Monthly Archives: February 2022

Outing The Lies We Tell Ourselves About Ourselves


Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

Romans 10:8b-13

Luke 4:1-13

Prayer of the Day: O Lord God, you led your people through the wilderness and brought them to the promised land. Guide us now, so that, following your Son, we may walk safely through the wilderness of this world toward the life you alone can give, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien…” Deuteronomy 26:5.

The most dangerous lies are the ones we tell ourselves about ourselves. Lies are the stuff of national mythologies, those stories that justify the existence and sovereignty of nation states, legitimize their wars and justify their occupation of lands they call their own. The religions of the ancient near east out of which the people of Israel emerged all had some version of divine origin. Generally speaking, the people of a given nation were descendants of gods or demigods. The ruling monarch was a “son” of the founding deity reigning on the god’s or gods’ behalf. The stratified existence of all others from royal henchmen down to slaves was thus divinely ordered. Your place is the one divinely ordained for you-and you therefore should be content to stay in it! These myths answer questions about who we are, where we came from and how we ought to live.

One can see in this, I think, echoes of what is commonly called “American exceptionalism.” We Americans likewise have our myths about how our ancestors were drawn to this land by God’s providence to build a nation founded on Christian principals destined to “settle the new world.” The myth explains why we do not view the dispossession and outright slaughter of indigenous populations in our country the same way we now excoriate Russia’s efforts to annex land belonging to Ukraine. It also explains why such a frantic effort is under way by so many American politicians to keep the inconvenient truths about slavery, the failure of reconstruction and the atrocities committed under Jim Crow far from the sanitized history taught to grade school children. Facts challenging the truth of our founding mythology are dangerous to societal stability. As soon as doubt is cast upon the myth of American exceptionalism, those of us in positions of privilege feel our places slipping away as the unprivileged begin to reject the places assigned to them. The stability of “our way of life” depends on faith in our founding myths.   

Israel’s founding narrative stands national mythology on its head. So far from being descendants of gods, Israel’s matriarchs and patriarchs were “wanderers” with no citizenship anywhere. The people that came to be called Israel were taken from the bottom of the social and religious hierarchy, from slaves valued as little more than beasts of burden doing the most menial and back breaking work in the merciless machinery of empire. Israel did not win its land through the valor of its warriors. Psalm 44:3. Neither was the land given to Israel in perpetuity. The land was a gift given in trust. Like the rest of the world, the land ultimately belonged to God alone. Psalm 24:1. The right to occupy the land was contingent upon Israel’s faithful and proper use of it. So far from being expelled or enslaved, aliens residing in the land were to be loved and given the same rights as citizens. Leviticus 19:33-34. Starvation and homelessness were to be prevented by unlimited generosity. Deuteronomy 15:7-11. Israel’s founding narrative compelled an entirely different sort of life for both individuals and the community.

Of course, Israel was less than fully successful in living out the implications of its story. About these failures Israel is brutally honest. “Both we and our ancestors have sinned; we have committed iniquity, have done wickedly,” says one of Israel’s great national sagas. Psalm 106:6. The newly liberated people of Israel rebelled repeatedly against Moses on the long journey from bondage to freedom. Psalm 106:7. They “despised” the land to which God brought them and doubted God’s promise to bring them safely into it. Psalm 106:24. They repeatedly fell back into idolatry. Psalm 106:36. There was no “whitewashing” of Israel’s story in its holy scriptures. This is a narrative in which the whole truth is told, the good, the bad and the ugly.

So, too, in the gospels we tell a lot of unflattering stories on ourselves. The story of discipleship the Bible tells is littered with failure. The twelve followers of Jesus fight amongst themselves, fail to understand their Lord’s teachings, quarrel over who should be considered the greatest, betray their Lord, deny him under pressure and desert him in the end. There are no heroes in this saga. Yet in both the New Testament and the Hebrew Scriptures we encounter a God who refuses to give up on a wayward, unfaithful and undeserving people. We meet a God who pleads with us, “yet even now….return to me with all your heart.” We meet a God who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love…” Joel 2:12-13. Before this God, we can afford to be brutally honest with ourselves and with one another-and therein lies our salvation.

