Trading Individualism for Community

community

Herb Montgomery | October 7, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horsley writes:

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

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

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

He explains further:

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

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

What is the gem of wisdom in this story?

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


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

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

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Faith and Political Harm

Herb Montgomery | September 30, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To quote Horsley again:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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.

Stories that Shape Us

Herb Montgomery | September 23, 2022

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


“This story might have spoken to those in Luke’s culture, but it would not work to threaten people in our culture with a burning afterlife. It’s much more realistic to focus on the gains and losses we experience in this life when we practice this kind of indifferent exclusion.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich mans table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, Then, father, I beg you to send him to my fathers house—for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31)

Folk tales about reversing circumstances in the next life were a staple in Jesus’ world, in Hellenistic, Roman, and Jewish culture. The author of Luke choosing to contrast the lived realities of the rich and the poor is consistent with the theme of economic justice in this version of the Jesus story.

I love the cultural diversity and richness in this week’s story. The influence of Hellenism comes through in an eternally burning Hades, yet this folk tale is also thoroughly Jewish with the poor person being whisked away, not to a Christian heaven, but to the bosom of father Abraham.

J. Jeremias reminds us,

In order to understand the parable in detail and as a whole, it is essential to recognize the first part derives from a well-known folk material . . . This is the Egyptian folk-tale of the journey of Osiris, the son of Setme Chamois to the under-world . . . Alexandrian Jews brought this story to Palestine, where it became very popular as the story of the poor scholar and the rich publican Bar MaJan.” (Parables, p. 183)

In Luke’s gospel, the author drops the focus on tension between a scholar and a tax collector and replaces it with the tension between the rich and the poor.

I also want to say something about the Hellenistic idea of flaming torment in the afterlife in this story due to its abuse by Christians throughout history.

This week’s story is a folk tale, but the 1st Century historian Josephus does tell us that some Pharisees taught of an eternal punishment after death:

“They [the Pharisees] say that all souls are imperishable, but that the souls of good men only pass into other bodies while the souls of evil men are subject to eternal [aidious] punishment [timoria]. (Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Vol. II, Chapter 8, Paragraph 14; words in brackets added.)

The Pharisaical schools weren’t monolithic: they had a rich diversity of ideas about afterlife and resurrection. Josephus’ report could not have been true of all Pharisees, then, but there must have been enough for Josephus to describe their beliefs this way.

The words Josephus used to communicate what these Pharisees were teaching are also interesting. The Greek word he used for eternal is aidious and the Greek word he used for punishment is timoria. According to Louw and Nida’s Greek–English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, aidious meant Pertaining to an unlimited duration of time.” Timoria, on the other hand, meant to punish, with the implication of causing people to suffer what they deserve.” Thayers Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament explains that the nature of this word ispenal and has reference to the satisfaction of him who inflicts.” Timoria, then is a retributive punishment to satisfy something in the person inflicting the suffering, who feels the offender must experience punishment.

But every time the gospel authors write about Jesus speaking of some type of punishment or reversal of fates either in this life or the next, they use the Greek phrase aionion kolasis for eternal punishment (see Matthew 25:46).

Aionion kolasis was a known phrase among Hellenistic Jews, many of whom populated the region of Galilee where Jesus travelled and taught. Philo, a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who was a contemporary of Jesus, wrote, It is better not to promise than not to give prompt assistance, for no blame follows in the former case, but in the latter there is dissatisfaction from the weaker class, and a deep hatred and eternal [aionion] chastisement [kolasis] from such as are more powerful.” (Philo, Fragments)

Mounce’s Concise Greek English Dictionary of the New Testament tells us that aionion is an indeterminate adjective, indeterminate as to duration.” Thayers Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament tells us anionion gives prominence to the immeasurableness of eternity.” In other words, it’s not that it lasts forever, but that it takes forever for whatever this adjective is describing to accomplish its purpose. We have as much time as it takes, no matter how long that is.

The meanings of the word kolasis are why this topic pricks my interest. Thayers Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament confirms what we learned earlier about timoria and compares this with the difference of kolasis, The noted definition of Aristotle, which distinguishes kolasis from timoria is that kolasis is disciplinary and has reference to him who suffers, while the latter timoria is penal and has reference to the satisfaction of him who inflicts.”

In Protagoras, Plato writes, If you will think, Socrates, of the nature of punishment, you will see at once that in the opinion of mankind virtue may be acquired; no one punishes [kolasis] the evil-doer under the notion, or for the reason, that he has done wrong—only the unreasonable fury of a beast acts in that manner. But he who desires to inflict rational punishment [kolasis] does not retaliate for a past wrong which cannot be undone; he has regard to the future, and is desirous that the man who is punished [kolosis], and he who sees him punished, may be deterred from doing wrong again. He punishes for the sake of prevention, thereby clearly implying that virtue is capable of being taught.”

The purpose of kolasis, then, is to deter others and to discipline or transform the one who experiences it. This implies that the gospel authors using this term want us to imagine a Jesus who taught a restorative punishment rather than a retributive one. If this discipline is to take place in the afterlife, then the people receiving it have all the time that it will take. This kind of punishment is intended to be something that someone passes through and is changed by, not an inescapable fate people are abandoned to.

Even though we’ve been considering Hellenistic sources so far, the idea of using fire to symbolize removing something considered harmful, like fire removes dross from gold, is also a Jewish idea and part of the Hebrew scriptures:

“The sinners in Zion are terrified; trembling grips the godless: ‘Who of us can dwell with the CONSUMING fire? Who of us can dwell with THE EVERLASTING BURNING?’ Those who walk righteously and speak what is right, who reject gain from extortion and keep their hands from accepting bribes, who stop their ears against plots of murder and shut their eyes against contemplating evil.” (Isaiah 33:14, emphasis added.)

In this passage, those who dwell with “the everlasting burning” are the righteous. From this we might understand that the righteous are those those who go through this kind of experience and are transformed.

Back to our reading. This story might have spoken to those in Luke’s culture, but it would not work to threaten people in our culture with a burning afterlife. It’s much more realistic to focus on the gains and losses we experience in this life when we practice indifferent exclusion in the ways of the unnamed rich person in this story.

Gustavo Guitierrez writes,

“The poor are a by-product of the system in which we live and for which we are responsible. They are marginalized by our social and cultural world. They are the oppressed, exploited proletariat, robbed of the fruit of their labor and despoiled of their humanity. Hence the poverty of the poor is not a call to generous relief action, but a demand that we go and build a different social order.” (The Power of the Poor in History, p. 44)

How this week are you being called to prioritize those our present system marginalizes or disenfranchises, politically, socially, economically, or in all three ways?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What stories have shaped you in your journey? Share one 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.

