We Are Not Just Passing Through

Herb Montgomery | March 20, 2020

earth from space


“Our first concern should not be to leave it all behind, but to bring healing to the world around us. Jesus modeled how we can be conduits of healing to this world, and we are to be about setting that healing in motion. We must be about restoration, not relocation; our goal should not be to depart, but to remain, doing as much good as we can in the time we have been given.”


We at Renewed Heart Ministries are wishing you peace during this critical time.

To read how RHM is responding to COVID-19, click here.

In Matthew’s gospel, we read these words from the sermon on the mount:

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)

In this verse, Jesus is focusing our attention on earth, not heaven.

Through history, many Christians have emphasized getting to heaven after death as their ultimate goal. The lyrics of the popular hymn This World Is Not My Home read, “This world is not my home. I’m just a-passing through. My treasures are laid up. Somewhere beyond the blue.”

Yet this focus is a late development in the Christian religion and is tellingly absent from the Jewish teachings of the Jesus described in the synoptic gospels.

This absence in Matthew, Mark, and Luke should challenge or even confront the post-mortem, other-world emphasis in Christianity today.

Consider these two other passages from Matthew:

“You are the salt of THE EARTH. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matthew 5:13, emphasis added)

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, ON EARTH as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10, emphasis added)

By much of White Evangelical Christianity’s focus one would assume Matthew’s gospel instead read, “Blessed are the meek for they shall make it to heaven.”

This departs from the early Jewish Jesus moment, which focused on healing our world, not escaping it. Jesus and his early followers viewed this world as our home. We were not simply passing through it to someplace better.

With a focus on heaven, we have emphasized the spiritual over the material, and defined the material as less-than or “sinful.” This focus has also done immeasurable damage by inspiring complicity with, participation in, or sponsorship of earthly systemic injustice, economic, racial, gendered, sexual, and more. Many Christians also live unmoved by the deep ecological crisis we are now facing as a human race.

What we find instead in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is that Jesus did not focus on getting people out of this place to some far distant heaven. Instead, he focused on bringing justice, liberation, reparation and healing to his fellow earthly inhabitants, in his own Jewish society.

Jesus after all was not a Christian. He was a Jew, and healing our world has a rich Jewish history. Bringing healing and transformation to earthly systems of injustice was the Jewish prophetic soil in which the roots of the gospels grew.

The gospels’ earthly focus traces back to the ancient Hebrew Genesis narrative, as well.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may have dominion over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’” (Genesis 1:26)

The early Christian community, which also persevered for us the last book of the New Testament, ends the canon not with Earth being forsaken for a heavenly dwelling, but with the earth being repaired, restored, and healed.

“I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God’.” (Revelation 21:2-3)

Whatever one makes of the book of Revelation and its many interpretations, its story ends on Earth, not in heaven.

There are some differences of belief in contemporary Christianity on this point. Some believe we go to heaven permanently at death. Some believe instead that heaven is a temporary resting place before Earth is finally restored. Martin Luther and some Anabaptists such as Michael Sattler believed this in the 16th Century. And still some other Christians don’t believe they will ever enter a cosmic heaven, but believe that death is a sort of “sleep” where they wait on a future resurrection here on Earth.

I’m not personally concerned with these minute differences. I’m concerned about what fruit the beliefs we do hold produce in our lives. Is our focus getting a cosmic heaven while we ignore systemic injustice, oppression, or violence in concrete ways here on earth? Does a person’s beliefs enable and empower them to engage justice work here in our world, now presently?

I don’t believe that as a follower of Jesus, we should be living as if “this world is not our home.” Let’s no longer say, “We are just passing through.”

I remember an advertisement for an interfaith chapel in Atlanta’s international airport years ago. The advertisement had clip art of a kneeling person, and under the image it said, “Because we’re all just passing through.” It was a fitting slogan for an airport where people are literally “passing through” every day.

But the more I pondered it, I don’t believe Jesus taught that. This world IS our home and we have a lot of work to do yet. “ON EARTH as it is in heaven” is a prayer not yet answered, and we are the ones that must answer it. We are the ones we’ve been waiting on, as Alice Walker stated, and Jesus showed us how.

We have to first let go of our fixed idea that this world is evil and something we must escape. No. This world has evil in it, but it has beauty, too. It has injustice, but also compassion, justice, charity, and love. As Jesus-followers, we are called to foster justice and compassion and care where they are thriving. We are called to sow the seeds of life-giving change. We are called to display what our world could look like if it was shaped according the ethics of resource-sharing, mutual aid, distributive justice, the connectedness of people, and the interconnectedness of the communities we belong to.

In Luke’s gospel Jesus commissioned his followers “to proclaim the kingdom of God and TO HEAL THE SICK” (Luke 9:2, emphasis added).

There is sickness in our world—physical, economic, political, social, and ecological. Our first concern should not be to leave it all behind, but to bring healing to the world around us. Jesus modeled how we can be conduits of healing to this world, and we are to be about setting that healing in motion. We must be about restoration, not relocation; our goal should not be to depart, but to remain, doing as much good as we can in the time we have been given.

This world IS our home. We are NOT just passing through; we are here to stay. Even if your beliefs state that at some point in the future you will find yourself elsewhere, it will be at that location that you can sing that you are “just passing through.” The story of the New Testament ends here, on Earth, and for the sake of those that will come after us, we must take up the work on healing our world here today.

This may take some deep transition in our beliefs. It also must create an even deeper transition in our actions.

We must become more concerned with present systemic injustice.

We must become more concerned with ecological destruction as a result of prioritized capital gain.

We must begin to place people and planet over power, profit, and privilege.

If we are to have a brighter tomorrow, we must lay the foundation for it today.

To follow the Jesus of the synoptic gospels is to deeply, humbly engage our communities and our society. What we’ll find when we do is that this kind of work is already being done by many who have been doing it quite a while. We’ll find that they have wisdom that they will offer, if we are humble enough to listen and learn. And there is plenty to do. We can come alongside them, put our hand to the plow, and invest our energy into the work as well.

I’m reminded of the words referenced by Rami M. Shapiro in Wisdom of the Jewish Sages: A Modern Reading of Pirke Avot:

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” (p. 41)

We are in this together.

Together we can create beautiful communities of love and justice.

Another world is possible if we choose it.

And we can.

I’ll close with these words the Jewish Jesus would have grown up hearing read in the synagogues on Sabbaths throughout the year:

“Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)

HeartGroup Application

It has been shown that we have the ability to slow the spread of COVID-19 if we act together. In moments like these, we affirm that all people are made in the image of God to live as part of God’s peace, love, and justice. There is nothing more powerful and resilient than when people come together to prioritize “the least of these.”

We at RHM are asking all HeartGroups not to meet together physically at this time, and encouraging each of you to stay virtually connected and to practice social distancing. We can still be there for each other to help ease anxiety and fears. We ask that when you do go out, you keep a six feet distance between you and others to stop the spread of the virus.

This is also a time where we can practice the resource-sharing and mutual aid found in the gospels. Make sure the others in your group have what they need. We are more interconnected than we realize, as this has proven. And we need each other during this time.

This is a time to work together and prioritize protecting those most vulnerable among us. We’ll get through this. For now, let’s figure out new ways to take care of each other while we are physically apart.

Thanks for checking in with us this week.

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

Another world is possible if we choose it.

Stay well!

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week.

A Prayer for Debts Cancelled

by Herb Montgomery | October 11, 2018

Brick wall with stenciled "Until Debt Tear Us Apart"

Photo Credit: Ehud Neuhaus on Unsplash


“‘Politics is really about how we as a community choose to distribute resources and power among people and groups of people.’  She goes on to say, therefore, ‘There’s no opting out of it.’  We are either a target of others’ political engagement or we are choosing to instead help shape that distribution. Jesus taught distributive justice.”


“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)

This week I want to look at a portion of this prayer that has evolved: the portion on forgiveness. To the best of our knowledge, Matthew’s version is much earlier than Luke’s. We’ll see the significance of this in a moment. And before Matthew’s version, many scholars believe the earliest version of the prayer was:

“When you pray, say‚ Father — may your name be kept holy! — let your reign come: Our day’s bread give us today; and cancel our debts for us, as we too have cancelled for those in debt to us.” (Saying Gospel Q 11:2-4, emphasis added.)

In this earliest version of the prayer, notice the specific economic quality. It’s about cancelling the debts of those who are indebted to us. There is quite a bit of history behind this. 

The Torah taught that every seventh year in Jewish society, all debts were to be cancelled:

“At the end of every seventh year you must make a remission of debts. This is how it is to be made: everyone who holds a pledge shall return the pledge of the person indebted to him. He must not press a fellow- countryman for repayment, for the Lord’s year of remission has been declared . . . There will never be any poor among you if only you obey the Lord your God by carefully keeping these commandments which I lay upon you this day.” (Deuteronomy 15:1-4) (REB)

There were also strict warnings to lenders as they watched the seventh year approaching, in case they thought they could not make loans at all rather than make loans that would soon be cancelled:

“Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: ‘The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,’ so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.” (Deuteronomy 15:9-10)

We’ve discussed Rabbi Hillel’s prozbul as a way to solve money lenders’ reluctance (see Renouncing One’s Rights and The Golden Rule). The prozbul was a loophole where a loan made just before the seventh year could be declared exempt from cancellation. This loophole was Hillel’s solution to the wealthy not wanting to make loans that less affluent farmers needed for survival whenever the seventh year was near. Although Jesus taught similar ethics to Hillel in other areas, in this area Jesus parted ways with Hillel and taught what the Torah had stated in Deuteronomy:

“Do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:42, cf. Deuteronomy 15:1-5, 9-10)

And

“And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.” (Luke 6:34-35; Deuteronomy 15:1-5, 9-10)

Debt in the ancient world led to slavery, poverty and death.  In short, debt was a conduit of oppression. Jesus choose to stand in the stream of Jewish tradition that called for the liberation of the oppressed.  In Luke’s gospel Jesus’ liberation is tied directly the cancelling of all debts, or to put it in the language of his Jewish culture, “the year of the Lord’s favor.”

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

The year of the Lord’s favor was “the year for canceling debts” (Deuteronomy 15:9), the year where there was to be a “remission” of all debts (Deuteronomy 15:1). That year was a type of wealth redistribution. It was a check on any system where the wealthy could just keep on getting wealthier while the poor kept on getting poorer. It was a safeguard against some having too much while many went without enough. If the Torah’s economic teachings were followed, poverty could have been eliminated: “There need be no poor people among you” (Deuteronomy 15:4).

In Jesus’ time, this aspect of the Torah was being disregarded and violated outright or through Hillel’s prozbul. Jesus was calling for a return to a deeply Jewish practice.

You can understand why many of the wealthy elites of Jesus’ society and others of privilege and power combined their efforts to have Jesus and his movement silenced. 

If this is the early form of the language of this prayer, which makes sense given its Jewish roots in the Torah, there is a telling evolution in the language.

In Matthew’s gospel, the word “forgive” replaces the word “cancel,” yet the economic word of “debt” remains. 

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)

Once we get to Luke’s gospel, written much latter, the economic element of this prayer is wholly removed, and the prayer’s application has been universalized instead of referencing a specific economic situation.

“Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” (Luke 11:2-4)

Crossan also sees this evolution of language:

“I have three conclusions from all of that textual activity. One is that ‘debts’ was originally intended quite literally. Jesus meant that eternal peasant dyad of enough bread for today and no debt for tomorrow. Were it originally and clearly metaphorical—‘debts’ meaning ‘sins’—everyone would have understood that intention and the progression in terminology from ‘debts’ to ‘trespasses’ to ‘sins’ would not have been necessary. Another is that, from Mark through Matthew and into Luke, ‘debts’ change to ‘trespasses’ and then to ‘sins. ’ In its present format, therefore, it seems advisable to read Matthew’s text as including both debt and sin—not debt alone, not sin alone, and certainly not sin instead of debt, but both together. Indeed, the ultimate challenge may be to ponder their interaction. And, at least for the biblical tradition, when debt creates too much inequality, it has become sinful.” (John Dominic Crossan, The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer, pp. 159-160)

Debt can become exploitative. To curb this exploitation, the Torah did not permit debts to extend past seven years.

The language in the prayer changes as the followers of Jesus change. As the early movement of Jesus followers changes from illiterate to more literate, from marginalized and impoverished to more centralized and more affluent, this prayer also changes from the wealthy cancelling debts to the violated forgiving perpetrators for sins committed against them.

These changes transfer responsibility from those in power to those in a very different social location from them. When we consider the societal cone that privileges and empowers some at the center and top of society and pushes others to the margins and undersides of society (see Pyramids, Circles and a Shared Table: Jesus’ Vision for Human Community, Part 1 and 2), the original language of this prayer makes those at the center and top responsible for canceling the debts of those on the peripheries or further down the social hierarchy. As the language evolves, it risks being coopted by the elite, and the responsibility is now placed on those on the margins and undersides to forgive the injustice of their violators and exploiters so that they too might be forgiven. This removes the responsibility of creating a more egalitarian world, cancelling actual debts, and redistributing wealth from those who will lose with these changes. It also asks those exploited by debt to simply forgive without the world or its structure being challenged or changed. 

There is a lot to consider here and much room for pause. Putting the world right includes not just forgiveness but also reparations. To call for reconciliation without reparations, to call for reconciliation solely on the basis of forgiveness being exercised on the part of those who have been harmed, is a special kind of oppression. It fails to hold perpetrators accountable. It fails to value and protect survivors. It fails to work towards the transformation and re-humanization of perpetrators, and genuine healing for those who have been sinned against. Certainly Jesus taught forgiveness. Jesus also called the wealthy, like Zacchaeus and others, to make reparations. To focus solely on only one of these is move away from a safer, just, compassionate world rather than towards it. 

To reemphasize what we focused on last week, the original language of this prayer shows a concern the early Jesus followers had for people’s temporal needs as well as the spiritual and relational well being of all. It sees humanity as whole beings again in a very Hebraic fashion, rather than as divided people only impacted by the gospel in one aspect of life. It’s a holistic prayer.

I want to close this week with a story from Matthew, where the focus on monetary debt cancellation still remains:

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.” (Matthew 18:23-34)

Today, we live in a world where most of the globe is indebted to so-called developed counties with debts that are impossible to pay off. Six people possess more wealth than the entire lower 50% of the world’s population. But we have come to the end of the monopoly game. It’s time for a reset. It’s time for a Jubilee. It’s time for debts to be cancelled. 

One way or another, history proves this reset will come. We can choose a gentler path of debt cancellation and wealth redistribution now, or a more volatile path where many are hurt in the process will be chosen for us in the future. Historical resets are cyclical. We can choose whether they come in life-giving or destructive form. What is clear is that our current path is not sustainable, economically, socially, or ecologically. What does it mean to live in this world in such a way that the answer to Jesus’ prayer is realized?

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6.12)

HeartGroup Application

I have a unique request of all those in our HeartGroups. I believe everyone reading this would agree with me when I say people matter.  And that’s why this week I want to share with you why politics also matter. But hang on! How we define politics also matters. Here in America, we make what I believe is a mistake in how we define politics. Politics for too many means parties, partisanship, lobbying, or law. And while politics can include those things, I prefer how my friend Dr. Keisha McKenzie defines politics. “Politics is really about how we as a community choose to distribute resources and power among people and groups of people.”  She goes on to say, therefore, “There’s no opting out of it.”  We are either a target of others’ political engagement or we are choosing to instead help shape that distribution. Jesus taught distributive justice.  And as follower of Jesus, we, too, should care about how power and resources are distributed, because this distribution can concretely hurt people. Wherever we share space with other people and “there are norms governing how you interact with them or a budget governing common resources,” (McKenzie) there is simply no way to be apolitical.  There is no such thing as a political neutrality that doesn’t help the powerful or doesn’t hurt the vulnerable. When we understand this we can see readily why the late theologian and activist Dorothee Sölle stated, “Every theological statement must be a political statement as well.”

Recently I received an email from Rev. Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson, President of Auburn Seminary where she made the statement, “The separation between Church and State is different from the separation of faith and public life.” I could not agree more.  The separation of church and state is about keeping the state out matters of religious conscience. Separation of church and state also is about keeping the church from welding the power of the state to enforce its own articles of faith. It does not mean that people of faith and goodwill cannot, in following Jesus, advocate along side vulnerable communities calling for a just distribution of resources and power. 

This is why we here at RHM believe that politics in not simply about voting. It also must be combined with movement building. The late Ron Dellums used to remind folks that we need both movement building and people in office that can help support those movements.  I’ve witnessed this first hand here in West Virginia. We spend countless hours building a movement for social change here in this state, only to have people in office obstruct those changes. The opposite is also true, we can elect solid people as public servants, but if there is not a movement for them to act on, they have nothing to advocate for from the “will of the people.”  Those who desire an unjust distribution of resources are putting people in office who will act on their wishes.  Again, there is simply no way to opt out. We are either a participant in the discussion or we are the target of another’s agenda.

Which leads me to say, that voting, given our current structure, and especially for marginalized communities, yes, is only a part of the process of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for all, yet it is a part of that process. So this week, I want you to do something simple. Check your voter registration to make sure it’s current. If you’re not registered, do so.  This November, vote your values remembering that at the end of the day people matter and they will be concretely affected by the outcome. Also encourage others to participate and vote to ensure all of our communities are truly represented.

Another world is possible.  As Rev. Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson shared, our work is to “trouble the waters” and “heal the world.”

Picture of a pottery bowlRemember, too, there’s still time to participate in RHM’s Shared Table Fundraiser for the month of October.  We’ve had a good response so far.  To find how you, too, can join in click:

A Shared Table: A Fundraiser for RHM

Thanks for checking in with us this week. Right where you are, keep living in love, justice, survival, resistance, liberation, reparation, and transformation. Keep engaging the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate home for everyone.

I love each of you dearly. 

I’ll see you next week.

Give Us Today Our Daily Bread

by Herb Montgomery | September 28, 2018 


“‘When you start with an understanding that God loves everyone, justice isn’t very far behind.’ How many times have we witnessed traditional White Christianity emphasize religiousness, puritanical morality, and even the ‘love of God,’ but justice, justice for the oppressed, marginalized and exploited is neglected at best and at worst, obstructed? We have neglected the more important matters of the law! As Jesus prioritized people’s temporal needs, those temporal needs were also to be a priority for Jesus’ disciples.”


“Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:11-12)

Last week we began considering the prayer in Matthew’s gospel often referred to today as The Lord’s Prayer. This week we’re continuing with the portion, “Give us today our daily bread.” 

In the previous verse, Jesus prays for the reign of God, the will of God, to be done here on earth as it is in heaven. But just what is that will? We must exercise caution and care whenever we presume to speak of the will of the Divine. Good can be done from these discussions for the marginalized and oppressed, and great harm can also be done to the most vulnerable among us.  So let’s proceed this week with caution.

Let’s begin with a story found a little later in Matthew’s gospel: the feeding of the multitude.

“As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.’ Jesus replied, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’ ‘We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,’ they answered.” (Matthew 14:15-17)

What I want us to notice first about this story is that Jesus objected to the disciples sending the multitude away to meet their own concrete, physical needs. Too often, some Christians today promote the dualistic idea that a person’s temporal needs is categorically separate from their spiritual needs. Some faith communities therefore focus purely on the spiritual, believing that a person’s temporal needs are of lesser importance. 

This story strikes at the heart of this kind of dualistic thinking.

The disciples want to send the crowd away to find their temporal nourishment elsewhere. Jesus stops them and says, “They don’t need to go away. You feed them.”

This month, the book to read for RHM’s annual reading course is Gustavo Gutiérrez’ book A Theology of Liberation. It’s timely that we would also look at this passage in Matthew’s gospel this month, because Gutiérrez addresses this dualistic thinking too. While the temporal and spiritual are distinct, he writes, “there is a close relationship between temporal progress and the growth of the Kingdom” (p. 99). 

The liberation we find in the gospels stories is an integral liberation. It’s not about mere post-mortem escape, or private retreat into isolated, personal piety. This liberation integrates all aspects of each person’s being, including the temporal! It embraces the whole person. This is especially relevant to the question of what Jesus’ teachings have to offer us today in the way of resistance, survival, liberation, reparation and transformation. Again, Gutiérrez states, “The struggle for a just world in which there is no oppression, servitude, or alienated work will signify the coming of the Kingdom. The Kingdom and social injustice are incompatible (cf. Isa. 29:18-19 and Matt. 11:5; Lev. 25:10ff. and Luke 4:16-21). ‘The struggle for justice,’ rightly asserts Dom Antonio Fragoso, ‘is also the struggle for the Kingdom of God.’” (Ibid, p. 97)

The struggle for a just society is very much a part of following Jesus. People’s temporal needs matter, and Jesus teaches a whole liberation that goes beyond the individual person to include transforming and replacing oppressive structures and exploitative social systems. Gutiérrez calls for an expanded view of Jesus’ liberation gospel: even politically liberating events in history can be seen as part of the growth of what Jesus referred to as “the Kingdom.” Every event that leads to humans becoming liberated to experience full humanness can be seen as a salvific event.

“Nothing escapes this process, nothing is outside the pale of the action of Christ and the gift of the Spirit. This gives human history its profound unity. Those who reduce the work of salvation are indeed those who limit it to the strictly ‘religious’ sphere and are not aware of the universality of the process. It is those who think that the work of Christ touches the social order in which we live only indirectly or tangentially, and not in its roots and basic structure. It is those who in order to protect salvation (or to protect their interests) lift salvation from the midst of history, where individuals and social classes struggle to liberate themselves from the slavery and oppression to which other individuals and social classes have subjected them. It is those who refuse to see that the salvation of Christ is a radical liberation from all misery, all despoliation, all alienation. It is those who by trying to ‘save’ the work of Christ will ‘lose’ it.” (Gustavo Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation, p. 104)

In Matthew, Jesus tells his listeners of a God who clothes the lilies, feeds the ravens, and “makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). This is a picture of everyone’s temporal needs being meet, and not merely their needs for survival, but also what they need in order to thrive. Everyone has enough.

Our present structure doesn’t look like that at all. Some are growing increasingly wealthy while others are in an ever-increasing struggle just to survive.

In Matthew 19:21-2 Jesus tells a wealthy person, “If you wish to be whole, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in the kingdom of heaven; then come, follow me.”

