Totally Radical Dude

ORadix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the peoples, at whom kings shall shut their mouths, to whom the Gentiles shall seek: come and deliver us, and tarry not
– English from Divine Worship: Daily Office

JMJ

There is a tendency to read the entire Gospel as Spiritual Content and to overlook the, if you will, political implications of the plain sense of Scripture. This tendency is so common that when we hear political readings of text we instantly think it can’t be so. As I mentioned in my first post, the response is often, “Don’t be so (insert political bias): Jesus came to save souls.” This is true regardless of any political bias you may have: if you lean left or right, your “political reading” of the scripture may be discounted by your opponents as “worldly” and unrelated to the “true, spiritual meaning”. Curiously the tendency is often reversed as well: there are those who say God is only political and there is no spiritual implication involved. This Jesus was a (insert political bias) and the theology is unimportant, added later, made up.

Today’s verse can be read in response to both of these false dichotomies of theology and politics.

The motto of this blog displayed on the banner is “Deo Optimo Maximo Et Christo Liberatori”. It is usually translated as “To the Most Excellent God and to Christ the Liberator”. It is an ancient motto, found in Rome and other places from the earliest times, but I first heard of it look up historic photos of the Episcopal parish I attended in college, St Luke in the Fields, Greenwich Village. Although the text was missing in the structure where I worshipped it was, before a fire that burned it all down, originally emblazoned around the altar.

The first part of that line, Deo Optimo Maximo, was once a title of the Roman God, Jupiter. It was seen as a fitting title of the One True God, the source of all being. In the early church, though, it was not God the Father but Jesus to whom the saints gave the qualities and titles of the pagan deities. And so, while we might want to read the motto as something about God the Father and then something about God the Son, that would be wrong. This motto says “To the (great God and Messiah) the Liberator”. Jesus is both the Great God (or “Maximum God”) and the Christ. He is the Liberator. Jesus is, as Rosie the Robot used to say on The Jetsons, “The Most Ut.”

Liberate us, or as the Antiphon says, deliver us – yes, from our sins, certainly – but what about the other sort of liberation? Why would kings stand silent before a religious teacher? Why did the Romans want to kill Jesus? You can, if you want, make it all about religion – and then fall back on blaming the Jews. Or, you can see what the Jews saw – and what they made the Romans see: Jesus was a theological threat to Jewry, yes, but he was a political threat to Pilate and the Romans. I don’t care if you’re an anarchist, a Marxist, or a Republican: Jesus clearly offered a political choice to the oppressed peoples of his backwater Roman colony.

Jesus, speaking to his disciples, says the world will hate them because they are not of this world using the Greek phrase ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου οὐκ ἐστέ ek tou kosmou ouk este (John 15:19). A few pages later, Jesus uses the same phrase, οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου, to describe his Kingdom (John 18:36). When Jesus says his disciples are “not of this world” we know it means we do not live according to this worldly system, we are counter-cultural. We still live in the world. There is neither Jew nor Greek – but we are still our ethnicities. They are no longer important. Our identity is not “American Catholics” but Catholics. We are in the world but not of it – so is the Kingdom. Yet so many times when we hear Jesus say the same words about his Kingdom we imagine him to mean “Well, my kingdom is in heaven, not here on earth…” and then we go on to say he has no political plans. We say this especially if we have our own plans… Our antiphon today seems to indicate quite the opposite.

As we have seen, these Advent Antiphons attribute their qualities to Jesus himself: Adonai, Wisdom, etc. These verses are not singing to God the Father at all. So it is Jesus whom the Gentiles seek, before whom kings are silent, and who is our banner (ensign) to wave. Jesus will come and deliver us. He is the liberator. Notice there is not much talk of spiritual content in this antiphon – it can be seen as nearly all political if we want.

Before readers get upset I want to be clear about something: Jesus is not taking sides here. There is no right humans and wrong humans here. There are right and wrong systems, however. When we are brought into the kingdom of God we are taken out of the world. Yet we are still in the world and must make political choices here. Some worldly systems may mirror certain aspects of the Kingdom, but none of them are the Kingdom. Democracy is nice and all but capitalism sucks. Socialism can destroy private property but it seems to promote better economic justice. Mob rule (democracy) can lead to some really horrid oppressions but monarchy isn’t always the right solution and dictatorships fail – even goodly minded ones. No human system, based in this world, is the right solution. And the only way the Kingdom will be the final solution of Heaven: it’s when everyone is a member of the Kingdom and that’s not happening in this world at all.

