Easter and the Myth of Redemptive Suffering

empty tomb and easter

Herb Montgomery | April 15, 2021

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


These are valid questions. How can we reconcile seeing the cross event as a salvific divine act without unintentionally inferring that God’s power to save is rooted in willingness to humiliate, physically denigrate, and violate someone’ body to save others?”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

Now it was the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came, early on while it was still dark, to the tomb and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Messiah out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple came and went to the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple ran ahead of Peter and reached the tomb first. And bending down to see, saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not enter. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb, and he saw the linen wrapping lying there. And the facecloth that had been on Jesus’s head, not lying with the linens wrappings but rolled up separately in another place. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, went in and saw and believed. Indeed they did not understand the scripture that it was necessary for Jesus to rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned once more to their homes.

Now Mary stood outside, facing the tomb, weeping. As she wept, she bent down to see in the tomb. Then she saw two angels in white sitting, one at thread and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. They said to her, “Woman, why do you weep?” She said to them, “Because they have taken my Savior, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why do you weep? For whom do you look?” Thinking that he was the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (Which means Teacher.) Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me, because I have not yet ascend to the Father. Rather go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I and ascending to my Abba and you Abba, to my God and your God.” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Savior”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20:1-18, translation by Rev. Dr. Wilda Gafney; A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church: Year W)

This week, we are reading the resurrection narrative found in the gospel of John. This is a combined resurrection narrative developed after the early Jesus movement, and I believe there is something we can glean from this version.

One thing that is common to all the gospel narratives is the presence of women at the tomb of Jesus. In John’s version, notice that Mary uses the word “we.” Women who had the courage to go to the tomb as soon as there was daylight after the Sabbath led to the first proclamation of the resurrection. Those who showed up first got to be the first ones to share the good news. John’s version of this story encourages me to speak out when men and institutions say women can’t posses equal authority or credentials to proclaim the gospel.

Each resurrection narrative also begins in sorrow, and as John tells the story, I can imagine Jesus saying Mary’s name tenderly. I love that she mistook Jesus for a gardener: the detail grounds this version of the story in the interconnectedness with our natural world that gardeners know firsthand. I also love how Mary had to be told to let go. Wouldn’t you have held on as she did if you had just witnessed the brutal murder of someone you cared so deeply for, and now saw him alive again, standing right in front of you?

This version of the story also tells us something about how diverse the early Jesus followers were. Some patriarchal groups eventually won the power struggle and they came to shape the Christian religion. But early on, there were more egalitarian communities of Jesus followers, some who valued Mary Magdalene as others would later value the Apostle John, the Apostle Peter, and the Apostle Paul.

John’s gospel represents the community that valued John, yet even here we can see signs of three early Jesus communities vying for credibility as the Christian church forms. Mary is first to proclaim the risen Jesus, but this version also adds Peter and John racing to the tomb. Peter is first to enter the tomb, but John is the first to arrive and believe. So all three of these early church figures and their communities are competing in this version, and we still have power struggles in the church today.

Every canonical version of the resurrection narrative drives home the importance of believing women when they speak. We can apply this practice in every area of our society today, both within our faith communities and in our larger society.

This coming weekend, most of Western Christianity will celebrate Easter. Perhaps we could deepen our practice of listening to women when they speak by listening to a few perspectives on the crucifixion-resurrection narrative at the heart of so contemporary Christianity.

The perspectives I’m about to share challenge traditional, familiar interpretations of this narrative and many of the atonement theories that have been born from them.

I’ll begin with a short, challenging example from feminist theologian Dr. Elizabeth Bettenhausen and her preface for the classic book, Christianity, Patriarchy, and Abuse.

I want to offer a content warning here: this excerpt contains sexual violence in reimagining the cross event.

“Several years ago I asked a group of seminarians to choose New Testament stories about Jesus and rewrite them imagining that Jesus had been female. The following recreation of the passion story of Luke 22.54-65 was one womans knowing by heart.

They arrested the Christ woman and led her away to the Council for questioning. Some of her followers straggled along to find out what was to become of her. There were seven women and two men followers. (The men followers were there mainly to keep watch over their sisters.) Someone from among the crowd asked a question of a man follower, Havent I seen you with this woman? Who is she, and what is your relationship with her?He replied defensively, She is a prostitute, she has had many men. I have seen her with many!The men who were guarding the Christ [woman] slapped her around and made fun of her. They told her to use magic powers to stop them. They blindfolded her and each them in turn raped her and afterward jeered, Now, prophetess, who was in you? Which one of us? Tell us that!Thy continued to insult her. (Kandice Joyce)

After this story was read aloud, a silence surrounded the class and made us shiver. Ever since, I have wondered would women ever imagine forming a religion around the rape of a woman? Would we ever conjure gang-rape as a salvific event for other women? What sort of god would such an event reveal? (p. xi)

These are valid questions. How can we reconcile seeing the cross event as a salvific divine act without unintentionally inferring that God’s power to save is rooted in willingness to humiliate, physically denigrate, and violate someone’ body to save others?

This is just one reason I believe we must interpret the Jesus story and the crucifixion-resurrection event not in terms of how someone died, died for us, or was executed. It is a story about how the One who was murdered for social, political, and economic reasons by the state, was brought back to life. This is a story of how life conquers death, love conquers hate, sharing conquers greed, and life giving power conquers death dealing.

Last week I shared a little bit from womanist theologian Dr. Delores Williams last week. This week I’ll add Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas’s book Stand your ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God. She offers some absolute gems about the cross beginning on page 178. As she quotes from Williams, “The cross . . . represents historical evil trying to defeat good.”

She then explains how life overcame death in the Jesus story:

Jesus takes on evil. He takes on and defeats . . . not granting the power of death any authority over him . . . he does not respond in kind, by adopting the methods of this power. The final triumph over the death of the cross is the resurrection of Jesus.

The resurrection is God’s definitive victory over the crucifying powers of evil.

The cross represents the power that denigrates human bodies, destroys life, and preys on the most vulnerable in society. As the cross is defeated, so too is that power.

The impressive factor is how it is defeated. It is defeated by life-giving rather than a life-negating force . . . That is, it is not the power that diminishes the life of another so that others might live. God’s power respects the integrity of all human bodies and the sanctity of all life. This is a resurrecting power.

God’s power never expresses itself through humiliation or denigration of another. It does not triumph over life. It conquers death by resurrecting life.

The force of God is a death-negating, life-affirming force.

Next, Dr. Douglas quotes Audre Lorde: “The masters tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” (Sister Outsider, p. 112)

Then she continues, “God does not fight death with death. God does not utilize the violence exhibited in the cross to defeat deadly violence itself.”

If indeed the power of life that God stands for is greater than the power of death, this must be manifest in the way God triumphs over death-dealing powers. The freedom of God that is life requires a liberation from the very weapons utilized by a culture of death. In other words, these weapons cannot become divine weapons . . . The culmination of this liberation is Jesus’ resurrection.

This exegesis resonates with me so deeply. Every fiber of my heart says amen! The Jesus story isn’t about a God who overcomes death by adding one more death, i.e. Jesus’ death. It’s the story of a God who overcame, reversed, and undid death by resurrecting the one the state sought to execute.

For me, this is powerful. This is a story that moves us to believe in love’s ability to win, even in the face of death, and to work toward that end.

We can work more effectively for a better iteration of our world when we believe that that better iteration is actually possible. Ultimately, I believe this was a 1st Century story told in 1st Century language that was intended to inspire early Jesus followers to do just that.

This story can still inspire Jesus followers today.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What does interpreting the Jesus story as a story where life overcomes death and love overcomes hate change for you? Share with your group

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


Understanding and Sharing a Theology of the Cross with Children: Beyond Substitutionary Atonement

Here’s a conversation on talking to children about the violence of the cross during this holiday weekend that was recorded this spring. Grateful to my friends author and pastor Traci Smith of Elmhurst Presbyterian Church and author Daneen Akers of Holy Troublemakers & Unconventional Saints for this conversation.