The church is, or should be, the place where uncomfortable truths are confronted. Paul admonishes the believers in Ephesus “let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” Ephesians 4:25. I think the most difficult truth we disciples in the United States must face is our complicity with our national mythology and the way in which it has distorted our faith and practice. And there is no better way to begin than returning to our founding narrative. We need to remember that our spiritual ancestors where sojourners with no country, slaves to an oppressive regime, exiles displaced from their homeland, a hated minority living in a land under military occupation, sinners, outcasts and outsiders. That our faith and its symbols have been so easily hijacked by defenders of white supremacy, antivaxers, antirefugee and antiimmigrant forces speaks poorly of our practices, witness and teaching. That the Bible can be so easily milked by those who would preach a gospel of wealth and power in the name of one who so thoroughly identified with the poor and powerless ought to shame us all.

Throughout the weeks of Lent, I want to focus on how our story as disciples of Jesus differs from our national mythology and reveals its falsehoods and distortions. More importantly, I want to focus on the “better hope” to which Jesus calls us and how we might live that hope faithfully. Below is a poem telling a truth that much of white America is desperate to suppress. Predominately white churches, such as my own Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, need to hear this truth, let it break our hearts, lead us back to the witness of our scriptural ancestors and move us to lives of genuine faith and practice.

The Slave Auction

The sale began—young girls were there,   

   Defenseless in their wretchedness,

Whose stifled sobs of deep despair   

   Revealed their anguish and distress.

And mothers stood, with streaming eyes,

   And saw their dearest children sold;

Unheeded rose their bitter cries,

   While tyrants bartered them for gold.

And woman, with her love and truth—

   For these in sable forms may dwell—

Gazed on the husband of her youth,

   With anguish none may paint or tell.

And men, whose sole crime was their hue,

   The impress of their Maker’s hand,

And frail and shrinking children too,

   Were gathered in that mournful band.

Ye who have laid your loved to rest,

   And wept above their lifeless clay,

Know not the anguish of that breast,

   Whose loved are rudely torn away.

Ye may not know how desolate

   Are bosoms rudely forced to part,

And how a dull and heavy weight

   Will press the life-drops from the heart.

Source: American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century (The Library of America, 1993).  Francis Ellen Watkins Harper (1825 –1911) was an African-American abolitionist, suffragist, poet, teacher, public speaker, and writer. She was active in social reform and was a member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. She published her first book of poetry at the age of 20, making her one of the first African-American published writers. In 1851 she worked with the Pennsylvania Abolition Society helping escaped slaves along the Underground Railroad on their way to Canada. You can read more about Francis Ellen Watkins Harper and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

Russian President Declares Red States Indepenent Nations

(News that’s fake, but credible)

In a hastily called meeting with the Russian Duma held early this morning, Russian president Vladimir Putin declared all “red” states, that is, states of the United States leaning Republican, to be “sovereign independent nations.” Pointing out that all of these states had been wrongfully annexed by an illegitimate regime installed by means of a stolen election, Mr. Putin said that the imperiled status of these newly formed nations justified Russian intervention on their behalf. “In fact,” he told reporters, “I have received requests for military support and assistance from the president of the new confederation of red states in Mar a Logo.”

While the White House angrily denounced the move and threatened severe consequences in the event of any Russian troop deployments within the borders of the United States, the U.S. Congress is clearly divided on the issue along party lines. Minority leader, Mitch McConnel, downplayed any threat from Russia. “Back in 2016, Mr. Putin assisted me in giving us the greatest Republican president this country has ever had,” McConnell said. “I’ve worked with him before and I’m sure I can work with him again.” Senator Ted Cruz spoke in support of the planned Russian support mission. “President Putin is a friend of America. He only wants to restore the properly elected president,” he said. “That’s a good thing.” He went on to say, “All this talk about Russia coming in and establishing a confederacy type regime and re-instituting Jim Crow is nothing but a bunch of liberal hysteria. But even if it were true,” he added “would that really be so bad?”

House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy agreed. “If we can’t win the White House through elections or insurrection, what else can we do but seek foreign assistance?” Representative Marjorie Taylor Green told a room full of reporters that Russia posed no threat whatsoever. “You pressies and the libs have manufactured this fake crisis to draw attention away from Hillary Clinton’s and George Soros’ global child porn business. Don’t you care about those children locked up in the basements of pizza parlors all over the country? And what about the very real threat of Jewish lazer beams?” she snapped. “Why don’t you clowns ever cover that?”

