Mary’s Perfume and No More Poverty 

feet

Herb Montgomery | April 1, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider this passage from the Torah:

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

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

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

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

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

“And Gods grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales.” (Acts 4:33-34, italics added)

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

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

The poor person does not exist as an inescapable fact of destiny. His or her existence is not politically neutral, and it is not ethically innocent. The poor are a by-product of the system in which we live and for which we are responsible. They are marginalized by our social and cultural world. They are the oppressed, exploited proletariat, robbed of the fruit of their labor and despoiled of their humanity. Hence the poverty of the poor is not a call to generous relief action, but a demand that we go and build a different social order.” (Gustavo Gutierrez, The Power of the Poor in History, p. 44)

There is a lot to consider here.

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


Excluded by Exclusion

color spectrum

Herb Montgomery | March 25, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


March is Donor Appreciation Month at RHM

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

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

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

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

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

(Or you donate by mail by sending your donation to

Renewed Heart Ministries
PO Box 1211
Lewisburg, WV 24901

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

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

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

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

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

Product details:

2022 Wall Calendar: 24 pages

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

 Injustice is Not Sustainable

 

fig tree at dusk

Herb Montgomery | March 18, 2022

 

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

 


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


 

Our reading this week is from the book of Luke:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Injustice is not sustainable.

 

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week

 


 

 


 

March is Donor Appreciation Month

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

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

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

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

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

(Or you donate by mail by sending your donation to

Renewed Heart Ministries
PO Box 1211
Lewisburg, WV 24901

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

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

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

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

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

Product details:

2022 Wall Calendar: 24 pages

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

Jesus as Political

gargoyle

Herb Montgomery | March 11, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week is from the book of Luke:

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

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

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

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

Casting Out Demons As Political

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

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

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

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

Walter Wink asks us to make a similar interpretive choice:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s to more justice work.

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



March is Donor Appreciation Month

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

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

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

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

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

(Or you donate by mail by sending your donation to

Renewed Heart Ministries
PO Box 1211
Lewisburg, WV 24901

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

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

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

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

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

Product details:

2022 Wall Calendar: 24 pages

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

 Myth of Redemptive Sacrifice

ash bowl for ash wednesday

Herb Montgomery | March 4, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

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

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

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

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

Profit, People, and the Environment

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

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

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

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

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

Ends That Don’t Justify the Means

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

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

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

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

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

Myth of Redemptive Sacrifice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on this in the coming weeks.

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



March is Donor Appreciation Month

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

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

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

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

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

(Or you donate by mail by sending your donation to

Renewed Heart Ministries
PO Box 1211
Lewisburg, WV 24901

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

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

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

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

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

Product details:

2022 Wall Calendar: 24 pages

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