Crosses and Resurrections

crosses

Herb Montgomery | November 18, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

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

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

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

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

The actions of the soldiers.

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

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

There is a lot here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


book cover

Coming Soon!

Available December 1, 2022

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

Here is just a taste of what people are saying:

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

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

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

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

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

Available December 1 at renewedheartministries.com


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

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

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Practicing Honesty Regarding Harmful Forms of Christianity

Christianity

Herb Montgomery | November 11, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

or Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

When Marriage is Unjust

Herb Montgomery | November 4, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the lesson for us?

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

Marriage has a long history of change and social construction.

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

or Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Choosing the Common Good

illustrates the common good

Herb Montgomery | October 30, 2022

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


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


I reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Rev. Dr. Wilda Gafney insightfully comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

or Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Faith Based Complicity in Social Harm

social harm

Herb Montgomery | October 21, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a reoccurring theme in Luke:

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

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

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

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

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

And Luke 14:

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what does this all mean for us today?

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week.


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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

or Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Persistence Toward Justice

persistence

Herb Montgomery | October 14, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week continues from the gospel of Luke:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

or Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Social Advocacy

mist at sunrise

Herb Montgomery | May 20, 2022

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


“The facts are that the early Jesus community was comprised of those on the undersides and margins of their society who were in deep need of advocacy or justice socially, politically, and economically within their own societal structures.  This is the context in which I understand the work of the Spirit as Advocate to bear the most life-giving fruit.” 


Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. (John 14:23-29)

There is a lot in this week’s reading, some speaks into my following the moral philosophy I see in the Jesus story and some is problematic for me.  What I love about this week’s reading is the reference to the Holy Spirit as an Advocate.

This week in the Western Christian calendar, we are post resurrection, between the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus.  And this week’s reading in John’s version of the Jesus story has Jesus taking about his departure. It is through this departure, in John, that the Holy Spirit is bestowed upon Jesus’ followers.  And this spirit is characterized repeatedly in John as Advocate.

Advocacy is public support for or recommendation of a particular cause, policy or community. It is any action that “speaks in favor of, recommends, argues for a cause, supports or defends, or pleads on behalf of others.” (See here.)

I grew up hearing the Spirit as Advocate as interpreted in some way as an intermediary interposing between sinful humans and a holy God.  Today, I reject any interpretation of this language that places humanity and divinity on polar opposites and a mediator in between. I experienced that bearing bad fruit in my own life and I believe it produces bad fruit societally, as well. 

What I now understand (and love) is the fact that the early Jesus community was comprised of those on the undersides and margins of their society who were in deep need of advocacy or justice socially, politically, and economically within their own societal structures.  This is the context in which I understand the work of the Spirit as Advocate to bear the most life-giving fruit.  

One of the social issues facing Jesus followers in the book of John was being removed from the synagogue. This is a large topic which space does not allow for here.  But I do question whether this actually ever happened. Much of the history between Judaism and Christianity is not characterized by Jews persecuting Christians but Christians persecuting Jews. This was written during a time when Gentile Christians were wanting to distance themselves from their Jewish siblings under the Roman Empire. What better way to do so than to villainize them. The following passages include anti-semitic language. We must be honest about this. My purpose in sharing it is to illustrate that John’s idea of the Spirit as an Advocate was as an advocate between humans in matters of justice not between humans and the divine in matters of sinfulness and holiness. 

Consider the following passages in John’s version of the Jesus story where being removed from the synagogue is a penalty for Jewish people who follow Jesus.

“His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Anointed would be put out of the synagogue.” (John 9:22)

“Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue.” (John 12:42)

John’s Jesus repeats the warning in John 12: “They will put you out of the synagogues.” (John 16:2)

For that first audience, “advocate” would have called to mind actual legal proceedings Jewish leaders initated against Jesus’ followers. The theme of being brought to trial appears in the early synoptic gospels as well:

“When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 13:11)

“When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:19-20)

“So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” (Luke 21:14-15)

“When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:11-12)

The Spirit as Advocate would have first and foremost been heard by John’s original audience as an advocate in matters pertaining to this life.  Early Christians were not concerned with saving people from post-mortem realities as much as they were focused on caring about people’s social condition in the here and now. 

