When Marriage is Unjust

Herb Montgomery | November 4, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the lesson for us?

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

Marriage has a long history of change and social construction.

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


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

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

diveristy

Herb Montgomery | July 15, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We must remember a few things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lastly, a word about politics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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Jesus, and God as Woman

Herb Montgomery | June 3, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

Social Advocacy

mist at sunrise

Herb Montgomery | May 20, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  “The Spirit of the Most High is on me,

because the Most High has anointed me 

to proclaim good news to the poor.

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

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


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Jesus, Patriarchy, and the Wellbeing of Women

woman looking on the bridge in fog

Herb Montgomery | October 1, 2021


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


Our reading this week is from the gospels of Mark,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What does Jesus’ teaching on the liberation of women within both Roman and Jewish patriarchal structures imply for Jesus followers within patriarchal structures today? Discuss with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



logo

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

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

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

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

You can donate online by clicking here.

Or you can make a donation by mail at:

Renewed Heart Ministries
PO Box 1211
Lewisburg, WV 24901

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

We continue being a voice for change because of you.

Taking Up Our Crosses, Injustice, and Abuse

rosary with cross

Herb Montgomery | September 10, 2021

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Mark:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

illustration

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

illustration

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

Illustration

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



logo

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

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

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

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

You can donate online by clicking here.

Or you can make a donation by mail at:

Renewed Heart Ministries
PO Box 1211
Lewisburg, WV 24901

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

We continue being a voice for change because of you.

Openness to Change

sunset

Herb Montgomery | September 3, 2021

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Mark:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



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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


A Better Way to Tell Our Stories

notebook on bible

Herb Montgomery | May 28, 2021



Classifying our flesh, bodies, and material world or nature as, at best, unimportant or disposable and, at worst, evil or something to be saved from has yielded deeply harmful, destructive fruit throughout Christian history . . . That disregard then led to a privatized, personal, individualistic form of Christianity that was complicit in the oppression of vulnerable populations. We encounter the fruit of this today whenever Christians speak negatively of social justice and related movements for a more equitable society . . . Are there better ways to tell our stories?”


Our reading this week is from the Johannine community’s version of the Jesus story.

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the reign of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mothers womb and be born?” Jesus answered, Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the reign of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, You must be born from above.The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?” No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:1-17)

In this week’s reading, Nicodemus and Jesus are both speaking for the communities they represent: Nicodemus represents Judeans identified with the community of Pharisees and Jesus represents the Johannine community.

The writer explains the differences between them by naming the flesh as bad and the spirit as good. I believe there are more wholistic, healthy, and bodily affirming ways to tell the Jesus story today in our context than this contrast. The dualistic way of classifying our material being and world as negative or disposable and the spirit as positive and of sole value evolved into a major component of later Christian gnostic beliefs. This became the foundation of the postmortem focus of Christianity over the concrete realities people faced in our present world. It also gave rise to a solely inward focus on one’s spiritual well-being, a focus and emphasis that too often produced disregard for oppressions and/or aggressions a person was experiencing in their daily material lives. That disregard then led to a privatized, personal, individualistic form of Christianity that was complicit in the oppression of vulnerable populations. We encounter the fruit of this today whenever Christians speak negatively of social justice and related movements for a more equitable society. When Karl Marx labeled religion as the “opiate of the masses,” religious disregard for people’s material suffering was why.

Today, though, we can tell the Jesus story in better ways. As Miguel De La Torre states in his recently published book, Decolonizing Christianity, “Christianity was never about what one believes or professes but what one does” (p. 112).

What we do is not related to the popular purity preaching we find in some Christian circles. Rather it’s about how we show up in the world in response to concrete injustice, both private and systemic. It’s a doing that’s not just concerned with charity but also addresses “establishing justice” in our communities and society at large (Isaiah 42:4 cf. Amos 5:15; Isaiah 9:7; 16:5; Psalms 99:4).

Classifying our flesh, bodies, and material world or nature as, at best, unimportant or disposable and, at worst, evil or something to be saved from has yielded deeply harmful, destructive fruit throughout Christian history. Whenever a movement to return to the teachings of the Jesus of the synoptics gospels has emerged in Christianity, that movement includes concern for our material world as well as the humanity of those being unjustly treated. Saint Francis of Assisi is just one example.

Given the ecological crisis, risks to our continued existence on Earth, and an increased social consciousness of systemic injustice, a more wholistic way of telling the Jesus story could be healing for our time. It could also be vital. What we need tosday is a balanced relation of the material and spiritual, not a dualistic vilification of one and the lifting up of the other.

Lastly I want to address this portion of our reading this week:

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Over the last several weeks, we have repeatedly discussed the harmful results of the myths of self-sacrifice and redemptive suffering when being held up as an example for marginalized or disenfranchised communities to adopt. In this passage from John, nothing has to be interpreted as pointing to Jesus’ death as the substitutionally salvific means by which others are saved.