Listen at:

Understanding and Sharing a Theology of the Cross with Children: Beyond Substitutionary Atonement

A Different Vision for Memorializing the Last Supper

last supper

Herb Montgomery | April 8, 2022

 

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

 


“Next week is Holy Week leading up to Easter for many in Western Christianity. This time of year always amplifies several passages from the passion liturgy that are important for Jesus followers who care about justice to interpret in life-giving ways.”


 

Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:14-20)

Next week is Holy Week leading up to Easter for many in Western Christianity. This time of year always amplifies several passages from the passion liturgy that are important for Jesus followers who care about justice to interpret in life-giving ways. So it was difficult for me to settle on which passage to write on this week.

I love the story of Jesus’ protest and demonstration in the temple courtyard against the economic exploitation that was taking place there. I believe both his protest and his burden for those being harmed by systemic injustice have much to teach us. I love the story of Jesus humbly washing his disciples’ feet, which Christians now celebrate each year on Maundy Thursday. I also believe it’s important to interpret the holy week narrative beyond death and dying, even though at the end of the week Jesus is the victim of state violence in response to his protest, calls for change, and growing popularity with the exploited masses in his society. It’s more life-giving to interpret Holy Week as a story of how life overturns death and death-dealing, how everything accomplished through the execution/death of Jesus was undone, reversed, and overcome through the resurrection. The cross was not Jesus’ saving act, but the state’s attempted interruption and halting of Jesus’ saving life-ministry. The resurrection reversed and undid the state’s violence, and Jesus’ life-saving ministry lived on in the actions of his followers.

So as we begin this holy week, I’ve chosen to address Luke’s version of Jesus’ last shared meal with his disciples. I’ll begin with an important point from Delores Williams’ womanist theology classic book, Sisters in the Wilderness.

On page 131, Williams reminds us that “The cross is a reminder of how humans have tried throughout history to destroy visions of righting relationships that involve the transformation of tradition and transformation of social relations and arrangements sanctioned by the status quo.” She goes on to point her readers to the resurrection and the kingdom of God theme in Jesus’ life ministry as the salvific conduit that teaches humankind how to “live peacefully, productively and abundantly in relationship.” She lists Jesus’ beatitudes, parables, moral directions, and reprimands. She reminds us of Jesus’ healing ministry of “touch and being touched,” and how Jesus ministry was militant, too, expelling evil forces that harm people including during his temple protest.

This is how she characterizes Jesus’ saving life: a life grounded in the power of faith “in the work of healing,” compassion and love. She demonstrates with multiple examples how Jesus conquered sin in life, not in death. Considering the persistence of evil and oppression (and sin) still centuries after the life of Jesus in our world, she wonders whether or not most people can believe that Jesus’ death on the cross overcame evil and sin. I agree with her assessment that it seems “more intelligent and more scriptural to understand that redemption had to do with God, through Jesus, giving humankind new vision to see the resources for positive, abundant relational life” (p. 131).

A major theme in William’ work is the surrogacy of black women and how various atonement theories and ways of interpreting the cross substitutionally have historically supported that surrogacy rather than subverted it.

She concludes:

Humankind is, then, redeemed through Jesusministerial vision of life and not through his death. There is nothing divine in the blood of the cross. God does not intend black women’s surrogacy experience. Neither can Christian faith affirm such an idea. Jesus did not come to be a surrogate. Jesus came for life, to show humans a perfect vision of ministerial relation that humans had very little knowledge of. As Christians, black women cannot forget the cross, but neither can they glorify it. To do so is to glorify suffering and to render their exploitation sacred. To do so is to glorify the sin of defilement. (Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist GodTalk, p. 132)

And this leads me to the tension in this week’s passage. Jesus’ last meal in the gospels seems to lead Jesus followers to glorify the cross through the rite of the Eucharist and by glorifying the suffering of the exploited, render their suffering and exploitation sacred.

But as with everything in our sacred text, it all depends on how we choose to interpret the story.

The early Jesus community was not monolithic in how they remembered and interpreted Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. Paul transformed the last supper into a ritual reenactment of Jesus’ broken body and shed blood (see 1 Corinthians 11:23-26), but there were many Jesus followers who didn’t connect the last supper with the passion of Jesus at all, so much so that the first Christian document to explicitly instruct Jesus followers in celebrating the last supper doesn’t mention the passion of Jesus. This document is the Didache. To the best of our knowledge it was composed at the end of the 1st Century or the beginning of the 2nd Century. In it we read:

“Concerning eucharist, this is how you are to conduct it:

First, concerning the cup, ‘We thank you, our Father, for the sacred vine of David, your child, whom you made know to us through Jesus, your child. To you be glory forever.’

Then concerting the fragments of bread: ‘We thank you, our Father, for the life and knowledge that you made known to us through Jesus, your child. To you be glory forever. Just as this loaf was scattered upon the mountains but was gathered into unity, so your church should be gathered from the ends of the earth into your domain. Yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever.’

No one is to eat or drink from your eucharist except those baptized in the name of the Lord. Recall what the Lord said about this: ‘Don’t throw what is sacred to dogs.” (Didache 9:1-5)

This tradition has led quite a few modern Christians to reinterpret how they memorialize Jesus’ last supper, especially at this time of year when our attention is drawn to it once again. Many Christians today, given what we just read in the Didache, see Jesus’ last supper as the same kind of meal he frequently ate with his disciples and with anyone else who desired to eat with them. Jesus’ open table practice in a culture where whom one ate with had social and political meaning was another example of the inclusiveness he practiced every day. Most scholars today believe that the earliest rituals around Jesus’ last supper took the form we see described in the Didache. The supper was later attached to Jesus’ death as we read in Paul (1 Corinthians 11:23-26), a connection that is then picked up by Mark, Matthew, and in our passage in Luke. In John’s gospel, however, Jesus’ last supper is not associated with the imagery of his death (the passion) but rather with images of his life.

Whereas Mark and Matthew follow Paul’s eucharist order (bread then cup), in our passage this week from Luke, we see signs of early Jesus followers memorializing his last supper both ways: we see both the form found in the Didache and the form found in Paul blended together. This would make sense as Luke’s gospel repeatedly attempts to tell the Jesus story in a way that provides a big tent view of following Jesus. Luke is telling a narrative so that it can be valued by the largest number of Jesus followers. Regardless of which Jesus community readers belonged to, they could nonetheless find what they believed to be meaningful and sacred in Luke’s version of Jesus story.

So let’s take a look at our passage once again.

First, the form found in the Didache:

“’For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.’ After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them’”

Then the form found in Paul:

“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’”

Because Luke’s trying to include both forms, Luke’s version of the last supper is the only version to include two cups. In the Didache’s order, you have cup then bread. In Paul’s order, you have bread then cup. And in Luke, which blends both ways of memorializing Jesus last supper, we have a cup (Didache), then bread (Didache and Paul), then a cup again (Paul). Mark and Matthew repeat the form found in Paul, and thus only have one cup.

Why all this “nerding out” over the story detail differences in the gospels, Paul, and the Didache? What’s the point?

The the point is that there is no one right way to celebrate or memorialize Jesus last supper. If you, like me, have come to find more life in a story that isn’t about someone dying, but about how life and love overcame and reversed everything the state attempted by executing Jesus, how love and life overcome death, fear, bigotry and hate, then you also have options in how you remember Jesus’ last supper. We don’t have to remember Jesus’ last supper in a way that glorifies death, even if it’s Jesus’ death. We don’t have to perpetuate the harms pointed out by Williams above and others.

Jesus most certainly broke bread and shared cups with people from all social and economic locations, those at the center and those on the margins. The egalitarian inclusivity he demonstrated with his meal practice of sharing resources, specifically food, was at the heart of the vision Jesus had for human community. And it also can become a ritual for us, when we interpret it as such, that transforms and shapes us into people who share resources with one another in our own ways and contexts today. How we celebrate rituals determines the kind of humans those rituals shape us into being. I like the shared table way of remembering a Jesus who, realizing what was coming, chose to share an open table with his disciples one last time.

Ritualizing this reminds me of the kind of world I want to be creating every day.