We have confirmation of the spirt as an advocate in the context of people’s social conditions in the very beginning of Jesus ministry in Luke’s version of the story.

  “The Spirit of the Most High is on me,

because the Most High has anointed me 

to proclaim good news to the poor.

The Most High has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners 

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

  to proclaim the year of the Most High’s favor.”  (Luke 4:18-19)

Notice it was the Spirit being on Jesus here (as quoted from Isaiah) that caused him to be an advocate for those on the undersides and margins of his society.  It is also telling that he refers to the Spirit in the book of John as a second or “another” Advocate. (see John 14:16)

This work of Advocacy had deeply Jewish roots and is found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.  One such example is Proverbs 31:8 “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute.”

Presently in U.S. society, we are facing a radical departure from progress that has been made over the last four decades in regards to rights of bodily autonomy of women, transpeople and gender queer folk.  With the revelation of the Supreme Court’s intention to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the bodily autonomy of people in these communities is just the latest example of how advocacy work is needed today just as much as it has ever been.  

The words of one such advocate in this fight I found well said this past week.  I have tried to track down their reference. I have had no such luck. All sources of this online that I have found have the author’s name redacted. Nonetheless this is worth sharing here in the same spirit of advocacy we are discussing.

“Here’s the thing, guys. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter when life begins. It doesn’t matter whether a fetus is a human being or not. That entire argument is a red herring, a distraction, a subjective and unwinnable argument that could not matter less. It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about a fertilized egg, or a fetus, or a baby, or a 5 year old, or a Nobel Peace Price winning pediatric oncologist. NOBODY has the right to use your body against your will, even to save their life, or the life of another person. That’s it. That’s the argument. You cannot be forced to donate blood, or marrow, or organs, even though thousands die every year on waiting lists. They cannot even harvest your organs after your death without your explicit, written, pre-mortem permission. Denying women the right to abortion means we have less bodily autonomy than a corpse.”

And one more, this one from Leila Cohan on Twitter:

“If it was about babies, we’d have excellent and free universal maternal care. You wouldn’t be charged a cent to give birth, no matter how complicated your delivery was. If it was about babies, we’d have months and months of parental leave, for everyone. If it was about babies, we’d have free lactation consultants, free diapers, free formula. If it was about babies, we’d have free and excellent childcare from newborns on. If it was about babies, we’d have universal preschool and pre-k and guaranteed after school placements. If it was about babies, IVF and adoption wouldn’t just be for folks with thousands and thousands of dollars to spend on expanding their families. It’s not about babies. It’s about punishing women (and all people with uteruses) and controlling our bodies.” (https://twitter.com/leilacohan/status/1521690766187237377)

As it’s been repeatedly said, you can’t outlaw abortions, only safe abortions.  And, for those who need this to be said, you don’t have to be pro-abortion to be pro-choice.  In fact, there are countless ways to socially, politically, and economically reduce abortions in a society that are infinitely more successful than outlawing abortions and that still protect a person’s bodily autonomy. Outlawing abortions doesn’t stop abortions. It only makes them unsafe. If a person really wants to lower abortions this is the most ineffective way to go about it. 

This week, this is where my advocate heart is moved to action. 

Where, as a Jesus follower, is the Spirit as Advocate impressing upon you to take action, this week?

HeartGroup Application

  1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.
  2. How does seeing the Spirit’s work through the lens of advocacy work impact your own Jesus following? Share with your group
  3. What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


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

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

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

 Loving One Another and Justice

dominoes

Herb Montgomery | May 13, 2022

 

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

 


“You can’t love another” without desiring that those whom you love have what they need to thrive, and also doing what is in your power for them to have it . . . When we start to really consider what love means, then if we are honest we must begin to perceive love is not only personal, but also social, political, economic, religious, and even global.”


