Psalm 66:14-15, 17-18 Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what God has done for me. I called out to God with my mouth, and God’s praise was on my tongue. But in truth God has heard me; God has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, who has not rejected my prayer, nor withheld God’s love from me.
I think there are times when people get Santa and God confused. When we lived in Pittsburgh, my neighbor said something to my boys about Santa one December. They either didn’t hear her or didn’t know what she was talking about; either way they looked at her with rather vapid expressions. Being one who dislikes very awkward silences, I chimed in, “Oh, we don’t do the Santa thing.” As soon as I spoke that line rather casually, I regretted it. She confronted me. I did my best to cogently explain that it made sense to me to minimize my kids’ exposure to the cornucopia of mythology shared and celebrated around that time of year—I mean, virgin births aren’t necessarily not myth; she was still rather unimpressed with my decision. She closed the conversation with one final statement, one I’ve never forgotten, “Lauren, don’t you know that Santa lives in all our hearts?” I was now the one without words and the vapid expression. Literally, speechless. I thanked her for the reminder once I got my wits about me and then shuffled the boys into the house like wrangling cats or balloons.
The comment stuck with me because I was rather terrified of the idea of someone like Santa living in my heart. I mean, the man literally keeps a record of my good and bad, right and wrong, and then that north-pole based, magical voyeur checks that darned list twice! For no other reason than to make sure I’ve rightly earned my gifts. But then thinking upon it some more, it dawned on me that there’s a tendency in our culture to ascribe to Santa the grace that is God’s and ascribe to God the judgment that is Santa’s. Truth be told… that tendency is well justified when the church and its leaders have rendered the simplicity of loving God and obeying God’s commandments the spiritual equivalent of competing in American Ninja Warrior. If God has set some sort of sadistic, masochistic, gauntlet of an obstacle course, then yes, please give me Santa; God’s terrifying.
But what if God hasn’t set such a course and it’s rather easy to love God and obey God’s commandments? What if God’s law has very little to do with you achieving your own perfection and, rather, recognizing your deep and desperate need for divine love, life, and liberation? What if it’s as uncomplicated as faith and as simple as being loved?
‘If you love me, you will observe my commandments. I, I too will ask the father/the ancestor/the elder to give you another Paraclete, so that [the Paraclete] might be with you into the ages, the spirit of truth. … The one who has my commandments and observes them that one is my beloved. And the one who loves me will be loved by my father/ancestor/elder, and I, I too will love [them] and I will appear to [them] myself.’ 
Jn 14:15-16, 21
What does it take to love God? Observe God’s commandments—this is discipleship; what are the commandments? To love God—this is discipleship. No joke. This is exactly what Jesus is saying in this passage according to John. Even if we take a step back and look at the Big Ten from the First Testament, they can be easily broken into two commandments that are alike to each other: Love God (first tablet) and love your neighbor (second tablet). The neat thing about the gospel is the proclamation that Jesus is God’s love incarnate, thus to love Jesus is to love your neighbor because in Christ’s incarnate form he is your neighbor and he identifies with the neighbor. Thus when you love Jesus you love God and your neighbor; and, according to the gospels, you can check your arithmetic: if you love God then you love Jesus and the neighbor; if you love the neighbor then you love God and Jesus. It’s all embedded in this trifold reality that God is in Jesus and Jesus identifies with the neighbor. In that the gospels proclaim Jesus as divine love incarnate and this love incarnate proclaims love, life, and liberation to the captives—like all the great prophets before him caught up in the same “Spirit of Truth”—then to identify with those with whom God in Christ identified, to love those whom God in Christ loves is to love Christ thus God since God is in Christ.
What John is doing in this passage is highlighting that what the world does not understand is that it’s not about me and private pursuit of righteousness and justification; to be self-righteous and to try to self-justify is to go against God because it causes the believer to be wrapped up in themselves at the expense of the neighbor and to sidestep that hunger for God. Pursuing your self-righteousness and self-justification tells God and your neighbor you do not need them; it’s the opposite of how the gospels define what it means to be holy. The encounter with God by faith, on the other hand, liberates the one so encountered and releases them into the world to love like God which is like Jesus and the Spirit of truth. The one so encountered is actually liberated: from the prison of themselves; from the threat that if they don’t get it just right, they will burn; from the violence of self-chastisement over privatized sins; and, from the suffocating sensation that God is against you unless…. Here meritocracy is dashed to the ground; it’s not about you and your personal and privatized so-called-holiness, it’s about loving God and loving others and being loved by God and by others. This is what the world doesn’t get, according to John’s Jesus. The world runs on merit; but God doesn’t. When the church forgot this message and made God and the spiritual realm all about merit, it abandoned the Spirit of Truth for a few pieces of silver.
The conclusion here is this—and this is a tough one so listen close:
Santa is not Jesus, God, or the Holy Spirit.
And the second is like unto it:
Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit are way better than Santa.
When all is said and done, the very thing that liberates human beings from the threat of the pursuit and demand of self-righteousness and self-justification, that liberates human beings into life and love is never achieved by merit. A prisoner can be absolutely perfect and still denied parole because grace and mercy are absent. You can strive to perform every day and still be denied that raise or promotion because someone else was younger or had the right pedigree. You can do it all correctly according to the world and still end up at the end of days destitute and desolate. Merit cannot ever be the means of liberation because you must wake up and do it all again tomorrow and all the while pray you are always able to do so.
But with God, God’s love liberates because it just loves and allows to live, God’s love creates a place in space and time for the beloved to exist as they are for who they are in whatever form they are. God’s love releases the captives from their captivity because they are liberated from the demand of merit for self-worth and self-approval, they are released from the rat-race of meritocracy, they are free to stop thinking of only themselves (because they can’t afford not to) and can start thinking of someone else. Freedom and liberation are most emphasized in the presence of others and God and not in absentia of both. The freest person I’ve ever heard of was the one who was so free he literally concerned himself with others to the point that he would even endure death to identify with God’s beloved, you.
You are loved; be loved. You are the beloved, rest. And then spread that love everywhere, bringing God’s love to God’s beloved who doubt they are or ever could be God’s beloved.
 Rudolf Bultmann The Gospel of John: A Commentary Trans. GR Beasley-Murray, Gen Ed; RWN Hoare and JK Riches. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1971. German: Das Evangelium des Johannes (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1964, 1966). 614. “V. 15: the answer to the question how a relationship of love can be established with the departed Revealer is this: it consists in the disciple fulfilling his commands.”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 557. “I: ‘He and the Father are the same thing, the Father, who is love, sent us Jesus, love incarnate, and now he’s going to send us the spirit of love, that is, the spirit of the teachings of Jesus, which is also himself.’”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 558. “I: ‘In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit is the spirit of Yahweh, same as saying the spirit of justice and liberation. He’s the one who spoke through the prophets proclaiming the truth.’”
 Bultmann, John, 614. “To love him means to be obedient to his demands, and this obedience is faith.”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 559. “I: ‘In the Gospel of Saint John the world’ is the same as the system, unjust society, the status quo. Those who belong to the system, says Christ, cannot receive that spirit.’”
Psalm 118:22-24 I will give thanks to you, God, for you answered me and have become my salvation. The same stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is God’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. On this day God has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
What Death tried to seal in a tomb, God liberated with one proclamation: “Let there be life!” And life burst forth, sentencing Death to its own tomb. Nothing gets between God and God’s beloved!
Happy Easter! Christ is Risen!
What a day. It’s the singular time in the Christian liturgical calendar where the resurrection of Christ is told in the present tense and not as some distant future mythology for a special few who get their faith just right. Today, resurrection is for everyone. Today, God is for everyone. We declare today that God shook heaven and earth and liberated God’s beloved from death as the first born of all creation, the enduring symbol that death is not the final word for anyone. (Full stop.) Today we proclaim that life wins, love wins, liberation wins. Hallelujah!
Today in our encounter with this story of God’s radical activity in the world through the resurrection of Christ, I get to remind you that not only does life, love, and liberation win, but these become the foundation under our feet, the thread holding together the fabric of our existence, the substance of our individual and corporate life together, and the motivation for our activity in the world. It’s this message that makes the church the Church—visible and invisible. Without it, the church doesn’t exist. This awkward, weird, scientifically baffling, nonsensical, proclamation—Christ is Risen!—is meant to be the very characteristic establishing the church—yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
What’s haunting me is how quickly we prefer to move on from Easter Sunday into this makes more sense Monday, and let’s be rational Tuesday, and that’s just mythology Wednesday, and so on. We are too quick to truncate the possibility of this announcement, relegating it to the simplicity of premodern people, some single historical event, a “picture painted on a wall.” I think I’d be fine with this if we, as “enlightened” and “scientific” people, didn’t have so many of our own beliefs that don’t make sense, that are “irrational”, and that qualify as “mythology”. We have our own versions of the very things we criticize previous eras of human existence for. So, I’m wondering, what if… What if this ancient, whacky story of divine activity in the world, the overruling of death, the radical reordering of actuality and possibility has meaning for me, for you, for us today?
What if it can actually recenter and stabilize? What if it can create space and hold time to find identity? What if it can shatter alienation and encourage relationality? What if it can break through false expectations and give us ground to build community? What if it means—no matter what—we have solidarity? What if it’s true?
Now, the angel answered and said to the women, “You, you do not fear! For I know that you are seeking Jesus the one who has been crucified. He is not here; for he is raised just as he said. Come (!) and see (!) the place where he was laid. And quickly go and say (!) to his disciples that he is raised from the dead; and behold! He is going before you to Galilee, there you will see him. Behold! I bid you!” 
Matthew seems to have a flair for the divinely dramatic side of story telling that seems, to me, absent in the other three gospel accounts of the resurrection. Mark, Luke, and John have the women (of some number) showing up and the stone already rolled away. But Matthew? Nah. That’s not his style. Let’s go big, or let’s go home!
Matthew tells us that the women, the two Marys (Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary”) came to look at the tomb. Now, while our text makes it sound as if Mary and (the other) Mary were merely there to express their silent condolences, there was a purpose for this “looking”: to confirm Christ’s death. These two women came assuming they’d affirm the actuality of death; they weren’t expecting to leave declaring the possibility of life. Then, out of the blue…
[B]ehold!, a great earthquake happened; for an angel of the Lord descended out of heaven and drew near and rolled back the stone and then was sitting upon it…and from fear of [the angel] the guards shook and they became as dead.
A massive shaking of the ground, an angel in dazzling brightness descending and rolling back a massive stone, and big guards falling over, stiff as boards because they are terrified. Matthew skips no beats here in adding scientific perplexity to vibrant narrative pizzazz; he’s got a point and it’s not just for entertainment. What’s his point? This: Jesus didn’t need the stone removed to leave the tomb. The Angel does it for pure divine dramatic effect. So, this is Matthew hollering at the top of his lungs: JESUS IS RISEN! And God had everything to do with it! this isn’t a “resurrection” story, it’s a “he is not here!” story. It’s a “No one gets between God and the Beloved!” story.
The angel beckons the two Marys to come and see, because the angel knows they are seeking Jesus, the one who has been crucified. Then the angel charges the women to go and proclaim to the disciples that Jesus is not dead, that he has gone on before them into Galilee, and that they’ll see him there. These humble women, dismissed by much of society, are charged by the angelic visitor, a representative of the celestial estate, to be the first to proclaim good news to the sorrowful, to the regretful, to the ones who ran off, to the one who denied three times. It’s these very ones Jesus declares as “my brothers”; they in the midst of their alienation, isolation, loneliness, shame and regret are summoned unto God, affirmed as the beloved because nothing…not-one-thing can separate them from the love of God.
Today, we celebrate, let our voices ring out with the splendor of heart felt Hallelujahs!, throw our hands up in the air, dance with delight like children, and rejoice that death doesn’t triumph over life. When everything looked as it if was dead and gone, God stepped in and breathed life into dry bones. When our hostility toward God felt like an eternal fracture, God bent low and mended it. When our tongues grew parched from reciting unfulfilled promises, God brought us the water of heaven. When our bodies grew exhausted under the constant threat of the thunder of doom creeping about our lives and relationships, God cleared out the clouds and let the light of God’s countenance shine over us. Today, in the resurrection of Christ, God comes near to you, to me, to all of us and is for us.
Today God is in our hunger for stability; we are stabilized. Today God is in our hunger for identity; we are irreplaceable. Today God is in our hunger for relationality; we are with others. Today God is in our hunger for community; we are seen, known, and loved here. Today God is in our hunger for solidarity; we are not nor ever will be forsaken.
Today, in the resurrection of Christ, sola suspicio, reaches its limit; it has nothing to say to a people who are aware of their hunger, no longer satisfied with consuming themselves to death. Today, in being confronted with this radical story of divine love, life, and liberation we are awakened in our spirits. Today our hearts quicken with possibility, with what if and why not. Today our imaginations are reinvigorated, daring to dream of a world filled with justice, peace, mercy, love, and life. Today, wrapped up in the story of He is not here! we have the audacity to defy nothing with something, what-is with what-could-be, captivity with liberation. Today we come face to face with our hunger, with the reality that resurrection is not of the past but is right now, that we desire more than what we have grown accustomed to accepting and receiving. Today, we realize that our hunger is God’s hungering divine passion for the beloved; thus, today, we see that Jesus’s resurrection from the dead is a summons to us to rise from the dead and join the living and God’s divine revolution of love, life, and liberation in the world for all people.