It’s a world where our bread and wine are not hoarded but shared. A world where we are all connected. A world where no one is fully thriving till we are all thriving.

 

 

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Does this way of interpreting Jesus’ last supper change the way you engage the Eucharist? If so how? Share with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week

Mary’s Perfume and No More Poverty 

feet

Herb Montgomery | April 1, 2022

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


“I want to offer an alternative interpretation. Poverty is a human-made reality, and therefore poverty can be eradicated through our choices in how we structure our societies . . . I don’t believe Jesus’ words in John about poor people should be interpreted as establishing as an existential reality that poverty is an eternal, unchangeable given for our world.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

“Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesushonor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesusfeet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, Why wasnt this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a years wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12:1-8)

John creatively resets this story from previous versions of the Jesus story by including the characters Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. There are both significant differences and consistent story elements. What is common in each version is a meal, a woman interrupting the meal, a container of perfume, objections from some of those present at the meal, and Jesus’ defense of the woman’s actions. Oral storytelling traditions commonly alter story details for the storyteller’s purposes or the needs of their audience. John’s storytelling does that too.

In John’s version of this story, we are in Mary, Martha, and Lazarus’ home, not the home of Simon the Pharisee (Luke) or Simon the Leper (Mark and Matthew). The woman who interacts with Jesus is Mary of Bethany (Martha and Lazarus’ sister), not the woman of ill repute as in Luke, nor an unnamed woman as in Mark and Matthew, and most definitely not Mary Magdalene (contrary to the 6th Century Pope Gregory, Mary of Magdalene is a completely different character in John’s gospel). Mary also anoints Jesus’ feet (not his head as in Mark and Matthew). Foot-washing was a customary hospitality practiced at dinners in a culture where people ate together seated in a reclining position on the floor, not at a table that hid guests’ feet.

In this story, Mary’s act is one of gratitude, specifically for the events of the previous chapter. In that chapter, Lazarus, Mary’s brother, had gotten sick and died, and Jesus brought him back from the dead to live again. This is a repeated theme in the gospels: life and life-giving overturning, undoing, and reversing death and death-dealing. It is one of the strongest, most life-giving interpretations of the Jesus story. The story is not primarily that someone died, but that that the state’s murder of someone who was calling for social change was overturned, undone, and reversed. The life-giving teachings of this Jewish prophet of the poor from Galilee lived on in the life of his followers. In Acts 13:32-33, the early believers say: We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus” (italics added).

The good news in this interpretive paradigm is not that Jesus died, but that Jesus overcame death, death-dealing and the state. His story is a story of life overcoming death, or love overcoming in the end—love that overcomes hate, fear, injustice, and bigotry.

In John 11, Jesus conquered, reversed, and undid Lazarus’ death. Jesus had said to Lazarus’ and Mary’s sister, Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life” (see John 11:25).

Again, in John, Mary is anointing Jesus in an act of gratitude for Jesus’ reversal of sickness and death and his channeling that reversal as “the resurrection and the life.” We must not miss that in John’s story, Jesus states that Mary had been saving this perfume for Jesus’ burial. So the fact that Mary instead uses it now hints that she has learned his lesson—life and love will overcome in the end.

Those hearing this story are being prepared for how John’s version of the Jesus story will turn out: Perfume will not be needed to anoint a dead body lying lifeless in a tomb. No, that tomb will be found empty. Mary has embraced Jesus as the resurrection and life, and has chosen, not to save her perfume for a dead body but to use it now in gratitude. Love will win in the end. She won’t need this perfume later, and she is banking on it.

So many social sicknesses are in need of reversal in our society, today: the sickness of White supremacy, the sickness of patriarchy and misogyny, the sickness of classism and greed, the sicknesses of bigotry against LGBTQIA people, and many more sicknesses that lead to death. What does it mean for us to live as people who overcome, who genuinely believe that love wins?

Lastly, I want to address Jesus’ words, “You will always have the poor among you.” This statement, which appears in each gospel, has been used by the wealthy to discourage Jesus’ followers from working toward economic justice and social change. In this interpretation, Jesus’ phrase is a prediction that trying to end poverty is futile, that poverty is an eternal social reality and there is nothing we can really do to prevent it. They would like us to think that all we can do to ease poverty in society is acts of charity and creating a society where poverty doesn’t exist is impossible.

But this interpretation benefits those who are enriched by the status quo and don’t want to see structural change. Charity is not justice, remember. Charity can ease injustice but leaves an unjust system unchanged.

I want to offer an alternative interpretation. Poverty is a human-made reality, and therefore poverty can be eradicated through our choices in how we structure our societies.

Consider this passage from the Torah:

“At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the LORDS time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your fellow Israelite owes you. However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today.” (Deuteronomy 15:1-5)

This passage states that there doesn’t need to be “poor people” among Israelites. They are being given instruction on how to eradicate poverty. Later in the same chapter, we read, “There will always be poor people in the land [i.e. the surrounding societies outside of Israel]. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land [as opposed to the larger societies in which poverty will always exist because the way those societies are shaped] (italics and capitalization added).

I don’t believe Jesus’ words in John about poor people should be interpreted as establishing as an existential reality that poverty is an eternal, unchangeable given for our world. Even if one does, however, then we can read Jesus as saying that Israelite society has become like the surrounding nations in Deuteronomy where poverty “will always exist” because of their structure. Jesus words here are an indictment of his society’s rejection of the mandate to forgive debts every seven years. Therefore, they were choosing to structure their society by immortalizing poverty as the surrounding nations in Deuteronomy 15 had. These choices can be reversed. We can structure our societies differently. The early Jesus followers in the book of Acts eradicated poverty from their own community in Jesus’ name:

“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.”

Remember, it was not that Jesus had died, but that he had been resurrected. His death had been reversed.

“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.” (Acts 4:33-34, italics added)

Last year, I mentioned these words of Nelson Mandela and Gustavo Gutierrez in Declaring War Against Poverty:

Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the action of human beings.” (Nelson Mandela, in a 2005 speech at the Make Poverty History rally in Londons Trafalgar Square)

The poor person does not exist as an inescapable fact of destiny. His or her existence is not politically neutral, and it is not ethically innocent. 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.” (Gustavo Gutierrez, The Power of the Poor in History, p. 44)

There is a lot to consider here.

How are you being called to be a conduit of love, healing, life, and life-giving in your own contexts, this week?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. How do you perceive poverty as something that could be prevented in our society? What would our society have to incorporate in order to eradicate poverty? Discuss (and imagine) 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


Excluded by Exclusion

color spectrum

Herb Montgomery | March 25, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


March is Donor Appreciation Month at RHM

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

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

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

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

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

(Or you donate by mail by sending your donation to

Renewed Heart Ministries
PO Box 1211
Lewisburg, WV 24901

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

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

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

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

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

Product details:

2022 Wall Calendar: 24 pages

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

 Injustice is Not Sustainable

 

fig tree at dusk

Herb Montgomery | March 18, 2022

 

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

 


Democratic societies must be made to birth a distributively just society where the needs of everyone and not only an elite few are collectively met. The alternative is not sustainable, and ends with that society falling into the rubbish bin of history.”


 

Our reading this week is from the book of Luke:

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Then he told this parable: A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, For three years now Ive been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and havent found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ ‘Sir,the man replied, leave it alone for one more year, and Ill dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (Luke 13:1-9)

No other ancient writing describes the incidents that begin our passage this week. Quite honestly, we do not know what the phrases “the Galileans” or “those on whom the tower in Siloam fell” refer to. The message to the audience, though is one found often in sacred texts: repent or perish.

But repent of what? What about their present course points to self-destruction?

While we have no definite proof of what these two examples are referring to, some scholars connect them to a failed Galilean revolt where Roman soldiers surprised and slaughtered Galilean insurgents as they made sacrifices in preparation for their revolt.

