Advent and Coming Justice

Herb Montgomery | December 2, 2022

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


“In this just future that we are working for now, may all things death-dealing be burned up like chaff with fire that cannot be quenched. May all things life-giving be gathered up and cherished. And may this future be one of salvation for each of us together.”


Our reading this week comes from the gospel of Matthew:

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

A voice of one calling in the wilderness,

Prepare the way for the Lord,

make straight paths for him.”’

Johns clothes were made of camels hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:1-12)

Our reading this week resonates with the context of Advent at this time of year. Advent is a time to commemorate not only the arrival of Jesus in Bethlehem, but also the coming of a just, safe, compassionate world here, one where every person, with all our differences, has space to feel at home.

Our present world doesn’t match that vision yet. In our world, some traits and experiences are privileged and centered while others are pushed to the margins. In this week’s reading, John the Baptist was not speaking from the center of his community. He was speaking from the margins of the wilderness. Ched Myers speaks of a possible narrative meaning for this detail in his book Say to This Mountain: Mark’s Story of Discipleship:

While the margin has a primarily negative political connotation as a place of disenfranchisement, Mark ascribes to it a primarily positive theological value. It is the place where the sovereignty of God is made manifest, where the story of liberation is renewed, where God’s intervention in history occurs.” (Ched Myers, Say to This Mountain: Mark’s Story of Discipleship, p. 12)

Our most cherished and sacred Jesus story begins and persists on the margins, on the edges, or in less centered social settings. Not only was Judea a marginalized region of the Roman empire, but the narrative placing John’s itinerant ministry outside the synagogues is a hint that readers or listeners should look toward the margins. For this itinerant ministry to be further located in Galilee, an even more marginalized region for already marginalized Jewish people within the Roman empire, makes Jesus and John’s ministry thrice-located on the margins compared to the urban institutions of their society.

From this narrative point, we learn that restoration, liberation, and life-giving transformations toward a more just world come from marginalized social locations in our societies. Change comes from the bottom up and outside in. To put it in our language today, change begins with the grassroots.

Another thing that strikes me about our reading this week is John’s no-nonsense, offensively blunt comments to the Pharisees and Sadducees who showed up to see what he was up to. It was a callout, but I want to steer clear of Christian antisemitic interpretations here. John the Baptist was Jewish. He was not trying to begin a new religion or rejecting his Judaism. John’s movement was about the renewal, restoration, and liberation of his fellow Jews, not about replacing them with a new people.

John’s attack of Pharisees and Sadducees in this story was not religious as we would understand it in our culture, but it was very much political. Remember, the Pharisees and Sadducees were powerful political parties in John’s society that not only competed with one another for political power, but also were complicit with Roman imperialism and Rome’s colonization of Judea, Galilee, and other small, rural communities across the region. Both Jesus’ and John’s movements were rural movements, not urban. Only at the end of his life did Jesus set his sights on Jerusalem and the economic injustices centered in the Temple state there.

Thus, the wilderness location of John’s ministry was also associated with his practice of a Judaism that rejected complicity with the Roman empire and contrasted with urban institutions including Herod’s family’s reign in Judea and the Temple state seated in Jerusalem.

John the Baptist was part of a Jewish liberation and reformation movement. He, like others, practiced immersion baptism as an act of repentance, atoning for past injustices, recommitting to righteousness, and dedicating oneself to a vision of liberation and restoration for Jewish people. That era of restoration would begin with a global end to all injustice, violence, and oppression.

I agree with scholars who interpret Jesus as having begun as a disciple of John’s. Within John’s community, there is a spirit of looking forward to something that was about to change for the better, and whereas John said it was coming, Jesus said it had arrived, was near, or was already among us, in our midst.

Today, those of us engaging justice work also look forward to and are working toward an iteration of our world that is more in harmony with justice and inclusion. Justice workers who value the Jesus story sometimes refer to this change as God’s just future, the basileia, the kin-dom, beloved community, and more. John the Baptist interpreted this change as the breaking in of God’s work in our world, an intervention in which his followers were invited to participate. Today, we also understand that a more just future depends on our cooperation with each other (and with the Divine for those of you who are theists).

As we wrap up another year, what accomplishments do we have to be thankful for? What lies ahead as we anticipate another year of working toward a world that is a safe and just home for everyone?

This week’s reading concludes with John’s anticipated restoration and liberation being an era of reversal and upheaval, not just restoration. It was to be a time of opposites, where wheat was gathered and chaff was burned up. I’m okay with this imagery if we apply it to life-giving social elements: I actually like the idea of gathering up life-giving things and forming a society out of them. I like the idea of death-dealing elements and systems being burned up in the purifying fire of life, love, compassion, and justice. I can lean into that!

But I want to lean away from any interpretation of this passage that applies threshing, gathering, or burning to people. We can say “no” to injustice while not letting go of the humanity of those responsible for that injustice. We can obstruct them and their activity today while holding space for them to change if they should choose to tomorrow. We want to reclaim and hold on to our own humanity while not letting go of anyone else’s. I love the way Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis of Middle Collegiate Church says it in her book Fierce Love:

“As a scholar who has studied religion and psychology, as an author of books on identity development and the power of stories, as a professor who teaches about leadership and anti-racist work, I understand why and how people and systems change. I know this to be true: The world doesnt get great unless we all get better. If there is such a thing as salvation, then we are not saved until everyone is saved; our dignity and liberation are bound together.” (Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, Fierce Love, p. 14).

