Not Everyone Is In Need

protest

Herb Montgomery | September 11, 2020

“Yes, the love of the gospels is universal. Yes, every person has worth and value. But not every person is facing the same level of harm in our society from how our current society is structured or shaped. Jesus said that those who are well don’t need a doctor. Those being attacked by societal sickness do. This is why Christians not only saying “Black lives matter” but also working alongside others to correct the harm our system is causing to Black and other less privileged communities is quite possibly the most Christlike work a Christian can be engaged in.”

In the gospel of Mark we read,

“On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.’” (Mark 2:17)

Every person has worth and value. When a person is attacked by sickness, though, their immediate need demands that they take priority. This is the ethic of preference or priority we see in the passage above from Mark’s gospel.

This doesn’t only apply to physical sickness. This ethic in Mark can apply just as equally to those being harmed today by systemic, societal sicknesses. Howard Thurman refers to this specific focus and priority in Jesus and the Disinherited:

“It is necessary to examine the religion of Jesus against the background of his own age and people, and to inquire into the content of his teaching with reference to the disinherited and the underprivileged.” (Howard Thurman, p. 16-17)

We would expect this kind of preferential treatment in Mark’s gospel. Mark’s gospel was not written to be universal. It was written for those Thurman referred to as the disinherited and underprivileged. As W.R. Telford writes, “Mark’s Gospel originally was written to help imperial subjects learn the hard truth about their world and themselves. He does not pretend to represent the word of God dispassionately or impartially, as if the word were innocuously universal in its appeal to rich and poor alike. His is a story by, about, and for those committed to Gods’ work of justice, compassion, and liberation in the world.” (Writing on the Gospel of Mark, p. 172, italics added)

In Matthew’s gospel, too, Jesus says:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Jesus. Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus’ call in Matthew 11 did not go to all indiscriminately, but to those oppressed by their society’s social-economic, political and religious system, those worn out, burdened, and needing liberation.

Luke’s Jesus makes this same distinction in Luke’s gospel: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” And he immediately adds, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort” (Luke 6:20 cf. 6:24).

Jesus’ vision of God’s just future, what the gospel authors call “the kingdom” here on earth, was one where those made poor in the present system became blessed and comforted, liberated from the heavy price of discrimination and being othered. The message Jesus declared that God’s just future held for to those already privileged in his society was “You’ve already received your comfort.” That was all he said.

What we have seen in each of these examples is what liberation theologians refer to as a preferential option for the oppressed. The word preferential denotes a preference. Option denotes a deliberate choice to stand with one side over and against the harm being done to them and those who would perpetuate that harm. It is a preference given to the well-being of those who are powerless in their society. Near its close, Matthew’s gospel paints the picture of the nations being arraigned on a day of judgment and their verdict hanging on one, and only one, criterion (Matt 25). How did each person treat the most vulnerable and powerless in their society? This question can be asked of people individually and personally. It can also be asked of societies systemically.

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus explains his preferential treatment of those his community had pushed to the margins. He tells the story of a shepherd who, when one of his sheep is in danger of being harmed, “leaves the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it” (Luke 15:3).

As I write this, my heart is heavy. After a summer of progress, after police violence and racial bias in Wisconsin in the shooting of Jacob Blake, there is still All Lives Matter rhetoric from some sectors of Christianity. I’m tempted to believe there are not just those who don’t get it, but there are also those who are refusing to.

The rhetoric and movement of Black Lives Matter is the same preferential option for the oppressed as practiced by the Jesus of the gospels. To be certain, the love of the God that Jesus teaches is universal: His God loves everyone. But if Christians really believe that, then justice for the objects of God’s love who are being systemically harmed in our society must follow close behind.

Yes, the love of the gospels is universal. Yes, every person has worth and value. But not every person is facing the same level of harm in our society from how our current society is structured or shaped. Jesus said that those who are well don’t need a doctor. Those being attacked by societal sickness do. This is why Christians not only saying “Black lives matter” but also working alongside others to correct the harm our system is causing to Black and other less privileged communities is quite possibly the most Christlike work a Christian can be engaged in.

Gustavo Gutiérrez admonishes followers of Jesus, “Christians have not done enough in this area of conversion to the neighbor, to social justice, to history. They have not perceived clearly enough yet that to know God is to do justice. They have yet to tread the path that will lead them to seek effectively the peace of the Lord in the heart of social struggle.” (Gustavo Gutiérrez, Essential Writings, p. 289)

Peace and justice in the social struggle: these are the values I see taught by the Jesus of the synoptic gospels. These are the stories that continue to remind me in our present struggle, it is not those unaffected by society’s sicknesses who need solidarity at this moment. It is those being harmed.

Heart Group Application

We at RHM are continuing to ask all HeartGroups not to meet together physically at this time. Please stay virtually connected and practice physical distancing. When you do go out, please keep a six-foot distance between you and others, wear a mask, and continue to wash your hands 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. This is a time to work together and prioritize protecting those most vulnerable among us. How many ways can you take care of each other while we are physically apart?

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

2. How can White Christians especially support and work alongside Black communities and communities of color at this time in American history? Discuss with your group and put something from the discussion into practice.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week

Enough for Us All

Herb Montgomery | September 4, 2020


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“There is enough manna for everyone. It belongs to all of us, as a gift. Stop standing in the way of others’ thriving. Believe that your own thriving is dependent on theirs. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are connected. Like it or not, we are part of one another”


In Luke’s gospel,

“It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)

In Luke, Jesus says these words to those who are afraid of giving up their privilege. They are afraid that working toward a more just world will cause them to go without. They have put their trust in hoarded means of survival at the expense of others’ ability to survive and thrive.

A few years back, two of my children sat at the breakfast table before heading off to school. My daughter tried to correct something her younger brother was doing and he was not having it. What began as correction quickly escalated to resistance and a near verbal war. It was too early in the morning for these shenanigans, and so my wife Crystal broke in:

First, she addressed our daughter: “You are not his mother, I am! If you have a problem with something he is doing, you bring it to ME and let ME deal with him! Now apologize.”

Crystal then spoke to our son, “THIS is your SISTER! And although she was overstepping her place as your sister, she is still your SISTER and the words you said to her were unkind. You apologize to her now!”

Both gave each other reluctant apologies.

This is an ancient narrative within many cultures. At the very beginning of the Hebrew scriptures, there is a conflict between two siblings, and that conflict ends in murder. Some scholars understand the story of Cain and Abel to represent the conflict between the settled agriculture communities and nomadic shepherding communities of that time. This is a story of the beginnings of early land disputes: disputes over resources, possible resources being hoarded, and needed for all to survive and thrive.

Abel was a keeper of sheep.

Cain was a tiller of the ground.

Ancient wars between the stationary tillers of the soil and nomadic livestock herders marked the transition from hunter-gathering to an agrarian society. Think of the older sibling and younger sibling dynamic in every family. Add to this a narrative where the older is the oppressive landowner and the younger is the nomadic herder. Imagine tillers of the soil being the dominant group, and the herders being the hated and marginalized. Put those glasses on and then go reread the story of those two brothers.

“In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” (Genesis 4:3-5)

As in the crucifixion and resurrection narrative, we have been discussing over the last few weeks, though oppressors often claim “God is on our side,” the God of the Genesis story shows regard for the victim of systemic injustice.

“So Cain was very angry . . . Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out to the field.’ And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.”

God then comes to Cain saying, “Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!”

Cain must now adopt the same social location that his brother Abel lived as a nomad. He must learn from experience what it is like to be marginalized.

“And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil . . . I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth . . .”

Luke 12 has a similar lesson for the Cains in the society Jesus lived in. It culminates in Jesus assuring those having more than they need, those afraid to let go and share it with the poor: “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32).

In that chapter, a brother asks Jesus to be his “arbiter” and divide an inheritance between brothers. Jesus then tells a radical story that reveals that this squabble between brothers was just another repetition of history: Cain was about to kill Abel once again. Jesus contrasts those historical human social arrangements with the path of justice he was calling his listeners to embrace. Jesus’ gospel was of a world, not of scarcity, anxiety, accumulation, territorialism, and violence, one where there is a limited amount of what we all need, and only enough for a few. His gospel was one of abundance, a gospel where each day offers enough for everyone.

Our hope for the future is in our ability to cooperate with one another to make sure we all have what we need, through a mutual sharing the assures us we have each other’s back. It is a gospel of caring and sharing, with a faith that if I supplied someone’s need today, I’m creating a community where tomorrow I will have others around me that will help me too if the need arises.

When we practice the worldview of Cain politically, economically, socially, and religiously, we reveal that our faith or assurance of life depends on excluding, othering, or marginalizing someone else. In the place of our broken Cain narrative, Jesus is offering the narrative of God’s just future. Jesus calls us to trust that there really is enough for everyone. In a world where everyone has enough to thrive, gratitude replaces our deep survival anxiety. The world we create by rejecting the way of greed is a world of sharing rather than accumulation, giving “freely” rather than territorialism, and peace-making rooted in distributive justice over violence.