Jesus and Another Story of Debt Cancellation 

Herb Montgomery | September 16, 2022

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


“Am I prioritizing relationships with people over and above the rules that capitalism continues to try to program us with as to how to play its game? If we do this, in the end, we may make less and our net worths may be less, but our investments in people and in relationships will be greater or possibly developed in a different direction than our present capitalist system would have sent us.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

Then Jesus said to the disciples, There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.Then the manager said to himself, What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.So, summoning his masters debtors one by one, he asked the first, How much do you owe my master?He answered, A hundred jugs of olive oil.He said to him, Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, And how much do you owe?He replied, A hundred containers of wheat.He said to him, Take your bill and make it eighty.And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Luke 16:1-13)

This week’s reading puts serving God and serving wealth in tension. “Serving God” is a phrase that should be read in the context of the reign or kingdom of God. We can understand the gospel phrase “the kingdom of God” as God’s just future here on Earth, a new iteration of our present world where there is economic, social, and political justice. In that kingdom, resources and power are distributed with equity and everyone has what they need to not just survive but also to thrive. It’s a world where the rain falls and the sun shines on all.

In this context, we can begin to understand why, intrinsically, you cannot both serve this vision for human community and serve the interests of wealth. This is difficult for us in our capitalist culture to grasp. Jesus’ economic teachings in the gospels assume that there is enough for everyone to thrive abundantly because our heavenly Parent provides for us. Wealth is created when someone begins storing up more than they need, which creates a deficit for somewhere for someone else.

There’s a slightly different lesson in the manna story in the Exodus tradition. For those who tried to store or hoard more than they needed instead of sharing with others who had gathered less, the manna “bred worms and became foul” by the next day. In this example you simply could not amass a “wealth” of manna. It was impossible.

This, along with the debt forgiveness of the Torah, is an economic Jewish tradition Jesus was standing in firmly within his own culture. For the oppressed community of the gospels for whom Jesus’ teachings held deepest meaning, it was clear that one could not serve both wealth and people because one would have to choose between individual opulence and community thriving. (Certain Indigenous traditions also speak of this contrast in their ancient wisdom. See Spirit and Resistance: Political Theology and American Indian Liberation by George E. Tinker.)

Someone somewhere has to suffer loss for wealth to be created, but Jesus taught that that someone somewhere was an object of Divine Universal love for whom the sun was also shining and the rain falling (Matthew 5:45).

As the saying goes “Each day there’s enough for every person’s needs, but not every person’s greeds.” Wealth means having more of what one needs while others do not. In Jesus’ worldview, however, it’s not about everyone having the same quantity, but everyone having the same quality. Some people don’t need as much to thrive. Others need more. In a just world vision with God as the Great, Just Householder, no one has too much while others don’t have enough.

Dishonest Wealth

Our story this week is a lesson on how to use “dishonest wealth” to benefit people.

This strange story only appears in Luke’s version of the gospels and has troubled Christians from the very beginning. Based on this trouble, many of the most progressive historical Jesus scholars attribute this story to the historical, Jewish Jesus.

To be clear, I don’t interpret this story as determining the moral value of dishonest business dealing, embezzlement, or fuzzy accounting. What it does do is commend the manager for his shrewdness in using managing accounts to create relationships for him to fall back on when his current employment ends.

What I glean from this story is a call to look at my priorities within our system as I imagine and work toward a different iteration of our world. What am I prioritizing? Is wealth, creating more capital in order to create even more capital, my priority? Or am I prioritizing people, using the current world and its resources to create relationships with others? Am I prioritizing relationships with people over and above the rules that capitalism continues to try to program us with as to how to play its game? If we do this, in the end, we may make less and our net worths may be less, but our investments in people and in relationships will be greater or possibly developed in a different direction than our present capitalist system would have sent us.

I mentioned Biden’s modest student loan forgiveness program last week. For some parts of the country, Biden’s approval ratings have shot up as a result of him doing exactly what we read about in this week’s story. In the story, a steward told people who owed money to cancel portions of their debts to increase his favor with them, and the manager doing this was not moralistically scolded but commended as being wise.

The uproar among some Christians about Biden’s recent actions reminds me of how this story attributed to Jesus has troubled wealthy Jesus followers from the start. But to those scratching out an existence in the 1st Century and the economically marginalized who comprised most of the early Jesus movement, this story must have resonated deeply. It was this demographic, like today, who deeply wished someone would step in and simply cancel or forgive their debt.

I like that we have an example from our sacred stories of Jesus that mirrors what we see happening around us in our modern society here in the U.S. It’s nice to see our U.S. government economically doing something I actually agree with, which is a rarity. I like the idea of forgiving debt for people who are victims of predatory loans for something as valuable as an education. I wish all of it was forgiven! I want to live in a more educated society and support using part of our society’s wealth to create a more educated populace. It encourages me that despite those Christian friends who are up in arms about this small amount of loan forgiveness, this week’s story tells us this is exactly the kind of thing we should favor as Jesus followers.

So which value system have we allowed to shape us more: Are we capitalists first or are we Jesus followers first? Have we allowed the values and ethics of the Jesus story that we hold so dear to shape the kinds of people we are becoming, or have we allowed the value system of capitalism to shape how we see the world.

These questions are far more than partisan politics. They help me to question what it is that I’m choosing to shape the way I live.

What is shaping you?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What other possible applications or lessons do you glean from this week’s parable? 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.

I want to remind you, that you can find us here at Renewed Heart Ministries on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If you haven’t done so you can follow us on any of those social media platforms for our daily posts.  Also, if you enjoy listening to the Jesus for Everyone podcast, consider taking some time to give us a review on whichever podcast platform you use. This helps others find our podcast content as well.

If you’d like to reach us, you can always drop us a message here.

That’s all for this week.

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.

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 A Preferential Option and Student Debt Forgiveness

sheep

Herb Montgomery | September 9, 2022

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


“In a society that privileges certain ones from pushing others to the edges and undersides of their society, we have to practice a preferential option for those being marginalized to bring things back into balance. This is a way to remediate the harmful preference that is already being shown.”


Our reading this week comes from the gospel of Luke:

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:1-10)

This week’s reading includes arguably two of the most famous stories associated with Jesus today: the stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin. Many progressive historical Jesus scholar also consider these stories original to the historical, Jewish Jesus.

There’s a parallel to the story of the lost sheep in the book of Matthew:

What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost. (Matthew 18:12-14)

We also find a version of this saying in the non-canonical gospel of Thomas:

Jesus said, The kingdom is like a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. One of them, the largest, went astray. He left the ninety-nine and looked for the one until he found it. After he had toiled, he said to the sheep, ‘I love you more than the ninety- nine.’ (Thomas 107)

A quick word about the derogatory light Luke’s story casts the Pharisees in. This way of speaking about Pharisees has a long antisemitic history that we at RHM don’t support. The Pharisees, who followed the teachings of Hillel, had much in common with Jesus’ interpretation of the Torah through a lens of loving one’s neighbor. Even the more conservative interpretive school of Shammai (which this passage may be blanketly referring to) sided with Jesus on divorce.

Neither group agreed with Jesus’ stance on debt forgiveness, which is interesting given the comments I see many politically conservative Christians making about Biden’s modest student loan forgiveness plan. I’d say to them, just be thankful it’s Biden and not your Jesus doing it, or all of the debt would be cancelled. The gospels use the phrase “the year of the Lord’s favor”, referring to the year of jubilee, a time when all debts would be cancelled (Luke 4:18-19). The contradiction is telling.

