Continuity and Rupture

In the last two weeks of the Lectionary, Weeks 29 and 30 of year A, we’ve had this story (in two parts):

The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that he said to them,”Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” (Matthew 22:15-21, 29th Sunday) 

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40, 30th Sunday)

There are, in addition, several other moments in the Gospel stories where Jesus is seen in discussion with the religious leaders of the people. It is a homiletical commonplace to use these to say, “Jesus was offering a different vision than the Jews had hitherto.” In fact, it can be tempting to do so because so may have done so. That such often arises from a covert Anti-Semitism, especially among the more liberal, is dangerous. The approach is, generally, “The legalistic religious experts were wrong. Love is the Answer”. We place a homiletic rupture between the Good Jesus and the bad Jewish elders. Specifically, it’s right up there with the Jews killed Christ in terms of misunderstanding what’s going on here.

A cursory reading of Jewish Culture will recognize what’s going on here: rabbis debate. Rabbis debate with their students to understand the law. Rabbis debate with each other to sharpen their skills. Rabbis debate with each other to correct errors. This debate can be rather calm and contemplative, or it can be heated. We see all types of this discussion in the New Testament: Jesus at dinner parties, Jesus on street corners. Now, to be clear: Jesus is God. To disagree with his point is sin – and it’s the trump card for Christians. But on the streets of the Jewish Communities in the Roman Empire of the 1st Century, AD, this was not a thing. Jesus was God using the cultural tools available. Rabbinic Debate was the way to be. Jesus’ actions are in continuity with the actions of those around him. We must read the Gospels in this hermeneutic.

Dealing with the second Gospel story first (because it’s what made me grumpy) we have to know the history behind Jesus’ response. The greatest commandment is one that pious Jews recite three times a day as part of their daily prayers. It is the obvious answer. The second one, like unto the first, though: there’s a story behind that one. I’ve heard two versions of this story – and I will cite the one I don’t like first. It’s not the first one I read, though, which is the same all the way through except the punch line. It is the one that comes with a citation, though.

One famous account in the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) tells about a gentile who wanted to convert to Judaism. This happened not infrequently, and this individual stated that he would accept Judaism only if a rabbi would teach him the entire Torah while he, the prospective convert, stood on one foot. First he went to Shammai, who, insulted by this ridiculous request, threw him out of the house. The man did not give up and went to Hillel. This gentle sage accepted the challenge, and said:

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this–go and study it!”

(The cited text backs up this version.)

The second version of the story, the one I read first, has Rabbi Hillel respond thus: The main idea of the Torah is ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Although the text of this second story is not backed up by the Talmud as such, the Rabbis tie that text with love of neighbor as self throughout Rabbinic debate.

Jesus would know this story about Hillel. Jesus would know this context. Jesus was not putting the Pharisees in their place with a new teaching, but rather taking a side in an existing Rabbinic Debate.

Specifically the question should be heard like this: Rabbi, some of us say that all the laws are equally important. But others say some are more important than others. How say you?

Then Jesus – God in the Flesh – gives a shoutout to Hillel.

That’s a much better sermon! In another Gospel passage recounting the same story, the querent responds with “you have answered well…” Jesus is agreeing with a certain party of Pharisees.

The first Gospel Passage, with the Herodians, is beyond funny. Jesus is still debating with others, but in this case, he’s debating with Herodians. They are fans of the established political order. They don’t rightly care what the religious folks do as long as the Herodians get to stay on top of the secular pecking order. They are, basically, successful, secular Jews in our modern understanding. They are as closely aligned with the political power structure as the pro-Israel lobby is in the US today.

So, on the coin, whose image is this? In Greek Jesus asks, “Whose icon is this?” The answer is correct: it is Caesar. But, brothers and sisters, Whose icon is Caesar? Every human being is created as the icon of God!