The wholeness I believe Jesus was speaking of here is a rediscovery or a reclaiming of one’s humanity. As we discussed in Another World is Possible (Parts 1-3), the narrative of scarcity, anxiety, accumulation, competition, and violence is dehumanizing whether you are made poor by this narrative or made wealthy by it. Instead of poverty or wealth, Jesus offers a narrative of enough. This is a narrative where there is enough for every person’s need. As in the story of the loaves and fish, even when we are tempted to embrace the narrative of scarcity, if we will in the moment choose a narrative of sharing, sharing our resources in distributive justice produces enough for everyone. It ends in gratitude, in cooperation, in connectedness. We begin to face the future with a different posture when we realize that we are in this life together and if we will choose to take responsibility for caring for one another, we can face whatever may come. It’s a collective stance more than an individualistic stance. It’s a vision of a distributively just world that gives birth to peace, where no one has too little or too much and everyone has enough.

It was this aspect of Jesus’ teachings that led the early church to hold “everything in common.” As Luke reports, “They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes daily and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:41-47)

Salvation is not a post mortem life insurance policy. People were being saved from starving to death right then and there! Two chapters later in Acts we read, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had . . . And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” (Acts 4:32-34, emphasis added.)

Can you imagine a world where there is enough bread for every person each day? Where world hunger is no more? This is why Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.” (Luke 6:21) This is a world that is especially in the favor of those the present world causes to go hungry. Those made last by the present structures are made first. 

Last week, we read from Amos about those who valued religiosity more than social justice. This week, Jesus stands in that same Jewish prophetic tradition. Consider this from Luke’s gospel:

“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)

Luke’s and Matthew’s versions of this exchange (see Matt. 23:23) put justice in the family of “the more important matters of the law.” Justice and the love of God are intimately, intrinsically connected. As Dr. Emilie Townes says in the short film Journey to Liberation: The Legacy of Womanist Theology, “When you start with an understanding that God loves everyone, justice isn’t very far behind.” How many times have we witnessed traditional White Christianity emphasize religiousness, puritanical morality, and even the ‘love of God,’ but justice, justice for the oppressed, marginalized and exploited is neglected at best and at worst, obstructed? We have neglected the more important matters of the law! As Jesus prioritized people’s temporal needs, those temporal needs were also to be a priority for Jesus’ disciples. 

Antonio Fragoso drives this point home in Evangile et Revolution Sociale (The Gospel and Social Revolution): 

“The struggle for justice, is also the struggle for the Kingdom of God. The Gospel should strike the conscience of Christians and stimulate an understanding among all persons of good will regarding the liberation of all, especially the poorest and most abandoned.” (p. 15)

We are not to dualistically divide a person’s spiritual needs and their temporal needs. We are whole people. Jesus’ liberation in each gospel included the whole person. This is the example set for us to follow. I long for the day when Jesus’ name is not immediately associated with the supernatural and a disconnected privatized understanding of religion, but with relief work and social transformation/justice work for the vulnerable and marginalized that would make relief work unnecessary. 

Next week we’ll consider Jesus’ phrase, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). This week, what does it mean to live and work in harmony with these words of Jesus’ prayer for all?

“Give us today our daily bread.”

HeartGroup Application

Again this week, in the context of Supreme Court Confirmation hearings here in the U.S., we are hearing a lot of rhetoric that supports attitudes and a worldview that results in violence against women. This is the rhetoric of what has been defined as rape culture. Tolerance of jokes and excusing of behavior supports a normalization of a whole spectrum of behavior of which the other side results in violence, degradation and assault. 

Jesus stood in defense of women within his own culture.  What does it mean for Jesus followers to do the same today?

1. This week, if you are unfamiliar with what is meant by the phrase rape culture I’m providing four links that can start you on a better understanding:

http://www.southernct.edu/sexual-misconduct/facts.html

http://www.wavaw.ca/what-is-rape-culture/

http://www.dayofthegirl.org/rape_culture

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_culture

2. Take time this week, again, to affirm the women in your HeartGroup. Discuss as a group what you learned from engaging the information in links above.

3. It is from making our smaller communities safer that I believe we create a larger world that comes safer for the vulnerable as well.  What can you do as a group to practice a preferential option for women and the vulnerable in your midst that makes your HeartGroup a safe place for them.  Make a list.  This next week, pick something from this list and implement it. Keep doing so each week till you’ve completed your list.

4. Don’t just stop with your HeartGroup. Engage the work of making our larger communities safer as well. Call your Representatives and share your concerns, too.

Thanks for checking in with us this week. Right where you are, keep living in love, justice, survival, resistance, liberation, reparation, and transformation. Keep engaging the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate home for everyone.

And one last thing, as we approach Autumn, this is the time of year when Renewed Heart Ministries especially needs your support. Not only are we are planning for events next year, but we are working to prevent a budget shortfall for the present year. If you have been blessed by our work, please consider making a one-time contribution or becoming one of our monthly supporters. Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “donate.” Any amount helps. And thank you in advance for your support.

I love each of you dearly. 

I’ll see you next week. 

Another World is Possible (Part 3)

by Herb Montgomery | July 27, 2018 

Hands offering bread


“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 Gutiérrez; The Power of the Poor in History


“Jesus looked at him and loved him. ’One thing you lack ,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me .’ At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God !’ The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’” (Mark 10:21-24)

This week we’ll wrap up our series with this section of Mark’s gospel. Jesus is inviting a wealthy inquisitor to join him in practicing Jesus’ preferential option for the poor. 

I’m also reminded of a discussion I had years ago with a pastor while I was visiting his church. He confronted me with my concern for the poor, and said that the “rich need the gospel, too.” He felt that plenty of churches in his area practiced charity (not justice, mind you, but charity) for the poor, but he believed he was called to lead his church to minister to the spiritual needs of the wealthy. 

As he continued to explain why didn’t focus on poverty, a poverty I believe is created by the current social order, my mind wandered to our passage this week. Let’s take a closer look at it. 

The first thing we see in this passage is Jesus’ love for this man. Jesus doesn’t hate the wealthy. No. Mark’s Jesus loves both the rich and the poor. The system that creates wealth disparity, with concentration of riches on one side of the spectrum and poverty on the other, dehumanizes both the rich and the poor. It dehumanizes both differently, but both ends of the spectrum are dehumanizing. Whereas poverty steals a person’s humanity, wealth can cause people to lose their connection with and become isolated from their own humanity and forget their interconnectedness with the humanity of others.

In this context, Jesus’ love for this rich young man speaks to me. Jesus loves him and thus seeks to reconnect him with the humanity of “the poor” and thus his own humanity as well. Wealth redistribution is rooted in regaining our humanity no matter which section of the wealth/poverty spectrum you find yourself on. 

I agreed with my pastor friend that Jesus loves the rich, too. Because he loves them, he calls them to join him in his service to the poor. Jesus didn’t minister to the wealthy and the poor differently. He practiced a preferential option for the poor and called the wealthy to join him. Jesus didn’t minister to the wealthy by ignoring the poor. Jesus ministered to the rich young man by calling him to “Go, sell everything” he had “and give [it] to the poor.” 

Jesus ministered to the rich of his own society by calling them out of a system that created gross wealth disparity and into a system that redistributed wealth, that recognized the humanity of everyone, and that distributed justice to ensure everyone had the means they needed to survive and thrive. 

My pastor friend argued that this was only counsel for the young man in the story. Certainly Jesus saw the unique needs of that specific young man. But in Luke and Acts, this was not a unique teaching but one that Jesus gave to his entire audience in mass:

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:32-34, emphasis added.)

In Acts, believed to have been written by the same author(s) as Luke, the very first thing followers of Jesus are characterized by is these kinds of actions:

“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (Acts 2:40-45, emphasis added.)

The entire community practiced this preferential option for the poor to the extent that wealth disparity was replaced with a distributive justice and there were no more poor among them. 

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

But like the young man in the story above, my pastor friend choose to go a different route.

I have often quoted this passage from James Robinson’s volume, The Gospel of Jesus: A Historical Search for the Original Good News:

“[Jesus’] basic issue, still basic today, is that most people have solved the human dilemma for themselves at the expense of everyone else, putting them down so as to stay afloat themselves. This vicious, antisocial way of coping with the necessities of life only escalates the dilemma for the rest of society . . . I am hungry because you hoard food. You are cold because I hoard clothing. Our dilemma is that we all hoard supplies in our backpacks and put our trust in our wallets! Such “security” should be replaced by God reigning, which means both what I trust God to do (to activate you to share food with me) and what I hear God telling me to do (to share clothes with you). We should not carry money while bypassing the poor or wear a backpack with extra clothes and food while ignoring the cold and hungry lying in the gutter. This is why the beggars, the hungry, the depressed are fortunate: God, that is, those in whom God rules, those who hearken to God, will care for them. The needy are called upon to trust that God’s reigning is there for them (“Theirs is the kingdom of God”) . . . Jesus’ message was simple, for he wanted to cut straight through to the point: trust God to look out for you by providing people who will care for you, and listen to him when he calls on you to provide for them.” (Kindle Edition, Location 117)

After the wealthy young man departs, the story shifts to Jesus’ interchange with his disciples.: 

“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! … Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

The idea that Jerusalem had a very narrow “needle gate” and that merchants had to unload their camels and have their camels kneel to pass through that gate is fiction made up in the 15th century. We know of no narrow gates in Jerusalem and none named the “needle gate” in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, or Galilee.

On interpreting this passage, I land instead with scholars like Stant Litore who suggest that Jesus said it is easier to thread one of the big ropes used by the fishing community, which many in his audience were from, through the eye of a sewing needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. In Aramaic, the words for rope and camel have the same spelling. Aramaic did not use vowels, so these words would have been pronounced differently but written the same way. 

In Greek, too, specifically the common Koine Greek of working and poor people, the words for rope and camel are also very similar. The difference is in a single vowel: kamélos (camel) and kamilos (rope), but the prounuciation is the same. The meaning of the phrase remains the same: It is impossible for either a camel or a large fishing rope to be threaded through a small sewing needle. 

Jesus isn’t making it hard for rich people to “enter” his kingdom of resource sharing, mutual aid, cooperation, and a just distribution of the resources needed for survival and thriving. Instead he’s simply being honest about how difficult it is for people with accumulated wealth to embrace this world. A rope (or camel) won’t fit through the eye of a needle. And for the rich to enter Jesus new human society, here and now, they must be willing to let go of their wealth and embrace a distributive justice where everyone has enough.

Again, Jesus isn’t picking on the rich. He’s simply saying that in his vision for human society there’s no longer a wide chasm between the rich and poor. His vision is a society where everyone has enough to thrive. No more rich. No more poor. The sun shines and the rain falls indiscriminately on all.

Today we live in a world where the few who are on top are striving to maintain their position of control. But if one looks, on the horizon, a new day is coming. Will that new day bring a world that is safe, just, and compassionate for everyone regardless of their race, gender, orientation, gender identity and expression, current economic status, ability, age, and education? It’s up to us. We can make it that way, if we choose to.

Another world is not only possible, it’s coming. Change is coming. Let’s make the choices that ensure that that change is for the better.

“Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack ,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me .’ At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God !’ The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’” (Mark 10:21-24)

HeartGroup Application

As of yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court deadline, over 900 parents are still separated from their children. Here are three ways your HeartGroup can do something.

  1. If you live in a boarder state, you can volunteer at an organization that is engaging the work of helping families that have been separated. If a protest is happening in your area, you can show up and participate.
  2. If these are not an option, you can donate to organizations who are involved and need your support. One such organization (which I know some fo the ones who are involved) is the New Sanctuary Coalition. This is a coalition comprised of Auburn Theological Seminary, Central Synagogue, Congregation Beth Elohim, HIAS, Immigrant Families Together, International Rescue Committee, New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, and Union for Reform Judaism. You can support their work to help reunite families by going to https://newsanctuarycoalition.nationbuilder.com/family_reunification
  3. Lastly, contact your local elected representatives. It is important that we continue to express our outrage against the current policies. Let them know.

