As Children of the Kingdom

JMJ

The Readings for the 2nd Sunday of Advent (C1)

Exsurge, Jerusalem, et sta in excelso : et circumspice ad orientem, et vide collectos filios tuos ab oriente sole usque ad occidentem, in verbo Sancti, gaudentes Dei memoria. Exierunt enim abs te pedibus ducti ab inimicis : adducet autem illos Dominus ad te portatos in honore sicut filios regni.
Arise, O Jerusalem, and stand on high: and look about towards the east, and behold thy children gathered together from the rising to the setting sun, by the word of the Holy One rejoicing in the remembrance of God. For they went out from thee on foot, led by the enemies: but the Lord will bring them to thee exalted with honour as children of the kingdom. 
Amanuensis to the prophet Jeremiah, Baruch gets rather short shrift in the Protestant recension of the scriptures, while for Catholics, as well as Orthodox and Anglicans, he is a Prophet in his own right. A book excised by the Protestants only 500 years ago bears his name, and it is from this text that we read today. Baruch is writing after the fall of Jerusalem, from within Babylon. It’s only 5 years since the burning of Jerusalem.  
In Advent, we are reminded not only of Jesus coming at his nativity, but also of his final coming at the great unveiling of the ages. But let’s focus on his, if you will, second and continual advent, here, now with us, in the Holy Mysteries.
We are in Exile. There is no other way to say it. This world is Babylon. We are surrounded on all sides by the signs of hedonism, paganism, idolatry, and empire.  Injustice is rampant – and I don’t mean the sort of “give me my rights” whining we talk about today in our first world privilege. I mean God’s justice: where the wealth of the world is not shared, where we allow sin, poverty, pride, and weakness to create systems of oppression. This exile eats at our hearts. We delude ourselves, influenced by Babylonian thinking, that we needn’t do anything because the Empire should do it, and well, yeah, the gov’t isn’t doing anything, so what can we do anyway? Too many people to worry about. Exile corrupts us and makes us think the habits of our oppressors should be ours as well. We take power over others as a sign that we have “won”. We become the embodiment of our own enslavement.
Babylon is winning…
Yet. Here, on this altar, is God himself in silence. Resting. Waiting. He has come as he promised he would. As he came among us in Bethlehem, so now he has come among us today. Weak and helpless, naked and alone, “for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.” This is our God: with us in the midst of Babylon. Here is Jesus, the Kingdom in his very person, sharing himself with us, making the Kingdom present now. This is how God, “the one who began a good work in us will continue to complete it”. This constant presence with us, in us, and through us in the world
And so our God summons us to this altar in the words of Baruch: for here, at this table, is spread a feast for all of God’s children. Here, on God’s board, is home brought to us and we are served by Angels, and hosted here by Divine Hospitality.
Babylon seems to have won, but the Kingdom has summoned us and subverted the Powers. Babylon is winning… only to fall, to be conquered. 
And we know that this feast is not just for us – the initiated. It is for all who come though death to Life, passing the waters of Jordan, and rising up. And all of the Church turns to look in Joy at her Children coming again through her portals.
So with joy let us not only heed but also echo the words of the Prophet. Let us come that our “love may increase ever more and more  in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value,  so that we may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” As each of us comes to the table, let us not come alone. Bring others, call to them to join the passage to the Kingdom. God has remembered us all, each and every one. 
Arise Jerusalem and stand on high
In the middle of Exile
We are not alone
In the middle of Babylon
We are in the kingdom even so
Though surrounded by darkness
We are fed on the light
And even when forced into slavery
We are the Children of the Kingdom
Jerusalem is here with us now. Exile has ended.
Arise.

Count as Loss.

JMJ

The Readings for Thursday in the 31st week of Ordinary Time (B2)

But whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ. More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Is there a way to safely look at all of life that went before Jesus and recognize it has no value? Literally, none.

What once was the very meaning of success. What once was the end goal and target of political aspirations, of angry yelling and screaming in the halls of power… is now anathema. And what once was the assumed end goal is now out of reach.

What was once a stumbling block, is now the focal point. What was once the hated enemy is now home. What was once a bastion of oppression has become the greatest liberty, the greatest joy, the richest dreams, the most potent strength.

What was once the easiest thing to get
 Is now the last thing, least, unimportant thing.
What was love turns out to be nothing.
What was everything turns out to be lost.
And what was never on my mind at all
 Is always there, always pushing forward, always driving homeward.
How at 20 could one be so blind?
And how at 50 could so much light still only be the smallest portion possible?
How is Light never at 100% finally?
How is there always more love?
How can Truth ever unfold into more?

