2022 03 20 Alan Storey
In last Sunday’s reading we heard that Herod wanted to kill Jesus [Luke 13:31-35]. This statement alone should end the denialism regarding the politics of Jesus. If Jesus’ life carried zero political significance, Herod (the head of politics) would have had no need to put out a State sanctioned hit on Jesus. Jesus threatened the systems that underpinned Herod’s power and as such Jesus was a direct threat to Herod. Jesus the Truth exposed the lies upon which Herod’s regime rested and Jesus the Life exposed the death that Herod’s regime reaped. Therefore, according to Herod Jesus had to be eliminated.
This compels us to check ‘our Jesus’. If our Jesus doesn’t grab the threatened attention of those in power by exposing lies and death then we are probably holding onto a fake Jesus. The priority of this fake Jesus is our comfort and convenience rather than the liberating and healing will of God. A benign and sanitised Jesus divorced from his crucifying context. A Christ without crucifixion at direct odds with Paul’s injunction, “… we preach Christ crucified” [1 Cor. 1:23] and in line with Paul’s accusation, “for many live as enemies of the Cross” [Phil 3:18]. And if this fake Jesus does come with a Cross, it is more than likely polished silver or gold, more ornament of decoration than instrument of death.
We jump to Jesus’ response to the news of Herod’s murderous intent…
Jesus responds sharply, “Go tell that fox…” referring to Herod. Jesus points out the cunning and cruel character of Herod. This shatters the false (yet all too prevalent) notion that to be a follower of Jesus in short means: ‘be nice’. And ‘nice’ means that thou shalt not offend. As we can see, Jesus does not buy into this. For Jesus, the truth is never to be sacrificed for the sake of being ‘nice’.
Often this false focus on being nice is reinforced by a misreading of the scripture, “Do not judge…” [Matt. 7:1]. Regularly this is used to silence righteous outrage by throwing a blanket of moral equivalency over every side of every issue. This is done under the noble guise of neutrality. Yet, Archbishop Tutu reminded us, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor”. We are never to judge ourselves better than others (even the Herods of this world) or to judge another’s state of relationship with their Maker but we most certainly are called to judge whether actions bring life or death. If this were not so we would have no need for the truth-tellers we call prophets and the bible would be half its size.
Jesus went further than calling Herod a fox. Jesus named Jerusalem as “the city that kills the prophets (truth-tellers) and stones those who are sent to it”. Jesus knew that Herod is not Herod alone. He is a part of a system much larger than himself. A system that enables him to make threats and carry them out. Get away with it and even be rewarded for it. Were Herod to be removed without the entire murderous system being transformed, it would make little difference. Another would take his place. Jesus therefore knew that the fight is not against flesh and blood but principalities and powers that are more than the sum of all the personal parts of a society/system. We have seen this to be true in South Africa multiple times.
Note, Jesus refuses to take orders from Herod. Yes, Jesus does not obey Romans 13 (as commonly quoted). Jesus is accountable to a higher power than Herod and reminds us that we are too. We are all accountable to the Giver of Life and therefore the excuse, “I was only following orders” does not dilute our moral responsibility to act justly and live mercifully.
A final reminder from last week is that Jesus did not call for Herod the fox to be hunted down. To do so is to imitate Herod and then we become Herod’s disciples even as we take his life. Jesus knew that to kill the killer is to resurrect the killer within ourselves. Jesus also knew that if Herod did not change Herod would dig his own grave.
If there is any truth in any of these thoughts may they disturb and direct our living.
Masiphumelele protesters blocked roads at the weekend, cutting the Cape Town Cycle Tour short.
(Photo: Ryan Johardien, GroundUp)
Grace and peace to you and through you
Last Sunday would have been the 40th Cape Argus Cycle Tour – but at about 6:55 am we were notified that wind had stopped play. There have been enough video clips of cyclists being blown over by the foreshore wind – making us gasp and laugh. A good advert if there ever was one for #WindPower.