Not all Republicans are on board with Mr. Putin’s generous offer of support, however. Senator Susan Collins of Maine released a very clear statement of indecision. “While I cannot imagine supporting Russian troops in an effort to occupy territory belonging to the United States, I cannot rule out lending my support either. I will have to review all the relevant facts and my horoscope before making a final decision.”   

Stay tuned for further developments.


FAKE NEWS ALERT: The above article is satirical. The events it describes didn’t happen.  “There are people who will say that this whole account is a lie, but a thing isn’t necessarily a lie even if it didn’t necessarily happen.” John Steinbeck

Reading Time Backwards


Exodus 34:29-35

Psalm 99

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

Luke 9:28-36

Prayer of the Day: Holy God, mighty and immortal, you are beyond our knowing, yet we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ. Transform us into the likeness of your Son, who renewed our humanity so that we may share in his divinity, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“And while [Jesus] was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Luke 9:29-31.

There are four versions of this story of Jesus’ transfiguration. One is related in our gospel for this coming Sunday from Luke the Evangelist. Two are in the gospels of Matthew and Mark (Matthew 17:1-8 and Mark 9:2-8 respectively). Another is found in the Second Letter of Saint Peter. II Peter 1:16-19. Though Matthew and Mark both tell us that Jesus was seen speaking with Moses and Elijah, only Luke tells us what they were talking about. They were speaking, Luke tells us, of Jesus’ “departure” to be accomplished in Jerusalem. The word translated here as “departure” is the Greek word “exodos,” the same one used in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures for the departure of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Thus, the discussion is not simply about Jesus leaving or going away. It is about a saving event that will liberate an enslaved people from bondage and make of them a new people, namely, Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The renowned New Testament scholar, Rudolf Bultmann, is convinced that the transfiguration story is an ancient resurrection account transposed in the gospels for literary reasons. Bultmann, Rudolf, History of the Synoptic Tradition, (c. 1963 by Basil Blackwell, pub. 1976 by Harper & Row) p. 259. However that might be, there is no denying the story has a resurrection glow to it. We are told that Moses, Elijah and Jesus appear “in glory.” In some manner beyond our capacity to comprehend, eternity is impinging on time, bending it into a single point where the beginning is fused with the end, the promise meets fulfilment and the line of demarcation between life and death dissolves. We get a foretaste of the resurrection and a fleeting glance at what it means for God to be “all in all.” I Corinthians 15:28. This is what Hollywood would call a “spoiler.” The Transfiguration of Jesus betrays the climactic end of creation’s story in the middle of the narrative.

One might critique the Evangelists’ literary style, but their witness is entirely consistent with the scriptural insistence that creation has a beginning and an end. God is the origin of both and is active everywhere in between. In the Biblical view of things, the future does not follow nor is it determined by the past. The end is the origin of the beginning and, for disciples of Jesus, forms the shape life takes in the middle. Knowing this changes everything and answers for us the question, “How, then, shall we live?” The contours of the new life to which Jesus calls us are sketched out in the gospel lessons from the last two Sundays in which the false gods of wealth and violence are dethroned in favor of radical generosity, limitless forgiveness and dedication to reconciliation. As articulated by Michael L. Budde, Professor of Catholic Studies and Political Science at DePaul University, “….within the Church, people are supposed to start acting as if the Kingdom has already begun, and that the Church is called to show the world that a different way to live is possible here and now, even as the old order seeks to preserve itself against the onslaught of the coming Kingdom of God.” “Eschatology, the Church, and Nonviolence: Some Provisional Claims” published in Foolishness to Gentiles: Essays on Empire, Nationalism, and Discipleship, (c. 2022 by Michael L. Budde, pub. by Wipf and Stock Publishers) pp. 84-85.