Thanks for checking in with us this week. 

Wherever you are this week, right where you are, keep living in love, survival, resistance, liberation, reparation, and transformation. Together we can make our world a safe, just, compassionate home for us all. 

Another world is possible. 

I love each of you dearly.

I’ll see you next week.


To support these podcasts and weekly eSight articles, go to www.renewedheartministries.com and click “donate.

Another World is Possible (Part 2)

Aside

Picture of friend standing on horizon at sunset

Photo by Hudson Hintze on Unsplash

by Herb Montgomery | July 13, 2018


“To live out the reign or kingdom of God is to replace wealth accumulation with a distributive justice that ensures people’s needs for survival and thriving are taken care of: an early version of ‘people over profit.’” 


“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)

Last week we considered Jesus’ narrative of enough for everyone, sharing, generosity, peace-making, distributive justice, and cooperation to replace our tired narratives of scarcity, competition, accumulation, monopoly, violence, and hoarding. This week we see this theme in some of Jesus’ most pointed teachings on resource sharing and mutual aid. 

In Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 6:24-33), Jesus says: 

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the gentiles run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Let’s try and taking this passage section by section. 

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

In this passage, “money” is not arbitrarily labeled as evil. What’s being labeled as evil is the endless pursuit of money that opposes Jesus’ vision of human community. To live out the reign or kingdom of God is to replace wealth accumulation with a distributive justice that ensures people’s needs for survival and thriving are taken care of: an early version of “people over profit.” 

To serve God means to take responsibility for the care of others. Doing that cuts into profits: you can’t place people and profit as both your highest priority. Endlessly pursuing capital leads to wage exploitation, environmental abuse, and violence to protect one’s accumulation or gain more at the cost of dehumanizing other people. How many injustices toward humanity such as patriarchy, slavery, racism, colonialism, anti-Semitism, or Islamophobia are based on building more capital over care for people? We are part of one another. The service of ever pursuing the gain of money as the highest priority leads us to sever our connectedness to the humanity of others and ourselves as we sink into the quick sand of individualistic concern for only oneself and your own survival. 

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”

Worrying that there is not enough for everyone can lead us to try to solve the dilemmas of survival and thriving for ourselves at the expense of others. Jesus addresses this “worry” head on. It really is a matter of trust. 

Do we trust that another world is possible? Do we trust that if we truly choose people over a never-satisfied, never-satisfying accumulation that there will be enough for everyone in the end? I’m growing more and more convinced that for many who suffer from a drive to accumulate that is never satisfied, that drive is based on a deep-seated fear that at some point in the future they will go without. 

That fear has answers. One is to abandon others and ensure that you will never go without. Another is to invest in people, in a community where we take care of one another and where, no matter what happens, whatever the future holds, whatever comes our way, we as a community are in each other’s corner. Those who have more than they need share with those who don’t, and that creates a community where because giving is part of their values, they will also receive if they’re ever in need.. 

Jesus is asking his audience to value people in this kind of community over their worries of what to eat, drink, or wear. That’s not because Jesus wants anyone to go hungry or naked, but because he calls his followers to the path of sharing responsibility for making sure that no one is hungry and/or naked and that everyone has enough to eat, drink, and wear. 

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.”

Jesus then brings up birds and flowers. It’s true that birds don’t sow or reap; they are hunter-gatherers. Yet Jesus also uses the phrase, “store away in barns.” When a farmer in Jesus’ society reaped more than they needed, they built bigger and bigger barns (see Luke 12:18). Jesus is instead asking his followers to share their surplus if they have more than they need between now and the next harvest. Share your harvest with those whose harvest was not enough. Don’t build bigger barns. Share with those who need the extra that you were blessed with. 

In this section, Jesus is digging into his own Jewish roots for the manna story of the Exodus. (Read Exodus 16.) Those who gathered much manna shared with those who had gathered little and there was enough for everyone. There was no need to hoard for tomorrow; there would be more tomorrow, and today’s hoarded manna would be worm-ridden and rotten by tomorrow. Every day provided enough, just as each day the birds had enough. 

“If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the gentiles run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Each time a community of people desires to live out the reign of God and practice distributive justice in our world today, we see Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God. A kingdom is a region where the will of a sovereign is done. Jesus borrows “kingdom” language to illustrate his God’s desire for everyone to have enough, enough bread for today, and no debts for tomorrow. 

Jesus isn’t giving a magic formula. He’s not saying that if we work toward this kind of world then all that we need will simply fall out of the sky. No, it’s more cause and effect. When we seek the kind of world rooted in mutual aid and care that Jesus labeled “the kingdom” we are creating community where each person takes responsibility for ensuring that we all, together, have enough to drink, eat, and wear. Jesus tells us to choose to create a world of mutual aid and care. When we do, “all these things” that we are so worried about today “will be given to us as well” because we’ll be giving them to each other. We have each other’s back. Ours will be a community where we take care of one another. 

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

This last sentence really hits the nail on the head. What keeps us from sharing today is worry about what we will do tomorrow if we need what we’ve given away today. Jesus asks us to let go and trust in kinship. Trust in our connectedness. Trust that in being someone who cares for others, we are awakening in others the willingness and generosity to care for others too. Be the person God is sending into someone’s life today to care for them and don’t worry about tomorrow. Focus on building the kind of community where mutual aid is deeply valued. And then let tomorrow worry about itself knowing that if trouble should come, we belong to a community that is much larger than its parts. This is a community that takes care of its own (and maybe even those, too, who don’t yet belong). Reach out and care for the needs of those before us today. Generosity and sharing awaken generosity and sharing such that tomorrow, should you need it, someone will be there to generously share with you, too.

I like the way Luke’s gospel sums up this portion of Jesus’ teachings:

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:32-34)

Again, Jesus addresses our worry or “fear” of the future with the words “don’t be afraid.” It’s God’s pleasure to work through us and give us the kind of world where we, rather than competing with one another, have learned to cooperate with and take care of one another. So with this assurance, sell your hoarded possessions and give to those the present system has left in poverty. Set in motion a new social and economic order where there truly is enough for everyone to thrive. In doing this, giving to those presently without, we are “providing purses that will never wear out.” We can keep our money pouches to ourselves in hope we’ll have enough for whatever comes our way in the future, or we can invest in people and a world where our money pouches are open to others and each person willingly opens their money pouch to us when we are in need. There truly is enough for everyone when we choose to share what little we may have with our human siblings. This community is a treasure “in heaven” that will not fail and that no thief or moth can destroy. 

But why “in heaven?” I don’t need a community in heaven, I need that community here, now, on earth.

Right now, my daughter is away at college. Most of her most prized possessions are being kept in our attic, safe for when she needs them. But when she needs them, she won’t have go up to the attic and stay there to enjoy them. These things being kept safe in our attic will be brought down and she’ll be able to enjoy them with us. God wants to give us this kind of world here, now today. Another world is possible. And when we invest in this kind of world, we are investing in a community the vision of which is being kept safe “in heaven,” until such a community of people can be realized here “on earth” (see Matthew 6:10).

In this world, we have to make a choice. Will it be people or the endless accumulation of money? We can’t do both. But we can have a world where we and those around us have enough to thrive. It won’t be through individualist monetary accumulation. It will be through seeking a world of mutual aid, love, service and care for our fellow humans. 

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24

HeartGroup Application

1. This week discuss some of the ways you, as a community, can take care of the needs within our group.

2. How can your group help those not part of your HeartGroup.

3. Pick something from the above two discussions this week, and put it into practice between now and the next time you come together.

Thanks for checking in with us this week. 

Wherever you are, keep living in love, survival, resistance, liberation, reparation, and transformation, working toward a world that is a safe, just, and compassionate home for all. 

Another world is possible.

I love each of you dearly.

I’ll see you next week with part 3.

To support these podcasts and weekly eSight articles, go to www.renewedheartministries.comand click “donate.”

Another World is Possible (Part 1)

by Herb Montgomery | June 28, 2018


“Tempted to succumb to the narrative of scarcity and competition against one another for the one loaf in the boat, they forgot the lesson in the feeding of the multitudes.  What little we have (even a few loaves and fish), when passed through distributive justice and shared with others, creates an entirely different order.”


“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” (Mark 1:14-15)

In the gospel narrative, John the Baptist was arrested after being deemed a threat to Herod (see Mark 6:17-18). In Mark, his arrest marked the launch of Jesus’ itinerant teaching ministry. Jesus would also follow in John’s footsteps in becoming a threat to the status quo. Whereas John was arrested and beheaded, Jesus would be arrested, too, but his execution would also carry the extra political weight of crucifixion. 

Which elements of Jesus’ teaching were so threatening to the privileged and powerful? Let’s consider a story Jesus told in Matthew’s gospel:

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”” (Matthew 20:8-16)

This story captures one of the central values of Jesus teaching. Jesus’ solution to the problems of his own society was community, but not just any kind of community. His community put “first” those his society was placing last. It reversed the status quo. To put it in the language of liberation theology, Jesus vision for humanity was a community that practiced a preferential option for those typically made “last.”

As I’ve shared before, this is good news for those who are last. It’s threatening and problematic for those who are first, especially those who have worked their entire lives competing and scheming through the power struggles of society to achieve their position. To those people, Jesus’ idea of reshaping human society into a community where those presently privileged and powerful become equal to those who have been pushed to the undersides and/or margins of society is deeply threatening. It causes trouble. Egalitarianism is not a good thing to people who want to be privileged above or hold power over others. To these people in Jesus’ story, the message that the “last will be first, and the first last,” that they would all be paid the same wages and treated equally regardless of how long each had labored that day, left them incensed. I love how the employer in the story responded: “Are you envious that I am generous?”

Another key value in Jesus’ vision of community was generosity. Jesus’ community was rooted in a generous sharing with one another based on need, not necessarily how many hours each one worked. In the book of Acts, Jesus-followers shared as they were able and received as they had need. Their community didn’t rely on individualistic competition, but on mutual aid and commitment to take care of each other. The future had hope not because each had insulated themselves from other members of the human family, but because they had embraced their connectedness to one another. They leaned into their connectedness and loved others “as themselves” (see Matthew 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31-33; Luke 10:27).

Today, there is a strong current in U.S. society toward rugged individualism. Each person is expected to take care of themselves. There is a concerted effort afoot to diminish social aid, (already at a bare minimum compared with places in Europe), which in the end would leave the vulnerable at the mercy of charity, the wealthy, and powerful corporations. Some want to exploit those who are more vulnerable for the benefit of a few who have money and power. Instead, Jesus teaches us to be generous toward those the present system makes last.

In Luke’s version of the Jesus story, we find another element of Jesus’ teachings that can easily be understood to have threatened those in power in his society.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Start preaching that poverty is not the result of chance but the cause and effect result of whatever system is producing that poverty and see how quickly pushback ensues. Start advocating for a new system that eliminates poverty entirely (a recent example would be the Poor People’s Campaign) and see how quickly opposition mounts.

But the passage in Luke 4 doesn’t just mention good news for the poor. It also includes good news to prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind. What I believe Luke is referring to here is what many scholars of that time and culture call “prison blindness.” In that time, when someone was awaiting trial, they were simply thrown into a deep hole in the ground. It was so dark in that hole, the prisoner could not see their hand right in front of their face. So the recovery of sight to those with prison blindness simply meant release from incarceration. It was liberation. It was setting the prisoners free. 