An earlier message that most people have forgotten about or may not even have known of, came at 5:39 am: “The cycle tour will be diverted over Glencairn Express Way due to protest action en route. Distance now 78km.” Because of the wind as well as the devastating fire in Imizamo Yethu, Hout Bay, the protest action from some of the residents of Masiphumelele has fallen off the social radar. The unavailability of land, as well as a terrible lack of basic services is the root cause of the rock throwing anger that blocked the cycle route. People are angry because they have not been listened to or taken seriously for years and years. Not only is there enormous suffering which is mostly ignored, but life seems to carry on in a jolly-old-fashioned-way around them … in fact some people – like me – are out riding their bicycles in their very neighbourhood. Surely any reasonable person would snap under such contradictory conditions. As Parker Palmer says: “Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering”.
Take this as a small taste of what life is going to be like in SA for the foreseeable future! The lives of the rich will be constantly disrupted because that is the only way the poor will secure a moment’s attention. And in this country there is no way to re-route every race or event to escape this … and nor should there be.
Saul Alinsky makes a challenging point in his famous book Rules for Radicals:
Concern for our private, material well-being with disregard for the well-being of others is immoral according to the precepts of our Judaeo-Christian civilization, but worse, it is stupidity worthy of the lower animals. …We now live in a world where no man [sic] can have a loaf of bread while his neighbour has none. If he does not share his bread, he dare not sleep, for his neighbour will kill him. To eat and sleep in safety man must do the right thing, if for seemingly the wrong reasons, and be in practice his brother’s keeper. I believe that man is about to learn that the most practical life is the moral life and that the moral life is the only road to survival. He is beginning to learn that he will either share part of his material wealth or lose all of it…
Let’s be clear that the suffering of the people of Masiphumelele is far more demanding of our attention than wind-swept-cyclists.
Grace and Peace to you …
This past week we witnessed more conflict on some of our campuses. This time students exchanged blows and police needed to separate white students from black students. The violent scenes were distressing.
My niece is in her first year at TUKS and she expressed her sense of anxiety and despair on our family WhatsApp group. My brother responded with what I thought was wise advice. This is what he wrote:
Tough and confusing times Jess. My advice for what it’s worth:
- Learn as much as you can about all sides before making your own mind up.
- Distinguish between principles and actions — believing in one doesn’t mean condoning the other.
- Know that you are living a segment of a problem which precedes you and will live on long after you leave TUKS.
- Be grateful that you are young enough to ride the change and old enough to learn from it.
- Front seats on history can be a terrifying privilege but that’s what it is. At your age your father and Uncle were given a gun and sent north. Your other Uncle faced 6 years in jail. Your Pops was nearly assassinated. Your Granny lived everyday with fear for her family and boss. South Africa forces you to grow up fast. Seems too fast but it’s also what makes us stronger.
- In between it all make new friends, embrace new experiences and see it all as important.
Notice that he did not dive in and give a “piece of his mind” about who was right and who was wrong. Instead he invited her to be fully present to the moment and to open herself to learn and grow from what was unfolding before her. Without denying the tough and troubling nature of the situation there is the comforting and hopeful belief that it is a privilege to be part of this moment.
I think these words are good advice for all of us at this time and not just my niece. But furthermore I believe that here we are given a healthy example of how we can assist people around us to grow by giving them a framework in which to process their own experience instead of simply telling them what to believe. This is education at its best and none of us are too young or old to promote and participate in such methods of learning.
St. Peter and the Angel
Delivered out of raw continual pain,
smell of darkness, groans of those others
to whom he was chained –
unchained, and led
past the sleepers,
door after door silently opening – out!
And along a long street’s
Majestic emptiness under the moon:
one hand on the angel’s shoulder, one
feeling the air before him,
eyes open but fixed …
And not till he saw the angel had left him,
Alone and free to resume
the ecstatic, dangerous, wearisome roads of
what he had still to do,
not till then did he recognize
this was no dream. More frightening
than arrest, than being chained to his warders:
he could hear his own footsteps suddenly.
Had the angel’s feet
made any sound? He could not recall.
No one had missed him, no one was in pursuit.
He himself must be
the key, now, to the next door,
the next terrors of freedom and joy.
~ Denise Levertov