The first line of today’s Genesis tract has provided the bass line for my musings the past few weeks as I’ve listened to and dove into these readings:
“They heard the sound of God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze.”
I believe I’ve heard that sound; and I suspect you may have also. That breath-slowing, acute awareness that we are in the presence of Life’s very source. This phrase in Genesis evokes a deep intimacy with God with humans.
Creation quivers in those moments when we know God…when we are filled with such awe, so much love, and we do not feel afraid.
This recognition washes over us not only in the silence or wonders of nature, but in those holy moments of presence to one another as we truly hear and take in the beauty and dignity -however bruised- of another person. In that moment might we love them achingly.
Jesus reminds us, who are so far away from a paradisal garden,
that freedom from fear is what God wants for us, and the Spirit of God drives out fear from those who believe.
Fear filled those who surrounded and loved Jesus – including his Mom – in this passage from Mark’s Gospel. This is the climax of what Ched Myers refers to as Jesus’ First Direct Action Campaign on the Jewish Social Order, and this passage provides the title for Myers’ now 30 year classic Binding the Strong Man.
This Direct Action begins after John the Baptist is arrested; Jesus calls his first disciples and later enters a synagogue in Capernaum. There his astonishing teaching provokes an outburst from an unclean spirit who recognizes him. “Have you come to destroy us?” It asks Jesus -certainly the question in the minds of the Temple scribes.
Jesus effectively subdues that demon, and sets out with his first 2 disciples; along the way he cures many people of their illness and alienation. As he preaches repentance, he walks the talk, freeing people and bringing them back into community.
Before the destruction of the Temple in this northern part of Roman-occupied Palestine, the economic conditions of Galilean peasants’ were frayed. Land taxes exacted ¼ to ⅓ of farmers’ harvests – until some lost their land to debt; younger sons had no chance to inherit land. The landless could only seek day labor with no hope for the future, or migrate to work on large tract farms owned by the Roman occupiers far from home.
Additional Temple tithes were levied at about 30%, with various poll and market taxes gnawing at their remaining funds. Most of the population was stressed and insecure.
But one must feed one’s family, and at least a little set aside in case a family member or neighbor fell on hard times, to keep them afloat.
This informal system of reciprocity to this day offers the most vulnerable across our land the modicums of security from which banks have systematically blocked people for generations; notably people of color.
Farmworkers in Florida told how money saved for their children’s education was suddenly spent to pay a godchild’s medical bill, or replace an uncle’s burnt trailer. The assumption was “We are here for one another”. Among persons now homeless these transactions are small scale: bus fare, diapers, baby formula. “You just can’t make it work counting on the system.
When Jesus came, he set out to challenge every social code that institutionalized alienation, to use Myer’s words. Alienation is the work of sin, we are shown in Genesis.
Poverty then as now causes disruption in families, affects people’s health, and destroys hope for the future.
People are drawn to Jesus’ Word of an imminent new Kingdom in the land;
His movement is picking up steam as the numbers of disciples and size of crowds increase.
Just as God calls out the sin of that snake in the grass of the garden; condemning it for seducing Eve into eating the apple;
In the Temple Jesus calls out the sin of those who oppress the residents of Palestine. The authorities retaliate against his truth telling. They claim that he himself must be out of his mind, possessed himself by the devil.
Denying the truth spoken by the Spirit of God is the unforgivable blasphemy. Then as now.
In today’s Gospel Jesus states the intent of his mission clearly: the system must change completely. For this he breaks the law and for this he is condemned to die.
Oscar Arnulfo Romero was installed as Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977 as wide protests against a fraudulent election left about 300 protesters dead. Weeks later his good friend Padre Rutilio Grande was assassinated, and Archbishop Romero was transformed into a fearless voice of truth on behalf of the oppressed Salvadoran people.
For the next three years, defying the falsified government reporting, he called out the sins of the oligarchs and the military in weekly sermons that were eventually heard by over half of all Salvadoran residents. Saint Romero told the eye witness evidence of each week’s disappearances, attacks, and murders rampant across that country.
Taking on the fears of the voiceless, Romero offered forgiveness to those oppressors who repented so that grace would extend to more people, yet he was fearless in the face of frequent death threats.
In doing so, he healed the alienation and its attendant illness, and restored the dignity and hope of the people.
Like Paul, Oscar Romero believed, and so he spoke, because he knew that the one who raised Jesus will raise us also and bring us together into the presence of God.