During this season of Advent, we commemorate where justice, liberation and salvation has arrived in the past and make time to look forward to where it may arrive again and how we can participate that just future today.  In the spirit of Lewis’ inclusive salvation for everyone, I’ll close with a quote from Pam McAllister who, in explaining the work of Barbara Deming, shares this applicable wisdom:

“Barbara wrote about the two hands of nonviolence. She wrote that nonviolence gives us two hands upon the oppressor . . . This visual metaphor is particularly helpful in describing the basic attitude underlying the nonviolent sensibility. With one hand we say to an oppressor, ‘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 out-stretched—maybe with love and sympathy, but maybe not—but always outstretched with the message that (as Barbara wrote), ‘No, you are not the other, and no, I am not the other. No one is the other.’ With this hand we say, ‘I won’t 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 I’ll be here when you’re ready. Like it or not, we are part of one another.’ The peculiar strength of nonviolence comes precisely from the dual nature of its approach—the two hands.” (Pam McCallister, You Can’t Kill The Spirit, p. 6-7)

In this just future that we are working for now, may all things death-dealing be burned up like chaff with fire that cannot be quenched. May all things life-giving be gathered up and cherished. And may this future be one of salvation for each of us together.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What does inclusive, societal salvation look like to 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.

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

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

My new book, Finding Jesus: A story of a fundamentalist preacher who unexpectedly discovered the social, political, and economic teachings of the Gospels is now available at renewedheartministries.com

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


Now Available at Renewed Heart Ministries!

It’s finally here!  Herb’s new book Finding Jesus: A story of a fundamentalist preacher who unexpectedly discovered the social, political, and economic teachings of the Gospels, is available at renewedheartministries.com , just in time for the holidays!

Here is just a taste of what people are saying:

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

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

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

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

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

Get your copy today at renewedheartministries.com


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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

or Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The Beginning of Advent

advent

Herb Montgomery | November 25, 2022

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


“We can desire a future characterized not by some being left and many being destroyed but by change and reclaiming the humanity for all whether they be oppressed or oppressor. And we can anticipate a world that represents the social truth that if there is such a thing as salvation for any of us, none of us are saved until all of us are saved.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Matthew:

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:36-44)

This weekend marks the beginning of the season of Advent. As most Western Christians celebrate it, Advent season commemorates both expectation and preparation: the approaching season of Christmas and Christians looking forward to the Second Coming. Advent also marks the beginning of the Western Christian liturgical year and the beginning of our winter holiday season. The word advent refers to a “coming” or “arrival” of some looked-for event. It refers to the birth of Jesus long ago, the coming of the Christmas season this year, and the Christian expectation of Jesus’ future return.

This week’s reading begins with a passage from Matthew about the coming of the “Son of Man.” This “Son of Man” figure is from the Jewish apocalyptic book of Daniel. In Daniel 7, the world’s empires are represented as violent beasts bringing destruction and harm to the vulnerable. In Daniel’s narrative, all violence, injustice, and imperial oppression is finally answered for when God’s just future breaks in for the people through this “Son of Man” (see Daniel 7).

Daniels’ imagery would have meant a lot to Matthew’s Jewish audience who were followers of Jesus and people negatively impacted by Roman imperialism. They longed for liberation.

So our reading in Matthew begins with the timing of this liberation being unknown to all but God, even though it will begin within the lifetimes of Matthew’s audience (see Matthew 24:34). Matthew references the ancient folktale of Noah and the flood: Those “taken” are destroyed and those “left” are those who remain after the destruction. This image represented a great reversal of fortune and social location. Those who are marginalized and exploited are left while those responsible for oppression, violence, and injustice are taken away.

Many Christians today interpret these passages in ways that point forward to the second coming of Jesus. The original audience would have also heard this passage as a way to make sense of the world-upending events of Rome’s destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. Reading these passages in the 21st Century, few of us can fathom the lostness that many Jewish folk including Jewish followers of Jesus must have felt as they were “left” after Rome’s devastating destruction and with the Temple being no more. They were the one’s not taken but left to pick up the pieces. For these people, a passage about Rome being taken away instead of conquering yet again would have resonated with the hope that they could piece together their own worldview and place of belonging after their loss.

This passage ends with the admonition to not lose hope but to remain watchful. I understand why that encouragement would have been included in Matthew’s version of the Jesus story given what many in Matthew’s intended audience experienced. Today, I think we need even more life-giving stories or imagery.

History has proven time and again that simply reversing social locations is not good enough. Reversals that result in today’s oppressed people becoming tomorrow’s oppressors still leave the hegemonic system in place: only the actors in that system have traded places.

What if we instead desire an egalitarian future that looks more like a shared table, one where oppressors are transformed through restitution and restoration for the harm done, and the oppressed’s humanity is recognized resulting in liberation. We can desire a future characterized not by some being left and many being destroyed but by change and reclaiming the humanity for all whether they be oppressed or oppressor. And we can anticipate a world that represents the social truth that if there is such a thing as salvation for any of us, none of us are saved until all of us are saved (see Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis’ Fierce Love, p. 14).

Again, I understand why a reversal would have resonated with the original audience of our passage, and today, we can do better.