Once nearly everything was freudian and sexual.
And sarcasm.
Meaningless.
Now it’s deadly serious.
And filled with Joy.

And this, they say is only the beginning.

And pains and white water all serve to sever connections. Loss and loves all bend to one direction. Even the joys of life like sunrises and winter chills only point one way. And it is foolish to kick against the goads.

One day I will wake up and drop this all and won’t care to do so. One day the light will turn up so bright that it will burn and I won’t mind. One day the love will pierce through like steal in my hands, my feet, my head, my side…. my heart.

And I will will finally know as I am known.

And only the grace by which I stand…

will be left at all.

Please, be it so.

Amen.

Pro Invicem

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 30th week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Subjecti invicem in timore Christi.
Being subject one to another, in the fear of Christ. 

Paul opens up this passage with a command that gets lost in the shuffle of modern political readings of scripture. Focus on the command not on the elucidation. Serving… being subject to one another. How does that seem to us today?

Evidently, when two powerful males are introduced, the games of power mean that whoever extends their hands first means they are being subservient. Also evidently if you let someone go ahead of you on the Highway, you are indicating that you know you are blocking traffic. I’ve read (on twitter) that letting a woman enter a door before me is actually a sign that I am in control: I’m not being polite or subject to the other party.

Silly psycho-political games we play.

And yet, Jesus does say that whoever would lead… must be the servant of all. To use our broken ideas of Psychology, then… while Pope Benedict (above) washes the feet of folks on Maundy Thursday… Pope Francis must be making quite the power play by washing the feet of prisoners:


Or, perhaps, humility is a thing in itself and we should not let modern political babble confuse us.

We are to be servants of each other.  We are to be subject one to another.

This can be harder than it sounds. Social norms are as hard to navigate as white water rafting at night. Trying to figure out who’s in a room is enough for me: placing myself at the service of the least in the room requires figuring out who they are. I blurt out questions when it’s not my turn, don’t know when to jump into a conversation, can’t remember names to save my life, and (to be honest) struggle with other psychological issues that are not commonly acknowledged outside of certain Church documents but arise from the sins with which I struggle. So it’s a safe thing for me to just say to everyone in line, “you go first”. 

Our culture, on the other hand, wants everything to be “fair” by which they mean mostly “as long as I get mine…” Why should I come early and stay late? Others will do that. Why shouldn’t I get promoted at work before others? Why would that poor slob win the lottery when I need it more?

I remember reading a story of a pair of Orthodox nuns visiting a parish. You’ll need to know that in many modern Orthodox places monastics can be viewed with suspicion. This can be helped by some anti-monastic bishops… anyway… these two nuns were visiting a parish and were at coffee hour socializing with everyone else and suddenly a woman pointed at them eating and having a good time and said, “See, they are hypocrites. They come here to ask for charity, but then they take our food like a member of the parish and just laugh.” One nun stood up and and was offended. The other prostrated herself at the feet of her accuser and asked forgiveness. 

The second nun was subjecti invicem in timore Christi.

I love the stories of the Christian Martyrs whose faith was discovered because they were visiting Christians already in prison to bring them food or messages from home. When Christians actually do “Pro Invicem” we get in trouble. Christians get arrested for feeding the homeless, for sheltering Jews, for ignoring unjust laws, for hiding slaves, for helping refugees. We’ve been getting in trouble for this since Paul was hiding escaped slaves, emotionally bullying their masters into manumission and using the Church to subvert cultural paradigms all over the empire. As government and societies today are trying to force us back into slavery to pagan ideals of nationalism, immorality, and racism, I hope we stand firm.

But I hope we do so by subversion, by pro invicem… we must remember to love our enemies… because we don’t have any. Literally every political thing in the world is here to distract us from God, and it is supposed to look like “our enemies” are doing it  – so we blame the other humans – but we forget the only enemies we have are demons? Literally every political or “social justice” thing is a false flag op.

That person over there is not a demon, is a living icon of God. They may be wrong… they may need to be opposed or voted out of office or imprisoned for crimes, but they are also to be served by us. By serving them we will win them for Christ. We will win the world that way.