 

Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

When he was gone, Jesus said, Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:31-35)

After Judas leaves the room, Jesus begins to speak about glorification and love.

The theme of glorifying God and being glorified in and by God is rhetoric repeated through and unique to John’s version of the Jesus story. John defines the closing scenes of Jesus’ life, his arrest, crucifixion and resurrection, as how God and Jesus are glorified.

Another difference between John’s version and the synoptics (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) is that John shifts Jesus message from love of neighbor and love of our enemies to love specifically among Jesus’s followers. The author of John, writing this late gospel, paints this shift as a “new teaching.”

These varying objects of love in the canonical gospels—neighbor, enemies, and Jesus’ disciples—point to the tension of love across three concentric circles. The inner circle is Jesus’ disciples. The next circle is those Jesus’ disciples share society with, whether disciples of Jesus themselves or not. And the outer circle includes those who are those outside the disciples’ society or the community in which we do life together. “Enemy” in this context does not necessarily mean those who do us harm; it may simply mean those who are outside the circle we draw around whomever we define as “us.”

In our time, I don’t think it’s helpful to define others as “enemies.” We can be honest about labeling choices or actions as hurtful or not without naming the people choosing them as “enemies.” And rather than speaking of “loving our enemies,” we can speak of loving those who choose to harm us. This kind of love, too, needs careful defining and explanation to be genuinely life giving and not a tool to sustain harm.

But our reading this week focuses on love amongst fellow Jesus followers. By that love, Jesus says, others would know that Jesus’ followers were the disciples of Jesus. In other words, love was to be the primary distinguishing characteristic others could use to know that we are endeavoring to follow the moral philosophy of that Jewish prophet of the poor from Galilee. That marker is not a bumper sticker, nor what station our radios are tuned to. It’s not what church denomination we choose or voting Republican (I do live in West Virginia).

The marker is not even whether we choose live inside or outside of Christianity’s faith claims. What signals to others that our attempts to follow Jesus are genuine is whether we live by an ethic of love. This is not to say that all who endorse an ethic of love as Jesus followers but that you can’t be a Jesus follower without embracing an ethic of love.

Regardless of which object of love a particular version of the Jesus story focuses on (whether neighbor, enemies, or our own community), it is important to define what that love looks like. How we define love matters: including what we define love to be and what we define love as not. Genuine love does no harm.

 

Love and Justice

To paraphrase the great Dr. Emilie M. Townes, when we start with love, justice is isn’t very far behind. Love expresses itself in distributive justice for all. It includes the desire to make sure the objects of our love have what they need to thrive. When we love, in each area of our lives, we desire that resources are shared so everyone’s needs are met and no one has too much while others have too little. When disparities exist between those whose needs are unmet and those who have more than they could possibly need, all parties are harmed. They don’t experience the same level of harm mind you, or even the same kind of harm, but they experience harm nonetheless.

This principle is at the heart of the Hebrew prophetic justice tradition in which the Jesus we encounter in the gospels stands:

 

Learn to do right; seek justice.

Defend the oppressed.

Take up the cause of the fatherless;

plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:17)

 

Woe to those who make unjust laws,

to those who issue oppressive decrees,

to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. (Isaiah 10:1-2)

 

A bruised reed he will not break,

and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;

  he will not falter or be discouraged

till he establishes justice on earth.

In his teaching the islands will put their hope. (Isaiah 42:3-4)

 

This is what the Most High says to you, house of David:

  Administer justice every morning;

rescue from the hand of the oppressor

the one who has been robbed” (Jeremiah 21:12)

 

I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak . . . I will shepherd the flock with justice. (Ezekiel 34:16)

 

But let justice roll on like a river,

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

In love a throne will be established . . . one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness. (Isaiah 16:5)

 

“Maintain love and justice.” (Hosea 12:6)

 

Love without justice is hypocrisy. To read Jesus’ words of love as only sentimental, and not as including a call to social justice is to take Jesus out of his Jewish context and transform him into something else for another purpose. Jesus was a preacher of the kind of love that expresses itself in justice for the oppressed, marginalized, excluded, and downtrodden.