When the Herodians, not even thinking religiously, hear “Render to Caesar…” they are pleased.  Yet Jesus says something even more shocking: and much more in keeping with the Hebrew Prophets. Jesus says whatever political authority you have… This is part of God’s icon, part of God’s plan. This is the root of St Paul saying that all authority is God-given and that the King is God’s instrument. This is right in line with the Hebrew Prophets saying God has used Persia to save the Jews (even calling the King of Persia “Messiah” at one point!)

Jesus says, “You’re right… but not enough. You’re drawing distinctions where there are none to draw.”

We, friends, must stop drawing lines of rupture between Jesus and his culture. God in the flesh decided the time and the place of his incarnation. The culture, the people, the politics, the family structure, the class war, these are not accidents. Nor are they necessarily divinely ordained for all time, to be clear. But they are the choices God made for making points.

If we rob the Gospel story of those points, the rest falls apart and becomes a nice story about a hippie with a leftist political agenda… but that’s only for us, today. Another party could rob Jesus of his Judaism and make him out as a hatemonger. (Failing to invoke Godwin’s law would be an error here: Nazis said there were no real differences between Jesus and Hitler. Right wing hate groups today make Jesus out as a white supremacist. Although conservatives often have Anti-semitism in their works, I say “liberals” because they often drive this point home to toss out all the Jewish Law, including teachings on sex and morality. Also the “Jesus Seminar” and their ilk,  eliminates anything from the sayings of Jesus that other teachers were saying at the time… so that Jesus becomes almost entirely disconnected from his Jewish conversants. This idea that the Jewish Scriptures are so filled with error that we toss them out is a heresy condemned by the Church.

This is not an interfaith dialogue.

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JMJ

Today’s Readings:

Et nunc magnificabitur Christus in corpore meo, sive per vitam, sive per mortem. Mihi enim vivere Christus est, et mori lucrum.
Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.
Philippians 1:20c-21
To live is Christ. The Greek uses the verb form of the noun, “Zoe,” which is the divine life of God. τὸ ζῆν Χριστὸς, “To Zen Christos.” To Zen is Christ. No apologies, I love it! In Galatians, Paul says he is crucified with Christ, and yet he (Paul) Zens because Christ Zens in him.

What does it mean to live Christ? How can it be that we live him? Is it possible that in my flesh, and in my everyday life, I am Christ? That is too new agey. Is it possible that somehow all the things I do everyday, good and bad, safe and unsafe are all Christ? No that would be silly. Since I am a baptized Christian, should I say that everything I do, or everything I want to do is Christ? That would be delusional. That would deny the reality of sin. So what does it mean, to live is Christ?

Reading CS Lewis I am often made aware of traditional Christian Anthropology. We are here as God’s creation to do God’s work; we are here as reflections of God’s presence in the world. We are never more ourselves than when we are letting God work through us. All of our gifts, all of our talents, all of our very being and purpose are here only for this very service. When God loves and heals me it is often through the actions of some human. When I serve and heal someone else truly as God loves them, it is God loving them through me. To live is Christ may also mean Christ living through my presence. To make that happen though, I have to get out of the way. All the things that only seem to be me, but that are actually destroying me need to go away. We are never less our selves then when we are insisting on our own way, demanding our own space, insisting that God to get out of the way and let us be us.

To Zen Christ, then, is to let all those things die. We think those things are us, but really those things are keeping us from being who God created us to be. Those things are keeping us from salvation, those things are keeping us from theosis.

For each of us those things are some things different. It may be pride in our artwork. It may be skill that somehow has glossed over into gluttony. It could be lust. It could be love of something which otherwise would be fine, but now is a distortion. It could be a desire for peace and quite that keeps us out of Church. Each of us must be honest about what those things are and we must crucify them; so that Christ can live us.

Do you see? We are crucifying the us we think we are so that Christ whom we really are can live us. We are each giving up what we think is life, what we vainly imagine life to be, so that Christ (who is life) can live us.