My Face Hurts…

JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 30th week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Fornicatio autem, et omnis immunditia, aut avaritia, nec nominetur in vobis, sicut decet sanctos : aut turpitudo, aut stultiloquium, aut scurrilitas, quae ad rem non pertinet : sed magis gratiarum actio.
But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not so much as be named among you, as becometh saints: Or obscenity, or foolish talking, or scurrility, which is to no purpose; but rather giving of thanks.

The NABRE takes a dodge here… it says “Immorality or any impurity or greed” which is not what the Latin says, nor is it what the Greek says. The Latin refers to “Fornicatio autem, et omnis immunditia, aut avaritia”. That first word is fornication. We’re not talking about “immorality” in general but about sexual sins. The Greek is even more direct. The word used there is πορνεία porneia. It is the origin for our word “pornography” but its meaning is derived from the verb “to sell off”. We trade off our sexual morals for other things – money, yes, but also acceptance, entertainment, self-gratification. This is made even more clear by the words selected in the next verse (which are not so obscured by the NABRE) obscenity, or foolish talking, or scurrility make it all very clear, and also eliminate about 80% of the internet and 95% of comedic content since WW2.

Why is St Paul so opposed to us having fun?

Matushka Frederica Matthews has this great line in one of her books, I honestly forget which one, discussing our cultural abuse of irony and making everything funny, she says, “Can we stop smiling now? My face hurts.” As a culture we make a joke of literally everything. This has gotten worse in successive generations – what was once sacred is now ribald humor. And as this area gets burned over, we move on to the next one… we can now joke about literally anything religious, because no one cares about it – and those who do don’t deserve our sensitivity. Only in jest can we talk about such things.

Paul is warning us against doing that to one of the most sacred acts God has given for humans to do – to participate in God’s creative generation of space and time by bringing a new human soul, enfleshed, into the world. Making jokes about this cheapen it.

But there is a second reason as well. We are spiritual athletes. We are in training. There is a time and place for everything. Yet there is never a place for baseness, or scurrility. We have no reason to “keep in practice” for the things we used to do.

A friend of mine called me out for using as a self description a word which has become synonymous with a sexual subculture. I hadn’t realized how important that word had become to me. I may not use “gay” to describe myself, but I have a “totem animal” anyway, right? Why? Do I need that? Do I still need that word to be part of me? Do I still need to get all those in jokes? Those brain cells might better be left from something else, I think.

Chrysostom reads both of these meanings

Have no witticisms, no obscenities, either in word or in deed, and thou wilt quench the flame—“let them not even be named,” saith he, “among you,” that is, let them not anywhere even make their appearance. This he says also in writing to the Corinthians. “It is actually reported that there is fornication among you” (1 Cor. v. 1.); as much as to say, Be ye all pure. For words are the way to acts. Then, that he may not appear a forbidding kind of person and austere, and a destroyer of playfulness, he goes on to add the reason, by saying, “which are not befitting,” which have nothing to do with us—“but rather giving of thanks.” What good is there in uttering a witticism? thou only raisest a laugh. Tell me, will the shoemaker ever busy himself about anything which does not belong to or befit his trade? or will he purchase any tool of that kind? No, never. Because the things we do not need, are nothing to us.

Moral. Let there not be one idle word; for from idle words we fall also into foul words. The present is no season of loose merriment, but of mourning, of tribulation, and lamentation: and dost thou play the jester? What wrestler on entering the ring neglects the struggle with his adversary, and utters witticisms? The devil stands hard at hand, “he is going about roaring” (1 Pet. v. 8.) to catch thee, he is moving everything, and turning everything against thy life, and is scheming to force thee from thy retreat, he is grinding his teeth and bellowing, he is breathing fire against thy salvation; and dost thou sit uttering witticisms, and “talking folly,” and uttering things “which are not befitting.” Full nobly then wilt thou be able to overcome him! We are in sport, beloved.

There is a counter point, I think. One that is important for us in this age – that was not so important for Paul. While everything is funny – because it’s meaningless – everything is also taken far too seriously. CS Lewis and others have noted this tendency in our media, to stir up excitement for things that happen hundred and thousands of miles away while ignoring the things right out side. We get anxious over meaningless things about which we can do nothing, and then make light of things that are actually important.

So what would life look like if we took everything only as serious as it warranted, and yet took everything exactly as serious as is needed? What would life look like if one lived as if one’s salvation in Christ was the most important thing? Mindful that St Paul says that salvation entails a lot of things: obedience, humility, civic responsibility, passivity before abuse, charity, etc. What would life be like to live in that way?

All are welcome!

