Faith and Political Harm

Herb Montgomery | September 30, 2022

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


“The Jesus of the gospels cared about the concrete harm being done to the marginalized and exploited. And our faith in this kind of Jesus should move us to do the same. Is our faith making us complicit with the mountains of harm done to those our present system makes vulnerable? Is our faith inspiring us to work today toward moving our mountains into the sea?”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

The apostles said to the Lord, Increase our faith!”

He replied, If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”

“Suppose one of you has a slave plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the slave when he comes in from the field, Come along now and sit down to eat? Wont he rather say, Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink? Will he thank the slave because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, We are unworthy slaves; we have only done our duty.’” (Luke 17:5-10)

There is a lot to unpack in this week’s reading.

Let’s begin with the language of throwing trees into the sea. Luke’s version of the Jesus story substitutes the mulberry tree for what other gospels call a mountain:

Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. (Mark 11:23; see also Matthew 17:20; 21:21)

Jesus said, “If two make peace with each other in a single house, they will say to the mountain, ‘Move from here!’ and it will move.” (Gospel of Thomas 48)

When you say, ‘Mountain, move from here!’ it will move.” (Gospel of Thomas 106:2)

The language of throwing trees and/or mountains into the sea had a rich political history in the Hebrew scriptures. As Isaiah wrote, “every mountain and hill” would be “made low” (Isaiah 40:4)

I agree with Richard Horsley, who explains, “To hear this parable, however, we must again remove some of the Christian theological wax from our ears” (Richard A. Horsley, Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder, Kindle Location 1203). We first must understand the political and economic context in which this language was used in the Jesus story.

Jesus used this language in the justice tradition of the Hebrew prophets. His community, the Jewish community, was subjugated by Rome. In Roman fashion, the empire had installed its own client ruler, Herod, to have direct control of the region, and Herod had in turn appointed the High Priests of the temple (known as Herod’s Temple) from elite families from Jerusalem and surrounding regions.

All of this meant the people were heavily economically oppressed. Not only did Rome tax the people through Herod and the Temple High Priest, but Herod also heavily taxed the people for expensive building projects to honor Caesar and to fund his reign of terror, which kept the populace in line and prevented rebellions. On top of this, the Temple itself demanded tithes and offerings. Instead of being a kind of wealth redistribution to the poor, these tithes and offerings tended only to make the wealthy elite richer.

It is in this context that we must understand the image of throwing a mountain into the sea. In the prophetic tradition, mountains represented political and social orders. In the gospels, the mountain being thrown into the sea was associated with the Temple State, which had become a proxy for Rome when, after Herod’s death, Rome began directly determining who the priests and the High Priest would be. Talking about throwing a mountain into the sea in that era would have been associated with the oppressive social, economic, and political system represented by the temple mount rulers in the hilly city of Jerusalem.

To quote Horsley again:

“The high priests are hardly ‘Jewish leaders.’ [Editor’s note: Horsley is not implying that the leaders were not Jewish ethnically. He’s suggesting that they represented the interest of Rome, not of Jewish liberation or independence from Rome.] . . . Neither in this episode nor in Mark as a whole is there any suggestion of the replacement of ‘Judaism’ by ‘Christianity.’ . . . Here, as throughout Mark’s story, the fundamental conflict lies between rulers and ruled, not ‘Judaism’ and ‘Christianity.’” (Richard A. Horsley, Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder, Kindle Locations 1203-1207)

In his insightful commentaries, Ched Myers agrees that the metaphor of throwing mountains into seas referred to Roman oppression, directly or indirectly through the Temple state acting as a Roman client.

“As impossible as it may seem, Mark insists that the overwhelming power and legitimacy of both the Roman ‘legion’ and the Jewish ‘mountain’ will meet their end—if the disciples truly believe in the possibility of a new order.” (Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man, p. 305)

“Faith is here defined as the political imagination that insists on the possibility of a society freed from the powers, whether Roman militarism or the Judean aristocracy.” (Ched Myers, Say to This Mountain”: Mark’s Story of Discipleship, p. 149)

In the same way that peasants could not imagine a world without feudalism, we today find it difficult to imagine a world without capitalism, and Jesus’ followers could not imagine a world without Roman imperial rule.

Some in Jesus’ audience that day didn’t want a world without Roman imperial rule, much as capitalists today who benefit from capitalism therefore defend the way things are. The wealthy elite in Jesus’ audience were benefitting from Roman rule, and it’s to them that Jesus’ next words are aimed.

We can read the “slave” language in this week’s reading differently: I don’t accept that Jesus is calling his disciples to perceive themselves as unworthy slaves who have only done their duty. This way of perceiving oneself is damaging, not life-giving.

But repeatedly in Luke 17, Jesus’ audience keeps changing. These changes are not only frequent, they also happen rapidly with no warning. If we interpret this language as aimed at the ruling elite in Jesus’ society rather than to the disciples, another meaning becomes possible.

The last phrase gives us a clue: “We have only done our duty.” The original language of the text suggests that this concept of duty could involve the obligations of indebtedness.

Creditors don’t thank debtors for paying back their loans. They demand it. The wealthy elite at this time had become wealthy through the misfortune of others. Heavy taxation had pushed many landowners to their limits: if they had one bad year or crop failure, they’d have to take loans. Being already on the edge, any other misfortune, which was common, would push these landowners into default. Many of the wealthy landowners in Jesus’ society were creditors who had gained even more land because the original landowners had defaulted on their debts and lost their land to their creditors. The original owers had become debt-slaves, working on land that used to belong to them. In this context, those who were wealthy esteemed themselves through the typical lens of classism as being superior to those who had lost out.

Jesus turns this estimate of others as inferior back onto the elite, and accuses them of holding a similar status in relation to Rome. They were acting, he says, not as the liberated and independent worshippers of YHWH, but as the servants/slaves of the Roman Empire.

This rhetoric becomes a painful challenge, then. Is Rome going to thank them for their service and client slavery? No. Rome looks at them as inferior, conquered, and subjugated. They have traded faithfulness to God for faithfulness to Rome. Rather than being favored children of Abraham, elites have chosen the status of an unworthy slave only fulfilling the obligations of their debt to the Roman Empire.

Reading through this lens, we could paraphrase this passage this way: “So you wealthy elite, when you have done everything you were told to do by your Roman overseers, should say, We are unworthy slaves; we have only done our duty.’”

Jesus is seeking to wake the elites up to the reality of what they are doing to others by humiliating them with their classist estimation of others and the world around them.

