Breaking up is Hard to Do.

JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday in the 11th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Attendite ne justitiam vestram faciatis coram hominibus, ut videamini ab eis : alioquin mercedem non habebitis apud Patrem vestrum qui in caelis est. 
“Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.  

The RSV says “your piety”. The KJV says “your alms”. The Greek word is δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosuné. It means justice, justness, righteousness. The Latin wins, here, I think. “Justitiam Vestram” which the Douay renders as “your Justice”. In the Septuagint, the Bible familiar to Jesus and his followers, δικαιοσύνη is used for the Hebrew “Tzedek”, the concept in Jewish religion, for someone who adheres to all the miztvot, who practices “justice” not in any way merely en vogue or culturally acceptable, but as decreed by God to be Just. Piety, as in the RSV, is part of it. Almsgiving is as well, but it includes keeping the Sabbath, keeping Kosher, wearing the right clothes, saying the right blessings at the right times, committing neither to’evah, nor sexual impurity, neither unjustly treating one’s family, slaves, nor laborers. It’s a complex conception that has nearly nothing to do with our concepts of “justice” now, which tend to be subjective and emotivist.

Jesus tells us not to do God’s Tzedek, or the feminine form is Tzedekah, in front of folks. I’m nearly sure he doesn’t mean “don’t let folks see you”. Rather he does mean, “don’t do it just so folks can see you.” He says if you do it so folks see you, you’ve had your reward.

I don’t do my charity so that folks see me, but I have to tell the federal government how much I give each year so that I get my tax refunds… I think that qualifies as “I’ve gotten my reward already.”  Then we turn our charity over the trumpeters.

The internet’s awesome for teaching. It’s great for entertainment. (I’ve posted so many music videos while tying this!) It’s brilliant for charity and support. But most of us confuse “likes” with “being liked”. Most of us confuse profiles for physicality – and I say this as a long time denizen of dating apps.  We march through the gnostic world of bytes and virtual dreamscapes forgetting that every avatar has a person behind it and many a nubile 19 year old is really a 53 year old balding dude with a basement apartment. And then there are the times I may not be a doctor, but I play one on the internet. To this world we go with our political actions, our righteous anger, our self-righteous indignation, our hated, and our echo-chambers of auto-adulation. (I’ve worked in it for 25 years, I’m allowed to know where I am.)

We’ve created a culture of performative virtue; moraltainment, if you will. It’s not real, they say, unless there are pics. The pics have to be posted on Instabook and Tweetagrams, discussed on Slackouts and posted on YouBlog. We get our rewards in likes and shares, in retweets and embeds. We call it social media, but there’s never anyone else paying attention. So it’s sorta social; demented and sad… but social. In other words, not only has the Devil got us bragging about our virtues, but he’s tricked us into bragging to no one at all.

When all is said and done, we have an addiction to it as well: not in the sense of a substance-based addiction, but rather in the ways we confuse a “like” on a website with actually being liked. We think a share means someone loves us. We think a dating profile is meeting someone. I have 300 friends on Facebook (but I have trouble getting 6 to come over for cards). We get our sense of validation, our sense of excitement from this virtual world.

When the war with Korea and China comes, I hope they get the internet first: that way we may have a chance. Otherwise we’ll be filming the incoming missiles on our smart phones or taking selfies with the blast shadows. Truly we will already have our reward.

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Even Ahab Repents


JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 11th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Nonne vidisti humiliatum Achab coram me? quia igitur humiliatus est mei causa, non inducam malum in diebus ejus, sed in diebus filii sui inferam malum domui ejus. 
“Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the evil upon his house.” 

We have been reading the Story of Ahab for the last few days.  All this stuff about Elijah, Jezebel, and now Elisha, is all during the reign of King Ahab who was the Anointed of God, ruling in the Northern Kingdom of Israel c. 871 to c. 852 years before Christ. He was not a good guy. In fact, in the 16th chapter of the First Book of King (MT) or 3rd Kings (LXX)  we learn he was the worst.


He was the worst not just because people thought so: but rather because he was evil and led his own people astray.