For the past decade, I and so many others have been trying to understand and interpret the Jesus story in a more life-giving way. If you are interested in leaning more into this way of interpreting our Jesus story this Advent season, Renewed Heart Ministries is proud to announce the release of my new book, Finding Jesus: The Story of a Fundamentalist Preacher who Unexpectedly Discovered the Social, Political, and Economic Teachings of the Gospels.

We’ll release it exclusively through our website at renewedheartministries.com beginning December 1.

Here is a sample of what folks are saying about the book:

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

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

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

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

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

This week’s passage reminds us once again that elements in the Jesus story that were once life-giving for certain of Jesus followers in their context must evolve and become more life-giving so they can have non-destructive meaning for us today as we seek to follow Jesus in our own society. These new ways of reading will be in perfect harmony with the overall spirit of the message and teachings of Jesus. Reading this way often involves hard work as we wrestle with understanding its application to our time’s social needs, but this work is well worth it for those of us who believe the Jesus story still has much to offer us today.

As we begin this Advent season, may Advent this year be not only about the arrival of Jesus in Bethlehem, nor only the arrival or coming of our holiday season or the future coming of Jesus, but also the coming of more life-giving ways to follow Jesus today. That’s the kind of Advent I can get behind!

May this blessed season of Advent bring peace, joy, love, and justice to each of you.

Heart Group Application

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

2. What does the season of Advent mean 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.

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week.


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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

or Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Crosses and Resurrections

crosses

Herb Montgomery | November 18, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

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

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

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

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

The actions of the soldiers.

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

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

There is a lot here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


book cover

Coming Soon!

Available December 1, 2022

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

Here is just a taste of what people are saying:

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

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

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

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

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

Available December 1 at renewedheartministries.com


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

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Practicing Honesty Regarding Harmful Forms of Christianity

Christianity

Herb Montgomery | November 11, 2022

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


“I realize this week’s passage may open up uncomfortable conversations for many Christians. But these kinds of discussions are necessary nonetheless. I want to encourage us to lean into these discussions rather than averting our gaze and perpetuating a culture of denial, a false estimation of ourselves, and further death-dealing. I want us to instead practice our faith in life-giving ways.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

Teacher,” they asked, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” He replied: Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, I am he,and, The time is near.Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

Then he said to them: Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. And so you will bear testimony to me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life. (Luke 21:5-18)

The lectionary reading from the gospels this weekend has a very long, antisemitic history, but we can understand this passage in ways that are faithful to the Jewish ethic that Jesus’ centered of in his teachings and help us love our neighbor as ourselves.

Remember that the Jesus movement did not begin as Christianity. Early Jesus followers were Jewish and the Jesus movement didn’t set out to create a new religion. So the teaching that later became these verses did not come from a context of Christianity versus Judaism, but were one Jewish perspective among many on Roman imperialism’s negative impact on Judaism and on the Temple aristocracy’s complicity with Rome. Many marginal Jewish voices during Jesus’ time were opposed to the Temple state because of its complicity with Roman imperial economic exploitation. Rome determined who would lead the Temple’s aristocracy, and so those in political power in the Temple state in Jerusalem cooperated with Rome to survive and keep power in Jewish society. Because of this political calculation, the High Priesthood lost the confidence of the masses who suffered economically.

Josephus tells us of a multitude of rebel prophets promising liberation from Roman imperialism. Here is just one example:

“These people [six thousand people who Rome killed] owed their demise to a phony prophet. He was someone who on that very day announced that God had ordered the people in the city to go up to the temple area, there to welcome the signs that they would be delivered. Many prophets at that time were incited by tyrannical leaders to persuade people to wait for help from God. . . . When humans suffer they are readily persuaded; but when the con artist depicts release from potential affliction, those suffering give themselves up entirely to hope.” (Josephus, Jewish Wars, 6.285-287)

I understand the Jesus movement beginning as one of this kind of Jewish liberation movements. Jesus’ preaching of the “kingdom” of God over and against the empire of Rome offered the people a way to return to and restore fidelity to the Torah, centered in love of God and love of neighbor.

Our reading this week also heavily depends on Mark 13, perhaps as a way to harmonize Mark with the tensions between Jewish and Gentile Jesus followers and between Christianity and Judaism that are expanded later, in the book of Acts. Through these stories, anti-Jewishness could grow into these passages and interpretations of those passages that have been deeply destructive to our Jewish neighbors and friends.

Because of these passages, some Christians have long falsely taught that the Temple was destroyed because the Jews “rejected” Jesus. I would instead argue that what we see in the Jesus story is classism playing out. Many Jewish people embraced Jesus’ liberation movement, but the upper classes in the story, threatened by Jesus and his teaching, were the only ones who played any part in turning him over to Rome to be crucified.

If there was an intrinsic cause that produced Rome’s destruction of the Temple, it was Rome’s economic exploitation of Jewish people that lead to the peasant uprising, which in turn led to the Jewish Roman War and a series of Roman destructions of Jerusalem and its temple, one of the worst of which was in 70 C.E.

Many scholars are convinced that this week’s reading was written well after this destruction took place, and that the author was trying to makes sense out of a world without a Jewish Temple. I agree.

So is there anything life-giving that we can glean from this week’s reading today?