For this reason, it matters that the weathered old man I frequently see in my walks on the beach carries a garbage bag, as do I, for the plastic bottles, aluminum cans and other refuse we find along the shore. It matters that local churches, businesses and individuals in our town put togethera weekly dinner for families finding themselves food insecure. It matters that the church to which I belong sponsors a refugee family fleeing violence and persecution. Of course, one might reasonably ask whether such feeble do-gooding actually makes a difference. What good does picking up a few bottles on the beach do in the face of looming, systemic ecological collapse? What does one meal per week do for a family facing hunger during all seven days of the week? What is one family rescued from the misery of refugee camps compared to the millions that remain? From the perspective of pure pragmatism, it is hard to argue with that logic. Yet I hear an echo in all these objections of the question put by Saint Andrew to Jesus when commanded to feed the hungry crowd of five thousand: What are five loaves and a few fish among so many? John 6:1-14. Placed in the hands of Jesus, what we have to offer and, indeed, who we are becomes so much more than we can imagine. That is because the gentle, just and peaceful reign of God at the end of time has been with us since the beginning and has erupted into the middle of time with the obedient life, faithful death and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. As stated by Orthodox theologian and teacher, John Panteleimon Manoussakis:

“Theologically speaking, then, the cause of the things that happen and have happened lies not in their beginning but ‘in the end,’ for they come from the kingdom of God: it is the kingdom that is, properly speaking, their origin…Eschatology…reverses naturalistic, essentialist, and historicist models by making the seemingly improbable claim that I am not who I am, let alone who I was and have been, but rather, like the theophanic Name of Exodus (3:14), I am who I will be. Eschatological theology is deep down a liberating theology…The shadow now does not follow but rather precedes reality, so that, in Christian typology, the present condition of things as things-themselves is merely an adumbration of things to come.” “The Anarchic Principle of Christian Eschatology in the Eucharistic Tradition of the Eastern Church,” Manoussakis, John Panteleimon, Harvard Theological Review, 100:1 (2007) pp. 31-32, as cited in Foolishness to the Gentiles, supra. at p. 84.

That is good news, for a world threatened with global environmental disaster, teetering on the brink of war and sliding toward fascism. It is good news for every social worker with an impossibly high caseload. It is good news for struggling churches in dying communities. It is good news for doctors, nurses and volunteers working long hours with inadequate resources in refugee camps around the world filled with people who seem to have no future. While we cannot save ourselves, much less the world, God is even now taking up our flawed selves and our incomplete offerings, weaving them into that glorious mosaic we call the reign of God.

What follows is a poem by Raymond P. Fischer suggesting a different view of time than that which we have instinctively imposed upon ourselves and the natural world. “Somewhere,” the poet says, “there is a sum of everything.” That is perhaps not far removed from the Biblical understanding of time.  


When Eve met Satan in creation’s garden

She set time free within the universe.

Planets began to circle, stone hardened.

Coveting knowledge, man received a curse-

That was the choice that set all things in motion-

Caused spinning worlds to measure off the days,

And moon to swing round the earth pursued by ocean.

Somewhere there is a sum of everything,

Where light returning meets the light that goes;

Where fading music finds an echoing;

Where tide ebbs is lost in tide that flows.   

Source: Poetry, April, 1984. Raymond P. Fischer (1900-1990) was an American businessman and poet. He was born in Wheaton Illinois, the youngest of twelve children and grandson of abolitionist Jonathan Blanchard, the founder of Wheaton College. Fischer attended Wheaton College and Pomona College, California. He then transferred to Harvard Law School, graduating in 1924. Fischer practiced law for fifteen years before entering private business, serving as executive vice-president of Cuneo Press. Thereafter, he served as president of Combined Paper Mills and as director of the National Tea Company. He was a member of the Salvation Army advisory board and head of the Associated Consultants of Wheaton, Illinois. As a prep school student, Fischer submitted a poem to Poetry magazine that caught the attention of the magazine’s founder and editor, Harriet Monroe. His poem was subsequently published. He published five more poems in Poetry and in 1985 published a collection of poetry entitled An Aged Man Remembers April, which he dedicated to Monroe. You can sample more of Fischer’s poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

Christological Pacifism



Genesis 45:3-11, 15

Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40

1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50

Luke 6:27-38

Prayer of the Day: O Lord Jesus, make us instruments of your peace, that where there is hatred, we may sow love, where there is injury, pardon, and where there is despair, hope. Grant, O divine master, that we may seek to console, to understand, and to love in your name, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6: 27-31.