Begin today advocating for the abolition of mass incarceration and watch the result. Advocate for the end of the “war on drugs” which was created with racist intent and watch who begins to feel threatened by it (Report: Aide says Nixon’s war on drugs targeted blacks, hippies). Two books that in my opinion are must-reads if you want to understand how deeply unjust the U.S. judicial and mass incarceration systems are are Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and Kelly Brown Douglas’ Stand Your Ground.

Douglas’ book Stand Your Ground also sheds tremendous light on U.S. immigration policy and what we are watching right now on the U.S.’s borders. U.S. immigration policy has always been about maintaining a White-majority population in the United States, and still is.

The next element mentioned in Luke’s passage of Jesus’ gospel was liberation, the setting free, of the “oppressed.” Liberation and survival is at the heart of Jesus’ teachings. Repeatedly Jesus’ vision of resource sharing and taking care of each other allowed his followers to survive the present world and also work to create another one. It helped them hold on to hope and practice the belief that another world was possible. I believe the greatest contribution liberation theologies have made to our understanding of the gospel over the last 50 years is a return to the heart of Jesus’ gospel of liberation for the oppressed. With that heart, many Christians have been introduced to Jesus for the first time. 

Lastly, in Luke’s description of Jesus’ ministry, we read “and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This was the year when all debts were to be forgiven. It was to be the beginning of a kind of wealth redistribution: slaves freed, prisoners released, debts cancelled, and a reset back to level ground for all society. In the year of the Lord’s favor, the oppressed were freed from those in positions of power. 

This part of Luke’s passage always reminds me of the game of Monopoly. Most folks love the game of Monopoly on the opening rounds. But the last two rounds are awful for everyone except the person who owns all the property on the board and has created the “monopoly.” 

I have a friend who had to quit playing Monopoly because every time it would reach this point they would flip the board and send pieces and money all over the table. It reminds me of the story of how Jesus flipped the tables in the Temple, sending property and money over the courtyard. Capitalism has today reached the need for a reset as well. We can either choose it voluntarily or those who who have no other option will rise up and force the reset. Today 6 men own more than more than half of the entire global population. That is unsustainable as well as being distributively unjust. The God of the Jesus story, Jesus states, causes the sun to shine and rain to fall equitably on all (see Matthew 5:45).

If this discussion makes you defensive or apologetic, I’d ask you to consider these words in Mark’s gospel:

“The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. ‘Be careful,’ Jesus warned them. ‘Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.’ They discussed this with one another and said, ‘It is because we have no bread.’ Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: ‘Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?’ ‘Twelve,; they replied. ‘And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?’ They answered, ‘Seven.’ He said to them, ‘Do you still not understand?’ (Mark 8:14-19)

According to the gospels, the Pharisees did not understand. As an aspiring economic and political class within Jesus society, rather than believing another world was possible and seeking to create it, the Pharisees simply sought greater power and privilege in the present one. (Listen to Fox Valley: Jesus From the Edges). The first Herod, too, had achieved great wealth and power by pushing himself to the very top of Jewish society. The Herod Jesus was referring to in this passage had done the same. 

What then is the “yeast” that Jesus told his disciples to avoid? I believe it represents the lure of the present order that benefits a few at the expense of the masses; the lure of believing you can achieve the status of the 1% by competing and don’t have to lean into Jesus’ vision of mutual care and responsibility, sustainability and cooperation with others. Jesus references the stories of multitudes being fed by sharing few resources among them. “There’s only one loaf in the boat and if I want any of it I’d better fight for it,” they each were tempted to think. Tempted to succumb to the narrative of scarcity and competition against one another for the one loaf in the boat, they forgot the lesson in the feeding of the multitudes.  What little we have (even a few loaves and fish), when passed through distributive justice and shared with others, creates an entirely different order. There is often fear that there is not enough to go around, that if we share rather than continue to compete, that we will go without. And that’s why Jesus asks, “how many basket fulls were left over each time?” The answer was enough for the crowd and for the disciples too. Jesus was offering a narrative of resource-sharing, generosity, distributive justice, peace-making, and gratitude in the face of the too-often-lived-by narratives of scarcity, competition, greed, monopoly, violence, and hoarding.

Jesus called for putting people first over profit, power, privilege, and property.

Another world is possible. 

Will we believe it?

Will we choose it?

This gospel still calls to us today.

“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” (Mark 1:14-15)

HeartGroup Application

Gustavo Gutierrez writes, “But 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.” (The Power of the Poor in History, p. 45) 

1. What are some of the other ways Jesus teachings called for a “different social order” than what we have listed here in this week’s article? Make a list.

2.  Discuss your list with your HeartGroup along with the lists others have made. What are some of the ways you can practice some of the things on your list this week?

3. Now pick something on your list and, as a HeartGroup, do it together. 

Paulo Freire stated, “As the oppressor minority subordinates and dominates the majority, it must divide it and keep it divided in order to remain in power. The minority cannot permit itself the luxury of tolerating the unification of the people, which would undoubtedly signify a serious threat to their own hegemony. Accordingly, the oppressors halt by any method (including violence) any action which in even incipient fashion could awaken the oppressed to the need for unity. Concepts such as unity, organization, and struggle are immediately labeled as dangerous. In fact, of course, these concepts are dangerous— to the oppressors— for their realization is necessary to actions of liberation.” (Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed: 30th Anniversary Edition; p 141). 

There is power—people power—in combining our energies in working to make our world a safer, just, more compassionate home for us all. We saw this last week as a combined outcry challenged the U.S.’ policy of separating families entering its borders. This problem is not yet resolved. In fact, the “solution” still does inestimable harm. As people of faith and good will who seek the intersection of their faith and their work toward societal justice, this is a great petition to have your entire HeartGroup sign:

Petition: All Rights for All, Without Borders

“As scholars and teachers of religion, we rejoice that public pressure led to initial steps to end family separation. Yet, we remain deeply concerned with the Trump administration’s attempt to substitute mass detention of families as a ‘solution’ for family separation. These practices continue to be rooted in an inhumane policy of ‘zero tolerance’ that is morally, ethically, and spiritually reprehensible, and we exhort all people of faith, and all people of good will, to reject and resist this immoral approach.”

Thanks for checking in with us this week. 

Wherever you are today, keep living in love, survival, resistance, liberation, reparation and transformation. 

Another world is possible. 

I love each of you dearly. 

I’ll see you next week with part 2.


To support these podcasts, weekly eSight articles and to help us grow, go to www.renewedheartministries.com and click “donate.”

The Faithful or Unfaithful Slave

piece of pie going to man, while rest of the pie goes to one

by Herb Montgomery

Featured Text:

“Who then is the faithful and wise slave whom the master put over his household to give them food on time? Blessed is that slave whose master, on coming, will find so doing. Amen‚ I tell you, he will appoint him over all his possessions. But if that slave says in his heart: My master is delayed, and begins to beat his fellow slaves‚ and eats and drinks with the drunkards‚ the master of that slave will come on a day he does not expect and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him to pieces and give him an inheritance with the faithless.” (Q 12:42-46)

Companion Texts:

Matthew 24:45-51: “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Luke 12:42-46: The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

A Word about Slavery and Jesus

Luke sums up Jesus’ gospel in Luke 4:18 with the phrase “to set the oppressed free.” Jesus was a prophet of the poor who called those who exploited them to radical wealth redistribution and to embrace solidarity with them. He called those at the helm of an exploitative economic system to account, speaking truth to power to the degree that the elites ultimately worked to see Jesus executed.

And yet, this week’s saying foregrounds one of the challenges with elevating Jesus and his teachings for our society today: Jesus never spoke one word against slavery. This silence was used by Christians in the U.S. to justify Christianity while they held tight to slavery. Moses Stuart of Andover Seminary in Massachusetts wrote that abolitionists “must give up the New Testament authority, or abandon the fiery course which they are pursuing.” [See Mark Noll’s, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (The Steven and Janice Brose Lectures in the Civil War Era)][1].

Regardless of how one explains Jesus’ references to slavery and servanthood, the reality remains the same: an enslavement culture is at the heart of some of Jesus’ strongest parables about a new social order.

What Can We Glean From This Week’s Saying?

As we covered last week, much is lost when we immediately apply sayings such as these to a future second coming of Jesus rather than to the unexpected nature of the social vision Jesus shared during his life.

Jesus emerged among the exploited, poor class in his society announcing the return of YHWH’s liberating Presence among them (i.e. the kingdom or reign of God). He called for the evidence of this Presence to be expressed in his listeners taking responsibility for each other’s care. This is the centerpiece of this parable in the regrettable context of slavery:

“The master put [the slave] over his household to give” the rest of the household “food.”

The slave’s job was to distribute justice; to make sure everyone had enough, and to make sure no one had too much if someone else would go without.

The Jewish tradition is full of rich veins of calls for distributive justice.

Distributive justice is what the prophets called for.

Distributive justice is what Jesus also called for.

Distributive justice is the choice that lies before us still today.

Distributive justice calls us to become a people-oriented society. John Dominic Crossan writes in The Greatest Prayer:

“[Jesus’ distributive justice] vision derives from the common experience of a well-run home, household, or family farm. If you walked into one, how would you judge the householder? Are the fields well tended? Are the animals properly provisioned? Are the buildings adequately maintained? Are the children and dependents well fed, clothed, and sheltered? Are the sick given special care? Are responsibilities and returns apportioned fairly? Do all have enough? Especially that: Do all have enough? Or, to the contrary, do some have far too little while others have far too much? It is that vision of the well-run household, of the home fairly, equitably, and justly administered, that the biblical tradition applies to God. God is the Householder of the world house, and all those preceding questions must be repeated on a global and cosmic scale. Do all God’s children have enough? If not—and the biblical answer is “not”—how must things change here below so that all God’s people have a fair, equitable, and just proportion of God’s world? The Lord’s Prayer proclaims that necessary change as both revolutionary manifesto and hymn of hope.” (p. 3)

Today, we live in a global society right now where six men have as much wealth as half the world’s population. This past week, American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic, and political activist Noam Chomsky released a new book on this topic: Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power. This is Chomsky’s first major book on the subject of income inequality and I’m looking forward to reading it.

The statement we considered in our HeartGroups last week from Dr. King applies:

“Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives, and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” (Beyond Vietnam, April 4, 1967)

Jesus called us into relationship with each other in a way that makes a tangible difference in how privilege, power, resources, profits, property, and anything else we need for survival and thriving are distributed justly. Jesus’ worldview was one where God causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on all alike (Matthew 5:45). Today, we must learn to recognize, name, and work to reverse systems that preventrain” and “sunshine” from reaching some people while being funneled off to others.

Violent Ending

This week’s saying unequivocally ends quite violently and I find it troubling. I don’t believe in a God who is going to “cut people into pieces” if they don’t do what that God says. I do believe Jesus was reasoning from cause to effect in parable form.

What history now tells us is that the exploited poor of Jesus’ day did violently revolt against the elites in Jerusalem, and they went on to take up arms and revolt against Rome itself as well.

The Roman backlash was merciless. Jerusalem in its entirety was destroyed: the entire “household” was laid waste. If Jesus saw this coming, I can understand his trying to warn them.

But here is the catch. The catch wasn’t that the poor were finally able to take back what had been taken from them. No, poor and the rich alike were annihilated by Rome in 70 C.E., so threats of violence didn’t motivate those who dominated them to change.