Christians have choices to make. This antiphon mirrors the virtue of Justice. Christians have to find ways to walk through the world embodying the Justice of the Kingdom in our actions and our relationships. We constantly, however, confuse God’s justice with simply this-worldly ideas of Justice. Refusing to apply Christian teaching and morality, many people act as if anyone who claims to be oppressed in our society deserves Christian liberation. It is unjust to oppress anyone however telling someone they cannot sin is not oppression. In God’s law all humans have the freedom to commit sin but they do not have the right to commit sin. It is not unjust to pass laws against sin. It is unjust to rob anyone, however, in the Kingdom, refusing to share one’s surplus is robbing the poor – and one never needs as much as one claims. The Fathers say if you have more than one pair of shoes and you never wear the others you’re robbing the poor of that pair of shoes. If you have clothes that you do not wear you are robbing the poor of those clothes. The only reason God gives you wealth is so that you can give it to others thereby being God-like. It is not unjust to find ways to redistribute wealth. This gets us to the root – the radix – of our problems: we are constantly trying to do something of this world when we should do everything not of this world. Even using the tools of this world, we must be not of this world at all in the use of them.

Holy wisdom teaches us prudence, the Holy Spirit gives us fortitude, and now we can begin to learn to live in Justice thanks to the Incarnation of God. Yet it is not a worldly Justice based on “rights” imagined by the state but it is an otherworldly Justice based in the kingdom of God.

O Radix

+JMJ+

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O Root of Jesse, who stand as a sign for the people, kings stand silent in your presence, whom the nations will worship: come to set us free, put it off no longer.

Picking up the 12 steps, again, with a bit of overlap from the last time, we’ve realised things were a mess. We’ve realised, in fact, that the mess is our fault and now, we’ve admitted all that. And we’ve asked for help from something we don’t quite yet understand.
  • 5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  • 6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  • 7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Come and set us free: put it off no longer!
There is a poem by George Herbert, called “The Collar“, wherein the poet is yelling and screaming at God. And, at the end, God has heard everything and says, “My Child…” and the poet turns and say, “Lord?”
Recovery is such: when we realise the mess we are in, we sometimes still do not like the answer. We must come, in fact, to that moment of silence before the Root of Jesse. He doesn’t mind the ranting, he doesn’t mind the raving, but there is that moment when God gets his turn to speak, a moment of silence. It is the moment of revelation in our recovery. Having admitted that everything was broken, we hear God say, “My child…”
We have to be ready: God will remove it all – painfully, slowly, and not without all possible love and tenderness. But it still hurts. We don’t like this in our word today: we think anything that hurts must be bad, must be stopped. We melt like snowflakes before pain so much so that even hearing someone disagreeing with us can be called a “micro aggression” and you’ll be treated as if you hit someone. We don’t like pain: so we run away from a God who wants us to change. God says, “My  child, sit still…”
Advent, this season of waiting, is this moment of silence. It is, I think, the time when all of the world can hear God say, “My Child…” to each of us, individually. I don’t mean Advent, the liturgical season, however: the Church year is an Icon of our salvation. Each of us goes through Advent on her own terms. Each of us, eventually, comes to the stable when God says to him, “My Child…” and we each finally answer, “Lord?”
And then we can say, “come and set us free – and wait no longer!”
There is another poem, by John Donne, that speaks of this process rather differently. We’ll get to that next time and I promise it will not be late! But after God removes our short-comings, there is something more important for we are not set free for ourselves: Christianity is not about getting out of hell. It’s about getting into heaven. And, for all that it’s been a hard row to hoe so far, it only gets harder!

The Great Scandal


Today’s readings:

  • Judges 13:2-7, 24-25A
  • Luke 1:5-25

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with Mass texts.

Radix Jesse, stans in signum populorum: veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse’s stem, sign of God’s love for all his people: come to save us without delay!
Alleluia verse

Again, the Alleluia verse today is a condensed version of the text used with the Magnificat in Vespers:

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

The Christmas Carol, “Lo how a rose e’er blooming” can make this whole Radix Jesse  seem rather pastoral, floral, and Victorian.

Lo, how a rose e’er blooming,
From tender stem hath sprung.
Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
As men of old have sung;
It came, a flow’ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.
Isaiah ’twas foretold it,
The Rose I have in mind,
With Mary we behold it,
The virgin mother kind;
To show God’s love aright,
She bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.
O Flower, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispel with glorious splendour
The darkness everywhere;
True man, yet very God,
From Sin and death now save us,
And share our every load.

It is theologically sound, but I think it paints the wrong picture. Several times this Advent I’ve heard some idea of Mary having an “unplanned pregnancy”. I know what’s up – people are preaching against abortion and they are to be lauded in this – but the idea that Mary had an unplanned pregnancy is so far from the truth, so alien, as to be 100% wrong.