In the Gospel today, the parable of the vineyard and the workers, we see what happens when we fail to live as Christ, fail to let Christ live us. You know that if this Parable were lived out today, the first groups of workers would form a union and would protest outside the vineyard demanding just wages and better compensation. I am not even sure who the Church would side with. Who are the deplorables in this story? Are they ones complaining about poor treatment – even though they got exactly what they were offered? Or are the deplorables the ones who are lazy and laying about all day and still manage to take a day’s wages for the briefest of work? While the protests are gearing up, and the picket lines form outside the vineyard the owner and the workers who came at the last hour will shut the gates like so many wise virgins and there would be a party inside. So used are we to demanding our rights, our privileges, our just desserts that we fail to live Christ.

I have been reading Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain. I have never read it, and I am enjoying it greatly. Perhaps this is because I have just become Roman Catholic and Merton’s journey seems much like my own. I did not know before he was a Trappist monk he considered becoming a Franciscan. He’s so linked with Trappist silence in my mind – and in popular presentation – that I was surprised to read this. His decision to not become a Franciscan was based on the realization that it would be no sacrifice at all for him to be in the Franciscan order. Even giving up all he owned, and, after being a novice for a while, he would still be himself. All of his faults and foibles would still be present, with nothing to challenge them, nothing to break them. I wonder if I should not be judging my life on that same, strict standard. What if something that I want is not a sign from God? In fact what if my wanting it is exactly the sign I should seek and pray to not want it? What does God want? For me to praise and serve him. Is that always the same thing I want? No! In fact wanting something by itself may be the sign of me seeking to justify things as they are.

And yet, Grace builds on nature. What we are is what we are. What we become is Christ if we let it happen. We are not destroyed, we become who we were meant to be. We die. And Christ lives.

We are all called to do the work Christ has given us to do. And all of us who do that work as we are called to do it, will be paid exactly the same thing: we will live. It is in our cultural nature, our fallen nature, our sinful nature to demand something more, anything more than the other guy. But God says do this and live. That’s all we’re promised. Sainthood.

Oh, and we are promised that everyone will hate us if we conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Saint up.

And stop complaining.

All Teh Feelz

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JMJ

Today’s readings:

Dixit Jesus, “Cui ergo similes dicam homines generationis hujus? et cui similes sunt? Similes sunt pueris sedentibus in foro, et loquentibus ad invicem, et dicentibus: Cantavimus vobis tibiis, et non saltastis: lamentavimus, et non plorastis.”
Jesus said, “To what shall I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance. We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.'”

Luke 7:31-32
The first time ever I wrestled with this description I think I imaged that Jesus liked “the people of this generation”, or at least pitied them. Pity, in a way, may be a good word, but like is not. In fact Jesus is calling them fools. He’s also saying they are foolish for all their feelings.  Over and over, it seems to me today’s generation(s) are more intune with Jesus’ time than we like to admit. 
I recently re-read Calvin Miller’s wonderful retelling of the New Testament story, The Singer Trilogy. Chapter 13 opens with this verse:

No person ever is so helpless as
the man in whom joy and misery
sleep comfortably together. 

No physician can give health and
happiness to the man who enjoys
his affliction. For such a man
health and happiness are always
contradictory.

It goes on to tell the story of a man with a maimed hand and arm. The Jesus character (called “The Singer”) offers to heal the man fully if he “will just desire it whole and believe it can be.” The man cannot do so, for his whole being is subsumed in the pain, almost as though to be healed would be to rob him of his being. In response to repeated offers to heal him, the man says only, “Stop your mocking. I am a sick old man whom life has cheated of a hand.” In the end the Singer leaves the man alone and in pain waiting “for the Singer to join him in his pity.”
So many of our stories today are about people who don’t want healing, they want mutual pity. They don’t want a way out, they want to be trapped in their pain, confusion, and lament – and to trap all of us there with them. Their anger forms walls around their pride, their self-definition is generated by negation: I am not-that. Our affirmation of even the possibility of truth causes pain. I wrote yesterday that to save those around us, “The only way to show them how to escape is to go inside and draw a map to the exit.” Someone who has been there might have to thread the labyrinth again and slay the Minotaur. 
But who would do that? Who has been there… and wants to go back in? I think Jesus calls each of us to that task. We are, each of us, skilled at some labyrinth somewhere. Go get a ball of thread.

