Jesus said to his disciples: ‘There
will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations in agony,
bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves; men dying of fear as they
await what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then
they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When
these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because
your liberation is near at hand.
‘Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be
coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day
will be sprung on you suddenly, like a trap. For it will come down on every
living man on the face of the earth. Stay awake, praying at all times for the
strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence
before the Son of Man.’ (NJB)
Trouble with Prophecy
The authors of Luke report that these are the words of
Jesus. In so doing they place lies in the mouth of their friend and their
Jesus never spoke about the end of the world, because
Jesus spoke the truth, and he did not seek to motivate with fear, but with
When the sun spends the last of its nuclear fuel; that
will be a sign of the end of the world (billions of years from now).
If the moon were to slip in its orbit, that would be a
sign of the end of the end of the world (the world as we know it).
The stars are in fact so distant from us, that what
happens with them can have little to do with what happens here, but before our
sun burns itself out, our galaxy will collide with another, and that will
radically change life on this planet (billions of years from now).
God, the creator of the universe, made us, our world,
and our universe free. God does not interfere, or intervene in our lives and
our choices. Because that is true, the only futures we can predict are those
that flow naturally from their antecedents that are present in reality, right
We can predict global warming; because it is
happening, and the antecedents for it were laid down decades ago.
Just as we can predict the continuation of wars,
terrorism, and economic injustice, they are present realities, and matters of
We can predict these things, not because God has
decreed that these things will come to pass, but because we have.
The only liberation we will have from the vicissitudes
of this life, will come at the end of. God will not stretch out God’s hand to
save you from any danger.
Pay no attention to those who use fear to shape your
They are liars.
God wills that you live a life without fear, and the
things that flow from fear; hate, anger, greed, and violence.
To the extent that any of us are drunk, or debauched,
it is certain that we will pay for it in your own ways; through the loss of
monies, the loss of opportunities, the loss of friendship, the loss of dignity.
These habits, (the nature of sin itself), is not that they are traps that will
prevent you from reaching your ultimate destiny. They may frustrate you in this
life (to one degree or another), but they will not separate you from God.
Anyone who says differently is trying to sell you something.
Today is Thanksgiving, a
secular holiday to be sure, but a sacred one for Americans.
Many of us are writing
about the things that we are thankful for, and that is nice.
The expression of
gratitude is always welcome, even gratitude expressed in general for the many
things we receive from those we love, by whom we are loved, that make our lives
more comfortable, more challenging, more meaningful.
To express gratitude in
this way is to, is to make one’s self humble, to acknowledge our reliance on
others for making us who we are.
In theology there is
something known as the apophatic
tradition. In this tradition it is understood that God, the creator of all that
is, that God dwells in a place beyond all human understanding, shrouded in
mystery, in the great cloud of un-knowing.
According to the apophatic tradition, no one can speak
affirmatively as to what or who God is, because God, the infinite will not be
circumscribed by language. There are no positive assertions about the nature of
the Divine, there is only the via
negativa; the way of saying what God is not.
This year I will forgo
the giving of thanks, even though I am truly grateful for everyone in our
lives. I will be selfish and tell you all what I am not thankful for.
I am not thankful that
there is no peace in the world,
Syria, from where millions of people are fleeing their homes
Palestine, where there is apartheid
America, where we are divided by class, culture, color
I am not thankful for white
supremacy, and domestic terrorism
I am not thankful for
am not thankful for the religious fundamentalism that drives it
I am thankful neither for the fear
that spawns it, nor for the fear it creates
I am not thankful that
there is hunger in our bountiful world
I am not thankful for the greed, for the sloth, and for
the bad public policy that foster it
I am not thankful for
willful ignorance, for anti-rational, anti-intellectual, demagoguery
I am not thankful for the cultural relativism that has
promoted it, for anti-objectivism
I am not thankful for liars
I am not thankful for
Donald Trump, for Ted Cruz, for Ben Carson
you the king of the Jews?’ Pilate asked. Jesus replied, ‘Do you ask this of
your own accord, or have others spoken to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I
a Jew? It is your own people and the chief priests who have handed you over to
me: what have you done?’ Jesus replied, ‘Mine is not a kingdom of this world;
if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being
surrendered to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this kind.’ ‘So you are a
king then?’ said Pilate. ‘It is you who say it’ answered Jesus. ‘Yes, I am a
king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to
the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.’ (NJB)
Trouble with Analogies
It is an unfortunate moment in the
development of our faith; that the gospel writers felt compelled to use the
narrative, of Jesus’ arrest, to give Jesus any claim to kingship at all.