There are other places in the gospels that refer to disciples as slaves. I interpret our reading this week as naming the elites as slaves of Roman imperialism. I’m also thankful that even the language of referring to disciples as slaves was ultimately replaced in the Jesus story. By the time of the last canonical gospel to be written the author of the gospel of John abandons the reference to disciples as slaves:

“I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know his masters business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15)

Nonetheless, I find this week’s slave language to be much more life-giving when applied not to disciples, but to the client rulers or “slaves” of the Roman Empire in Galilee, Samaria, Judea and the surrounding regions. It calls me to question my own investment in the way things are today and what capitalism causes me to trade or give up so I can survive in this system.

Jesus calls his listeners to be careful about how they esteem and treat others, because how they were treating others was how Rome was treating them.

What all of this says to me is that the Jesus of the gospels did not separate his politics from his religion. He allowed his faith and his perception of God to inform his politics in relation how others were being exploited and harmed. Remember: all theology is political, because all politics should ask who is benefiting and who is being harmed. The Jesus of the gospels cared about the concrete harm being done to the marginalized and exploited. And our faith in this kind of Jesus should move us to do the same.

Is our faith making us complicit with the mountains of harm done to those our present system makes vulnerable?

Is our faith inspiring us to work today toward moving our mountains into the sea?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What concrete harm being done to the marginalized and exploited in our societal context is on your heart this week? Share with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


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

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

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Stories that Shape Us

Herb Montgomery | September 23, 2022

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


“This story might have spoken to those in Luke’s culture, but it would not work to threaten people in our culture with a burning afterlife. It’s much more realistic to focus on the gains and losses we experience in this life when we practice this kind of indifferent exclusion.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich mans table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, Then, father, I beg you to send him to my fathers house—for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31)

Folk tales about reversing circumstances in the next life were a staple in Jesus’ world, in Hellenistic, Roman, and Jewish culture. The author of Luke choosing to contrast the lived realities of the rich and the poor is consistent with the theme of economic justice in this version of the Jesus story.

I love the cultural diversity and richness in this week’s story. The influence of Hellenism comes through in an eternally burning Hades, yet this folk tale is also thoroughly Jewish with the poor person being whisked away, not to a Christian heaven, but to the bosom of father Abraham.

J. Jeremias reminds us,

In order to understand the parable in detail and as a whole, it is essential to recognize the first part derives from a well-known folk material . . . This is the Egyptian folk-tale of the journey of Osiris, the son of Setme Chamois to the under-world . . . Alexandrian Jews brought this story to Palestine, where it became very popular as the story of the poor scholar and the rich publican Bar MaJan.” (Parables, p. 183)

In Luke’s gospel, the author drops the focus on tension between a scholar and a tax collector and replaces it with the tension between the rich and the poor.

I also want to say something about the Hellenistic idea of flaming torment in the afterlife in this story due to its abuse by Christians throughout history.

This week’s story is a folk tale, but the 1st Century historian Josephus does tell us that some Pharisees taught of an eternal punishment after death:

“They [the Pharisees] say that all souls are imperishable, but that the souls of good men only pass into other bodies while the souls of evil men are subject to eternal [aidious] punishment [timoria]. (Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Vol. II, Chapter 8, Paragraph 14; words in brackets added.)

The Pharisaical schools weren’t monolithic: they had a rich diversity of ideas about afterlife and resurrection. Josephus’ report could not have been true of all Pharisees, then, but there must have been enough for Josephus to describe their beliefs this way.

The words Josephus used to communicate what these Pharisees were teaching are also interesting. The Greek word he used for eternal is aidious and the Greek word he used for punishment is timoria. According to Louw and Nida’s Greek–English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, aidious meant Pertaining to an unlimited duration of time.” Timoria, on the other hand, meant to punish, with the implication of causing people to suffer what they deserve.” Thayers Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament explains that the nature of this word ispenal and has reference to the satisfaction of him who inflicts.” Timoria, then is a retributive punishment to satisfy something in the person inflicting the suffering, who feels the offender must experience punishment.

But every time the gospel authors write about Jesus speaking of some type of punishment or reversal of fates either in this life or the next, they use the Greek phrase aionion kolasis for eternal punishment (see Matthew 25:46).

Aionion kolasis was a known phrase among Hellenistic Jews, many of whom populated the region of Galilee where Jesus travelled and taught. Philo, a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who was a contemporary of Jesus, wrote, It is better not to promise than not to give prompt assistance, for no blame follows in the former case, but in the latter there is dissatisfaction from the weaker class, and a deep hatred and eternal [aionion] chastisement [kolasis] from such as are more powerful.” (Philo, Fragments)

Mounce’s Concise Greek English Dictionary of the New Testament tells us that aionion is an indeterminate adjective, indeterminate as to duration.” Thayers Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament tells us anionion gives prominence to the immeasurableness of eternity.” In other words, it’s not that it lasts forever, but that it takes forever for whatever this adjective is describing to accomplish its purpose. We have as much time as it takes, no matter how long that is.

The meanings of the word kolasis are why this topic pricks my interest. Thayers Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament confirms what we learned earlier about timoria and compares this with the difference of kolasis, The noted definition of Aristotle, which distinguishes kolasis from timoria is that kolasis is disciplinary and has reference to him who suffers, while the latter timoria is penal and has reference to the satisfaction of him who inflicts.”

In Protagoras, Plato writes, If you will think, Socrates, of the nature of punishment, you will see at once that in the opinion of mankind virtue may be acquired; no one punishes [kolasis] the evil-doer under the notion, or for the reason, that he has done wrong—only the unreasonable fury of a beast acts in that manner. But he who desires to inflict rational punishment [kolasis] does not retaliate for a past wrong which cannot be undone; he has regard to the future, and is desirous that the man who is punished [kolosis], and he who sees him punished, may be deterred from doing wrong again. He punishes for the sake of prevention, thereby clearly implying that virtue is capable of being taught.”

The purpose of kolasis, then, is to deter others and to discipline or transform the one who experiences it. This implies that the gospel authors using this term want us to imagine a Jesus who taught a restorative punishment rather than a retributive one. If this discipline is to take place in the afterlife, then the people receiving it have all the time that it will take. This kind of punishment is intended to be something that someone passes through and is changed by, not an inescapable fate people are abandoned to.

Even though we’ve been considering Hellenistic sources so far, the idea of using fire to symbolize removing something considered harmful, like fire removes dross from gold, is also a Jewish idea and part of the Hebrew scriptures:

“The sinners in Zion are terrified; trembling grips the godless: ‘Who of us can dwell with the CONSUMING fire? Who of us can dwell with THE EVERLASTING BURNING?’ Those who walk righteously and speak what is right, who reject gain from extortion and keep their hands from accepting bribes, who stop their ears against plots of murder and shut their eyes against contemplating evil.” (Isaiah 33:14, emphasis added.)

In this passage, those who dwell with “the everlasting burning” are the righteous. From this we might understand that the righteous are those those who go through this kind of experience and are transformed.