What motivates me today to live into the teachings of Jesus is seeing my interconnectedness with others and heeding the call to engage in relationship with others. Compassion is a far greater motivator, for me, than fear of future loss or hope of gain.

And this may be the point of this week’s saying: We are all in this together. The choices we make affect us all. And although they affect us differently, we all have to share this planet we call home. As a dear friend of mine said to me recently, “We all get clean air or we all get dirty air.” We all inescapably share space with each other. We have the choice to share this space in a way that makes sure everyone is taken care of.

Who then is the faithful and wise slave whom the master put over his household to give them food on time? Blessed is that slave whose master, on coming, will find so doing. Amen‚ I tell you, he will appoint him over all his possessions. But if that slave says in his heart: My master is delayed, and begins to beat his fellow slaves‚ and eats and drinks with the drunkards‚ the master of that slave will come on a day he does not expect and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him to pieces and give him an inheritance with the faithless.” (Q 12:42-46)

 

HeartGroup Application

  1. This week, as a group, consider the following statement made by Dr. King at Western Michigan University:

“Now the other myth that gets around is the idea that legislation cannot really solve the problem and that it has no great role to play in this period of social change because you’ve got to change the heart and you can’t change the heart through legislation. You can’t legislate morals. The job must be done through education and religion.

Well, there’s half-truth involved here.

Certainly, if the problem is to be solved then in the final sense, hearts must be changed. Religion and education must play a great role in changing the heart.

But we must go on to say that while it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated.

It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless.

It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also.

So there is a need for executive orders. There is a need for judicial decrees. There is a need for civil rights legislation on the local scale within states and on the national scale from the federal government.” (December 18, 1963)

Discuss:

1. What do you perceive as the interim goals and long term goals in King’s statement?

2. What do the methods of working toward the interim goals involve?

3. What does engaging the work toward the long term goals look like?

4. Pick an interim and long term method and practice it this week.

Thank you, each of you, for checking in with us this week.

Also, I want to take a moment to thank all of you who support the work of Renewed Heart Ministries. It’s people like you who enable us to exist and to be a positive resource in our world in the work of survival, resistance, liberation, restoration, and transformation.

If you are new to Renewed Heart Ministries, we are a not-for-profit group informed by the sayings and teachings of the historical Jewish Jesus of Nazareth and passionate about centering our values and ethics in the experiences of those on the undersides and margins of our societies. You can find out more about us here.

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Together, we are making a difference, and making our world a safer, just, more compassionate home for us all.

Keep living in love.

I love each of you dearly.

I’ll see you next week.


[1] Noll’s volume is especially helpful in understanding what happens today when people calling for social change for minorities are accused of being “against the clear teachings of scripture.”

“On the other front, nuanced biblical attacks on American slavery faced rough going precisely because they were nuanced. This position could not simply be read out of any one biblical text; it could not be lifted directly from the page. Rather, it needed patient reflection on the entirety of the Scriptures; it required expert knowledge of the historical circumstances of ancient Near Eastern and Roman slave systems as well as of the actually existing conditions in the slave states; and it demanded that sophisticated interpretative practice replace a commonsensically literal approach to the sacred text.”

Mark A. Noll, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (Kindle Locations 647-649).

 

The Son of Humanity Comes as a Robber

The banner reads: 'Capitalism isn't working: another world is possible'. G20, Meltdown Protest, City of London, Bank of England, 1 April 2009. Credit: Tony Hall.

The banner reads: “Capitalism isn’t working: another world is possible.”
G20, Meltdown Protest, City of London, Bank of England, 1 April 2009.
Credit: Tony Hall.

by Herb Montgomery

Featured Text:

“But know this: If the householder had known in which watch the robber was coming, he would not have let his house be dug into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Humanity is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Q 12:39-40)

Companion Texts:

Matthew 24:43-44: “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.”

Luke 12:39-40: “But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Gospel of Thomas 21:5 “That is why I say: ‘When the master of the house learns that the thief is about to come, he will be on guard before he comes and will not let him break into his house, his domain, to carry away his possessions.’

Gospel of Thomas 103: “Jesus says: ‘Blessed is the person who knows at which point of the house the robbers are going to enter, so that he may arise to gather together his domain and gird his loins before they enter.’”

Not The Second Coming, But The First

Typically when this saying is used in most Christian preaching today, Jesus’ words are interpreted as a prediction of his return to Earth at the end of time. Remember, though, Jesus disciples didn’t yet even understand that he was going to be taken from them, much less that he would come back at some point in the future. At this stage of the story, Jesus would have still been speaking about his unexpected emergence among the people, not about some point in the distant future.

What difference does it make to apply this saying first to Jesus’ emergence among the poor in the 1st Century, before we jump to the Christian second coming? Let’s first allow this saying to relate to the appearing of the Jewish Jesus of Nazareth two thousand years ago and see if there is any message in that for us today. We can get to secondary interpretations later.

Jesus the Thief

In our society, the haves are assumed to be the “good guys.” Law and order protects the haves from the have-nots who step outside the lines the haves set down for them. In this week’s saying, Jesus subversively calls himself a thief whom householders need protection from. He calls himself a bad guy.

Morality is defined quite differently by those at the bottom and edges of society and those who are at the top and the center. Last month’s book of the month at RHM was James Cone’s God of the Oppressed. He describes how morality functioned for black slaves in America:

“The grounding of Christian ethics in the oppressed community means that the oppressor cannot decide what is Christian behavior. Intuitively and experientially black slaves recognized this basic truth, because their mental and physical survival was at stake. They rejected the white masters’ view of morality, but they did not reject law and morality. Rather, they formulated a new law and a new morality that was consistent with black strivings for freedom . . . Thus black slaves made a distinction between ‘stealing’ and ‘taking.’ Stealing meant taking from a fellow slave, and ethics did not condone that. But to take from white folks was not wrong, because they were merely appropriating what was in fact rightfully theirs.” (pp. 191-192)

Cones uses illustrations from Olmsted and a slave named Charles that are well worth your consideration.

Consider also, how the legendary Robin Hood was viewed by the rich and how he was viewed by the exploited poor. Similarly, the “thief” Jesus in Luke preached good news to the poor (Luke 4:18, 6:30) and pronounced woes and curses on the rich (Luke 6:24).

This was in keeping with the Jewish prophetic tradition:

“For he will rescue the needy from their rich oppressors, the distressed who have no protector. He will have pity on the poor and the needy, and deliver the needy from death; he will liberate them from oppression and violence and their blood will be of high value in his eyes.” (Psalm 72:12)

Jesus’ definition of wealth as the exploitation of the poor and his call for wealth redistribution was viewed as thievery in his day. It’s still viewed as theft by many wealthy people today. I wish I had a dime for every time a well-meaning, affluent Christian responded to presentations where I talk about the wealth redistribution Jesus commanded by calling it “stealing” from them and giving to those less deserving.

Test this out yourself: take Luke 6:20 and 6:24 (Blessed are you are poor and woe to you who are rich), post it on Facebook, and see how long it takes for Evangelical Christians to chime in to qualify or condition the text. They won’t be able to let the texts sit there unexplained. They have a desperate need to qualify or censor these sayings of Jesus. And these are Christians, not the secular or nonreligious.

Jesus came preaching a new social order, a great reversal, or as Eliza Gylkison refers to it, The Great Correction. He invited those who had a lot to live in solidarity with those who had little, and he taught them to redistribute their wealth. It’s this idea of redistributing wealth to those who have less that was perceived as thievery.

Yet here is my point. Redistribution of wealth was good news to the poor in Jesus’s day and viewed as “stealing” by the rich. Not much has changed, today.

Those who are benefited and whose lives are bettered by domination systems (the haves) don’t view such an end as good news. Those on the underside of those systems, though, do see it as good news.

In the gospels these systems are replaced by a table where resources are shared wealth is redistributed, and justice is distributive justice: everyone has enough and no one has too much. This is a new humanity where people are prioritized over profit, property, possessions, power, and privilege.

Today, many both here and abroad have suffered and are suffering for the sake of the “American Dream.” America is one of the wealthiest and the most powerful nation in the world. And yet for such wealth and power, there are still 43 million people here who live below the poverty line. The wealth disparities in the American population are vast.

Today, “law and order” is the code phrase for a systemically unjust legal system that targets people of color, men especially, and takes their lives even when they have done nothing wrong. One example that top U.S. advisors to past administrations have admitted is that the “war on drugs” itself was created to target certain populations. People are targeted and arrested for nothing more than the color of their skin. That is “stealing.”

When one adds to this unjust system the capitalization of the prison industry, and the free labor that benefits large corporations from an exploited prison population, one begins to see that slavery really never ended in the U.S. It simply took another form. (To learn more, read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.)

We find ourselves in an exploitative system today that takes from those forced to the underside of society and benefits those for whom the rules are shaped. To talk about reversing that nature of things provokes the accusation of “taking from the rich to give to the poor,” or thievery. For example, socialism (a workers’ movement) is accused of being thievery and capitalism is not. Even democratic forms of socialism are continually erased from the conversation by the haves in our society. Jesus envisioned a system where the strong take care of the weak, not a world where the strong prey on the weak. But, as he said, whenever the son of man appears in every generation, he is seen by the “householders” of the present system as a thief breaking in to “take away their possessions.”

Expectations

I recently traced the title son of man used in the gospels for Jesus back to the Jewish apocalyptic book of Daniel, specifically chapter 7. In this chapter, one like the “son of man” is given a kingdom, a new social order, that ends exploitative systems of domination, subjugation, and violence. The overthrow is violent, and it could be argued that the systems overthrown in this chapter are simply replaced by another subjugating domination system (see Daniel 7:14). This would make perfect sense given the historical context of those who wrote the book of Daniel. Violent overthrow was the only way they could imagine their subjugation by violent empires coming to an end.

In Jesus’ own society, there were also those who could not imagine arriving at a different world in any other way than through violent uprising. But Jesus invited us into the end of domination, subjugation, and exploitative systems not through more domination, but in a way that was deeply unexpected. “Sell your possessions and give to the poor,” he taught (Luke 7:33). This was good news to the poor, and it was thievery to the “householders” within that society. It was counter intuitive, beyond what they had imagined.

I imagine that many who heard Jesus could not connect the dots between following his plan and bringing about a world without domination, subjugation, and exploitation. Jesus invited them into relationship with one another, into a community where they choose to take care of one another. In that community, those who had a lot gave to take care of those whose needs were not being met. As it states in Acts, “all the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need” (Acts 2:44-45).

In the 1st Century, Jesus was inviting his listeners into a new human society, a beloved community, that the wealthy elites indicted as theft. He was calling the people to voluntarily enter into a community that he felt could avoid the Gehenna that they were heading toward. If they chose relationship, they could avoid the uprising of the exploited, the war against Rome, and the utter destruction of Jerusalem that history now tells us was only three decades ahead of them at that time. The result of ignoring Jesus’ call to wealth redistribution and reparations for past exploitations came in 66-70 C.E. when the exploited poor in Judea rose up, drove out the wealthy from the Temple, and proceeded to take up arms against Rome itself, too. Rome put down what began as a poor people’s rebellion in a way that left nothing for anyone. It was complete destruction for all.

Revolts and revolutions don’t always come. Oppressed communities don’t always rise up. They sometimes just give up. And there aren’t always third parties such as “Rome” that come in and wipe out everyone. I still wonder what lies ahead for us that we could avoid with the choices we are making today.

What lies on our horizon?