The story in Luke 12 ends with brothers not having to fight others for their place in this new future: “It’s the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” You don’t have to fight each other for your place. There is enough for everyone.

America’s chaos now is just another example of the narrative of scarcity, anxiety, accumulation, territorialism, and violence. We have a chance right now to move away from our most ugly impulses, to listen to our “better angels” as President Lincoln said. This is a moment with grave consequences. Will we work toward a more just future or will our nation continue to fail to live up to its high ideals?

With Jesus’ statement that it is the “Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” the author of Luke’s gospel is saying we don’t have to fight each other for our survival. We can come together and work together to ensure each of us has what we need. There is enough room at the table. This kind of belief frees Cains and Abels to no longer be oppressors or oppressed, but rather to be members of a radically new way of arranging life here on earth. In Jesus’ vision for human society there is no more survival at someone else’s expense.

To use another story in Luke’s gospel (Luke 15), our call today is to reject the narrative of the “older brother” who cannot stomach the inclusion and celebration of his younger sibling. Reread the parable of the prodigal son through the lens of the Cain and Abel narrative. Luke’s Jesus, over and over again, is whispering to us that if any are left out, at last, it will not be because they could not achieve some privilege for themselves; instead, it will be because they could not accept the inclusion of someone else that they thought should be excluded. Embracing the “other” as a child of God too, as a fellow bearer of the image of the Divine, transforms all of us into the kind of people that can create a new world. We can bend the arc of our universe toward justice, but none of us can without transformation.

If this causes Cain-like responses inside your heart, I encourage you to spend some more time quietly contemplating this week’s passage in its context in Luke 12. We are all siblings. We are part of the same human family, all children of the same divine Parents.

Wherever this finds you this week, Jesus’ message to you is, “It is the Father’s good pleasure to give YOU the Kingdom.” There is enough manna for everyone. It belongs to all of us, as a gift. Stop standing in the way of others’ thriving. Believe that your own thriving is dependent on theirs. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are connected. Like it or not, we are part of one another.

A more just future is possible.

Now is our moment to choose to move toward it.

HeartGroup Application

We at RHM are continuing to ask all HeartGroups not to meet together physically at this time. Please stay virtually connected and practice physical distancing. When you do go out, please keep a six-foot distance between you and others, wear a mask, and continue to wash your hands 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. This is a time to work together and prioritize protecting those most vulnerable among us. How many ways can you take care of each other while we are physically apart?

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

2. Discuss with your group ways that we are all connected. How have you witnessed injustice anywhere threaten justice everywhere?

3. What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for all? Discuss with your group and pick something from the discussion to put into practice this upcoming week.
Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week

A Pebble Cast Into a Pond

Herb Montgomery | August 28, 2020


“No matter how small or how disconnected it may feel to you, no matter how tempted you may be to categorize your present efforts to move this world toward justice, mercy, and peace as futile, our voices, our work, our effort, our love, and solidarity are not in vain. We are building on the changes brought about by those who came before us. Will those who come after us be able to build on our work? “


In Matthew’s gospel we read:

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

Matthew’s sermon on the mount calls the meek to imagine a world where they inherit the earth. It doesn’t assure them that they will go to heaven when they die. Nowhere in the Jesus story does he ever share a sound-bite presentation of the “gospel” or try to get people to say a special prayer so they can go to heaven when they die. Even in the book of Acts, the message is never that fear of post-mortem hell is motivation to follow Jesus. The message is a hope of injustice, oppression, and violence being righted on this earth. Matthew’s readers are called to pray that God’s just community would come and that justice would be established “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Jesus stood in the Hebrew prophetic justice tradition: that tradition and hope was grounded here on earth with those who “hungered and thirsted” for things to be put right (see Matthew 5:6). In the stories, we see a Jesus who made people whole so that they could then go and make the world they called home whole too. Jesus’ focus was creating a human community that practiced distributive justice, where together we have enough for each of us to thrive and live into our full humanity. 

Far too often, certain sectors of Christianity have preached a gospel of escaping our world instead of embracing Jesus’ call to reshape the world around us. As Brock and Parker explain: 

“Popular forms of Christianity that embrace redemptive violence and look to heaven in a world to come have become a major public and political voice for Christianity in recent decades. Reiterating Christian perspectives that echo imperial Christianity, they bless conquest and colonization, privilege those with wealth and status, sanction war against ‘evildoers,’ and exploit the environment. The paradise they offer is on the other side of the end of the world. Their apocalyptic expectations imagine that God’s plan is to destroy this earth and rapture an elect few into heaven.” (Rita Nakashima Brock & Rebecca Parker, Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire, p. 378)

By contrast, Jesus’ teachings pointed toward personal and systemic change now, and making our communities a safe and just home for everyone. Jesus called for distributively just changes in this life, and called his followers to share that focus. (See Mark 10:21; Matthew 19:21; Luke 11:42; Luke 12:33; Luke 18:22; Luke 19:8)

In Matthew, Jesus blesses those whom the present system makes poor, those oppressed by this present world. God’s just society on earth is especially for them. Those hungering because of how this world is structured would be filled and satisfied. Those the present system causes to mourn, grieve, or weep would break out in joy and laughter for the world being put right. And those who would join him in standing up against injustice, who would choose to be hated by those benefitting from the present arrangement, who would choose being excluded, lied about, and insulted by the privileged for speaking out—they would be called blessed (Matthew 5:3-12). Those benefitting from the current world at others’ expense would find Jesus’ changes harder to embrace (Luke 6:24-26). Those well fed in the present world would see Jesus’ teachings as a threat, not a blessing. 

Today, not much about social injustice has changed from the injustices at work when the Jesus story was written. Today we are still called not be passive in regards to the injustice, oppression, and violence we see around us. In the words of Jon Sobrino, “The cross, for its part, tells of God’s affinity with victims” (Christ the Liberator: A View from the Victims, p. 88). We are called to this affinity as Jesus followers, too.

It is past time for western Christianity to let go of a primary focus on an age to come, and ask instead how Jesus’ teachings could save us from the evil present in this age. I’m reminded of the challenge Ida B. Wells made in Crusade for Justice:“Our American Christians are too busy saving the souls of White Christians from burning in hellfire to save the lives of Black ones from present burning in fires kindled by White Christians” (p. 154-155).

Will large sectors of Christians continue to miss the connection between the transformative, distributive, and restorative work we should be doing in our world today? Will we stop feeling as if any engagement with our social systems for justice, mercy, and peace in this world is others’ work but not ours?

No matter how small or how disconnected it may feel to you, no matter how tempted you may be to categorize your present efforts to move this world toward justice, mercy, and peace as futile, our voices, our work, our effort, our love and solidarity are not in vain. We are building on the changes brought about by those who came before us. Will those who come after us be able to build on our work? As Angela Davis reminds us, “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.” This doesn’t mean we should not also take time for self care. Self care is part of our work of transforming our world, too. I’m challenged by Davis’ words, especially because of my Christian background. I was raised with the futile belief that nothing I could do could make a difference. John Dominic Crossan challenges this mentality among Christians in his book Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer: 

“You have been waiting for God, [Jesus] said, while God has been waiting for you. No wonder nothing is happening. You want God’s intervention, he said, while God wants your collaboration. God’s kingdom is here, but only insofar as you accept it, enter it, live it, and thereby establish it.” (The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer, p. 27-28)

Of course we’ll get discouraged sometimes: Change doesn’t happen overnight and it never happens as quickly as we want. Change happens incrementally as we keep at it. I hope that one day I’ll be able to look back at each chapter of my life and the various justice efforts I’ve participated in and see that we’ve made a difference. Whenever I get discouraged, I remind myself of these words:

“People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.” (Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness, p. 11)

In the end, Jesus’ concern was not what we must do in order to secure heavenly bliss, but rather, what does the present state of our world here “on earth” require of us, how do we respond to the needs of those being harmed, and how can we participate with them in struggling for a more just world? 

“The non-ethical practices and beliefs in historical Christianity nearly all center on the winning of heaven and immortality. On the other hand, the Kingdom of God can be established by nothing except righteous life and action.” (Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel, p. 15)

May our focus be that of Matthew’s Jesus: inheriting the earth and an earth that is worth inheriting. Each day, with the choices we make, we are shaping the kind of earth we want to be part of. May we be able to look back on each of our journeys and see an earth made more just than it would have been without us and our efforts. 

Each of us, as Dorothy Day said, are like pebbles cast into a pond.

HeartGroup Application

We at RHM are continuing to ask all HeartGroups not to meet together physically at this time. Please stay virtually connected and practice physical distancing. When you do go out, please keep a six-foot distance between you and others, wear a mask, and continue to wash your hands 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. This is a time to work together and prioritize protecting those most vulnerable among us. How many ways can you take care of each other while we are physically apart?