He did not seek kingship, kingdoms are
human constructions. It is not a different type of kingdom that Jesus wanted to
inaugurate, but a world without kings.
The analogy we ought to look for, in order
to understand the Way, has nothing to do with royalty and power, with thrones
and dominion, but with life; growing things, caring for things, loving things.
The Way of Jesus is like living in a garden.
That language of God as king, has dogged
us down through the centuries, and it thwarted the mission of Jesus just as
soon as it was first put into use. It gave rise to empires, to principalities,
and to the quasi caliphates that even today use the sacred traditions to prop
up their greed, their vanity, and their callous disregard for humanity.
All Christians bear some responsibility
for this. God, the creator of the universe is not a king, Jesus is not a price.
They are gardeners.
Jesus said, ‘In those days, after the time
of distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the
stars will come falling from heaven and the powers in the heavens will be
shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great
power and glory; then too he will send the angels to gather his chosen from the
four winds, from the ends of the world to the ends of heaven.
‘Take the fig tree as a parable: as soon as its twigs grow supple and
its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. So with you when you see
these things happening: know that he is near, at the very gates. I tell you
solemnly, before this generation has passed away all these things will have
taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
‘But as for that day or hour, nobody knows
it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father.’
the Limits of Human Understanding
Pay attention to the Gospel, and be mindful of the
limits that human agency possesses.
It is instructive.
The authors of this Gospel came to the end of their
ability to narrate the life and mission of Jesus.
They allowed their own imagination, their own fears,
their misguided notions of what the mission of Jesus was, to come in and take
the place of wisdom.
Jesus is transformed from the humble teacher and
preacher that he was in life, into a figure descending from heaven in power and
glory. Jesus would have been the first to tell them that power and glory are no
substitute peace and love, for justice and mercy.
The same thing is true for individuals, for nations,
and for societies, there are times of conflict and there are times of peace,
there are times of despair and there are times of hope, there are times of
confusion and there are times of understanding. When we are farthest away from
the light, we are able to see it in greater focus as the point that draws us.
Allow yourself to be drawn in by the light.
Jesus did not come back in the lifetime of the Gospel
writers. It is unfortunate but they allowed the co-mingling of their fears and
their hopes to write a series of lies into the narrative of Jesus’ life.
The church has been stuck trying to interpret these lies
Heaven and earth are here, they are going nowhere.
There is no end time for God’s creation, but there is an end for us.
When our end comes, what will we say of our lives;
that we lived in fear of the coming of the end, or that we lived them in hope,
with trust, in the service of justice and love?
Today is Veteran’s Day. I am a veteran; and so is my father.
I served in the Navy; as a Hospital
Corpsman. My enlistment was for four years, from 1990 – 1994; a standard contract
that I entered into so that I could earn some money for college. I had few
other options; coming from a poor family, and being a high school dropout. Our
nation went to war only once during that time; the first Gulf War began four
months into my term of service.
I did not go into that theater where we killed 300,000 Iraqis, in the space of a few months.
My father served for twenty-two
years; the first four as a Marine, and then eighteen more in the Air Force. He
was an air traffic controller. Our nation went to war only once during that
time, in Vietnam (though there were other smaller conflicts throughout the
world, the Cold War, The Bay of Pigs…). We killed 3,000,000 Vietnamese.
served multiple tours of duty in Vietnam.
has recently been to war in Iraq a second time, a study published in the Lancet: The British Journal of Medicine,
estimated that we killed upwards of a million more Iraqis. One and a half million
people killed by us in the space of thirteen years; between 1991 and 2004, with
many more since then. Our government denied this number; saying that they did not
keep accurate records of casualties.
The spirits of conflict have a will
of their own…Aries, Nemesis, Strife.
We are waging war around the world
still; in Iraq, in Afghanistan. No reliable information has been gathered about
how many Afghans have been killed, since it began in 2001. Some commentators,
most in fact; call it America’s longest war, though in truth we should all know
it was not longer than our engagement in Vietnam, where my father’s generation
fought and killed and died.
Today is November 11th.