It was the Sunday after September 11, 2001. Smoke was still rising from the Pentagon and what remained of the Twin Towers. All flights were grounded. Our state of shock was just beginning to wear off, only to be replaced by growing anger. On my way to church with my family, I passed a van in downtown Ridgewood, New Jersey where I lived at the time. On one side was written, “God bless America.” On the other, “God Damn Afghanistan, may you all burn in hell.”

I can understand the raw anger. As a bedroom community for New York City, our town lost more than a few people in the attack. Some of the cars of our loved ones were still parked in front of the commuter rail station where they had been left on the morning of September 11th. Their owners would never return to claim them. I should also say that there is nothing wrong in expressing anger and sorrow. The Book of Psalms is filled with prayers seeking not merely salvation from enemies but God’s punishment for them, often in very graphic and horrible images. See, e.g., Psalm 137. But however much the psalmists might have liked to see their enemies punished, they knew enough to leave that responsibility to God. And that, Saint Paul reminds us, is where it belongs. Romans 12:19. For our part, we are to show only kindness to our enemies, thereby overcoming evil with good rather than allowing ourselves to be drawn into the cycle of vengeance and so being overcome by evil. Romans 12:20-21. So, too, Jesus’ teaching in Sunday’s gospel could not be clearer. Violence, even in self defense, is not an arrow in our quiver when confronting enemies.

I have been asked many times how I can morally justify my pacifism. I have been barraged with numerous hypotheticals, i.e., “what would you do if a crazed serial killer were lunging at your child with a knife?” I have repeatedly been confronted with the “Hitler question” or some variation of it, that is, “So, you think the world should have stood by and done nothing while Hitler slaughtered the Jews?[1]Would you just let the Nazi’s take over Europe? Would you let the Japanese march right over us?” I don’t have answers to these questions. But the question I would pose in response is this: hearing the words of Jesus in Sunday’s gospel and knowing the life Jesus lived and the death he died, how can I claim to be Jesus’ disciple without being a pacifist?

My pacifism does not derive solely from any particular chapter and verse of scripture. It is Christologically based. Jesus did not merely call upon his disciples to turn the other cheek. He did so when struck, beaten and spit upon. Jesus did not merely tell his disciples to offer up their shirts when their coats are demanded. He gave up his last stich of clothing to the soldiers who crucified him. He gave up his last few loaves and fish to the hungry crowd. Most significant of all, he did not unleash the angelic army that might have rescued him and he refused to allow his disciples to take up the sword in his defense. So I have to ask, if it is not permissible for a disciple to employ violence for the purpose of defending the Incarnate Son of God from torture and death, when is it ever permissible?

To those who might call me unrealistic, dreamy and out of touch with reality, I will plead guilty to an even greater offense. I am a fool. As Paul points out in his letter to the Corinthian church, this “weak” God who endures the agony of the cross rather than employ armies of angels in self defense is “foolishness” to the nations of the world (the gentiles) who cannot imagine a world without justice, law and order enforced by the threat of violence. I Corinthians 1:18-25. Yet, foolish, impractical and hopelessly idealistic as it might be, such is the wisdom of God, such is the power of God and such is the way of Jesus. “Whoever serves me must follow me,” says Jesus. “And where I am, there will my servant be also.” John 12:26. When it comes to circumstances seeming to call for the use of violence, we need not ask “What would Jesus do?” We only need to remind ourselves of what Jesus did.

As I said before, I don’t have an answer to the “Hitler question.” I am not convinced that I need one. I am not at all sure that it is the job of Jesus’ disciples to tell Caesar or Joe Biden how to run their empires. Jesus is not in the business of empire building and maintenance. Perhaps his disciples should not be in that line of work either. Maybe it is time for the whole church, particularly that part of the church residing in the United States, to re-evaluate the symbiotic relationship it has allowed to develop between itself and the nation states within which it resides. Maybe we should begin to consider what it would mean for the church to be what it says it is, namely, one, holy and catholic. Perhaps the church should be less concerned with transforming America into a kinder, gentler empire. Maybe we should be more concerned with being transformed into a transnational community formed by the mind of Christ and mirroring the great multitude consisting of all nations, tribes and tongues described by John of Patmos in the Book of Revelation so that the Body of Christ and God’s gentle, just and peaceful reign become visible to the world. Revelation 7:13-17. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,” says Jesus, “if you have love for one another.” John 13:35. In this community called church, the mystery of the gospel is revealed: that the universe is held together not by law and order under the threat of violence, but by love that would rather die than kill.