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

2. Discuss with your group movements in the past the enable us to further justice work, today. How can you imagine future generations being able to build on our work today?

3. What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for all? Discuss with your group and pick something from the discussion to put into practice this upcoming week.

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week

Saltless Salt and Social Justice

Herb Montgomery | August 21, 2020

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says:

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.” (Matthew 5:13)

When people harvested salt from ancient saltwater, they would gather the rocks of salt along with various and sundry other white-colored rocks and place them in a cloth for use during cooking. Over time, the salt would dissolve through the cloth and only the non-soluble rocks would remain. Eventually, the salt sack would lose its saltiness and be good for nothing more than common road gravel.

What does it mean for those who claim to be followers of Jesus to lose their salt? Jesus’ social teachings grew out of the soil of his own Jewish, prophetic, justice tradition. The Hebrew prophets help us understand Jesus’ teachings and reading them should result in us placing social justice work at the center of following Jesus. Certain sectors of Christianity have a long history of ignoring, domesticating, sanitizing, censuring/editing or marginalizing Jesus’ teachings related to justice work from their faith. But justice work is not tangential for the Jesus follower.

When we see Jesus, not within the elite establishment, but in the margins of his own society and in the justice tradition of the ancient Hebrew prophets, we can recognize insight after insight in the Jesus story, still relevant to us today. 

The Hebrew prophets called for the end of injustice, oppression, and violence, in the here and now. They called for the end of predatory exploitation. Isaiah’s wolf would lay down with the lamb:

“The wolf will live with the lamb,

the leopard will lie down with the goat,

the calf and the lion and the yearling together;

and a little child will lead them. (Isaiah 11:6)

“The wolf and the lamb will feed together,

and the lion will eat straw like the ox,

and dust will be the serpent’s food.

They will neither harm nor destroy 

on all my holy mountain,”

says the LORD. (Isaiah 65:25)

For Amos, justice would roll down like a river:

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;

your assemblies are a stench to me. 

Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,

I will not accept them.

Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,

I will have no regard for them.

Away with the noise of your songs!

I will not listen to the music of your harps.

But let justice roll on like a river,

righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:24)

And for Ezekiel, the Dead Sea would become a place bearing fruit that would heal the nations:

“He said to me, ‘This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea. But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.’” (Ezekiel 47:8-12)

The material things we need to thrive would flow to each of us in distributively just ways. A society of death and death dealing would become life-giving.

Abraham Heschel wrote of the prophets’ hope: “What saved the prophets from despair was their messianic vision and the idea of man’s capacity for repentance… History is not a blind alley, and guilt is not an abyss. There is always a way that leads out of guilt . . . The prophet is a person who, living in dismay, has the power to transcend his dismay. Over all the darkness of experience hovers the vision of a different day” (Between God and Man, p. 240).

Not only does this definition fit Jesus and how he related to marginalized people in his own society, but we are called to do the same. 

We can make this world give way to a more life-giving one. We can change our systems. The Jesus of the gospels isn’t a priest, or ruler, or member of the community’s elite. He emerges in the story on the margins of his society as a prophet of the poor, marginalized, oppressed, and excluded. What does this mean for us as Jesus followers today?

The prophets weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty with the material mess of our world’s injustice. They spoke truth to those in power, economically, politically, and religiously. They had social concerns. They had religious concerns, and their concerns were also political. The called the attention of those who heard their voices to a God of the poor, the widow, the orphan, and those deemed other. They called for personal righteousness and for social, systemic justice. Their inward contemplative practices empowered them to march onto the public scene as advocates for those harmed in their society. For them, social justice was what God’s love looked like in public. 

It reminds me of Isaiah 1:12-17: 

“When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” (emphasis added)

Isaiah could just as easily been speaking to Christians who prioritize their religious practice but neglect or omit the work of transforming our society into a just, safe, compassionate home for all. Challenging LGBTQ discrimination, White supremacy, patriarchy, or exploitative capitalism that places profit above people is not on the plate of these kinds of Christians, but they give much attention, time, and detail to their religious observances. 

I’m reminded of how Luke’s Jesus calls out misplaced priorities and attention:

“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. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” (Luke 11:42)

The prophetic book of Micah has that same emphasis:

“He has shown you what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

Those who seek to follow the teachings of a Jesus must, like the prophets of old, find their own hearts beating for justice for the oppressed and for mercy, rather than sacrifice, for the exploited. Their heart for justice and mercy must express itself daily through humble love that has learned to listen to the cries of the oppressed. As the prophets called for our world to be put right, we, too, can learn how to authentically listen to and live in the way of justice, mercy, compassion, and taking action.

Faith in Jesus that is not aligned with social justice in its many expressions or with communities being harmed is not the kind of faith we encounter in the story of Jesus. 

I look forward to the day when Jesus followers are known for ministering justice to the poor, are overwhelmed with the grief of loss, and stand with the beaten down and all those hungering and thirsting for things to be put right (cf. Matthew 5:3-6).

What group of people are on your heart this week?

Let’s be salt that hasn’t lost its saltiness.

HeartGroup Application

We at RHM are continuing to ask all HeartGroups not to meet together physically at this time. Please stay virtually connected and practice physical distancing. When you do go out, please keep a six-foot distance between you and others, wear a mask, and continue to wash your hands 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. This is a time to work together and prioritize protecting those most vulnerable among us. How many ways can you take care of each other while we are physically apart?

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

2. In Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire, Rita Nakashima Brock & Rebecca Parker remind us, “The work of justice requires paying attention to how difference is used to justify oppression. It employs astute awareness of how oppressive systems grant privilege and seek to protect it at all costs. It engages those who have privilege in challenging systems from which they benefit, not just helping those ‘less fortunate.’” (p. 396)  Discuss the differences, this week, between systemic justice work and charity.

3. What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for all? Discuss with your group and pick something from the discussion to put into practice this upcoming week.

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week

Social Liberation in the Jesus Story

Herb Montgomery | August 14, 2020

open book


“As Jesus followers today, the gospel we tell must locate Jesus among our oppressed siblings, whether they are women, people of color, Black people, LGBTQ people, poor people, or others.”


I was shocked when I first realized that the book of Acts doesn’t speak about Jesus’ crucifixion as a meritorious death that promised postmortem bliss. The author’s focus is rather on the resurrection of Jesus, one who had been executed unjustly by those in control of an unjust system. His resurrection marked the beginning of that long-awaited work (rooted in the hope of the ancient Hebrew prophets) that the oppression, violence, and injustice of our present iteration of our world would be put right.

This was profoundly curious to me. I began to notice the message of Acts and the gospels was rather different than the cross-focused preaching and teaching I was used to.

The author of the gospel of Luke also includes resurrection in a category of “musts,” things that must happen:

“The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22, emphasis added)

The Jewish early followers of Jesus had a similar focus to the ancient Hebrew prophets. Their dream was not of one day going to a far distant “heaven” and escaping either this world or a postmortem “hell.” Their focus was very much on this present world, and the gospels showed a Jesus who taught a path toward righting oppression, violence, and injustice. Their message was that Jesus’ unjust execution interrupted his liberation work, and his resurrection overcame or reversed the death that unjust systems dealt.

Consider the following excerpts from Acts, and pay close attention to how each emphasizes the resurrection and describes what it resurrection accomplished:

“Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—this man, given to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power . . . God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact . . . Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:22-36, emphasis added)

“The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.” (Acts 3:13-15, emphasis added)

“The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior . . .” (Acts 5:30-31, emphasis added)

Two things are happening in these passages. First, each identifies Jesus with communities who had been victimized and excluded politically, economically, and religiously. Second, each states the unjust execution has been overcome.

That Jesus was unjustly executed through an alliance of political and economic systems and that this unjust execution had been reversed places the story’s truth on the side of those damaged by those systems. The stories unmask a way of doing life that benefits some at the expense of others deemed expendable and that protects itself at any cost (see Systems of Sacrifice).

With the authors of the gospels, we identify Jesus as in solidarity with all victims and survivors of systemic evil, both historical and contemporary. Whether we victimize people through our politics, economics, or religions, we begin to see that Jesus is with them, rather than with us (see Acts 2:37), and that we are with Jesus when we are standing alongside them too. This understanding “converts” us as followers of Jesus, to stand in solidarity with those we once harmed, over and against those systems which may privilege us at their expense.

As Jesus followers today, the gospel we tell must locate Jesus among our oppressed siblings. Whether they are women, people of color, Black people, LGBTQ people, poor people, or others, the story challenges us not to be the very ones “who don’t know what we are doing,” believing our actions to be politically “justifiable,” economically “expedient,” or religiously “required.” This interpretation challenges us to ask, as the old Black American spiritual asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord,” and also ask what role in the story we are taking with our actions today. The story decisively declares and demonstrates that those our present systems oppress are those we should be working alongside of, too.

