Reflections on the Gospels from a Justice Perspective written for St. Andrew's Episcopal Church by members of the congregation

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

John 18:33-37

25 Nov.  John 18:33-37          Living in Competing Kingdoms

I would like to suggest that when Pilate hears Jesus say, "My kingdom is not of this world" and then sends Jesus to be crucified as guilty of treason against the Roman Empire, it is not because he fails to understand Jesus: it is because he does understand Jesus. The world of empire is the world of achievement, position, power, influence, domination, access to resources. The truth to which Jesus testifies is the servant world of mercy, love, peace and justice of God. I believe that Pilate clearly saw the impossible tension between these two kingdoms and simply took care of eliminating (or so he thought) one of them.

It falls to us to live and make decisions in the reality of those competing kingdoms. The world order of empire works out very well, at least superficially, for many of us. By virtue of my skin color, the country of my birth, and my education (to which my skin color and the country of my birth helped provide access), I have a great deal of power in the world as it is. On the other hand, my heart aches for those whom the world of empire leaves without a chance – those without clean water, good food, medical care, basic shelter, primary education. In addition, there is increasing evidence that my comfortable world of empire is not sustainable – our fossil fuels are almost depleted, and climate change is devastating some parts of the earth and destroying others. There is increasing evidence that our children are inheriting our anxieties that unless we work harder and longer and are very lucky besides, the hyper-competitive and never-ending quest for achievement that's a part of the world of empire will leave us without resources and without community in a hostile environment. *How do we live in the reality of these competing kingdoms and still make clear choices for mercy, love, peace and justice?*

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mark 13:1-8

18 Nov. Mark 13:1-8 –  Keeping Buildings in Perspective

The temple into today’s gospel is more than just a building in Jerusalem, more than the place of worship. It was the center and anchor of Jewish life and culture. It was the place where God lived. At the same time, the weak and the poor were exploited to pay for the building. We all build temples – personas, relationships, beliefs, institutions, roles, reputations, dreams - with the idea that these great structures will provide our life and world with meaning, direction, identity, security, value, and order. And as we build them, we have a tendency to build in systems and structures that oppress, exploit and marginalize people.

My individual temple was carefully built of hard work, achievement, education, competence, the church, and my European ancestry. My temple provided me with both position and power, and with an inordinate amount of voice and the ability to consume a huge amount of resources. Our country’s temple was built on the pillars of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. At the same time, our economic system depends upon a certain level of chronic unemployment to keep wages low, and we are faced with the reality of systems such as institutional racism.

How can we choose to remember that God lives in human beings, not in buildings? How can we bear witness to the reality that God’s Kingdom is diametrically opposed to structures of exploitation and injustice, especially those built in the name of God? How can we use Jesus’ description of the temple’s destruction to remind ourselves and others that his way, the way of the cross, is so contrary to exploitative power structures that the two can’t coexist?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Mark 12:38-44: 

"She out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."


The poor widow in the temple obviously shows up both the rich people who contribute large sums and the smug, hypocritical scribes. But just what is the lesson that Jesus wants his followers to take away from this story?

I've always assumed that we are supposed to be inspired by the widow's example of sacrificial giving and ashamed because we ourselves are more like the rich folks who just give some of their abundance. But the notes in my Study Bible argue persuasively that Jesus's main point here is the injustice of religious authorities who exploit the poor, inducing people like this widow to donate all their meager resources to the temple. In other words, he is not pointing her out as a positive example of generosity, but as a victim of the scribes who "devour widows' houses" (verse 40).

Am I like those scribes? I don't consciously prey on anybody, but can I in good conscience accept all the systems in today's society that benefit me at the expense of my poorer neighbors? Should I try to do something about a tax code that places a much heavier burden on poor wage earners than on my retirement accounts? Lotteries that reduce my taxes further by exploiting the vulnerable poor? Stores and brands that give me the cheapest possible prices by paying their workers practically nothing? Don't I need to draw the line somewhere?

Thursday, November 1, 2012


John 11:32-44  Answering the Call.....

The story of the raising of Lazarus provides examples of two different ways we are called. In Mary's time of darkness, the death of her brother, Martha calls Mary to Jesus with the words, "The teacher is here and he's calling you" (John 11:28).  After they go to the tomb and roll away the stone, Jesus calls "Lazarus, come out!", and Lazarus emerges from the great darkness of the tomb. 

We are all being called to Jesus and by Jesus to come out of the darkness. Imagine being alone, bandaged and in total darkness, and hearing a call to leave that darkness. There are many times in our lives when we, those we love or those around us are in darkness-- either waiting for a call to the light or not able to answer that call.  Disease, addictions, depression, hardness of heart and other forms of isolation from God's light exist in and around us.  

The youth are reading the book The Shack, which is a fictional story about one man's call to leave "The Great Sadness" associated with a tragic event in his life.  Though many will probably discuss the theology of the book, the moral example of a person being called to address his darkness and being able to come to the light through faith should not be lost.  This character was led to reconcile with God and the person who had hurt him deeply in order to leave The Great Darkness. The story shows that our call to apply our faith justly begins with our own reconciliation with God, those who have hurt us, and those we have hurt.

At times our call is to be like Lazarus, the one who hears the call of our Lord and those around us to leave the darkness. At other times we need to be like Martha, the one who calls someone living in darkness to the light through our words, our prayers and our actions. How can we truly work for justice? Answer our own call to be reconciled and then help others reconcile.