This is why Jesus scholars such as the late Marcus Borg and his co-author John Dominic Crossan made such bold statements such as, “The first passion of Jesus was the kingdom of God, namely, to incarnate the justice of God by demanding for all a fair share of a world belonging to and ruled by the covenantal God of Israel.” (Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week, Kindle location 44.)

 

This is what I think of when I hear Jesus’ admonition us to love one another.

You can’t love another without desiring that those whom you love have what they need to thrive, and also doing what is in your power for them to have it.

All of this leads me to some questions about the intrinsic relationship between love and justice that those of us who are Jesus followers and who share my social location in our society need to allow ourselves to be confronted by.

Are we as White Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love Black people and people of color?

Are we as male Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for women?

Are we as straight Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisxexual, and/or pansexual?

Are we as cisgender Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for transgender people?

Are we as educated Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for those who are less educated?

Are we as middle-class Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for the poor?

Are we as U.S. citizen Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for refugees, migrants, and the undocumented?

Are we as settler-colonial Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for indigenous populations and communities?

Are we as North American Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for those who live in the Global South?

Whom does this list of questions make you think of this week?

When we start to really consider what love means, then if we are honest we must begin to perceive love is not only personal, but also social, political, economic, religious, and even global.

Whom do you think of when you hear Jesus’ words in John?

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

 

HeartGroup Application

 

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

2. How does loving others translate into societal justice for you? Share with your group

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week

 


 


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

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

 

 

Free Sign-Up at:

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

Being Part of One Another

connected network dots

Herb Montgomery | May 6, 2022

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


We are part of one another. Yes, some of us see life through one lens, some of us see life through others. But we are still connected. We thrive together. We survive together. What harms some, always in some way harms everyone, even those perpetrating or benefiting from that harm. You can benefit from the harm you do to others in one area of your life while being harmed in other areas.”


This week’s reading is from the gospel of John:

Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomons Colonnade. The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Fathers name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Fathers hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10.22-30)

This story begins with Jesus attending the Jewish Festival of lights, which many today know as Hanukkah. This festival has a rich tradition, and its background can be read in the first and second book of Maccabees.

In 167 B.C.E – 164 B.CE., under the Seleucid empire, Antiochus IV goes to great lengths to desecrate the Jewish temple. He orders a statue of Zeus to be erected in the temple and desecrates the altar by slaughtering as an offering to Zeus a pig—an animal defined in the Torah as unclean. This act sparked the Maccabean revolt.

In the revolt, Mattathias Maccabeus and his five sons successfully push the Seleucids out of the area, and Judas Maccabees, one of Mattathias’ sons, rebuilds the altar, has new holy vessels fashioned, and rededicates the temple. This festival receives its names from the lighting of the lamps during this sanctuary dedication or cleansing: the Festival of Dedication (John), Festival of Lights, and Hanukkah.

In John’s version of the Jesus story, Jesus is often portrayed as celebrating his community’s festivals (see 2:13-25; 5:1; 7:1-13). This can remind Christians both of Jesus’ deep Jewishness, and also how often the language of John is both covertly and overtly antisemitic.

In this week’s passage, it would be more life-giving to us and to our Jewish siblings to read “the people” or possibly “the political leaders” where the text reads “the Jews.” These stories are better interpreted as a struggle among classes within Jewish society, a struggle between the powerful elite and the masses, between insiders and the marginalized. These Jewish voices were having an intracommunal conversation on what faithfulness to the Torah looked like socially, economically, and politically. Not until Gentiles who wanted to distance themselves from Jewish people began to tell these stories did people begin telling and interpreting the Jesus story as a religious contest between Judaism and Christianity.