To save Jesus followers socially, our gospel must include but not be focused solely on an execution, and also emphasize the deep significance of the story’s focus on resurrection.

Jesus stood in the justice tradition of the Hebrew prophets before him. It was a tradition that called for the end of politics dependent on violence, economics dependent on exploitation, and religion dependent on the exclusion of others. Far from Jesus’ unjust execution being what satisfied cosmic justice, the murder of Jesus on a Roman cross was an act of injustice. The resurrection, in the story, is a symbol of that death-dealing being overcome. It puts Jesus on the side of those opposing those systems.

Our gospel is the story of a Jesus critiquing all exclusionary and exploitative politics, economics, and religious expressions, unmasking them for what they are, and calling us to live in opposition to those systems, too.

The story calls us to begin by identifying our oppressive political, economic, and religious systems today for what they truly are. We can no longer stand in solidarity with death-dealing systems. We have to take our cue from Jesus and stand with the victims of those systems, even if we have previously been “persecutors” or oppressors rather than allies. In the story of Jesus, the main character has the power to change us from oppressor to comrade, to inspire us to stand with those being oppressed and to critique unjust systems and work for change. This Jesus calls us to believe that these kinds of systems can be defeated and stripped of their power over us through their very real threat of death and our fear of death.

”We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.” (Acts 13:32-33)

”For he has set a day when he will [put the world to right] with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31)

The resurrection focus of the book of Acts and the gospels calls us to imagine a world where our politics, economics, and religion have been replaced with the love of others expressed in justice. Ways of domination are replaced with care. Exploitation is replaced with ensuring everyone has what they need to thrive. And exclusion is replaced with an inclusion that centers those who used to be left outside. The story calls us to imagine a human community characterized as life-giving for all, not death-dealing to some.

Understood this way, the resurrection story, the resurrection of one executed by systemic injustice and the ones privileged by it, has the power to help Jesus followers rethink everything.

This truth, I believe, does have the power to set us free.

There is a stark difference between preaching a violent death that substitutionally assures us of postmortem bliss, and teaching about an unjust execution by the powers that be that was interrupted, reversed, undone, and overcome. This story can point us, not simply to liberated and healed individuals, but also to a liberated and healed world.

HeartGroup Application

We at RHM are continuing to ask all HeartGroups not to meet together physically at this time. Please stay virtually connected and practice physical distancing. When you do go out, please keep a six-foot distance between you and others, wear a mask, and continue to wash your hands 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. This is a time to work together and prioritize protecting those most vulnerable among us. How many ways can you take care of each other while we are physically apart?

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

2. In the Jesus story, give examples of where Jesus stood with those systemically oppressed or marginalized? Who would he be standing with if the story was re-written for our societal context, today?

3. What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for all? Discuss with your group and pick something from the discussion to put into practice this upcoming week.

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week

The Social Truth of Resurrection

Herb Montgomery | August 7, 2020

light at the end of the tunnel


“The elite characters in the story represent the political and economic elite in partnership to conquer the life that many of the oppressed and excluded found in Jesus’ teachings as a prophet of the poor. The resurrection is not a scientific declaration of a person coming back to life. It’s a political statement that the present system does not have to have the last word. Life can conquer even when death seeks to extinguish it.”


In the gospel of John, we read:

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’” (John 11:25)

What is the truth that the gospels are trying to communicate by including resurrection at the end of the Jesus story? I believe it’s the truth, the hope, that life can triumph over death, even when that death is inflicted by those who control and benefit from a system of injustice and exclusion.

The hope of the resurrection is no different from the gospel that Jesus announced throughout his life and teachings: life can triumph over death-dealing. I want to be very clear here though. I don’t believe that triumph is automatic. We have to choose life and life-giving ways of organizing our society for life to ultimately triumph over systemic death and death-dealing. The elite, in their treatment of Jesus, revealed they were deeply threatened by the kind of egalitarian community Jesus taught.

The Jesus stories teach life values that have the potential to expose our political, economic, and religious systems when they are more aligned with death and death-dealing than life, justice, compassion, inclusion, equity, and safety. Politics, economics, and religion can all become veiled forms of violence driven by fear that others will take what we desire rather than being the means through which we create a world where the sun shines and the rain falls on all in distributively just ways. Religion, too, can become the means of othering those who are different, an elaborate system of sacrifice that creates victims to give us hope. Political death-dealing becomes justifiable or, at least, seems inevitable, economic death-dealing becomes the wisest way to govern our resources, and then religious death-dealing based on the fear of the divine inspires us to marginalize others to keep our gods happy.

But Jesus announced that he was the resurrection and the life. He came calling us to a new human community, a distributively just community that shares with those who do not have and practices mercy for another rather than “sacrifice.” (See Systems of Sacrifice) Such a community would reject the systemic violence of inequity. Those benefiting from inequity always see these types of communities as a threat. Jesus’ gospel is not good news to them; it promises to take from them much of what they think defines their value and keeps them secure. Everyone has enough to thrive. Pilate, Caiaphas, Herod, and the elite sectors of society these characters represented did not perceive Jesus’ gospel as good news. Maybe this is why so much of Jesus’ message has been coopted since then to focus on postmortem heaven rather than challenging and transforming systemic injustice in our present world, here, now, today. Consider the three characters of Pilate, Caiaphas, and Herod in the following passage from the gospels stories:

“Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning.” (John 18:28)

“That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.” (Luke 23:12)

“Now the chief priests and the elders excited the mob to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed.” (Matthew 27:20, emphasis added)

The political climate in the United States has revealed that the masses can use their power to stand up to injustice, and they can also be manipulated by people in power to promote death and oppose life.

Jesus does not represent those in the system. Instead, he is associated with those like John the Baptist: voices in the wilderness, on the margins of society, calling for change. The elite characters in the story represent the political and economic elite in partnership to conquer the life that many of the oppressed and excluded found in Jesus’ teachings as a prophet of the poor. The resurrection is not a scientific declaration of a person coming back to life. It’s a political statement that the present system does not have to have the last word. Life can conquer even when death seeks to extinguish it.

In the New Testament book of Acts, the good news was not that Jesus had died, but that life had conquered that death:

“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—this man, given to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power…This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God…” (Acts 2:22-33)

“The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” (Acts 3:13-15)

”Let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’” (Acts 4:10-11)

“The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things…” (Acts 5:30)

“You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as He who reigns over the living and the dead.” (Acts 10:36-42)

“Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised…My brothers, you descendants of Abraham’s family, and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent. Because the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize him or understand the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath, they fulfilled those words by condemning him. Even though they found no cause for a sentence of death, they asked Pilate to have him killed. When they had carried out everything that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead; and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and they are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus…” (Acts 13:23)

The death of Jesus was not the “good news” of the original narrative, though it is characterized as such in much of Christianity today. The cross was the quintessential travesty of justice in the Jesus story: Jesus and his gospel of life become the victims of unjust political, economic, and religious systems that sacrifice others for their success. The resurrection reveals a Jesus who lived in solidarity with the innocent victims of those systems. It speaks of a way of organizing human community for life over and against unjust ways of organizing society, even when it faces lethal opposition from those in charge of the present death-dealing system. Jesus’ gospel didn’t triumph because of death. Jesus’ murder interrupted his gospel and was an attempt to silence it. Jesus’ gospel triumphed in reversing, undoing, and conquering that death.

The story of Jesus’ resurrection, instead, endorses and proclaims that God’s just future is possible. It doesn’t depend on death for its existence. It shares generously the bread it receives today with the poor, the widow, and those othered as a foreigner, trusting that no matter what the future brings, we can face it—not alone, each person for themselves, but together as a community of love and care. Resurrection calls for the end of systems that sacrifice others, including sacrifice done in the name of standing up for and defending “the right thing.” Jesus gospel calls us to embrace the way of mercy over sacrifice, and care for those previously deemed expendable by our politics and economics.

The story of a resurrection in the gospels calls us to recognize systems of death in every age and to obstruct them. The ancient Hebrew hope, a tradition in which Jesus solidly stood, was one where all injustice, oppression, and violence is set right. It was a hope of life conquering death.

Life can also conquer death today if we will choose it. Our political, economic, and even religious climate is full of opportunities to stand up to death and choose life. Another iteration of our world is possible.

Will we have the courage to choose life-giving ways of ordering our society that can conquer death-dealing structures? Will we, as Jesus followers, have the courage to choose the living truth behind this ancient story of resurrection?

HeartGroup Application

We at RHM are continuing to ask all HeartGroups not to meet together physically at this time. Please stay virtually connected and practice physical distancing. When you do go out, please keep a six-foot distance between you and others, wear a mask, and continue to wash your hands 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. This is a time to work together and prioritize protecting those most vulnerable among us. How many ways can you take care of each other while we are physically apart?

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

2. How does the gospel story of Jesus’ resurrection impact your own justice work as a Jesus follower? Share with your group.