“The word of love lives, it happens, it is spoken and it is heard. As this word, Jesus is raised from the dead. The story of love does not end on Calvary but begins there.”
Today we taunt death with the fullness of life and dare to follow Jesus out of our tombs; today we are bold to say beyond the limits of reason and suspicion:
“I believe in the crucified Lord who is alive, the failure which didn’t fail, the defenceless man whom God did not forsake, the man who loved, with whose cause God identified God’s self. God says yes to what we usually, with good reason, deny. God makes him the lifebringer, whom we thought of as lost in unreality. … God did not arm the defenceless man, God did not let him come to grief, as reason would suppose, but God approved of his defencelessness, accepted and loved him and raised him up. To believe in [Christ] means to follow his way. He who seeks him among the living, seeks him with God and therefore on this our earth.”
 Anna Case-Winters Matthew Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2015. 336. “The effect of these visits was to confirm death. The women who come to perform this sad task of confirming death instead find themselves running tor Joy, announcing life. Waiting and watching in sadness, they have become the first witnesses to the resurrection. Once again the last are first. They are also first to worship the risen Lord.”
R. T. France The Gospel of Matthew The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Gen. Ed Joel B. Green. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007. 1097. “The action of the angel in removing the stone from the entrance to the tomb draws attention even more clearly than in the other gospels to the fact that Jesus has already left the tomb, while the stone was still in place.”
 France, Matthew, 1098. “This is not an account of the resurrection of Jesus (as some editors still unaccountably describe it in their section headings), but a demonstration that Jesus has risen. We are not told at what point between the burial on Friday evening and the opening of the tomb on Sunday morning Jesus actually left the tomb, though the repeated ‘third day/three days’ language (and even more the ‘three days and three nights’ of 12:40) presupposes that he was in the tomb for most of that period. What matters to the narrators is not when or how he left, but the simple fact that now, early on Sunday morning, ‘he is not here’ (v.6).”
 France, Matthew, 1101. “The women are not only themselves the witnesses of the empty tomb, but also the chosen messengers to convey the amazing news to Jesus’ male disciples.”
 France, Matthew, 1103. “my brothers” “This time, however, it follows the abject failure of the Twelve to stand with Jesus when the pressure was on, a failure which was hardly less shameful because Jesus had predicted it in 26:31. But now it is time for the second half of that prediction to be fulfilled ( 26:32), and that Galilean meeting will eventually restore the family relationship which they must surely have thought had come to an end in Gethsemane.”
Psalm 112: 1, 4-6 1 Hallelujah! Happy are they who fear God and have great delight in God’s commandments! Light shines in the darkness for the upright; the righteous are merciful and full of compassion. It is good for them to be generous in lending and to manage their affairs with justice. For they will never be shaken; the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.
Light is important. Very. Especially regarding what you’re drinking. Let me explain:
I get up early, I have since I’ve attempted to overlap having kids and having degrees. That extra 60-90 minutes before littles get up gave me time to have some quiet and some study (and some coffee…LOTS). In order to get up early without being an inconvenience or a disturbance to anyone else, I learned how to do everything in the dark, from getting out of the bedroom and getting into workout clothes. I am one with the darkness.
One morning, when we lived in Louisiana, I woke up with my soft-music alarm, stretched, and sat up. It was four in the morning, and barely any light penetrated my cocoon of darkness. I swung my legs over the edge of the bed and stretched one more time. Then, I reached over to the large glass of water I prepared the night before, and, in the dark, started drinking like I did every morning. But then…there was a gentle bump against my lip. My sleepy state cruised straight into FULLY AWAKE and, as I lifted the glass to catch the minimal light through the blind from the street, all I could tell was that there was a mass in my water. The self-control I needed in that moment surfaced, and I did not scream. I took a deep breath, held it, let it out slowly and then gingerly and quietly rushed to the kitchen. Flipped on all the lights, and there it was: a very, very, very large cockroach floating atop my water. Dead, like Gregor Samsa at the end of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, but not due to starvation but to drowning.
Again, without making a noise, I dealt with the crime scene and quickly returned to schedule as usual.
Light is important. Very.
You, you are the light of the cosmos. A city being laid above a hill is not able to be hidden. No one lighting a lamp then places it under a basket but up on the lampstand, and it shines for all those in the house. In this way, let your light shine before people, in order that they may perceive your good works and may glorify your [Abba God] in the heavens. (vv. 14-16)
For Matthew, light is also very important, but for very different reasons than the one I experienced in the midst of the dark, tender moment between me and mi amada cucaracha. Matthew begins this narrative by telling us that Jesus continues his teaching to his disciples—still located among the hills as last week. This time Jesus is talking about salt and light and how both are necessary for the earth and the cosmos—this is how the disciples participate in the divine mission of God in the world. The disciples are to be the salt providing flavor to and preservation of the earth; salt that’s no longer salty is pointless, useless, and tossed out. This isn’t so much about people being rejected unto the furthest reaches of the universe and not so much about being condemned unto damnation. Rather, this is about assimilation to what is, the status-quo, nary making a wave or ruckus, never marching to a different beat, beige among beige. For instance, if the world is filled with injustice and the disciples go along with it, then they are as if they are no longer salty, they aren’t altering the flavor of the world, they aren’t adding dimension to it, they are refusing the full beauty and glory of the earth. If the world is unloving then the salt is the love of God brought by the peddlers of that love, the disciples, those grafted into the great line of prophets.
Then Jesus mentions they’re to be the light. The light is not best used under a basket, hidden from the sight of others. Rather, it is to light up the darkness, cut through the banality of life, illuminate dimness, awaken to alertness, and expose humanity and show us where the very, very, very large insects are. (Because they might just be floating in our water!) Not only does the light emanate outward into the cosmos, but the light also draws in from the cosmos. The city on the hill (playing with the imagery laying out in front of him with the disciples among the hill) will be the city letting their light so shine that others are drawn to it. This light is love and this love is of God. Thus, this is no closed group, sequestered away from humanity, refusing the familiarity of humanity, consumed with their own private righteousness; rather this group is open, having porous boundaries, welcoming those who’ve come from afar to admire the light, to feel the light warm their faces and exhausted bodies, to give them hope, to give them peace, to give them mercy, to give them the very love of Abba God.
In this way the disciples’ righteousness and execution of justice will exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus tells the disciples that the law is not going anywhere; it’s here to stay. But it’s not about meeting each of the 613 mitzvot; it’s about God, God’s love, God’s justice in the world, the kingdom of heaven come close to humanity. In other words, Jesus promises fulfillment of the law not by doing it all but by comprehending the deeper meaning of the law, that it entails. This isn’t merely about our obedience to be clean and pure according to the law allowing the law to dethrone God and force humanity to be in service to the law. Rather, Jesus’s promised fulfillment of the law is about putting it in its rightful place in service to people thus bringing glory to God in that it directs the people of God to God, thus to the love of God, thus to the love of the neighbor. In other words, Jesus doesn’t abrogate the law but defines it for the disciples: this is not the law of ritual purity but the law of love.
Salt makes food better and it can even preserve it. Light gives assurance to the step and can even prevent us from consuming that which we shouldn’t. In this moment, we are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. This is our calling, beloved. But this is not our calling because somehow we have to muster up our saltiness or our illuminative parts like fireflies in the middle of a summer night. Rather, our saltiness and our illumination come from our union with God in faith, it comes from our encounter with God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is the fruit of our new life. And this fruit is not for our consumption alone, but to share out in the world with everyone. And this relatedness of our being with others is the principal point of being salt and light…it is for others, for the love of others.
“Love needs the presence and involvement of another being; love cannot exist without the other. Self-sufficiency is a concept of the lonely and unrelated person. To conceive of creation in the framework of unrelatedness is to deprive creation of its most central element—love. Whatever meaning we find in the concept of creation, in a creator, and in our having been created hinges on love. The concept of creation is rendered empty and meaningless if it is not out of love that God created the world.”
You, beloved, are the salt and the light because you are the beloved, the ones who are so radically loved by the creator of the cosmos—the one who flung all the great lights into the night sky and nestled each grain of that savory mineral among water and rocks. And because you have been so loved by such a One, you get to partake in this sharing of salt and light on the earth and within the cosmos by sharing that divine love with others here, and outside these walls. And, maybe, especially with those outside of these walls. Let us so share our salt and light with the world, bringing to the world the love of Abba God, saying to those whom we meet, “O taste and see that [God] is good; happy are those who take refuge in [God]” (Ps 34:8).
 Anna Case-Winters Matthew Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2015. 78-79. “It is prefaced with ‘salt and light’ sayings addressed to the disciples in a way that points them toward their mission in the world. Neither salt nor light exists tor its own sake. The salt needs to stay salty to fulfill its function and the light needs to be lifted up to give light. These metaphors imply a turning outward toward mission in the world.”
 France, Matthew, 173. “Sir 39:26 lists salt as one of the essentials for human life; cf. Sop. 15:8, ‘The world cannot endure without salt.’ Disciples are no less essential to the well-being of “the earth,” which here refers to human life in general.”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 94. “JULIO: ‘By liberating it. Because a world filled with injustice is tasteless. Mainly for the poor, life like that has no taste.’” And “OLIVIA: ‘It seems to me that the salt has got lost when instead of preserving justice on earth, Christians have let injustice multiply more… We Christians wanted to prevent that, but we haven’t. Instead, Christians have sided with injustice, with capitalism. We have sided with selfishness. We have been a useless salt.’” And “FELIPE: ‘Christianity that stopped being Christian, that’s the salt that doesn’t salt any more.’”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 95. “MARCELINO: ‘I think that ‘salt’ is the Gospel word given to us so that we’ll practicing love, so that everybody will have it. Because salt is a thing that you never deny to anybody. When somebody is very stingy they say that he wouldn’t give you salt for a sour prune. That’s why Jesus says have salt, which means to have love shared out among everybody, and so we’ll have everything shared out, we’ll all be equal and we’ll live united and in peace.’”
 France, Matthew, 175. “Here the light which Jesus brings is also provided by his disciples, who will soon be commissioned to share in his ministry of proclamation and deliverance. Cf. the mission of God’s servant to be ‘a light to the nations’ (Isa 42:6; 49:6). The world needs that light, and it is through the disciples that it must be made visible. The world (kosmos; not the “earth,” gē, as in v. 13) again refers to the world of people, as the application in v. 16 makes clear; cf. the call to Christians to shine in the kosmos (Phil 2:15).”
 Case-Winters, Matthew, 79. “In passing, the illustration of a city set on a hill is also employed. The community of disciples cannot be a closed community, an ‘introverted secret society shielding itself from the world.’ Its witness Is public.”
 France, Matthew, 176. “The metaphor thus suited a variety of applications, but here the context indicates that it is about the effect which the life of disciples must have on those around them. It thus takes for granted that the ‘job description’ of a disciple is not fulfilled by private personal holiness, but includes the witness of public exposure.”
 France, Matthew, 177. “It is only as is distinctive lifestyle is visible to others that it can have its desired effect. But that effect is also now spelled out not as the improvement and enlightenment of society as such, but rather as the glorifying of God by those outside the disciple community. The subject of this discourse, and the aim of the discipleship which it promotes, is not so much the betterment of life on earth as implementation of the reign of God. The goal of disciples’ witness is not that others emulate their way of life. or applaud their probity, but that they recognize the source of their distinctive lifestyle in ‘Your Father in heaven.’”
 France, Matthew, 189. “The paradox of Jesus’ demand here makes sense only if their basic premise as to what ‘righteousness’ consists of is put in question. Jesus is not talking about beating the scribes and Pharisees at their own game, but about a different level or concept of righteousness altogether.”
 Case-Winters, Matthew, 80. “There is a balance of Jesus’ obligation to the law and the prophets and his authority to interpret their weightier matters. The commandments of the Torah are not all of the same weight. Jesus argues later that love and compassion for the neighbor outweighs matters such as cultic observance (12:1-14; 22:40). He chides the scribes and Pharisees because they ‘tithe the mint, dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faith.’ Jesus’ own life is an exemplar of attending to the weightier matters.”
 France, Matthew, 182. “In the light of Matthew’s use of this verb elsewhere, and the evident importance it has for his understanding of the relation between the authoritative words of the OT and their contemporary outworking, the sense here is not likely to be concerned either with Jesus’ actions in relation to the law or even his teaching about it, but rather the way in which he ‘fulfills’ the pattern laid down in the law and the prophets.”