Back to our reading. This story might have spoken to those in Luke’s culture, but it would not work to threaten people in our culture with a burning afterlife. It’s much more realistic to focus on the gains and losses we experience in this life when we practice indifferent exclusion in the ways of the unnamed rich person in this story.

Gustavo Guitierrez writes,

“The poor are a by-product of the system in which we live and for which we are responsible. They are marginalized by our social and cultural world. They are the oppressed, exploited proletariat, robbed of the fruit of their labor and despoiled of their humanity. Hence the poverty of the poor is not a call to generous relief action, but a demand that we go and build a different social order.” (The Power of the Poor in History, p. 44)

How this week are you being called to prioritize those our present system marginalizes or disenfranchises, politically, socially, economically, or in all three ways?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What stories have shaped you in your journey? Share one with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

or Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Jesus and Another Story of Debt Cancellation 

Herb Montgomery | September 16, 2022

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


“Am I prioritizing relationships with people over and above the rules that capitalism continues to try to program us with as to how to play its game? If we do this, in the end, we may make less and our net worths may be less, but our investments in people and in relationships will be greater or possibly developed in a different direction than our present capitalist system would have sent us.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

Then Jesus said to the disciples, There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.Then the manager said to himself, What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.So, summoning his masters debtors one by one, he asked the first, How much do you owe my master?He answered, A hundred jugs of olive oil.He said to him, Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, And how much do you owe?He replied, A hundred containers of wheat.He said to him, Take your bill and make it eighty.And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Luke 16:1-13)

This week’s reading puts serving God and serving wealth in tension. “Serving God” is a phrase that should be read in the context of the reign or kingdom of God. We can understand the gospel phrase “the kingdom of God” as God’s just future here on Earth, a new iteration of our present world where there is economic, social, and political justice. In that kingdom, resources and power are distributed with equity and everyone has what they need to not just survive but also to thrive. It’s a world where the rain falls and the sun shines on all.

In this context, we can begin to understand why, intrinsically, you cannot both serve this vision for human community and serve the interests of wealth. This is difficult for us in our capitalist culture to grasp. Jesus’ economic teachings in the gospels assume that there is enough for everyone to thrive abundantly because our heavenly Parent provides for us. Wealth is created when someone begins storing up more than they need, which creates a deficit for somewhere for someone else.

There’s a slightly different lesson in the manna story in the Exodus tradition. For those who tried to store or hoard more than they needed instead of sharing with others who had gathered less, the manna “bred worms and became foul” by the next day. In this example you simply could not amass a “wealth” of manna. It was impossible.

This, along with the debt forgiveness of the Torah, is an economic Jewish tradition Jesus was standing in firmly within his own culture. For the oppressed community of the gospels for whom Jesus’ teachings held deepest meaning, it was clear that one could not serve both wealth and people because one would have to choose between individual opulence and community thriving. (Certain Indigenous traditions also speak of this contrast in their ancient wisdom. See Spirit and Resistance: Political Theology and American Indian Liberation by George E. Tinker.)

Someone somewhere has to suffer loss for wealth to be created, but Jesus taught that that someone somewhere was an object of Divine Universal love for whom the sun was also shining and the rain falling (Matthew 5:45).

As the saying goes “Each day there’s enough for every person’s needs, but not every person’s greeds.” Wealth means having more of what one needs while others do not. In Jesus’ worldview, however, it’s not about everyone having the same quantity, but everyone having the same quality. Some people don’t need as much to thrive. Others need more. In a just world vision with God as the Great, Just Householder, no one has too much while others don’t have enough.

Dishonest Wealth

Our story this week is a lesson on how to use “dishonest wealth” to benefit people.

This strange story only appears in Luke’s version of the gospels and has troubled Christians from the very beginning. Based on this trouble, many of the most progressive historical Jesus scholars attribute this story to the historical, Jewish Jesus.

To be clear, I don’t interpret this story as determining the moral value of dishonest business dealing, embezzlement, or fuzzy accounting. What it does do is commend the manager for his shrewdness in using managing accounts to create relationships for him to fall back on when his current employment ends.

What I glean from this story is a call to look at my priorities within our system as I imagine and work toward a different iteration of our world. What am I prioritizing? Is wealth, creating more capital in order to create even more capital, my priority? Or am I prioritizing people, using the current world and its resources to create relationships with others? Am I prioritizing relationships with people over and above the rules that capitalism continues to try to program us with as to how to play its game? If we do this, in the end, we may make less and our net worths may be less, but our investments in people and in relationships will be greater or possibly developed in a different direction than our present capitalist system would have sent us.

I mentioned Biden’s modest student loan forgiveness program last week. For some parts of the country, Biden’s approval ratings have shot up as a result of him doing exactly what we read about in this week’s story. In the story, a steward told people who owed money to cancel portions of their debts to increase his favor with them, and the manager doing this was not moralistically scolded but commended as being wise.

The uproar among some Christians about Biden’s recent actions reminds me of how this story attributed to Jesus has troubled wealthy Jesus followers from the start. But to those scratching out an existence in the 1st Century and the economically marginalized who comprised most of the early Jesus movement, this story must have resonated deeply. It was this demographic, like today, who deeply wished someone would step in and simply cancel or forgive their debt.

I like that we have an example from our sacred stories of Jesus that mirrors what we see happening around us in our modern society here in the U.S. It’s nice to see our U.S. government economically doing something I actually agree with, which is a rarity. I like the idea of forgiving debt for people who are victims of predatory loans for something as valuable as an education. I wish all of it was forgiven! I want to live in a more educated society and support using part of our society’s wealth to create a more educated populace. It encourages me that despite those Christian friends who are up in arms about this small amount of loan forgiveness, this week’s story tells us this is exactly the kind of thing we should favor as Jesus followers.

So which value system have we allowed to shape us more: Are we capitalists first or are we Jesus followers first? Have we allowed the values and ethics of the Jesus story that we hold so dear to shape the kinds of people we are becoming, or have we allowed the value system of capitalism to shape how we see the world.

These questions are far more than partisan politics. They help me to question what it is that I’m choosing to shape the way I live.

What is shaping you?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What other possible applications or lessons do you glean from this week’s parable? 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.

I want to remind you, that you can find us here at Renewed Heart Ministries on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If you haven’t done so you can follow us on any of those social media platforms for our daily posts.  Also, if you enjoy listening to the Jesus for Everyone podcast, consider taking some time to give us a review on whichever podcast platform you use. This helps others find our podcast content as well.

If you’d like to reach us, you can always drop us a message here.

That’s all for this week.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

or Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 A Preferential Option and Student Debt Forgiveness

sheep

Herb Montgomery | September 9, 2022

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


“In a society that privileges certain ones from pushing others to the edges and undersides of their society, we have to practice a preferential option for those being marginalized to bring things back into balance. This is a way to remediate the harmful preference that is already being shown.”