If this idea that Jesus agreed with various schools of Pharisaical interpretation is new to you, I recommend the classic, well researched book: Jesus the Pharisee: A New Look at the Jewishness of Jesus by Harvey Falk.

But for now let’s take a closer look at the story of the lost sheep. The idea of prioritizing one sheep over ninety-nine is a fundamental tenet of various forms of liberation theology. In those schools of interpretation, “a preferential option” for the one being harmed, excluded, and/or oppressed is foundational.

This week’s story includes a preference for the one sheep lost rather than for the ninety-nine sheep that remain, much as an urgent care medical facility prioritizes people in life-threatening circumstances over others whose cases are less severe.

As a parent, I understand. I love all of my kids. And as they were growing up, each of them had times when they would receive a priority of attention because of something they were facing. Whether they were sick, or having a challenge at school, or something was happening in their social lives, their need at the time governed whether our family centered or preferred them. The term “preferential” constitutes favor or privilege, and in our context this week, it’s about centering those being marginalized over those our society is choosing to privilege.

For example, in Latin liberation theology we encounter a preferential option for the poor, especially people of color around the world. Black liberation theology offers a preferential option for people who are Black. Feminist liberation theology gives us a preferential option for those who are not men. Womanist liberation theology points to a preferential option for Black women, their families and communities. In environmental liberation theology, we encounter a preferential option for the planet, and in queer liberation theology, we encounter a preferential option for LGBTQ people. In a liberatory theology of disability, we encounter a preferential option for people living with disabilities. As a result, in each of these examples we encounter a rich diversity of focuses, assumptions and scope.

Each of these theologies attempts to prioritize those being harmed by their society in a way that parallels Jesus’ ethical practice, the practice being defended by the Jesus of the gospels in the stories we’re reading this week. Those benefited in this society, especially if their benefits come at the expense of others, will always push back against this. It is this pushback that we are seeing Jesus respond to in this week’s stories.

The word “option” in the phrase “preferential option” doesn’t mean this is optional for Jesus followers. Option means that every day we can choose to follow Jesus, to practice preferring those being harmed rather than those benefiting from their harm.

This is a deep theme in the Jewish wisdom and prophetic traditions:

The LORD works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed. (Psalms 103:6)

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream. (Amos 5:24)

In a society that privileges certain ones from pushing others to the edges and undersides of their society, we have to practice a preferential option for those being marginalized to bring things back into balance. This is a way to remediate the harmful preference that is already being shown.

Parts of the early Jesus movement also valued this practice. Consider this passage from the book of James:

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, Stand there,” or, Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? (James 2:1-7, emphasis added.)

All of this calls to me to continually reassess my own practice. Who is it that I’m practicing a preferential option for? Our society practices privilege. Who does our society disenfranchise or exclude? When there are efforts to bring things into balance, whose voices speak against favoring those suffering harm?

The recent debate over student loan forgiveness is just an example. I don’t think Biden’s plan goes far enough. I’m thankful for what it does do; it’s a good start. But anyone who understands the predatory nature of student loans understands that some people and companies are benefitting by harming students financially. We need a preferential option now to restore balance. It never ceases to surprise me when I hear people in my circle of friends who are against such efforts. I’m thankful that two out of three folks in our society see the wisdom in a preferential option for people in debt. And we can do even more.

Who is the Jesus story calling you to practice a preferential option for this week?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What community is the Jesus story calling you to practice a preferential option for this week? Discuss with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



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

 Rejection For Doing What Is Right

family photos

Herb Montgomery | September 2, 2022

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


“If your religion causes you to feel like you must reject your lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender non-binary, queer, or questioning kid, please find a different expression of your faith. Run; don’t walk. Don’t accept any expression of religion that calls you to reject your own children.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. (Luke 14:25-33)

I’m not a fan of this week’s passage. It has been used to abuse and scapegoat marginalized people, and, too often, to justify parents rejecting their LGBTQ kids.

As Patrick Cheng correctly notes:

Many LGBT people were scapegoated by our peers growing up because we did not fit within the typical gender norms . . . Indeed, some of us may have been bullied by classmates in school not because we did anything wrong, but rather because we were perceived as being different or outsiders.” The issue of anti-LGBT bullying and scapegoating has taken on a particular urgency in light of the horrific string of suicides in the United States in the fall of 2010 of young men (some as young as thirteen) who were tormented by their classmates because they were—or were perceived to be—gay . . . In many ways, queer people today can be seen as scapegoats of the larger society. In other words, society often channels its repressed violence—either metaphorically or literally—toward LGBT people, who are seen as different or as outsiders” as a result of our marginalized sexualities and/or gender identities. As such, we are often the target of discrimination, and sometimes even violence, for the sake of preserving order in society. (Patrick S. Cheng, Radical Love, p. 94-95)

In our society, Christians have been among the worst offenders. Too often the stained glass windows of our church communities amplify the bigotry in the rest of society. And readings like this week’s are used by parents rejecting their LGBTQ kids while feeling as if God is calling them to do so.

Parents: if your religion causes you to feel like you must reject your lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender non-binary, queer, or questioning kid, please find a different expression of your faith. Run; don’t walk. Don’t accept any expression of religion that calls you to reject your own children.

Because there is another way to interpret this week’s passage: to prioritize working for a safe, compassionate, just world for everyone, especially those presently marginalized, and to value that above the acceptance of bigoted family members. (If you don’t have bigoted family members, you’re one of the lucky ones.)

Crystal and I have both gone through years of silence and rejection from family members due to our positions on anti-racism, LGBTQ inclusion and affirmation, gender justice, ecological justice, economic justice and other values.

It hurts to be rejected or to be spoken evilly against by extended relatives who raised you. It hurts to be shut out and viewed as dangerous. Crystal and I both have family members who believe that God will ultimately reject and destroy those they think believe or practice “the wrong thing.” It’s little wonder that in worshiping a God who will ultimately do such things, they feel justified and even encouraged to practice that level of rejection with us today.

Part of me feels sorry for them. I know that their behavior is motivated by self-preservation: not wanting to be associated with us so that their God doesn’t reject them too. Part of me is angry at the bigotry that prevents them from waking up to how intrinsically harmful their religious paradigm is. They miss the red-flag warning because a rejecting God resonates with their own prejudices and worldview. And part of me just hurts about it all. Rejection always hurts, but especially from people you care about and love.

This week’s reading calls us to recognize that facing rejection may be part of our journey following Jesus. It’s a cost we should be aware of before we embark on that journey. Our society pushes some people to the margins the way Jesus’ society pushed him out, and we can expect the same treatment. This was a cost I did not consider in my own life, and it was all the more painful as a result.

Jesus’ last phrase describes the context of this passage: “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

This saying is about much more than possessions. It’s also about relationships.