The Gospel of the Ancestry of Jesus from Matthew 1:1-25 was read on Saturday in the Roman Rite and on Sunday in the Byzantine Rite. That tongue-twisting text contains three surprises: Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. It is held by some scholars that this text describes the actual lineage of Joseph who was thought to be Jesus’ father. (The different tracing in Luke is thought to be of Mary.) So, of course, this is not a lineage by blood – for Joseph had no part in Mary’s childbearing. Yet this lineage, cited by St Matthew’s Community, contains a two – or maybe three – Gentile women, with one being a prostitute and another an adulteress.

This parallels well other of St Matthew’s texts which might be read as surprising – if not downright scandalous – to his community. He’s got a Centurion and his “boy”, gentiles, sinners… At the end of the Gospel (28:17) he even commissions people who doubt him to preach his gospel! I think that’s amazing, given what we think about how the Gospels were written: a collection of sacred stories remembered in a given Community and codified and written down for use in that community. When something is (assumedly) shocking to the community and yet included in the text, then, we think it more likely to be true. Your Messiah had as ancestors a prostitute, an adulteress and, at least, two (maybe three) gentiles.

“Gasp,” say all the old ladies.
“Praise the Lord,” say everyone. And all the old ladies nod and say, “Amen.”
And everyone worships the Lord together.

Jesus was not exactly reputable. Kings will fall silent in his presence, this son of a prostitute, adultery, gentiles, and a Virgin. See? God can work it out. He really can. The Lineage of David may be a mess, but God can work it out. It’s not an unplanned pregnancy, in fact, it’s very planned. Very planned, indeed.

In his sermon on Sunday, Fr Hurley suggested that we may be guilty of not letting God’s dream for us come to fruition. In the end, we may be so concerned with things looking right, with things being “just so” that we may miss the reality God has for us: as St Joseph was considering “putting Mary away quietly” to avoid a scandal when he found out she was pregnant. Yet Joseph heard God’s call and answered. What’s for us?

Jesus is, by all standards today, a bit of a hot mess: too liberal for the conservatives, with his willingness to eat with sinners and to party with tax collectors; and too conservative for the liberals (because, “go and sin no more is about all the condemnation anyone can take today). He’s born in poverty, and really doesn’t hang out with the right sort of people. He doesn’t care what your opinions are – he wants you to do things, to give away all you have, to love people. If we want it to be “normal” we’re going to miss out on the things God has for us. We can be like Joseph, but instead of hiding Mary “to protect ‘her’ from scandal” (ie, to protect Joseph from scandal) we’re going to protect us from scandal by hiding the real Jesus.

Matthew keeps his reading community on the edge of their seats and kings will shut their mouths – because this entirely unsuitable being, fathered by smelly sheepherders and unsavory women – is God. So, there’s hope for us – you and I – who mostly fall between Prostitutes and Kings on the social spectrum. There’s hope.

“Gasp,” say all the old ladies.
“Praise the Lord,” say everyone. And all the old ladies nod and say, “Amen.”
And everyone worships the Lord together.

How unbelievably awesome is that? How glorious is our God that lifts up even the bourgeoisie among sinners by going even lower than us to raise us all together.

O Root – 3rd Advent Meditation

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, that stands for an ensign of the people, before whom the kings keep silence and unto whom the Gentiles shall make supplication: come, to deliver us, and tarry not.


Blood, the old saying goes, is thicker than water.  It’s an old slam against Christians – who are just as human as anyone else: the water in question is found in the Baptismal Font. But often, when in a tight space, a Christian, just as much as anyone else, will “stick to his own kind, one of his own kind”. If you’re at all familiar with Christians on the internet, you see it all the time: we’ll stand with “our own kind” over Brother Christians almost any day.

And our own kind – our blood – is measured in race, or sexuality, in nationality, although sometimes we dress it up as “religion”: A “Christian Civilization” as against “Arabs” or Muslims.  We ignore that there are Christians there too – because religion is just one of our things to cover the blood issue.  Blood is thicker than water, after all.  In extremes, this turns in to White Supremacists (who even steal an image of the Crucifixion for their propaganda about “White Man Crucified”), but we do it all the time: any time there is an “us” versus a “them”, an “in group” versus an “out group”, we’re saying blood is thicker than water.  Gangs, fraternities, alma maters with historic grudge matches, Yankees and Confederates, Communists and Capitalists, race, nationality, even sex becomes a division in the body of Christ.

Before I go any further, this is not an appeal to moral relativism: it is possible to be right or wrong.  Nor is it an appeal to a false Ecumenism: Jesus, himself, said, “Not all who say ‘Lord, Lord’ are mine”.  Rather it is an appeal to recognize Jesus’ supremacy over all the powers of our world.  It is possible to be either inside or outside of Jesus’ posse: but the response to finding someone outside the posse is evangelism, not hatred.

All the powers – the bloods – of humanity are in one of two toggled positions: either bringing people together under Christ, or else bringing people together apart from Christ.  That coming together apart from Christ can look so very much like Christians that we get side tracked into not seeing the bad stuff.  How many Christian groups get all interfaith warm and cuddly without trying to preach the Gospel?

One of the Great Miracles of Christmas is how God arranged the world. The Fathers of the Church, and also our liturgy, praise the Pax Romana, the peace enjoyed by so much of the known world at that time because of Rome’s political and military hegemony.  It was all for Rome’s own purposes, of course: draining the world of resources and making Rome wealthy; but it held the world in peace so that the Gospel could be spread.  There was a common language, a common cultural understanding – even among different races and tribes – that made it so easy for the early Church to grow.  Compare this to other modern political “unifications” that only force people together without any sense of peace, that often play both ends against the middle to keep all the people arguing and allow an elite group to remain in power, as often the British did in their empire and colonies. (And African Proverb runs, “If you pass a pond and two fish are fighting, you know the British have been there.”)  We are still cleaning up those messes in Africa, the Middle East, and Ireland.  Rome was a pagan empire used by God.  England not hardly at all – though it was Christian in name. The same is true of any other “empire” in your life.

Have you ever seen an Empire on parade like on Gay Pride Day?  Or have you seen the blood feuds of Europe carried over into American meeting halls and St Patrick’s Day Parades? It is recorded that when the Saxons first came to England, the Celts refused to send them clergy to teach them the Gospel simply because they were Saxons.  Red gangs versus Blue gangs, Nortenos vs Surenos, the list goes on and on.

At several points in my life I wanted to “bring my colors” into Church.  Have you heard about the people who try to wear rainbow sashes to communion?  Once upon a time that was me – although we didn’t do sashes back in the day.  It’s not enough to stand before God at his Altar: I needed to bring my own kingdom with me.  I wanted a church that was “Gay Friendly” without ever asking if I was being Christ Friendly.

I’m not alone there, bringing my flag.  I know about controversies over General Lee’s battle flag being flown at his own parish in Virginia, but what about all those churches with US flags in them – no less a symbol of division and hate to many? Or Grace Cathedral (Episcopal) here in San Francisco, which is decked out in so very many Union Jacks and Royal Standards as to make one think one is in Londonderry just after Marching Season.

And I don’t need to point out that the Monarchs of England (and other places, like Russia, Serbia, Greece) enjoy status as Church functionaries too.

The antiphon today calls Jesus an “ensign of the people, before whom the kings keep silence.” This is not an Republican cry against Monarchism.  Jesus is not here to free us from the oppression of monarchies, or to give us monarchies to free us from the Majority Tyrannies of the mob.  Jesus – contrary to almost every thing the Secular Left and the Secular Right (through their dupes in the Church) say – had no political agenda.  He didn’t “liberate” anyone or preach liberation of any kind. He was not a pacifist, but neither did he get into the political squabbles of his day. The Jews erroneously expected their Messiah to to come and liberate them from Rome. Christians today, no less erroneously, expect Jesus to liberate us from Big Gov’t, from Sexism and Homophobia, from racism, from war.  He’s not come to solve the problem of Islamic Extremism or the Syrian Refugee Crisis.

Jesus makes all those things shut up – not go away.  Makes them be silent in your heart by virtue of your having entered into his kingdom.

And in the silence, you can be saved.

O come, O Rod of Jesse free,
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.

The problem with every “Us/Them” division is that the people on “the other side” are no less icons of the Living God, no less in need of grace, no less worthy of heaven than the people on “our side”.  Gospel was needed in the Concentration Camps of Germany: by both the inmates and the Nazis.  Salvation was needed in the Soviet Gulags no less by the prisoners than by the guards.  the Gospel in America is needed by the KKK and the poor whites whom they brain wash just as much as by the poor blacks that they bully and kill.  Jesus is needed both by the Stupid Party and by the Evil party – apply those labels any way you wish.  It works.  Any tyranny of division is Satan’s own.  Yes, there are lines and borders and even language and race divides us, however any failure to see “them” as God’s children needed the Grace of Jesus is caused not by the reality of the situation, but by Satan.

Again, this is not an appeal to amorality, or to any false union for becoming Christian means leaving idolatry behind, be it of states, sodomy, or sola scriptura.  But we are called to bring the Gospel to all, and to avoid the luxury of human enemies. All us and them is just you and me and I can not be saved without you.  Blood may be thicker than water, at least in viscosity and specific gravity, but just as our baptism makes us one in Christ, so our common humanity makes us one before God’s throne.  In the final accounting no one in the Church will be allowed to say “Those people were not fully human, so we didn’t bother bringing the Gospel to them.”

And by bringing the Gospel: which means preaching and living it we are saved.