Here is a poem by Wilfred Owen ripping the glorious façade of patriotic romanticism off the naked horror of war. As the clouds of war gather once again, this time over eastern Europe, we would do well to contemplate what we clinically refer to as “military action” actually entails and ask ourselves whether the sacrifices we so freely make for the maintenance of empire are really worth the price.

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.[2]

Wilfred Owen (1893–1918) was an English poet and soldier. He was one of the leading poets of the First World War. His war poetry on the horrors of trenches and gas warfare was much influenced by his mentor, Siegfried Sassoon, and stood in contrast to the public perception of war at the time and to the confidently patriotic verse written by other war poets such as Rupert Brooke. Owen enlisted with the British armed forces in 1915 and fought in the First World War during which he was seriously wounded. His experiences inspired several poems graphically portraying the horrors of war. Upon recovering, he returned to the front, though he might have honorably remained at home. His decision was motivated less by patriotism than his passion for unmasking the grusome realities of the war. Owen was killed in action in the fall of 1918, just one week before the Armistice. You can read more about Wilfred Owen and sample more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

[1] In point of fact, that is pretty much what the world did do. The United States rejected the immigration application of Anne Franke’s family and turned back a ship with almost 1,000 Jewish refugees from the port of Miami due to “security concerns.” I doubt the rest of the world would have batted an eye if, instead of embarking on the mad warpath of world domination, Hitler had been content to keep his army at home and murder the Jews within his borders.

[2] Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori. Quotation from the Latin poet, Horace, meaning“It is sweet and fitting to die for the homeland.”

Woe to the Rich!


Jeremiah 17:5-10

Psalm 1

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

Luke 6:17-26

Prayer of the Day: Living God, in Christ you make all things new. Transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace, and in the renewal of our lives make known your glory, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“But woe to you who are rich,
   for you have received your consolation.” Luke 6:24

We all love the beatitudes. But what of these “woes”? Once again, Jesus is on a collision course with core American beliefs. After all, isn’t wealth what the American dream is all about? Don’t we teach and believe that in America it is possible for any ghetto orphan with determination and a dream to rise up and become the next Bill Gates? It is axiomatic that America is the land where hard work is rewarded. Wealth is the just reward of honest hard work and thrift. To suggest otherwise is unpatriotic and smells of communism, socialism or welfare state decadence. There is no excuse for poverty in America. If you are poor, it is because you are lazy, lack initiative or have made bad decisions.

Jesus takes a different view. According to Jesus, the poor, the hungry and the outcast are the chief beneficiaries of God’s just, peaceful and gentle reign. The rich? Not so much. Today’s gospel is but a reprise of Mary’s song in the opening scenes of Luke’s gospel, where she declares:

“[God] has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.” Luke 1:51-53.

Jesus will further illustrate this declaration by way of his parable about the Rich Man and Lazarus. Luke 16:19-31. There the declaration of Mary and the Woes in today’s gospel are graphically fulfilled. The great reversal comes with a vengeance and the rich man, who has always been on the topside of the great divide between rich and poor suddenly finds himself at the bottom. And note well that Jesus nowhere tells us anything about the moral standing of either character in the parable. We are not told that the rich man was greedy, dishonest or cruel. Nor are we told that Lazarus was virtuous, godly or kind. All we know about the two individuals is that the anonymous rich man was rich and Lazarus poor. In the new age Lazarus, who has known only poverty, is comforted. The rich man is in agony. “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” If one thing is crystal clear, it is that God is unconditionally, unequivocally and wholly on the side of the poor against the rich. Call it socialism, call it fomenting class warfare, call it whatever else you like. But there it is.