In Jesus’ society, the family was the center of the economy. If you had no family, you didn’t exist politically, economically, or socially. So in these stories, Jesus is confronting the social structures of his own society, structures that benefitted some families above others and at those others’ expense. Those who were benefitting from that way of organizing society didn’t want society to change. They didn’t perceive the change Jesus described as good news but as something to be resisted at every step, even if that meant rejecting a family member who was calling for change. If Jesus’ 1st Century followers had their family reject them for following his vision of organizing our world without marginalization, that rejection had deep economic implications. And if their well-to-do families rejected them, this week’s reading calls us to count the cost and understand what we are signing up for, too.

This is what it means to carry one’s cross. Remember, carrying a cross is not passively accepting injustice or abuse. The Romans used the cross to scare people into not speaking out, not standing up. Jesus was put on a cross because he refused to passively accept an unjust reality. His temple protest is just one example.

How does this apply to us today?

Following Jesus today includes speaking out against social injustices, too. We may also face “crosses” that the powers that be threaten us with. Our reading this week calls us to consider speaking out anyway.

Resist. Get into good trouble. Speak out. Don’t remain silent.

Today our families may reject us using scare words like “socialist” or “communist” or “progressive” or “liberal.” That’s okay. Our reading this week encourages us to recognize ahead of time that we may face negative feedback from those who are benefiting from the systems of this world, even when they are our relatives. Working for a more compassionate, just, and safe world for everyone is hard work, and I believe it’s worth it. We can still be honest about how hard it actually is. We can use these difficulties as waymarks to remind us that we are in the right story. Rather than discouraging us and causing us to quit, these difficulties can spur us to keep pressing on, leaning into the work.

Justice is a touchstone for ensuring that we are interpreting our readings in a life giving way. Is family rejection part of our story because we’re standing up for justice? Then we are in the right story. Are we rejecting a family member because they are different? That is unjust and not the story Jesus calls us to.

Our reading this week doesn’t just call us to count the cost.It also calls us to recognize that if we are being rejected for doing what it right, we do not bear responsibility. We need not blame ourselves for being rejected by our families because we are different or because we are standing up for those who are different. Rejection, unfortunately, may be part of our work of working for a just world.

Count that cost, and work for justice nonetheless.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Share an experience where also faced rejection for standing up for others being harmed. Discuss with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


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

Salvation as Liberation, Reparation, and Societal Healing

Herb Montgomery | January 11, 2019

Picture of earth with this week's article title.

“Jesus’ vision for this world was not to condemn it, wipe it out, and make a new one. Jesus pictured a God who loved our world: a God who dreamed of this world’s healing, reparation, and transformation. Jesus’ vision wasn’t to wipe our world out and start all over, but to see our world healed . . . Salvation is understood in the gospels not in terms of penalty and payment but in terms of restoration and healing in the context of the violence, injustice, and oppression faced by multitudes in our present world. Salvation as a post mortem fire insurance policy finds no place in the gospels.”

“For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17)

My wife and I purchased a home almost fifteen years ago now. It’s an American foursquare from the turn of the 20th Century. We thought it would be a beautiful adventure to restore an old home together. We wanted to do all the work ourselves, slowly, as we could afford it. So today, we live in an ongoing construction. The journey has hardly been what we thought it would be.

Some people look at our home today alongside the before pictures and say, “Herb, why didn’t you just condemn the building, bulldoze it, and build a new house?” That would have been easier, but it wasn’t the choice we made. The house, though in need of restoration, had great “bones.” But getting it into shape has been a lot of work.

John’s gospel includes an interesting story. Nicodemus comes to talk to Jesus in the night. And in the middle of their conversation, Jesus tells him:

“God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17)

Contrary to many “end-time” preachers, Jesus’ vision for this world was not to condemn it, wipe it out, and make a new one. Jesus pictured a God who loved our world: a God who dreamed of this world’s healing, reparation, and transformation. Jesus’ vision wasn’t to wipe our world out and start all over, but to see our world healed.

The word in the passage most translated as “saved,” sozo, can just as easily and accurately be translated as healed. Salvation is understood in the gospels not in terms of penalty and payment but in terms of restoration and healing in the context of the violence, injustice, and oppression faced by multitudes in our present world. Salvation as a post mortem fire insurance policy finds no place in the gospels. 

John’s gospel defines salvation more holistically. What do we see Jesus doing with the majority of his time in all four of the canonical gospels? We see him going from place to place to place bringing healing and liberation. When I began to look at our world through the lens of healing and liberation rather than the lens of a fire insurance it shifted something in me.

In Luke 19, we find the story of Zacchaeus, a tax collector. He was responsible for participating in a system that benefited the wealthy, including himself, while impoverishing many. 

The next thing the story tells us about Zacchaeus is the tree he had climbed. As in his own life, he had climbed higher and higher but as he sits in the tree, he realizes that the ladder he’d been climbing was leaning against the wrong wall. 

Jesus comes to the spot where Zacchaeus is lodged in the tree and tells him to climb down. “I’m going to go to your house today.” 

Everyone begins to whisper, “He’s going to the house of a sinner!” 

The masses disdained tax collectors like Zacchaeus and labelled them “sinners.” 

In Jewish society at this time, the label of “sinner” was not universal. It was a label the political elite used to marginalize and exclude people. There were two distinct groups: the righteous and the sinners. A Jewish person had to be living outside either the Pharisees’ or the Sadducees’ interpretations of the teachings of Moses to be labelled a “sinner” or “unclean.” Though they were born into the community of Abraham’s covenant, they could be labelled as living in such a way that excluded them from the hope and promises of their Jewish heritage.

(The Sadducees were much more conservative than the Pharisees, which served to marginalize more people as sinners. The Pharisees used more liberal interpretations and therefore were more popular.) 

This pattern of marginalization was Zacchaeus’ story. He was a Jew by birth, and so a son of Abraham, but on the basis of his complicity with the Romans, he was labelled a “sinner,” an Other, an outsider. 

This is why the people in the story were upset that Jesus planned to go to Zacchaeus’ house. Up to this point in Luke, Jesus had practiced a preferential option for the poor, yet here he was now, associating with someone responsible for making many people poor. 

Grace doesn’t mean letting someone off the hook. Genuine grace transforms oppressors, just as it liberates the oppressed. Did Jesus care that Zacchaeus was responsible for a system that was repressing so many? Absolutely. Yet something had already changed inside of Zacchaeus; we aren’t told how, and we aren’t told when. 

Before Jesus could respond to the crowd’s accusation that Jesus was going to the home of a sinner, though, Zacchaeus interrupts:

“Look, Lord! 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.” (Luke 19:8)

Zacchaeus was changing. As he climbed down from the tree, he was also climbing down from his position of power, prestige, and public privilege. Also, he was not seeking simple forgiveness. 

Zacchaeus understood that following Jesus would involve him making reparations to those he had exploited. It would also involve him going beyond direct reparations to a kind of wealth redistribution to the poor because of his role in an economic system that drove many into poverty. I’m reminded of the words of Nelson Mandela who stated, “Like slavery, like apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is manmade and it can be overcome by the actions of human beings.” (Address at the Make Poverty History campaign, London, England, February 3, 2005.) The father of Latin liberation theology, Gustavo Gutiérrez, wrote: 

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

Today, in a world where poverty is not the product of scarcity because we produce more than we can possibly need, and poverty results from unwillingness to embrace our interconnectedness and share, these words ring true: “There was a time when poverty was considered to be an unavoidable fate, but such a view is no longer possible or responsible. Now we know that poverty is not simply a misfortune; it is an injustice.” (Remembering the Poor: An Interview with Gustavo Gutiérrez)

 Zacchaeus followed Jesus. He didn’t only believe another world was possible. He actually moved toward that world. Jesus responded to him by saying:

“Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” (Luke 19:9)

Right there, then, at that very moment “salvation”—healing—had come to Zacchaeus’ house. 

What would it mean for salvation or healing to come to your house right now? Would it come in the form of liberation for you and the community you belong to? Or would it, like it did for Zacchaeus, come in the form of your transformation: you taking up the work of liberation with others working for their freedom and regaining your own humanity as you go? In our world where inequality and injustice are most often rooted in disparities based on race, gender, education, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, class, ability, and more, what would Zacchaeus-like salvation look like for you?

“For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but to [heal] the world through him.” (John 3:17)

HeartGroup Application

Healing our world can take a myriad of different forms. This week, here in the U.S. we find ourselves in the midst of a heated debate over our treatment of Jesus’ “strangers” and what, if not ended by this Saturday, could be the longest government shutdown in the history of the U.S. I’ver heard from many of you who follow RHM who are federal employees. I’ve heard the stories of how you feel as if you are being held for ransom as you continue to go without pay, some of you expected to show up to work regardless.

Last April our book of the month for RHM’s annual suggested reading course was Rev. Kelly Brown Douglass Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God.  In the very first chapter, in the section titled The Making of Cherished Property: The Immigration Paradox, Douglass lays out the history of racism that has ever been at the heart of our immigration debates.  This week I would like to return to this chapter. Read and discuss this chapter as a group. How does this history inform how you consider what happening presently along the southern border of the U.S.?

Just this week, Jim Wallis of Sojourners, a Christian magazine dedicated to Jesus and societal justice, implored his readers: “Right now, it’s important that you tell your senator to pass funding bills to restore the operation of government agencies, without approving Donald Trump’s 2,200-mile monument to racism.” I agree on both counts.  Right now, it is important to be contacting your Congressional representatives.  And Wallis’ is correct in naming Trump’s wall as a “2,200-mile monument to racism,” especially in the context of the history of our immigration debate here in the U.S.

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus condemns the choices of his followers who failed to follow his teachings in moments such as these. “I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” (Matthew 25:43) Besides contacting your representatives, what else can you as a HeartGroup do to be a source of healing in your community presently?  Sharing an informed summary of our history to those who are misinformed in our daily discussions with others? Providing support for those seeking asylum in this country either directly if you live in an area along the souther border or through supporting an organization that is providing help? Do you have any federal workers in your HeartGroup that you can surround and come under and support during this difficult time for them, as well?  Come up with something you can do as a group and do it. 

Rev. John Dorhaur, who is the General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, said it rightly this week, “We are faced with a moral crisis as a country, not a border crisis, nor a national emergency.” History is being made.  Let’s make sure we are on the right side of it. 

Thank you for checking in with us this week.  I’m so glad you are here. 

Next weekend I will be in Arizona officiating the wedding of two friends of mine, but I’m going to try and get out next week’s podcast/eSight before I go. 

Until then, remember, another world is possible. 

I love each of you dearly.

I’ll see you next week.

Courage in the Face of Setbacks

Herb Montgomery | January 4, 2019


“Something for us shifted because of this meeting. As the Rev. Dr. Emilie Townes so eloquently states in Journey to Liberation, ‘When you start with an understanding that God loves everyone, justice isn’t very far behind.'”


“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)

I’m sit here this morning, after the holidays, contemplating the future of Renewed Heart Ministries. This year will be our twelfth year: Renewed Heart Ministries has been sharing the message of love and inclusion for over a decade. 

But four and a half years ago, something changed. We were introduced to a precious community of people who are the objects of God’s love and who most deeply face marginalization on a daily basis. Something for us shifted because of this meeting. As the Rev. Dr. Emilie Townes so eloquently states in Journey to Liberation, “When you start with an understanding that God loves everyone, justice isn’t very far behind.”

In 2014, Renewed Heart Ministries started to become a welcoming and affirming ministry. We have become more intentional and passionate about the intersection of the teachings of Jesus in the gospels and our work today of increasing the love, compassion, action, and justice in society. This has been a time of rebirth and rebuilding here at RHM, and we believe we’re a much healthier ministry with a much healthier focus, as a result. 

Yet these changes have not been without deep loss, both of former friends and of support.

This is why this week’s text spoke to me this morning. 

“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God . . . ” (Mark 1:14)

John was Jesus’ mentor. He had refused to follow in his father’s footsteps and be a priest of the Temple state. Possible reasons could have been the Temple state’s exploitation of the poor and it’s complicity with Rome as means of survival. John had chosen instead another very Jewish option. He chose to stand in the stream of actions found among the Hebrew prophets, the habitat of the wilderness, speaking truth to power. 

For every action there is a reaction. And power typically responds to those who seek to name injustice. The reaction of Herod to John’s outspoken critiques and call for change was initially to have him arrested. Herod expected the arrest to silence John. Those who have read the story know that John is eventually executed. At this point in the story, though, he is simply arrested. He is silenced by being forcefully removed from the masses.

Acts like these by those in power are purposed to intimidate others and discourage them from pursuing similar courses. They are acts of terror at worst, and acts of warning at best. 

John’s imprisonment by the political leader Herod had to have affected Jesus. It was a significant setback, and possibly also a warning. Jesus was setting out on a course for which John had cleared the way or blazed a path. In the words of Isaiah, John had been 

“A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” (Isaiah 40:3)

Would Jesus turn back? Would Jesus abandon his solidarity with the marginalized sectors of his society? Or would he renew his purpose in the face of John’s imprisonment? 

For me, what Jesus did next shows his courage. Jesus chooses to stand in solidarity with the vulnerable and marginalized of his society in the face of deeply troubling, political consequences. John had just been imprisoned, and it’s immediately afterwards that Jesus chooses to stand before the masses and resolutely say,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and 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)

Jesus is choosing the community of those whose “spirit” has been broken by systems of injustice. I think of those today who no longer have the spirit to keep fighting for a just world, those who have lost faith that another world is possible.

Jesus chose those who mourn because of the present structure. I think of parents like those of Trayvon Martin, or more recently, 8 year old Felipe Gomez Alonzo and 7 year old Jakelin Caal Maquin, whose hearts have been broken by deep loss caused by our society’s systemic injustice. This is loss so deep it seems at times that it can never be repaired. 

Jesus chose the “meek,” those this world typically walks all over. He chose the community of the ones hungering and thirsting for righteousness—the Hebraic idea of a societal, distributive justice, an end of violence, and an end to oppression.

He also affirms the community of the merciful. I think of those who see immigrants seeking asylum and welcome them rather than coldly stating that they deserve harsh treatment.

He names the pure in heart. In our time, I think of those who refuse to be shaped by capitalism’s priorities of profit over people. And he names peacemakers, not peacekeepers: those who are willing to disturb the peace to work for a distributive justice that will give birth to genuine peace, where everyone has enough, and no one has too much while others go without.

Finally, Jesus (I wonder if he was thinking of John at this moment) mentions those persecuted for the cause of justice: those who speak truth to power, who name bigotry, exclusion, marginalization, exploitation, and oppression and experience deep loss as a result of their outspokenness. He mentions those who are insulted by the privileged and who are falsely labeled as dangerous, evil, and heretical, or “too radical.” 

Yet it is this community of the poor, oppressed, marginalized, abused and mourning that Jesus names the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In learning to listen to those who experience is different from our own, those who are the most vulnerable to a variety of injustices that we begin to see [i.e. “light of the world”]. It is in learning to listen to the stories and the voices of communities who daily face oppression that we encounter the choice to change and the possibility of our social life, our life together as a human family, being preserved [i.e. “salt of the earth”].

I cannot help but think that Jesus might have also been afraid to stand in solidarity with those this world makes last. Would he also be arrested like John? Could choosing and modeling a preferential option for those society makes last, in one degree or another, even cost him his life?

We all know how the Jesus story ended. At the beginning of the Jesus story, though, it was still being played out. 

This year, it means everything to me that, as he pondered his future if he, like John, continued to walk alongside and advocate for the oppressed, Jesus chose to keep believing that another world was possible. Jesus chose to keep working toward a world where those are presently made “last” would then be prioritized as those presently favored as “first” (See Matthew 20:8-16).

Lastly, this contemplation of John and Jesus, also makes me think of where Renewed Heart Ministries is today and what the future may hold for us. Has Renewed Heart Ministries faced setbacks as a result of our choice to stand alongside those being marginalized? In one sense, yes.

But in another very real sense, we are in a better place today than we have ever been. Never before has the Jesus story so deeply resonated with us. I’m thankful for those who have taken the time and invested their energy to open our eyes. And I’m thankful for those who follow us who were willing to have their eyes opened, too, alongside us. 

Like Jesus, we choose to work for a world where those presently made last are treated the same as those presently prioritized as first. Today, there are so many forms of “being made last.” But our differences—race, gender, education, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, class, ability, etc.—don’t make us less than another. Humanity is richly diverse, but we are all still family. 

And it’s for this human family that, alongside those who have gone before us, those presently making similar choices, and those who will come after us, we here at RHM dedicate 2019 to continuing the work of shaping our world into a safer, just, and more compassionate home for all, especially those Jesus might call blessed members of the kingdom of God.

“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)

HeartGroup Application

This week, as a group, open up Matthew 5:3-12 and explore through discussion, if Jesus were to speak these words today, whom would he say were the blessed recipients of his vision for human community? Whom would he say would inherit the earth?  Whom would he say would see God?  Whom would he name?  In 2014 I was a guest speaker at my first Kinship Kampmeeting. Here is a link to how this experience impacted whom I chose in making my own list of beatitudes then. This is an example of this exercise. Look at our world today and come up with your own list.

Discuss how you, too, like Jesus, like John, can work alongside these communities to bring concrete change this year.  

And then pick something from your discussion and begin doing it. 

May 2019 bring us closer to rather than farther away from that pearl of great price, that world where everyone is safe, everyone has enough, and where compassion and love are the basis of our relating to one another.

Happy New Year to each of you. 

Thank you for checking in with us. I’m so glad you did.

I love each of you dearly.

I’ll see you next week.

JESUS FROM THE EDGES

hand holding circle of light

Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

Herb Montgomery | August 10, 2018


“These societal structures all function based on the variables of race, gender, sexuality, gender identity and expression, current economic status, ability, age, education, ethnicity, religion, criminal record, and more . . . What does it mean for a Jesus follower to take seriously Jesus’ solidarity with those relegated to the margins and/or undersides of his society?”


“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call [those you call] righteous, but [those you call] sinners.” (Matthew 9:13)

In previous series, we have discussed how people in Jesus’ society used the labels of “righteous” or “sinner”  to politically, socially, economically, and religiously gain power and privilege for themselves or to marginalize and exploit those who were vulnerable. (You can review this in The Lost Coin and Solidarity with the Crucified Community.) This week I want to build on this idea.

In that society, how well a person conformed to popular interpretations of the Torah determined where they fell on al spectrum between righteous/sinner or clean/unclean. The more righteous or “pure” one was deemed to be, the more their society centered them. They were more privileged. They had power. They were the elite. 

Two groups in the Sanhedrin that competed for power were the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Sadducees interpreted the Torah more conservatively than the Pharisees. This made conforming to their interpretation much more difficult. In many cases, their definition of “righteous” was only viable for those who had the economic means to conform, i.e. those with money who could afford to live the way the Sadducees deemed pure. This ensured that the Sadducees remained in power under the guise of fidelity to the Torah. 

The second group, the Pharisees , was much more liberal in interpreting the Torah. This made them much more popular with the masses. Under the Pharisees’ teaching, it was easier to be righteous and avoid being labeled a sinner and thus marginalized. The Pharisees were the popular interpreters of the “teachings of Moses.” Being favored by the majority of the people gave them social power, yet they also preserved their position as the ones who set the standard of “clean” and “unclean.” 

This was a social, political, economic and religious system that produced winners and losers. In this context, an itinerant Jewish teacher from Galilee named Jesus emerged. He stood apart from both schools of interpretation and came preaching a gospel where the “kingdom” belonged to those left out of both the Sadducees’ and Pharisees’ determination of who was righteous. With this in mind, read carefully the following passages. 

Luke 5:30—“But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’”

Matthew 9:13—“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Luke 14:13—“But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind . . .”

Matthew 11:19—“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

Mark 2:15-16—“While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Luke 19:7—“All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

Today in the U.S., our system creates winners and losers, too. Politically, we also have two parties that compete for popular approval while gaining power in a system that still privileges the elites. Economically, our system produces enormous wealth disparity, with those who “have not” being the natural result of creating those who “have.” Socially and religiously, we have complex systems that create an us versus them worldview and label those who are in and those who are out. 

These societal structures all function based on the variables of race, gender, sexuality, gender identity and expression, current economic status, ability, age, education, ethnicity, religion, criminal record, and more. Our interconnectedness, our part-of-one-another is continually ignored. Rather than seeing every person’s differences as a testament to the rich variety we possess as a human family, we use these differences to “other” in ways that label some as “righteous” and others as “sinner.” Those of us whose differences place them in a minority category are still members of the human race, and still part of us.