In this week’s story, the religiopolitical elite question whether the people revolting had been morally upright or whether their sinfulness was to blame for their lack of success. Jesus says to them, Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”

Similarly, a few scholars identify the tower of Siloam as a tower where Rome stored its weapons. Galilean insurgents might have tried to dig a tunnel under the tower to seize the weapons for a violent revolt. But the tunneling compromised the towers foundation, the entire structure suddenly collapsed, and several of these Galileans died. Jesus again denies they are responsible for their deaths: No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

When Jesus calls for repentance in our story, I dont hear the moralistic idea of repentance so many of us are used to today. I hear a Jewish prophet of the poor calling for social change. The elites would blame the insurgents’ failures on their lack of moral uprightness, but Jesus rather points to an unjust economic structure that oppresses folks and creates insurgents who long to experience the distributive justice that the Hebrew prophets called for (see the book of Amos).

Jesus isn’t preaching in the vein of the Christian fire and brimstone preachers who have cried “repent or perish” from their pulpits. He’s teaching much more like the Hebrew prophets who saw the intrinsic connection between an exploitative system and its lack of sustainability. “Injustice is not sustainable” is the message we are encountering here.

This is a good time to pause and reflect on how injustice is unsustainable in our day as well. I think of those who long for the days of White, straight, cisgender and male privilege or domination in contrast to the multiracial, multicultural, varied, heterogeneous democracy that many are working toward today. This doesn’t just apply to our secular society. It applies to our faith communities, too.

Our faith traditions include voices that bemoan a society they have judged as morally corrupt. Yet they are merely witnessing those in society calling for equality and ways to make our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone. I think of those who see the end of patriarchy in faith communities as an evil rather than a good, and those who see LGBTQ inclusion and affirmation as a sign of the times, rather than as a change where life is overcoming death and love is overcoming fear, bigotry, and hate.

Again, so many of us, like those in our story, are quick to judge as inferior those who are different than ourselves. Instead, the Jesus of our story this week would tell us the reality: that unless we change and become more just, we will perish.

Lastly, this week’s passage uses a common metaphor for the condition of Israel’s society, one that appears in both the Hebrew scriptures and the rabbinic literature (see Isaiah 5). A healthy, distributively just society was a healthy fig tree that produced much fruit for all to enjoy. Fig trees, after all, were an important source of food in the Ancient Middle East. But a sickly, desolate, or barren fig tree was an unhealthy society that benefitted only a select few through exploiting the masses. The fruitful fig tree symbolized a blessed society where everyone’s needs were being met: there was enough for everyone. A barren fig tree was cursed and under judgement from the Hebrew prophets for trampling the vulnerable.

Our story this week answers the cry to immediately cut the fig tree down by encouraging the gardener or owner to keep trying to make it healthy for one more year, to fertilize it and see if things turn around before giving up on it.

There is a love of the fig tree seen here in the desire to make it healthy.

This has applications for us today, too, in our faith communities, and in our larger society as well.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve scratched my head in wonder at LGBTQ people of faith who keep trying to change their homophobic, transphobic, biphobic faith communities. I’ve often asked myself, why don’t they just shake the dust from their feet and say good riddance! I wonder if they’d be better off. But the reality is these faith traditions are their homes. Many have grown up in them and there is love for these faith traditions rooted in their hearts. They’d rather endure pain from continued effort than grief of leaving the barren fig tree of their faith tradition to die. I see their stories in our story this week.

In our larger society, as well, so many have said that how many minorities have been treated within the “American dream” has been a nightmare. Yet so many people from minoritized communities genuinely love the principles that the United States is supposed to embody and want to see America genuinely live out its highest ideals. They live in hope that their choices to keep at it will help this country become “that more perfect union” one day.

Recently my daughter introduced me to the play Indecent by Paula Vogel. It is a deeply moving story of the lives of Jewish immigrant actors and how they were mistreated here in America while involved with the beautiful, life-changing Yiddish Broadway play The God of Vengeance: Drama in Three Acts by Sholem Asch. Censors unjustly shut down the play, accusing it of being indecent. All the actors were arrested and thrown in jail. But in fact, the play was shut down as a result of antisemitism.

In the story, finally coming to the end of his patience, one of the central characters, Lemml, bursts out, “I’m done being in a country that laughs at the way I speak. They say America is free? What do you know here is free? All over Europe we did this play with no Cossacks shutting us down. Berlin, Moscow, Odessa—everywhere there is theater! You don’t have money for a ticket? Tickets over there cost less than a cup of tea. Then you dress up nice in your best coat and maybe you stand up in the second gallery, but you can say to your grandchildren: ‘I saw the great Rudolph Schildkraut in Sholem Asch’s The God of Vengeance!’ I am leaving this country!”

The sad end for Lemml is that he leaves America and returns to his homeland in the midst of the Holocaust and ends up dying at the hands of the Nazi’s.

At this spot in the play, I could not help but hear the echo of those for whom America has not been a blessing but a curse. Not a fruitful fig tree, but a barren one.

To all who are working for change, keep digging. Keep fertilizing. Perhaps it will ultimately bear fruit for all those who live here. But my own country is the context for how I hear the message in this week’s reading.

Democratic societies must be made to birth a distributively just society where the needs of everyone and not only an elite few are collectively met. The alternative is not sustainable, and ends with that society falling into the rubbish bin of history.

Injustice is not sustainable.

 

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What are some examples of how you see injustice as unsustainable in our various communities, both our faith communities and our larger society, today? Discuss with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week

 


 

 


 

March is Donor Appreciation Month

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

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

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

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

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

(Or you donate by mail by sending your donation to

Renewed Heart Ministries
PO Box 1211
Lewisburg, WV 24901

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

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

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

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

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

Product details:

2022 Wall Calendar: 24 pages

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

Jesus as Political

gargoyle

Herb Montgomery | March 11, 2022

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


Even if threatened by those with privilege, we too, can keep on, in the language of our story this week, casting out demons. The demons of White supremacy, racism, patriarchy, misogyny, classism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia (and the current laws around our country that those possessed by transphobia are now trying to pass) and more.”


Our reading this week is from the book of Luke:

“At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, ‘Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.’ He replied, ‘Go tell that fox, I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal. In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!  ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Luke 13:31-35)

For the early Jesus community, this story would have been meaningful because it put Jesus’ work in tension with Herod and the powers-that-be in Galilee. Jesus is neither part of the power structure nor a domesticated insider here. He’s not a partisan within the system. He’s a radical whom the authorities are seeking to execute. Much like John the Baptist, whom Herod had previously executed for speaking truth to power (Josephus), Jesus is characterized as being on a very similar path in relation to the power structures of his region. His teachings and ministry are framed as a threat to those in power, specifically to Herod.

This helps explain why Jesus responds boldly in this narrative with, “Go tell that fox I will keep on driving out demons . . .”

This phrase immediately triggers me and my more scientific modern worldview and I’d guess it does for many of you, too. But I want us to step outside of the religious, supernatural definition of demons as beings we cannot see but who terrorize our world, just for a moment. I’m stepping away from the characterization of demons I grew up with in the horror films and shows of the 1980s and 1990s, like The Omen and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Let’s consider an interpretation that defines demons in the gospel stories through a more political lens.

Casting Out Demons As Political

Consider this explanation of Jesus’ first exorcism (Mark 1:21-28) by Ched Myers in Say to This Mountain:

“To interpret this exorcism solely as the ‘curing of an epileptic’ is to miss its profound political impact. In contrast to Hellenistic literature, in which miracle-workers normally function to maintain the status quo, gospel healings challenge the ordering of power. Because Jesus seeks the root causes of why people are marginalized, there is no case of healing and exorcism in Mark that does not also raise a larger question of social oppression.” (Ched Myers; Say to This Mountain: Mark’s Story of Discipleship, p. 14)

In this story, Jesus’ exorcism takes place in the heart of a Galilean synagogue, because what the story is juxtaposing the political struggle between the scribal authority there and Jesus’ authority teaching something different.

Also consider the story of the exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac in the synoptic gospels (Mark 5:1-20; Matthew 8:28-34; Luke 8:26-39). The name of the demon in this story is Legion. A Roman legion was the Roman army’s largest military unit and represented the occupying Gentile forces who were possessing the Jewish homeland. So in this gospel story, the people’s oppression by a foreign ruling power appears symbolically as a person’s possession by a foreign/demonic spirit.