3. What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for all? Discuss with your group and pick something from the discussion to put into practice this upcoming week.

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week

Three Paths Toward Change Rejected

Herb Montgomery | July 31, 2020

diverging paths


“And in each of these versions of the story, Jesus announces the arrival of God’s just future (‘the kingdom’) but rejects three methods for bringing justice to fruition. We’ll look at each of them.”


The beginning of Mark’s gospel reads:

“At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” (Mark 1:12)

The story of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness is believed to have been a part of the earliest Jesus tradition. In each of the next two synoptic gospels written, the story is given more detail.

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down. For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’ Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”’ Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” (Matthew 4:1-11)

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.”’ Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”’ Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,” and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’ When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:1-13)

Jesus rejected the Satan three times. And in each of these versions of the story, Jesus announces the arrival of God’s just future (“the kingdom”) but rejects three methods for bringing justice to fruition. We’ll look at each of them.

Bread

Jesus chose not to justify a system simply because it offered bread. Rome promised sustenance to its inhabitants but at what cost?

In our time, Duke Energy recently abandon its Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, citing costs due to activist obstruction. Some people with power pushed back against this monumental decision by pointing to the jobs that would now be lost. Such people believe placing profit above the planet was justified because, despite the ecological damage, the pipeline produced jobs for the working class and profit to company owners: it produced bread.

Exploitative economic systems create scarcity to create a narrative needed for their survival. The scarcity of things we need produces undercurrents of survival anxiety for us. Our desire for security and assurance that our needs will be met (“bread”) drives us to support systems that promise to fulfill those needs regardless of how people and our planet suffer as a result. And, without fail, those who are most driven by this economic anxiety protect and defend these systems at all costs. This is the essence of exploitative economies, and it comes with a long list of victims upon whom we lay the costs of our hopes that these systems will give us the bread we need.

Jesus’ first temptation was to coerce nature, to “turn stones into bread.” Think of Monsanto, or the meat and dairy industry here in the United States, which has deemed essential workers expendable during this pandemic. Henry Kissinger once said, “Those who control the food supply control the people.” Now and in the times of Jesus, the way to establish an exploitative system economically was to control what supplies people’s “bread” needs. Jesus rejects the use of such methods in establishing God’s just future, quoting from Deuteronomy:

“He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deuteronomy 8:3)

Jesus saw what the temptation really was. He refused to prioritize profit or “bread” over justice, and instead chose the ancient Hebrew narrative of manna: needs will be supplied not by accumulation and exploitation but daily, as needed. There will be more manna tomorrow.

Jesus rejected a narrative of scarcity, anxiety, accumulation, and exploitation for a narrative of trust, gratitude, sharing, and generosity. As Gandhi said, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every person’s needs, but not every person’s greed.”

The accumulation of bread is not the highest value of God’s just future. God values how that bread is produced and what its production violates or affirms. Our hope is “not by bread alone.”

Self-Sacrifice

In both Matthew’s and Luke’s versions of the story, Jesus is also tempted to sacrifice himself while assuming that he would be spared death. His response is to not “put God to the test.” On the temple mount the devil told him to leap from was the symbol at the core of his society’s political, economic, and religious systems. His temptation was to sacrifice himself in front of this system with the promise that in the end, God’s just future would come through his sacrifice.

This temptation strikes at the heart of the method most pushed on masses who desire social change. I don’t believe the oppressed must sacrifice themselves to achieve social change, but. The sacrifice of innocent victims for achieving social change has a long history.

Speaking of how the idea of sacrifice has impacted women in Christianity, Elizabeth Bettenhausen writes:

“Christian theology has long imposed upon women a norm of imitative self-sacrifice based on the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. Powerlessness is equated with faithfulness. When the cross is also interpreted as the salvific work of an all-powerful paternal deity, women’s well being is as secure as that of a child cowering before an abusive father.” (Christianity, Patriarchy, and Abuse, p. xii; edited by Joanne Carlson Brown & Carole R. Bohn)

In Brown and Parker’s essay in the same volume, “For God So Loved the World?” they write:

“Women are acculturated to accept abuse. We come to believe that it is our place to suffer . . . Christianity has been a primary—in many women’s lives the primary—force in shaping our acceptance of abuse. The central image of Christ on the cross as the savior of the world communicates the message that suffering is redemptive.” (Christianity, Patriarchy and Abuse, p. 1-2)

Mary Daly makes a similar comment:
“The qualities that Christianity idealizes, especially for women, are also those of a victim: sacrificial love, passive acceptance of suffering, humility, meekness, etc. Since these are the qualities idealized in Jesus ‘who died for our sins,’ his functioning as a model reinforces the scapegoat syndrome for women.” (Beyond God the Father, p. 77)

Again, Brown and Parker:
“The problem with this theology is that it asks people to suffer for the sake of helping evildoers see their evil ways. It puts concern for the evildoers ahead of concern for the victim of evil. It makes victims the servants of the evildoers’ salvation.” (in Christianity, Patriarchy and Abuse, p. 20.)

Brown and Parker also critique nonviolent movements that use self-sacrifice to drive change. They use some of the methods used by Martin Luther King, Jr. as an example. King saw suffering as:

“‘a most creative and powerful social force’ . . . The non-violent say that suffering becomes a powerful social force when you willingly accept that violence on yourself, so that self-suffering stands at the center of the non-violent movement and the individuals involved are able to suffer in a creative manner, feeling that unearned suffering is redemptive, and that suffering may serve to transform the social situation.” (Christianity, Patriarchy and Abuse, p. 20)

Finally, Delores Williams’ classic book Sisters in the Wilderness builds on this critique with applications specifically for Black women. These insights have been powerfully transformative for me personally. I want to share them with you here:

“Matthew, Mark and Luke suggest that Jesus did not come to redeem humans by showing them God’s ‘love” manifested in the death of God’s innocent child on a cross erected by cruel, imperialistic, patriarchal power. Rather, the texts suggest that the spirit of God in Jesus came to show humans life— to show redemption through a perfect ministerial vision of righting relations between body (individual and community), mind (of humans and of tradition) and spirit. A female-male inclusive vision, Jesus’ ministry of righting relationships involved raising the dead (those separated from life and community), casting out demons (for example, ridding the mind of destructive forces prohibiting the flourishing of positive, peaceful life) and proclaiming the word of life that demanded the transformation of tradition so that life could be lived more abundantly . . . God’s gift to humans, through Jesus, was to invite them to participate in this ministerial vision (“ whosoever will, let them come”) of righting relations. The response to this invitation by human principalities and powers was the horrible deed the cross represents— the evil of humankind trying to kill the ministerial vision of life in relation that Jesus brought to humanity. The resurrection does not depend upon the cross for life, for the cross only represents historical evil trying to defeat good. The resurrection of Jesus and the flourishing of God’s spirit in the world as the result of resurrection represent the life of the ministerial vision gaining victory over the evil attempt to kill it. Thus, to respond meaningfully to black women’s historic experience of surrogacy oppression, the womanist theologian must show that redemption of humans can have nothing to do with any kind of surrogate or substitute role Jesus was reputed to have played in a bloody act that supposedly gained victory over sin and/ or evil.” (Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk, p. 130)

“Black women are intelligent people living in a technological world where nuclear bombs, defilement of the earth, racism, sexism, dope and economic injustices attest to the presence and power of evil in the world. Perhaps not many people today can believe that evil and sin were overcome by Jesus’ death on the cross; that is, that Jesus took human sin upon himself and therefore saved humankind. Rather, it seems more intelligent and more scriptural to understand that redemption had to do with God, through Jesus, giving humankind new vision to see the resources for positive, abundant relational life. Redemption had to do with God, through the ministerial vision, giving humankind the ethical thought and practice upon which to build positive, productive quality of life. Hence, the kingdom of God theme in the ministerial vision of Jesus does not point to death; it is not something one has to die to reach. Rather, the kingdom of God is a metaphor of hope God gives those attempting to right the relations between self and self, between self and others, between self and God as prescribed in the sermon on the mount, in the golden rule and in the commandment to show love above all else.” (Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk, pp. 130-131)

“The resurrection of Jesus and the kingdom of God theme in Jesus’ ministerial vision provide black women with the knowledge that God has, through Jesus, shown humankind how to live peacefully, productively and abundantly in relationship.” (Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk, p. 132)

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

Again, Brown and Parker:

“Suffering is never redemptive, and suffering cannot be redeemed. The cross is a sign of tragedy. God’s grief is revealed there and everywhere and every time life is thwarted by violence. God’s grief is as ultimate as God’s love. Every tragedy eternally remains and is eternally mourned. Eternally the murdered scream, Betrayal. Eternally God sings kaddish for the world. To be a Christian means keeping: faith with those who have heard and lived God’s call for justice, radical love, and liberation; who have challenged unjust systems both political and ecclesiastical; and who in that struggle have refused to be victims and have refused to cower under the threat of violence, suffering, and death. Fullness of life is attained in moments of decision for such faithfulness and integrity. When the threat of death is refused and the choice is made for justice, radical love, and liberation, the power of death is overthrown. Resurrection is radical courage. Resurrection means that death is overcome in those precise instances when human beings choose life, refusing the threat of death. Jesus climbed out of the grave in the Garden of Gethsemane when he refused to abandon his commitment to the truth even though his enemies threatened him with death. On Good Friday, the Resurrected One was Crucified.” (“For God So Loved the World?”)

“It is not the acceptance of suffering that gives life; it is commitment to life that gives life. The question, moreover, is not Am I willing to suffer? but Do I desire fully to live? This distinction is subtle and, to some, specious, but in the end it makes a great difference in how people interpret and respond to suffering.” (Christianity, Patriarchy and Abuse, p.18,)

“Such a theology has devastating effects on human life. The reality is that victimization never leads to triumph. It can lead to extended pain if it is not refused or fought. It can lead to destruction of the human spirit through the death of a person’s sense of power, worth, dignity. or creativity. It can lead to actual death.” (Christianity, Patriarchy and Abuse)

Jesus did not choose the way of sacrifice. He rejected the way of sacrifice and, instead, “chose to live a life in opposition to unjust, oppressive cultures…. Jesus chose integrity and faithfulness, refusing to change course because of threat.” (Christianity, Patriarchy and Abuse)

These insights have grave implications for how some sectors of Christianity have traditionally interpreted the death and resurrection of Jesus. (For more on these implications see my presentation Nonviolence and the Cross)

As Katie Cannon sternly admonishes us, “Theologians need to think seriously about the real-life consequences of redemptive suffering, God-talk that equates the acceptance of pain, misery, and abuse as the way for true believers to live as authentic Christian disciples. Those who spew such false teaching and warped preaching must cease and desist.”

And there is a third path the Jesus of the story rejected, too.

Complicity

Lastly, in both Matthew and Luke, Jesus was tempted to arrive at God’s just future through being complicit with exploitative and oppressive systems. But he resisted that temptation of achieving God’s just future by “bowing down.” He instead worshiped God and God’s just future only. God’s just future cannot be achieved through compromise with exploitation, oppression, and exclusion.

Christianity has a long history with being complicit in systems that oppress, and some adherents still use it to promote White supremacy, neocolonialism, and capitalism today.

Much more needs to be said about this.

I’m reminded of the words that the late Peter Gomes wrote in The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus. When Jesus’ followers choose complicity, he explains, “The church, then, is made an agency of continuity rather than of change, conformity rather than transformation becomes the reigning ideology of the day, and the church that is comfortable with the powers-that-be is no threat to them.”

These early Jesus story narratives give us much to think about as we, too, continue the work of moving toward a more just future today.

Another world is possible. We must reject some common means to get it.

HeartGroup Application

We at RHM are continuing to ask all HeartGroups not to meet together physically at this time. Please stay virtually connected and practice physical distancing. When you do go out, please keep a six-foot distance between you and others, wear a mask, and continue to wash your hands 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. This is a time to work together and prioritize protecting those most vulnerable among us. How many ways can you take care of each other while we are physically apart?

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

2. Have you experienced any of the three methods mentioned this week used by sectors of the Christian church? What are some examples? Have you witnessed secular social justice movements or organizations promote any of the above methods? Discuss with your group.

3. What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for all? Discuss with your group and pick something from the discussion to put into practice this upcoming week.

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week

Systems of Sacrifice

Herb Montgomery | July 24, 2020

picture of a classroom


As COVID-19 cases continue to rise and set new records each day, remember that the world that exists post-COVID will be determined by the kind of people we choose to be right now during COVID. Will we be people who sacrifice others, or will we choose a more perfect union, one, this time around, rooted in the golden rule and love of neighbor?


In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says,

“If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” (Matthew 12:7, emphasis added)

And in John’s gospel, we read,

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be healed through him.” (John 3:17, emphasis added)

The word John uses here, often translated as “saved” in this gospel rather as “healed,” is sozo. In other gospels, translators more often emphasize healing:

She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed [sozo].” Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed [sozo] you.” And the woman was healed [sozo] at that moment. (Matthew 9:21-22)

He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed [sozo] and live.” (Mark 5:23)

And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed [sozo]. (Mark 6:56)

These aren’t just texts where scholars can argue the meaning of a word. This word, sozo, represents the entire story. The story in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is the story of a Jesus who went about “doing good and healing all . . .” (Acts 10:38, emphasis added).

In these gospels, salvation is not about Jesus making a sacrifice that allows a cosmic Being to let us off the hook. Rather, it’s about healing. The Jesus of the canonical gospels brought personal healing, and he also called for societal and systemic healing: a society that included and prioritized the excluded and marginalized.

Jesus’ political and economic protest in the temple courtyard was standing up to systems that sacrifice the vulnerable: the poor widows and fatherless.

“They devour widows’ houses.” (Mark 12:40)

But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.” (Mark 12:42-43)

Religion that God accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress. (James 1:27)

I also want to note, because some people repeatedly bring Jesus’ temple protest to my attention in an attempt to ignore Jesus’ nonviolent teachings, that Jesus’ actions in the Temple were not because of a violent fit of rage or Jesus losing his temper. His protest was premeditated, intentional, and purposeful (Mark 11:11), and it is in perfect harmony with his teachings on nonviolent resistance, even given the property damage involved.

Jesus valued people over profit and the property of the privileged and powerful. His protest shut down the economic activities of the temple that day, making it impossible for things to continue on as normal.

It reminds me of Sam Wells’ introduction to Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus by Ched Myers:

“The one thing everyone seems to agree on today is that there’s plenty wrong with the world. There are only two responses to this—either go and put it right yourself, or, if you can’t, make life pretty uncomfortable for those who can until they do. When we take stock of our relationship with the powerful, we ask ourselves, ‘Does the shape of my life reflect my longing to see God set people free, and do I challenge those who keep others in slavery?”

Jesus was making life uncomfortable for the powerful of his day. So the gospel authors attached Jesus’ protest to the words found in Jeremiah.

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: Stand in the gate of the LORD’S house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah, you that enter these gates to worship the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.’ For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the orphan,, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, THEN I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are safe!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight?” (Jeremiah 7:9-11, emphasis added.)

Both Jeremiah’s and Jesus’ society had grown into a system of oppression where those who were vulnerable— the foreigner, the orphan, the widow, the innocent—were sacrificed for the benefit of those in power. This also brings to mind how our working population is being sacrificed today in the name of the economy during this COVID-19 pandemic.

The Jesus story calls us away from a way of life that sacrifices foreigners, orphans, widows, and innocent victims. The gospel story ties social healing to our choice to end systems that sacrifice people and to start a different way of doing life. Economic and political systems of sacrifice that demand the death of innocent victims for the benefit of the masses were the focus of Jesus’ protest that day.

It also does not matter whether the sacrificial system depends on the death of political enemies or patriotic, a religion of war that sacrifices the present generation and assumes that citizens are worthy of their sacrifices. It doesn’t matter whether the sacrificial system is religious, rooted in fear of the Divine, or based on the shunning, marginalization, and scapegoating of those deemed “less than” or “other” to maintain the favor of a god or gods. It doesn’t matter if the sacrificial system is economic, driven by greed, and sacrificing essential workers to maintain the lifestyle of those at the top of the social pyramid.

The Jesus story does not affirm those political, patriotic, religious, or economic “holy places” of sacrifice, those “dirty rotten systems” as Dorothy Day called them. In the Jesus narrative, our future hope is not found in sacrifice but in a more distributively just future where everyone has what they need to thrive. This story calls for a new beginning of a world where we bend our societies’ moral arc toward justice, compassion, inclusion, and equity.

Jesus’ last supper with his disciples invites us to be the kind of people who work toward that world while we continue an ongoing critique of the way our world is sacrificially shaped.

“It is in food and drink offered equally to everyone that the presence of God and Jesus is found. But food and drink are the material bases of life, so the Lord’s Supper is political criticism and economic challenge as well as sacred rite and liturgical worship.” (Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Parker, Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of the World for Crucifixion and Empire, p. 31)

The Jesus story calls us first to recognize systems maintained by the sacrifice of others, and then to live our lives in opposition to them. Ultimately systems of sacrifice are not sustainable. As our original passage reminds us, the Jesus story is about healing the brokenness of our world, and that healing begins with saying no to systems of sacrifice.

Earlier this year, many were willing to sacrifice elderly people for the economy. I was deeply alarmed by that rhetoric. Then when Black communities and communities of color were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, their deaths were also a sacrifice many were willing to make. Then came a willingness to sacrifice “essential workers,” but making them more expendable than essential. And people’s obstinate refusal to wear a mask in the name of individual freedom expresses willingness to sacrifice someone else. Most recently, the system is proving willing to sacrifice our children to force local governments to re-open schools. There will be a housing and food crisis if we do not find another way.