Here on the Outer Cape we don’t have poor neighborhoods, blocks of rundown public housing or tent cities of homeless people. For that reason, we often do not see the poor among us. But they are there. They drive from miles off Cape to clean our homes and offices each day. They live in cars parked in the parking lots of restaurants and shops that are closed for the season. In warmer weather, they live out in the national forest. This I know because I have come across the remnants of their encampments-sleeping bags under tarps surrounded by personal affects. Our paths seldom cross and, when they do, our lives almost never intersect. The existence of the poor, their struggles and their pain is foreign to those of us whose refrigerators and pantries are full, for whom shelter and warmth is assured and for whom a car breakdown is merely a nuisance and not a financial catastrophe.

Nonetheless, I have on occasion gotten to know some of these people in a small way. There is a woman in her sixties I will call Natasha who lives at a trailer park in North Carolina for most of the year. She comes up to the Cape in the summer time to clean offices and work in the busy seafood joints that are ever in need of employees. She shares a rented room with two other women doing much the same. Natasha says the money is good and very much needed by her family back in Jamaica. She doesn’t know whether she is in the country legally or not. “Don’t seem to bother anyone else so why should I worry about it?” she says. “I live here forty years and never broke no laws or made no trouble.” But Natasha misses her family. She worries that if she tries to go back and visit, she might not get back into the country. “So I’ll wait to see them when I’m ready to go back for good.”

There was a shy teenage boy who lived for a while in his car in a church parking lot near our town. I never met him but understand that he was turned out of the house by his parents when he came out as gay. The pastors of the congregation were at a loss as to how to help him. Technically, he was a runaway and the solution from a law enforcement standpoint would have been to bring him back home. But that was obviously problematic. Taking him to a homeless shelter where he would have had no adult supervision or protection was also fraught. So arrangements were made for the boy to stay with members of the congregation pending a more permanent solution. But before any such solution could be formulated, the boy disappeared as suddenly and mysteriously as he had arrived.

Then there is a young man in his late thirties I’ll call Chet. Chet lives in his van which he parks in the driveways of summer homes during the winter, sometimes with and sometimes without the permission of the owners. In the summertime he parks overnight in lots for the Wellfleet beaches. That is against the law but the local police know that if they roust him out of one parking lot, he will just drive a few miles down the road and park in another one. So they mostly leave him alone. They have bigger fish to fry than Chet. Chet is an avid surfer. On any given morning when the surf is up, summer, winter, spring or fall, you can spot him on his board riding the waves. Chet has no regular job, no retirement account and no health insurance, but that doesn’t seem to bother him. He may be poor from our perspective, but he doesn’t see himself that way. “I got the best life,” he told me. “I’m right where I want to be doing what I love. Doesn’t get much better than that.” Chet doesn’t worry much about his future either. “I’m going to keep on surfing till I’m old and gray,” he says. “I’ll probably die out there someday,” he says looking out over the ocean. “But hey, we all got to go sometime. And I’d rather die out there than on a bed in some nursing home.”

These encounters have made me aware of how little we know and understand about the people living their lives on the margins of our world. In many ways, their poverty reveals our own. We are indeed poorer for not having heard the stories of the poor, their heroism, their courage and their stubborn determination to survive and thrive. Woe to us, for we have been living our lives on the precipice of a gulf dividing us from those most precious to God’s heart. Woe to us, for we are on the wrong side of God’s future. In truth, the great chasm between the rich man and Lazarus is not of God’s making. We constructed that chasm ourselves with our own greed, callousness and indifference. In alienating our poor sisters and brothers, we have alienated ourselves from Jesus. But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. If we made that chasm between ourselves and the poor, we are capable of unmaking it. And there is still time. There is time for the mountains to be leveled and the valleys filled in; time really to see the poor among us, not as human failures or mere social problems, but as the lens though which we fully comprehend and know Jesus.

Here is a satirical poem reflecting, alas, the attitudes we often harbor toward the poor.

A Rich Man’s Prayer

God bless the beggar,

fill his dirty cup with change.

God bless the lunatics

whose ravings are so strange.

God bless the runaways

lurking in the subway.

God bless the sad eyed girl

who sells herself for money.

God bless the drunkard

who can hardly even stand.

God bless the junky

with the trembling, shaky hand.

God bless the prisoner.

May he someday soon be free.

God bless all suffering souls

and keep them far from me.       

Source: Anonymous