A few reminders …

 

Friends,

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.

With grace,
Alan

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Complacency and Despair

Friends,

Lent begins with the shattering of our complacency or it does not begin at all.

For this reason prophet Joel gave us ‘what for’ on ASH Wednesday. The “fierce urgency” of his tone was to wake people up. To wake up a people living in denial of death about to engulf their world. This death was the consequence of forsaking the life-giving ways of justice, mercy and humility. Especially justice, mercy and humility in relation to the most vulnerable of society – contained within the vulnerable Trinity: widow, orphan and foreigner. Due to the way society was set up socially, politically, economically and theologically, these three groups were the easiest to exploit, scapegoat, demean and get away with it.

Too often we only wake up when the consequences of our complacency threaten to catch up to us. At this late stage it is difficult to see a way out and easy to be overwhelmed. We can move from denial (there is no problem) directly to despair (the problem is too big).

Realising this, Joel invites us to trust that “even now” we can act. In this we are invited to occupy the arena of perhaps. Perhaps, is filled with spacious possibility. Perhaps declares the future is not finitely fixed and therefore there is hope.

Once our complacency is shattered and we overcome the temptation not to act, we face temptations on how we will act. Regardless how well-meaning we are, our action can deepen the problem rather than bring relief. As Jesus’ wilderness wrestling reveals, the devil is in the detail of our actions.

The first temptation is to think we can bring authentic change without the transformation of the human heart that caused the problem in the first place. For example, we fall to this temptation each time we think technology will save us. The lie within this promise is that we can have change without actually changing ourselves. Lasting change demands we actually change.

The second temptation is that our relationships with the Divine, each other and creation are to rest on a quid pro quo formula rather than on grace and the gratitude and generosity that flow from grace. In the quid pro quo world the priest tells us who is in credit / debit or who is saved and who is not. It is a segregated world that states some are worthy while others are not. This world view is often what stubbornly validates structural injustice in the world. In the world of grace the priest reminds us who we all are…beloved. All are beloved and therefore all are worthy of love.

In a quid pro quo world we are only as good as our last deal. And so our third temptation is the need to prove ourselves over and over again. To prove ourselves by promoting and protecting ourselves. This poisons our action with a self-centredness and self-righteousness. We use false categories, like health and wealth to show we have sufficiently proved ourselves, while poverty and sickness are proof we have failed. Suffering becomes the sign of failure and thus God’s forsakenness. The ultimate aim of one’s life is then to avoid suffering at all cost. The fear of suffering limits our loving. Justice and mercy no longer set our true north and we are soon lost, having turned inwards. In seeking to save our lives we lose them. Suffering is not to be sought after for it carries no merit in itself. However, suffering as a consequence of resisting systems that are neither just nor merciful is the clearest sign of faithfulness. The Cross is a sign of such faithfulness.

As a result of Putin’s war in Ukraine many have rightly spoken up with fierce urgency at the complacency and hypocrisy of too many of us regarding other invasions in recent history. Racism has again been exposed in how the suffering of white people is more acutely felt and covered by the media than the suffering of black people. Instead of this truth silencing our opposition to Putin it should provoke us to raise our voice “even now” (especially now!) against all invasions and permanent occupations. This complacency and hypocrisy is clearly seen in relation to Apartheid-Israel (underpinned by USA money and military) and Palestine. I mention this in particular because of how so many Christians are not only complacent in the face of Palestinian suffering but actively endorse Apartheid-Israel’s theft of Palestinian land and subsequent violent oppression of Palestinians. Believing the violent occupation is a biblical blessing blinds them to the truth that God has no favourites and deafens them to the Hebrew prophet’s cry against those who turn justice back by acting inhumanely. No one. No one.  No one. Gets a free pass to act inhumanely.

God have mercy on us … who struggle to live mercifully in relation to all our sisters and brothers.

With grace,
Alan

 

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