Enculturated


Today’s readings:

Suæ domui bene præpositum: filios habentem subditos cum omni castitate. Si quis autem domui suæ præesse nescit, quomodo ecclesiæ Dei diligentiam habebit?
He must manage his own household well, keeping his children under control with perfect dignity; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the Church of God?
1 Timothy 3:4-5
It sounds odd to our ears to read this for three reasons. One: since the 70s, at least, these have been shared duties – in theory. Two: for the 200 years or so prior to that, although the man was the “head of the house” the woman was the manager. We see this in such bizarre images as the 50s housewife, and the Grand Dames of Downton Abbey. Even downstairs, Carson may be the muckety muck, but it is Mrs Hughes that actual runs all things – even Carson.
The third reason this sounds odd: no one does adulting any more. Managing a house? Blergh.
Jesus raising from the dead the son of the widow of Nain is often seen as an act of cultural compassion. The woman had no man to fend for her, she was to become an outcast. By restoring her son to her, he gives her household a head. So it seems. 
Neither Jesus nor Paul waste a lot energy critiquing the culture in which they find themselves.  Paul makes comments about the sexual morals of the gentiles, Jesus makes comments about the religious liberals of his day being “whited sepulchers”, but in the end, neither says “boo” about the Roman power structure, or the ways different groups of people are treated in the society.  Jesus doesn’t question Pilot’s authority over him, Paul blatantly appeals to Caesar in an attempt to get away from his own people. 
Paul appeals to the family structure of the time. Jesus uses the political, ethnic, and religious forces in his homeland to God’s greater glory.
Does this mean “God approves these things” and “cultures at variance are to be considered sinful”? 
What about rather, at minimum: God uses what’s there. God starts where people are and moves them to where they need to be. God leaves none of us unchanged, sinful, alone. But God gets to us where we are.
I’ve been thinking about the Story of St Mary of Egypt a lot recently. Very brief, Mary enjoyed sex. A lot. In fact, she did a lot of things just to have sex – or to have time to have the sex she wanted to have. She’s very clear: she didn’t sell her body for money. She was doing this because she enjoyed doing it. One day she saw a bunch of young men waiting for a boat and, flirting with them, she discovered they were going to Jerusalem to visit the Holy Places and attend the Elevation of the Holy Cross – a feast we celebrated last week. She decided that all these youths on a boat was too much fun to pass up and when they said “you need money to get on the boat” she said, “Take me with you, you’ll not find me superfluous”. And they all had sex all that time…
When she got to Jerusalem, some invisible, spiritual force kept her from entering the Church.
Realizing this “force” is her own sin, she prays before an Image of the Virgin and asks for grace to venerate the cross… which she does… and then she begins 40 years of struggle to get back to purity.
God got her.
God used her own addictions to pull her to him.
And then got her. Grace builds on nature. It is our weakness that lets God take the lead.
What if God does that even to cultures? 
A slow process of meditative, prayerful change brought out of the death-happy world of Rome (where the Father of the House could expose a child or an older person on the hillside just to improve the economics) a Christian culture of life where abortion, euthanasia, political murder, even war itself was seen as sinful. How did that happen? And where did it go?
Today we struggle with the same sort of Questions. How do we engage the culture without becoming contaminated by it? How do we dance the Gospel in the world without becoming part of that world ourselves? Can we use the internet for evangelization? Is there a place for technology? What do we do with all this sex?
Rome has come back with a vengeance.
Can we walk alongside the culture and find the good things, and let grace build on nature? The Salvation of many depends on the answer. The only way to show them how to escape is to go inside and draw a map to the exit.