JMJ

The Readings for Thursday in the 29th week of Ordinary Time (B2)

In caritate radicati, et fundati, ut possitis comprehendere cum omnibus sanctis, quae sit latitudo, et longitudo, et sublimitas, et profundum : scire etiam supereminentem scientiae caritatem Christi, ut impleamini in omnem plenitudinem Dei.
That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.


Paul holds out to the Ephesians – and passing them, now hold out to us not the pale and powerless possibility of “heaven”; not “pie in the sky, by and by when you die” but here, now. No harps and crowns just now: power! The Power to comprehend divine fire in breadth, fire in length, fire in height, fire in depth.  This is what the Greeks call “Theosis”:  impleamini in omnem plenitudinem Dei, to be filled with the fullness of God.

I’ve sat in discussions with faithful Catholics who cannot imagine this is the Church’s teaching. For they only know they should follow the rules, do penance, and hope for something better in the future. They call this teaching of the saints and scripture blasphemy, as they fear traditional worship with its focus on glory. They hide behind guitars and call us all to just get along… 

They are like so many Orthodox who are hung up on “Did you have cream in your coffee this day in Lent?” These Orthodox speak of every mouthful of food taken without first a prayer, gagging us in the afterlife. They say that every drink of wine taken on fasting days will drown us… they wave toll houses at us to keep us from heaven. And they say they know “Theosis” – but say Catholics are in error for teaching Purgatory… meh. There are cancerous growths of legalisms in both lungs of the Church.

St Paul offers us that all divine, all embracing, all changing Love that is called “Agape”. Yes, Love welcomes all… But no one can join Love without changing. This Love – a him, not an it – welcomes all to a constant conversion. Jesus tells us, “Ignem veni mittere in terram.” I am come to cast fire on the earth. Set the world ablaze Lord! Again as at Pentecost when the very fire of God in golden tongues will fall on all flesh. Arise and blaze across all time and space and burn – yet do not consume – us all in Love.

This is not easy work. And there is no peace in this love. Becoming saints is a lifetime of hard engagement a lifetime of sacrificing self will, of giving up all that comes in the way, of moving apart from all that would hold us back. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father,  a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother… coworkers from coworkers, neighbor from neighbors, even fellow parishioners against each other as one says “The Gospel” while the other says “The Compromise”. We stand on the edge of the Spiritus Gladius, the Sword of the Spirit… and we dare not fall to one or the other side. 

And yet… and yet… we know we have to use both hands: one reaching for Jesus, while the other reaches out to bring our friends. For none of us go alone. It would not be Love if we were alone. This is ecstatic Love, call us and all out of ourselves. We must call all along with us. We must dance forward in a great reel or Dionysiac Procession: the ancient Tripudium of three steps forward, one back. No one can know the Liturgy in all its holiness of heaven striking earth with fire… and not be set aflame. It matters not if there are guitars or drums, Byzantine or Gregorian chant: when heaven moves, the earth will follow.

When you know the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s infinity how can you hold it back from others? If you are fire yourself, how can you prevent the fire from spreading by the very touch of your eyes on those around you?

Oh dear friends, have you seen it like a fire wrapping a bush that is burned yet not consumed, this love that falls down on us like a gentle, driving, roaring monsoon? We are awash in grace and Love and nothing stands between us and this… save ourselves. There is no other Love without it. And with this Love, there is nothing else. 

Wrapped in prayer, swathed in light, and holding God himself in your mouth and soul, can you not know that here and only here is Love. 

The Domestics

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 29th week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Quoniam per ipsum habemus accessum ambo in uno Spiritu ad Patrem. Ergo jam non estis hospites, et advenae : sed estis cives sanctorum, et domestici Dei.
For by him we have access both in one Spirit to the Father. Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners; but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and the domestics of God.
We’re so very used to our modern “classless” society that we tend to think the idea of class is bad. As we play that assumption we forget to note that class is a very real part of our world: it is only the obligations of class that we have done away with. Rich and poor are treated equally before the law as is proper in things criminal, but in things civil there was a notion of noblesse oblige, the idea that one’s higher position required an assumption of charity, of noble largess to those in a lower station. We still have classes of folks in America, we’ve just done away with the idea of an obligation entailed by participation in that structure.

When the Vanderbilt family moved to Asheville, NC, in the 1880s, they built a huge estate… railroad money, you know… but that was not all that they did: they reforested much of several counties that had been greedily logged after the Civil War and left barren. This actually became the seed (root?) for the first national forest, the Pisgah National Forest. They imported experts to decorate the house… whom they hired to teach the locals how to be artisans. They built housing for their growing family and, in the area known as Biltmore Village, they even built a church.