What will be the result of our environmental abuses driven by greed?

What will be the result of our military-backed, economic exploitation of countries abroad?

What will be the result of our exploitation of the lower and middle classes here in the U.S.?

What will be the result for our refusal to make reparations for our deeply racist past?

What will be the result of our racist “law and order” and unjust criminal justice system?

What will be the result of our classism, racism, sexism, cis-heterosexism, militarism, and corporatism?

If Jesus walked U.S. streets today, what would he see on America’s horizon? Who would he be calling us into relationship, community and solidarity with? What redistribution of wealth and power in favor of those on the undersides and edges of our society would he be calling us to voluntarily embrace?

Even if one only considers the environmental impact, it will be much less catastrophic to embrace our interconnectedness today, and enter into community with the people we share this planet with and with whom we also call Earth “home.”

We are in this together.

We are each others’ fate.

The choice is ours.

“But know this: If the householder had known in which watch the robber was coming, he would not have let his house be dug into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Humanity is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Q 12:39-40)

Heart Group Application

Jesus’ gospel calls us repeatedly to look at the world through the lens of those on the undersides and edges of our societies. This past week marks the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. One of the news outlets I follow this week played a portion of the sermon he gave one year before his assignation, Beyond Vietnam, written by Vincent Harding.

  1. As a group, read the entire transcript of this sermon:

http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_beyond_vietnam/

2. Considering this week’s saying and its historical context, a statement leaps out from for me from the transcript of King’s sermon, “It is with such activity that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, ‘Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.’ [applause] Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.”

What does engaging the work of transitioning from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society look like your area? Which local organizations can you partner with? Here in WV our work may look very different from the work in other states, for example. We have the same -isms as exist nationwide, yet they work uniquely in Appalachia from how they express themselves in larger cities.

3. Pick one of the options you discovered this week, and as a group put it into practice.

Thank you, each of you, for checking in with us this week.

Also, I want to take a moment to thank all of you who support the work of Renewed Heart Ministries. It’s people like you who enable us to exist and to be a positive resource in our world in the work of survival, resistance, liberation, restoration, and transformation.

If you are new to Renewed Heart Ministries, we are a not-for-profit group informed by the sayings and teachings of the historical Jewish Jesus of Nazareth and passionate about centering our values and ethics in the experiences of those on the undersides and margins of our societies. You can find out more about us here.

Everything we do at Renewed Heart Ministries is done with the purpose of making these resources as free as possible. To do so we need the help of people like you.

If you’d like to support the work of Renewed Heart Ministries, you can make a one-time gift or become a monthly contributor by going to renewedheartministries.com and clicking on the Donate tab at the top right of our home page.

Or you can mail your contribution to:

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Make sure you also sign up for our free resources on the website: we have a monthly newsletter and much, much more.

Remember, everything we do here is free. And all your support helps. Anything we receive beyond our annual budget we pass on to other not-for-profits making systemic and personal differences in the lives of those less privileged in the status quo.

For those of you already supporting our work, again, thank you.

Together, we are making a difference, and making our world a safer, just, more compassionate home for us all.

Keep living in love.

I love each of you dearly.

I’ll see you next week.

Free from Anxiety like Ravens and Lilies

by Herb Montgomery

Featured Text:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you are to eat, nor about your body, with what you are to clothe yourself. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing? Consider the ravens: They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet God feeds them. Are you not better than the birds? And who of you by being anxious is able to add to one’s stature a cubit? And why are you anxious about clothing Observe‚ the lilies, how they grow: They do not work nor do they spin. Yet I tell you: Not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like one of these. But if in the field the grass, there today and tomorrow thrown into the oven, God clothes thus, will he not much more clothe you, persons of petty faith! So‚ do not be anxious, saying: What are we to eat? Or: What are we to drink? Or: What are we to wear? For all these the Gentiles seek; for your Father knows that you need them all. But seek his kingdom, and all these shall be granted to you.” (Q 12:22b-31)

Companion Texts:

Matthew 6:25-33: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Luke 12:22-31: “Then Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.’”

Gospel of Thomas 36:1, 4, 2–3: “Jesus said, ‘Do not fret, from morning to evening and from evening to morning, about your food–what you’re going to eat, or about your clothing, what you are going to wear. You’re much better than the lilies, which neither card nor spin. As for you, when you have no garment, what will you put on? Who might add to your stature? That very one will give you your garment.’”

We can best understand this week’s saying by looking at an interesting detail in Luke’s version of this saying. At the very beginning of this discourse in Luke, we read:

“Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ Jesus replied, ‘Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?’” (Luke 12:13,14)

In Jesus’ audience is a man arguing with his brother over their inheritance from their father. One brother asks for Jesus to speak to the other brother on his behalf and Jesus flatly refuses to arbitrate between them.

Arguments over inheritances aren’t common among the poor or lower middle classes. These are problems that exist among the affluent. My own mother passed away in 2014, a typical Appalachian woman with nothing. I remember having to sort through mail and having to speak with creditors. There was no inheritance to try and figure out; there was only debt to be cleared or written off.

Jesus didn’t see settling disputes between the rich as his purpose. He was a prophet of the poor and called his audience to solidarity with the poor. One example of this is Jesus call’ for the rich to “sell everything you have and give it to the poor.” It was a call for radical wealth redistribution.

It’s possible that those who heard Jesus teach believed that there would not be enough for everyone if we actually did share. This is a narrative of scarcity. It leads people to feel anxious about the future and preoccupied with accumulating as much as they think will insulate them from any negative future events. Accumulating resources and anxiety can grow into the drive to monopolize resources, exploit others and their resources, and uphold this exploitation through violence. However we label this narrative, we must learn to recognize it for what it is: a narrative of scarcity.

Jesus, on the contrary, taught a different narrative, a narrative more like the one Gandhi later taught, that “every day the earth produces enough for each person’s need, but not each person’s greed.” Jesus called us to embrace a narrative of enough or abundance, the belief that there is enough to share. This sharing replaces anxiety with gratitude, generosity, connectedness, community, and hospitality. Rather than monopolies and exploitation, abundance brings distributive justice and replaces violence with peace.

Let’s look at this week’s saying again with these two narratives in mind:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you are to eat, nor about your body, with what you are to clothe yourself. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing? Consider the ravens: They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet God feeds them. Are you not better than the birds? And who of you by being anxious is able to add to one’s stature a cubit? And why are you anxious about clothing Observe‚ the lilies, how they grow: They do not work nor do they spin. Yet I tell you: Not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like one of these. But if in the field the grass, there today and tomorrow thrown into the oven, God clothes thus, will he not much more clothe you, persons of petty faith! So‚ do not be anxious, saying: What are we to eat? Or: What are we to drink? Or: What are we to wear? For all these the Gentiles seek; for your Father knows that you need them all. But seek his kingdom, and all these shall be granted to you. (Q 12:22b-31)

Jesus’ “Kingdom,” the “reign of God,” was his way of using the language of his own time and culture to share his social vision of people taking care of each other. James M. Robinson reminds us in The Gospel of Jesus, “This is why the beggars, the hungry, the depressed are fortunate: God, that is, those in whom God rules, those who hearken to God, will care for them. The needy are called upon to trust that God’s reigning is there for them (“Theirs is the kingdom of God”) . . . Jesus’ message was simple, for he wanted to cut straight through to the point: trust God to look out for you by providing people who will care for you, and listen to him when he calls on you to provide for them.”

This is what Pëtr Kropotkin called mutual aid:

“While [Darwin] was chiefly using the term [survival of the fittest] in its narrow sense for his own special purpose, he warned his followers against committing the error (which he seems once to have committed himself) of overrating its narrow meaning. In The Descent of Man he gave some powerful pages to illustrate its proper, wide sense. He pointed out how, in numberless animal societies, the struggle between separate individuals for the means of existence disappears, how struggle is replaced by co-operation, and how that substitution results in the development of intellectual and moral faculties which secure to the species the best conditions for survival. He intimated that in such cases the fittest are not the physically strongest, nor the cunningest, but those who learn to combine so as mutually to support each other, strong and weak alike, for the welfare of the community. ‘Those communities,’ he wrote, ‘which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring’ (2nd edit., p. 163). The term, which originated from the narrow Malthusian conception of competition between each and all, thus lost its narrowness in the mind of one who knew Nature.” (Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution)

In the New Testament book of James, the writer comments on Jesus’ teachings in the sermon on the mount and the narrative of anxiety that leads to exploiting others: “But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?” (James 2:6-7)

Like the gospels do, James gives a scathing, prophetic pronouncement to those who live by the old narrative of scarcity and accumulation:

“Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.” (James 1:9-11)

Even in 1 Timothy, believed to have been written quite a bit later than James, there is a call away from the narrative of scarcity, anxiety, and individualistic trust in one’s own accumulated wealth to insulate one from future harm:

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

Remember, putting one’s “hope in God” according the Jesus of Sayings Gospel Q meant trusting God enough that God would send people to take care of you as you share what you’ve accumulated with those God calls you to give to today.

“Ravens and lilies do not seem to focus their attention on satisfying their own needs in order to survive, and yet God sees to it that they prosper. Sparrows are sold a dime a dozen and, one might say, who cares? God cares! Even about the tiniest things—he knows exactly how many hairs are on your head! So God will not give a stone when asked for bread or a snake when asked for fish, but can be counted on to give what you really need. You can trust him to know what you need even before you ask. This utopian vision of a caring God was the core of what Jesus had to say and what he himself put into practice. It was both good news—reassurance that in your actual experience good would happen to mitigate your plight—and the call upon you to do that same good toward others in actual practice. This radical trust in and responsiveness to God is what makes society function as God’s society. This was, for Jesus, what faith and discipleship were all about. As a result, nothing else had a right to claim any functional relationship to him . . . [Jesus] sought to focus attention on trusting God for today’s ration of life, and on hearing God’s call to give now a better life to neighbors . . . All this is as far from today’s Christianity as it was from the Judaism of Jesus’ day. Christians all too often simply venerate the “Lord Jesus Christ” as the “Son of God” and let it go at that. But Jesus himself made no claim to lofty titles or even to divinity. Indeed, to him, a devout Jew, claiming to be God would have seemed blasphemous! He claimed “only” that God spoke and acted through him.” (James Robinson, The Gospel of Jesus, Kindle Location 102)

This is the vision Jesus cast before his listeners of what human society could look like: People taking care of people. In Jesus’ theological language, that was God taking care of people through people. It’s through us, through our choice to be compassionate and just or turn away, that we determine one another’s fate. We have a choice to make. Will we care for someone today, trusting that someone will care for us tomorrow if we have a need?

“Seeking first the Kingdom” is not seeking an artificial quid pro quo where if I help people, I expect God to supernaturally bless me. This isn’t the prosperity gospel. This is more intrinsic. As I take care of others when they need care, I’m setting in motion a world where I’ll have folks that take care of me if I need care. Like we discussed last week, I’m investing in people today. And that will intrinsically create a reality where others will share “all these things” with me if I experience a crisis.

Jesus’ teaching means the creation of human society in which we change the nature of the world we live in, where care and cooperation solve the dilemmas of survival rather than competition, domination, subjugation, and exploitation. This world is not based on a win-lose closed system, but a win-win where we learn to be each other’s keeper. Our world is what we, collectively, choose to make it. For my part, I’m choosing compassion.