 France, Matthew, 183. “In the light of that concept, and of the general sense of ‘fulfill’ in Matthew, we might then paraphrase Jesus’ words here as follows: ‘Far from wanting to set aside the law and the prophets, it is my role to bring into being that to which they have pointed forward, to carry them into a new era of fulfillment.’ On this understanding the authority of the law and the prophets is not abol1shed. They remain the authoritative word of God. But their role will no longer be the same, now that what they pointed forward to has come, and it will be for Jesus’ followers to discern in the light of his teaching and practice what is now the right way to apply those texts in the new situation which his coming has created. From now on it will be the authoritative teaching of Jesus which must govern his disciples’ understanding and practical application of the law.”
 Dorothee Sölle To Work and To Love: A Theology of Creation with Shirley A. Cloyes. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1984. 16
Psalm 15:1-2 1 God, who may dwell in your tabernacle? who may abide upon your holy hill? Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, who speaks the truth from [their] heart.
Did you know that the Sermon on the Mount was probably given in the hills? I mention this little detail because there are texts and stories, teachings and preachings that we’re very familiar with, so familiar that we are prone to pay them less attention. We take them for granted and lock them in some form in our memory. We are familiar with the tonality and the cadence of the textual rhythm. We can recite some of them from memory. We may be more familiar with some over others; we may even know the blessed statements show up altered in other gospels. Maybe it’s time we did what Jesus’s disciples did: follow Jesus and sit with this divine Rabbi,  listening (again) to these words meant for those who follow Jesus out of the river Jordan, even those of us who sit here these many years later. As we do, may we come into an encounter with the love and passion of God anew, for God’s Word seeks to awaken us from our slumber, provoke to animation calcified hearts, invigorate sluggish souls and exhausted minds, graft us into God’s mission on the earth, and to place us into the great prophetic tradition of God’s representatives bringing God’s love and life and liberation to the captives.
Before beginning our dive into the statements, I want to address a little, teensy-weensy textual thing: the word, markarioi is fairly hard to render into English. The complication comes in that “‘Macarisms’ are essentially commendations, congratulations, statements to the effect that a person is in a good situation, sometimes even expressions of envy.” This isn’t “blessed by God”, but “happy”. They are happy who… However, this is misleading in our context because it is not as if the person is happy but that they find themselves in a happy placedemanding envy from others. In short, these statements are not merely colloquialisms about happy go lucky, but describe and commend the good life, and not the good life or an ethic for back then but even now, for us. To be envied is to do and be like this…
To be envied are the beggars for the Spirit, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
The “poor in spirit” are not those who lack God or have weak character. Rather, these are the ones claimed by God but poor, those held captive by oppression, those refused the material liberation of God.  These people know their need for God, cry out to God, call on God, and take God as God. It is these who have the kingdom of God because they are with God and loved by God and in this love the kingdom is now and to come.
To be envied are the ones who mourn, because they, theywill be comforted.
Like those before who are “poor in spirit” and those who follow (the meek and those who hunger and thirst), those who mourn have comfort in that they are those who are with God because God is in our suffering. And in being with God, having God’s life and love there is the possibility that this heavy grief will not always be so, that there is more to this material existence than what can be seen and touched right now.
To be envied are the meek, because they, they will inherit the earth.
Meekness here harkens back to “poor in spirit”, these are the ones who love their neighbor as themselves, serving the neighbor in their freedom, feeling compassion and sympathy for the plight of their neighbor. The meek live among the sufferers in this life and make it their aim to alleviate that suffering, to bring God close. For these meek ones are servants of all, live by the law of love for their neighbor before God, and are the ones who inherit the earth at the expense of those claiming the earth for themselves now at the expense of their neighbor.
To be envied are the ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they, they will be satisfied.
Those who are hungry are hungry for justice, those who are thirsty are thirsty for righteousness; and this hunger and thirst fuels the embers of the fires of God’s love and justice. These are the ones who desire earnestly (2x!) to live into the calling of God on their lives made known through their baptism and faith in God, and to participate in God’s mission of love, liberation, and life in the world. These are they who step into the responsibility of representing God in the world and eliminating alienation and isolation. By this activity they satisfy their hunger and thirst for justice and righteousness come.
To be envied are the merciful, because they, they will be shown mercy.
Just like those who judge will be judged and those who forgive will be forgiven, those who show mercy will be shown mercy. In other words, those who are merciful are those who offer grace to other fellow humans trying to get from point A to point B, those who share in the pain in the world and celebrate the joy, those who are willing to let go of societal standards of “an eye for an eye”.
To be envied are the pure in heart, because they, they will see God.”
This is less about being sinless and more about being declared pure apart from your material and social circumstances that would render you “unclean” for lack of “outward purity”. Godliness is about one’s trust and faith in and love of God made most manifest in love of one’s neighbor; it’s not about being ritualistically clean and upright thus removed from being able to love one’s neighbor no matter what.
To be envied are the peacemakers, because they, they will be called children of God.”
Those born of God are born of love, of life, of peace. Thus, the peacemakers are not those who merely present a peaceful demeanor in the world, benefitting only themselves. These are they who “make peace” by causing reconciliation where there is estrangement, reuniting others, and letting love do what love does: turn the enemy into the beloved.
To be envied are the ones who are persecuted on account of righteousness, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. You are to be envied whenever people revile you both persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be fully of joy, because your reward is great in the heavens, for in this way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Of interest here are those who are blessed because they are persecuted and not only because they’re upright, but upright specifically related to following Jesus. It’s not a lifestyle that is good, but one that adheres to the authority and principles of Jesus; this is the reason for the persecution. In adhering to the radical demands of Christ by pursuing justice, peace, mercy, and love in the world, the disciples will end up challenging the self-conceptions of others who live according to the world and persecution will follow. Then Jesus does something at the end of the text, according to Matthew, he draws a correlation between those who do his will with the prophets. Those who follow Jesus and do as he did are grafted into the great line of prophets, those who declare God’s kingdom come, those who advocate for the sufferers and oppressed are those who share in the great prophetic tradition and participate in the prophetic voice.
Beloved, the “sermon among the hills” is the foundation of our ethical activity in the world. Loved by the radical God of Love made known to us in Christ, we love radically like God, risking our creaturely comforts and daring to stand out we bring and declare this love into the world. We’re called by and in faith to be born anew into a new life defined by God’s will and desire to seek and save the lost, to liberate the captives, to bring good news to the poor and destitute, those struggling to live and exist. We are created anew to be God’s representatives in the name of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit in the world. We are to feel our discontentment with the world because God is discontent with the way the world is for God’s beloved. We’re to press into God by pressing into the plight of our brothers and sisters, in this the light breaks through the darkness, hope defeats hopelessness, and love births life.
The following is taken from Ernesto Cardenal’s poem, “Coplas on the death of Merton”,
Love, love above all, an anticipation of death There was a taste of death in the kisses being is being in another being we exist only in love But in this life we love only briefly and feebly We love or exist only when we stop being when we die nakedness of the whole being in order to make love make love not war that go to empty into the love that is life
 RT France, in his commentary, makes the compelling case that the location where Jesus sits and teaches his disciples in this pericope are “hills” rather than a mountain (which is the technical translation of to oros). France uses the corresponding text in the gospel of Luke which describes Jesus as going down to this location…
 Anna Case-Winters Matthew Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2015. 71-72. “The Sermon on the Mount, in its clarion call to a radically different way of life, does unmask the sinfulness of the life we now live—turned in on ourselves as we are. Indeed, it makes our need for God’s grace very clear, but the message also moves and motivates us toward the higher righteousness to which Jesus calls us. It does so not by giving a set of prescriptions to be followed in a legalistic manner but rather examples of life oriented by the love of God and neighbor.”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 89-90. “WILLIAM: ‘And Jesus compares us with the prophets. The prophets in the Bible were not so much people who predicted the future as people who denounced the present. They were protesting against the celebrations in the palaces, the cheating on the weights and the coins, the things that they bought very cheap from the labor of the poor, the swindles of widows and orphans, the abuses committed by the mafias of priests, the murders, the royal policy that they called prostitution, the dependence on foreign imperialisms. And it’s true they also predicted something for the future-the liberation of the oppressed. Christ says that our fate has to be like the fate of those prophets.’”
 France, Matthew, 160-161. The Hebrew equivalent of Makarios is asre rather than the more theologically loaded baruk, ‘blessed (by God).’ The traditional English rendering ‘blessed’ thus also has too theological a connotation in modern usage; the Greek term for ‘blessed (by God)’ is eulogetos, not makarios.
 France, Matthew, 160-161. “The sense of congratulation and commendation is perhaps better convened by ‘happy,’ but this term generally has too psychological a connotation: makarios does not state that a person feels happy … but that they are in a ‘happy’ situation, one which other people ought also to wish to share.”
 France, Matthew, 160-161. “The Australian idiom ‘Good on yer’ is perhaps as close as any to the sense, but would not communicate in the rest of the English-speaking world!…Beatitudes are descriptions, and commendations, of the good life.”
 Case-Winters, Matthew, 71. “I would propose that the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount is a fitting ethic nor just for ‘the interim’ and not just tor an inner circle, but for followers of Jesus in all times and places. It has been pointed out that a new way of life is at the heart of the gospel call.”
Ernesto Cardenal The Gospel in Solentiname Trans. Donald D. Walsh. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010. 82. “I said that in the Bible the poor are often called anawim, which in Hebrew means ‘the poor of Yahweh.’ They are so called because they are the poor of the liberation of Yahweh, those that God is going to liberate by means of the Messiah. It’s like what we now understand as the ‘oppressed,’ but in the Bible those poor people are also considered to be good people, honorable, kindly and holy, while their opposites are the oppressors, the rich, the proud, the impious.”
 France, Matthew, 165. “‘Poverty in spirit’ is not speaking of weakness of character (‘mean-spiritedness’) but rather of a person’s relationship with God. It is a positive spiritual orientation, the converse of the arrogant self-confidence which only rides roughshod over the interests of other people but more importantly causes a person to treat God as irrelevant. To say that it is to such people that kingdom of heaven belongs means (not, of course, that they themselves hold royal authority but) that they are the ones who gladly accept God’s rule and who therefore enjoy the benefits which come to his subjects.”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 83. “And OSCAR’S MOTHER: ‘It seems to me that the kingdom is love. Love in this life. And heaven is for those who love here, because God is love’”
 Case-Winters, Matthew, 76-77. “The first four beatitudes declare blessing for those who were traditionally understood as being defended by God: the poor, those who mourn, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, justice.”
 France, Matthew, 166. “For those who, as God’s people, find their current situation intolerable and incomprehensible, there are better times ahead.”
 France, Matthew, 166. “‘Meek,’ like ‘poor in spirit,’ speaks not only of those who are in fact disadvantaged and powerless, but also of those whose attitude is not arrogant and oppressive. The term in itself may properly be understood of their relations with other people; they are those who do not throw their weight about.”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 86. “MARCELINO: ‘He blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice. Hunger and injustice amount to the same thing. Anyone who hungers for food also hungers for justice. They are the ones who are going to make social change, not the satisfied ones. And then they’ll be filled with bread and social justice.’”
 France, Matthew, 167-168. Dikaiosyne “It is thus better understood here not of those who wish to see God’s will prevail in the world in general or on their own behalf in particular, but of those who are eager themselves to live as God requires, those who can say, as Jesus himself is recorded as saying in John 4:34, ‘My food is to do the will of the one who me.’”
 France, Matthew, 168. “‘Mercy’ is closely with forgiveness, but is broader here than just the forgiveness of specific offenses: it is a generous attitude which is willing to see things from the other’s point of view and is not quick to take offense or to gloat over others’ shortcomings (the prime characteristic of love according to 1 Cor 13:4-7). Mercy sets aside society’s assumption that it is honorable to demand revenge.”
 France, Matthew, 168. “In the context of first-century Judaism, with its strong emphasis on ritual ‘purity’, the phrase ‘pure in heart’ might also be understood to imply a contrast with the meticulous preservation of outward purity which will be condemned in 23:25-28 as having missed the point of godliness…”
 France, Matthew, 169. “This beatitude goes beyond a merely peaceful disposition to an active attempt to ‘make’ peace, perhaps by seeking reconciliation with one’s own enemies, but also more generally by bringing together those who estranged from one another.”
 France, Matthew, 172. “A significant new note in comparison with v. 10 is that the cause of persecution is not simply ‘righteousness,’ the distinctive lifestyle of the disciples, but more specifically ‘because of me,’ a phrase which makes it clear that this discourse is not just a call to conduct but is grounded in the unique authority and radical demands of Jesus himself.”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 88. “ALEJANDRO: ‘And he says that they are going to be persecuted because they seek justice, and for that also he blesses them. Because it’s clear that people who look for this kingdom have to be persecuted.”
 France, Matthew, 169-170. “The pursuit of ‘righteousness’ (v. 6) can arouse opposition from those whose interests or self-respect may be threatened by it. Already in the commendation of the merciful and the peacemakers these beatitudes have marked out the true disciple not as a hermit engaged in the solitary pursuit of holiness but as one engaged in society, and such engagement has its cost. As the following verses will spell out more fully, to live as subjects of the kingdom of heaven is to be set over against the rest of society which does not its values, and the result may be – indeed, the uncompromising wording of this beatitude suggests that it will be—persecution.”