What does it mean for a Jesus follower to take seriously Jesus’ solidarity with those relegated to the margins and/or undersides of his society? How can we live out that kind of solidarity in our context today? What does it mean to stand and work alongside those who are pushed to the edges of our society?

In the 1960s and 1970s, Christians developed a keen awareness of Jesus’ solidarity with those labeled as outsiders, oppressed, marginalized and/or exploited. This emergence was global. In South America, Latin Liberation theology was born. In North America, other liberation theologies, such as Black Liberation theology, Feminist theology, Amerindian theology, womanist theology, and queer theology arose. In the east, Asian theologies of liberation were born. Gustavo Gutierrez comments on the importance of this rising consciousness.

“Black, Hispanic, and Amerindian theologies in the United States, theologies arising in the complex contexts of Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific, and the especially fruitful thinking of those who have adopted the feminist perspective—all these have meant that for the first time in many centuries theology is being done outside the customary European and North American centers. The result in the so-called First World has been a new kind of dialogue between traditional thinking and new thinking. In addition, outside the Christian sphere efforts are underway to develop liberation theologies from Jewish and Muslim perspectives.  We are thus in the presence of a complex phenomenon developing on every side and representing a great treasure for the Christian churches and for their dialogue with other religions. The clarification I mentioned earlier is thus not limited to the Latin American context but affects a process and a search that are being conducted on a very broad front today. These considerations should not make us forget, however, that we are not dealing here solely with an intellectual pursuit. Behind liberation theology are Christian communities, religious groups, and peoples, who are becoming increasingly conscious that the oppression and neglect from which they suffer are incompatible with their faith in Jesus Christ (or, speaking more generally, with their religious faith). These concrete, real-life movements are what give this theology its distinctive character; in liberation theology, faith and life are inseparable. This unity accounts for its prophetic vigor and its potentialities. (Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation [15th Anniversary Edition])

Womanist scholar and theologian Jacquelyn Grant comments, “Theology as developed in Europe and America is limited when it approaches the majority of human beings…  nns Liberation theologies including Christian feminists, charge that the experience out of which Christian theology has emerged is not universal experience but the experience of the dominant culture . . . liberationists therefore, propose that theology must emerge out of particular experiences of the oppressed people of God.” (in White Women’s Christ and Black Women’s Jesus, pp. 1, 10)

Making space for these voices and attending to their insights is so very important. Here at Renewed Heart Ministries we believe that the teachings of Jesus —a 1st Century Jewish prophet of the poor from Galilee—can still speak into and inform our work of survival, resistance, liberation, reparation and transformation today. For that to be life giving, we must consider those teachings through the lens of the experiences of the people Jesus would have been addressing if he were walking among us today. As Ched Myers states in Binding the Strong Man, “The fact remains that those on the peripheries will have ‘eyes to see’ many things that those at the center do not.” 

From the experiences of those now in a social location similar to the social location of those Jesus taught  we can see how those teachings help us in our work of making our world a safe, just, compassionate home for everyone. As someone who has been engaged in ministry for over twenty years, these perspectives, voices, stories of people fighting to reclaim their humanity in the context of their faith traditions have been the key to helping me rediscover and reclaim my own humanity as well. I resonate deeply with the words of Aboriginal elder Lilla Watson, “If you have come to help me, please go home. But if you have come because your liberation is somehow bound with mine, then we may work together.”  I don’t work alongside communities working for survival and liberation out of charity. It is beside them that I rediscover my own humanity, too.

If one is new to these perspectives, where does one start? One place to begin is by exposing yourself to the writings and works of those who belong to these communities. An easy way to do this is to follow our yearly reading course at RHM. We announce each month’s book at the beginning of each month. You can sign up to be notified of each month’s book by signing up for our weekly news and eSights emails here. The point is not so much where one begins as it is to simply begin. One resource will lead you to another, and over time, you’ll see the difference these voices make to you.

Jesus did not call those who the status quo places “first.” He instead stood alongside those his culture relegated to “last” place (see Matthew 20:8-16). He came not calling the insiders, but the people those in power had labeled as “sinners.” 

What does it look like for us to do the same in our time?

“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call [those you call] righteous, but [those you call] sinners.” (Matthew 9:13)

HeartGroup Application 

  1. Pick a book from our book list at RHM that you as a group can read and discus together. 
  2. Read a chapter a week and determine a time each week you can meeting to discuss together what you have read.
  3. Discuss how you can put what you’ve read each week into practice and do so.

I’m so glad you checked in with us, this week. Wherever you are today, keep living in love, survival, resistance, liberation, reparation and transformation. Till the only world that remains is a world where only love reigns. 

Another world is possible. 

I love each of you dearly.

I’ll see you next week.


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

Pyramids, Circles and a Shared Table: Jesus’ Vision for Human Community (Part 1)

by Herb Montgomery | May 3, 2018

Pyramid of Capitalism


“Politics answers the question of who gets what. So Jesus was not a religious figure as much as he was a political one. He did not fundamentally challenge his Jewish religion, at least not much more than his predecessor Hillel did. He did challenge the Jewish elites of his time, much more than Hillel did. As we’ve discussed before, Hillel made concessions, such as the prozbul, that centered the wealthy while endeavoring to take care of the poor. Jesus’ teachings centered the poor and gave them the entire “kingdom.” Jesus’ teachings were political.”


Luke 6:20-26: “Looking at his disciples, he said:

‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.’”

The domination structure of Jesus’ society was similar to ours today. Its structure was a combination of two two-dimensional shapes, a triangle and a circle. 

Let’s talk about the circle first. 

Circles have an inside and an outside. Societies shaped in the form of a circle can have a strongly defined border that distinguishes between insiders and outsiders. They can also have certain tests to decide who’s in and who’s out. Societal circles can also have people whose job it is to patrol the border to make sure no one from the outside is included and everyone knows when someone who was previously an insider no longer should be.

Control for circular social structures rests in the center of the circle. The more one adheres to the rules and identity of the circle, the closer one is to the center. The more someone varies, the more they are pushed to the margins of the circle. Even within the circle, among those who are insiders, some people will find themselves somewhere between the center of the circle and the edges.

What about the triangle?

The circle and the triangle are both hierarchical structures. Where the hierarchy in the circle is from the center out toward the margins, triangular societies have a top comprised of a few elites and a base composed of the majority. In triangles that practice domination and control, the closer one is to the top, the more power, privilege, control and ability to dominate others one also possesses. Your social location in the triangle determines the level to which you experience these privileges, and you can find yourself closer to the top in some areas of your life but closer to the bottom of the triangle in others. The triangle typically is structured to benefit those at the top at the expense and exploitation of those at the bottom. 

What happens when we combine these structures?

The combination of these ways of structuring human society is a cone. Within this cone, the closer one is to the center, the closer one also is to the top. The more one is marginalized, the more one finds themselves at the bottom of their society.