Walter Wink asks us to make a similar interpretive choice:

“Some first-century Jews and Christians perceived in the Roman Empire a demonic spirituality which they called Satan (the Dragon” of Revelation 12). But they encountered this spirit in the actual institutional forms of Roman life: legions, governors, crucifixions, payment of tribute, Roman sacred emblems and standards, and so forth (the beast” of Revelation 13). The spirit that they perceived existed right at the heart of the empire, but their worldview equipped them to discern that spirit only by intuiting it and then projecting it out, in visionary form, as a spiritual being residing in heaven and representing Rome in the heavenly council. In the ancient worldview, where earthly and heavenly reality were inextricably united, this view of the Powers worked effectively. But for many modern Westerners it is impossible to maintain that worldview. Instead, fundamentalists treat the Powers as actual demonic beings in the air, largely divorced from their manifestations in the physical or political world (the theological worldview), and secularists deny that this spiritual dimension even exists (the materialistic worldview) . . . The demons projected onto the screen of the cosmos really are demonic, and play havoc with humanity. Only they are not up there but over there, in the socio-spiritual structures that make up the one and only real world.” (Walter Wink, The Powers That Be, Location 358, Kindle Edition)

Within this context, any systemic evil or injustice that becomes almost automated within a family, community, religious structure, civil structure, corporation, government, or world power is a demon that must be exorcised. Consider the demon of White supremacy, the demon of greed, or the demon of domination and subjugation that we see in the invasion and repression of Ukraine this year.

When we read of Jesus being threatened by Herod “who is seeking to execute him,” Jesus replies, “Go tell that fox, I’m going to keep on driving out demons.”

Jesus is showing the same political obstinance and determination against injustice and abuse of power, even in the face of lethal threat, that he will again show later in the story when he flips the tables in the courtyard in Jerusalem.

Anyone who sees Jesus the exorcist as simply passing out tickets to heaven rather than calling for concrete changes in the systems that harmed the marginalized people around him isn’t reading the gospel stories in their historical context. People don’t have their lives threatened for passing out tickets to heaven. After all, focusing folks on heavenly assurance doesn’t threaten the powerful, propertied, and privileged with change in the here and now. Yet Jesus is making change now. He’s casting out demons, challenging harmful political structures in the hearts and lives of his listeners, calling them to imagine the world differently. He, like John, is stirring up the people, and things that stir the people must always be stopped by those who benefit from the way things presently are.

Eventually, Jesus will reach Jerusalem, where his strongest demonstration or protest will take place in the very seat of the Temple state, and this week’s story intimates the result. Like the prophets of the poor who called for justice before him and were stoned and killed, Jesus’ story is going to get much worse as we hope for things to get better. The authors lean into the Jewish tradition of telling honest stories, of the good, the bad, and the ugly. We today could learn a lot from that tradition if we approached our own ugly histories with honesty rather than with sanitizer.

But this week’s story isn’t a story about how someone died or was killed. It is a story anticipating how state violence would be reversed and undone. This is a story of how life and life-giving triumphs in spite of death and death-dealing. Love triumphs in spite of injustice in the end. But we are not quite there yet in Jesus’ story. We are still on the journey with him.

Before we get to the end, we must first move through demonstration and protest, pushback from those who are threatened, and ultimately the state executing a man calling for changes that were too much for the powerful and elite to leave unanswered. His was a voice that must be silenced.

Yet in the end, death is not conquered with more death, even just one more death. Death is conquered by love, life, and justice. The salvific work that those in power sought to halt proved only to be momentarily interrupted. That salvific, liberative work would live on, and it lives on today in the choices we make every day, even in small things.

This month’s recommended reading from Renewed Heart Ministries is Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis’ book, Fierce Love. I’ll end this week with a quote:

“Alice Walker wrote: ‘Helped are those who find the courage to do at least one small thing each day to help the existence of another—plant, animal, river, or human being. They shall be joined by a multitude of the timid.’ A movement to build a more just society begins with little steps taken by good people every day. Humankind desperately needs a love revolution that leads to equality and equity, to the end of white supremacy once and for all. You have the power to be an agent of change in your everyday living; you can influence your posse to also be the change you seek. And ultimately, together, in community, small steps can lead to morally courageous behavior that loves the world all the way to healing.” (Jacqui Lewis, Fierce Love, pp. 167-168).

Even if threatened by those with privilege, we too, can keep on, in the language of our story this week, casting out demons. The demons of White supremacy, racism, patriarchy, misogyny, classism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia (and the current laws around our country that those possessed by transphobia are now trying to pass) and more.

Here’s to more justice work.

Here’s to more courage, resistance, persistence and small things that we can do to create change.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. How does reframing the exorcism stories in the gospels impact your own Jesus following? Discuss with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



March is Donor Appreciation Month

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

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

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

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

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

(Or you donate by mail by sending your donation to

Renewed Heart Ministries
PO Box 1211
Lewisburg, WV 24901

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

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

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

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

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

Product details:

2022 Wall Calendar: 24 pages

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

 Myth of Redemptive Sacrifice

ash bowl for ash wednesday

Herb Montgomery | March 4, 2022

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


In the wilderness story, Jesus rejects the temptation to sacrifice himself and tempt God to save him in the end. This calls into question how we interpret Christian narratives of Jesus’ death and resurrection as we walk through Lent toward Easter. I can think of no better way to begin the season of Lent than by calling into question the myth of redemptive suffering.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, It is written: humans shall not live on bread alone.’” The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, It is written: Worship the Sovereign God and serve God only.’” The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. If you are the Son of God,” he said, throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “ ‘God will command the angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered, It is said: Do not put the Sovereign God to the test.’” When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:1-13)

For many Christians, this weekend marks the first weekend of Lent, which commemorates the 40 days and nights that Jesus spends in the wilderness before embarking on his ministry of healing, liberation, inclusion, and establishing justice.

Luke’s version of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness has much to teach us today. There are so many good, life-giving, holistic, political, liberation, and justice-rooted interpretations of these three temptations, and this week I want to mention some highlights relevant for us.

Forty days and nights held special meaning in Hebrew tradition. This was the amount of time Moses spent on Mt. Sinai before receiving the tablets of stone with the law and commandments (Deuteronomy 9:9-11). It was also the amount of time Moses spent interceding for Israel (Deuteronomy 9:18, 10:10). Israel explored the land of Canaan for forty days and nights, and spent a comparable amount of time journeying in the wilderness—a year for each day (Numbers 14:34). Also remember how the flood rains in the time of Noah lasted forty days and nights (Genesis 7:12), and Jonah warned Nineveh for forty days that it would be destroyed (Jonah 3:4). Each of the synoptic gospels builds on this tradition, preparing Jesus for his ministry of liberation by sending him into the wilderness for forty days (cf. Mark 1:13, Matthew 4:2, and Luke 4:2).

Profit, People, and the Environment

Matthew and Luke add significantly more detail to Mark’s story, and both gospels list Jesus’ first temptation as turning bread to stone after forty days of fasting. In our passage this week we read:

The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: humans shall not live on bread alone.’

Jesus’ response resonates deeply with me. How many times have you had to choose between “bread” and doing what you feel is right? In this world, profit is sovereign. People’s needs and what is right for their wellbeing are continually less prioritized than or even sacrificed to the almighty profit margin. Greed or desire for more and more bread while so many around the globe are starving fuels the international economy, and control or power over that bread drives decisions at the highest levels of our world.

In Rome’s day, those who controlled the supply of bread ruled the world. Today, the same is true. Whoever controls the supply of resources that humanity needs for its survival rules the world. This has environmental implications as well as economic ones.

From the beginning, capitalism’s ruling principle has been “bread.” Profit has caused us to devalue and therefore destroy our most precious resources, especially those natural resources used to produce profit that are not infinite. Today, many are realizing as never before that if we, the grand human family living on earth, will survive, we must first embrace our connectedness to both each other and every living thing on earth. We must say, as Jesus said in the wilderness, humans shall not live by bread alone. The means by which we obtain our bread—whether those means are just, life-giving, and sustainable—matters as much as the bread does. Bread alone is not life-giving enough.