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you are to eat, nor about your body, with what you are to clothe yourself. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing? Consider the ravens: They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet God feeds them. Are you not better than the birds? And who of you by being anxious is able to add to one’s stature a cubit? And why are you anxious about clothing Observe‚ the lilies, how they grow: They do not work nor do they spin. Yet I tell you: Not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like one of these. But if in the field the grass, there today and tomorrow thrown into the oven, God clothes thus, will he not much more clothe you, persons of petty faith! So‚ do not be anxious, saying: What are we to eat? Or: What are we to drink? Or: What are we to wear? For all these the Gentiles seek; for your Father knows that you need them all. But seek his kingdom, and all these shall be granted to you. (Q 12:22b-31)

HeartGroup Application

This week, I’d like you to sit down with your HeartGroup and compile a list of needs and abilities that exist among you. Here’s how.

  1. Divide a piece of paper into two columns.
  2. Go around the room and list the needs that members presently have in one column
  3. Next, list in the second column the abilities and talents that people in the room have.
  4. Drawing lines between the two columns, linking needs and group members’ ability to help take care of those needs.

As you do this exercise, not all of the needs will be met, but some of them will. And as we become aware of the needs with each group, we will discover ways to meet those needs. Each group is a microcosm of a world where everyone contributes and everyone’s needs are being met. It’s people taking responsibility for one another. It’s people taking care of people. And once you begin engaging your HeartGroup in this practical, tangible way, it also really becomes fun.

Jesus’ solution to challenges we face was each one of us. Jesus’ hope for our world is us.

Thanks for checking in with us this week.

Keep living in love, survival, resistance, liberation, restoration, and transformation.

I love each of you dearly.

I’ll see you next week.

Storing up Treasures in Heaven 

Multiracial Group of Friends with World Globe Map

by Herb Montgomery

Featured Text:

“Do not treasure for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and gnawing deface and where robbers dig through and rob, but treasure for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor gnawing defaces and where robbers do not dig through nor rob. For where your treasure is, there will also be your heart.” (Q 12:33-34)

Companion Texts:

Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Luke 12:33-34: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Gospel of Thomas 76:3: “You too look for his treasure, which does not perish, (and) which stays where no moth can reach it to eat it, and no worm destroys it.”

This week’s saying tells us to focus on storing up “treasure” in heaven rather than on earth. I want to offer a word of caution about that. Karl Marx correctly wrote that religion focused on heaven or afterlife bliss rather than survival, resistance, liberation, restoration, and transformation of our world now tends to leave oppressed people passive.

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” (Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Collected Works, vol. 3)

James H. Cone pushes back on Marx’s blanket condemnation of all religion in his landmark book God of the Oppressed. This is a rather long quotation, but one worth considering: Cone is not addressing Marx’s critique from the perspective of someone trying to preserve the status quo. He addresses the critique as someone in an oppressed community who’s working for societal change and the dismantling of the status quo.

“The vision of the future and of Jesus as the Coming Lord is the central theme of black religion. This theme is expressed with the idea of heaven, a concept that has been grossly misunderstood in black religion. For any people the idea of heaven, in the songs and sermons of black people, is proof of Marx’s contention that religion is the opiate of the people. Unfortunately, many uninformed young blacks, hearing this Marxian analysis in college, have accepted this criticism as true without probing deeper into the thought forms of black people. To be sure, white missionaries and preachers used Jesus Christ and heaven to make black slaves obedient and docile. But in reality, the opposite happened more often than not. For any black slaves, Jesus became the decisive Other in their lives who provided for them a knowledge of themselves, not derived from the value system of slave masters. How could black slaves know that they were human beings when they were treated like cattle? How could they know that they were somebody when everything in their environment said that they were nobody? How could they know that they had a value that could not be defined by dollars and cents, when the symbol of the auction block was an ever present reality? Only because they knew that Christ was present with them and that his presence included the divine promise to come again and to take them to the ‘New Jerusalem.’ Heaven, therefore, in black religion was inseparably connected with Jesus’ promise to liberate the oppressed from slavery. It was black people’s vision of a new identity for themselves which was in sharp contradiction to their present status as slaves. This vision of Jesus as the Coming One who will take them back to heaven held black people together mentally as they struggled physically to make real the future in their present.” (pp. 119-120)

Cone continues:

“The past and present history of Jesus are incomplete without affirmation of the ‘not yet’ that ‘will be.’ The power of Christ’s future coming and the vision that it bestows upon the people is the key to why the oppressed can ‘keep on keepin’ on’ even when their fight seems fruitless. The vision of Christ’s future that breaks into their slave existence radically changes their perspective on life; and to others who stand outside the community where the vision is celebrated, black people’s talk about “long white robes” and “golden slippers” in heaven seems to be proof that black religion is an opium [sic] of the people. But in reality it is a radical judgment which black people are making upon the society that enslaved them. Black religion, therefore, becomes a revolutionary alternative to white religion. Jesus Christ becomes the One who stands at the center of their view of reality, enabling slaves to look beyond the present to the future, the time when black suffering will be ended. The future reality of Jesus means that what is contradicts what ought to be. When Jesus is understood as the Coming One who will establish divine justice among people, then we will be able to understand why black slaves’ religion emphasized the other world. They truly believed the story of Jesus’ past existence with the poor as told in the Bible. (pp. 120-121)

As someone who does not speak from Cone’s social location, I want to acknowledge Cone’s critique of Marx. When religion leaves us waiting for a future time when justice comes rather than working for distributive justice in our world today, then Marx is correct: religion is an opiate. Cone is also right that a religion that identifies God as the God of the oppressed doesn’t have to pacify people.

Yet Cone drifts awfully close to using religion as an opiate himself in the following paragraph:

“People get tired of fighting for justice and the political power of oppressors often creates fear in the hearts of the oppressed. What could a small band of slaves do against the armed might of a nation? Indeed what can the oppressed blacks today do in order to break the power of the Pentagon? Of course, we may “play” revolutionary and delude ourselves that we can do battle against the atomic bomb. Usually when the reality of the political situation dawns upon the oppressed, those who have no vision from another world tend to give up in despair. But those who have heard about the coming of the Lord Jesus and have a vision of crossing on the other side of Jordan, are not terribly disturbed about what happens in Washington, D. C., at least not to the extent that their true humanity is dependent on the political perspective of government officials.” (p. 121, emphasis added)

With this tension between Marx and Cone in mind this week, I ask the question: what did the Jesus of Sayings Gospel Q mean when he asked us to place our focus on heaven rather than earth, especially when such a focus has historically proved detrimental to the victims of oppression, injustice and violence?

James Robinson offered a possible answer in his book on Sayings Gospel Q.

“Some people get confused by the fact that in the Gospel of Matthew the ‘kingdom of God’ is usually referred to as the “kingdom of heaven,” leading them to think that the kingdom is in heaven—something one can experience only in the afterlife or at the end of time. But Jesus was talking about God reigning in the here and now. Use of the idiom “kingdom of heaven” is due to the fact that Matthew is the Gospel most closely related to Judaism and so still reflects its sensitivities. Jews have been so committed to not taking God’s name in vain, which, after all, is one of the Ten Commandments, that they have thought it best not to “take” God’s name at all. That is, they do not pronounce Yahweh out loud at all. Sometimes they carry this so far that they not only avoid pronouncing Yahweh; they even avoid pronouncing “God” and instead simply refer to the “name,” by which everyone in the Jewish community knows what they mean—God. (The Gospel of Jesus; Kindle Locations 2722-2730).

The kingdom of heaven is not a kingdom in heaven, but a new social arrangement that Jesus announced had come from heaven to earth. It was the reign of God and it was emerging from the community of the oppressed in Jesus’ day on earth. It was a social vision where people took care of people, where people practiced mutual aid and resource sharing, and where wealth inequality was met with wealth redistribution (see Acts 4:33-35). Jesus’ “kingdom of heaven” was a Jewish way of referring to the kingdom or reign of God, which had arrived here on earth in the present life, now.

This reign of God called people to trust in a God who would send other people to take care of them in the future to the degree that they would loosen their grip on hoarded wealth that insulated them from future risk so they could  be the one God sent to help those who are in need today. As Robinson points out: “This hardly means that as surely as a human parent gives bread and fish in the here and now, the heavenly Father will give ‘pie in the sky by-and-by.’ It clearly means that God will answer the petition ‘Our day’s bread give us today’ in the here and now, daily. (Ibid. Kindle Locations 2789-2791) Together, we could face the insecurity of the future, because no matter what the future brought, we could make it because we had each other.

What Jesus may be saying in this week’s Q statement is this: don’t store up material treasure on Earth, which always involves some level of risk. Invest your resources in the kingdom of heaven that has arrived here on earth, which is made manifest in people taking care of people. “Lay up treasure” in the lives of people, especially the vulnerable, the poor, those on the underside and edges of our societies. Invest in a compassionate, safe, just world for people. Put your treasure in them, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

People are often not comfortable with their religion becoming this down-to-earth. They are much more comfortable with religion being about investing in a post-mortem retirement program for themselves. But I don’t think that approach to interpreting Jesus’ saying is consistent with what we have witnessed about the Jesus of sayings Q so far. His teachings are not about you gaining heavenly bliss later; they’re about bringing the liberation of heaven into people’s lives here, now, today.

What does it mean to lay up treasure in heaven? The kingdom of heaven for Jesus was the reign of God that had arrived here on earth. It called people to stop solving the challenges of survival for themselves at the expense of others around them. It called them to take responsibility for making sure one another had what they needed.

This week’s saying is not a matter of location (heaven versus earth). Nor is it a matter of timing (post mortem versus now). It is a matter of seeking plenty “for yourself” on earth now, versus seeking “the kingdom of heaven” with others on earth now. Storing up treasure in heaven means people taking care of people here.

At home, one of my projects is storing some of my daughter’s favorite belongings in our attic while she’s away at college. When she comes home, she won’t go up to the attic to enjoy her belongings. She will take those belongings out of the attic and bring them down to enjoy them in her home.

When we take care of other people, even if we use the language of “storing treasure in heaven,” we must not forget that our home is here. When we choose to take care of people, we’re transforming our home here. We’ll be able to take out and enjoy the treasures we have stored in each other in a transformed world that is a safe, just, and compassionate home for us all, on earth “as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6.10).

Do not treasure for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and gnawing deface and where robbers dig through and rob, but treasure for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor gnawing defaces and where robbers do not dig through nor rob. For where your treasure is, there will also be your heart.” (Q 12:33-34)

HeartGroup Application

1.  How does choosing to take responsibility for one another’s survival and care transform our world today? In what ways does doing so affirm how the world already is?

2.  List some ways that your group could lean more deeply into taking care of each other. Then list some of the ways that your group could lean more deeply into taking care of those in your neighborhood.

Separate both lists into two categories: actions that may help people today yet leave in place a system that will cause them to need help again tomorrow; and actions that will impact the systemic problems and transform society at the root as well. It is important to do both, not just one or the other. If a person is drowning, they need pulling out of the river. And those throwing people into the river need to be stopped as well. Renewed Heart Ministries’ book for March is James H. Cone’s God of the Oppressed. In that book, Cone writes, “For the oppressed, justice is the rescue from hurt; and for the oppressors it is the removal of the power to hurt others—even against their will—so that justice can be realized for all” (p. 159).

3 .  Pick two items from your group’s lists and begin putting it into practice this week. This is how we begin storing up treasure in heaven, transforming our world.

Thanks for checking in with us this week. Keep living in love, a love that bears the fruit of survival, resistance, liberation, restoration, and transformation.

I love each of you dearly.

I’ll see you next week.