This is noblesse oblige.

In a similar situation today – if someone owned say a Palace or a Casino, or a Tower with their name on it – these folks would all be thought of as “employees” and may not even get them health insurance or a living wage. It’s not just folks who have the trump card in the economic world, either. At one time a single man of my paygrade would have employed a valet and a cook, quite possibly a maid as well. And these would have invested in my success as much as anyone: for my success was theirs as well. Today I do my own laundry and turn out my own lights.

We’d call that a smart business decision. The Vanderbilts would call it greed, sin, and would think it beneath their station to act is such a way.

Why this lecture of the cultural morals of another time?

Because it was the same in St Paul’s time. Because to be a wealthy member of the society in which Paul lived was to have servants and one could judge the quality of the person by they way they treated their servants or those less fortunate who lived around them. This was true in the Roman world just as a matter of culture, but in the Jewish world it was a matter of God’s law. The latter dictated how the wealthy were to leave the corners of the field for strangers to harvest for free, how temple sacrifices were shared with the poor, how an entire society was built around property and yet sharing at the same time.

All this to explain when St Paul uses one Greek word οἰκεῖος ekeios to describe the position of Gentiles and Jews united together. On the one hand it means “members of the same household”, but on the other hand it’s the same word used for what we would call today, The Family, and The Help. Folks upstairs and down are equally part of the same οἰκεῖος.

Paul is using this word on purpose to show that there is no difference between classes of people in the Household of God, for we are all one people. All one household – no matter what our classes are “in the world”. In this household we are all together and all servants. Even our Lord and God washes our feet. So much so should we to each other. Rich and poor, Jew or Greek, in the household of God we are all there, all with our parts to play, all with our obligations to each other fully in place. None of us can claim to be above the other, for we are all in need in someway, all rich in some way, and all called to share in humility in all ways.

All I Want is My Fair Share

JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 29th week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Videte, et cavete ab omni avaritia…
Take heed and beware of all covetousness…

The Gospel is messy: it doesn’t color between the lines we’ve drawn. Who in this brief Gospel story of familial dysfunction gets your sympathy? We’re not told if we’re talking to the younger or elder brother. My guess is younger because the elder would normally get it all – but see Jacob and Esau, or Isaac and Ishmael. Fathers can be capricious. We don’t know but maybe the man is the eldest son of a second wife or the eldest son in fact, by a mistress though, rather than the wife. Who knows? Who gets your sympathy? My late younger brother (along with many of his friends) was a bully. I rarely see things in these internecine incivilities without that memory coming into play. I tend to pity the one standing in front of Jesus. I often wondered why I was the one that wanted to go to church, but my brother was the one who got to beat me up. So I don’t necessarily see this as an issue of “justice” because my younger brother often got away with a lot of stuff.
What would Jesus say? The answer is one that is certain to annoy anyone who thinks the Gospel is only about “social justice”. Jesus doesn’t even ask the brother who’s right and who’s wrong or what might be going on. He says, simply, don’t covet.
Aslan would remind us we never get to know what might have been, what could have been, or even what would have been. All we can know is what is (and what was). So yes, I had a brother who was a bully, but that’s what providence has dealt. It’s created some interesting memories and mental dynamics in my life. However to fight back, to blame, to demand fairness would have only complicated things, and perhaps have lead Jesus to offer me some interesting parables. This says nothing about what he would have said to my brother… or anyone else involved. This is always only in the the first person.

St John Chrysostom directs us to this in another way…

The sins of the rich, such as greed and selfishness, are obvious for all to see. The sins of the poor are less conspicuous, yet equally corrosive of the soul. Some poor people are tempted to envy the rich; indeed this is a form of vicarious greed, because the poor person wanting great wealth is in spirit no different from the rich person amassing great wealth. Many poor people are gripped by fear: their hearts are caught in a chain of anxiety, worrying whether they will have food on their plates tomorrow or clothes on their backs. Some poor people are constantly formulating in their minds devious plans to cheat the rich to obtain their Wealth; this is no different in spirit from the rich making plans to exploit the poor by paying low wages. The art of being poor is to trust in God for everything, to demand nothing-and to be grateful for all that is given.