Ends That Don’t Justify the Means

In Luke’s version of the story, Jesus’ next temptation offers him all the kingdoms of our world if he would worship the tempter. To understand this story, enlarge your definition of worship beyond religiosity. Our society worships profit. Our society worships war and sacrifices generations of people for war. Many in our society subscribe to and worship various expressions of White, European, patriarchal, straight, and cisgender supremacy. Worship is about what we choose to reverence, honor, or value.

In this temptation, Jesus is called to subscribe to a value system, a way of doing life. The promise is that if he will subscribe to the tempter’s value system, all the world will be within his grasp. Jesus rejects the offer, and his model prompts us to consider not just what goals we seek to accomplish through the lives we live, but also how we try to accomplish those goals.

Justice, safety, compassion are our goals. They must also be the means we use. Dr. King held in tension his goal for peace and his rejection of the means many offered him during his sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church entitled When Peace Becomes Obnoxious:

If peace means a willingness to be exploited economically, dominated politically, humiliated and segregated, I dont want peace. If peace means being complacently adjusted to a deadening status quo, I dont want peace. If peace means keeping my mouth shut in the midst of injustice and evil, I dont want it. Peace is not simply the absence of conflict, but the existence of justice for all people.

In my sacred imagination, I picture Jesus considering his own burden for justice. Perhaps he meditated on the passage from Isaiah, He will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth” (Isaiah 42:4). Considering what that goal could mean for him, and responding to the tempter’s offer, he whispered, “But not like this.”

Myth of Redemptive Sacrifice

Next in Luke’s version, Jesus goes from the mountaintop where he saw all the empires of the world to the capital of his society’s temple state. There he is tempted to throw himself from the highest point of the temple, to sacrifice himself with the promise that it will all work out in the end.

I see in this the temptation that many who work for justice face: to sacrifice themselves for the cause in the belief that their self-sacrifice will be redemptive. Within Christianity, Jesus himself is held up to sell this myth. As Rev. Drs. Joanne Carlson Brown and Rebecca Ann Parker wrote in their seminary-hall-shaking essay, For God So Loved the World?:

If the best person who ever lived gave his life for others, then, to be of value we should likewise sacrifice ourselves. Any sense that we have a right to care for our own needs is in conflict with being a faithful follower of Jesus. Our suffering for others will save the world. The message is complicated further by the theology that says Christ suffered in obedience to his Father’s will. Divine child abuse is paraded as salvific and the child who suffers “without even raising a voice” is lauded as the hope of the world. Those whose lives have been deeply shaped by the Christian tradition feel that self-sacrifice and obedience are not only virtues but the definition of a faithful identity. The promise of resurrection persuades us to endure pain, humiliation, and violation of our sacred rights to self-determination, wholeness, and freedom. (p. 2)

I cannot encourage you enough to take the time to read their entire essay slowly and thoughtfully.

In the wilderness story, Jesus rejects the temptation to sacrifice himself and tempt God to save him in the end. This calls into question how we interpret Christian narratives of Jesus’ death and resurrection as we walk through Lent toward Easter. I can think of no better way to begin the season of Lent than by calling into question the myth of redemptive suffering.

Are our rituals shaping us into life-giving people, not only for others but for ourselves as well? Over the next few weeks, we’ll address this more thoroughly.

For now, hold in tension the Jesus we encounter in the wilderness who firmly rejected self-sacrifice and the Jesus we usually view sacrificing himself to save the world and believing that in laying down his life, it would be given back to him.

Much to ponder! Behind every answer is another question. And in the end, our stories must be about life, and not glorify death.

More on this in the coming weeks.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Share an example of how moving away from the myth of redemptive suffering has changed how you follow Jesus? Discuss with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



March is Donor Appreciation Month

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

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

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

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

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

(Or you donate by mail by sending your donation to

Renewed Heart Ministries
PO Box 1211
Lewisburg, WV 24901

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

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

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

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

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

Product details:

2022 Wall Calendar: 24 pages

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

Encouragement When the Work is Lonely and Hard

mountain top to illustrate transfiguration

Herb Montgomery | February 25, 2022

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


“In this story, the early Jesus followers are trying earnestly to make sense of Jesus’ execution at the hands of the Roman empire. Their association of both Elijah and Moses with Jesus pointed Jesus followers to the claim that although Jesus ministry and work of salvation had been interrupted by a Roman cross, God had overturned, reversed, and undone that act of unjust state violence and raised Jesus from the dead, which meant his salvific work lived on. In the Hebrew tradition, Elijah and Moses are figures for whom death did not have the final say.


 

Our reading this week is from the book of Luke:

“About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what he was saying.) While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’ When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.” (Luke 9:28-36)

The first version of this story is found in the gospel of Mark (Mark 9:1-8). Matthew’s gospel elaborates on the story, adding parallels for Jesus that Matthew’s audience would have associated with Moses (cf. Matthew 17:1-8; and Exodus 24:1,15-18; 34:29-35). Matthew also added another association between his version of Jesus’ baptism and the words found in Isaiah 42:1. Luke later adds versus 31-34 and 36, and changes the six days Mark describes at the beginning of the story to eight.

Unfortunately, Christianity has become filled with antisemitic interpretations of the transfiguration, usually contrasting Moses and Elijah with Jesus. With a kind of Christian supremacy, or supercessionism (replacing Judaism with Christianity), some Christians compare Moses and Elijah with “the law and the prophets” and claim Jesus is superior to both.

I want to offer an interpretation of this story that honors Judaism instead of contrasting with it. Jesus was a Jewish man after all. His was a 1st Century Jewish voice among many other Jewish voices, rooted in interpretations of the Torah and other Hebrew wisdom. Jesus, even in these stories, did not envision himself as beginning a new religion: he and his teachings were deeply influenced by the Judaism he was raised within. So when we read the gospels, I find it much more helpful to read the synoptic gospels as a debate within Judaism among Jewish voices on what it means to be faithful to the God of the Torah rather than as an anachronistic debate between Christianity and Judaism as world religions. (I feel the gospel of John breaks from this pattern.) As I’ve said recently, we don’t have to disparage Judaism to value the ethical teachings of Jesus.

What purpose might the gospel authors, who wrote for both Jewish and Gentile Jesus followers, have had in associating Moses and Elijah with Jesus in this story?

First, Jewish tradition held that Moses and Elijah had both talked directly with God (Deuteronomy 34:10; 2 Kings 19:9-13). When they are introduced in the gospels, Jesus has begun his final trek to Jerusalem where he will confront the economic injustices of the Temple state (flipping the tables), and that confrontation will most likely result in state violence against him. Before the week is over, Jesus will be crucified on a Roman cross.

But in this story, the early Jesus followers are trying earnestly to make sense of Jesus’ execution at the hands of the Roman empire. Their association of both Elijah and Moses with Jesus pointed Jesus followers to the claim that although Jesus ministry and work of salvation had been interrupted by a Roman cross, God had overturned, reversed, and undone that act of unjust state violence and raised Jesus from the dead, which meant his salvific work lived on.

In the Hebrew tradition, Elijah and Moses are figures for whom death did not have the final say. Elijah was taken directly to heaven not seeing death (2 Kings 2:11), and Moses’ death was also surrounded with mystery, his burial place of being unknown and several traditions believing that he was taken into the presence of the Divine after death (Deuteronomy 34:6; Jude 9).

Again, early Jesus followers are trying to find a life-giving framing for Jesus’ murder by the system because of his call for change. They are trying to strengthen the claim that he’s been resurrected.

There are other associations, as well. Moses was the law giver and deeply associated with themes of liberation from oppression. Jesus’ early followers, Jewish and Gentile, understood him as another great teacher whose message was of liberation from oppression (see Luke 4:18-19).

The last association is the most meaningful to me: the association of Jesus with Elijah. In the Jewish stories, Elijah’s mountaintop experience in 1 Kings 19 was one of epiphany as his life was threatened for speaking truth to power and while he was deeply discouraged about his mission. I can identify with moments of discouragement while considering one’s life work. I can also imagine Jesus, too, wrestling similarly to Elijah during the last days of his life before the cross.