All of this doesn’t have to be the case. We can allow COVID to inspire us to create a more life-giving society where the most vulnerable people are prioritized and cared for. If we don’t, this crisis will only deepen our willingness to sacrifice people’s lives and the status quo will remain unchanged.

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise and set new records each day, remember that the world that exists post-COVID will be determined by the kind of people we choose to be right now during COVID. Will we be people who sacrifice others, or will we choose a more perfect union, one, this time around, rooted in the golden rule and love of neighbor?

“If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”—Matthew’s Jesus

HeartGroup Application

We at RHM are continuing to ask all HeartGroups not to meet together physically at this time. Please stay virtually connected and practice physical distancing. When you do go out, please keep a six-foot distance between you and others, wear a mask, and continue to wash your hands 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. This is a time to work together and prioritize protecting those most vulnerable among us. How many ways can you take care of each other while we are physically apart?

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

2. What are some ways can you imagine our society in the U.S. responding to COVID-19 that does not sacrifice the vulnerable, those disproportionally impacted, or deem any human life as expendable? How has politicizing our present pandemic placed vulnerable groups in the path of sacrifice? Discuss with your group.

3. What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for all? Discuss with your group and pick something from the discussion to put into practice this upcoming week.

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week

Mislabelling Social Justice as Foolishness

by Herb Montgomery | July 17, 2020

church steeple and social justice


“I find it alarming that there are Christian pastors or leaders who call fellow Jesus followers seeking social justice ‘fools.’ It is past time for those who bear the name of Jesus to see in the gospel stories Jesus’ calls for social change.”


In Matthew’s gospel, we read,

“But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the Gehenna of fire.” (Matthew 5:22)

Context is always important, and with this week’s passage, it’s vital. Jesus is warning his followers about mislabelling those who call for social justice “fools” or foolish.

He is not prohibiting the term “fool.”

After all, Jesus himself calls others “fools” in Matthew’s gospel:

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated.’ You fools and blind men; which is more important, the gold, or the temple that sanctified the gold?” (Matthew 23:16, emphasis added)

Luke’s Jesus has God referring to someone emphatically as a “fool”:

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’” (Luke 12:20, emphasis added)

So the passage in Matthew isn’t about using the term “fool,” but about mislabelling as fools those who call for justice, inclusion, and systemic change as Jesus and Jesus’ followers did within their own society.

Consider what Jesus warned his followers about: a “Gehenna of fire.”

Contrary to many modern translations, Gehenna is not what modern Christians understand as hell. It is rather a deeply Jewish concept with a rich history.

Here is every passage where Jesus speaks of Gehenna (except for the two that we will look at in just a moment). To avoid misleading us, I have taken the time to “untranslate” each reference to hell where the original word is simply Gehenna:

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your right-hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into Gehenna. (Matthew 5:29-30)

And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the Gehenna of fire. (Matthew 18:9)

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of Gehenna as yourselves. (Matthew 23:15)

You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to Gehenna? (Matthew 23:33)

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to Gehenna, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into Gehenna. (Mark 9:43-47)

In order to understand what Jesus is referring to in each of these passages, we must look at three things.

The Jewish history around Gehenna
The political climate of Jesus’ day
How Jesus uses Gehenna in the context of both

Let’s dive in!

First, Gehenna was a literal place in Jewish history as far back as the time of Joshua:

“Then the boundary goes up by THE VALLEY OF THE SON OF HINNOM (Gehenna) at the southern slope of the Jebusites (that is, Jerusalem); and the boundary goes up to the top of the mountain that lies over against THE VALLEY OF HINNOM, on the west, at the northern end of the valley of Rephaim.” (Joshua 15:8)

This place became the site of Judah’s terrible history of child sacrifice.

“And [Ahaz, King of Judah] made offerings in THE VALLEY OF THE SON OF HINNOM, and made his sons pass through fire, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel.” (2 Chronicles 28:3)

“He made his son pass through fire in THE VALLEY OF THE SON OF HINNOM, practiced soothsaying and augury and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with wizards. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger.” (2 Chronicles 33:6)

Gehenna, the valley of the son of Hinnom, was the cultic location where the Canaanites offered children as sacrifices to the god Moloch. At some point it became known as Topheth for the hearth where the child was placed: the Hebrew term has parallels in both Ugaritic and Aramaic that mean “furnace, fireplace.” Scholars believe Topheth was at the edge of the valley of the son of Hinnom, next to the Kidron Valley, and likely southwest of Jerusalem. An 8th Century BCE Phoenician inscription describes sacrifices made to Moloch before the Cilicians battled their enemies.

But its history does not end with those histories. It also resurfaces in the message of the prophet Jeremiah:

“And they go on building the high place of Topheth, which is in THE VALLEY OF THE SON OF HINNOM, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire—which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the LORD, when it will no more be called Topheth, or THE VALLEY OF THE SON OF HINNOM, but THE VALLEY OF SLAUGHTER: for they will bury in Topheth until there is no more room.” (Jeremiah 7:31–32)

Jeremiah is saying that Babylon is coming with such devastation on Jerusalem that the valley of the son of Hinnom (Gehenna) will become a burying place overflowing with corpses, not of children this time, but of the population Babylon devastates. Notice that Jeremiah is warning not of a postmortem experience, but of a distinct this-life and this-world experience that would truly be “hell” for anyone caught in it: the literal destruction of Jerusalem by a Gentile kingdom—Babylon:

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: Stand in the gate of the LORD’S house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah, you that enter these gates to worship the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.’ For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever. Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are safe!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the LORD.” (Jeremiah 7.1–11)

This passage in Jeremiah 7 is also the very passage Jesus quoted as he demonstrated against his own temple state’s exploitation of the poor. Jesus stood in Jeremiah’s prophetic lineage and quoted him directly:

“And he said, ‘It is written, “My house shall be a house of prayer”; but you have made it a den of robbers.’” (Luke 19:46)

Jeremiah used Gehenna in specific ways:

“And go out to the VALLEY OF THE SON OF HINNOM(Gehenna) at the entry of the Potsherd Gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you. You shall say: Hear the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: I am going to bring such disaster upon this place that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. Because the people have forsaken me, and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent, and gone on building the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it enter my mind. Therefore the days are surely coming, says the LORD, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, OR THE VALLEY OF THE SON OF HINNOM, but THE VALLEY OF SLAUGHTER.” (Jeremiah 19:2–6)

For Jeremiah, Gehenna had an end. It was not the equivalent of being eternally forsaken by God and the fact that Jeremiah thought of it as temporary suggests a restorative hope rather than a retributive one.

“The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when the city shall be rebuilt for the LORD from the tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. And the measuring line shall go out farther, straight to the hill Gareb, and shall then turn to Goah. The whole valley of the dead bodies and the ashes (Gehenna), and all the fields as far as the Wadi Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be sacred to the LORD. It shall never again be uprooted or overthrown.” (Jeremiah 31:38-40)

“See, I am going to gather them from all the lands to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation; I will bring them back to this place, and I will settle them in safety. They shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me for all time, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them, never to draw back from doing good to them; and I will put the fear of me in their hearts, so that they may not turn from me.” (Jeremiah 32:37)

“For thus says the LORD: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart. I will let you find me, says the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” (Jeremiah 29:10-14)

Now let’s address the political climate of Jesus’ day very briefly. Jesus repeatedly called for wealth redistribution, for the community to prioritize economic equity and justice, and for the centering of marginalized people. He repeatedly warned that if the people did not embrace a more distributively just society, no matter how much the elite named it foolish, they would all face Gehenna.

Looking back at their history we can see this beginning with the poor people’s revolt that grew into the Roman Jewish war of 66-69 and ultimately resulted in Rome’s violent destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

Jesus picked up Jeremiah’s warning about Jerusalem being destroyed by a foreign oppressor, and the gospel authors connected Jeremiah’s passages, Jesus overthrowing the Temple tables, and Rome’s destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Jeremiah shattered a vessel on the Temple floor, symbolizing how Babylon would shatter Jerusalem, and said they had turned the Temple into a “den of robbers.” Jesus overturned tables and scattered livestock in the Temple, and the gospel authors use this to foreshadow the result of their turning the Temple into a “den of robbers.”

Jesus adopted Jeremiah’s Gehenna meaning as well as his language. Jesus was not warning about the postmortem experience described by Dante or Jonathan Edwards. He was speaking of Gehenna as a horrific devastation that would be wrought on Jerusalem by a foreign power. It would not be Babylon this time but Rome.

