Confronting Empire with the Word

swordBy Wes Howard-Brook and Sue Ferguson Johnson

As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7.13-14)

The final Sunday of the church year celebrates the feast of Christ the King. It is at once a redundant and a confounding claim: Greek christos translates Hebrew meshiyah, meaning “anointed,” marking a person as a king (or priest, in some Jewish traditions). That is, the very label “Christ” for Jesus suggests royal authority. Yet many today reject the image and language of “kingdom” in relation to the nonviolent Jesus, preferring the wordplay, “kindom.” While we certainly embrace the image of the discipleship community as one, big family of faith, we believe that something crucial to who Jesus is—and who we are as radical disciples—is lost when we abandon the notion of God’s “kingdom.” Continue reading “Confronting Empire with the Word”

Pâstâhowin: The Cosmic Consequences of Breaking Covenant

aslongBy Ched Myers

Note: This is Ched’s last post in a series of weekly comments on the Lukan gospel readings from the Revised Common Lectionary during Year C, 2016. Thanks to RadicalDiscipleship.net for hosting these gospel commentaries over these last couple of years!

On the day after the election, we awake to an America dominated by what Van Jones (on election night) called “whitelash.”  How resonant, then, is Sunday’s gospel:

“The days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down….” (Lk 21:6); and

“By your endurance you will gain your souls.” (21:19)

Continue reading “Pâstâhowin: The Cosmic Consequences of Breaking Covenant”

Resurrection: The Hope That Vindicates God’s Justice

romeroBy Wes Howard-Brook & Sue Ferguson Johnson

There is nothing more radical than resurrection.

From the time Daniel 12 apocalyptically announced that God raises the dead, the intellectual elite in Judea rejected it. Sophisticated skeptics have always scoffed at the notion that life extends beyond the bounds of death, because such a belief threatens to undermine the status quo from which they benefit. Consider, for example, this from Ecclesiastes, a text likely written before Daniel:

The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no more reward, and even the memory of them is lost. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished; never again will they have any share in all that happens under the sun. (Eccles 9.5-6)

Continue reading “Resurrection: The Hope That Vindicates God’s Justice”

Salvation as Wealth Redistribution

zaccheusBy Ched Myers, on Luke 19:1-10

First, as always, let’s put this Sunday’s gospel reading in its broader narrative context. The story of Zacchaeus represents the culmination of one of Luke’s important subplots: Jesus’ challenge to rich men (Gk plousios) to “turn their lives (and assets) around.” As pointed out in previous posts, this narrative strand forms the backbone of Luke’s “Special Section” (Lk 11-19), a pattern worth reiterating here (with links to my comments earlier this year):

Continue reading “Salvation as Wealth Redistribution”

Praying Ourselves Down From Our Privileged Perch

prayerBy Wes Howard-Brook and Sue Ferguson Johnson

Prayer is central to Luke’s Gospel. The opening scene has the assembly of the people in Jerusalem praying while Zechariah is doing his priestly duty (1.10). The adult Jesus’s first appearance in the gospel is while he is praying (3.21). Luke regularly shows us Jesus at prayer as he discerns the Way (5.16; 6.12; 9.18; 9.28-29). Continue reading “Praying Ourselves Down From Our Privileged Perch”

Never Give Up: Faith as Tenacious Agitation

By Ched Myers

Note: This post is part of a series of weekly comments on the Lukan gospel readings from the Revised Common Lectionary during Year C, 2016. [Image below: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, J.B. Forbes/Associated Press, found at http://www.thefeministwire.com/2014/10/fergusonfridays-black-freedom-fighters-men-interview-black-women-front-line-ferguson/.]