We used to celebrate this day as Armistice Day, to remember the end of World
War I; when the fighting stopped along the lines, stopped suddenly, all at once
at the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month; as if the
director of the war yelled “cut!” And all the actors on the stage, the pawns in
their trenches, the people lying in their graves got up from what they were
doing and went home. But that is not what happened. Sixteen million people were
killed in that war, and it was perceived by those who endured it as so horrible that it was sure to be the
war to end all wars, but that would not be the case.
Today is the feast day of Saint
Martin of Tours. He is the patron saint of soldiers; St. Martin of the Sword,
the first Christian Soldier.
Pope Saint Gregory the Great, who
gave us our calendar (among other things), penned his hagiography, though it is
not likely that Martin ever even lived, making the story of his life just a lie.
In writing his story Pope Gregory gave permission to Christians to takes up
arms; giving Christian soldiers leave to march off to war.
The spirits of conflict have a will
of their own…sometimes their will is our own.
In his teaching Jesus said, ‘Beware of the scribes who
like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted obsequiously in the market
squares, to take the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at
banquets; these are the men who swallow the property of widows, while making a
show of lengthy prayers. The more severe will be the sentence they receive.’
He sat down
opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the treasury,
and many of the rich put in a great deal. A poor widow came and put in two
small coins, the equivalent of a penny. Then he called his disciples and said
to them, ‘I tell you solemnly, this poor widow has put more in than all who
have contributed to the treasury; for they have all put in money they had over,
but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed, all she
had to live on.’ (NJB)
I read a headline today, the Good Pope Francis is
saddened by the number of priests, and prelates who use their office to enrich
themselves; loving money, seemingly more than they love the people who they
have been appointed to serve.
I think of the priesthood today, the priests strolling
around in their long dresses. Doing today exactly what Mark complained about,
in regards to the scribes.
Today’s priests are yesterday’s scribes.
I think of the monies that all churches spend on their
liturgies, their choirs, their incense, their candles; ostensibly to honor the
creator, but really I think it is vanity, and they seek only to honor
themselves, to take pride in their pageantry, and pat themselves on the back.
The liturgies themselves do little to honor God, or
creation, with the creeds and the common prayers serving more to divide one
group from another than to bring them together. In my church, the Catholic
church, even the eucharist (imagined as God’s own self) is used as a bludgeon,
to beat back the people if they are not toeing the line. Those traditions
dishonor the gospel, by seeking to keep God confined.
The real presence of God is already alive in all
people. The church, if it is to be relevant to more than a few, needs to empty
itself, empty its treasury, and meet God where God is living in the hearts of
God’s ministers, in the hearts of their neighbors, in the poor, and the sick,
in the criminal as well as the “good” citizen.
The church must emulate the widow in this Gospel, and
give all it has.
Seeing the crowds, Jesus
went up the hill. There he sat down and was joined by his disciples. Then he
began to speak. This is what he taught them:
happy are the poor in spirit;
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
they shall have the earth for their heritage.
those who mourn:
they shall be comforted.
those who hunger and thirst for what is right:
they shall be satisfied.
they shall have mercy shown them.
the pure in heart:
they shall see God.
they shall be called sons of God.
those who are persecuted in the cause of right:
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Happy are you when
people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you
on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.’
has been written about the sermon on the mount. It is hard for me to believe
that I would have anything new to add to that discussion, but adding something
new is not as important as sharing the story itself, how it shapes my
perspective on the Gospel, and to share that perspective; to keep the
this teaching Jesus shares a way of seeing the world, of living in society, of
understanding our relationship to the creator; one that reverses the
expectation that were prevalent in his time.
might have said; the providence of heaven belongs to all people, regardless of
who they are or where they came or how far they think they are from the love of
the creator, no matter creed they profess, or what traditions bind them, no
matter how little they may think about God.
gentle seek no possessions, they have nothing to guard, are themselves
unguarded and free. By freeing themselves from their desires they have gained
hope, all sadness and all mourning come to an end.
for what is right and just, for what is universal, for touches all people, give
up your concerns for yourself and your tribe. The narrow path leads to misery,
as the broad road leads to joy.
follows upon mercy, as the sun follows the rain.
people will come to the vision of God; as certain as they will come to know
their true selves. The fullness of God is at the center of all people. That
connects us; one to the other.
the parentage of the divine. Take up the task God has set before us. Love
justice. Be merciful. Make peace.
providence of heaven belongs to all people, the possession of it only comes in
you are abused and persecuted for the sake of peace and mercy. Have no fear,
the powers of sin and evil, and the pain they bring, the reality of sickness
and death; they are temporary, and will come to an end.