May G-d Bless & Keep the Tzar…

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JMJ

Today’s Readings:

Obsecro igitur primum omnium fieri obsecrationes, orationes, postulationes, gratiarum actiones, pro omnibus hominibus: pro regibus, et omnibus qui in sublimitate sunt, ut quietam et tranquillam vitam agamus in omni pietate, et castitate: hoc enim bonum est, et acceptum coram Salvatore nostro Deo, qui omnes homines vult salvos fieri, et ad agnitionem veritatis venire.
First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:1-4

St Paul, writing to St Timothy, says Christians should pray for all in authority. The emperor Paul wants us to pray for, here, is Nero. This is important. Why? Because I don’t think we have a choice. No choice at all: our duty is to be in the world as the soul is in the body, as leaven is in flour. We have a job to do.

What this means is we need to praying hard for President Trump.

And what should we be praying for, what are we commanded to pray for? That he will keep the peace long enough to let the Church be the Church, ut quietam et tranquillam vitam agamus in omni pietate, et castitate, in all piety and chastity, to use a bad English rendering of Jerome’s word choice here. The Greek includes elements of dignity, probity, and purity. Gravitas might have been a better Latin word (building on the Pagan Roman virtues as understood then). Translation always leads to simplifications. Castitate includes emotional and physical elements that can be understood to include modesty, will, the affections, and all the senses, also our interactions with our memories, fantasies, conscience, etc. “Chastity” however, sounds like a code word for “not having sex”. So, ok, the NABRE goes for “dignity”.  I prefer Courage to Dignity, as the former is more Catholic. But I see where the NABRE was going with it, anyway.

That’s it, really. I think there’s nothing wrong with writing letters to the Emperor to say, “You did a bad thing”, but the whole point is to get the gov’t to let the Church be the Church. To let Christians get about, quietly and unmolested, being Christians at each other and the world. We don’t need an assist from any of the political parties. Our job is not to force the gov’t to be Christian (although if Christians get into Gov’t that is *exactly* their job). But rather, our job is to subvert the order: keep things quite out there, we’re saving the world.

Our job is not to overthrow the unjust, nor to change the laws. Our job is to ignore them, subvert them, live as if they didn’t exist. Can the Church decide that someone has to go? Yes, the Pope’s the Vicar of Christ. But until then, pray for peace and do the Kingdom’s work in the vast expanse of interstitial space-time. Do it even if the Emperor isn’t doing his job at keeping the peace.

Take as your example all those first century protests, barricades, bottle rockets, picket lines, and letter writing campaigns. They didn’t make saints then… they won’t do it now.

Pray, and do.

I’ll close with Merton, from the Seven Storey Mountain.

At the Cross her Station Keeping

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JMJ

Today’s readings:

“Behold, your mother.”
After the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (yesterday) comes the commemoration of Our Lady of Sorrows, noting, as St Simeon prophesied, a sword has pierced Our Lady’s heart.  Mary stands at the foot of the cross experiencing loss, a deep painful loss that anyone can understand if they have seen a parent mourn the loss of a child: especially a young child, but any child dying before the parent at all triggers this grief. I think it’s something we all can see – the thought that “I should not be here, parents are supposed to die first.” 
And this adds to Jesus’ pain as well, God knows this grief, the pain of watching his own mother suffer, of being unable to help her, to comfort her.
But Mary knows the grief, also, of a widow. There is this image at my parish of the Death of St Joseph, that is so tender, so loving. Joseph laying in Mary’s arms, while Jesus commends Joseph’s soul (in the form of a dove) to heaven. God, too, has experienced this grief: of watching a parent die; of being unable to help his mother even then.
And so this goes on: When God reaches adulthood and must leave home, must leave his widowed mother alone. And her in the keeping of the family, perhaps, or maybe just alone with people to look in on her from time to time. God has things to do, the Cat’s in the Cradle, as the song goes. It’s time to move on, there are things to do: taking care of Mother has to be left as a lesser good. And she knows this – but both feel the pain.
Our Lady knows our pains as well as her divine Son does. She is faithful through them. When she said yes to the incarnation she opened the door to all this pain, all this sorrow. She didn’t know about this stuff at that point. It was all coming though, site unseen she accepted it.
That is our lot as well.
Baptism is a road, a journey. As Bilbo said to Frodo, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
We may bite off more than we think we can chew. Or we may find ourselves alone – quite literally – with no one except God.
And in the end.. what? What comfort in knowing that Mary and Jesus have a sense of this?
I’ve been obsessed for the last few weeks with this line from the Catholic Stuff You Should Know podcast; this image from after the first Easter, maybe after the Ascension, or some other point… of Jesus meeting Abba Yosef in heaven… and just… crying. Hugging. Abba… Daddy.  Although the Second Person of the Trinity was never parted from the Father on the Throne of Glory in Heaven, the baby, Jesus, did not have the brain, the words, the mental skills to know anything (for he was Fully Human) to see aught but the Momma, and the Daddy. And when formulating an image for others of God the Father, Abba Yosef would have been part of that… and they meet in heaven. There is joy and love.