Here are some other things we know about Ahab:
– 7th King of Israel
– Son of Omri
– His existence is supported by archaeological evidence outside of the biblical record.
– He was not Jewish – rather he was an ardent Ba’alist until the final period of his life.

During his reign he actively tried to get people to apostatize by use of bullying, murder, fear, and lies. His wife used whispering campaigns to support her husband. His friends were often at risk of instantly becoming his enemies. 

He was the worst of the kings, but he was the Anointed of God. In that respect the people prayed for him. There were sacrifices on his behalf in the Temple. God sent him prophets to correct him (even though he ignored them). God tries and fails over and over – because we are free – to win this man back to the good path and away from idolatry. And, as the king goes so goes the country. So there are many many folks who follow Ba’al simply because it’s popular. The People follow him as Lawful King, his brother King, in Judah, treats him with respect, but ignores his theological errors.

When every attempt at reform fails, God finally tells him off face to face. And that works. But he’s still done so much damage that he must pay for it all. A King is responsible for all the sins of his people following him. He sort of dies in battle, disguised out of cowardice as a regular soldier. He gets shot by an “unaimed arrow” and his blood is licked up by the dogs (MT) or by pigs (LXX). 

In the end, God protected his people from the King and from the needful sins of Regicide. 

Jesus says, Resist not evil. Turn the other cheek. Pray for your enemies. Bless those who curse you. And St James asks us elsewhere who are we – each of us sinners – to judge another servant? Who are we to be worse than God in showing mercy, in showing love? We are to act like God, giving even our political opponents every chance to move forward to their theosis, even at our own expense.

How different is this from our current political environment where we are governed by anger and a prideful rage so out of proportion as to be comedic. Our rage is out of proportion because we have lost the cultural sense that we are all equally fallen. We are each and every one sinners and, so, damned. We are each and every one a potential saint, but only if we all help each other (all of us) to get there.

So when the rightful authority is Ba’alist, and destroying the icon of God all around us, we should never abandon our god-given duties to build up that icon. But at the same time we are obligated to our own equally God-give function to save the icon amid the Rightful Authorities. It’s a tight line to walk. Our Spiritual Enemies are the demons. We may have political opponents, but they are not our enemies. They are only the dupes of the demons as are we often enough – and as we will be if we let them trick us into judging folks for their political sins.




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As you go, sow.

JMJ

The Readings for the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)

Sic est regnum Dei, quemadmodum si homo jaciat sementem in terram, et dormiat, et exsurgat nocte et die, et semen germinet, et increscat dum nescit ille. Ultro enim terra fructificat, primum herbam, deinde spicam, deinde plenum frumentum in spica. 
The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how. The earth produces of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.  

The kingdom God (that is The Church) is like this: scattering seed everywhere and what grows… grows.

What does it mean to scatter seed? To mention these things at every possible point: not in a pushy way, but just direct. When you ask a coworker, “What are you doing this weekend?” The answer is, “Going to a movie” or “Spending time with friends” or maybe “Going on a Date”. Do you respond with, “Going to Mass”? And, again, just in a casual, this is what’s happening sort of way. You asked, here’s what I’m doing.

I’ve told this story before: when I went to the Monastery, coworkers at my old job were like “I didn’t even know he was religious.” I totally wondered what I had been doing wrong. The seed was not sown. There were no blades springing up. In the end there was no harvest. But when I crossed myself for grace at lunch time, suddenly other started to do so as well. When you plant seeds, you do so “courageously,” “by faith and not by sight” as St Paul says. 

We plough the fields, and scatter the good seed on the land;
But it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand:
He sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.

Chorus All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above,
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
For all His love.

We cooperate in this action, but the process is God’s. It takes our courage and our faith to participate. And our humility. We have to relinquish control and the drive for success. Our job is to sow the seed – a constant and repetitive function; a necessary one but not one with a lot of reward and glory.

How will you scatter seed on the job, on the bus, on the freeway? How will you scatter seed on social media and on those cold calls you have to make for he office? How will you scatter seed as you shop, or as you walk through the park?