“He [Elijah] traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the Sovereign One came to him: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Sovereign One God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’ The Sovereign One said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Sovereign One, for the Sovereign One is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Sovereign One, but the Sovereign One was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Sovereign One was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Sovereign One was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Sovereign One God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’ The Sovereign One said to him, ‘Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.’”

In our story this week, both Elijah and Moses appear, possibly to encourage Jesus during his own time of discouragement as his own life is in jeopardy. Even the Divine shows up in the story, with words of encouragement, of filial approval repeated from Jesus’ baptism, and the admonishment for Peter, James and John to listen to Jesus.

I can see why the early Jewish Jesus followers would have found solace and encouragement through these associations.

I, too, think of those who I’ve journeyed with along the way who have been an encouragement to me when I’ve had difficult decisions to make. I’m thankful for each of them.

Have you had moments when you, also, have had to make some pretty difficult decisions? Moments where doing the right thing was not the easy choice? Who in your life were your Moses and Elijah? Who was there to encourage you? And lastly, who do you know who is engaging the work necessary for a better iteration of our present world, working to shape our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for us all, who right now could use your encouragement?

Take a moment this week and reach out. You never know what difference your just showing up could make. It doesn’t have to be a blinding light with radiant clouds and big voices from the sky. It could just be a text, or a phone call. However you choose to show up, take some time this week to let someone know that, in this work, they are not alone.

Here’s to a better world.

And here’s to all who right now are working toward it.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Share a story with your group from your own experience when someone was your Elijah or Moses and encouraged you when you had a difficult decision to make in a context of justice, liberation, or compassion.

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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 Setting in Motion a Safe, Compassionate, Just Society

pendulum in motion

Herb Montgomery | February 18, 2021

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


“The passage describes the reciprocal nature of judgment, of condemnation, of forgiveness, and of giving. Our choices show not only what kind of people we want to be; they also indicate what kind of community or society we are setting in motion with our choices.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:27-38)

No other section of Luke’s version of the Jesus story has a denser concentration of the rich teachings that Jesus’ early followers attributed to him than this passage. There is so much for us to unpack this week in these eleven verses, so let’s dive right in.

Enemy Love

Right away, I want to unequivocally reject any interpretation that demands we feel some kind of love or positive emotion toward our abusers or oppressors. That interpretation only furthers the harm that abusers and oppressors have committed against survivors.

So how are we to interpret Jesus’ teaching to love our enemies?

One possibility that deeply resonates with me is Barbara Deming’s two hands metaphor for nonviolence:

With one hand we say to one who is angry, or to an oppressor, or to an unjust system, Stop what you are doing. I refuse to honor the role you are choosing to play. I refuse to obey you. I refuse to cooperate with your demands. I refuse to build the walls and the bombs. I refuse to pay for the guns. With this hand, I will even interfere with the wrong you are doing. I want to disrupt the easy pattern of your life.But then the advocate of nonviolence raises the other hand. It is raised outstretched – maybe with love and sympathy, maybe not – but always outstretched . . . With this hand, we say, I wont let go of you or cast you out of the human race. I have faith that you can make a better choice than you are making now, and Ill be here when you are ready. Like it or not, we are part of one another.’” (in Pam McAllister, You Can’t Kill the Spirit, p. 6-7)

Enemy love means we can still hold those who harm us accountable, and in so doing, we need not lose hold of their humanity or our own. It leaves room for those who have harmed us to choose to change, too. Enemy love doesn’t mean we feel something warm and fuzzy for those who have harmed us. It means we view them as still humans, still part of our human family, and because of that do not allow them to continue committing acts of harm while we wait for them to change.

Turning the Other Cheek

I’ve written so much over the past few decade about what these passages could have meant in the social political context of their day. In a ten-part series I wrote back in 2019 on self-affirming nonviolence, I address this section of Luke with more depth, context, and nuance. You can find the beginning of that series at A Primer on Self Affirming, Nonviolence (Part 1).

I do not interpret these words of Jesus as encouraging oppressed or abused people to remain passive in suffering with those who are doing them harm. But to arrive at a life-giving interpretation we must read the passage in its cultural context.

Jesus’ culture strictly forbade the use of the left hand in interpersonal interactions. Since most people are right-handed, they only used their left hand for “unclean” tasks and even gesturing at another person with the left hand carried the penalty of exclusion and ten days penance (see Martínez, Florentino García, and Watson in The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: the Qumran Texts in English [2007], p. 11). Therefore, one would not hit someones right cheek with the left hand.

One would also never strike an equal on the right cheek. A blow between equals would always be delivered with a closed right fist to the left cheek of the other. The only natural way to land a blow with the right hand on someones right cheek was with a backhanded slap. This kind of blow was a show of insult from a superior to an inferior—master to slave, man to woman, adult to child, Roman to Jew—and it carried no penalty. But anyone who struck a social equal this way risked an exorbitant fine of up to 100 times the fine for common violence. Four zuz (a Jewish silver coin) was the fine for a blow to a social peer with a fist, but 400 zuz was the fine for backhanding them. Again, to strike someone you viewed as socially inferior to yourself with a backhanded slap was perfectly acceptable (see Goodman in Jews in a Graeco-Roman World [2004], p. 189). A backhanded blow to the right cheek had the specific purpose of humiliating and dehumanizing the other.

What did Jesus command dehumanized people do? A retaliatory blow would only invite retribution and escalating violence. Instead, Jesus taught us to turn the other, left cheek so the supposed superior could strike correctly—as an equal. This would demonstrate that the supposed inferior refused to be humiliated, and the striker would have only two options: either a left-handed blow with the back of the hand, and its penalty, or a blow to the left cheek with a right fist, signifying equality. Since the first option was out of bounds culturally, and the second option would challenge the strikers supposed superiority, the aggressor lost the power to dehumanize.

Naked Protest

Jesus issued this teaching in the context of the Hebrew law. Many of the very poor had only two articles of clothing to their name, and the law allowed a creditor to take a poor person’s inner garment (chiton) or outer garment (himation) as a promise of future payment if they lacked means to pay a debt. However, the wealthy creditor had to return the garment each evening for the owner to sleep in:

If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest. If you take your neighbors cloak as a pledge, return it by sunset, because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can they sleep in? When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.” (Exodus 22:25–27)

When you make a loan of any kind to your neighbor, do not go into their house to get what is offered to you as a pledge. Stay outside and let the neighbor to whom you are making the loan bring the pledge out to you. If the neighbor is poor, do not go to sleep with their pledge in your possession. Return their cloak by sunset so that your neighbor may sleep in it. Then they will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the LORD your God.” (Deuteronomy 24:10–13)

Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge.” (Deuteronomy 24:17).

In that society, before the invention of modern underwear, it was more shameful to see someones nakedness than to be naked. Remember Noahs son Ham?

Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their fathers naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.” (Genesis 9:22-23)

Because of this context, a debtor stripping off one cloak or the other in public court would turn the moral tables on their creditor and put the poor person in control of the moment. Compare Matthew 5:40 and Luke 6:29: If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt [chiton], hand over your coat [himation] as well” (Matthew 5:40). If someone takes your coat [himation], do not withhold your shirt [chiton] from them” (Luke 6:29).

A debtor exposing their body would also expose the exploitative system and shame the wealthy and powerful person who took their last valuable object from them. Jesus was endorsing public nudity as a valid form of nonviolent protest or resistance: Jesus recommended nakedness in protest over returning violence with more violence.

Giving Based on Need Rather than Worthiness

A more accurate translation for the next section of this week’s passage is “give to everyone who begs from you.” Consider the spirit of this injunction.

Jesus was trying to foster the kind of human community where we place people’s needs above our attachment to our own material possessions. In that community, when someone is in need, we don’t stop to ask if they are deserving. We simply give as we are able. Our actions aren’t to be about what kind of people others are but about what kind of people we want to be. If we have more than we need today, we should share with those whose needs are not met. We should do this, trusting that if at some point in the future our needs are not being met, the kind of reciprocal world we’ve created would be populated with people who can share with us from their surplus as we have shared from ours.