In our own country, we have particularly failed to keep alive an effective movement against racism; we have frequently ignored truth speakers, caricatured and further alienated them out of fear.
Malcolm X was one such person, with his Muslim faith and expressed hatred toward white society, and toward Christianity as co-opted by white society. He was deeply committed to creating space in which persons with black skin, rejected by white people in the U.S. could discover their dignity and prosper.
A May 5, 1962 eulogy of his strongly echoes the words of God in Genesis “ Who told you that you were naked?”
At the funeral of Ronald Stokes, killed by the LA Police Dept., Malcolm asked:
Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair?
Who taught you to hate the color of your skin so much that you bleach it white?
Who taught you to hate the shape of your nose and the shape of your lips?
Who taught you to hate yourself from the top of your head to the soles of your feet?
Who taught you to hate your own kind?
Who taught you to hate the race you belong to so much that you don’t want to be around each other?
You should ask yourself, Who taught you to hate being what God gave you?
And are we not indicted by those words, 56 years later? He called out our sins o of daily robbing from our black sisters and brothers life, hope, health, and dignity.
James Cone, in developing a black theology, realized that without calling out the original sin against black people, the work of Martin Luther King could not bring about the reckoning of truth necessary to a just equality. This work continues to be urgent.
It is one strong son of a gun, our country’s white supremacy. None less that the power of the Holy Spirit, discerner and voice of all truth, can subdue that demon.
Discerning news that is truth, and finding ways to call out sin is a daunting daily challenge that lately sometimes curdles the milk in my morning coffee.
Systemic oppression is becoming more and more corporatized in our time.
For instance, how are we to digest the decision of the Supreme Court on the Epic Empire to rob workers of rights basic to our democracy? Even in 2018 is this not an ironic quest for Judith Faulkner, a declared Democrat, one of few multi billionaire women, and a signee of the Pledge to Give begun by Warren Buffet?
Why fight to cobble not only the efforts of her own 10,000 employees to settle worker rights disputes according to long standing federal law,
but to take that recourse from an estimated 25 million workers across the country? Why a non-binding public pledge to some future pet charity than justice now?
A precious part of heritage of church teaching since the industrial revolution is the protection of just such rights: to a livable wage, to organize unions, to negotiate is, updated several times since. Not just for Catholics! Listen to the strong language of the 1986 American Bishops Pastoral Letter Economic Justice for All:
“The Church fully supports the right of workers to form unions or other associations to secure their rights to fair wages and working conditions…. “No one may deny the right to organize without attacking human dignity itself.”
I am still drafting my letter to Ms. Faulkner, and to the board of my insurance which uses Epic software registering these thoughts. I don’t know what else to do! But maybe some of you have ideas.
Because we believe, so we must speak -and work, and not lose heart, For we are baptized to bring the others with us into God’s presence, with their dignity intact.
As a child, overhearing some tearful conversations between my parents about the economy of our crowded little home, I learned that charity does not wait until the bills are paid and you think you can afford it. Charity is an ongoing act of gratitude for one’s daily sustenance, an act of faith in the future.
I do not believe that corporations are people, but Ms. Faulkner is a person, and therefore capable of change.
We must speak what we know, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the Glory of God.
Our encounters with others as much as our quiet prayer bring us into the presence of a living God…..Do you ever walked away from an encounter just in awe at the courage, deep dignity in a person in even terrible circumstances? At times feel almost singed by the nearness of the Holy Spirit? We also experience that around this table, and when we together act for justice. Perhaps the sound of God walking in the garden is amplified when we stand in solidarity with another, or march for justice.
Out communion leave us with a responsibility to protect and bring into community those many systemically cast out. In the Holy Spirit, we are thus healed, freed, and made one.
For workers everywhere, who are denied the conditions, wages, protections in their work and the freedom to unite for justice………
For members of all the communities of Holy Wisdom Monastery, that we be willing discern the truth and courage needed to call out, and to work to correct sins against the Holy Spirit where we see them
For the success of the New Poor People’s Campaign, in Madison and across the country.
For what else?
Let us take a moment…
For these and all who are listed in our book of intentions
Ever present God, accept these prayers as you do the cries of those who call out in bitter need; draw us through your Holy Spirit ever deeper to you in mystery and in justice until your day dawns in truth, healing and peace. We ask this of you our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier,