Crosses and Resurrections

crosses

Herb Montgomery | November 18, 2022

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


“It’s this Jesus who, for Christians, is the decisive revelation of the Divine, the decisive example of our faith, and the decisive model for how we live our lives.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the rebels—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, He saved others; let him save himself if he is Gods Messiah, the Chosen One.” The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. One of the rebels who hung there hurled insults at him: Arent you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebel rebuked him. Dont you fear God,” he said, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished equitably, for we are getting what is due our deeds. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:33-43)

We are coming to the end of our time in the gospel of Luke in the lectionary.

For me, this week’s passage feels more appropriate for Easter season than for the seasons of Advent and Christmas, but there’s so much in the passage that we could contemplate this week: Jesus’ generous spirit of forgiveness toward those who participated in his crucifixion.

The fact that crucifixion was used as a political tool of the state to prevent uprisings against the empire.

The actions of the soldiers.

The watchfulness of the people compared to the sneering of those in power.

The conversation between the two rebels, and Jesus’ response.

There is a lot here.

First, I want to head the warnings of womanist Christian scholars such as Delores Williams, who admonishes us to not forget the cross but not to glorify it either (See Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk). The resurrection story event affirms how wrong Jesus’ crucifixion was. It was an unjust act of state violence, an act God responds to by undoing it. In my opinion, we miss the story’s point when we interpret the cross as something positive, good, salvific, or redemptive. The cross is the historical evil toward a crucified class of people. Jesus is part of that class, and God overturns and overcomes their position through Jesus’ resurrection.

In this context I’m reminded of Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglass, who reminds us in her book Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God that the crucifixion of Jesus solidifies Jesus’ solidarity with the crucified class of his day. Through that solidarity, and coupled with the reversing of the crucifixion, the story speaks to the restoration “to life those whose bodies are the particular targets of the world’s violence to signal triumph over crucifying violence and death itself” (p. 185).

What does it mean for us today to be followers of this Jesus? How might we stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed and daily suffer what Douglass labels “crucifying realities”? What does it mean for Jesus followers who desire to be death-reversing, life-giving presences in the spaces we inhabit?

Might those in power or those seeking to be in power sneer at us, as they sneered at Jesus? Will we encounter ignorance in those who simply don’t understand what they are doing? What does a spirit of forgiveness look like in those moments?

Will there be times when we are associated with others who are working for liberation with different methods we may not embrace but who share our end goals? Might that association leave us targets just as much as them?

Luke’s version of this story give me pause as we move quickly into the end of another year of working toward justice, liberation, and a world of love, compassion and safety for those the present iteration of our society marginalizes and makes vulnerable.

At the time of writing this, I’m still looking ahead to the elections happening in the US. By the time you read or hear this, however, the election will have passed and our table for the next two years will be set. Will these coming years be more life-giving or more death-dealing? That’s what’s on my mind this week as we contemplate the Jesus of the gospels, a man characterized as a Jewish prophet of the poor from the margins of Galilee who ends up on a Roman cross. It’s this Jesus who, for Christians, is the decisive revelation of the Divine, the decisive example of our faith, and the decisive model for how we live our lives. And it’s this Jesus who ended up on a cross for his faith and actions living out a vision of a just future for all of God’s children, especially those who were being pushed to the margins and harmed in his own time and society.

Fortunately the story of Jesus doesn’t end with a Roman cross. In the end, everything accomplished through the crucifixion of Jesus was undone through the Divine reversal of the resurrection before the end of that weekend. So the story we read this week is ultimately a story of hope, a story of ups and downs, victories and defeats, and defeats undone.

What will our next week bring? Will the elections yield a victory for justice, life-giving, inclusivity, love, and compassion, or will we be left to swim against even stronger currents for the next two years? Will this election be a crucifixion or a resurrection for the kind of world we want?

Regardless of the election results, we’ll have work to do. The results will make our work either easier or harder, but we’ll need to do it nonetheless. This week, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus point us to the themes and events of his life and how God doesn’t end the story at his death. Crosses are not the final verdict. Life overcomes even death, even death that comes through state violence.

I’m holding onto that truth this week: Life can overcome death. Love can overcome hate. Justice and compassion can overcome wrongs even when those wrongs have the backing of the propertied, powerful, and privileged.

Making sense out of death is something that people in privileged classes can wrestle with because it doesn’t make sense to them from their social location. Bad things are not supposed to happen to them! And those in unprivileged social locations generally don’t waste time trying to make sense out of wrongs or looking for some salvific, redemptive purpose in those events. They simply see them as wrong, and they may look for hope’s response to the wrongs they’ve endured. Our story this week speaks to that hope. The God of our story is with those who are crucified in our societies. This is a God of the marginalized and disenfranchised. This is a God who acts in solidarity with crucified classes and communities. And this story tells us that these crucifixions don’t have the last word.

Resurrection might look different in every situation, and some resurrections simply take time. Don’t give up.

Whatever happens over the next two years, may we keep our eyes on the possibility of a just future, a compassionate iteration of our world, one where our communities become a safe-space along with all our differences and there is room for each of us.

Whether there be crosses or not, may our hope be in life and in life giving and a way of life that overcomes death-dealing. We get to decide how we show up in our communities. May we be the kind of people whose actions don’t betray the Jesus of our most sacred stories. May we be sources of healing, inclusion, good news for the oppressed, love and life, just like the Jesus of our stories and our faith.

May we live lives that hold sacred the dignity of each person’s humanity—not just those who are like ourselves—but every person celebrating the rich diversity of our shared humanity.

This is the kind of person I want to be over the next two years. How about you?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Again, it’s this Jesus who, for Christians, is the decisive revelation of the Divine, the decisive example of our faith, and the decisive model for how we live our lives. Discuss with your HeartGroup what this means to you. 

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


book cover

Coming Soon!

Available December 1, 2022

It’s finally here!  Herb’s new book will be available at renewedheartministries.com December 1st.

Here is just a taste of what people are saying:

“Herb has spent the last decade reading scripture closely. He also reads the world around us, thinks carefully with theologians and sociologists, and wonders how the most meaningful stories of his faith can inspire us to live with more heart, attention, and care for others in our time. For those who’ve ever felt alone in the process of applying the wisdom of Jesus to the world in which we live, Herb offers signposts for the journey and the reminder that this is not a journey we take alone. Read Finding Jesus with others, and be transformed together.” Dr. Keisha Mckenzie, Auburn University

“In Finding Jesus, Herb Montgomery unleashes the revolutionary Jesus and his kin-dom manifesto from the shackles of the domesticated religion of empire.  Within these pages we discover that rather than being a fire insurance policy to keep good boys and girls out of hell, Jesus often becomes the fiery enemy of good boys and girls who refuse to bring economic justice to the poor, quality healthcare to the underserved, and equal employment to people of color or same-sex orientation.  Because what the biblical narratives of Jesus reveal is that any future human society—heavenly or otherwise—will only be as  good as the one that we’re making right here and now. There is no future tranquil city with streets of gold when there is suffering on the asphalt right outside our front door today.  Finding Jesus invites us to pray ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ on our feet as we follow our this liberator into the magnificent struggle of bringing the love and justice of God to all—right here, right now.”—Todd Leonard, pastor of Glendale City Church, Glendale CA.

“Herb Montgomery’s teachings have been deeply influential to me. This book shares the story of how he came to view the teachings of Jesus through the lens of nonviolence, liberation for all, and a call to a shared table. It’s an important read, especially for those of us who come from backgrounds where the myth of redemptive violence and individual (rather than collective) salvation was the focus.” – Daneen Akers, author of Holy Troublemakers & Unconventional Saints and co-director/producer of Seventh-Gay Adventists: A Film about Faith, Identity & Belonging

“So often Christians think about Jesus through the lens of Paul’s theology and don’t focus on the actual person and teachings of Jesus. This book is different. Here you find a challenging present-day application of Jesus’ teachings about the Kingdom of God and the Gospel. Rediscover why this Rabbi incited fear in the hearts of religious and political leaders two millennia ago. Herb’s book calls forth a moral vision based on the principles of Jesus’ vision of liberation. Finding Jesus helps us see that these teachings are just as disruptive today as they were when Jesus first articulated them.” Alicia Johnston, author of The Bible & LGBTQ Adventists.

“Herb Montgomery is a pastor for pastors, a teacher for teachers and a scholar for scholars. Part memoir and part theological reflection, Finding Jesus is a helpful and hope-filled guide to a deeper understanding of who Jesus is and who he can be. Herb’s tone is accessible and welcoming, while also challenging and fresh. This book is helpful for anyone who wants a new and fresh perspective on following Jesus.”— Traci Smith, author of Faithful Families

Available December 1 at renewedheartministries.com


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Solidarity with the Crucified Community

by Herb Montgomery | June 1, 2018

Pictures of an x on a tree among a forest of trees

Photo by David Paschke on Unsplash

 


“When it’s safe to stand alongside those being marginalized, to amplify their voices, to hand them the mic, you will no longer be needed.”


“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” (Luke 15:1-2)

“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

In recent articles on pyramids, circles, and social structure, I mentioned that the term “sinner” was used in Jesus’ society to push people to the edges and lower sections of their community.

Ched Myers uses the debate between Pharisees and Saducees over whether grain was clean or impure to illustrate how this worked.

“According to Leviticus 11:38 if water is poured upon seed it becomes unclean. The passage, however, does not distinguish between seed planted in the soil and seed detached from the soil . . . In years of poor harvests, a frequent occurrence owing to poor soil, drought, warfare, locust plagues and poor methods of farming, this text was a source of dispute. Why? During such lean years, grain was imported from Egypt. But the Egyptians irrigated their fields (putting water on seed) so that their grain was suspect, perhaps even unclean. The Sadducees judged that such grain was unclean and anyone consuming it also became unclean. They were quite willing to pay skyrocketing prices commanded by scarce domestic grain because they could afford it. . . . One senses economic advance being sanctioned, since the Sadducees were often the large landowners whose crops increased in value during such times. By contrast the Pharisees argued that the Pentateuchal ordinance applied only to seed detached from the soil; therefore . . . one could be observant and still purchase Egyptian grain.” (in Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, p. 76)

I’ve covered this in The Lost Coin and in the presentation Jesus’ Preferential Option for the Marginalized. People used the pejorative label of “sinner” to other another human being and to limit their voice in the community. The writers of the Jesus story go to great length to communicate that the ones the religious and political leaders of that time had labelled as “sinners” were the ones Jesus included and also centered as he called for a new social order that favored them. Here are just a few examples:

Matthew 9:13—“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

[Remember that Jesus is using the labels of “righteous” and “sinner” as they were used in his society, not as many Christians use them today. Those labelled “righteous” by those in power threatened their political and economic structures the least and benefitted from them. The label “sinner” was used to silence the voices of those who would have protested either their own exploitation or another’s.]

Matthew 11:19—“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

Mark 2:15-16—“While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’”

Luke 5:30—“But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

Luke 19:7—“All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’”

The people Jesus ate with weren’t sinners ontologically; they were sinners politically, economically, and socially. In this context, therefore, it’s not accurate to respond, “Well, we are all sinners.” We must recognize how the label of sinner was used against some people. When particular human beings are being targeted and marginalized, it’s not enough to call for universal grace. Instead we ought to call for justice. A breach in relationship happens when one person marginalizes another and labels them sinner. A person may be a sinner, but they are labelled that way to religiously legitimate injustice committed against them. Gustavo Gutiérrez reminds us, “All injustice is a breach with God” (in A Theology of Liberation, p.139). It’s a breach with God because it is a breach with our fellow human beings.