Let’s read this closely.

There was nothing substitutionary about the bronze serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness. The serpent didn’t die for the people. It was simply raised on a pole for anyone to look at in faith that by so doing they would be healed. In the same way, I believe that in following the life-giving teachings in the Jesus story, our feet are moved from the path of death to the path of life. The teachings in the Jesus story must be lifted up for people to encounter and, if they see inherent wisdom in them, follow. We could interpret “whoever believes in him” to mean “whoever follows him,” as it does elsewhere in the Jesus story.

I also love how the passage paints God, not as condemning and in need of appeasement with the death of Jesus. Rather John’s God is already poised to save us from the path of intrinsic death that we are already on. I find it meaningful that the term “saved” in the text can just as accurately be translated as healed.

There is most definitely so much in our world today, both personally and societally, individually and systemically, that is in need of healing. This reminds me of the words of Delores Williams in her classic Sisters in the Wilderness:

Black women are intelligent people living in a technological world where nuclear bombs, defilement of the earth, racism, sexism, dope and economic injustices attest to the presence and power of evil in the world. Perhaps not many people today can believe that evil and sin were overcome by Jesus’ death on the cross; that is, that Jesus took human sin upon himself and therefore saved humankind. Rather, it seems more intelligent and more scriptural to understand that redemption had to do with God, through Jesus, giving humankind new vision to see the resources for positive, abundant relational life. Redemption had to do with God, through the ministerial vision, giving humankind the ethical thought and practice upon which to build positive, productive quality of life. Hence, the kingdom of God theme in the ministerial vision of Jesus does not point to death; it is not something one has to die to reach. Rather, the kingdom of God is a metaphor of hope God gives those attempting to right the relations between self and self, between self and others, between self and God as prescribed in the sermon on the mount, in the golden rule and in the commandment to show love above all else.” (Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk, pp. 130-131)

Do we find teachings lifted up in the Jesus story that aid our work of healing our world’s pain today? If we do, then it is in this healing that our passage rings true.

This week, let’s be a source of healing in our world. Let’s lift up Jesus, too, as one who can deeply inform our work of setting our communities, society, and entire world right side up, making it a safe, equitable, and compassionate home for everyone.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. In Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation, Dale B. Martin correctly states, “”All interpretation is subjective and interested, people’s interpretations of texts, even those about Jesus, are a product of who they are and where they live.” (p. 101)  Are there stories in the Gospels that you wish there were better ways to tell? 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

The Good News of Forceful Nonviolent Resurrection

Herb Montgomery | April 2, 2021


“The good news was not that Jesus died, or even that he died for you. The good news rather was that this Jesus whom they killed, God has brought back to life! . . . These passages are not without their problems. Yet what is unmistakable in each of them is their emphasis, not on salvific purpose in Jesus’ death, but in how God overcame the injustice of his murder through a life-giving, death-conquering, death-reversing, injustice -overturning resurrection.”


Our reading this week if from Mark’s version of the Jesus story,

“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?’

“But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (Mark 16:1-8)

Much of Western Christianity is commemorating Holy Week this week, this coming Sunday being Easter Sunday. (Our Eastern Orthodox siblings will be celebrating Easter on May 2.) Christians spend a lot of energy this time each year reflecting on the closing scenes of the Jesus story: Jesus’ last week, his death, burial, and resurrection. Leaders in many communities will interpret these events this weekend.

The early followers of Jesus varied widely in how they interpreted the closing scenes of Jesus’ life. Some viewed his murder as somehow salvific on a cosmic level, while others focused their attention on how his resurrection overcame, reversed, and undid the interruption Jesus’ death posed to his life-giving ministry and caused that life to live on.

These varied voices and explanations are in our sacred scriptures as well. The canon made room for all of them.

The voices that speak most deeply to me are the voices that emphasize God’s overcoming of the unjust death of Jesus through bringing Jesus back to life rather than those that reframe such an unjust act as having a secret Divine purpose.

The book of Acts offers just one biblical example of this focus and emphasis. In Acts, the good news is not that Jesus died, or even that he died for you. The good news rather is that this Jesus whom they killed, God has brought back to life!

Consider the “good news” identified in each of the following passages:

“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.” (Acts 4:33, emphasis added)

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2:22-24, emphasis added)

God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” (Acts 2:32-33, emphasis added)

“When Peter saw this, he said to them: ‘Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.’” (Acts 3:12-16, emphasis added)

“Then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’” (Acts 4:10-11, emphasis added)

The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:30-32, emphasis added)

“You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:36-43, emphasis added)

“We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.” (Acts 13.32-33, emphasis added)

These passages are not without their problems. Yet what is unmistakable in each of them is their emphasis, not on salvific purpose in Jesus’ death, but in how God overcame the injustice of his murder through a life-giving, death-conquering, death-reversing, injustice-overturning resurrection.

