The central focus of Christianity is love. The nature of God is love. Love is the distinguishing mark of a follower of Jesus. The great commandment is to love God, all others (including enemies), ourselves, and the natural world God created. Without love we are clanging cymbals.
In his book How to be an Adult in Relationships – The Five Keys to Mindful Loving,David Richo exhorts us to come topeople with unconditional presence characterized by:
- Attention: Bring sensitivity to the needs of others; listen deeply. When feelings are listened to respectfully, understood, and empathized with, trust and safety result.
- Acceptance: Receive people respectfully; nonjudgmentally accept them for who they are. Offer approval; love unconditionally; let people know you are always there for them and will never give up on them.
- Appreciation: Express admiration of and gratitude for others, communicate delight in others, acknowledge their potential
- Affection: Give appropriate touch, kindliness, considerateness, thoughtfulness, playfulness, romance, nearness, presence, compassion, empathy
- Allowing: Offer to others the freedom and flexibility to grow and develop without controlling or manipulating
Come to people, not at them.
Do not come atpeople with:
- Fear, worry, defensiveness
- Desire, trying to get something out of the other person
- Judgment, being caught up in my own opinion about another
- Control, the need to fix, advise, change
- Illusion, denial, projection, fantasy, idealization, depreciation, wishes that obscure reality
Richo, David, How to be an Adult in Relationships – The Five Keys to Mindful Loving, Shambhala, Boulder, 2002
Fishing with James
(Following Jesus Contemporaneously)
Your name is James. You grew up in the fishing business, working the seine nets, sailing and rowing all over the large Galilean lake, gathering the catch into baskets, hauling them to the fresh market, salting the rest for the long journey via donkeys to Jerusalem to sell from the family stall. You’re a fisherman like your father and brother. Your grandfather fished this lake, as did his father. Hard work, fresh air – decent living, all things considered.
Your family’s devout – scripture and prayers daily, synagogue on Shabbat, trips to the city for the holy festivals. You are oriented towards God.
Traveling rabbis come and go. Most are only mildly interesting. Unfortunately, the Romans never go away. Soldiers, shields, spears, pop-up rebellions followed by brutal random crucifixions. A terrorized populace. The Romans like it that way.
There are sell-outs among your own people – tax farmers and tax collectors – Jews who cheat fellow Jews in order to become rich in service to the oppressors.
You’ve thought about joining the Zealots. You see their point. Maybe violence is the only answer. Jacob Maccabees overthrew the Seleucid occupiers long ago. Maybe freedom-fighting terrorists can boot out these Romans.
He was just walking down the beach, this rabbi. He called. Very simply: “Follow me.”
There was something different – radical – loving – powerful – arresting – impossible to ignore. You glanced at dad and he nodded. Simultaneously, you and your brother leapt from the skiff, leaving dad under a pile of nets. And you followed. Dad smiled proudly.
You didn’t follow him because you needed sins forgiven. You already believed God forgave sin.
You didn’t follow him so you could go to heaven when you died. You already believed in the final resurrection to life.
You weren’t seeking freedom from any addictions, or healing for a marriage. You were not sick or crippled. You weren’t expecting wealth, prestige, or honor.
You most certainly were not thinking that following this rabbi would lead to political or military power.
Following him was exhilarating – seeing all those signs and wonders, the crowds, the adulation, demons fleeing, people healed, proclaiming a new kind of kingdom.
After you witnessed some miracles, the thought entered your mind that this messiah might somehow miraculously free your people from Rome. It was a comforting thought until he began to talk about dying and washing feet.
And then it all fell apart.
Crown of thorns.
Crucifixion. Death by slow suffocation.
Tomb. Tears. Shock. Sorrow. Fear. Hiding.
We’re next. Was it all just an unrealistic pipe dream?
The sky split. The sun went dark. The earth shook.
How did the entrance rock get over there?
How could the grave clothes be still wound up, but embracing no body?
Is Mary of Magdala to be believed? She’s just a woman, and one who used to be insane at that. Maybe she’s hallucinating.
Confusion. Locked doors.
And there he was. Alive. Risen. Eating fish.
And so, you followed him still. It cost you your life.
As by the shore of Tiberius, so now after the resurrection, you did not follow him for personal forgiveness, or in order to get to heaven. Following him didn’t give you political power or wealth – you quickly learned to hate both.
Why did you follow him?
Because on that Friday everything changed. The works of the devil were defeated. The evil principalities and powers were overcome. Human religions and empires were rejected and doomed.
You recognized that all of creation is interconnected – Jews, Romans, women, men, fish, mountains, stars, and seine nets, angels, demons, and seraphim – to touch one is to touch all.
The rabbi who taught, healed, changed water to wine, washed feet, broke bread, died and rose again touched all.
A new kingdom has come. God’s kingdom. The domain over which God reigns. An upside down kingdom where the weak are strong, the poor are rich, the meek inherit everything, enemies are loved, violence and coercion are unknown, and leaders are servants. Here, in this kingdom, the undocumented refugee is welcomed with open arms, the prisoner is freed, and the warrior exchanges his weapons for gardening tools.
I am geographically, culturally, and chronologically a long way from you, James; but I too, follow him. Not just to gain a ticket to heaven; certainly not to succeed in the way most define success. As it was with you, following him does not lead to a position of power or control, but rather a place of love and service.
Around me are some who claim to follow him. They do so for power. They do so for wealth. They do so for advantage. They imagine themselves running the world. They follow so they can have their best life now. They do so because they are afraid of hell. They do so out of guilt or obligation. They do so because their peers do so.
Ah, but theirs is a false messiah. Theirs is a warrior god, a militaristic nationalistic ethnic messiah.
Unseen and unknown by them, Messiah reigns. King of all kings whose very heart is pure altruistic cruciform never-ending love.
2 Corinthians 3:17: Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
John 8:34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
Galatians 5: 1: It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Freedom is NOT:
- Doing whatever you want
- Disregarding what is best for others
- The ability to act without constraints or control by any higher authority
- Being out of prison
- No rules, no morals, no ethical standards
- Ignoring the public health
- Toting guns
- Waving flags
Freedom, as understood in the Enlightenment, and therefore by the founding fathers of the United States, means to have the independence to pursue ideas, philosophies, and vocations without restraint from government, organized religion, or caste. Scholars and scientists have the freedom to investigate, experiment, and teach without dogmatic restraint. Freedom to question, doubt, think, and probe remain at the heart of scientific and academic pursuit.
Jesus came to set us free. To and from.
- Free from demonic control
- Free from subservience to human empires
- Free from the bondage of human religion
- Free from sin
- Free from selfishness and pride
- Free from fear
- Free from death
- Free from condemnation
- Free from judgment
- Free from injustice
- Free from prejudice
- Free from the myth of redemptive violence
- Freedom from addictions and hatred
- Free to love God, others (including enemies), nature, and ourselves
- Free to be loved
- Free to serve
- Free to think
- Free to doubt
- Free to enjoy one another
- Free to care for nature
- Free to be fully human
- Free to be fully alive
- Free to create
Jesus-freedom is upside down. The greatest is the servant. The weak are strong. The humble inherit. Dying is good. Money and power are eschewed. Caesar is a pawn.
Jesus-freedom never needs to be violently defended. The sign says, “Freedom isn’t free.” Yes, it is. You don’t earn it, deserve it, or defend it. It comes with Jesus.
Ignatian spirituality speaks of interior freedom and indifference. Indifference, in this context, does not mean being apathetic or not caring, but rather holding onto all things – gifts, talents, possessions, relationships, reputations, opinions of others, job titles, life itself – lightly rather than possessively.
Most of us have a tendency to cling, as if by tightly cleaving we could make our worlds safe. Banks, lockboxes, safes, locks, deadbolts, guns, and fear. “Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
The reality, however, is that all is transient. Stuff rusts; houses crumble; health and youth fade away. Even relationships.
Every relationship ends. Death, divorce, distance, disagreement … Seasons turn; the flower fades; the grass withers; the kids throw away your treasures.
Talents and gifts don’t go away unless something assaults the brain, but the context of their use is transitory. Arthritis cripples the artisan’s hands. Job loss, relocation, new discoveries in the field, rapidly changing technology, and shifts in familial dynamics are only a few of the plethora of life events that necessitate a shift in the way and context we use our giftedness.
Self also changes. We grow, learn, deconstruct, rebuild, clarify. I am not who I was ten years ago. (Thank God.)
Clinging to people, clinging to things, clinging to investments, clinging to self, or clinging to the context of our talents is not only a fool’s errand (cling as you might, none of it will last), but is also a sure way to lose your soul.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to follow in my footsteps he must give up all right to himself, take up his cross and follow me. For the man who wants to save his life will lose it; but the man who loses his life for my sake will find it. For what good is it for a man to gain the whole world at the price of his own soul? What could a man offer to buy back his soul once he had lost it?
Missionary Jim Elliott is reported to have said, “A man is not a fool to give up that which he cannot keep in order to keep that which he cannot lose.”
The one thing, the only thing, you cannot lose is Jesus.
When she first became aware he was alive, Mary of Magdala grasped Jesus with all her strength, as if to say, “You got away from me once; you won’t get away again.” The gentle smile said, “No need to cling to me, Mary; you can never lose me; I will never leave you; now I am with you always.”
Let go. The beautiful lightness of being awaits. That is true freedom.
Matthew 16:24-26. The New Testament in Modern English by J. B Phillips copyright © 1960, 1972 J. B. Phillips. Administered by The Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England. Used by Permission.
(One of 147 Maxims inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi,
Circa 7thCentury BC)
Studying the Bible is the primary way to come to deeply know Jesus, but we also learn to know God more intimately as we study nature, others, and ourselves – God’s creation reflects the Creator.
“Let us occupy ourselves entirely in knowing God.”~ Brother Lawrence
Not infrequently I’ve quoted the maxim of Delphi to suggest that self-knowledge leads to despair. Our focus, I said, should be on knowing Jesus, not others or ourselves.
I was wrong.
Or, if not entirely wrong, incomplete.
God made a new covenant with humankind. A covenant is a binding agreement. This new covenant cannot fail because it is an agreement made in the heart of the Triune God. It is, one could say, a binding agreement God made with Godself. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, overflowing with love, redeeming the entire cosmos, including humankind – making all things new.
Jeremiah 31:31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (NRSV)
The new covenant embraces everyone – Jew or Gentile – all ethnicities, all nationalities, all abilities, all genders, all socioeconomic situations. Nations are but a drop in a bucket to God. God holds the high and mighty in derision. (Isaiah 40:15) Infinite, self-sacrificial, enemy-forgiving, omnibenevolent, omnipotent, omnipresent cruciform love overflows from the Divine Trinitarian Heart to all who are weary, all who will but come to Jesus.
Love is the essence of who God is: “God is love.” (ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν – 1 John 4:8,16)
Every human is created in the image of God. Jesus died for every person. No exceptions. Every individual is precious and deeply loved by God. All are welcome. You are the beloved of God. Beloved is your core identity.
Having come to Christ, we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are seated with Christ in the heavenlies (Ephesians 2:6). We are temples housing the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)
Christ is in you. Getting to know you is one way of getting to know Christ. I see Christ in you. I hear Christ speak through you.
Christ is in me. Getting to know myself is a way of getting to know Christ. Much to my amazement, I sometimes see Christ in myself and hear Christ speak through me.
You shall be my people, and I will be your God. (Jeremiah 30:22 ESV)
I have loved you with an everlasting love.(Jeremiah 31:3b ESV)
“The most common form of despair is not being who you are.”~ Søren Kierkegaard
And yet, I often find that I am blocked from knowing myself. Something hinders me from really knowing you.
Often, that something is shame.
Shame is not the same thing as guilt or regret. Guilt is a gift from God. Guilt is the gentle tap of the Holy Spirit guiding, correcting me because my ship has sailed off course. Guilt prevents me from being grounded on the shoal.
Regret is simply looking back over my life and being aware that I’d do some things differently if I could. Very occasionally, life gives us a do-over. Regret can teach us a better way.
Shame, however, is toxic. It is poison; it will literally kill you. Shame is condemnation. Shame is the venomous feeling that we are unlovable. It usually comes from early childhood experiences, and was typically conveyed by parental figures who themselves were shamed by their parents. Shame is often intergenerational. Shame leads to feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, despair, and self-hatred. Shame pushes away the love of God. Shame pushes away the love of others.
Shame is contrary to God’s assurance:
Jeremiah 29:10 For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. (NRSV)
The Great Physician of the Universe would like our permission to rid us of shame. But how do we excise, expurgate, purge deeply imbedded intergenerational shame?
I don’t know.
I have a ton of shame, but I am, I think, starting to learn how to draw out the puss.
Learning to be vulnerable seems like an initial step. Being vulnerable means risk, being open and honest, setting aside pretenses and façades, ceasing to care what others think of me, and being willing to be exposed. It’s scary as hell. To even begin to be vulnerable, I must feel safe. I need to know you love me unconditionally and will stand by me. Some folks have no one like that in their lives other than God. So, begin with God. Be real. Share your base raw feelings. Then, find at least one person with whom you can be entirely open and vulnerable – perhaps a therapist, pastor, or chaplain.
The next step is (I think) lining up my view of me with God’s view of me. After all, God’s view is correct.
The Lord is our:
God promises to:
- Be compassionate
- Give us hope and a glorious future
- Reward us
- Remove all sorrow
- Never leave us
God says that we are:
- Honored children
My third step in ridding myself of shame:
Each day, I spend 15 or 20 minutes sitting quietly, taking deep, long breaths, and repeating a biblical mantra, such as:
- “I belong to Abba.”
- “I am loved unconditionally by God”
- “I choose to love myself as God loves me.”
- “Nothing can separate me from God who is love.”
I think it is working.
I came to God because of love. I came to fundamentalist Christianity because of fear.
Growing up I had a ton of anxiety. I was what some might call overly sensitive and fairly easily traumatized. Yet, from the time I was a toddler I sensed a divine presence. Occasionally, I found myself in a thin place of connectedness. Once, my room flooded with light and God spoke to me of God’s perfect love for me. I intuited God’s presence and love in scriptures, religious texts, philosophy, literature, music, psychology, and biology. I felt God in sunbeams, crashing waves, 60-knot winds, old men, and Christmas lights. I came to God because of love.
Then I got into church.
A lot of church was great – music, worship, washing feet, baptism, communion, preaching, teaching, laying on of hands, prayer, celebration, dance. It was exciting and fun, refreshing and inspiring.
But the mainline liberals and the conservative fundamentalists pushed back. Hard. The tribe I joined, at the time I joined it, was warm, accepting, tolerant, and loving. It was neither liberal nor conservative. As the decades rolled on, however, it became increasingly inflexible, dictatorial, and pejorative. Unperceptively, I became dogmatic, judgmental, and theologically confined. To gain and maintain acceptance with my tribe, I distanced myself from all the other tribes. I woke up one morning and realized I was a militaristic bigoted ideologue quick to condemn a very many people.
Unconsciously, I had become gripped by fear – fear of judgment, fear of divine wrath, fear of hell, fear of rejection. I feared being rejected by my primary mentor and by my tribe. I knew what would happen. There’d be no formal hearing, no appeal, no ecclesiastical court, but I would be functionally excommunicated and effectively shunned. At some level I thought God would join my condemners. Fear of rejection drove me deeper into intolerance, toxic escapist eschatology, untenable cosmology, and reactionary political views. I turned my back on most of the world out of fear that a handful of fundamentalists would turn their backs on me. They did anyway, and I was, just as I feared, excommunicated, shunned, rejected, and demonized.
It hurt me deeply. After all, I am deeply sensitive. Gradually, however, as the hurt healed, I discovered that that which I had feared, that which had indeed happened, was a divine gift. I came to God because of love. I descended into fundamentalism because of fear. I came up into the light because I rediscovered God’s infinite love.