I believe so. This passage in the lectionary gives us the opportunity to talk about the harm that some interpretations of Christianity’s sacred texts have led to. Supersessionism, the theological theory that Christians have “replaced” Jews, is only one example. The passage invites us to confess where we have sinned against our fellow members of our human family. And it gives us an opportunity to affirm or re-affirm our need to choose more life-giving actions today.

Through this week’s reading, we can do all of this in the context of honestly naming the harms against Jewish people that Christians are responsible for. Which other people have we as Christians harmed? What do we need to practice openly naming and making repair for today?

Some expressions of Christianity have a long history of not being life-giving to women, both cis and trans, and of all races, cultures, and ethnicities.

I think also of how Christians used the Bible to deal death to Indigenous people during colonialism. I think of Black people and how White Christians used the Bible to support slavery. In so many expressions of Christianity today, people still engage in harmful misunderstandings and actions toward the LGBTQ community. We could go on and on.

I realize this week’s passage may open up uncomfortable conversations for many Christians. But these kinds of discussions are necessary nonetheless. I want to encourage us to lean into these discussions rather than averting our gaze and perpetuating a culture of denial, a false estimation of ourselves, and further death-dealing. I want us to instead practice our faith in life-giving ways.

Admitting guilt for past harms is only a step toward more life-giving actions, and it is not enough. We must also actually take life-giving actions today and in the future.

We need to be honest about the harm we have done in the past, and we also need to do the hard work of practicing more life-giving ways to follow Jesus today. As things in our society change, we can also make changes as part of the transformations every generation of Jesus followers must make to align the story we hold so dear and our faith with the teachings of the Central Figure in our faith who reaffirmed those two Jewish central pillars:

The most important commandment,” answered Jesus, is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

We’ll lose nothing life-giving with honesty about where we have deeply messed up in the past. As difficult as it may be at times, that is what faithfulness to the teachings of that Jewish prophet of the poor from Galilee requires from us.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Again, we need to be honest about the harm we have done in the past. What are ways that you perceive we can lean more deeply into and practice this honesty? Discuss with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

or Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

When Marriage is Unjust

Herb Montgomery | November 4, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the lesson for us?

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

Marriage has a long history of change and social construction.

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

or Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Choosing the Common Good

illustrates the common good

Herb Montgomery | October 30, 2022

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


“Is my Jesus-following contributing to harmful policies toward those who are different from me? Or does my Jesus following move me to listen to those whose experiences in our communities are vastly different from my own, those whom our system makes vulnerable to harm rather than safe?”


I reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’

But Zacchaeus stood up and said, Look! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’

Jesus said to him, Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’” (Luke 19:1-10)

We miss a lot in this story if we don’t understand it in terms of how much Roman imperialism harmed the masses in Judea and southern Galilee. Roman occupation benefitted the elite who had become wealthy to the detriment of others and through the Roman economic system. But for many others, Rome drastically changed the economic landscape and how Rome’s client rulers acted in their region.

In this week’s story, Zacchaeus is a tax collector for Roman imperialism and has become rich through his work.

To understand this context more, read this month’s Renewed Heart Ministries book of the month, Richard Horsley’s book Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder.

Horsley brings to our attention what Roman taxation looked like for many in Jesus’ region:

In one of the most serious omissions, studies of the historical Jesus have failed to investigate the fundamental social forms within Galilean society. The Galileans among whom Jesus worked, indeed the vast majority of people in any traditional agrarian society, would have been embedded in households and villages. Villages were communities of families or households engaged in subsistence agriculture (and/or fishing), a substantial percentage of whose produce was expropriated by their rulers. These rulers intervened in village affairs fairs mainly to extract their tax revenues.” (Kindle Locations 788-789)

Because of heavy Roman taxation, former land owners had become peasant farmers on lands that used to belong to their families. Their role in the economic system became especially oppressive.

“As the productive economic base of the Jerusalem Temple and priesthood and of the Herodian capital cities of Sepphoris and Tiberias in Galilee, the peasants’ role was to render up produce in tithes, taxes, and tribute for the rulers’ support.” (Kindle Locations 516-517)

The placement of Herod Antipas as a client ruler of the Roman empire marked a first in the history of Roman imperialism for this region: a “king” representing Rome lived directly in Galilee. This brought an “unprecedented rigor in the collection of taxes” (Horsley).

Horsley’s research demonstrates that the political climate among the people in response to this deep economic oppression inspired their reimagining the liberation themes and stories within the Hebrew tradition and then expressed in various forms of resistance.

“Judean and Galilean peasants were cultivating their own popular version of Israelite tradition that, far more than the version accepted in Jerusalem, emphasized stories of liberation from oppressive rule . . .” (Kindle Locations 519-520)

“In order to protect their own minimal subsistence, the always marginal peasants regularly sequestered portions of their crops before the tax collectors arrived or found various ways of sabotaging the exploitative practices of their rulers.” (Kindle Locations 700-702)

Roman imperialism through economic oppression also meant that Jesus’ society began to break down:

