christians in the church is not a call to affirm things that are intrinsically harmful but a call to help us recognize that the LGBTQ community should not be on the harmful” list in the first place.


Our reading this week is from the Gospel of Mark:

He also said, The reign of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” He also said, With what can we compare the reign of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples. (Mark 4:26-34)

The society for which the gospel of Mark was written considered mustard seeds an invasive, noxious weed. If a gardener did not uproot it from their garden, theyd soon not have a garden left to tend. Then, as now, weeds should be rooted out to stop them taking over, crowding out intentionally planted crops .

Other gospels describe mustard seed growing into large bushes with branches, or trees. But mustard seed doesn’t actually grow like that. We have negatively labelled as a weed something that ends up growing into a large bush with branches and that positively benefits those around it. Weve classified as a weed something that is actually a fruit-bearing tree.

Let me say it again for clarity. Actual mustard plants dont grow into trees. What we have in this story is something that grows into a tree. Its not mustard weed. Its something entirely different from mustard. Weve made a mistake!

I think that was Jesus’ point.

This weeks reading compares Jesus’ new community of nonviolence, mutual aid, and resource and wealth redistribution to a beneficial tree seen as a weed-like-threat by the privileged, powerful, and propertied. The way 1st Century farmers viewed the mustard plant was the way the privileged and elite viewed Jesus teachings and the community of Jesus-followers centered in those teachings. They were to be rooted out. They were as welcome in society as weeds are in a garden.

But then Jesus takes a hard right turn. What people think is a noxious mustard weed doesnt produce the same results as they all expect mustard to. It doesnt take over the garden like a weed and leave nothing for anyone. No, instead it becomes a tree, a source of shelter and food for all in its vicinity. Its originally viewed as a weed, but it does not bear the same fruit as a weed.

The image Jesus uses to represent his community, the tree mistaken for a weed, is from a story in the Hebrew apocalyptic book of Daniel. In Daniel, Nebuchadnezzars kingdom was likened to a fruit tree that provided food, a resting place, and shelter to all. Jesus adapts this imperial image to describe his non-imperial community that provides for those the present system exploits.  Its imagery also communicates to those opposing Jesus’ work, Youre working so hard to keep me out of your garden as if Im a mustard weed, and are trying to uproot me completely, but you have misjudged me. My fruit is not harmful. It is life and peace and good for all.”

This weeks reading isnt saying that all weeds should be welcomed in the garden or that we shouldnt weed when gardening. Its asking us to check our assumptions about what we have classified as weeds. What if weve made a mistake? What if weve judged something to be a harmful weed, but that judgment is quite incorrect?

The elite in Jesuss society were beginning to view his teachings on nonviolent resistance and wealth redistribution as a weed that must be removed. And so he calls them to see their judgment as a mistake. What Jesus was teaching could lead to justice, liberation and ultimately societal peace, rooted in an expression of distributive justice for all. What they viewed as a weed to be rooted out was actually a tree of life.

Misclassification Today

As I consider the misclassification of the mustard seed in this weeks reading and the misclassification of Jesuss reign of God in the gospels, I cant help but think of the misclassification of my LGBTQ friends today.

This weeks reading calls us all to question our classification of trees as weeds. Similarly, the call to affirm, embrace, and include LGBTQ Christians in the church is not a call to affirm things that are intrinsically harmful but a call to help us recognize that the LGBTQ community should not be on the harmful” list in the first place.

This month is Pride Month, and RHM’s recommended reading for June is Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation by Dale B. Martin. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If you have not read it, get a copy and do so. You’ll thank me.

From time to time, I get letters from other Christians asking me to explain how I can claim to follow Jesus while affirming the LGBTQ community. These writers typically use misinformed language such as lifestyle” when they are actually referring to same-sex intimacy. They are often also profoundly certain about how clear the Bibles teachings are, and they compare my LGBTQ friends with those who are “sexually immoral,” and child-molesters.” They want me to explain how I could affirm LGBTQ people’s allegedly sinful behaviors.”