Then a few cosmic moments laters – years later on Earth – when Mary arrives and there is a reunion of the family, the Holy Family, and like the Patriarch Joseph in Egypt, all of God’s household knows and there is rejoicing.
And in the time of all the things, where we are, in the space where there is real sadness and pain, God has stood here and known it intimately. All of our sorrows, all of the swords in our hearts lead only to our salvation. They have been turned from our pain to our healing, by this love, this divine Charity, that doesn’t undo our damage, but repurposes it. The deep magic can’t be undone, but the deeper magic from before time can change and redirect it.

Mary stands weeping at the foot of the Cross – as do we – and in that weeping: salvation.

Love wins.

We wanna go back to Egypt.

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JMJ

Today’s readings:

Cur eduxisti nos de Ægypto, ut moreremur in solitudine? deest panis, non sunt aquæ: anima nostra jam nauseat super cibo isto levissimo.
Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!
Number 21:5b
We would never raise our voices against the Lord and against Lord’s anointed like they did in Moses’ day!
Certainly not.
You can’t count complaining about the current president.
Or the congress.
Nor the economy.
These are not the same thing
You can’t count our complaining about the weather.
About the state of the culture.
You can’t count our complaining about the Bishops.
Or about what the Pope may or may not do when he’s on an airplane.
This has nothing to do with whining about crime
Or about persecution of Catholics.
Surely we should be ok moaning about the healthcare system
or the state of sexual morals and murdered babies.
We would never
Then again, we might.
And God calls us to look at the Cross and be healed.
But, you will say, such contemplative action cannot fix healthcare or the climate.
It will never stop monks who murder in hospitals
Or bishops who want to juggle at mass.
It cannot heal the racial divide or wound to death our sexual pride.
We must do something.
Yes: look at the Cross and be healed.
Have you even tried?
Do you even contemplate, bro?
Be quiet before the Cross
As Mary and John were
As time stands still and opens up across all dimensions at every liturgy.
Behold the wood on which hung the price of the world’s salvation.
Just there, the eye of the storm of all time and space.
There.
Silence and stillness.
It is finished.
Have you even tried this?
Really.
It’s the answer.

Pie in the Sky By and By When You Die

Today’s readings:

Beati pauperes, quia vestrum est regnum Dei.
Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours.
Luke 6:20b
It seems entirely possible to read this and other passages as if God likes poor people and hates the rich, as if there are so many ways that the poor are blessed in the afterlife – and the rich are damned – that it must be quite easy to “buy your way into heaven” by getting rid of all your stuff. That reading can work really well for a certain sort of activist who wants to overthrow the system and make everyone “equal”, whatever that might mean. It also works equally well for another sort of activist who wants to condemn all religion as the opiate of the masses.

It is not so: there is no state on this life that will “fix” us in this problem. St Basil says (emphasis added):

Not every one oppressed with poverty is blessed, but he who has preferred the commandment of Christ to worldly riches. For many are poor in their possessions, yet most covetous in their disposition; these poverty does not save, but their affections condemn. For nothing involuntary deserves a blessing, because all virtue is characterized by the freedom of the will. Blessed then is the poor man as being the disciple of Christ, Who endured poverty for us. For the Lord Himself has fulfilled every work which leads to happiness, leaving Himself an example for us to follow.