“Roman conquest and imposition of client rulers, with the resulting multiple layers of taxes and socially disintegrative economic and cultural practices, set the conditions of and for Jesus’ mission and other, parallel movements. In generating and articulating his program, moreover, Jesus drew thoroughly on Israelite traditions of opposition to imperial and oppressive domestic rulers. There is no need to debate whether he was ‘apocalyptic,’ because both Jesus and the apocalypses produced by scribal groups shared the widespread common Israelite pattern of God’s judgment against foreign rulers as a prerequisite of restoration of the subject people, a pattern dictated by the recurrent circumstances of Israelite peoples under imperial rule. In this regard Jesus stands together with activist Pharisees and other teachers and administrators who formed resistance groups such as the Fourth Philosophy. They stand on precisely the same grounds in rejecting the tribute to Rome: they owe exclusive loyalty to God as their only ruler and lord. Surely the vast majority of Judeans and Galileans believed that, and attempted to resist Roman exploitation in whatever ways they could whenever they could.” (Kindle Locations 1339-1346)

We must read this week’s story within this context. This backdrop also gives new insights into the political, economic, and social meaning of the gospels. Jesus’ preaching, teaching, and demonstrations of the “kingdom of God,” the rule of God, or God’s just future must be understood as an answer to the people’s desire for liberation from Roman rule and imperialism.

In our story this week, conviction has come home to Zacchaeus who has participated in the empire and become personally wealthy from systems that were to blame for the disintegration of his own Jewish society. This is a story of repentance and change that manifests through economic and political change for Zacchaeus here and now, not after death. Life as usual doesn’t continue on for Zacchaeus. No: Zacchaeus choosing to embrace Jesus’ program meant him choosing to let go of his ill-gotten wealth and use it for reparations and restoration after the harm Roman imperialism had done. He is rejecting the kingdom of Rome for the rule of the God of the Torah, not just religiously, but also politically, economically, and socially in concrete ways for his community.

In response to this holistic change, Jesus states, “Today, salvation has come to this house.”

As Rev. Dr. Wilda Gafney insightfully comments:

“Riches may buffer some of the hardships of life, but one can have all the wealth in the world and still be deeply lost.” (In A Woman’s Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year W, p. 278)

What does following the Jesus of these gospel stories mean for us, today? This Jesus prioritized the marginalized and disenfranchised. This Jesus called those complicit with social harm, like Zacchaeus, to join his program of liberation?

Today, some who claim the name of Jesus are responsible for the political, social and economic harm being perpetrated against LGBTQ people. Some Christians have chosen to put women’s lives in jeopardy because of their shallow understandings of women’s healthcare needs and basic human rights. My own Appalachian communities have been harmed through politics that Christians have been duped into supporting (i.e. “pro-life” being the opposite of life-giving, as an example), and also Christians have not educated themselves out of forms of Christianity that make them especially vulnerable to political manipulation.

Yes, Zacchaeus’ story has something to say to those whose wealth has come to them through harming others. It also has something to say to all Jesus followers who live in other forms of social privilege. This story speaks deeply to me. I am not wealthy, but I am white, straight, cisgender, male, and have middle-class privilege. Reading this story, I ask myself: Is my Jesus-following contributing to harmful policies toward those who are different from me? Or does my Jesus following move me to listen to those whose experiences in our communities are vastly different from my own, those whom our system makes vulnerable to harm rather than safe? The story of Zacchaeus calls me to question ways in which I, too, am complicit in the harm of others and can choose change.

I and others who share my social location can do better, and our doing better is not an act of charity. It’s the work that Zacchaeus did, of reclaiming our own humanity through acknowledging, valuing, and honoring the humanity of others.

The lessons are deep and life changing this week, and I’m thankful for them.

What would it take today for those who live in social locations of privilege to hear the words, “Today, salvation has come to this house.”

HeartGroup Application

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

2. In our story, Zacchaeus chooses not only to change, but to also make reparations for harms he has committed in the past? Discuss the kinds of reparation you believe we as a society should be making with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

or Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Faith Based Complicity in Social Harm

social harm

Herb Montgomery | October 21, 2022

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


“It’s not enough to have our faith community’s stamp of approval on our political engagement. We also have to look at the fruit of our political actions. Are we building systems that give life to those who marginalized and vulnerable or are we engaging in political activity that has our religious community’s approval but is actually deeply destructive?”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

This week’s reading is most often explained through a religious lens that weakens the contrast in the text. The passage contrasts humility and exaltation, and strictly religious interpretive lenses miss the political context in it. When we restore this cultural context, new dimensions and hues emerge.

At RHM, we’ve spent a lot of time over the years exploring the politics of the Pharisees politically. This religious and political party sought power and influence within Jesus’ society.  Their most significant competition was the party of the Sadducees. They were financially affluent, the elite in Jesus’ society, and used a much more conservative interpretive lens for the Torah that kept the masses marginalized because they couldn’t afford more strict or stringent interpretations of Torah faithfulness. If the Sadducees’ interpretation of Torah faithfulness was used, faithfulness fell out of reach for many poor people in Jesus’ society simply because they could not afford the affluence needed to live the Sadducee way. (See Worshiping in Vain.)

On the other hand, the Pharisees used more liberal interpretation, defining Torah observance in a less conservative way so that many more people could live out their desire to be faithful to the Torah. This liberalism is what gave the Pharisees their political power in Jesus’ society: they were popular with the people. They were, to use our language today, a kind of working person’s or “blue collar” religious/political party.

All of this brings us to our passage. This week’s passage is about a lot more than just humility.  It’s also about complicity with political harm. To wield any type of collective political power in Jesus’ society, whether Sadducees, the chief priests, teachers of the law, scribes, or even the Pharisees in Luke’s story, a group had to function in some way that made them complicit with Roman imperialism and its economic abuse of those in Jesus society (see Luke 20:19-26).