This section of the chapter also continues the Shepherd theme in verses 1-18. This theme repeats through the gospel of John because it reflects the community’s efforts to define itself. Here, the Johannine community are Jesus’ sheep and Jesus is their shepherd. But I’m afraid they define themselves in a way that harms others. We’ll unpack this in just a moment.

In these verses, the Johaninne community is once again seeking to define Jesus here, too. The gospels repeatedly define Jesus’ relation to Abraham, Torah, Judaism, and to God (see versus 31-42).

These verses define Jesus in the context of the Jewish/Christian debate, within Judaism and between Christianity and Judaism, illustrated by Jesus’ reaction to “the Anointed one,” the Messiah.

But the way the Johaninne community defines Jesus and themselves by implication in this week’s story is not life-giving.

There is a contrast between those who believe Jesus is the Messiah and those who don’t. Those who do are believers, and by implication those who do not are unbelievers. Those who believe are Jesus’ sheep and Jesus is their shepherd; those who do not believe are left out. Those who do believe, will live forever, whereas those who don’t will perish.

This is not a discussion about individuals. It’s a discussion between two communities, the Johannine community of Jesus followers and the Jewish community. The Jewish community saw massive destruction at the hands of the Roman empire in the 1st Century before this version of Jesus’ story was written. But the Johannine community implied through these verses that if they had believed Jesus was the messiah, their community would have lived forever, and because they did not believe in Jesus, they perished.

This is wrong. Whatever political and economic events happened to Jewish people in the 1st Century were simply events born out of economic and political structures (Jesus did have something to say about economics and politics). The people’s destruction or “perishing” under Rome was not an arbitrary divine punishment for Jewish rejection of Jesus as the religious, Christian Messiah.

The Johannine community defines itself as “more than” and those who do not define Jesus the way they do as “less than.” This is an intrinsically harmful exceptionalism or supremacy. It is othering that has repeatedly proven harmful to our existence as humans. It’s not life giving to define ourselves in exclusive categories of “us” and “them.” Certainly there are differences among us, yet those differences are not to divide anyone, and to the degree that we define our difference in terms of “us” and “them,” we create harm. Moving away from “us” and “them” and viewing one another with more subtlety, however, will always be life-giving.

We are connected, whether we realize it or not. Othering and dividing doesn’t breathe life; it breathes harm and death.

Many now see this truth. I think of the following statements that have been meaningful to me recently:

We belong to a mutually beneficial web of connection, well-being, and love. At the root of this connection is empathy; the result is kindness, compassion, respect, and understanding. When religion doesnt center on this mutuality, it can become one of the toxic narratives that, in the end, dismantles self-love. (Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis ; Fierce Love, p. 30)

“Gods dream is that you and I and all of us will realize that we are family, that we are made for togetherness, for goodness, and for compassion.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu; quoted by Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis in Fierce Love, p. 129)

All men [sic, —and women, and nonbinary people] are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., The Man Who Was a Fool)

Human beings are made for each other and no people can realize their full humanity except as they participate in its realization for others. (Dr. James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed.)

We are part of one another. Yes, some of us see life through one lens, some of us see life through others. But we are still connected. We thrive together. We survive together. What harms some, always in some way harms everyone, even those perpetrating or benefiting from that harm. You can benefit from the harm you do to others in one area of your life while being harmed in other areas.

Last month’s recommended reading from Renewed Heart Ministries was Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis’ book Fierce Love. There are so many life-giving statements in her book, and my favorite that has been continually popping up in my heart and mind is this one:

Our multifaith community (which includes agnostics and atheists) takes seriously the prayer said every Sunday: Gods will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” For us, faith means partnering with God, whom we call by many names—including Love—to make heaven on earth. That means healing the world of brokenness; that means working hard to dismantle systems of oppression. That means accepting this: If there is such a thing as salvation, then none of us are saved until all of us are saved. Saved from poverty, saved from racism and xenophobia. Saved from gender inequality and discrimination based on whom we love.” (Lewis, Jacqui. Fierce Love, p. 185)

Christians should never have othered the Jewish people, and this week’s reading reminds us of that painful history. Repenting of this history also calls Christians to account for ways we have repeatedly practiced harmful othering with different communities also.