This hybrid of the circle and triangle shapes, the cone, is the shape of the society Jesus lived in in the 1st Century. It’s also the shape of many of our religious and civil societies today. In Luke’s version of the Jesus story, Jesus states that people his society structure had made poor, hungry, or weep would be specifically “blessed” by his vision for transforming human society. Jesus wasn’t saying it’s a blessing to be on the margins or at the bottom of society. He was saying that if you’re on the margins, you who his gospel was especially for. As we discussed in Directed Good News, those on the margins in Jesus’ society heard his gospel as good news. 

Matthew’s version of the Jesus story backs this up too. As we discussed last month in A Preferential Option for the Vulnerable, people the system had left too broken and impoverished in their spirit to keep trying, those whom the system had steamrolled over, those who hungered and thirsted for the world to be put right—these were the ones Jesus’ vision for humanity was especially targeted at (see Matthew 5:3; Luke 1:80; Matthew 5:5 and 5:6.[1]) These were the ones who had been labeled as “sinners” by those at the center/top of their society, and who, because of that labelling, had been pushed to the edges and underside of their community. They were drawn to the hope for change in Jesus’ gospel: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”(Luke 15:1-2) The term “sinners” is not a universal term here. It is used pejoratively to push some to the margins and bottom of the cone. It was a label those in power used to other people. 

Jesus’ vision for human community, his shared table, specifically inclused those his cone-shaped society had excluded. It also had an economic component. Consider the reversal of economic exploitation and reparation found in Luke’s story of an oppressor who embraced Jesus’ teachings.

“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 to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! 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.’” (Luke 19:7-8)

Jesus’ shared table required those at the top/center of their societal cone to pay reparations to those whom they had exploited and pushed down. Tax collectors were economically part of the elite, but socially and politically within Jewish culture they were pushed to the outside and labeled as sinners because of their occupational cooperation with the Empire subjugating Judea and Galilee. They were privileged in certain areas of their lives but marginalized in others.

Jesus’ shared table was also political.

When I use the term “political,” I don’t mean partisan. Politics means related to the polis, the members of a community. Whenever you have two or more people doing life together, you have politics. Politics answers the question of who gets what. So Jesus was not a religious figure as much as he was a political one. He did not fundamentally challenge his Jewish religion, at least not much more than his predecessor Hillel did. He did challenge the Jewish elites of his time, much more than Hillel did. As we’ve discussed before, Hillel made concessions, such as the prozbul, that centered the wealthy while endeavoring to take care of the poor. Jesus’ teachings centered the poor and gave them the entire “kingdom.” Jesus’ teachings were political.

Recently, while chatting with a friend, I bumped into an often repeated misconception of how things worked in Jesus’ society. My friend claimed that Jesus never challenged the Roman civil government but only challenged the religious establishment of Judea. My friend went on to state that Jesus’ followers should ignore the state and simply focus on bringing about religious reform within their own traditions. 

This is far from how Jewish society actually functioned in the 1st Century. Today our culture believes that church and state should be separated. But Jesus’ society didn’t have these distinctions. My friend claimed that Jesus was only focused on impacting the religious views of his community, especially as they related to the temple. But this simply isn’t true, historically. 

First, the temple was not solely religious, and it was not merely the center of the Jewish “church.” The temple was the center of the Jewish state. The priests and the Sanhedrin were civil authorities, not only religious ones. In 1st Century Judea, there was not a separation between “church and state” or religious and civil duty as we understand either today. The Torah governed both, and they were not two distinct areas of life. They were just life. 

The temple received taxes that were to be redistributed to the poor. That’s why the temple functioned as a centralized banking system through which money lenders lent their monies. When the poor took over the temple in the 60s CE, the very first thing they did was to burn the debt ledgers of the temple, which until then recorded all loans. By storming the temple, they forced political and economic change: a year of Jubilee and the forgiveness of all debts. 

Secondly, Jesus was a Jewish laborer, not a Roman citizen. He didn’t have access to Rome to protest for change. But he did have access to his own state authority, the temple in Jerusalem. Note that even this distinction between the temple and Rome is not completely accurate either. Rome governed Judea through the temple. Rome determined who would be High Priest each year, and it was the temple that funneled collected tribute back to Rome. The Jewish aristocracy gained privilege and power by cooperating with Rome, and Rome received a degree of control over Judea by using the Jewish temple state in Jerusalem. 

So when Jesus overturned tables in the temple-state, this was not only a religious protest; it was political protest as well. Jesus staged his demonstration in the temple with the money changers in solidarity with and on behalf of the poor who were being economically exploited by the Temple-state. Jesus was indicting both Rome and his own state. This is why his execution in response to the temple demonstration was at the hand of Rome, on a Roman cross. 

Ched Myers confirms this in his commentary on the book of Mark, and notes the deep implications for all who should choose to follow this political Jesus.

“Jesus has revealed that his messiahship means political confrontation with, not rehabilitation of, the imperial state. Those who wish to ‘come after him’ will have to identify themselves with his subversive program. The stated risk is that the disciple will face the test of loyalty under interrogation by state authorities.” (Binding the Strong Man: a political reading of Mark’s story of Jesus, p. 247)

When answering the question of who should get what, Jesus stated his political views:

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is [in people not profit], there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12.32-34)

The poor, the marginalized, the pushed down, these were those to whom Jesus’ political views were good news. What he taught them was the gospel of hope. Gustavo Gutierrez accurately reminded us that this hope is more than a forward expectation of charity. This hope is for the creation of an entirely different social order:

“Love of neighbor is an essential component of Christian life. But as long as I apply that term only to the people who cross my path and come asking me for help, my world will remain pretty much the same. Individual almsgiving and social reformism is a type of love that never leaves its own front porch . . . On the other hand my world will change greatly if I go out to meet other people on their path and consider them as my neighbor, as the good Samaritan did… The gospel tells us that the poor are the supreme embodiment of our neighbor. It is this option that serves as the focus for a new way of being human and Christian in today’s Latin America. But the existence of the poor . . . is not neutral on the political level or innocent of ethical implications. Poor people are by-products of the system under which we live and for which we are responsible . . . That is why the poverty of the poor is not a summons to alleviate their plight with acts of generosity but rather a compelling obligation to fashion an entirely different social order.” (Gustavo Gutiérrez; Liberation Praxis and Christian Faith, p. 14)

When we follow Jesus, we don’t build a pyramid, a circle, or a cone. We build a shared table.

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” (Luke 6:20-22)

HeartGroup Application

  1. Go through the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and find five of Jesus’ political views.
  2. What difference does it make to see Jesus not simply as a religious figure but as a political figure as well? What difference does it make to see Jesus’ temple protest not only as a religious protest but also as a political protest of those in power in response to their economic exploitation of the poor?
  3. Is there a difference between working toward a politic of distributive justice where everyone is safe and has enough, and there is equity, protection and compassion, and Christians wanting to co-opt political power in the spirit of domination and subjugation to legislate their moral views? Discuss this with your HeartGroup.

I’m so glad you checked in with us this week. 

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

I love each you dearly.

Another world is possible. 

I’ll see you next week.


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[1]
Matthew 5:3—“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Luke 1:80—And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.

Matthew 5:4-5— Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 

Matthew 5:6—Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.