Consider what we said a couple weeks ago regarding the healing stories in the gospel:

“Jesusministry was not to start a new religion, but to socially and economically renew his own Jewish society. His ministry involved restoring people to communal life in villages in a context where Roman imperialism was destroying communities . . . In these stories, Jesushealings represent the restoration of the rule or kingdom of the God of the Torah and the victory of Gods rule over Roman rule.” (See Trading Individualism for Community)

The tax collector in our reading this week was rejecting his complicity with Roman imperialism, occupation, and colonialism, and the harm it was doing to Jewish society. The Pharisee, on the other hand, based their moral superiority on their religious observances around Yom Kippur, the only fast prescribed in the Torah. We know that the Pharisees also fasted twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays (see Vincent Taylor, The Gospel According to St. Mark, p. 209). There were other fasts commemorating significant events in Jewish history too. The Pharisee, though religiously observant in their own eyes was still politically complicit in the concrete harms being committed against the vulnerable in society.

This is a reoccurring theme in Luke:

Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God.” (Luke 11:42)

The tax collector in our story is more than humble, and he expresses his humility by rejecting his participation in the oppression of vulnerable people in his society. This man goes home justified.

Reading the passage this way causes the language of humility and exaltation to take on a more Lucan flavor.

From the very first time Luke contrasts humility and exaltation, the context is political and systemic, not personal, moral, or individualistic. Consider Luke 1:

“He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53)

And Luke 14:

“For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)

As we shared in The Bodies We Inhabit, the rhetoric in Luke 14 of contrasting the humble with those who exalt themselves had a long political/economic history in the Jewish scriptures. In this tradition, the contrast is much more than privatized morality It’s consistently used to critique harmful systems.

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

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

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

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

So what does this all mean for us today?

I cannot help but think of the Religious Right and Evangelical groups directly responsible for many harm people are experiencing in our American society now. There is a longer history here to their relationship with the GOP than this week’s commentary allows us to explore. For now, though, we can say that the Republican Party has for decades courted certain religious communities in the U.S. in its bid to stay in power. To get the vote of these religious members and groups, the GOP has catered to the political/religious demands of their leaders. Yet, the Religious Right and these Evangelical groups have also demonstrated that they couldn’t care less about politicians’ moral character as long as these politicians will be tools or conduits to achieve their political goals. We’re now witnessing legislation across the country that represents bigotry toward vulnerable communities in the guise of religiosity. Christian Nationalism has taken root in this power-seeking soil, and is growing into the ugly manifestations we witness today.

Those of old who viewed themselves as religiously or morally superior to others while actively supporting systems of harm—how are we seeing this dynamic repeated in our communities today?

It’s honestly difficult to channel my anger in life-giving ways when I see religiously observant people whose pastors and other influencers have convinced them that certain political actions are their Christian duty, and who are nevertheless engaging in political activities that only produce system of concrete harm for so many. Like the man in our story this week, they feel thankful that they aren’t “sinners” like others while simultaneously being responsible for so much societal harm being done to those our society has made vulnerable.

It’s not enough to have our faith community’s stamp of approval on our political engagement. We also have to look at the fruit of our political actions. Are we building systems that give life to those who marginalized and vulnerable or are we engaging in political activity that has our religious community’s approval but is actually deeply destructive?

There is a lot to consider here. What is the fruit of your political actions? It’s not about which political party or parties you support. Considering the fruit of our actions also means mitigating harm as we engage the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone. Thinking of the fruit means following the Jesus of our sacred stories. Thinking only of the political ends we’ll achieve at any cost is just being a political tool for empowering a few while harming many more.

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 societally harmful policies being presently favored by certain Christians that you are concerned about, today? Discuss some of these with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week.


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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

or Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Persistence Toward Justice

persistence

Herb Montgomery | October 14, 2022

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


No effort invested in working toward a safe, compassionate, just world that is home for everyone is in vain. We never know what new concession from those who wield power is just around the next corner.


Our reading this week continues from the gospel of Luke:

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, Grant me justice against my adversary.

For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, Even though I dont fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she wont eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)

Historical Jesus scholars attribute this week’s parable to the Jewish Jesus although they also allow for the possibility that the author of Luke created the story given the overall focus of the gospel of Luke. The story only appears here in Luke’s version of the Jesus story. And the message encourages persistence.

The widow in the story demands justice. In the patriarchal culture of Jesus’ society, a widow had a fragile economic status, and the justice tradition of Judaism had ways of addressing that.

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in God’s holy dwelling.” (Psalm 68:5)

“The Most High watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but the Most High frustrates the ways of the wicked.” (Psalms 146:9)

“The Most High tears down the house of the proud, but the Most High sets the widows boundary stones in place.” (Proverbs 15:25)

“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)

“Your rulers are rebels, partners with thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widows case does not come before them.” (Isaiah 1:23)

“…To deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.” (Isaiah 10:2)

“…If you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm . . .” (Jeremiah 7:6)

“This is what the Most High says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” (Jeremiah 22:3)

“In you they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the foreigner and mistreated the fatherless and the widow.” (Ezekiel 22:7)

“Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.” (Zechariah 7:10)

“‘So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,’ says the Most High, the Almighty.” (Malachi 3:5)

I share this lengthy collection of passages so that we can begin to get the cultural context for our parable: what we would today describe as Jesus’ concern for social justice. Working for social justice is at the heart of what it means to follow the Jesus of synoptic gospels. It is a central theme of the Hebrew prophets’ justice tradition, and it is to this tradition that Luke’s version of the Jesus story adds its voice.