Our reading this week comes from the gospel of Luke:

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:1-10)

This week’s reading includes arguably two of the most famous stories associated with Jesus today: the stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin. Many progressive historical Jesus scholar also consider these stories original to the historical, Jewish Jesus.

There’s a parallel to the story of the lost sheep in the book of Matthew:

What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost. (Matthew 18:12-14)

We also find a version of this saying in the non-canonical gospel of Thomas:

Jesus said, The kingdom is like a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. One of them, the largest, went astray. He left the ninety-nine and looked for the one until he found it. After he had toiled, he said to the sheep, ‘I love you more than the ninety- nine.’ (Thomas 107)

A quick word about the derogatory light Luke’s story casts the Pharisees in. This way of speaking about Pharisees has a long antisemitic history that we at RHM don’t support. The Pharisees, who followed the teachings of Hillel, had much in common with Jesus’ interpretation of the Torah through a lens of loving one’s neighbor. Even the more conservative interpretive school of Shammai (which this passage may be blanketly referring to) sided with Jesus on divorce.

Neither group agreed with Jesus’ stance on debt forgiveness, which is interesting given the comments I see many politically conservative Christians making about Biden’s modest student loan forgiveness plan. I’d say to them, just be thankful it’s Biden and not your Jesus doing it, or all of the debt would be cancelled. The gospels use the phrase “the year of the Lord’s favor”, referring to the year of jubilee, a time when all debts would be cancelled (Luke 4:18-19). The contradiction is telling.

If this idea that Jesus agreed with various schools of Pharisaical interpretation is new to you, I recommend the classic, well researched book: Jesus the Pharisee: A New Look at the Jewishness of Jesus by Harvey Falk.

But for now let’s take a closer look at the story of the lost sheep. The idea of prioritizing one sheep over ninety-nine is a fundamental tenet of various forms of liberation theology. In those schools of interpretation, “a preferential option” for the one being harmed, excluded, and/or oppressed is foundational.

This week’s story includes a preference for the one sheep lost rather than for the ninety-nine sheep that remain, much as an urgent care medical facility prioritizes people in life-threatening circumstances over others whose cases are less severe.

As a parent, I understand. I love all of my kids. And as they were growing up, each of them had times when they would receive a priority of attention because of something they were facing. Whether they were sick, or having a challenge at school, or something was happening in their social lives, their need at the time governed whether our family centered or preferred them. The term “preferential” constitutes favor or privilege, and in our context this week, it’s about centering those being marginalized over those our society is choosing to privilege.

For example, in Latin liberation theology we encounter a preferential option for the poor, especially people of color around the world. Black liberation theology offers a preferential option for people who are Black. Feminist liberation theology gives us a preferential option for those who are not men. Womanist liberation theology points to a preferential option for Black women, their families and communities. In environmental liberation theology, we encounter a preferential option for the planet, and in queer liberation theology, we encounter a preferential option for LGBTQ people. In a liberatory theology of disability, we encounter a preferential option for people living with disabilities. As a result, in each of these examples we encounter a rich diversity of focuses, assumptions and scope.

Each of these theologies attempts to prioritize those being harmed by their society in a way that parallels Jesus’ ethical practice, the practice being defended by the Jesus of the gospels in the stories we’re reading this week. Those benefited in this society, especially if their benefits come at the expense of others, will always push back against this. It is this pushback that we are seeing Jesus respond to in this week’s stories.

The word “option” in the phrase “preferential option” doesn’t mean this is optional for Jesus followers. Option means that every day we can choose to follow Jesus, to practice preferring those being harmed rather than those benefiting from their harm.

This is a deep theme in the Jewish wisdom and prophetic traditions:

The LORD works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed. (Psalms 103:6)

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream. (Amos 5:24)

In a society that privileges certain ones from pushing others to the edges and undersides of their society, we have to practice a preferential option for those being marginalized to bring things back into balance. This is a way to remediate the harmful preference that is already being shown.

Parts of the early Jesus movement also valued this practice. Consider this passage from the book of James:

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, Stand there,” or, Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? (James 2:1-7, emphasis added.)

All of this calls to me to continually reassess my own practice. Who is it that I’m practicing a preferential option for? Our society practices privilege. Who does our society disenfranchise or exclude? When there are efforts to bring things into balance, whose voices speak against favoring those suffering harm?

The recent debate over student loan forgiveness is just an example. I don’t think Biden’s plan goes far enough. I’m thankful for what it does do; it’s a good start. But anyone who understands the predatory nature of student loans understands that some people and companies are benefitting by harming students financially. We need a preferential option now to restore balance. It never ceases to surprise me when I hear people in my circle of friends who are against such efforts. I’m thankful that two out of three folks in our society see the wisdom in a preferential option for people in debt. And we can do even more.

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

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What community is the Jesus story calling you to practice a preferential option for this week? Discuss with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



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

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

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

 Rejection For Doing What Is Right

family photos

Herb Montgomery | September 2, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

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

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

As Patrick Cheng correctly notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does this apply to us today?

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

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

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

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

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

Count that cost, and work for justice nonetheless.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Share an experience where also faced rejection for standing up for others being harmed. Discuss with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

The Bodies We Inhabit

Herb Montgomery | August 26, 2022

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


I love the emphasis in the end of this passage. It’s not that “they” will be blessed. It’s that “you” will be blessed. The text defines that blessing as an extrinsic, extra bestowal of blessing at what Luke’s readers understood in their worldview as a future “resurrection of the righteous.” What I would rather have us understand is that there is an intrinsic blessing and value that people of varying experiences can bring to a community.


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched . . .

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, Give this person your seat. Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Then Jesus said to his host, When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:1, 7-14)

In Roman culture, people in the upper classes usually followed a meal with philosophical discussion and debate. The meal that Luke’s gospel describes in this week’s passage involves debate about some of Luke’s ethical favorites: humility and the inclusion of the marginalized, specifically people living in poverty or people with disabilities. These were groups that the historical Jesus had compassion on, and the author of Luke’s gospel is emphasizing them as the objects of compassion too.

This passage doesn’t introduce anything new about Jewish wisdom, but the ethic had deep roots in the Hebrew sacred texts:

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

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

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

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

This theme is found across the different version of the Jesus story we have today:

For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23:12)

For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Luke 18:14b)

I do need to revisit something I wrote last week about the Jesus story’s shortcomings regarding people who live with disabilities. Nothing is ever simple, and the Jesus story is complex. While I believe that what I wrote is generally true, I see an exception in this week’s passage. Here in Luke, Jesus does not bringing change to the person with the disability but rather calling for change in the privileged people around that person. Jesus calls them to change their attitudes and include people with disabilities. He is calling for change in how people with disabilities are treated.