In last month’s recommended reading book for RHM, Kelly Brown Douglas’ Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, Douglas reminds us:

“In Jesus’ first-century world, crucifixion was the brutal tool of social-political power. It was reserved for slaves, enemy soldiers, and those held in the highest contempt and lowest regard in society. To be crucified was, for the most part, an indication of how worthless and devalued an individual was in the eyes of established power. At the same time, it indicated how much of a threat that person was believed to pose. Crucifixion was reserved for those who threatened the “peace” of the day. It was a torturous death that was also meant to send a message: disrupt the Roman order in any way, this too will happen to you. As there is a lynched class of people, there was, without doubt, a crucified class of people. The crucified class in the first-century Roman world was the same as the lynched class today. It consisted of those who were castigated and demonized as well as those who defied the status quo. Crucifixion was a stand-your-ground type of punishment for the treasonous offense of violating the rule of Roman “law and order.
 . . . That Jesus was crucified affirms his absolute identification with the Trayvons, the Jordans, the Renishas, the Jonathans, and all the other victims of the stand-your-ground-culture war. Jesus’ identification with the lynched/ crucified class is not accidental. It is intentional. It did not begin with his death on the cross. In fact, that Jesus was crucified signals his prior bond with the “crucified class” of his day. (p. 171)

Jesus did not stand in solidarity with the marginalized “crucified class” in secret. He did not do so diplomatically or with an eye toward political expediency. He did so openly, publicly, and transparently. We see this in the following story in Mark’s gospel:

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3:1-5)

Consider that phrase, “Stand up in front of everyone.” Jesus knew that what he was teaching and whom he was standing with was going to cost him. He could have met the man at the back of the synagogue, or pulled him into a private room where he could “behind the scenes” engage the work of this liberation. But no, Jesus met and healed him right there, in front of everyone, with intention. 

I read this story often when I’m tempted to value protecting my own privilege over the people who today need others to speak alongside them. When it’s safe to stand alongside those being marginalized, to amplify their voices, to hand them the mic, I will no longer be needed. To quote the 1980s synth-pop classic “Take On Me” by A-ha, “It’s not better to be safe than sorry.”

Does open solidarity with those being marginalized come with a cost? You bet it does. According to the story in Mark, the immediate push back for Jesus’ public witness to this man’s liberation was that the religious and political leaders “went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” And this is only in Mark’s third chapter. The leaders are threatened by Jesus’ public and transparent inclusion of those they excluded from the very beginning of Mark’s story.

All of this raises the question: who are we known to stand in solidarity with? The status quo? Or those beloved people who daily face oppression, exploitation, or marginalization within our status quo? 

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” (Luke 15:1-2)

HeartGroup Application

This past month, on the same day the U.S. moved its embassy to Jerusalem, over 60 nonviolent Palestinian protestors including children in Gaza were murdered by Israeli snipers. (Gaza begins to bury its dead after deadliest day in years)

Here are some things you and your HeartGroup can do:

1. Participate in protests in your area in response to what is taking place in Gaza. Voice your objection publicly. 

2. Use your social media platform to bring awareness to what is happening.

3. Contact your federal, state and local representatives. Write a letter, an email, or better yet, call their office.

4. Donate to charities.

You will need to do your own due diligence and research finding the right charity. Find a charity that has people with feet on the ground who can evidence that your gift will reach the people who need it. One charity that does meet these criteria is UNWRA.

6. Talk to your family and friends.

Talk to your family and friends to raise awareness and have them join you in the above actions.

7. Support peace-building initiatives.

Support Muslim and Jewish organizations that are working to bring peace while practicing a preferential option for the vulnerable. Standing against the violence in Gaza is about standing up against oppression, colonization, discrimination, and inequity.

Thanks for checking in with us this week. 

Wherever you are, keep living in love.

Keep living in resistance, survival, liberation, reparation, and transformation.

Another world is possible.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week.


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