You are not virtuous simply because you are poor. Wealth, per se, is not listed among the sins, but pride and envy are, both.

In the Gospel, however, 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.

St Ambrose of Milan notes (emphasis again added):

But although in the abundance of wealth many are the allurements to crime, yet many also are the incitements to virtue. Although virtue requires no support, and the offering of the poor man is more commendable than the liberality of the rich, still it is not those who possess riches, but those who know not how to use them, that are condemned by the authority of the heavenly sentence. For as that poor man is more praiseworthy who gives without grudging, so is the rich man more guilty, who ought to return thanks for what he has received, and not to hide without using it the sum which was given him for the common good. It is not therefore the money, but the heart of the possessor which is in fault. And though there be no heavier punishment than to be preserving with anxious fear what is to serve for the advantage of successors, yet since the covetous desires are fed by a certain pleasure of amassing, they who have had their consolation in the present life, have lost an eternal reward. 

St John Chrysostom would warn that all of us are in danger of condemnation:

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.

I’ve noted, often, a desire to care for the poor in abstract, but not in specifics. A desire to run charities, while at the same time a fear of the poor procreating; a desire to educate, but not to evangelize (cuz, why would they want to come to our church?). There are people who smell out there. The first time I heard Christians not wanting to let “them” into “our” church was not with Joel Osteen was worried about Hurricane Harvey, but rather back at the turn of the century when a nice Episcopal congregation was afraid that feeding the homeless on Friday would mess things up too much for liturgy Sunday.

We’re really scared of the lower classes in this country: see how easily a populist political movement that, a few years ago, would have been called part of the 99%, is now called “deplorables”. We’re ok with poverty in the abstract, but not in the particular.

Jesus was, I think, mostly poor and perhaps often homeless. But not always. But he was always from among the laboring class: lower class, smelly, sweaty. Pious. But not always the “best class”. God has no preferential option for the poor in terms of salvation. And, even if there was such a thing, here in the first world, with you reading my essays on the internet, neither of us qualify. We’re rich.

And condemned. We can all be equally warned by the words of St Paul, Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.

Jesus wants to draw us all into his Kingdom. With man – and our political aspirations – this is not possible. But with God, all things are possible. We’re left holding the bag of junk and our job is to give the junk away to those who have none and then offer all of it to Christ. 

Making Up for Whatever is Lacking

+J+M+J+


Today’s readings:

Adimpleo ea quæ desunt passionum Christi, in carne mea pro corpore ejus, quod est Ecclesia.
In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his Body, which is the Church…
Colossians 1:24b
You have to admit that’s a shocker.
Paul, who is not God, saying his pains somehow complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? The Greek word rendered in Latin as “desunt” is ὑστέρημα, husteréma, meaning “lacking” but also “a defect”. It’s a strong word here.
The Anglicans, contra St Paul’s divinely inspired teaching, underscore what most of us modern folks (I dare say, many Catholics as well) would understand as the truth, that Christ on Calvary, made “by his one oblation of himself once offered a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world”. We’ll get into the daily, omnipresent Eucharistic Oblation at another time, but today let’s let the Anglican formulary (and what I presume is the understanding of most modern folks about Jesus’ actions) wrestle with St Paul’s idea that he can add something to Jesus’ sufferings.
Follow me here.
Jesus says: Whatever you do to the least of these, my brethren, you do to me.
Paul says: For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ…and are made one in Christ.
Jesus goes further and says: As the Father has loved me (which love we understand to be the Holy Spirit) so have I loved you; and we are also to love one another.
Even Cramner says that in the Eucharist we are made “very members incorporate in the mystical body of” Jesus.
By Baptism and Eucharist, by our incorporation into the Body of Christ, we participate fully in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We do not thereby exhaust the power of God in those actions (which is infinite) but rather make those actions present in place and time. Our simple somatic presence in this world is replaced by God’s divine Zoe, the life of Christ. 
What happens to us – in that state of Grace – is part of the Passion of Christ.
And all of our lives, if properly offered to God, can partake of that divine transaction. 
Thus our suffering – our back pains, our arthraticky, our lumbago, our agony over the place of America in the world, our wrestling with the ideas of the current political climate, our pain at feeling rejected for our faith, our humility in submitting to an unjust boss or landlord, our willingness to go without so that our children might not go hungry, our setting aside a former life, our chastity, our abstention from meat or any other thing that is good by itself, our pains of withdrawals, our doing without an extra vacation or winter coat so that others might have one winter coat… these are now all become the action of Christ in his redemption of the World if they are offered up in that way, apud Josephum per Mariam ad Jesum