A sexual ethic rooted in the golden rule is a different conversation. I do want to say this loud and clear. Many of my LGBTQ friends are more devoted Christians than I am. I think specifically of a lesbian friend of mine in Ohio. She has been with her wife for over twenty years, and I admire their commitment to each other. It’s absurd to even compare her to those who are “sexually immoral” or child-molesters”.

As a side note, I also want to add that many straight people practice things Christian, ascetic, purity-culture standards don’t approve, yet no one’s going about saying heterosexuals  shouldn’t get married or become pastors. It’s not enough to keep a system in place of making some group an outsider, or less than, while saying LGBTQ people shouldn’t be hurt by it. If this kind of system is still in place, we’re all at risk.  Do we have really to have to measure up to Christian purity culture (which many Christians also reject) to be treated with respect and kindness?

There are two lists in the New Testament that the writers of the letters I receive often mention:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the [arsenokoitai], nor [malakoi] nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (ESV), emphasis added)

Understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the [arsenokoitai], enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.” (1 Timothy 1:9-11 (ESV), emphasis added)

The term homosexuality” was invented in the late 1800s, but did not appear in any English language Bible before 1946. For most of history, Christians have read 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 very differently than their recent translations suggest they might. The two Greek keywords in these passages are malakoi and arsenokoitai. These words are extremely difficult to translate into English.

Arsenokoitai is found in both 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. Malakoi is found only in 1 Corinthians 6:9. Dale Martin’s book Sex and the Single Savior is extremely helpful here. Martin makes a compelling case that no one living today definitely knows what arsenokoitai meant and at best we are guessing at definitions. Surprisingly, Martin shows that whatever arsenokoitai was, most of the extra-biblical vice lists that include arsenokoitai categorize it with acts of economic exploitation and oppression, not with sexual violations where we would expect to find it if it refered primarily to sexual acts.

Malakoi is much easier to define, yet the definition reveals rank misogyny. Again, Martin makes a compelling case in quoting several extra-biblical sources where malakoi was used. Each time malakoi appears, there is no question the term refers to men directly or indirectly acting in any way that society would have defined as feminine. Some ancient authors go so far as to indicate it would be better to be dead than to be a woman as defined by their society. They list the litany of qualities that that ancient culture considered woman-like”: drinking too much wine, having too much sex, loving gourmet food, hiring a professional cook, being weak in battle, and enjoying luxury all fall into the classification of being unmanly. Malakoi often refers to heterosexual men who wore things like nice clothing, jewelry, wore cologne, shaved, did their hair, and cared for their skin to aid them in appearing attractive in their heterosexual pursuits. It meant being soft” or effeminate. In that patriarchal society, women were degraded as being inferior to men and therefore it was considered to be a vice, malakoi, for a man to act in any way like them. Martins conclusion is “willful ignorance or dishonesty” could allow us to define malakoi so narrowly as to refer to “passive homosexuals” now.

Martins textual scholarship resoundingly agrees with Brownsons conclusion in The Bible, Gender and Sexuality:

When we take the original social context of these vice lists seriously, we again recognize a gap between what these vice lists are rejecting and what is happening in committed same-sex relationships today.” (Brownson, The Bible, Gender and Sexuality, p. 275)

After 1946, however, an obvious homophobic bias enters New Testament English translations, and it is not warranted by the original languages. The original languages address men being “like women,” which is deeply misogynist and produces a whole set of interpretive problems. But translations after 1946 introduce generic homophobia instead.

I have a hunch that some translators may be trying to avoid the misogyny in the original text. Yet these translations produce demonstrable bodily harm to a group of human beings, and that fruit should warn us about their roots.

Jesus, like the Hebrew prophets before him, valued people and interpretations of the Torah that were life-giving rather than destructive. Jesus practiced a kind of Torah obedience that expressed itself in a preferential option for the vulnerable. As a community, LGBTQ people are vulnerable in our time.