Demanding Return of Property

Some interpretations of this passage would forbid people who are disenfranchised or live in marginalized social locations from demanding justice, restitution, accountability, and reparations for harms committed against them.

But what could Luke’s Jesus have been referring to?

In our time, those who richly benefit from our predatory, exploitative, capitalist system often demand that their privilege, power and property be protected when others organize and call for justice. They’re the opposite of the priest in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables who, when Jean Val Jean stole his silver and was caught by the police, gave Jean his candlestick, too. In the book A Black Theology of Liberation, James Cone wrote that those who were enslaved did not consider taking from the slave master’s possessions as theft or stealing as the slavocracy stole so much from them every day.

Our teaching says to those whose property and privilege have come at the expense of and harm of someone else: don’t demand it back when it’s ultimately taken from you.

Reciprocal Nature of Our World

This week’s passage also includes the universal golden rule found in most of the world’s religious traditions. It includes an unconditionally and universally compassionate description of the divine’s orientation to the ungrateful and wicked that harmonizes more with Christian universalism than with the Christian teaching of eternal torment. And Jesus calls on those who subscribe to unconditional, compassionate images of the divine to be those kinds of people in response: people of mercy and kindness without regard for the worth of recipients.

Lastly, the passage describes the reciprocal nature of judgment, of condemnation, of forgiveness, and of giving. Our choices show not only what kind of people we want to be; they also indicate what kind of community or society we are setting in motion with our choices.

“For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

A dear friend of mine, Dr. Keisha McKenzie, often says, “Society is a group project.”

In school, I never much cared for group projects. I often felt that the weight of success was disproportionately pulled by those of us who cared about our work. That’s true in our society as well. But given the past two years, it especially behooves those of us who care to be more intentional. Group projects fall on the shoulders of those who care most, and what we choose to do, the kind of people we choose to collectively be, will contribute to the kind of world we bring into existence during our short time here.

I’m choosing the path of love: a path of distributive justice, of sharing, of caring. How about you?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Share something from our passage that you believe is especially applicable still in our social context, today. Discuss that 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

When Social Justice is Rejected and Spoken of as Evil

Herb Montgomery | February 11, 2022

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


But things never remain as they are. Change is the nature of reality. We can choose to bend the arc of the universe toward justice for everyone. That arc is going to bend one way or another. Either we will bend it to benefit a few at the expense of the diverse masses or, in the face of being spoken of as evil, we can continue shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke

He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.

Looking at his disciples, he said:

  Blessed are you who are poor,

for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who hunger now,

for you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who weep now,

for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you,

when they exclude you and insult you

and reject your name as evil,

because of the Son of Man.

  Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

 “But woe to you who are rich,

for you have already received your comfort.

  Woe to you who are well fed now,

for you will go hungry.

Woe to you who laugh now,

for you will mourn and weep.

  Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,

for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:17-26)

Even the most liberal Jesus scholars today accept that at least the first three sayings in our reading this week, and possibly some form of the fourth as well, were the words of the historical Jesus. These four blessings can be found in similar forms in both Matthew’s beatitudes and the gospel of Thomas.

They lie at the heart of Luke’s liberation message in Luke 4 (see Liberation for the Oppressed), and they single out four sectors of Jesus’ society: those the present system makes poor, those the present system leaves hungry, those whom the present system causes to weep, and those the present system hates, excludes, insults, rejects, and labels as “evil” because of their calls for change.

Again, as we read that last blessing, just because you’re being criticized doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on the right track, and being praised doesn’t necessarily mean you are on the wrong path. It’s important to take note of which parts of society are speaking negatively or speaking well of you. Let me explain.

This week’s reading divides society into two sides: those an unjust system disenfranchises and harms, and those the present system benefits and privileges, enriches, makes well fed, and causes to laugh. So we have to ask which community is speaking well of us and which community is speaking negatively.

If the elite and privileged all speak well of you, then chances are this week’s saying applies most directly to you. And if those the system harms speak well of you, but those the system benefits speak negatively of you because they see you as a threat to the status quo or represent change that threatens their privilege, then you could rejoice. As this week’s saying states, that’s how the prophets who called for justice were treated, too. You’re not alone. In fact, you’re standing in good company.

Again, it’s not enough to be spoken well of or be spoken not so well of. We have to ask ourselves who, or which community, is doing the speaking.

I’ll give a personal example. Many in my faith tradition used to speak extremely well of me. I was a guest speaker in high demand at various events and conferences across the United States. All of that changed when I came out as affirming of the LGBTQ community. When I called for inclusion and justice for LGBTQ people of faith, and began drawing attention to the tradition’s exclusive practices and mischaracterizations of LGBTQ people, I became anathema.

Today, I still have much in common with those in that tradition who call for racial justice or greater inclusion of and justice for women. Yet they do not welcome me in their organizations because I don’t hide the fact that, in addition to those passions for justice, I also affirm LGBTQ folks. I’ve been told I take Jesus’ justice for the excluded “too far,” farther than many progressives in that community are comfortable with.

But in this week’s reading, Jesus predicted a great reversal. Jesus is stating that those the present system harms will experience that harm reversed in the reign of God, God’s just future. And while that is good news for them, those who benefit from the present system would not perceive it as good. For these people, this blessing would be seen as a message of damnation: it would change the system that privileged them.

In our society, some, such as people in Appalachia, are still holding on to the hope that coal will somehow make a comeback in our economy. A Green New Deal is good news for those who recognize the environmental changes that need to take place and the benefit to workers who will be retrained in new fields of labor, but to those who financially benefit from the coal industry, the Green New Deal is the enemy.

Then there are those who are working for a safe, robust, diverse, multiracial, multicultural, pluralistic democracy, all while their efforts are mischaracterized as anti-White and destroying the fabric of America. For those benefiting from a system rooted in White supremacy, those working toward a multiracial democracy are the enemy. Terms like “socialist” or “socialism” are used to scare those harmed in the present and prevent them from voting in their own best interest or for changes that would close the wealth gap and be good for everyone.

These ancient words in our story still have a very contemporary application.

Whenever we find people calling for change now, we will see the same dynamics as we see in our passage. What some perceive as a blessing, others will perceive as a curse. I’m reminded of something the late Peter J. Gomes wrote.

“When the gospel says, ‘The last will be first, and the first will be last,’ despite the fact that it is counterintuitive to our cultural presuppositions, it is invariably good news to those who are last, and at least problematic news to those who see themselves as first. This problem of perception is at the heart of a serious hearing of what Jesus has to say, and most people are smart enough to recognize that their immediate self-interest is served not so much by Jesus and his teaching as by the church and its preaching. Thus, it is no accident that although Jesus came preaching a disturbing and redistributive gospel, we do not preach what Jesus preached. Instead, we preach Jesus.” (The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, p. 42).

Just ten pages earlier in the same volume, Gomes wrote,

“When Jesus came preaching, it was to proclaim the end of things as they are and the breaking in of things that are to be: the status quo is not to be criticized; it is to be destroyed . . . Most people do not go to church to be confronted with the gap between what they believe and practice and what their faith teaches and requires. One of the reasons that religious people are often cultural conservatives, and that cultural conservatives take comfort in religion, is that religion is seen to confirm the status quo.” (The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, pg. 31-32)

What would it look like if we as Jesus followers leaned into the difference Gomes speaks about here? What if we spent less energy this year preaching Jesus and more effort speaking about the things Jesus actually taught?

If we did, some would see it as a blessing, as steps in the direction of positive change. I’m quite sure others would feel threatened and want things to remain just the way they are.

But things never remain as they are. Change is the nature of reality. We can choose to bend the arc of the universe toward justice for everyone. That arc is going to bend one way or another. Either we will bend it to benefit a few at the expense of the diverse masses or, in the face of being spoken of as evil, we can continue shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. If the above blessing and cursing were rewritten in our society, today, who would be the recipients of each? Discuss with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



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