It strikes me as very odd today when I hear Jesus followers making fun of or speaking derisively of those who work for  social, political and economic justice in our time. The Jesus of our stories was speaking throughout Galilee’s villages to communities whose entire social fabric was being impacted by Roman imperialism. This impact enriched the elite at the expense of the masses. In Jesus’ audience, then, there would have been widows who knew this story by experience. Jesus wasn’t giving them a spiritual focus on post mortem bliss to pacify them while they continued to suffer. Jesus’s story would have inspired them to continue, to persist, to keep on going in their striving for concrete, temporal justice. They would also have prayed for God to match their persistent efforts by making a way for them. This parable is about prayer for sure, but it’s not only about prayer. The phrase we read in the introduction is to “always pray and not give up.”

If you are working toward justice and you find yourself feeling as if  you are swimming upstream against our society’s strong currents, don’t give up!

Also noteworthy is the unjust judge’s motive in this story.

His motive is not fidelity to God or concern for what people may think of him. The judge in the story is concerned that this widow may “eventually come and attack me.” The language for attack here would have been used to describe slapping someone in the face or giving them a black eye. So the judge acquiesces to the widow’s demand for justice for fear of her demands might turn violent. This reminds me of the political motives that lead to partial victories of the civil rights movement during the Johnson presidency. Faced with the demands of the King’s nonviolent movement versus the potential violence of other movements if changes weren’t made, the government partially heeded demands for change. Nearly 60 years later, we still have a long way to go to repair the harm born from our national sin of racism.

The author of Luke ends this section with a reference to the “Son of Man” and a question about where faith can be found. Again, this language is not concerned with post-mortem bliss but with present world realities. The title “Son of Man” comes from Jewish apocalyptic literature, specifically Daniel 7. In Daniel 7, world empires are depicted as monstrous beasts that will one day stand trial before the throne of justice to face judgment for their atrocities. In the end, the son of Man comes and gives liberation to the people.

“But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High.” (Daniel 7:26-27)

So, from start to finish, the entire context of our story is  of establishing justice on Earth, ending violence, and restoring what oppression has stolen.

Lastly the question is asked, when the son of Man comes, will there be faith on the earth?

My challenge this week is not to switch tracks at the end and hear faith in terms of religious or metaphysical claims. Contextually, given the focus of our story, faith is synonymous with persistence in praying for and working toward justice here on our earth. It’s about concrete change in our present systems. It’s about persistence in our reordering this present world.

This week’s story moves me to do two things. In matters where I, like the judge in this week’s story, have the power to change things and make our world a safer, just place, this week’s story moves me to do so. In matters where, like the widow, I don’t have the power to change things myself, this week’s story moves me to make those with the power continually uncomfortable until they do.

I don’t know about you, but there are seasons when I get tired swimming against the various currents of injustice and voices that perpetuate them in our society, both inside of and outside of Christianity. I do believe it’s okay to rest sometimes, and we can accomplish more in the long run if we take time to rest today.

There is also a time to persist rather than to quit. My mother used to remind me when I felt like giving up, “It’s always darkest just before the dawn.” This week’s reading encourages Jesus followers not to give up. No effort invested in working toward a safe, compassionate, just world that is home for everyone is in vain. We never know what new concession from those who wield power is just around the next corner. Keep going!

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What are some ways that you balance rest and persistence in your own justice work? Share some of these with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

or Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Trading Individualism for Community

community

Herb Montgomery | October 7, 2022

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


“Those of us from Western cultures have a lot we can learn from cultures that value community wellbeing over or alongside individual thriving. There are ways of structuring our society where the common good is emphasized, where the community thrives alongside each person comprising it, where we collectively take responsibility for taking care of every person.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesusfeet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19)

This story appears only in Luke. It may be modeled on a story in Mark (see Mark 1:40-45 ) and on Jewish tales of Elisha’s healing Naaman (see 2 Kings 5:1-15).

We can glean something from this week’s reading, and we have a few things to unpack first. We are far removed from the cultural setting of our story, but if we give it a moment, wisdom will come to the surface.

First, let’s understand how the Torah approached skin abnormalities. Anyone with a skin problem was to show it to the priest. If the issue was thought questionably contagious and a danger to the community, the person would be isolated for a period and re-examined before regaining access to the community. The result was either re-inclusion or continued isolation.

“If the shiny spot on the skin is white but does not appear to be more than skin deep and the hair in it has not turned white, the priest is to isolate the affected person for seven days. On the seventh day the priest is to examine them, and if he sees that the sore is unchanged and has not spread in the skin, he is to isolate them for another seven days.” Leviticus 13:4-5

Leprosy was an especially harmful skin disease socially. Not only did the person have to deal with the negative effects of the disease itself, they also had no social reinstatement to look forward to. Lepers were sentenced to an isolated life, living away from their community and alone for the rest of your days. Leper communities were invented so that lepers could still have some type of community with whom to survive.