Through generations of prejudice and mistranslation, we have misclassified as a weed something that isn’t a weed at all. In fact, our misclassifying the LGBTQ community is whats producing noxious weed-like results including disproportionate homelessness and suicide rates among Christian LGBTQ youth rejected by their religious families and churches. The fruit of our recent translations and misclassification of LGBTQ people is not life, but death.

We must remember:

  • Saying Im sorry” is not enough.
  • An apology that calls straight Christians only to more loving and respectful forms of heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia, or transphobia is not an apology.
  • The language of reconciliation devoid of liberation is empty rhetoric.
  • Kindness and respect are not synonyms for reparation for harm done in the past.
  • Allowing even respectful” disagreement over whether another person should exist is not creating safe space.”

That last one is vital. The debate over LGBTQ people is not merely about theology. It’s really a disagreement over whether LGBTQ people should exist, live openly, and form families in our communities. The lists in Pauls writings are lists of behaviors that can be changed. Sexual orientation is much more like a persons skin color than their actions. Its not something to be changed; its who people are. Reparative therapy, however, is one example of Christian attempts to “weed out” a certain type of person—an LGBTQ person—from existence. Ultimately, its a form of genocide.

Learning to listen to those who are not like us as they share the harm they’ve experienced through misclassification offers us the opportunity to choose between compassion and fear. Our differences can be scary, but they dont have to be. Although we do have differences, there is much we have in common, too. Someone who is different from you is also someones child. They are someones sibling. They are someones best friend.

Remember to breathe. And choose compassion.

And to all my LGBTQ friends who may be reading or listening this week, I offer as encouragement the words of Dr. Katie Cannon of Union Presbyterian Seminary:

Even when people call your truth a lie, tell it anyway. Tell it anyway.” (in Journey to Liberation: The Legacy of Womanist Theology)

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Share an experience of how you came to realize you had also misjudged something or someone? 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.

 


Binding the Strong Man

rope

Herb Montgomery | June 4, 2021


Today our strong man could be capitalism, White supremacy, Christian nationalism, cisheterosexism, and more. All of these working separately and together comprise the strong men that we must bind in our time. What does binding the “strong man” as a thief in the night look like for us in our system? What does it look like in the context of working toward justice, compassion, and safety for all who are marginalized and made vulnerable? And how should we go about doing it?”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Mark:

And the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong mans house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they had said, He has an unclean spirit.” Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:20-35)

Most scholars agree that this section of Mark is a compilation of sayings that were originally separate and were compiled into a compelling narrative. This week, we will review that narrative, looking for anything in it that can speak to our justice work today.

In the story, Jesus has returned home and is again surrounded by controversy. Characteristic of Mark, the Beelzebub narrative is enveloped by a larger story. In other words, Mark begins with one story, interrupts with a related story, and then returns to the story he was telling first.

Our narrative, then, begins with Jesus’ family. Kinship systems in Jesus’ day established a person’s identity, vocation, and social location. Some scholars see in the story evidence of a power struggle in the early church between those who claimed leadership positions based on being related to Jesus (like Jesus’ brother James) and those who were not related but followed Jesus with just as much dedication. The story describes the second group of unrelated followers and a crowd being inside the home, with Jesus’ blood family outside. While this may indeed be an story about blood relationships, there is also a deeper point being made here.

Social change often involves questioning the values and social domestication one has received from one’s family. Outgrowing these values is often part of the work we must do to participate in making our world a safe and equitable home for everyone. We must build on the good we gained from our families and also be willing to evolve beyond the harmful. Speaking out when one’s extended family is aligned with the opposition is difficult. I know this personally. For me, family rejection was especially painful in addition to rejection I was already experiencing as I chose to take definitive stands for those communities I witnessed being harmed.

Jesus’ familys motive in the story could be preserving the family as well as preserving Jesus. Perhaps he was going to get himself in trouble and possibly even them too. But if that was their motive, Jesus’ family was too late. Government officials are already on their way to Jesus to press charges. Our story highlights how one’s family and the state can work together to keep one subordinated to the status quo.