Womanist theologians have shaped my thinking and faith journey. I owe them so much.

During the Easter season, for instance, I’m often reminded of statements like this one from Delores Williams in her classic work, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk:

“Matthew, Mark and Luke suggest that Jesus did not come to redeem humans by showing them God’s ‘love’ manifested in the death of God’s innocent child on a cross erected by cruel, imperialistic, patriarchal power. Rather, the texts suggest that the spirit of God in Jesus came to show humans life— to show redemption through a perfect ministerial vision of righting relations between body (individual and community), mind (of humans and of tradition) and spirit. A female-male inclusive vision, Jesus’ ministry of righting relationships involved raising the dead (those separated from life and community), casting out demons (for example, ridding the mind of destructive forces prohibiting the flourishing of positive, peaceful life) and proclaiming the word of life that demanded the transformation of tradition so that life could be lived more abundantly . . . God’s gift to humans, through Jesus, was to invite them to participate in this ministerial vision (“whosoever will, let them come”) of righting relations. The response to this invitation by human principalities and powers was the horrible deed the cross represents—the evil of humankind trying to kill the ministerial vision of life in relation that Jesus brought to humanity. The resurrection does not depend upon the cross for life, for the cross only represents historical evil trying to defeat good. The resurrection of Jesus and the flourishing of God’s spirit in the world as the result of resurrection represent the life of the ministerial vision gaining victory over the evil attempt to kill it. Thus, to respond meaningfully to black women’s historic experience of surrogacy oppression, the womanist theologian must show that redemption of humans can have nothing to do with any kind of surrogate or substitute role Jesus was reputed to have played in a bloody act that supposedly gained victory over sin and/ or evil.” (Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk, p. 130)

For Williams, it is the resurrection and the kingdom of God theme in the Jesus story that is life-giving. Not Jesus’ death. Jesus came, not to die, but to show us how to live. “The kingdom of God theme in the ministerial vision of Jesus does not point to death; it is not something one has to die to reach. Rather, the kingdom of God is a metaphor of hope God gives those attempting to right the relations between self and self, between self and others, between self and God as prescribed in the sermon on the mount, in the golden rule and in the commandment to show love above all else.” (Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk, pp. 130-131)

I also want to lift up the voice of Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, who weaves even nonviolence into the meaning of the resurrection story event. She writes:

“The resurrection is God’s definitive victory over crucifying powers of evil. Ironically, the power that attempts to destroy Jesus on the cross is actually itself destroyed by the cross. The cross represents the power that denigrates human bodies, destroys life, and preys on the most vulnerable in society. As the cross is defeated, so too is that power. The impressive factor is how it is defeated. It is defeated by a life-giving rather than a life-negating force. God’s power, unlike human power, is not a ‘master race’ kind of power. That is, it is not a power that diminishes the life of another so that others might live. God’s power respects the integrity of all human bodies and the sanctity of all life. This is resurrecting power. Therefore, God’s power never expresses itself through the humiliation or denigration of another. It does not triumph over life. It conquers death by resurrecting life. The force of God is a death-negating, life-affirming force . . . God does not fight death with death. God does not utilize the violence exhibited in the cross to defeat deadly violence itself . . . through the resurrection, God responds to the violence of the cross–the violence of the world—in a nonviolent forceful manner. It is important to understand that nonviolence is not the same as passivity or accommodation to violence. Rather it is the forceful response the protects the integrity of life. Violence seeks to do another harm, while nonviolence seeks to rescue others from harm. It seeks to break the very cycle of violence itself. The forces of nonviolence actually reveal the impotence of violent force. That God could defeat the unmitigated violence of the cross reveals the consummate power of the nonviolent, life-giving force that is God.” (Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, p. 178-180)

This weekend, for those of us who choose to commemorate the resurrection event in the Jesus story and all the meaning that story event symbolizes, I hope that our easter rituals will further shape us into death-negating, life-giving people. That we will commit more deeply to life-affirming work in our world. That together we will continue to work toward a world that is a safe, compassionate, and distributively just home for everyone.

Happy upcoming Easter to each of you.

Love can conquer hate.

Equity can conquer fear and greed.

Inclusion can conquer exclusion and marginalization.

Life-affirmation can conquer death-dealing.

Forceful nonviolence can conquer life-negating violence.

The golden rule is this way of life.

Jesus is risen.

He is risen indeed.

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. How does focussing on injustice-overturning resurrection in the Jesus story inform, inspire, and empower you in your own participation in justice work today? 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