Survival in Jesus’ world depended on belonging to one of many village communities. Belonging to a community comprised of a network of rural families was how you survived. A person would not survive on their own.

Now let’s look at the purpose of the healing stories in the Jesus story.

We could interpret these healing stories through a post-Enlightenment, naturalistic worldview that challenges all miracles as a violation of natural laws. We could question the historicity of each of these stories too. But I find many more life-giving lessons from interpreting the healing stories as Richard Horsley does in his excellent volume Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder. This approach asks us to take the healing stories, not within our context today, but in the context the original audience would have heard them, given their assumptions. In the four canonical versions of the Jesus story we have today, we must hear each of these stories in the debilitating context of Roman imperialism.

Leprosy broke down a person’s place in their village community, isolating them from a community-based system of survival to an individualistic mode of survival on the edges of their society. They were on their own.

In our individualistic culture, we have the myth of success being the result of pulling up oneself up by one’s own bootstraps. One of the deepest fall-outs of colonialism is the repression of Indigenous community ways, such as  the community coming together to make sure everyone is cared for, and where individual wellbeing was balanced with the common good or the community thriving. Colonialism has left each of us a “leper” today, isolated from community and having to make it on our own. This has been quite convenient for the capitalist elite, who can consolidate more power and wealth if we are only individuals working for our own survival, receiving only a portion of our work’s value, having the majority of our hard work only go to make someone else richer.

Jesus’ ministry was not to start a new religion, but to socially and economically renew his own Jewish society. His ministry involved restoring people to communal life in villages in a context where Roman imperialism was destroying communities, transforming landowners belonging to a small village community into isolated, individual, workers on land they’d once owned but lost through oppressive Roman taxation and defaulted debt.

In these stories, Jesus’ healings represent the restoration of the rule or kingdom of the God of the Torah and the victory of God’s rule over Roman rule. Jesus’ world was one where people were restored from the economic isolation of self-reliance to a community dedicated to making sure everyone had enough (see Acts 2 and 4). The leprosy is a real disease, and it was also used in the Jesus stories as a metaphor for the very real isolating effects of Roman imperialism. Roman rule was a disease that transformed the way people lived with each other.

So Jesus acted to heal and reverse the effects of Roman occupation. He called his listeners to rebuild their community life. And in this week’s story, we see yet another example of people being healed of that which kept them on the margins or edges of their society. His goal was not just to heal people as individuals, but that they also present themselves to their priests so they could be restored to their community.

If this is a new idea to you, I recommend the section “Healing the Effects of Imperialism” in Horsley’s book, Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder.

Horsley writes:

“Like the exorcisms, Jesus’ healings were not simply isolated acts of individual mercy, but part of a larger program of social as well as personal healing…

In these and other episodes Jesus is healing the illnesses brought on by Roman imperialism.

He was pointedly dealing with whole communities, not just individuals, in the context of their meeting for self governance. He was not dealing only with what we moderns call ‘religious’ matters, but with the more general political-economic concerns of the village communities as well, as we shall see below.” (Kindle Locations 1391-1392, 1406, and 1440-1442)

He explains further:

“Jesus launched a mission not only to heal the debilitating effects of Roman military violence and economic exploitation, but also to revitalize and rebuild the people’s cultural spirit and communal vitality. In healing various forms of social paralysis, he also released life forces previously turned inward in self blame. In these manifestations of God’s action for the people, and in his offering the kingdom of God to the poor, hungry, and despairing people, Jesus instilled hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. The key to the emergence of a movement from Jesus’ mission, however, was his renewal of covenantal community, calling the people to common cooperative action to arrest the disintegration.” (Richard A. Horsley. Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder, Kindle Locations 1634-1638)

At the end of this story, the writer states that the only leper who was thankful was a Samaritan. With this point in the narrative, we can see the antisemitism growing in Christianity by this point. So I don’t find this part of the story very life-giving for us. Jewish people had always believed that the restoration of justice and end of oppression and violence was for all people. Bringing up the Samaritans seems like just another Gentile Christian attempt to distance their group from their Jewish siblings and cast those Jewish siblings in a negative light. Had they wanted to extend Jesus’ liberation beyond the borders of Judea and Galilee, the author could have been accomplished this without this plot point, but since it’s in this story, it’s important that we as Jesus followers today be honest about it.

What is the gem of wisdom in this story?

As I briefly stated earlier, we are living in the wake of colonialism’s global destruction of so many indigenous cultures and repression of their communal way of life, including here in the United States. This week’s story calls into question the myth of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and calls us to lean into communal ways of living.

Those who have much more wealth to gain from our isolated way of living will try to scare us with labels like “socialism” or “communism.” Pay them no mind. Realize the game that they are playing.

Lean instead into the Jesus story. Those of us from Western cultures have a lot we can learn from cultures that value community wellbeing over or alongside individual thriving. There are ways of structuring our society where the common good is emphasized, where the community thrives alongside each person comprising it, where we collectively take responsibility for taking care of every person. They can call it “socialism.” I disagree because socialism doesn’t go far enough to follow the Jesus we read about in these gospel stories.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. List some of the ways you see our present system pushing us toward isolated individualism for our survival? Discuss these with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

or Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Faith and Political Harm

Herb Montgomery | September 30, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To quote Horsley again:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


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