 France, Matthew, 173. “Those who have spoken out for God have always been liable to the violent reprisal of the ungodly. In the light of that heritage, to be persecuted for the sake of Jesus is a badge of honor. The phrase ‘the prophets who came before you’ perhaps suggests that Jesus’ disciples are now the prophetic voice on earth (cf. 10:41; 23:34).”
 France, Matthew, 159. “The sharply paradoxical character of most of its recommendations reverses the conventional values of society—it commends those whom the world in general would dismiss as losers and wimps; compare the presentation of disciples as ‘little ones’ in 10:42; 18:6, 10.14; 25:40 (cf. the ‘little children’ of 11:25). The Beatitudes thus call on those who would be God’s people to stand out as different from those around them, and promise them that those who do so will not ultimately be the losers.”
 Case-Winters, Matthew, 77. “In a way the beatitudes are ‘more description than instruction;’ they are a kind of report from the other side of radical commitment for those who have entered into life within God’s community of love and justice. For those who have ‘crossed over’ there is genuine blessedness. They are living-even now-in the reign of God.”
 Case-Winters, Matthew, 78. “If we would-even now-live under the reign of God, there are implications. The alternative reality will chaff against the present reality. To love as God loves is to be discontented with the present reality. ‘Until the eschatological reversal takes place, it is not possible to be content with the status quo.’ In our discontent, we may pray with William Sloane Coffin, ‘Because we love the world. . . . we pray now… for grace to quarrel with it, O Thou Whose lover’s quarrel with the world is the history of the world…’”
 Dorothee Soelle On Earth as in Heaven: A Liberation Spirituality of Sharing Trans. Marc Batko. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1993. 50-51. “Christian hope in the tradition of the supernatural virtues, that is, of virtues poured into us by grace, is distinguished from the hope of the observer by sharing, cooperation, and participation. Chrisitan hope is hope in which I share in the production of another state. The hope of peace lives with the peacemakers and not beyond them. Participation in the struggle distinguishes this hope form the contemplative observation that is optimist once moment ad resigned the next.
 France, Matthew, 171-172. “Light is of no use under a bowl. It is the town conspicuously sited on hill which people notice. And the outcome of distinctive discipleship is intended to be that other people will notice and, though sometimes they may respond with cynicism and persecution, ultimately the light will have its effect and they will recognize and acknowledge the goodness of the God is its source, Disciples, therefore, must be both distinctive and involved. Neither the indistinguishably assimilated nor the inaccessible hermit will fulfill the mandate of these challenging verses.”
 Ernesto Cardenal Apocalypse and other poems Trans. Thomas Merton, Kenneth Rexroth, and Mireya Jaimes-Freyre. Eds. Robert Pring-Mill, Donald D. Walsh. New York, NY: New Directions Publishing, 1977. 47.
Psalm 145: 18-20 God is righteous in all God’s ways and loving in all God’s works. God is near to those who call upon God, to all who call upon God faithfully. God fulfills the desire of those who fear God; God hears their cry and helps them.
The excitement of the holidays is upon us!
However, if you feel anything but excited and more exhausted about now, I don’t blame you. I feel it. While I love the descent of cold weather and the pep that returns to my step, October’s close ushering in November brings with it the weight of another year nearly gone. I tend to roll into November like Santa rolls out on December 24th: carrying sack upon sack of all that has been created over the past months. Sadly, unlike Santa, I’m not distributing these “goods” and making things lighter. I’m storing these “goodies” for myself, my weary shoulders and back—and it feels heavy right about now.
I know it might be social conditioning, and I know nothing magical happens on January 1st, but there’s still something profoundly psychological that occurs in my inner world on 1/1. Bundled in the blankets of coldness, crispness, and bareness, there’s so much newness embedded into that day. Like a clean and clear canvas, the upcoming year lays out before me beckoning me to paint anything anywhere. By the time I hit November, I’m squinting my eyes, pallet knife in hand, looking to peel back layers of paint sloppily placed sometime back in June or maybe it was that spill in April?
I go through the motions, lumbering from one day to another murmuring like a Zombie. Instead of “brains” it’s something about “Friday” and “after Christmas” and “next year.” In other words, I’m trapped in the routine of duties and obligations, demands and deadlines, days in and days out. I’m the walking dead among the living, unable to summon myself out of it, dependent on whatever reserves of energy I have left, and growing too comfortable with the heaviness of existence and the powerlessness to do anything but give in to death’s bony claim on my life.
And Jesus said to them, “The children of this age marry and are given in marriage, but the ones who are deemed worthy to happen to be at that age and of the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. For they are not able to die still, for they are equal to angels and they are children of God, being children of resurrection. And that the dead are being raised, Moses made known on the basis of the bramble, as it says, ‘The lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ Now God is not of the dead but of the living, for to [God] all people are living.”
Luke introduces us to a new religious group strolling temple grounds: the Sadducees. They differed from the Pharisees in the content of their ideology—they denied resurrection, spent their time among the aristocratic of the Holy City, were a bit more conservative, and adhered to Torah above all other writings.Yet, they shared some characteristics: a preference for power, privilege, and elitism. They, like the Pharisees before them, attempt to ensnare Jesus in an intellectual trap cloaked under the façade of an appeal to marriage and resurrection. Their recourse through Moses, though, reveals their trap; the real crux of the question: do you, Rabbi, faithfully follow Moses?
Jesus’s not-so-subtle answer? Uh, yeah, I do. Jesus’s oh-so-subtle question back: Is it about obeying Moses or understanding Moses?The thrust of Jesus’s answer to the Sadducees anchors the discussion about marriage, being given in marriage, and resurrection in a right understanding of Moses and the Scriptures. it’s not about obeying what was; it’s about stepping into what will be. Starting off with a comparison of two ages (this age and that age, literally: τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου and τοῦ αἰῶνος ἐκείνου, respectively), Jesus makes a distinction between those who are stuck in the present order (this age) and those who are alive in the eschatological order (that age). In other words, are you following in the ways of the kingdom of humanity or are you following in the way of the reign of God?
The clues are in the language Jesus uses to speak of marriage, and it’s the clues that are lost in our translation. The Sadducees use language of “take” to speak of marriage (λάβῃ/λαμβάνω, I receive/take). We get lost in this text because of our conception of what it means “to marry” which carries with it—mostly—ideas of mutuality and equality. But the Sadducees are saying that this one man was given this woman to be his wife and then when he died the subsequent brothers then took her. They then appeal to the resurrection—something they do not believe in—to ask Jesus, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? Jesus’s reply indicates that their question is absurd, and they do not understand Moses or resurrection.You do not see that you are stuck in this age and blind to that one.,  Jesus flips the language back on them, it’s in this age that human beings are taken and given as if they don’t matter; but in the age of God, no such thing happens because they are children of life and not of death and do no perpetuate systems treating human beings like belongings. In that age, no one owns this woman as an object; she is alive and not dead.
In this way, Jesus affirms resurrection from the dead not only as some future eschatological, end times fulfillment of all things, but as something that occurs now. Now, God is not of the dead but of the living, for to [God] all people are living. According to the trajectory of Jesus’s logic here: those who die in God—Jesus’s ancestors—transition into God and thus they live because God is not the God of the dead but of the living, for God is not dead but alive. (Is not the substance of God love, and is not love living and not dying?) God is the source of all life and if the source of all life; all those who transition into God live.
If in death we are alive in God through transition into the liveliness of God, then how much more should we be alive now?  As those who participate in God from this material angle, should we not also participate in life and not in death?  Shouldn’t we live with faces turned toward possibility, brazen with the bright sunlight of what will be rather than with strained necks looking backward, spines broken by weighted burdens?
Back to the introduction.
We confuse survival mode for living. It’s not living. This is the tragedy of our moment in time; are any of us really alive? Living? And by this I do not mean “are you pursuing your passions?” or “calling”, for such language brings condemnation to already burdened bodies. What I mean is: are you here, right now? Can you breathe…deep? Can you look forward and see others or are you straining to look backwards refusing to let what is be what was? Would you see a shooting star in the night sky or are you busy looking down? Have you already succumbed to death? Are you, like me, the walking dead?
Our fears turn us in onto our own ego. Not only the feelings of guilt that overcome many people in their fear of death do this; other forms of ‘cares, grief, and personal woes’ can also hold us hostage and take complete control over us. We only become free in looking away from ourselves, which always means also leaving one’s present [curved in] situation.
Right now, I need interruption. I need the trajectory of my material form altered. I need something that’ll call to me causing me to harken to it. I need to be beckoned out of myself. If anything is going to change for me at this point in the year—under the weight of these burdens—it has to come from the outside. In this way, as simple and pedestrian as it may sound, I’m dependent on an encounter with God in the event of faith in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the story of God’s profound love for the cosmos thus for me, for you thus for me that I’m transported out of death and into life, out of this age and into that one. Truly, I cannot resurrect myself from this walking-deadness; I must be resurrected. I’m caused to stop, listen, see, hear, to turn and look by a humble proclamation of love so grand. In that moment I gain life because I gain a moment and in that moment is God; wherever life is there is God, wherever there is God there is love, and wherever there is love there is life.
So you, too, beloved, need to be interrupted to gain life, to be called into life out of death so that you can live now in God, by faith in Christ and in the power of the holy spirit and then live again in God, with those having transitioned into God before us. Shema, O Israel, the God who loves you is life.
 Justo L. Gonzalez Luke Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2010. 234. “For the sake of his Gentile readers, he explains that the Sadducees do not believe in the resurrection. On the matter of the resurrection, Jesus agrees with the Pharisees, who do believe in it. So the Sadducees are questioning both him and the Pharisees.”
Ernesto Cardenal The Gospel in Solentiname Trans. Donald D. Walsh. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010. 521. “I said that the Sadducees were the priestly party of the aristocracy, even more conservative than the Pharisees, who were the priestly party of the middle class. It was through their conservatism that they didn’t believe in resurrection, for they accepted only the first five Books of the Bible (the Pentateuch), and in them the concept of resurrection does not appear, for it is a late concept in the Bible. Politically they were allied to the Romans, and they were the most strongly opposed to any messianic movement of the people that would endanger their privileges.”
 Joel B. Green The Gospel of Luke The New International Commentary on the New Testament Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. 718. “The Sadducees, known for their emphasis on the Torah, attempt to set Jesus up; appealing to Moses, they concoct a scenario that, in essence, requires to answer the question, Do you follow Moses?” See also fn2.
 Green, Luke, 718-719. “Members of the Sanhedrin and their agents have been shamed and confounded into silence (vv 19, 26), leaving an opening for some Sadducees to engage Jesus in discussion. This is our first introduction to the Sadducees in the Third Gospel, but from an historical perspective this is not surprising. Sadducees, after all, exercised their aristocratic influence in the Holy City. Surprisingly little is known of them, undoubtedly owing to their loss of position following the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. Josephus observes that they had the confidence only of the wealthy, and this comports well with their appearance in the Third Gospel at this juncture. Luke has and will continue to represent Jesus in controversial encounters with those of highest status in the city, and this would include the Sadducees.”
 Green, Luke, 717. “Within this co-text, however, it can hardly be read as anything but a further attempt to ensnare Jesus by embarrassing him before the people. The artificiality of the question is suggested, moreover, by its absurdity…”
 Green, Luke, 718. “In fact, the staging of this scene indicates that the real issue at stake is one of scriptural faithfulness, and then authority to interpret Scripture faithfully.”
 Green, Luke, 718. “The Sadducees are not the only ones to cite Moses, however; so does Jesus. The baseline of Jesus’ answer may be surprising to his audience but harmonious with a central sense, he turns the question away from obedience to Moses to one of understanding Moses. Who interprets Moses (and the Scriptures) faithfully?”
 Green, Luke, 720. “Fundamental to Jesus’ first point is his contrast between two sorts of piety, two aeons, and two forms of practice vis-à-vis marriage.”
 Green, Luke, 718. Scriptures are read with the right perspective, they are not self-interpreting. “As he lays it out, this perspective is an eschatological one, one that takes into account the presently unfolding purpose of God, and that generates in the present both faithful interpretation and faithful response.”
 Green, Luke, 721. “Jesus thus underscores the absurdity of the Sadducees’ question by undermining its major premises. The scenario they had painted has failed, first, in its perception of the nature of the age to come. Second, it fails to account for the reality that the age to come impinges already on life in the present.”
 Green, Luke, 720. “The Third Gospel often depicts persons, both male and female, as ‘sons of…,’ not as a matter of literal descent but as a way of denoting their character, their behavior. One sort of person is thus orientated toward ‘this age,’ with its concerns for status honor, relationships of debt and reciprocity, and the … .) The other group consists of ‘those who are considered worthy of a place in that age….’ The apposition of the two expressions ‘this age’ and ‘that age’ assumes a division of time into two aeons, the present age and the age to come.”