Luke’s Jesus quotes the battle cry of the militaristic Maccabean revolt, which the religious leaders of Jesus’ day romanticized. But Jesus subversively turned it on its head. Here is the original passage Jesus used as recorded in the Apocrypha:

“Each of them and all of them together looking at one another, cheerful and undaunted, said, ‘Let us with all our hearts consecrate ourselves to God, who gave us our lives, and let us use our bodies as a bulwark for the law. Let us not fear him who thinks he is killing us, for great is the struggle of the soul and the danger of eternal torment lying before those who transgress the commandment of God.’” (4 Maccabees 13:14-15)

Note two things from this passage. First, the Hellenistic idea of postmortem, eternal torment had already crept into Jewish thinking at this stage. Scholars agree this was a product of the Jewish dispersion around the Greek empire and was not a part of the pre-diaspora Jewish worldview. Second, Jesus quotes the passage from 4 Maccabees with a twist and transitions into the words of Jeremiah:

“But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into Gehenna. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” (Luke 12:5)

The him here is not God, but a violent messiah leading the poor people’s uprising sure to come if the elite power brokers continued to refuse a path away from societal inequity.

Matthew’s version (Matthew 10:28) is even more telling:

“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul”
Jesus began with the words of 4 Maccabees, which were very familiar to the Jewish leaders of his day, and then transitioned into Jeremiah.

“rather fear him”
He is the person or people who will lead a poor people’s revolt if things did not change

“who will destroy both soul and body”
Soul and body suggests not eternal torment after death, but complete annihilation in this life

“in Gehenna“
Jeremiah’s term referred to destruction by a foreign power.

Jesus’ warning was of an even worse fate than what Jeremiah warned about. For Jeremiah, destruction by Babylon would be temporary. But for Jesus, destruction from Rome would be absolute.

What does this have to do with us today?

We are faced with the same choices today. Our present system is not sustainable. Tensions are building, and our path is trending toward social eruption. People are suffering as a result of the systemic inequities of our society, and today we also have those calling for social justice, both among Jesus followers and those who do not claim him. I find it alarming that there are Christian pastors or leaders who call fellow Jesus followers seeking social justice “fools.”

It is past time for those who bear the name of Jesus to see in the gospel stories Jesus’ calls for social change. We should not focus solely on his work on changing individuals. Both kinds of change are needed. And those who call for social change, seeking a more just, safer, compassionate, inclusive society, are not fools. Whether they claim his name or not, they are traveling in the footsteps of Jesus and all those who have gone before them.

To Christians today who would label social justice work as foolishness, Jesus offers these words, “If you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the Gehenna of fire.”

HeartGroup Application

We at RHM are continuing to ask all HeartGroups not to meet together physically at this time. Please stay virtually connected and practice physical distancing. When you do go out, please keep a six-foot distance between you and others, wear a mask, and continue to wash your hands 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. This is a time to work together and prioritize protecting those most vulnerable among us. How many ways can you take care of each other while we are physically apart?

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

2. How do you wish your own faith tradition, local faith community, or your denomination if applicable, would support and work alongside societal justice movements? Discuss with your group and list any social justice movements you believe would be worth supporting and why.

3. What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for all? Discuss with your group and pick something from the discussion to put into practice this upcoming week.

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week

More Effective Ways To Care

Herb Montgomery | July 10, 2020

hands working together


“The question I wrestle with most when considering communities like those I just described is how do we protect certain community members from others who may use their strength to overpower, take advantage of, and do harm to those vulnerable within the community? Perhaps you wonder this too. Humanity is not perfect. Humanity is messy. How do we handle that messiness in non-authoritarian ways that mitigate or prevent harm?”


In Matthew’s gospel we read this beautiful passage describing the egalitarian, human community Jesus was seeking to create:

“But you are not to be called Rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:8-12)

Humility is a characteristic of Jesus’ vision of human community and God’s just future that still resonates with me deeply. It’s also a trait still mostly ignored in many sectors of organized Christianity.

What does it mean to live a life devoid of any attempt to exalt oneself above others? This passage is quite possibly the most anti-authoritarian passage in the gospel stories, second only to an earlier passage in Matthew 20:25-26:

“But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.’” (Matthew 20:25-26)

What does it look like for us as Jesus followers to create ways of organizing communities that display a way of human organizing where we don’t seek to dominate but do protect and care for one another. What Jesus was doing for his early Jewish followers was commissioning them to display what a community could look like if full of humble egalitarian relationships rather than hierarchical ones.

According to the Hebrew creation narrative, hierarchical relationships are a fruit of the relational schisms that took place in the primordial garden. They don’t reflect God’s original vision for the created order. In Genesis 1:26, although we are to steward the ecology of our world as our home, the authority mentioned there was not to be over others. The narrative that follows Genesis 1:26 hints at humans’ inability to exercise authority over one other without doing harm.

I think Jesus’ early followers tried to get their heads around this and experimented with the practice of humility, though they were still working within the limits of their own time, space, and cultural constructs.

One example: Paul describes how the church that met in Corinth functioned: “When you come together, each of you has a hymn or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.” (1 Corinthians 14: 26, emphasis added)

The gatherings of Christians in Corinth do not seem to be gatherings where most members sat passively silent under the authority of the same person teaching every week. I wonder how patriarchal these early gatherings were. Regardless, these were communities that embraced the anti-authoritarian elements we encountered Matthew’s passage, each one possessing a gift to share that would contribute to and build up the health of the community.

This is very different from how a lot of church gatherings function today. Today’s gatherings are characterized much more by most attendees’ passive spectatorship at a service or program than by each person bringing something to share at small open, mutually participatory gatherings. To be sure, some are gifted teachers; yet each member of the community, sharing from their own varied experiences, nonetheless has something to offer.

The early followers of Jesus believed that together they collectively became a dwelling place for the Divine:

“You [plural], too, are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:22, emphasis added.)

“You [plural] also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house.” (1 Peter 2:5, emphasis added.)

Even those given the task of keeping the vulnerable safe within the community were not to use their role as a means of lording authority over the community: “Not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3).

Communities that can function like this resonate with me deeply.

In the gospels, we see a vision of God’s just future where human communities are organized so that a few do not practice hierarchical authority over others. It was a vision for the practice of a preferential option for the care and protection of the vulnerable, the inclusion of the marginalized; a vision that could be practiced within egalitarian communities, collectively, without lorded authority.

There is a beautiful mutuality and working together rather than hierarchical submission in this.

What does this mean for us today? Jesus’ teachings still invite us to experience community where, rather than exercising power over others, we—together—learn how to listen to one another. And instead of lording power or position over each other, we learn what it means and what it looks like to care for each other.

I am convinced that, personally and systemically, our hope as a species is in discovering more effective ways of taking care of one another, not more efficient ways of dominating one another. Today, a few people have solved the human dilemma of their own survival at the expense of others. In so doing they’ve lost a part of their humanity. They’ve lost touch with reality that, whether we live like it or not, we are part of one another. We are all connected. What impacts one, directly and indirectly, impacts us all.

The question I wrestle with most when considering communities like those I just described is how do we protect certain community members from others who may use their strength to overpower, take advantage of, and do harm to those vulnerable within the community? Perhaps you wonder this too. Humanity is not perfect. Humanity is messy. How do we handle that messiness in non-authoritarian ways that mitigate or prevent harm?

I’m reminded of the work of Peter Kropotkin, a Russian activist, writer, revolutionary, and philosopher who lived in the late 19th and early 20th Century. In his book Mutual Aid, he wrote:

“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.”

In Kropotkin’s model, the fittest communities are not those where the strong eat the weak, but those where those who have the ability to take care of those who need their care do so.

From the US government’s failed responses to COVID-19 to our country’s continued refusal to listen to those most deeply harmed by our systemic racial injustice and militarized policing, the past few months of life here in the U.S. have revealed how desperately we are in need of a raised consciousness. We need to recognize the truth that healthy communities are not competitive communities of winners and losers where the disparities between the haves and have-nots continue to expand. Instead, they are communities of care and cooperation where we have learned how to ensure those presently made “least” are centered, cared for, and prioritized.

As Mathew’s gospel reminds us, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me’” (Matthew 25:40, 45).

I long for the day when we don’t treat others with dignity, care and respect because we see Jesus in them, although that would be a good start, but we do it simply because we see them as fellow humans, fellow travelers, fellow inhabitants in the short period of life we have been given.

Peter Maurin wrote in The Catholic Worker in August 1936:

“I want a change, and a radical change. I want a change from an acquisitive society to a functional society, from a society of go-getters to a society of go-givers.”

I want to believe a world like that is possible.

At the very minimum, I believe it’s worth working toward.

And to all those who are already working toward a world that looks like this, may future generations look back at you and be grateful. May our work today, building off the work of those who have come before us not be in vain.

And may a just future come, in the words of Matthew’s gospel, “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What might be non-authoritarian methods of protecting vulnerable members of more egalitarian communities? How might we, together, protect certain participants in the community without resorting to hierarchical relationships of power? Is this possible? Discuss with your group.

3. What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for all? Discuss with your group and pick something from the discussion to put into practice this upcoming week.

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week