Last month’s recommended reading at Renewed Heart Ministries was Nancy L. Eiesland’s ecclesiastically challenging and deeply thought-provoking book The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability. If you did not get a chance to read it last month, I still recommend getting a copy and going through it.

Among many other valuable insights, Eisland identifies three traditional theological barriers for people with disabilities within the Christian tradition:

These three themes—sin and disability conflation, virtuous suffering, and segregationist charity—illustrate the theological obstacles encountered by people with disabilities who see inclusion and justice with the Christian community. (The Disabled God, p. 74)

Let me explain. When people conflate sin and disability, they make disabilities a synonym for sinfulness or shortcomings. In all four of the canonical gospels, the gospel authors both subvert and strengthen that connection (i.e. blindness, Matthew 15:5; inability to be mobile, John 5; deafness, Matthew 13:15). As we’ve discussed, there are also elements in the gospels that can be interpreted as teaching inherent virtue in suffering, and when applied to people with disabilities, that means teaching they were chosen for disability to fulfill some heroic, good, divine purpose (see John 9:3). Finally, what Eiesland names as “segregationist charity” means keeping people with disabilities at arms’ length while calling for charity and withholding full inclusion and accessible justice from them (see John 19:36; Exodus 12:46; and Leviticus 21:16-23). Some faith traditions prevent disabled people from participating in fully ordained ministry.

It cannot be denied that the biblical record and Christian theology have often been dangerous for persons with disabilities. Nor can the prejudice, hostility, and suspicion toward people with disabilities be dismissed as relics of an unenlightened past. Today many interpretations of biblical passages and Christian theologies continue to reinforce negative stereotypes, support social and environmental segregation, and mask the lived realities of people with disabilities. In recent decades, while the problematic nature of the bible record with regard to women has become generally acknowledged, the degrading depictions of people with disabilities are often ignored or, worse, seen as fundamentally accurate to our experience. An uncritical use of the Bible to address the concerns of people with disabilities perpetuates marginalization and discrimination in the name of religion.” (The Disabled God, p. 74-75)

As Jesus followers, we can and must do better.

I include myself in this. I, too, have conflated disability and sin, promoted the virtues of suffering, and withheld full inclusion in the past.

Our reading this week gives us the opportunity to interpret a gospel story in a life-giving way, one that calls for full accessibility and inclusion.

“When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.”

I love the emphasis in the end of this passage. It’s not that “they” will be blessed. It’s that “you” will be blessed. The text defines that blessing as an extrinsic, extra bestowal of blessing at what Luke’s readers understood in their worldview as a future “resurrection of the righteous.”

What I would rather have us understand is that there is an intrinsic blessing and value that people of varying experiences can bring to a community. When a person has a body that is in some way different or disabled in some way in their society, their inclusion and accessibility would bring an inherent blessing to their community. I do not romanticize a person’s disability. Their disability doesn’t mysteriously infuse them with value, but it doesn’t negate or lessen their value either.

Not all bodies are the same. Not all bodies develop the same way. And no body escapes those events that change our bodies. But every body is valuable; every person has something to bring to the table. When we exclude certain people because of their bodies, our communities are the worse off for it. Not only do those excluded suffer loss from being excluded, but the communities that exclude them also suffer loss because of their absence.

This week, rather than focusing on a future extrinsic “repayment” or reward for including those society often labels as “less than” today, may we all begin so see the value of people, regardless of our differences, and especially when those differences relate to the kinds of bodies we’re each living in. There should be a place at the table for all for all of us, where all of us can bring to our communities what we have to offer, where every one of us gains the blessing of both giving and receiving. The intrinsic value of every person calls us as Jesus followers, especially, to ensure an attitude of inclusion and concrete means of accessibility as well.

I believe this is possible and the spirit of our most cherished Jesus stories calls us to it. To the degree that our communities are accessible to people whose bodies are different or disabled, to that same degree we will intrinsically experience either blessing or loss.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Share an experience where your awareness of the intrinsic value of people who were different from yourself was broadened or deepened. Discuss with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

Our Collective Thriving

sunrise

Herb Montgomery | August 19, 2022

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


The stories this week point us to prioritizing the needs of people to thrive. Survival isn’t enough. We are worth more than that. We are also worth more than a few people in society thriving while the rest of us simply survive (or don’t even do that.) This week’s story also calls us to attend to things that enable all of us to thrive together without anyone being marginalized.


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

The Lord answered him, You hypocrites! Doesnt each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing. (Luke 13:10-17)

This week, let’s begin by intentionally rejecting antisemitic interpretations of this week’s reading. This passage isn’t a Christianity-versus-Judaism argument against the Sabbath. It represents an argument within Judaism and among Jewish people about what constitutes valid Sabbath observance and what actions violate the Sabbath. Remember, Jesus was an observant Jew remember (see Luke 4:16). It’s telling that this passage ends with all the Jewish people agreeing with Jesus’ interpretation of how Sabbath observance should meet people’s needs. This story is not anti-Jewish, nor is it anti-Sabbath.

In Luke’s Jesus story, there is a social debate on what permissible actions on the Sabbath should prioritize. Judaism has always justified temporarily setting aside Sabbath restrictions for any condition that was life-threatening. So whatever people needed to survive was always permitted on the Sabbath.

In this week’s reading, we encounter a condition that is not life-threatening but that the story paints as preventing the woman from thriving. (I’ll address the ableism about this in a moment.) This story is one of the healing stories in Luke’s gospel that creates a tension of priorities, pitting people’s needs for thriving and not simply surviving against the demands of Sabbath observance. This theme recurs across the canonical Jesus stories (compare Luke 14:1-6; Mark 3:1-6; John 5:1-9; and John 9:1-7).

Economic and Labor Justice

Consider the Sabbath commandment we read in Exodus:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.

For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)

Inherent in the original Sabbath institution was an element of economic and labor justice for workers. Today I would argue that one day is not enough to ensure laborers, workers, or employees are not being exploited. I wasn’t alive in the time of Exodus, but I would guess that it was only a start back then too.

Also notice that the Sabbath commandment in Exodus does not put the onus on children, slaves, animals or vulnerable immigrants to refuse to work for those subjugating them. This would only place undue stress on them, adding moral implications to something which they had no choice about.

No, the commandment is rather addressed to parents, masters, and livestock owners. To apply this to our context: the Sabbath commandment does not tell employees not to work for their employers on the Sabbath. The commandment tells employers not to exploit their employees and not make their employees work on every day of the week. If someone is working on the Sabbath, the person responsible is their employer who demands that labor be done, not the employee faced with the choice between observing a Sabbath or putting food on their family’s table.

As the gospel of Mark reminds us, “The Sabbath was made for people. People weren’t made for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28).

This is a deeply Jewish theme of contrasting people’s strict religious observances with their actions about others’ concrete justice needs. We encounter this contrast of values and priorities all the way back in the prophetic justice tradition of the Hebrew scriptures:

“The multitude of your sacrifices—

what are they to me?” says the LORD.

“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,

of rams and the fat of fattened animals;

I have no pleasure

in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.

When you come to appear before me,

who has asked this of you,

this trampling of my courts?

Stop bringing meaningless offerings!

Your incense is detestable to me.

New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—

I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.

Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals

I hate with all my being.

They have become a burden to me;

I am weary of bearing them.

When you spread out your hands in prayer,

I hide my eyes from you;

even when you offer many prayers,

I am not listening.

Your hands are full of blood!

Wash and make yourselves clean.

Take your evil deeds out of my sight;

stop doing wrong.

Learn to do right; seek justice.

Defend the oppressed.

Take up the cause of the fatherless;

plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:11-17, emphasis added)

Today, I think this still tracks. We still see in our communities some of us who can be very intentional about our observances within our religion while we ignore the social justice concerns of others. Christians can sometimes be among the worst offenders in this.

But the last thing to note this week is that this is an ableist story.

The intention of the Jesus story is to portray a Jesus who sought to liberate people from suffering, whatever the form of that suffering. I’m thankful for this. We must also understand our own ableism: it includes the presumption that all disabled people want to be cured. They don’t. Some people who live with disabilities see their disability as part of the variety within humanity’s potential, not as something “wrong” with them that needs to be “fixed.” This can be very difficult to get folks without disabilities to understand. As the colloquialism states, fish don’t know they’re wet. People who aren’t disabled often don’t perceive the assumptions that their own experiences cause them to make about people with disabilities.

Consider that the gospels’ solution is never to change the society that people who are living with disabilities are living in so that they do not experience discrimination, marginalization, or exclusion. The gospels’ solution is always instead to transform the disabled person, to align or harmonize them with their society so that the social, religious, political and economic stigmas attached to their disability are no longer present. The action restores the person with a disability to their community rather than calling the community itself to change and either challenging or rejecting the stigma.

Some will challenge my critique here, and that’s okay. But the question we have to ask in each story is where is change taking place? Is the person with the disability being transformed or is the society those people live in being changed? In some of the stories an argument could be made for both, but in every story the person with the disability experiences a change to remove the stigma applied to them.

This is one shortcoming of the Jesus stories that Jesus followers must acknowledge and it doesn’t mean these stories have no value. What it does mean is that we can still highly value the Jesus story and note where we could do better today. The ethical spirit of Jesus that we love so much also sets us on a trajectory toward telling more life-giving stories that don’t marginalize anyone, including people who live with disabilities.

The stories this week point us to prioritizing the needs of people to thrive. Survival isn’t enough. We are worth more than that. We are also worth more than a few people in society thriving while the rest of us simply survive (or don’t even do that.) This week’s story also calls us to attend to things that enable all of us to thrive together without anyone being marginalized.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Share an experience where you were faced with a conflict between concrete physical needs and honoring religious observances or practice. Discuss with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



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

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

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The Personal Cost of Causing Division

Herb Montgomery | August 12, 2022

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


“Our reading this week calls to mind times when we have also had to make decisions about speaking out against things we feel are unjust or harmful and facing division or controversy as a result. How many times have we found ourselves in a situation where doing what we feel is right or speaking out would involve a personal cost?”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

He said to the crowd: When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, Its going to rain,and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, Its going to be hot,and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you dont know how to interpret this present time?” (Luke 12:49-56)

The context of this week’s reading is Jesus looking ahead to his arrival at Jerusalem and the demonstration or protest he will engage in there. He will flip the tables of the moneychangers, that protest will cause an uproar, and he will receive pushback that might cost him his life.

A word about the language Luke uses here. The metaphorical imagery of Jesus as a fire starter held different meanings in different versions of the Jesus story. In the gospel of Thomas, for example, fire is something that Jesus kindles and guards till it blazes. This makes fire a good thing that symbolizes the growing Jesus movement itself.

In Luke, however, this rhetoric conjures a more dangerous connotation: social and political conflict. These are the connotations I want to emphasize this week. Jesus’ internal conflict was not with his own Jewishness or his Jewish tradition. He struggled with the economic, political, and social harm he saw being committed against those his society had made vulnerable, and with what he felt he had to do in response.

The language of baptism (immersion) is also a metaphor for the concrete hardship or distress that Jesus’ protest and speaking out could possibly cause. In this passage we are reading of a Jesus who is in distress on one level but also resolute and embracing the reality that he will cause division and the personal cost that will involve. He doesn’t wish to avoid it but rather wishes that it was already over.

It’s also noteworthy that the divisiveness that Jesus is talking about will thoroughly permeate his society’s social structures, all the way to the family unit. The family unit in 1st Century Judea and Galilee was the central economic and social structure of Jesus’ society.

Our reading this week calls to mind times when we have also had to make decisions about speaking out against things we feel are unjust or harmful and facing division or controversy as a result. How many times have we found ourselves in a situation where doing what we feel is right or speaking out would involve a personal cost?

I think of whistleblowers who have to make these difficult decisions.

I think, too, of social truth tellers in religious and nonreligious contexts who suffer personally because they chose to speak truth rather than silently go along with things they knew were harmful.

I don’t quote Leo Tolstoy very often anymore, but this week’s reading reminds me of a statement that I love:

“And therefore you cannot but reflect on your position as landowner, manufacturer, judge, emperor, president, minister, priest, and soldier, which is bound up with violence, deception, and murder, and recognize its unlawfulness. I do not say that if you are a landowner you are bound to give up your lands immediately to the poor; if a capitalist or manufacturer, your money to your workpeople; or that if you are Tzar, minister, official, judge, or general, you are bound to renounce immediately the advantages of your position; or if a soldier, on whom all the system of violence is based, to refuse immediately to obey in spite of all the dangers of insubordination. If you do so, you will be doing the best thing possible. But it may happen, and it is most likely, that you will not have the strength to do so. You have relations, a family, subordinates and superiors; you are under an influence so powerful that you cannot shake it off; but you can always recognize the truth and refuse to tell a lie about it. You need not declare that you are remaining a landowner, manufacturer, merchant, artist, or writer because it is useful to mankind; that you are governor, prosecutor, or tzar, not because it is agreeable to you, because you are used to it, but for the public good; that you continue to be a soldier, not from fear of punishment, but because you consider the army necessary to society. You can always avoid lying in this way to yourself and to others, and you ought to do so; because the one aim of your life ought to be to purify yourself from falsehood and to confess the truth. And you need only do that and your situation will change directly of itself.” (Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God Is Within You, pp. 263-264)

In this week’s reading, Jesus stands within his own Jewish prophetic tradition, where the prophets speak out against the unjust actions of the centered rich and powerful harming the poor and marginalized.

How many times have we been told not to be divisive in our time? There is a time to push for unity, and there is also a time when division is holy, just, and good.

The Hebrew scriptures remind us:

“There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

  a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

  a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

  a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

  a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

  a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

  a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

  a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Yes: there is a time for unity and there is a time for division.

My burden this week is that each of us will have the wisdom to discern the difference, that we will have the wisdom to recognize where calls for silence are coming from. Is it the privileged who are warning us not to rock the boat? Will division be harmful to those we are trying to help, or is the division simply threatening those who are benefiting from an unjust system.

One last word about Luke’s Jesus.

In this week’s passage, Jesus is engaging in resistance and speaking out, not promoting passive endurance of injustice. He is also not choosing to die, as feminist and womanist theologians have explained. (See Christianity, Patriarchy, and Abuse: A Feminist Critique by Brown and Bohn, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk by Williams, and Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us by Parker and Brock.) He’s rather choosing to hold onto a life-giving ethic even when threatened with an unjust execution. He’s answering not whether he is willing to die but how badly does he want to live. For me, these are not semantics. The difference informs how I myself respond to injustice and abuse.

I desire us to have wisdom and also to have courage in these kinds of moments: courage to bear the personal costs we will suffer when we are called to “instigate” division for the sake of what is right.

Our reading concludes with clouds on the horizon and a coming storm. This could reflect Luke’s (and possibly also Matthew’s) beliefs in a coming eschaton (cf. Matthew 16:2-3). It could also indicate that Jesus saw that injustice is not sustainable and that, eventually, societies that benefit a few by harming the masses will break down. When they do break down, it harms us all.

In the end, it’s harm reduction and mitigation that is moving Jesus to speak out. It is the reality of this harm to everyone that outweighs the personal cost he will suffer for speaking out.

What can this week’s story say to you when you, too, are called to speak out?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Share an experience in your own life where you were faced with similar decisions as we see in this week’s reading. How did things turn out? Discuss with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

Sharing More Than We Need

puzzle piece

Herb Montgomery | July 29, 2022

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


Every day, we face the evolutionary challenge of survival. We here in the U.S. have also been deeply conditioned by our culture of individualism, independence, and self-sufficiency. So even if we have solved the survival dilemma for ourselves, that’s usually all we’ve done: solved it for ourselves and too often at the expense of someone else, intentionally or unintentionally. Too often, we’re told that some need to go without so some others can have more. But what if this isn’t true? What if there is actually enough for everyone?


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

Someone in the crowd said to him, Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Jesus replied, Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops. Then he said, This is what Ill do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And Ill say to myself, You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself? This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:13-21)

A pastor friend of mine recently shared some of their vocational challenges with me. Commenting on their congregation, they said, “The challenge of my congregation is not its poverty, but its wealth.” As uneasily as we discuss our wealth or lack of wealth, this week’s reading invites us into that uncomfortable conversation. We are socialized by our U.S. culture to be uneasy here. Lean into this discomfort.

The passage begins with an outburst from one of Jesus’ listeners. Possibly struck by Jesus’ emphasis on justice for those being wronged, the person shouts out for Jesus to intervene with his brother to share the inheritance that their father had left them.

This request comes from a certain social location in Jesus’ society. Those who would even have had an inheritance to fight over in Jesus’ society would have been from the wealthy class. Disputes regarding large inheritances were not the plight of the poor or middle classes in Judea or Galilee. And Jesus didnt view settling disputes between the rich as his purpose.

The Jesus of the gospels stood squarely in the Hebrew prophetic justice tradition’s concern for the poor. So rather than settle this dispute for this man, Jesus called him into solidarity with the poor through a parable.

When we find ourselves with more than what we ourselves need to thrive, then rather than building bigger barns to store that wealth, it is time for wealth redistribution.

“Ill say to myself, You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”

I remember being deeply moved years ago while reading the following statements from James Robinson’s The Gospel of Jesus, In Search of the Original Good News:

“The human dilemma is, in large part, that we are each others fate. We become the tool of evil that ruins another person as we look out for ourselves, having long abandoned any youthful idealism we might once have cherished. But if we each would cease and desist from pushing the other down to keep ourselves up, then the vicious cycle would be broken. Society would become mutually supportive rather than self-destructive. This is what Jesus was up to . . . I am hungry because you hoard food. You are cold because I hoard clothing. Our dilemma is that we all hoard supplies in our backpacks and put our trust in our wallets! Such security” should be replaced by God reigning, which means both what I trust God to do (to activate you to share food with me) and what I hear God telling me to do (to share clothes with you). We should not carry money while bypassing the poor or wear a backpack with extra clothes and food while ignoring the cold and hungry lying in the gutter. This is why the beggars, the hungry, the depressed are fortunate: God, that is, those in whom God rules, those who hearken to God, will care for them. The needy are called upon to trust that Gods reigning is there for them (Theirs is the kingdom of God”).” (Kindle Location 72)

Jesus shares his solution in this week’s parable.

Every day, we face the evolutionary challenge of survival. We here in the U.S. have also been deeply conditioned by our culture of individualism, independence, and self-sufficiency. So even if we have solved the survival dilemma for ourselves, that’s usually all we’ve done: solved it for ourselves and too often at the expense of someone else, intentionally or unintentionally. Too often, we’re told that some need to go without so some others can have more. But what if this isn’t true? What if there is actually enough for everyone?

Jesus’ solution for the dilemma of survival was more social than individual. He encouraged mutually supportive communities, communities where we take responsibility for caring for one another. When we find ourselves having more than what we need for our own thriving, we’re called to share that extra with those who don’t have what they need to thrive. That’s how we all thrive together.

When we do this, we are creating a new world, setting in motion a world of different quality. When we share with those whose daily needs are not being met today, we create mutuality where if something should happen in the future, those who have more than what they need then will share with us.

We could instead choose to hoard our wealth so that if anything ever happened in the future we could simply take care of it ourselves. But that was not Jesus’ solution. Elsewhere in the Christian scriptures we read:

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (1Timothy 6:17)

Putting hope in hoarded wealth is an option, but Jesus called us to put our hope in each other. “Be rich toward God,” meant sharing resources with others who are the objects of God’s universal love. We can trust God enough to be the people God is calling to share our extra resources today, and we can trust, too, that if something should happen to us in the future, God will send someone to share their extra resources with us.

Again:

“Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality.” (2 Corinthians 8:13-14)

This can be done in a multitude of ways, one of them being taxation.

Consider this example within the early Jesus community:

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And Gods grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” (Acts 4:32-35)

The community’s practice was in direct response to Jesus’ call for those with more than they needed to sell what they had and give it to the poor. The early church practiced a form of wealth redistribution, not to enrich the church institution, but to redistribute that wealth among those who were in need.

And what was the result? Not universal poverty. Instead, the story says, “there were no needy persons among them.”