 Gonzalez, Luke, 235. “A better interpretation is simply to say that Jesus is arguing that the conditions of the present age do not obtain after the resurrection. The question, ‘Whose wife will she be?’ ignores the radical newness of the coming kingdom. There are many similar questions that have no answer (and that are similar to those that the Corinthians seem to have been asking, and to which Paul responds in 1 Cor. 15)… Jesus does not attempt to answer such questions, but simply calls his listeners to trust the God who has made all things, and who will make the kingdom come to pass.”
 Gonzalez, Luke, 235. “An interesting note having to do with marriage is that Jesus says that in the new order people ‘neither marry nor are given in marriage.’ For a woman to be ‘given in marriage’ implies subjection to others: the father who gives her, and the groom who takes her. In an order of peace, justice, and freedom, people are not ‘given’ to others.”
 Green, Luke, 721. “Although typically represented as passive verbs, the instances of the two verbs translated ‘are given in marriage’ (NRSV) actually appear in the middle voice: ‘to allow oneself to be married.’ The focus shifts from a man ‘taking a wife’; (wv 28, 29, 31) to include the woman’s participation in the decision to marry. This is important because the basic concern here is with a reorientation of human relations through a reorientation of eschatological vision. One sort of person is aligned with the needs of the present age; such persons participate in the system envisioned and advocated by the Sadducees, itself rooted in the legislation governing levirate marriage, with women given and taken, even participating in their own objectification as necessary vehicles for the continuation of the family name and heritage. The other draws its ethos from the age to come, where people will resemble angels insofar as they no longer face death.95 Absent the threat of death, the need for levirate marriage is erased. The undermining of the levirate marriage ordinance is itself a radical critique of marriage as this has been defined around the necessity of procreation. No longer must women find their value in producing children for patrimony. Jesus’ message thus finds its interpretive antecedent in his instruction about family relations of all kinds: Hearing faithfully the good news relativizes all family relationships …”
 Green, Luke, 722. “At the close of this argument, Jesus uses a clause, ‘for to him all of them are alive,’ meant to serve as a basis for his argumentation. …Instead, in some sense, these texts affirm, these persons are given life by God, Luke has already provided insight into the nature of resurrection life in his earlier reference to Lazarus, who was carried away by angels to Abraham (who is still alive[!]….”
 Gonzalez, Luke, 235. “Having responded to the objections of the Pharisees, Jesus counterattacks with his own argument: Moses says that God is the God of his ancestors and, since God is not a God of the dead, but only of the living, this means that for God those ancestors are still alive.”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 523. “OSCAR: ‘Yes, I agree with that, too, because I’m beginning to think that to be able to rise again you ought to begin to rise now in this life, first. In order to be able to have the hope of resurrection, I say, of God. But if you die in selfishness, what hope do you have!’”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 521-522. “I: ‘For the Jews, and for Christ, there was no distinction between soul and body, as there was for the Greeks, who said that the soul came out from the ‘prison’ of the body. According to biblical thinking, resurrection, if it existed, had to be complete and material.’”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 525-526. “I: ‘Also, Yahweh told Moses (when Yahweh appeared for the first time in history) to tell the people that Yahweh was the God of their forebears, of their past, of their history; Jesus is now saying that the people of the past continue to live, because the God of history is also God of the future. To be alive for God is to be alive for the future.’”
 Dorothee Sölle The Mystery of Death Trans. Nancy Lukens-Rumscheidt and Martin Lukens-RumScheidt. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2007.
Psalm 91:1-2 1[They] who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, abide under the shadow of the Almighty. [They] shall say to God, “You are my refuge and my stronghold, my God in whom I put my trust.”
Here’s a friendly reminder: common sense is common. Common sense is derived from experience in the world, the perception of natural law, and the narratives and stories handed down from one generation to another. Common sense is informed by geographic location, cultural expression, moral sensitivities, and subjective experience turned localized objective fact correlated to and within the life of a group (thus, common). Common sense isn’t universal; common sense doesn’t have to be correct. It’s just common, agreed upon.
What’s common sense on the Front Range isn’t common sense here in the Western Slope. What’s common sense in America isn’t common sense in England. What’s common sense for kids, isn’t common sense for adults. And whatever is common sense for teenagers will always only be common sense to them. *chuckles
For instance, if I said, it’s common sense that every preteen girl start cotillion, you might look at me: huh? But for anyone raised in Southern Connecticut that’s very common, and many of us little girls were forced into patent leather shoes and ill-fitting dresses stumbling through waltzes against our will because it was common sense to do so. In our western context, it’s common sense to go to college right out of high school; but in other contexts around the world it might not be. If you ever want to see the limit of “common sense” read ancient medical texts and what they say about bodies presenting as female. That’s a completely what-in-the-world experience. If you’d like a disturbing way “common sense” has been employed, look no further than our history and slavery and segregation; within the world, genocides are conducted using the same metric.
These days I find myself growing weary with feeble attempts to appeal to common sense in order to stop violence in our society. I find myself asking, what if violence *is* common sense?What if oppression *is* common sense? What if working ourselves to death *is* common sense? What if our growing isolation and alienation from each other *is* common sense?
And then I find myself asking another question: what if we need uncommon sense, something from outside of us, something other, some interruption to our “common sense”?
Now [the rich man] said, “Therefore, I am requesting you, father, to send [Lazarus] to the house of my father, for I have five brothers, so that he may declare solemnly to them in order that they, theymight not also come into the same place of torment. But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the prophets; they must listen (completely) to them.” But [the rich man] said, “By no means, father Abraham, but if one from the dead were to go to them they will change their mind.” But [Abraham] said to him, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither then will they be persuaded by one raised up out of the dead.”
If you’re feeling targeted with Luke’s stories and Jesus’s parables articulating the demise of the rich and powerful, just remember he wrote this to the “most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:3). So, imagine being that guy receiving this text.
The lectionary skips over vv. 14-18 of chapter 16. Those verses bridge how a disciple of Christ uses mammon for the glory of the kingdom of God for others and our gospel passage. That bridge is: what’s prized by humans is an abomination in the sight of God (v. 15, NRSVUE). The Pharisees who’ve been listening to Jesus teachings are offended at Jesus’s parables. Why wouldn’t they be? Jesus’s parables interrupt their common sense; his words intercept their conceptions of the law, humanity, the world, blessedness, and God. Where the Pharisees saw themselves as superior, of a higher social ranking, more favored and blessed by God than the average lay person, Jesus articulated a radically reversed social order in God and redefined favor and blessedness. Leaning hard into the Law and the Prophets, Jesus flips the hierarchy and declares: now! it’s right side up!
So, Jesus’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus, is a continuation of this theme started with the dishonest about-to-be-former house-manager. Jesus mentions two men: one rich defined by his daily habits of feasting and the wearing purple; the other poor, covered in many sores (divine curse), with street mongrel dogs coming to feast on him, worsening his degradation. Interestingly, the rich man is deprived of a name while the poor man, covered in sores, has a name, Lazarus (“God’s Help”). In human society, the rich and powerful are known by name while the poor and powerless are deprived of names—the unclean are unknown, and unseen, even when they lie at one’s gate. Here, however, Jesus inaugurates a great reversal: what is prized by humans is an abomination in the sight of God.
When both men die and go to Hades (the realm of the dead for all), the reversal is heightened. Lazarus, the poor man with sores is whisked away by the angels to the bosom of Abraham, while the nameless rich man—he is not evil, he is just rich—is left to exist in torment (ὑπάρχων ἐν βασάνοις). As the rich man’s pain and suffering consumes him, he calls out to Abraham requesting Lazarus serve him some water and then go witness to his brothers so that they don’t end up where he is. Abraham denies both requests. The first one is denied because the distance is too great between the two men—a great space has been fixed firmly. The second request is denied because, well, it won’t make a difference if one out of the dead is raised up, they will not be persuaded.
Ugh. Neither signs nor wonders will convince these brothers—that doesn’t make sense!; they’re too consumed with and by the things of their world to change their mind (repent). Not even the dead raised again will alter their trajectory. They won’t believe because it goes against everything they hold to be true: the rich are the blessed of God; theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Both their experience and power run in opposition to the kingdom of God, clearly and boldly articulated in, to quote Abraham, Moses and the Prophets. However, if the rich man’s brothers can read the testament—the scrolls of Torah and Nevi’im—and walk away unchanged, there’s no proof on this side of earth that’ll cause them to change their mind.
Why would there be change? The rich man (himself) still doesn’t get it. In Hades, being tormented, among the dead, faced with the vision of Abraham and Lazarus resting on his bosom—literally experiencing the divine reversal—there’s no change of heart, no alteration of mind, no acknowledgement that he got it wrong (he’s still ordering Lazarus about and arguing with Abraham from his assumed position of privilege). If this man hasn’t experienced his wake-up call, his brothers will not do so either, no matter how big the sign and wonder.
Our common sense needs to be checked. While it helps us navigate our world (to some extent), it also helps us to remain blind, deaf, and dumb to the problems of our society. Solely relying on it and never checking it, will lead us further into our captivity and complicity in social structures causing us to ignore those whom God loves, those whom God declares blessed. In fact, in coming here every Sunday our common sense is set on a definite collision course with God’s uncommon sense; here you are guaranteed to be confronted, common sense shook with the echoes of Mary’s declarations in Luke 1,
“God has shown strength with his arm; God has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 52 God has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; 53 God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. 54 God has come to the aid of God’s child Israel, in remembrance of God’s mercy, 55 according to the promise God made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Luke 1:51-55, NRSVUE
Do we believe this? If so, we must let common sense go by the wayside and dare to embrace the uncommon sense of God so articulated by Mary—where the rich and powerful are cast down and made low. Are we listening? Really listening? No longer can we declare those who have in abundance are the blessed. If we’re hearing things rightly, we have to say: blessed are you who are poor, hungry, thirsty, broken down, exhausted, oppressed, barely breathing for God is with you and will lift you up. If our eyes are opened by the proclamation of Christ, we can no longer trust in our storehouses of goods or our positions of power; we must do away with the seductiveness of a prosperity gospel. For these are our creations built on shifting sands of our common sense and are antagonistic to the will of God.
What is the will of God? Jesus has shown us: to walk humbly, liberate the captives, love mercy, justice, and peace. Today and every Sunday, Beloved, we are lovingly interrupted and intercepted by profound and ancient stories declaring God’s love, not only for us but for those our society declares unlovely. From Genesis to Revelation, let us hear the stories of God’s radical break with what was and God’s ushering in of something new, something wonderful, something completely uncommon.
 Justo L. Gonzalez Luke Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2010. 193-194. “According to Luke, there is a connection between the Pharisees love of money and their ridiculing Jesus. This is a significant insight. Theological positions and religious opinions are not entirely disconnected from economic interests and agendas. The Pharisees consider themselves better than the ‘sinners and tax collectors’ in part because they think they belong to a ‘better’ social class. … The Pharisees seek to justify themselves ‘in the sight of others’ by claiming that what Jesus teaches is ridiculous. Jesus tells them that God sees things differently than do humans.”
 Gonzalez, Luke, 194. “Jesus’ general response to the ridicule of the Pharisees, both directly beginning in verse 15, and by means of a parable beginning in verse 19, is to insist that what he is teaching is in full agreement with the Law and the Prophets.”
 Gonzalez, Luke, 195. “Roman law codified who had the right to wear purple, at that time a very expensive dye. Thus the original hearers and readers of this parable would understand that the rich man was sufficiently respected to merit this particular honor, and also indirectly that he had achieved this with the approval of Roman authorities. He an important, respected person—which immediately reminds us of what Jesus has just said in verse 14, that ‘What is prized by human beings is an aberration in the sight of God.’ He is so rich that he has sumptuous feasts, not only on special occasions, but every day.”
 Joel B. Green The Gospel of Luke The New International Commentary on the New Testament Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. 605 “In contrast with the wealthy man, the clothes Lazarus wore receive no mention. Instead, we are told, he is covered with sores condition that undoubtedly marked him as unclean. The term used in his description suggests that Lazarus would even have been regarded as suffering from divine punishment. In familiar to us from the common theology of Job’s friends, surely the wealthy man is blessed by God while Lazarus lives under the divine curse.”
 Green, Luke, 606 “Although we may be tempted to think of the dogs of Jesus’ story in sentimental terms, we should rather imagine pariahlike mongrels that roamed the outskirts of town in search of refuse. These curs have not come to ‘lick his wounds’ (as we would say), but to abuse him further and, in the story, to add one more reason for us to regard him as less than human, unclean, through-and-through an outcast.”
 Green, Luke, 605. “The rich man is depicted in excessive, even outrageous terms, while Lazarus is numbered among society’s ‘expendables,’ a man who had fallen prey to the ease with which, even in an advanced agrarian society, persons without secure landholdings might experience devastating downward mobility.”