Today, we have the opportunity to do better. It will take some effort to undo old habits, for sure. And it’s worth it.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What are some of the language choices you use to keep yourselves from othering people who are different from yourself? Share with your group

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

Change from the Edges

Herb Montgomery | May 24, 2019

Photo by Yeshi Kangrang on Unsplash

“One of the first steps of hope for people in such wilderness places is to understand that their situation reflects social and political forces, not the divine will . . .”


“And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness.” (Mark 1:4)

Syracuse University’s Counseling Center defines marginalization as “the process of pushing a particular group or groups of people to the edge of society by not allowing them an active voice, identity, or place in it . . . Some individuals identify with multiple marginalized groups, and may experience further marginalization as a result of their intersecting identities.”

This week I ask what the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) have to say to those who live disenfranchised, disadvantaged, marginalized, and underprivileged in our society.

Mark’s storytelling about Jesus begins very early on with the character of John the Baptist, who emerges as a Hebrew prophet in the wilderness calling for social change. The much later gospel Luke emphasizes this wilderness location by explaining that John’s father is a priest (See Luke 1:5, 8-10). John’s lineage allowed him to be a priest in the temple like his father, so it is telling that we instead see a John who isn’t a priest but a prophet like Isaiah’s voice “crying out” in the “wilderness.” 

The wilderness represents a marginal location in the Jesus stories: the edges of the Jewish society. It contrasts with Jerusalem, the temple state, and the elite who held positions of power and privilege in Jewish society. This is a Jewish story, and a story of Jewish voices in conflict with each other. It is the story of social tensions between those at the center of their society and those on the margins. It’s also a very human story. Every society includes a tension between those who are marginalized and those at the top and center of their social structure. When the status quo depends on marginalizing “a particular group or groups of people” Jesus’ time in the wilderness reflects the power dynamics we find in that society.

After Jesus interacted with John in the wilderness, Mark’s gospel tells us that Jesus went straight away into the wilderness himself. 

“At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness.” (Mark 1:12)

Some Christian preachers use this passage to parallel Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness with the Hebrew people’s forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Mark does not explain how long Jesus spent there, and this parallel is often used to teach supersessionism. I do not read it this way.

I believe Jesus is making a social choice. He, like John, is choosing the wilderness as his starting point. From the marginalized region of Galilee, Jesus enters the wilderness after John, possibly to get in touch with his Jewish roots. His is a people whose origin stories were of enslavement, oppression, liberation, and brutal colonization of others. Jesus attempts to ground himself in his story as a Jew, within their wilderness origin story, and figure out how they got to where they are today. 

So both Jesus and John emerge from a place of “wilderness.” Ched Myers reminds us about the truth inthis story detail for those who today find themselves in “wilderness” locations.

“One of the first steps of hope for people in such wilderness places is to understand that their situation reflects social and political forces, not the divine will . . . While the margin has a primarily negative political connotation as a place of disenfranchisement, Mark ascribes to it a primarily positive theological value. It is the place where the sovereignty of God is made manifest, where the story of liberation is renewed, where God’s intervention in history occurs.” (Ched Myers, Say to This Mountain: Mark’s Story of Discipleship, p. 12)

Mark explains that when John is arrested, Jesus comes out of this wilderness location and does not straightway begin preaching in the more centrally located Jerusalem and Judea. Instead, Jesus enters the marginal region of Galilee. 

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

If Judea is a marginal region within the larger Roman empire, Galilee is a marginal region on the edges of Jewish society. In Jesus’ day, it was the buffer region between the Jewish population and the largely non-Jewish population beyond Galilee. In Mark, Jesus begins his work here, among those who would have been the marginalized in his society. Consider his teaching as well. Whom does he speak in solidarity with in his teachings?

“Blessed are the poor [broken] in spirit . . . 

Blessed are those who mourn . . .

Blessed are the meek . . .

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness [distributive justice] . . .

Blessed are the merciful . . .

Blessed are the pure in heart . . .

Blessed are the peacemakers . . .

Blessed are those who are persecuted . . . 

Blessed are you when people insult you . . . 

Blessed are you when people persecute you . . . 

Blessed are you when people falsely say all kinds of evil against you . . . 

You are the salt of the earth . . .

You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:3-14)

In this teaching, Jesus is in solidarity with those who have been pushed to the edges and undersides of his society and are trying to survive there.  

Notice, too, those final two statements I quoted from Matthew 5. Jesus states that those on the margins of society are the salt of the earth, the light of the world. This was centuries before refrigeration and the harnessing of electricity. Salt preserved food. 

I want to offer a word of caution about the imagery of light in our context today. RHM’s book of the month for May is Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne by Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney. In a statement circulating the internet this past Easter season which was attributed to Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney (which I still cannot for the life of me find where she said this, but this does sound like her) we read, “We can celebrate the light of Easter without demonizing darkness and reinscribing a white supremacist dialectic on Christ and the resurrection. My blackness is radiant, luminous and will not and does not need to be made white as snow. The blood of Jesus will not make me white. We must learn to talk about brokenness in the world with our reducing evil to darkness and goodness to light. Blackness is God’s good gift.” (From more from Gafney go to www.wilgafney.com

We can celebrate light without demonizing darkness. Today we understand that life requires both light and dark. What’s important is balance, a life-giving equity, rather than one or the other. I can understand the original use of this language and also understand that that use is no longer appropriate today. 

Yet in the Jesus stories both images point to the marginalized of Jesus’ society. That’s the point Myers is making above. In the Jesus stories, the edges of society hold a “primarily positive theological value. It is the place where the sovereignty of God is made manifest, where the story of liberation is renewed, where God’s intervention in history occurs.”

Change happens from the outside in, from the bottom up, from grassroots movements. It is the voices sharing the experiences of those surviving on the edges of our society that tell us whether the status quo is just or unjust, life-giving or lethal. We can choose to listen to these voices or not. We can choose the way of life or not. We can choose those things that preserve society, like salt, or that which cause societies to self-destruct. Those who are in power and privileged have very little insight into how systems enfranchise some and disenfranchise others. At best they continually risk underestimating the damage done to those who do not share their social location. Change, renewal, intervention, salvation, often emerges from the edges, the “wilderness” locations. And this is one of the first truths we bump into in the Jesus story.

Today, a person can be marginalized on the basis of their gender, race, ethnicity, religion, education, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, ability, and more. Many marginalized people face exclusion for multiple intersecting traits, too. In whatever area of your life where you face marginalization, contrary to narratives of those at the top or the center of society, the Jesus story tells us that God is with those on the margins, those working in “the wilderness.” And we are working with God when we are working in solidarity with them.

A Special Request

If you have been blessed by our work here at Renewed Heart Ministries, please support our work. 

This is a time of the year when we keenly feel and deeply appreciate your support. 

Click on the donate page on our website or mailing your gift to:

Renewed Heart Ministries
PO Box 1211
Lewisburg, WV 24901

You can make a one-time gift, or, alternatively, consider becoming a monthly sustainer by selecting the option to make your gift recurring.

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Thank you in advance for your support. 

We simply could not exist nor continue our important work without you. Earlier this month, after a presentation I had just given, one of those in audience approached me and said, “Thank you. If we had more messages like this, my church would be a different place.”

I believe another Christianity is possible. 

I also believe another world is possible.

Thanks for checking in with us this week. 

Wherever you are today, choose to keep living in love. Choose compassion. Take action. Seek justice. Till the only world that remains is a world where love reigns. 

I love each of you dearly, 

I’ll see you next week.