Herb Montgomery | September 4, 2020
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“There is enough manna for everyone. It belongs to all of us, as a gift. Stop standing in the way of others’ thriving. Believe that your own thriving is dependent on theirs. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are connected. Like it or not, we are part of one another”
In Luke’s gospel,
“It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
In Luke, Jesus says these words to those who are afraid of giving up their privilege. They are afraid that working toward a more just world will cause them to go without. They have put their trust in hoarded means of survival at the expense of others’ ability to survive and thrive.
A few years back, two of my children sat at the breakfast table before heading off to school. My daughter tried to correct something her younger brother was doing and he was not having it. What began as correction quickly escalated to resistance and a near verbal war. It was too early in the morning for these shenanigans, and so my wife Crystal broke in:
First, she addressed our daughter: “You are not his mother, I am! If you have a problem with something he is doing, you bring it to ME and let ME deal with him! Now apologize.”
Crystal then spoke to our son, “THIS is your SISTER! And although she was overstepping her place as your sister, she is still your SISTER and the words you said to her were unkind. You apologize to her now!”
Both gave each other reluctant apologies.
This is an ancient narrative within many cultures. At the very beginning of the Hebrew scriptures, there is a conflict between two siblings, and that conflict ends in murder. Some scholars understand the story of Cain and Abel to represent the conflict between the settled agriculture communities and nomadic shepherding communities of that time. This is a story of the beginnings of early land disputes: disputes over resources, possible resources being hoarded, and needed for all to survive and thrive.
Abel was a keeper of sheep.
Cain was a tiller of the ground.
Ancient wars between the stationary tillers of the soil and nomadic livestock herders marked the transition from hunter-gathering to an agrarian society. Think of the older sibling and younger sibling dynamic in every family. Add to this a narrative where the older is the oppressive landowner and the younger is the nomadic herder. Imagine tillers of the soil being the dominant group, and the herders being the hated and marginalized. Put those glasses on and then go reread the story of those two brothers.
“In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” (Genesis 4:3-5)
As in the crucifixion and resurrection narrative, we have been discussing over the last few weeks, though oppressors often claim “God is on our side,” the God of the Genesis story shows regard for the victim of systemic injustice.
“So Cain was very angry . . . Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out to the field.’ And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.”
God then comes to Cain saying, “Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!”
Cain must now adopt the same social location that his brother Abel lived as a nomad. He must learn from experience what it is like to be marginalized.
“And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil . . . I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth . . .”
Luke 12 has a similar lesson for the Cains in the society Jesus lived in. It culminates in Jesus assuring those having more than they need, those afraid to let go and share it with the poor: “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32).
In that chapter, a brother asks Jesus to be his “arbiter” and divide an inheritance between brothers. Jesus then tells a radical story that reveals that this squabble between brothers was just another repetition of history: Cain was about to kill Abel once again. Jesus contrasts those historical human social arrangements with the path of justice he was calling his listeners to embrace. Jesus’ gospel was of a world, not of scarcity, anxiety, accumulation, territorialism, and violence, one where there is a limited amount of what we all need, and only enough for a few. His gospel was one of abundance, a gospel where each day offers enough for everyone.
Our hope for the future is in our ability to cooperate with one another to make sure we all have what we need, through a mutual sharing the assures us we have each other’s back. It is a gospel of caring and sharing, with a faith that if I supplied someone’s need today, I’m creating a community where tomorrow I will have others around me that will help me too if the need arises.
When we practice the worldview of Cain politically, economically, socially, and religiously, we reveal that our faith or assurance of life depends on excluding, othering, or marginalizing someone else. In the place of our broken Cain narrative, Jesus is offering the narrative of God’s just future. Jesus calls us to trust that there really is enough for everyone. In a world where everyone has enough to thrive, gratitude replaces our deep survival anxiety. The world we create by rejecting the way of greed is a world of sharing rather than accumulation, giving “freely” rather than territorialism, and peace-making rooted in distributive justice over violence.
The story in Luke 12 ends with brothers not having to fight others for their place in this new future: “It’s the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” You don’t have to fight each other for your place. There is enough for everyone.
America’s chaos now is just another example of the narrative of scarcity, anxiety, accumulation, territorialism, and violence. We have a chance right now to move away from our most ugly impulses, to listen to our “better angels” as President Lincoln said. This is a moment with grave consequences. Will we work toward a more just future or will our nation continue to fail to live up to its high ideals?
With Jesus’ statement that it is the “Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” the author of Luke’s gospel is saying we don’t have to fight each other for our survival. We can come together and work together to ensure each of us has what we need. There is enough room at the table. This kind of belief frees Cains and Abels to no longer be oppressors or oppressed, but rather to be members of a radically new way of arranging life here on earth. In Jesus’ vision for human society there is no more survival at someone else’s expense.
To use another story in Luke’s gospel (Luke 15), our call today is to reject the narrative of the “older brother” who cannot stomach the inclusion and celebration of his younger sibling. Reread the parable of the prodigal son through the lens of the Cain and Abel narrative. Luke’s Jesus, over and over again, is whispering to us that if any are left out, at last, it will not be because they could not achieve some privilege for themselves; instead, it will be because they could not accept the inclusion of someone else that they thought should be excluded. Embracing the “other” as a child of God too, as a fellow bearer of the image of the Divine, transforms all of us into the kind of people that can create a new world. We can bend the arc of our universe toward justice, but none of us can without transformation.
If this causes Cain-like responses inside your heart, I encourage you to spend some more time quietly contemplating this week’s passage in its context in Luke 12. We are all siblings. We are part of the same human family, all children of the same divine Parents.
Wherever this finds you this week, Jesus’ message to you is, “It is the Father’s good pleasure to give YOU the Kingdom.” There is enough manna for everyone. It belongs to all of us, as a gift. Stop standing in the way of others’ thriving. Believe that your own thriving is dependent on theirs. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are connected. Like it or not, we are part of one another.
A more just future is possible.
Now is our moment to choose to move toward it.
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. How many ways can you take care of each other while we are physically apart?
1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.
2. Discuss with your group ways that we are all connected. How have you witnessed injustice anywhere threaten justice everywhere?
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 all? Discuss with your group and pick something from the discussion to put into practice this upcoming week.
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