Dearest Jesus, after the example of the Chaste Heart of Joseph and through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer thee all of my plans, dreams, and intentions, all of my thoughts, words, and deeds, all of my joys and sufferings, my hopes and fears, all of my crosses and crowns of this day and all of my life, all for the intentions of thy Sacred heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, for the salvation of souls, the reparation of sins, the reunion of all Christians, and the intentions of our Holy Father, the Pope.

Judgement and Love


Today’s Readings:

Si autem peccaverit in te frater tuus, vade, et corripe eum inter te, et ipsum solum: si te audierit, lucratus eris fratrem tuum.
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
Matthew 18:15

Who was the first person ever to let you go off on your own and sin your own special way? Who was the first person ever to call you back and tell you to stop? Ezekiel has a job for us: the entire passage laughs at our fear of being offensive.

Thus says the LORD: You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me. If I tell the wicked, “O wicked one, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself.

Am I my brother’s keeper? YHVH says, Yes, indeedy. Who let you go and run amuck? How far away did you get before someone called you back? Paul says, though, Love is the fulfilment of the law. The Incarnate Logos tells us how this is all true.

The Latin peccaverit translates the Greek, ἁμαρτάνω hamartanó: It’s a verb. It means “missing the mark” although the Latin runs directly to “sin”.  Missing the mark is the phrase used for sin in all the New Testament. What is the mark? Meaning of course, also, how do we miss it? In a culture that fails to imagine “sin” as a real thing, we all recognize “missing the mark” although increasingly things like “participation awards” seem to even erase that idea.
Jesus seems to deny the possibility of a participation award, however: he is very clear that someone can miss your mark; or that I can “sin against you”, I can miss the mark you’ve set.
Additionally, Jesus doesn’t say you should ignore this. The advice is not “if anyone sins against you do not judge or do anything that will make them feel uncomfortable. Quite the opposite in fact: if someone misses your mark, go talk to them!
At work, among our cultural values we list candor. We ask for candid feedback at every turn. Our CEO once explained the process as “has someone made you angry, go talk to them.”  And then he asked of the gathered staff that we should raise our hands if we would welcome that sort of feedback.  Everyone in the room raised their hands.
Can you imagine that at your parish?

Jesus wants that to be normal. I have sinned against you: you come talk to me. Failing that, you get a buddy to come along. Should that also fail, bring the whole parish.

The whole process is set up to lucratus eris fratrem tuum, to “gain your brother”; to restore to unity him who has walked away in sinning.  While you’re to be about your business of forgiveness, that does not mean nothing bad has happened: they’ve walked away from communion with the Church.

Sin does that, it shatters communion. But to acknowledge the Communion is broken is not a sin. In fact to pretend it’s not broken, to go on as if nothing is wrong, only confirms someone in their shattered state. Who let you go so far away that you didn’t even want to bother coming back?

Jesus wants us to (first, quietly) gently tell someone they’ve broken communion, in love. Hiding the truth here is not love. It’s tolerance. It’s disinterested regard. It’s presenting a neutral affect. It’s cutting ourselves off from communion. Because if you really loved someone you would be holding them in communion and not letting them walk away. Not telling the truth here, damning them, is the same thing as hate. That person that let you walk away without even a word of condemnation? That was hate, pure and simple.

The wicked shall die for his guilt, but God will hold you responsible for his death.