YHWH Tseqenu– The Lord, our Righteousness
Surfers speak of something good, like an awesome wave set, as “righteous.” (Remember the sea turtles in Finding Nemo?)
We often hear of religious people being “self-righteous,” supercilious, holier-than-thou, judgmental.
Two demonically empowered monsters threaten God’s people throughout the Bible: Empire and Religion. After describing in detail how the religious and political leaders of Israel and Judah have failed, God declares that, incarnate in Jesus, YHWH will be our shepherd. No sheep will be lost. No enemy will triumph.
Jeremiah 23:5 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” (NRSV)
One of the many names applied to God in the Scripture is YHWH Tseqenu.
The LORD, YHWH (Yahweh), I AM THAT I AM – the ever-living eternal creator, sustainer and redeemer of the entire cosmos.
YHWH eternally exists in community – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – One God in perfect harmonious relationship, in need of nothing, but choosing to create a material universe filled with stars and babies. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in seamless dance of love – the love spills over – and it is very good. Humans in the image of God, the imago Dei, created to love and be loved; created to love God, each other, themselves, and nature.
In classical Greek, there are a variety of words to describe love. The purest form of love is agápe. Agápe: Unconditional, self-sacrificial, cruciform, selfless, altruistic love. God is Agápe. “By this shall all know you are my followers, that you agápe one another.”
We are all broken people. Agápe is who God is; agápe is what all of us long for; agápe is what begins the process of redeeming, restoring, reconciling, and regenerating us.
“Righteousness,” here is Tseqenu, (sometimes spelled, Tsidkenu) which can be translated “righteousness,” “righteous,” “honest,” “right,” “justice,” “accurate,” “just,” “truth,” or “integrity.”
Righteousness is being brought into right relationship – right relationship with God, with ourselves, with others, and with creation.
Colossians1:21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (NRSV)
Romans5:16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (NIV)
I love God because God first loved me. The only sense in which we were ever “enemies of God,” was in our own minds. Guilt and shame lead us to the erroneous conclusion that God doesn’t much like us. Right relationship with God begins as we awaken to the reality that God, in God’s essence, is unconditional, cruciform, enemy-embracing, all-forgiving, eternal, agápe love. Only when I am convinced of God’s love will I come to God openly and honestly. Until I am convinced of God’s perfect love, I can only be religious.
Once I begin to be convinced of God’s love nature, I will start to realize that my core identity is Beloved of God. That is who I am. Not a worthless worm, not a disgusting sinner, not a vessel of wrath, but God’s beloved. God has set God’s love upon me. God’s core, essence, is love. My essential self is beloved of God. And that love is unconditional. Regardless of what I have done or where I’ve been, nothing in all of creation can ever separate me from God’s love.
When I begin to love myself, I begin to be able to love others. I begin to see others – all others – as the imago Dei, bearing the very image of the God whom I love, created to spend eternity with God. I love the other. I love the enemy. I love my neighbor. My neighbor is everyone – Indigenous, Asian, African, Latinx, European, Middle Eastern, Arab, Jew, Christian, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Atheist, Communist, Socialist, Capitalist … no exceptions – everyone. I forgive, I genuinely wish them well; I promote their wellbeing and wholeness; I affirm their essential goodness, listen deeply to their stories, seek to learn from them, and acknowledge their worth and dignity. I taste the foods of many cultures, hear the languages, dance to the songs, and admire the costumes. I treasure their art and poetry.
Filled with the Love that is God, I cannot stop there. I love all that God created. Whales, carp, algae, sandcrabs, moths, butterflies, owls, bluebirds, ornamental cheery, towering oak, opossum, fox and walking stick; nova, meteorites, galaxies and constellations; tidepools, mountains, deserts, rivers and streams – it all sings of the glory of the Creator. I preserve it, refuse to pollute it, try to conserve it, and care for it because it is God’s garden.
YHWH is our righteousness – notice the plural pronoun. Right relationship with God, ourselves, others, and nature occurs in community. It occurs collectively. We are one body with one Lord.
Filled with the love of God, I eschew religions and empires and embrace relationships in the Kingdom of God.
Filled with love for God, others, nature, and myself I hear music and see beauty. I dance, celebrate, enjoy.
Tell them to have faith in God, who is rich and blesses us with everything we need to enjoy life. (1 Timothy 6:17b, CEV)
Jeremiah uses almost every conceivable artistic means to convey his message – street drama, costumes, civil disobedience, nonviolent protests, poems, dirges, songs, fiction, and straight from the heart preaching. He’s hated, rejected, persecuted, beaten, incarcerated, laughed at, and mocked. He wears his emotions for all to see – tears, sobs, cries, angry shouts, pleadings, prayers. He suffers with the sinners. He’s captured, bound, and carried into exile. One tradition says they stuffed him in a hollow log and sawed it and him asunder.
Not that we should go looking for persecution; not that there’s anything wrong with seeking to reach as many people as one can; but compare Jeremiah to some of the narcissist entrepreneurial CEO pastors of today. The former is wheat; the latter, chaff. Dreams and schemes are not necessarily bad, but God has called us to be faithful, not ineludibly successful.
Jeremiah 23:25 “I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ 26 How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds? 27 They think the dreams they tell one another will make my people forget my name, just as their ancestors forgot my name through Baal worship. 28 Let the prophet who has a dream recount the dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?” declares the Lord. 29 “Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”(NIV)
Street drama. At one point, Jeremiah planted himself in such a way as to block the entrance to the Temple. (Chapter 7) That didn’t go over well. Religious people who practiced injustice daily felt pious after saying their prayers and offering their offerings in Temple. They had a saying: “The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord!” A holy place, a religious place, a place where all malfeasance was justified. You went to worship on Shabbat. It’s ok that you evicted three widows last week. It’s only business – nothing personal.
The Temple was destroyed. Fast forward to Jesus’ day. The Temple has been rebuilt, initially long ago under the guidance of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zerubbabel, then, much more recently, upgraded with Herod’s money.
Street drama. Jesus disrupts the Temple worship. Tables overturned; coins scattered; chaos as newly liberated animals run amok. Religious people had made the heavenly Father’s house a den of thieves. You went to worship on Shabbat. It’s ok that you partnered with an empire empowered by the devil. It’s only business – nothing personal.
Thieves don’t rob in their den. They rob in the streets, then hide and regroup and count their loot in the den. Many of the religious people were bigots. They despised gentiles; they were misogynists; they cozied up to Roman occupiers in order to gain power; they exploited the poor and manipulated the law; they were rich. On Shabbat and holy days, they made sure to offer sacrifices in the Temple. Like their predecessors in Jeremiah’s day, they hid their wickedness behind religion.
Jesus told a parable in Luke 18. Two men praying in the Temple. One, deeply religious and highly respected – a Pharisee; the other despised as a traitor and a cheat – a tax collector working for the Romans. The first walked right up front and prayed boldly. The other crouched in the back and smote his chest in remorse. They were both broken men, but only one knew it. He went away validated, vindicated, and accepted. The Pharisee just went away.
Sadly, much of the church in the United States currently looks more like the Pharisee than the tax collector. Religious people – white evangelicals, conservative Catholics – like their predecessors in the days of Jeremiah and Jesus, trade moral integrity for political power, wall out refugees, defend police brutality, deny scientific reality, and champion the causes of nationalism, racism, consumerism, and militarism. They are appalled when a high-end store is looted; they shrug when the police gun down another young black man. They applaud efforts to disenfranchise “the least of these my siblings.” With enthusiasm they support the most corrupt president in history. A yard sign near me reads, “God, Guns, Trump!” Having despised and abandoned the poor, oppressed, victimized, and marginalized, they defy the advice of healthcare science, gather in churches, and celebrate their religiosity. Their churches are dens hiding thieves.
God does not want our pious prayers, songs, and sermons. God wants justice. God wants us to wash feet, care for the poor, love one another, forgive and love our enemies, and join with him in making a more just, peaceful, and honorable world. But, if you do so, you might get sawed in half.