 Gonzalez, Luke, 195. “But the parable does not give the man’s name. This is significant as one more of Luke’s many examples of the great reversal Normally, it is important people who have a name. They have recognition. They are somebody. But in the parable the rich and apparently important man has no name, and the poor and insignificant man does. From the very beginning of the parable, Jesus is illustrating what he has just said, that ‘what is prized ne sight of God.’ The very name ‘Lazarus’ means ‘God’s help’; and the parable will show that this is indeed the case.”
 Green, Luke, 607. “Both Lazarus and the wealthy man are apparently in Hades, though segregated (“far away from each other. Thus, while Lazarus is in a blissful state, numbered with Abraham, the wealthy ma experiences Hades as torment and agony. This portrait has many analogues in contemporary Jewish literature, where Hades is represented as the universal destiny of all humans, sometimes with the expected outcome of the final judgment already mapped through they separation of person into wicked or righteous categories.”
 Gonzalez, Luke, 197-198. “Jesus is telling his hearers, who are lovers of money, that they do not need special signs or wonders to know what they are to do. They have the Law and the Prophets, which are firmer and more durable than both heaven or earth (17). He is also telling them that their love of money prevents them from truly listening to the Law and the Prophets. At the end of the parable, when the rich man wants Lazarus to be sent to warn his brothers, Abraham tells him that they already have ‘Moses and the prophets,’ and that this should be enough for them. When the man insists that they would repent and do right ‘if someone goes to them from the dead,’ Abraham replies that this is not so. If they are not willing to obey Moses and the prophets, they will still remain disobedient ‘even if someone rises from the dead.’ In other words, there is no miracle capable of leading to faith and obedience when one has vested interests and values that one places above obedience to God, such as “the love of money” of the Pharisees whom Jesus is addressing.”
 Gonzalez, Luke, 196. “Even after such a reversal of fortunes, the rich man considers himself more important than Lazarus, whom he wants sent, first to him, and then to his brothers.”
 Green, Luke, 609. “Abraham thus refuses to grant an apocalyptic revelation of the fate of the dead, insisting that the witness of Moses and the prophets should suffice. The wealthy man, accustomed to extra considerations, will not take No for answer. Continuing to speak from his supposed position of privilege, the wealthy man insists that for his family, more is needed, that a special envoy is required.”
 Gonzalez, Luke, 198. “The main obstacle to faith is not lack of proof is an excess of other interests and investments—of time, money, dreams, and so on.”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 424. “I: ‘It seems to me that Jesus’ principal message is that the rich aren’t going to be convinced even with the Bible, not even with a dead man coming to life (and not even with Jesus’ resurrection).’”
 Gonzalez, Luke, 197. “Such an interpretation, while perhaps helpful, misses the point of the great reversal that is so central to the Gospel of Luke. The parable is not only about a rich man who ignored the poor, but also about the rich man ending up in poverty, and the poor man in abundance. The man who had daily feasts now goes not even have water to cool his tongue. The one whose sores had been licked by unclean dogs, and who therefore was not even worthy to be counted among the faithful children Abraham, is now in the bosom of Abraham. Once again we hear echoes of Mary’s song: ‘He has brought down the powerful from the thrones, and up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty’ (1:52-35).”
 Gonzalez, Luke, 198. “But the truth is exactly the opposite: the rich man is accursed, and Lazarus is blessed. So much for the ‘gospel of prosperity’ that many find so attractive today! It may be as weak a reed as the rich man’s trust in his riches.”
Psalm 79:8-9 Remember not our past sins; let your compassion be swift to meet us; for we have been brought very low. Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your Name; deliver us and forgive us our sins, for your Name’s sake.
Have you ever tried to do two things at once…well? Data tells us we cannot multitask as well as we think we can. We can text; we can drive. But we cannot text and drive. The advent and surge of smart phones exposed our inability to be the expert multitaskers that we thought we were. We can’t do two different things at once and do them both well.
I can read; I can listen to music with lyrics. But everything goes haywire if I try to listen to music with lyrics while I’m reading. I can have a conversation; I can write. But woe to the reader who reads anything I’ve written while trying to manage a conversation. I can chop veggies really fast; I can look at someone while their talking to me. But pray for my fingers if I try to do both!
We are complex beings in our inner world and rather simple in our material existence. We cannot go in two directions. No matter how hard I try—and believe me, I’d love the ability to go in two directions at once—I cannot do it. I can go this way or that way, but I cannot go both ways at once. I must say yes to one and no to another.
As a priest called from the people for the people, I made a vow to serve the people in and with the Love of God; I can’t now also vow to serve myself. In other words, I can’t now vow to serve myself and my inanimate material things if my vow is to serve the people. I must switch the vow, move it from one to another but I cannot vow to both. I can either serve my robes and stoles, table and elements, or I can serve the people those things are for; I cannot serve both. I can serve my doctrines and dogmas, rules and rubrics, canons and councils or I can serve the people God has called me to; I cannot serve both. Every clergy person from deacon to presiding bishop must make this choice; there’s no way around it. One “master” will win out every time.
Regularly, I must ask myself: Whom do you serve?
Whoever [is] faithful in very little is [faithful] in much, and whoever [is] unjust in very little is [unjust] in much. Therefore, if you did not become faithful in the unjust mammon [riches/property/possessions], who will believe you for the genuine riches? And if you did not become faithful in the belongings of another, who will give to you your own? No servant is able to serve two lords. For either [the servant] will hate the one and love the other or [the servant] will cleave to one and disregard the other. You are not able to serve God and mammon [riches/property/ possessions]. 
After the parable of the “prodigal sons”, Luke tells his audience Jesus finds it necessary to tell his disciples a parable about a shrewd about-to-be-former house-manager. In fact, it might be better to call this house-manager a “scoundrel.” Here’s why: the story opens on a rich man who received charges against this house-manager for “squandering” (τὰ ὑπάρχοντα) the things which were “ready at hand” (as in: things in his possession, the things he was managing for the rich man). Thus, the rich man calls the man to him and asks, What is this I hear about you?Return your word of house-manager, for you are not able to be a steward anymore.
Uh oh. The house-manager’s scoundrelly ways caught up with him; he treated as his that which was not his—he took advantage of his position thinking it couldn’t change. But it did; a new order is commencing whether he likes it or not. Thus, it dawns on him that once he’s removed from his position, he’ll lose his livelihood with little recourse to other work—I am not strong to dig, I am ashamed to beg (v. 3c). So, with an anachronistic “Hail Mary” he uses his skillz to his advantage. The about-to-be-former house-manager devises a scheme securing for himself hospitality in the future. He summons those who owe his boss money. Asking each one what they owe (large sums) he slashes them nearly in half (much smaller sums). This about-to-be-former house-manager is brilliant; he uses what he still has—he’s not quite fired yet—and fabricates a safety-net for himself. Those debtors receiving reduced bills will certainly owe him something in the future, like maybe a roof and a couch.
Clever guy! And he’s praised as such! Then Jesus exhorts: And I, I say to you make friends for yourself out of the unjust mammon [riches/possessions/property], so that whenever it comes to an end they might receive you into the eternal tent.
None of that makes sense. Jesus’s words are hard to swallow here, especially if you consider the rest of Luke’s gospel—a text oriented toward the liberation of the captives from injustice due to an imbalance in power and privilege, property and possessions. Yet, if we allow that lens to assist us with this portion of text, we might see how clever Jesus is. Jesus continues: Therefore, if you did not become faithful in the unjust mammon [riches/property/possessions], who will believe you for the genuine riches?(v.11)Essentially, it’s about being wise as serpents and gentle as doves: create community with things unjustly gained. In other words: force that which was intended for evil to be used for good and as you do watch heaven unfold around you and those whom you serve as you gain the true riches of justice: love, mercy, compassion, kindness.
In other, other words: keep your eye on your priorities. Jesus concludes with a statement that seems detached from everything else: No servant is able to serve two lords. For either [the servant] will hate the one and love the other or [the servant] will cleave to one and disregard the other. (v 13a-b). If you, the ones who follow the Christ—remember, he’s addressing his disciples—cannot be trusted to repurpose unjust mammon—riches, property, possessions—for the justice and benefit of other people, how can you be trusted with the genuine riches of the kingdom of God? You can’t have mammon for mammon’s sake if you are one of Jesus’s disciples. Jesus concludes in clear terms, You are not able to serve God and mammon [riches/property/ possessions] (v13c). Mammon and God will never, ever, share the stage.
So, I must pose the question to you, too, whom do you serve?
We live in an unjust world. There is no way we can make the most modicum income that isn’t impacted and infected by injustice. All I have to do is tell you to go home and check all the companies represented in any type of portfolio. No matter how hard we try, we cannot avoid being held captive in a system seemingly bent on devouring human life like a vampire taking blood from its victim. No matter how hard we try, we cannot avoid noticing the ways we are complicit in this system, contributing to pain of others further down the ladder. We are tar-babies; caught, stuck, covered.
It’s tempting to throw my hands up and just say 🚒it. I can’t have this much anxiety over a tomato. Everything I consume—in one way or another—is a few degrees of ecological, anthropological, economical, cosmical violence. So, do I quit? Do I give up and give in? How would that fit with my vows as a priest in God’s church for God’s people? How would that fit with being a mom, trying desperately to raise humans who care about our mother earth, our brothers and sisters, our flora and fauna friends? How would that fit with a deep and abiding love for you? Shouldn’t I at least try to make this world a bit better for you? for those coming after me? For those coming after them?
No. I can’t quit and give up. Because I made a vow; because I was and am encountered by God in the event of faith; because I serve God by following Christ in whom I’m anchored by the power of the Holy Spirit. If the option is to serve mammon or God, I choose God. For in God is life and love, in God is justice and peace, in God is heaven. And if I serve God, I cannot serve mammon. So, instead of quitting, I play smarter, I dodge and weave better, and every so often I use the very tools of this age to bring light and life where darkness and death have been ruthless despots for too long.
Dorothee Sölle closes the second to last chapter of her book, Choosing Life, with a story from Auschwitz (1943-44),
“…there was a family concentration camp in which children lived who had been taken there from Theresienstadt and who – in order to mislead world opinion – wrote postcards. In this camp—and now comes a resurrection story—education in various forms was carried on. Children who were already destined for the gas chambers learned French, mathematics and music. The teachers were completely clear about the hopelessness of the situation. Without a world themselves, they taught knowledge of the world. Exterminated themselves, they taught non-extermination and life. Humiliated themselves, they restored the dignity of human beings. Someone may say: ‘But it didn’t help them.’ But so say the Gentiles. Let us rather say, ‘It makes a difference.’ Let us say, in terms solely of this world: ‘God makes a difference.’”
Dorothee Sölle, Choosing LIfe, 97.
Instead of giving up, Beloved, let us choose to serve God and life, because “choosing life [and God] is the very capacity for not putting up with the matter-of-course destruction of life surrounding us, and the matter-of-course cynicism that is our constant companion.” Choosing to serve life means not choosing to serve death; serving God means not serving mammon.
You cannot serve two masters. So, whom do you serve?
 Justo L. Gonzalez Luke Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2010. 190-191. “But this parable speaks of a man who is undoubtedly a scoundrel; and yet it praises him and his wisdom! It is not uncommon to see on our church windows portrayals of a father receiving a son who had strayed, or of a sower spreading seed, or of a Samaritan helping the man by the roadside. But I nave never seen a window depicting a man with a sly look, saying to another, ‘Falsify the bill, make it less than it really is.’ Yet it is precisely this sort of man that the parable turns into an example!”
 Gonzalez, Luke, 191. “The present order is not permanent, and our authority over life, goods, and all the rest is only temporary. We may well imagine that, until given notice, the manager felt quite secure in his position. So do we, until we are reminded that our management is provisional—that what we have is not really ours, and will be taken away from us.”
 Gonzalez, Luke, 191-192. “The manager in chapter 16 asks the same question [like the wise barn building fool: what will I do?], not because he has too much, but because he suddenly realizes that what he has will be taken away from him. Thus there is a contrast between the two men. The fool thinks that he really owns what he has, and that he even owns his life. The manager knows that he does not really own what he has. The fool takes for granted that the present order will continue indefinitely. The manager realizes that there is a new order about to be established.”
 Joel B. Green The Gospel of Luke The New International Commentary on the New Testament Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. 590. “For him, loss of position as manager entails a forfeiture of social status, with the consequence that, initially, the only opt manual door and begging (v 3); these locate him prospectively among the ‘unclean and degraded’ or even ‘expendable’ of society…. What is more, his imminent departure as manager signifies his loss of household attachment, hence his concomitant concern for a roof over his head (v 4).”
 Gonzalez, Luke, 191. “A steward has not actually been fired yet, but is certainly on notice. In this regard, he is in a situation similar to all human beings who for the present have a life, goods, talents, relations, and time to manage, but are also on notice of our firing.”
 Gonzalez, Luke, 192. “But the manager in the parable does not follow either of these two paths [enjoy it all or ignore it all]. What he does is use the authority he still has in the present order to feather his bed for the future order. When his firing becomes effective, he will be rewarded in the new order for the use he made of what he had in the old order.”