This calls into question our society where billionaires exist. Do we want to live in a society where some people have more than they will ever need while there are others who for whom the vast wealth disparity in our society is lethal. Would we rather live in a society with a smaller disparity between the haves and have nots? How can this week’s reading inform our discussions about a possible billionaire wealth tax?

I don’t believe wealth disparity makes a society healthy (see How economic inequality harms societies). I believe it is deeply harmful for all of us, and I want a society with less hoarding, more sharing, and more abundance for all.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What are some ways we can practice sharing our surplus with those in need starting simply within our HeartGroups? 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

The Pain of Unanswered Prayer 

hands folded in prayer

Herb Montgomery | July 22, 2022

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


“When we dont directly face the anguish caused because some of our most desperately wanted prayers are unanswered, the reality puts us in a state of torment. The conflict between what we think we are supposed to believe and the way things are causes a deep need for resolution that many never find. Some choose to simply live with the torment, and some of them are haunted by it. Others challenge what they have been taught to believe, and find rest.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

He said to them, When you pray, say:

  ‘Father,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread.

  Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

And lead us not into temptation.’

Then Jesus said to them, Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.And suppose the one inside answers, Dont bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I cant get up and give you anything.I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:1-13)

For many people, this week’s reading brings up painful memories and deep questions about unanswered prayers.

The first portion of the prayer is believed to have come from the same source as Matthew’s version:

“Father, hallowed by your name, your kingdom come.”

Here, within his own cultural setting, Jesus is praying for a world where resources are justly distributed to all. Where everyone has what they need to thrive. In that patriarchal culture, the father was the householder who had the responsibility of maintaining a just distribution of resources for all within the household. No one was to have too much while others didn’t have enough. (For more on this see God the Father, Exclusive Othering, and a Distributive Justice for All)

I know the language of kingdom is also problematic, being both patriarchal and undemocratic.  Today, we live in different social contexts from the audiences for which the gospels were originally written. In our social contexts, we can use better language to describe a just world where everyone has what they need to thrive.

Nonetheless, what this language is attempting to describe is a just world order. This prayer is a patient expression of longing for some other iteration of our present world. It is a prayer that this world, with all its injustice, violence, and hurt, will be put right.

This context helps explain the next phrase that both Matthew’s and Luke’s versions have in common—that we will together all have our daily bread. This means that we will have what we need, not simply to survive but also to thrive. It is not a spiritual prayer but a physical one. It is concerned with the concrete needs of people living their daily lives in the here and now.

From time to time I hear pastors say that saving souls for the afterlife is to be our mission as followers of Jesus. They denounce being concerned with matters of justice and rights and equality in this life and so reveal their own privileged social locations here. Jesus’ prayer calls that gross other-world focus squarely into question.

Luke’s version changes the third prayer request from the debt cancelation Matthew’s version includes to forgiveness for sins. This might represent a shift taking place in the Jesus movement away from calls for economic justice to forgiving sins in general. I’ve written before on my preference for Matthew’s version and why in our context today Matthew’s call for economic justice and plea for reduced inequality and the year of Jubilee is more life-giving. (For more on this, see A Prayer for Debts Cancelled.)

After the prayer, Jesus and the disciples share an anecdote intended to emphasize the importance of persistence in prayer. The story is rooted in Mediterranean shame/honor cultural expectations and the social tensions connected to them. In that region it would be shameful not to show hospitality to a friend who arrives late from a journey, and it would also be shameful for someone to approach their neighbor to help show hospitality very late at night. The person in the story chooses to risk the shame of going to their neighbor late at night over risking the shame of not being hospitable to their unexpected guest.

It’s difficult for us in our contexts today to understand how deep these social expectations of hospitality were in this culture and how strong the sense of shame would be if someone failed to meet them. A host cannot bring themselves to deny sustenance to their guest and must thus ask for help, despite the inconvenience hour. Luke adds that the neighbor finally decides to help because of the host’s persistence.

It’s awkward to use a story about hospitality to teach a different value, persistence in prayer. But Luke’s gospel attempts it nonetheless.

That’s how this reading becomes problematic. Presuming that God is good and that goodness is the only variable in prayers being answered, Luke’s Jesus uses some troublesome absolute language:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

If only it were that simple. If only answered prayers were solely dependent on the variable of an all powerful, good Divine being. Absolutes like this have produced atheists when reality doesn’t line up with the teaching.

Because everyone who asks doesn’t receive.

Sometimes those who seek don’t find.

Sometimes the door remains closed in spite of our persistent knocking.

And it’s okay to admit this!

I don’t claim to know how God, the universe, or prayer work. What I do know is that absolute language like this, used by the author of Luke’s version of the Jesus story, has proven to be more troublesome than helpful when people experience bad things in their lives and the prayers we need answered are not.

In this month’s recommended reading from Renewed Heart Ministries, Nancy Eiesland quotes Nancy Mairs’ book, Carnal Acts: Essays:

The bodies we inhabit and the lives those bodies carry on need not be perfect to have value. Bad things do happen, we know—to bad and good people alike—but so do good things. Life’s curses, like life’s blessings are always mixed.” (In The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability, p. 13)

I find the expectation that some prayers may not be answered or are even unanswerable to be more life-giving in my own work of endeavoring to shape our world into a safer, more just, more compassionate home for everyone.

I never see the Jesus of the gospels waxing eloquent in Hellenistic philosophical fashion to explain why bad things happen and why some prayers go unanswered. What I do find is a Jesus who calls his followers to keep doing what they have the capacity to do to be the answer to other people’s prayers. Being someone else’s answer is something I can often do (not always). I’m going to have to accept that is enough.

Not all prayers are answered. And they are not all answered for a multitude of reasons.

Yes, we can say that. We must, because it’s true.

When we dont directly face the anguish caused because some of our most desperately wanted prayers are unanswered, the reality puts us in a state of torment. The conflict between what we think we are supposed to believe and the way things are causes a deep need for resolution that many never find. Some choose to simply live with the torment, and some of them are haunted by it. Others challenge what they have been taught to believe, and find rest.

I believe there is wisdom in facing this pain rather than living in denial.

It is in facing our disappointments that we begin to grieve and in the end our spirits are released.

Believing that everyone who asks receives can impact our personal well-being when we don’t receive. This doesn’t even begin to address how believing the absolutes about answered prayer can often relieve us of our own responsibilities to take action on behalf of others and sometimes even ourselves.

But I believe the path of healing begins not with believing that the door is always opened for those who just knock long enough, nor even with the belief that all prayers are answered, but instead with coming to terms with the reality that, for whatever reason makes the most sense to you and is most life-giving for you, sometimes we pray, and don’t receive.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. If you feel comfortable, please share with your group a story of how you had to come to terms with a prayer that went unanswered, and how you processed that experience.

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