Mindful, this is from the same Saint who teaches that both rich and poor alike rely too much on having stuff and not enough of God. This same saint teaches it is the duty of the rich to share in humble thankfulness for all they have and the duty of the poor to be humble in their reception of charity. The same saint teaches that laws do nothing for charity, as only a change of heart brings about charity…
See? The Gospel is really messy and doesn’t fall neatly into modern political parties.

Jesus asks, “Who made me the judge (literally, the divider) over this?”

In the first person singular and plural the Gospel offers no justice at all. In talking to Christians the only thing we’re promised is hate and eventually death. However we are to do justice – by which the Biblical writers do not mean “pass laws, march in the street, fix things”. We have a huge problem with those sorts of activism. Because we know God wants to save everyone: rich and poor, men and women, all races, all religions, all tribes, nations, and tongues. God doesn’t have time to care about our political squabbles.

In the life of Sts Cyril & Methodious we learn: That is why we generously endure offenses caused us as private people. But in company we defend one another and give our lives in battle for our neighbors, so that you, having taken our fellows prisoners, could not imprison their souls together with their bodies by forcing them into renouncing their faith and into godless deeds.
The Gospel is very messy. Our problem today seems to be that we are unwilling to “endure offenses caused us as private people”. We instantly demand justice and “our fair share”. Jesus accuses us (in the first person) of being covetous. Our job is to defend the weak, feed the poor, shelter the lost, but never to assume that is us we’re talking about there.

Lord, can we ask you something?

JMJ

The Readings for the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)

Magister, volumus ut quodcumque petierimus, facias nobis.
Master, we desire that whatsoever we shall ask, thou wouldst do it for us.

This came up last night at St Dominic’s. It was a surprise to realize, but the Apostles – in fact James and John, two of the “Big Three” insiders – were making a secular power grab here. Could have been one of the Borgia Popes for this moment. And so they thought that Jesus was going to be a secular king… and these Fishermen and sons of a fisherman, wanted to be on either side of the throne. Just not getting it: God’s kingdom doesn’t work that way. Fr James, the preacher, used it to point out that the Church has been dealing with sinners in leadership roles from the very beginning.

James and John, thinking they’re in at the start of some popular movement that will overthrow the government want to make sure they’re in good with seats secured on the new ruling junta.  They want to make sure they have options that can be exercised when this new startup IPOs. They want their share of that first day stock boom.

They want their share. You know, Jesus doesn’t yell at them. This is not like when Peter said, “Don’t go to the cross”. They are mistaken – but only in some part of the equation. Jesus is a king. And he will drink a cup. And they, too, will drink it… They will get their share.

They are wrong in the application though.

So… I want to suggest something: that being wrong in the application may not be as bad as taking the cross out entirely. James and John don’t get the same response as Peter.

There are those who think their faith requires them to make political actions and movements. There are those who feel their faith urges them to take out civic power. Jesus has some hope for them that, in fact, they will drink his cup with him.  James, you know, dies a martyr’s death. John lives a long life of martyrdom, caring for Jesus’ mother, going to prison, exile… but he dies an old man praising Jesus.

And when the others hear about it, they get all uppity and in each other’s faces. Jesus has to shut them up with a teaching moment: You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt.

This was also true among the Jews as well in Jesus time: for they had several generations of Maccabees who were a Theocracy – where the king was also the high priest. Then they had client kings who were Jewish at least by birth, but had no sense at all of stewardship or shepherding over the people. The Herods were the most recent of these kings, Jewish in name only and despised by the people.

Christian leadership requires the Cross. This leader is there not as a pusher and mover, not a cowboy with a cattle prod. A Christian leader has to woo, has to call by name, has to give his life for the sheep. Leadership in this role is about sacrifice. It’s about self-emptying. It may be next to impossible to be a Christian Civil Servant, but it’s not forbidden.

In some cases a Crown worn right has made a King a Saint.

But there are those who take the cross out of Christianity. Peter said the cross wouldn’t sell. They don’t mind the politics (as long as they agree) but they don’t want any, you know, sacrifice or conversion. Penance doesn’t play in Peoria. It doesn’t pay well in DC. There are those who ignore the cross even as they use it as a label for their own purposes. They too, don’t want any conversion or sacrifice. They want prosperity and “justice” rather than kenosis. Their politics leads to victory for “us” and an end to “them”. The Cross is for all – or else it is for none. These would not drink the cup of Jesus if they had a choice. It has no meaning, in fact, it may be opposed to all they stand for.