ferguson

This Sunday’s gospel lesson is the second of two key stories about “determined prayer” in Luke. As is so characteristic of the third evangelist, this vignette about a woman’s unflagging insistence on being heard corresponds to an earlier one about similar importunate behavior by a man (see Luke 11:5-13). That text came up in the middle of the summer (see Wes and Sue’s comments on “shameless audacity” and its relevance to the Black Lives Matter movement here). Each story has two “onstage” characters (a protagonist and antagonist), with the Divine “comparison” well offstage. But while the earlier object lesson took place in a village setting and concerned neighborly hospitality and mutual aid among social equals, our text for October 16 takes place in the city and pits social opposites; it pertains to the public vocation of tenacious advocacy for justice. These twinned stories together articulate how deeply connected the personal and political were for Luke, and should be for us. Continue reading “Never Give Up: Faith as Tenacious Agitation”

Have Mercy on Us!

lepersBy Wes Howard-Brook and Sue Ferguson Johnson

The final leg of the journey to Jerusalem begins with this week’s gospel (Lk 17.11-19). Alert readers, though, will note that Jesus and the disciples have not gotten very far. At the very beginning, Luke tells us that “they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him” (9.52). Now, eight chapters later, Luke says, “On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the midst (Gk, dia meson, misleadingly translated by NRSV as “between”) of Samaria and Galilee.” Like the Israelites in the wilderness, they seem to be going in circles in the land north of Judea. Perhaps this is a sly reference to the disciples, like their Israelite ancestors, lacking the faith that the journey they are on will lead to the place of God’s abundant provision. Indeed, as we heard last week, the disciples had just demanded of Jesus, “Increase our faith!” (17.5). Continue reading “Have Mercy on Us!”

Beyond Christian Duty Into the Way of Jesus

treeBy Wes Howard-Brook and Sue Ferguson Johnson

Many vivid images are squeezed into this week’s Gospel passage from Luke (17.5-10), including one of the oddest in all the gospels: a tree being “planted” in the sea. Understanding this puzzling passage is even more challenging because the lectionary cuts it out of context. We need to start by taking a step back to listen to what’s going on at this point in Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Continue reading “Beyond Christian Duty Into the Way of Jesus”

The Rich Man and Lazarus: Warning Tale and Interpretive Key to Luke

fyodorBy Ched Myers, on Luke 16:19-31 (19th Sunday after Pentecost)

Note: This post is part of a series of weekly comments on the Lukan gospel readings from the Revised Common Lectionary during Year C, 2016. As was the case last week, this is a longer post, because of the importance of Luke 16 to those of us suffering from “Affluenza.” For a recording of a recent webinar Ched did on this gospel text, go here. [Right: Fyodor Bronnikov, “Lazarus at the rich man’s gate,” 1886.]

This Sunday’s gospel completes our journey through Luke 16. How rare it is that the lectionary allows a sustained look at Luke’s narrative argument! Last week’s text was Jesus’ subversive tale of the “defect-ive” discipleship of the beleaguered middle manager of a “filthy rotten system” (16:1-13). I read it as a poignant fable for those who would try to monkey-wrench the dominant economic system to provide a modicum of Jubilee justice for themselves and others.  The “paired” story of Lazarus and the Rich Man represents, in turn, a warning tale about the dark consequences of failing to deconstruct the systems of vast social and economic disparity that hold our world hostage. Continue reading “The Rich Man and Lazarus: Warning Tale and Interpretive Key to Luke”

Discipleship as Defection from the Mammon System: Jesus’ Parable about a “Manager of Injustice”

luke16By Ched Myers, on Luke 16:1-13

Note: This post is part of a series of weekly comments on the Lukan gospel readings from the Revised Common Lectionary during Year C, 2016. This week Ched offers a longer study because of his conviction that this is a crucial text for middle class Christians. A more detailed version of the reflections below can be found here; a webinar exploring these themes can be found here. [Right: “The Wicked Servant,” Ian Pollock, 1972.]

Summary: This Sunday’s gospel can be read as a poignant fable for all who realize that they have been disenfranchised by the dominant economic system, and who would try to “monkeywrench” whatever status they have in it to provide a modicum of Jubilee justice for themselves and others.  This parable illustrates the contemporary strategy of navigating what Wendell Berry calls the “Two Economies” by using capital to build social relations, rather than sacrificing social relations to build capital.  Continue reading “Discipleship as Defection from the Mammon System: Jesus’ Parable about a “Manager of Injustice””