 Green, Luke, 593. “He has become their benefactor and, in return, can expect them to by extending to him the hospitality of their homes. The manager has thus taken advantage of his now-short-lived status, using the lag time during which he was to make an accounting of his mage 2ty D and his D and his position to arrange for his future.”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 396. “OLIVIA: “It seems to me it’s a parable, a way of speaking, that we must understand in accordance with the rest of the Gospel. …And it seems to me that in this parable he’s saying you have to be intelligent, that you don’t give alms to get friends, or heaven (a selfish heaven), you give everything away so that everyone together can enjoy the kingdom of heaven.’”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 397 “MARCELINO: “And it also says that it we’ve not been honest with unjust wealth, we won’t be given the true wealth. True wealth is love. If we have stolen wealth, false wealth, and we don’t distribute it, we won’t get the true wealth, love, because love is received only by people who give. If you’re rich in money you’re poor in love.’”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 397 “I: ‘What the Gospel here calls what belongs to others’ is what the rich consider as their property. It says that we won’t receive our own (the kingdom of heaven) if we haven’t been honest with other people’s property. One is honest with wealth when one doesn’t appropriate it for oneself but distributes it among its legitimate owners.’”
 Green, Luke, 589. “In fact the theme of this narrative section concerns the appropriate use of wealth to overstep social boundaries between rich and poor in order to participate in a form of economic redistribution founded in kinship.”
 Green, Luke, 596. “Even though ‘dishonest wealth’ is a reality of the present age, one’s use of this wealth can either be ‘dishonest’ (i.e. determined by one’s commitment to the present world order) or ‘faithful’ (i.e. determined by the values of the new epoch).”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 401 “I: ‘That’s why Christ came to earth, to establish that society of love, his kingdom. That’s why he talks a lot about social life and economy. In this passage he talks to us of wealth: that it must be shared. In the following verse he tells us that ‘one cannot serve God and money.’ It’s because God is you can’t have love and selfishness at the same.”
 Green, Luke, 593. “If they did understand the ways of the new aeon, how would this be manifest in their practices? Simply put, they would use ‘dishonest wealth’ to ‘make friends’ in order that they might be welcomed into eternal homes. ‘Wealth’ (or mammon) is characterized as ‘dishonest’ in the same way that the manager was. Both belong to this aeon; indeed, in speaking of its demise, Jesus insinuates that mammon has no place in the age to come …”
 Green, Luke, 597. “Because these two masters demand such diametrically opposed forms of service, since each grounds its demands in such antithetical worldviews, one cannot serve them both. Jesus underscores the impossibility of dual service through his use of contradictory terms of association (love, hate) and shame (devote, despise).”
 Dorothee Sölle Choosing Life Trans. Margaret Kohl. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1981. German Trans: Wählt das Leben Stuttgart: Kreuz Verlag, 1980. 97.
Psalm 81:1-3 Sing with joy to God our strength and raise a loud shout to the God of Jacob. Raise a song; sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp. Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our festal day.
A gift is a gift. (Full Stop.) One of the hardest “learning journeys” I’ve been on is: a gift is a gift. No “ands”, “ifs”, or “buts”. A gift—to be a gift—must have no strings attached. When a gift is given, it’s only a gift if it’s completely free of any return action. The gift-giver gives and the gift-receiver receives. This includes (and is not limited) the expectation of … thank you notes.
I know, I know I’m flaunting our social customs and etiquettes—and I promise you I do write thank you notes (as often as I remember!)—but the reality is: a gift is only a gift if it is free from the giver to the receiver. Now, is it nice to receive something in return? Yes! It’s great to hear a “Thank you!” or “That made my day!” or even to receive a gift in return at a later date. But what I’m addressing here is the expectation of exchange we place on our “gifts” to each other and (even) to ourselves. Who here hasn’t said the words, when faced with an item of luxury or a restful moment or a good book or a dinner out: I’ve earned it. We can’t even give ourselves gifts without having an exchange rate attached to it. But what if you just gave yourself a much needed darned gift? Just ‘cuz.
In our society, we have a social expectation that gifts given will be met with some return: a handwritten letter of gratitude, a reciprocal gift of equal value, a return invite (etc.). While I’m aware these deeds create civility and value human efforts, they become not-gifts if there’s an expectation that such mutuality of exchange will happen.
If I give you a gift and you freely write me a note of gratitude, that’s great! ß This is not what I’m talking about. In this equation both parties are offering something to each other voluntarily (ideally).
If I give you a gift and then wait for you to write me a thank you note, stewing as time goes on because well, it’s been 5 days and there’s no acknowledgment of this wonderful thing I’ve givenand then the next time I see you I’m a bit passive aggressive about everything because, well, you never said thank you and how rude and inconsiderate to treat my gift in such a way… ß this is what I’m addressing. Do you see how my gift becomes a burden? As soon as that happens, it’s no longer a gift; it’s a burden. It’s a burden to both people.
A gift to someone should participate in their liberation and not add to their captivity. A gift is a gift. (Full Stop.)
Luke 14:1, 7-14
Now he was saying to the one who has invited him, “Whenever you make a midday meal or supper, do not summon your friends, and not your brothers and not your relatives and not a wealthy neighbor, lest at any time they also may invite you in turn and it might become for you recompense. But, whenever you make a banquet, call the poor, maimed, limping, and blind. And you will be blessed because they are not able to give back as an equivalent to you. For, it will be given back to you in the resurrection of the righteous.”
Luke tells us Jesus is at the house of a prominent pharisee, breaking bread. Luke explains they were “observing him scrupulously” (παρατηρούμενοι). But, jokes on them. In v. 7, Jesus is paying heed (ἐπέχων) to their behavior. (Tables turned.) What was he watching? Their vying for the best seat at the table with the most honor. These people weren’t being “selfish”, per se. They were just behaving according to custom and etiquette. Seats around a table carried significance in Jesus’s honor/shame culture. (We have our own; thus, we can relate.) Where one reclined indicated honor and status: closest to the host the most honor. As seats descended down the table from the host, honor and status declined. So, invitees to banquets vied for the first spot. They had to; their livelihood depended on it.
According to Luke, Jesus tells a parable explaining that it’s better to take the lowest seat so that the host would come get you and bring you the honor you are seeking. For this would be better than the other way around, right guys? It seems as if Jesus is helping the status-quo here, but wait. Or, is Jesus saying something else? Considering Jesus is God incarnate, and considering it’s a parable, there’s a bigger lesson at hand. Jesus intends to draw attention to something bigger than his culture’s honor/shame components:…all who exalt themselves will be made low, and the one who makes themselves low will be exalted. Humility is honorable, and not self-aggrandizement.  Thus, the last shall be first and the first shall be last.  This is the way of the Kingdom of God; this is the way of God.
Claiming honor for oneself doesn’t mean one has honor. It’s basic intellectual math, but it’s an equation we keep swearing by over and over and over. Act this way, do this, get this thing, have this attribute, etc., and you will get honor. But Jesus is turning the tables. Assume you are lower than you are and let others bring you honor; do not claim it for yourself. He emphasizes this by further flipping social expectations as it pertains to one’s invite list to supper.  It was accepted and understood that a banquet host invited his family, friends, those of equal social standing, and maybe even that neighbor who boosts your social standings. Yet, Jesus—with an eye to dismantle social and religious custom and convention—says: invite the poor, maimed, limping, and blind. In other words, invite people who mar your reputation in the community and make you religiously unclean; the “worst” of the “worst”. 
And why does Jesus say this? Because a gift is a gift. (Full stop.) If you invite those who are of your or greater status, then you will receive the customary return invite. You’re inviting people so that they’ll return the gesture with an invitation (in kind). This exchange of equal or (slightly) greater value bolsters your own image in society. It’s exploitation; this isn’t a gift because there are strings attached (big ones!). So, Jesus calls it out and commands the people (imperatives!) to break with this tradition and do what God does: give (freely!) to and dwell with the socially and religious unlovely and unclean; the very people of God because God is with them. In this way, Jesus says, you will be blessed and righteousness will be yoursbecause you’ll be with God, and those who are with God are the blessed and the righteous ones.
I don’t have words big enough to describe the way God loves us, but I do have Luke’s story of a banquet comprised of all those who are cast out (religiously and socially). There, at that party, God dwells. God gives God’s self in grand and glorious ways—not in empty and self-serving ways, but ways benefiting the one who receives this divine gift of divine presence. God’s gift of God’s self in Christ Jesus liberates the person who is encountered and anchored in the liberative love of God. And all of it just cuz, just because God loves you so very, very, very much. And the most amazing part? There’re no strings attached. God doesn’t give God’s self so that you will respond; God just gives God’s self. (Full Stop.) That’s why you respond. God gives God’s self to you freely because God desires to be in solidarity with you, to liberate you, to celebrate you.
And if with us, thus us with others. Beloved, we give because we want to, because we want to be in solidarity with what is going on around us, to alleviate the pain of others, to bring freedom, to participate in God’s grace and love in the world. With one another, beloved, we share what we have…not what we have in excess (charity) but what we have even if it’s our last cup of flour and last tablespoon of oil, with each other we will break bread even if, no…especially when the other has nothing to bring to the table.
May our table, our seats, our sanctuary reflect the depth of divine solidarity with those who cannot repay, with those who may not even be able to say thank you. May we freely give as God has so freely given to us.
 Present middle participle masculine nominative plural; first principal part παρατηρέω. With the imperfect tense of εἰμί (imperfect active indicative third person plural), the construction is a periphrastic and carries a finite imperfect equivalent: they were observing himscrupulously. In that moment, they invited him closed and (literally) were watching everything he did.
 Joel B. Green The Gospel of Luke The New International Commentary on the New Testament Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997, 551. “Luke’s opening depiction of Jesus is almost comical. The pharisees and scribes of this dinner party had been watching him closely v 1), but now they are the ones being monitored; what is more, whereas in being monitored; their attempts to unmask Jesus as one who transgresses the law they had been reduced to silence, he now exposes their impropriety.”
 present active participle masculine nominative singular. Jesus, here, is doing the action of “paying heed”. And being linked to the activity of the parable he’s about to drop, what he’s paying heed to will be the subject of the parable. Now he was saying a parable to the one who have been invited, paying heed to…
 Green, Luke, 550. “First, this was a world in which social status and social stratification were vital considerations in the structuring of life, with one’s status based on the social estimation of one’s relative honor – that is, on the perception of those around a person regarding his prestige. For example, where one sat (was assigned or allowed to sit) at a meal vis-à-vis the host was a public advertisement of one’s status; as a consequence, the matter of seating was carefully attended and, in this agonistic society. one might presume to claim a more honorable seat with the hope that it (and the honor that went with it) might be granted. What is more. because meals were used to publicize and reinforce social hierarchy, invitations to meals were themselves carefully considered so as to allow to one’s table only one’s own inner circle, or only those persons whose presence at one’s table would either enhance or at least preserve one’s social position.”
 Justo L. Gonzalez Luke Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2010. 179-180. “The first of these is addressed primarily to his fellow guests, whom he has seen vying for the places of honor. At a superficial level, Jesus seems to be simply criticizing them and suggesting the wiser course of acting humbly and taking the places; lesser honor, so that the host will give them a better place… But at a deeper level one can see the eschatological reference of his words. Jesus speaks of a ‘wedding banquet’—a subtle reference to the final day of celebration, repeatedly depicted in the Bible as a wedding feast. Then he concludes his remarks by applying them to the larger, eschatological dimension reverses the present human order…”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 351. “I: ’If everyone has a spirit of service to the others, there aren’t any firsts or lasts and you reach the equality that Felipe is talking about.’”
 Green, Luke, 552. “On the one hand, his teaching has called into question the elf-seeking agenda of the companions, insisting that honor must be given, not pursued or taken. More fundamentally, however, he now goes on to hint at a life-world in which honor is measured and granted along unforeseen lines. “The humble.” in the social world Luke addresses, usually denoted persons who are of low birth, base, and ignoble, yet in the topsy-turvy world Jesus envisages, ‘the humble’ are those most valued.”
 Ernesto Cardenal The Gospel in Solentiname Trans. Donald D. Walsh. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010. 351. “LAUREANO: ‘It’s the same as that other thing that Jesus said, when they asked him who was the most important, and he said the one who served. The one in the first place isn’t most important.’”
 Green, Luke, 551. “First, he appeals to the realities of an honor-shame culture in order to advise against taking the ‘first seats.’ Then he demarcates a more prudent strategy when entering a banquet room. Because honor is socially determined, if one’s claim to honor fails to be reciprocated by one’s audience, one is publicly humiliated. Better, Jesus says, to have your honor bestowed on you by another than to make a bid for honor that might not be granted. Luke envisions the impartation of honor in the form of a new, more lofty, seat assignment, but also in the use of the term ‘friend,’ signifying a relationship (again, not claimed by the guest but conferred by the host) of equality and mutuality with the host.”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 352. “I: ‘And that is the subversion of the kingdom of heaven. ‘Subvert’ comes from the Latin subvertere, which means to put down what IS up and up what is down.’”