When the Temple state officials arrive, they make their accusation: Jesus is casting out demons not by the power of God, but by the power of the head demon himself. This language may be difficult for many people with our modern worldview, but let’s step into the 1st Century context of the story to understand it better. Hollenbach tells us:

“Witchcraft accusations represent a distancing strategy which seeks to discredit, sever, and deny . . . Upstart controllers of spirits are, by their very power over spirits, suspected of causing what they cure.” (P. Hollenbach, Jesus, Demoniacs, and Public Authorities: A Socio-Historical Study, p. 577)

I think of the way men threatened by strong women have historically marginalized, silenced, removed and murdered those women by accusing them of “witchcraft.” This gives us insight into the dynamics of this story in Mark. These are not just stories of mythical demons and exorcisms. That shallow understanding misses the broader point. These stories are political. As Theissen correctly states, “The mythological events here reflect political ones” (Gerd Theissen, The First Followers of Jesus: A Sociological Analysis of the Earliest Christianity, p. 76), Those benefiting from the status quo in these stories were threatened by Jesus’ calls for change and they tried to delegitimize him.

The theme of leaders accusing Jesus of being out of his mind or under the control of demons is in each of the gospels including John:

“Again the Judeans were divided because of these words. Many of them were saying, ‘He has a demon and is out of his mind. Why listen to him?’ Others were saying, ‘These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?’ (John 10:19-21)

In American society today, this same distancing tactic is used, though not necessarily with the labels of demon-possession. Some Christian communities do still use this language toward those they politically oppose. A local Baptist pastor has accused me of being demon possessed because of my affirmation of LGBTQ folk. Other labels that can be used to delegitimize in our society today include “terrorist,” “socialist,” and “communist.”

In our story, Jesus is engaged in acts of liberation, humanization, and in Jewish language, jubilee! Yet those threatened by his liberation work are working to have him dismissed as a lunatic or a traitor to his Jewish community. I’m reminded of the warning of Malcom X centuries after Jesus: If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing” (in Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements, p. 93).

The statement in our passage that arrests my attention the most is:

“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’”

In Mark’s story, the leaders’ goal is to make people afraid of those working for their very liberation. I see this happening all the time here in West Virginia, where easily manipulated people in our communities are made to fear those working for their good and so the majority vote against their own interests. We witnessed stark examples of this in the last election here in my state. Fearing and demonizing liberators is not arbitrarily “unpardonable.” It’s intrinsically “unpardonable” because the very social elements and changes that would bring a person concrete liberation are made out to be feared and held suspect.

Juan Luis Segundo speaks to the intrinsically unpardonable nature of this “sin” in Capitalism versus Socialism:

The blasphemy resulting from bad apologetics will always be pardonable . . . The real sin against the Holy Spirit is refusing to recognize, with theologicaljoy, some concrete liberation that is taking place before one’s very eyes.” (p. 254)

Ched Myers describes people not recognizing the Spirit in sterner terms:

“To be captive to the way things are, to resist criticism and change, to brutally suppress efforts at humanization—is to be bypassed by the grace of God.” (Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man, p. 167)

There is evidence that many in the early church took this teaching very seriously. In what was believed to have been an early church manual, the Didache, we read:

“And every prophet who speaks in the Spirit you shall neither try nor judge; for every sin shall be forgiven, but this sin shall not be forgiven.” (Didache Ch. 11)

Let’s close this week with the Jesus saying in our story.

“No one can enter a strong mans house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.”

After making this statement, Jesus would later be seen in the Temple state’s “house,” overturning the tables of economic exploitation and resisting the harming of the most vulnerable people. That was his society’s strong man.

Today our strong man could be capitalism, White supremacy, Christian nationalism, cisheterosexism, and more. All of these working separately and together comprise the strong men that we must bind in our time. What does binding the “strong man” as a thief in the night look like for us in our system? What does it look like in the context of working toward justice, compassion, and safety for all who are marginalized and made vulnerable? And how should we go about doing it?

The answers to these questions will only result from conversation and engagement with the communities most harmfully impacted by our status quo. As followers of the Jesus in our story this week, we must be about that work.

Let’s get to it.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What are some “strong men” that need dismantling both within our religious and secular communities? How are false labels used and applied to oppose this work and to create fear in others? How have you experienced this in your own journey? 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


Transforming Communities Built on Exclusion

Herb Montgomery | December 4, 2020

inclusive hands and difference color pegs


Mark’s Jesus narrative offers a Jesus who has come not to destroy us or who we are but to liberate us from the self-hatred and the internalized low self-estimation our communities of origin have given us because of who we are. This Jesus has come to liberate us from our own captivity to believing that we are “less than” others simply because we may be different from those at the top of the privilege structures in our society.


Few stories have historically been scarier to the human psyche than stories of possession. Yet Mark’s author places this story at the beginning of this Jesus narrative for a reason:

“They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.” (Mark 1:21-28)

This story takes place in the most sacred boundaries of time and space in Jesus’ community. It’s a story about the social phenomenon that the gospels refer to as the way of sacrifice.

As we’ve discussed over the past few weeks, communities built on exclusivity depend on their agreeing who to exclude from their society. They need a “sacrifice,” someone to expel out of their borders for society to function properly, and they find unity in being against what they define as “other.” Finding unity in vilifying someone gives communities like this their life. They depend on the existence of a “demoniac.”

We lose so much today if we throw out the stories of demoniacs and exorcisms in the Jesus narratives simply because we cannot find a naturalist explanation for them. If we look for their sociopolitical themes, though, demoniac stories help us understand human societies and they should not be dismissed too quickly. One possible interpretation of the demoniac stories in the gospels is to understand them as drawing attention to those whom the community has chosen to expel: the scapegoats, the sacrificed, the expelled victims who have internalized their community’s hatred as deserved. They have come to agree with the community that they should be driven outside the camp, and they become “possessed” by how their community estimates them.

Let’s look at each piece of the story:

The demoniac encounters Jesus.
The demoniac refers to Jesus as the “Holy One of God.” This is a political title Mark uses purposefully, and it’s a title that King David used for himself (Psalm 4:3; Psalm 15:10). It was also the title given to Aaron (Psalm 106:16, LXX).
The demoniac assumes Jesus has come to execute the social phenomenon of sacrificial destruction: “Have you come to destroy us?”

In this interpretation, demoniacs symbolize those who have internalized self-hatred from their community. Mark’s demoniac sees Jesus as the “holy one” who has come to carry out the expulsion he “deserved”—to destroy rather than liberate.

But Jesus’ role in this story is not to destroy lives but to liberate, heal, and restore. Jesus rejects the title given to him because he’s not the figurehead of this social phenomenon of exclusion. He represents something much different.

Jesus had come not to sacrifice scapegoats but to do away with the entire system of basing societies on sacrificing/scapegoating those considered to be “other.” He desired “mercy not sacrifice”: he had come to destroy the very system that creates demoniacs.

Two phrases in our story suggest the author’s point:

“They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”

“They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’”

Ched Myers gives insight into this contrast between those in authority within Jesus’ community and Jesus in his insightful volume, Say to This Mountain:

“The essential conflict is thus defined as the contest over authority between Jesus and the scribal establishment, a contest which will be central to the entire story. Sandwiched in between is an ‘unclean spirit’ who ‘protests” Jesus’ presence: ‘Why do you meddle with us?’ (1:23f; see Judges 11:12; 1 Kings 17:18). However, the demon’s defiance quickly turns to fear: ‘Have you come to destroy us?’ Who is the ‘we’ on whose behalf the demon speaks? The function of Mark’s framing device suggests that the demon’s voice represents the voice of the scribal class whose ‘space’ Jesus is invading. The synagogue on the Sabbath is scribal turf, where scribes exercise the authority to teach Torah. This ‘spirit’ personifies scribal power, which holds sway over the hearts and minds of the people. Only after breaking the influence of this spirit is Jesus free to begin his compassionate ministry to the masses (1:29ff). To interpret this exorcism solely as the ‘curing of an epileptic’ is to miss its profound political impact. In contrast to Hellenistic literature, in which miracle-workers normally function to maintain the status quo, gospel healings challenge the ordering of power. Because Jesus seeks the root causes of why people are marginalized, there is no case of healing and exorcism in Mark that does not also raise a larger question of social oppression.” (Ched Myers, Say to This Mountain: Mark’s Story of Discipleship, p. 14)

With his healing act, Jesus is contradicting the community’s evaluation of their “othered” one. This same one has internalized their community’s evaluation and is thus “possessed” by the community’s hatred transformed into self-hatred. Jesus emerges in the stories to contradict the community’s “othering” and to stand in contrast with those in positions of authority within this system of “othering.”

Mark’s author wants us to notice the contrast between Jesus and those in places of authority who are responsible for the exclusionary system the community is founded on.

When Jesus sought to liberate the demoniac from being possessed by the community’s evaluation of them, all present begin to contrast Jesus’ authority with the scribes’ authority. Jesus showed everyone that there is another way for human societies to form and function. This is Jesus’s “new teaching.”

What does this have to do with us today?

Again, in this interpretation, demoniacs in Mark’s Jesus story designate not only those whom the community has “cast out” or driven off but also those who have adopted the community’s image of them as their own self-image, thereby producing within themselves a self-destructive self-hatred.

As we see in this story, internalized self-hatred can cause an outcast to view those who attempt to liberate them from their self-hatred as “the enemy.” The man in this story viewed Jesus as an antagonist and the liberation from internalized self-hatred that Jesus offered as adversarial.

I don’t know how many times I have witnessed this:

  • People of a different race or from a different place than the majority internalizing and believing that they are “less than” because they are the minority within a larger group
  • Women internalizing and genuinely believing they are “less than” men
  • Those of less economic status believing they are “less than” those who possess more wealth
  • Those who possess less formal or academic training than others while being intelligent and open-minded still believing they are “less than” others who are more formally educated yet domesticated by the status quo
  • Transgender people believing they are “less than” others because the world is built for and by cisgender people
  • LGBTQ people being afraid to “come out” even to themselves because of hatred bestowed on them by their community of origin, or teachings that say they are “less than,” evil, or even “possessed”

Mark’s Jesus narrative offers a Jesus who has come not to destroy us or who we are but to liberate us from the self-hatred and the internalized low self-estimation our communities of origin have given us because of who we are.

This Jesus has come to liberate us from our own captivity to believing that we are “less than” others simply because we may be different from those at the top of the privilege structures in our society.

The Jesus story is whispering to us that:

  • We were all made in the image of God.
  • We are all children of the same Divine Parents.
  • There is room at the Table for us all.
  • There is a place in Jesus’s new world for us all.

The person Jesus healed that day was restored to the community instead of cast out, and this restoration pushed the community into reassessment. When Jesus heals, the community and its way of living cannot stay unchanged. No, the man’s restoration causes the community to reevaluate and consider the contrast between Jesus’ inclusion and exclusion from those in power in their community. Not only was the individual liberated but the congregation was too.

Maybe the world can operate by continuing to find people to expel. But I don’t want to live in a world like that. Instead of driving the demoniac he met away, Jesus delivered him from self-hatred, restored him to his rightful place, and also created change within the community that had sought to expel him in the first place.

Jesus announced that a different iteration of our world was possible!

And this was just the beginning of Mark’s stories about Jesus.

HeartGroup Application

We at RHM are continuing to ask all HeartGroups not to meet together physically at this time. Please stay virtually connected and practice physical distancing. When you do go out, please keep a six-foot distance between you and others, wear a mask, and continue to wash your hands to stop the spread of the virus.

This is also a time where we can practice the resource-sharing and mutual aid found in the gospels. Make sure the others in your group have what they need. This is a time to work together and prioritize protecting those most vulnerable among us.

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

2. Share a story of where you have witnessed a community being challenged by the inclusion of those they once excluded. Did the community change? Did the community reject the change and continue excluding?

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