Jesus calls them Satan

I got my Liberty License

JMJ

The Readings for the memorial of St Theresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church
Monday in the 28th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Itaque, fratres, non sumus ancillae filii, sed liberae : qua libertate Christus nos liberavit. State, et nolite iterum jugo servitutis contineri.
So then, brethren, we are not the children of the bondwoman, but of the free: by the freedom wherewith Christ has made us free. Stand fast, and be not held again under the yoke of bondage. 

Paul does some strange things with his argument and I want it to be evident:

Abraham had two sons. God promised him a son, but because of human concupiscence, Abraham was impatient and slept with his slave woman, Hagar. She bore him a son. Then the promised child was born to his wife, Sarah. He drove out the slave woman, again because of human sin: his wife was jealous. But God saved that child as well. Of Sarah by Isaac came all the tribes of Israel. Of Hagar, the slave, came by way of Ishmael, all the gentile tribes of the middle east.

It should be evident that the Ishmaelite tribes of gentiles were not under the law of Moses while the Israelite tribes were under the law. Yet Paul uses these same tags of Israelites and Ishmaelites to describe the Freedom of Christians (Israelites) as compared to the slavery of those under the law (Ishmaelites). It’s an interesting rhetorical inversion, a literal head-over-heels, topsy-turvy place where suddenly Jews who reject Messiah become gentiles while the Gentiles who accept the Messiah are plugged into the New Covenant along with the Jews.

But Paul is making this argument to say Christians are not under the law…

One, however, would be a fool if one imagined that Paul is saying there are no rules for Christians. I’ve been a fool like that. My freshman year in College was spent at a small, evangelical Christian school in down-state New York. We had a pledge we had to sign, saying we’d not drink, dance, smoke, join secretive oath-bound organizations, or use traditional playing cards.  (Those were the words… clearly playing poker with Tarot cards was fine… and while we were not allowed to join Greek-Letter fraternities, the number of professors/alumni/administrators who were Freemasons was actually astonishing.) So, we had this pledge. And in October of my freshman year I wrote a long letter to the student paper referencing – among other passages – this bit from Galatians to say we didn’t need to follow any rules.

I made the classic mistake of confusing Liberty in Christ for License to sin.

Sin is actually slavery. We are trapped in our own brains, in our own lusts, in our own desires. We cannot be the self-giving, the self-slaying, the self-sacrificing images of God that we’re intended to be. We are set free…

We are only free if we flow in the will of God. This is what Paul is saying. For the covenant of Sinai was the will of God – but no more. Paul invites his readers to move into the new covenant of freedom in the will of God. But not “there are no rules”.

Our modern Secularizers are telling us this. That religious rules that impact “freedom” (by which they mean license) must be done away with. They are seeking to enslave us to the world, the flesh, and the devil while calling evil things good, things of darkness as things of light. 

The Men of Nineveh – who heard a few whispers from Jonah and repented – will rise up and condemn us, for we hear the preaching of God himself, and yet persist in our sins and even demand that the Church change to accommodate us.

An Ontological Illusion.

JMJ

The Readings for Saturday in the 27th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Quicumque enim in Christo baptizati estis, Christum induistis. Non est Judaeus, neque Graecus : non est servus, neque liber : non est masculus, neque femina. Omnes enim vos unum estis in Christo Jesu.
For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 

This is not a passage about social justice. 
At all. Forgive me that I have, often, fallen into this as well.

Every day a devout Jewish Man would wake and say these three blessings (among many others):

ברוך אתה יי’ אלהינו מלך העולם שלא עשני גוי
ברוך אתה יי’ אלהינו מלך העולם שלא עשני אשה
ברוך אתה יי’ אלהינו מלך העולם שלא עשני עבד


Baruch Atah ha-shem, elohenu melekh ha-olam she-lo esani goy.

Blessed are you, Lord, Our God, King of the universe who has not made me a gentile.
Baruch Atah ha-shem, elohenu melekh ha-olam she-lo esani isha.
Blessed are you, Lord, Our God, King of the universe who has not made me a woman.
Baruch Atah ha-shem, elohenu melekh ha-olam she-lo esani eved.
Blessed are you, Lord, Our God, King of the universe who has not made me a slave.

Thus a Jewish Man, bound to the obligations of the Torah and the Covenant, thanks God (blesses him) for giving him this heavy duty. Which was no onerous task, but rather an honor.  I’m not a gentile, so I have this duty. I’m not a woman, so I’m not excused from this duty (as by child birth, or other womanly functions). I’m not a slave, so I am free to fulfill these tasks. It can sound flaunty, or even triumphant, but a slave or a woman is excused from some duties of the Torah. A gentile is not obligated to any of them at all. A Jewish man must adhere to the whole thing – and if not in his person, than in the persons of his family for whom he is responsible.

Blessed are you… indeed. That’s a way to wake up.


Here St Paul turns those blessings on their head. He says everyone who has been baptized into Christ has put on Christ… and that all divisions have ceased.


Neither Jew nor Greek (Gentile), Neither slave nor free. Neither male…

Paul’s whole argument is against dividing the community. Don’t break off into cliques, don’t use the world’s titles for you to divide yourselves. Don’t use the world’s titles to define yourselves. And he uses quite a list:

Jew and Gentile is a primary division in the Jewish world. (Most Gentiles did/do not care.) Slave and free is a primary division in the Gentile world, though. Even being a former slave or the child of former slaves is a blot against one in the Roman world.
Then Paul throws a twist in the phrase, he does not say, in Greek, there is neither male nor female for that biological division God is credited with making in the beginning – before there were Jews, before there were slaves.

What he does say in Greek is There is neither male and female. And as the Jew/Goy line is intended for his Jewish readers and as the Slave/Free line is intended for his Roman readers, Male+Female is intended for all… Paul is saying none of the divisions we see in the world matter. 

Even the most primary of divisions that has been since the beginning of the world – since Genesis 1:27, actually where the phrase “male and female” is also used – this division is now healed. We are all now, in the Body of Christ, made into the New Man, the New Adam, which is Jesus himself. We are not to stand opposed in anyway, one tribe against another, one class against another, nor even one sex against another. In Christ, the curse of the Garden is undone. “…thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”

The Morning Blessings that established one’s Identity in the world are null. One’s only identity now, in Baptism, is Jesus. The only thing that matters now is this: 

In baptism, we have put on Christ Jesus and are all one in him.

As I noted at the top of the week, I’m reading Galatians now not as if the Judaizers, as they were called, are trying again to graft the Jewish Torah back into Christianity (as they were in Paul’s day) but rather as if we might be dealing with “secularizers” who are trying to graft some other alien structure into Christianity. There are those who want to graft in “White American Capitalist Republican” in here. There are those who don’t really care about anything in there but “White”. There are those who seek to graft in other social divisions, based on class, sex, desires, race… all the things we use in our “Identity Politics” are irrelevant.

If we are baptized into Christ, all are one in Christ. Coming into the Church we have to give all that up. Obviously it does not end: even in St Paul’s day, one was still either a salve or a free person. But the division, the failure of unity, is no longer real. Again, this is not a teaching on Social Justice. This is a radical teaching on the unity of the Church, a radical reformation of who you are. St John Chrysostom says, 

If Christ be the Son of God, and thou hast put on Him, thou who hast the Son within thee, and art fashioned after His pattern, hast been brought into one kindred and nature with Him… he does not stop there, but tries to find something more exact, which may serve to convey a still closer oneness with Christ. Having said, “ye have put on Christ,” even this does not suffice Him, but by way of penetrating more deeply into this union, he comments on it thus: “Ye are all One in Christ Jesus,” that is, ye have all one form and one mould, even Christ’s. What can be more awful than these words! He that was a Greek, or Jew, or bond-man yesterday, carries about with him the form, not of an Angel or Archangel, but of the Lord of all, yea displays in his own person the Christ. Source

Those who are not so baptized may do as needed or wished. This is not about their choices or lives. 

Those who are initiated by those holy waters into Christ “display in their own person the Christ” and all those other bits are mere labels we add to ourselves are only so much mammon to be tossed out, ignored.

This holds true in other places like Romans, where Paul begins to note lists of sins not as “noun/verb/object” phrases, but as verbal nouns: people whose very identity has become the doing of something. Paul says that won’t work any more. In fact he says if we hang up our “identity” in the doing of something, we’re damned. Only a human being can become a Christian. These other labels prevent that. We have in the mystery of Baptism (and in the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist, and in the Mystery of Matrimony…) literally bounded ourselves to the Messiah not in the abandonment of ourselves, but in the fulfillment of ourselves. We free ourselves from false “identities”, from illusions of selfhood, and become how God made us to be.

No longer let us say “Blessed are you Lord for having made me not like all these other folks…” but rather let us say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under the roof of the house of my soul… but enter and make me yours. Make me you.”