 Gonzalez, Luke, 180. “What Jesus now says and proposes is a contrary to all rules of etiquette Then as today, it was quite common for people to invite to a dinner those who were of equal social standing with them—family, friends, colleagues. Since having a distinguished guest at dinner results in honor and prestige for the host, one seeks to invite such people—in Luke’s text, ‘rich neighbors.’ When one holds such a dinner, the guests are expected to return the invitation. To us, this would seem normal. But Jesus sees things differently: when a former guest invites you, you have already been repaid.”
 Gonzalez, Luke, 180. “After listing four main categories of people who are usually invited to such dinners—friends, brothers, relatives, rich neighbors—Jesus suggests four other categories-the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Surprising as this may seem to us, it would have been even more surprising for the host whom Jesus is addressing, for it was precisely such people whom a good Pharisee would consider not only unworthy but also religiously unclean. Thus Jesus is rejecting both social and religious convention. In today’s vocabulary, one could say that Jesus is telling his host to invite not the worthy, nor even the ‘worthy poor,’ but the unworthy, irreligious, sinful poor.”
 Green, Luke, 552-553. “Because invitations served as currency in the marketplace of prestige and power, there is nothing extraordinary or particularly objectionable to the inclusion of one’s social peers and family, persons from whom one could expect reciprocation. This is true, at least for those willing to work within the established world system Seen through Jesus’ eyes, however, orthodox conventions have as their consequence the exclusion of the poor; after all. for the social elite the poor are unhelpful in the business of parading and advancing one’s social position and, perhaps more importantly in the current co-text, the poor could not reciprocate. The Pharisees are thus portrayed as persons who exploit hospitality for self-serving agenda, and whose patterns of hospitality both secure their positions of dominance in their communities and insulate them from the needy.”
 Green, Luke, 550. “Second, central to the political stability of the Empire was the ethics of reciprocity, a gift-and-obligation system that tied every person, from the emperor in Rome to the child in the most distance province, into an intricate web of social relations. Apart from certain relations within the family unit and discussions of ideal friendship, gifts, by unwritten definition, were never ‘free,’ but were given and received with either explicit or implicit strings attached, Expectations of reciprocity were naturally extended to the table: To accept an invitation was to obligate oneself to extend a comparable one, a practice that circumscribed the list of those to whom one might extend an invitation.”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 354. “I: ‘Jesus advises them to break with their families, with their circle of rich people, with their class. And the fact that they invite the poor to the party means that the poor stop being poor, and that in society everything is shared equally: health, clothing, culture. Because a party with crippled, sick, ignorant people isn’t a very good party.’”
 Green, Luke, 553. “Jesus’ message overturns such preoccupations, presenting ‘the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind’ – notable examples of those relegated to low status, marginalized according to normal canons of status honor in the Mediterranean world-as persons to be numbered among one’s table intimates and, by analogy, among the people of God.”
 Green, Luke, 553-554. “According to Jesus, the state of blessedness resides in the fact that one has given without expectation (or hope!) of return. It is true that, according to v 14b, blessedness will take the eschatological form of divine ‘repayment,’ but Jesus does not advise people to engage in guileless generosity in order that one might receive divine benefaction. Luke has already established that human generosity flows from an appreciation of the expansive mercy of God (6:36); to this he now adds that genuine, uncalculating generosity toward those of low status will not go unrewarded.”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 356. “I: ‘…. Justice is social justice and liberation; the unjust one is the oppressor, and the just one is the liberator. God is absolute justice; and his main attribute is that of the Just One: The one who punishes injustice, and the one who comes to the oppressed and listens to the cries of the poor, and the one who liberates. And the just are the ones who have struggled for the establishment of justice on earth. They are going to be resurrected, according to Jesus, and they are the ones who have given the party they’re talking about here, the sharing of joy and abundance in the world …. In the Bible, God is love, understanding love to be social justice, and to be joined to this love is to be alive forever. Jesus has begun by saying: When they invite you to a wedding party.’ And it’s because this great party of humanity of which we’ve talked will celebrate a wedding party with Love.’” And, Gonzalez, Luke, 180. “The reason not to invite those who are worthy is that they will probably repay you, and in that case all you have achieved is some social interchange. The reason to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind is precisely that they cannot repay you, and you can expect payment only at the final day, “at the resurrection of the righteous.’”
Psalm 52: 8-9 But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever. I will give you thanks for what you have done and declare the goodness of your Name in the presence of the godly.
I’m intense, and I like to do things well, really well. More to the point, I like to do a lot of things and all of them really well. I take my calls and tasks seriously—my whole person is always invested—“dial-it-in” isn’t in my vocabulary even when I’m burned out, tired, and exhausted. When I was a stay-at-home-mom, I did it with everything I had; when I was an athlete, I spent hours perfecting each move; as a priest, I make sure I’m 100% invested with you; as a student, I hold myself to exacting standards, putting forward my best at every turn, without excuse.
While often this intensity and tendency toward perfectionism is just my neutral mode, every so often the two collide in a horrific accident resulting in the tragedy of oppressive anxiety. I know I’m not alone here. I know you know what I’m talking about. Anxiety sneaks in through an unlocked inner door, illuminating the lack of control. Then, as the lack of control sinks in, fear of failure oozes in through the same door. The burden of both collapses my inner world; my imagination runs wild; my pulse races.
In these moments, I’ve become too associated and tightly bound up with my works and tasks. They’ve started to define me existentially (as a good mom, as a good student, as a good priest, as a good athlete) and eventually ontologically as a human (if I do these things I’m good, my being in the world is good, my essence is good). Anxiety surges; I’m made aware there’s no remedy for it within myself—because it’s my “self” that’s affected. I can’t help myself, because I’m the one who’s anxious. I’m backed into a corner, squeezed in on all sides, and brought to the confession: Help! I’m not in control!
No matter how hard I try, I cannot depend on myself in this moment. I must be called out of myself and called to another; I need to be redirected, reoriented, and realigned. In these moments, I’m lost and must be found; I’m dead, trapped in the tomb of myself, and must be resurrected.
Now Martha was being troubled greatly by much service; and she stood near and said, “Lord, it concerns you not that my sister left me behind alone to serve? Therefore command her so that she may lend a hand to me.” And [Jesus] answered her and said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and are being disturbed about many things, but one [thing] is a need; for Mary picked out for herself the good part [and] it will not be taken from her whatsoever.”
Our master-storyteller is at again. Following the good Samaritan story redefining what neighbor love looks like, Luke launches into a (seemingly) disconnected story featuring Jesus, Martha, and Mary. Here, Jesus shows up at Martha’s home and Mary is there, too. Jesus is being intentional here. He enters this certain village and is received into this particular home.
Then, as Jesus enters, two things happen: Martha jumps into service to host the guest she’s welcomed (ὑπεδέξατο, “she received as a guest”) into her home, and Mary gets up, walks over, and sits down at Jesus’s feet (παρακαθεσθεῖσα). This isn’t a case of work v. rest or active v. passive; it’s a case of stone and flesh, death and life. Which part will you choose: that which is dead (turning toward stone) or that which is living (turning toward flesh)? The distinction Luke is making here is orientation: one is oriented and one has to be reoriented.
Martha does exactly what’s expected of her according to the law, tradition, and etiquette; Mary, not so much. Martha grows more and more burdened (περιεσπᾶτο, “she was being greatly troubled”) by the demands of hospitality while her sister just sits there, abandoning her. So, Martha—pushed beyond what she can take—goes to Jesus. Now, both sisters are before Jesus.
Martha wants Jesus to command Mary to come help her with the tasks of table service. She wants him to right the situation, putting it back to normal; she wants him to make it make sense to her. Jesus will help her and make things “right,” but not in the way she expects. When does God work within our systems and according to our plans? When is the word of life forced to serve the things conceived and born of death? When does the Reign of God give way to the kingdom of humanity?
When Jesus speaks, he doesn’t condemn Martha for her anxiety and burdens; he loving calls her (Martha, Martha). The first Martha gets her attention; the second one draws her into himself. Like a mother would her anxious child: the voice of love speaks, and when it does it brings love and not condemnation. Then, Martha’s reoriented from what to whom: God with her—from stone to flesh, from death to life. Jesus doesn’t tell her: stop worrying. He calls her by name. He doesn’t shush or shame her for feeling burdened. He reorients her to him by calling her by name; she is resurrected out of death into life, from dead stone to living flesh. That’s the gospel gospelling itself: love loving.
Where Martha expects Jesus to side with her (which, according to custom, he should), he sides with Mary. As Jesus addressed Martha, he highlighted discipleship isn’t worrisome obedience to “domestic performance,” (to dead traditionalism) but about (re)orientation toward the One who is the revelation and disclosure of God’s love and life.  And this love doesn’t incorporate thrusting people back into systems and structures that leave them bound and gagged, laboring unto death (that’s the old age). Jesus is not the Ancient One who deals death, but who speaks and brings the dead into life. Love isn’t in service to the law, but the law in service to love; the tablets of stone serve the fleshy Son of God.
Martha lost herself in the many things demanded of her according to custom, but there is only one need: The Word made flesh. In trying to serve her guest according to the rules and laws of the old age, Martha rendered herself incapable of service to Jesus the Christ. The contrast between Mary and Martha is orientation: Martha has her eyes to the old age; Mary to the new one inaugurated by Christ. Discipleship and its service is to be oriented and reoriented toward the divine activity in the world following closely to the path initiated by Jesus, the path of love. Our faith and works must be oriented to Christ and the Reign of God taking place in Christ; not to our objectives, our systems, our common sense, and our dogmas.
Just as before, so to now: following Christ, participating in the mission of God in the world, partaking and promoting divine love in the world by the power of the Holy Spirit will look very different than our expectations. To love our neighbor is to have mercy; to love God is to reject that which kills and choose that which brings life and light into the world.
The paradox of humanity in this small potent story is this: we’re both Martha and Mary. You can’t pick sides here. We aren’t one or the other (no Maries in a Martha world); we’re both. We run through our days and our rat-races, fretting over the demands of our age—rest is a complete illusion here. Being oriented to the old age, its demands, and trying to appease it is a worthless endeavor because those systems and demands are insatiable. We will never be able to have or do enough to settle all the anxiety and silence the cacophony of demands. When we look to the old age to bring us hope, we are hopeless. So, while we’re called and we heard, we need to be called and to hear…again (it’s why we come here every Sunday).
It’s not about activity being bad and passivity being good, but about our orientation and reorientation in our activity. In Christ, we are called by name out of ourselves, out of death and unto God and life. We receive freedom and liberty for us and for others who are also dying as we were dying. Then we, in the power of the Spirit, go forth and call others by name, too, intersecting their deadly inner narratives with a word of hope and life that is the Word of God (the Gospel).
We cannot isolate Mary’s active love of Christ from the active love for the neighbor of the Samaritan. Work and worship are not separated (no dualism). Luke 10 is an exposition of the entire Law: to love your neighbor is to love God; to love God is to love your neighbor (in this story Jesus is both God and Neighbor).
Beloved, we don’t need to justify ourselves through incessant and frantic activity trying to meet the demands of the old age.  We’re justified by faith (alone) in Christ (alone) by God’s grace (alone) and not by any toiling. We’re called by name and look; we’re called by name again and step closer. The one calling, God of very God, ends enslavement to and silences condemnation of the powers of sin and the old age by reorienting us in the life-giving powers of love and the age of Christ. We’re resurrected out death into life.
 Justo L. Gonzalez Luke Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2010. 140. “It is important to note that the home is Martha’s, and that Mary is simply her sister. Although one might surmise that Mary also lives there, it is not the home of May and Martha, but the home of Martha, who has a sister named Mary.
 aorist, passive deponent, participle, feminine, nominative, singular. The first principal part is: παρακαθίζω. This verb carries with it an activity that is lost in the English translation “she sat”, might be better to say, “got up and sat down beside” to emphasize that Mary intentionally chose to sit at Jesus’s feet with the purpose to listen to his words. This plays well with the last part in Jesus’s statement to Martha: Mary picked out for herself the good part…
 Gonzalez, Luke, 140. “Martha does what is expected of her when a guest comes to the house. Mary simply listens to Jesus.”
 Joel B. Green The Gospel of Luke The New International Commentary on the New Testament Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. 436-7, “…Martha’s address to Jesus takes an unexpected, perhaps unconscious turn; while she engages in the irony of self-betrayal, her attempt to win Jesus’ support in a struggle against her sister ends in self-indictment. The nature of hospitality for which Jesus seeks is realized in attending to one’s guest, yet Martha’s speech is centered on ‘me’-talk (3 times). Though she refers to Jesus as ‘Lord,’ she is concerned to engage his assistance in her plans, not to learn from him his.”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 340. “I: ‘We might say, then, that what Jesus is saying here is that the only important thing is love.’”
 Gonzalez, Luke, 141. “Here Jesus rebukes Martha for doing what is expected of her, and commends Mary, who is eschewing her traditional woman’s role.”
 Green 434, “As high a value as Luke puts on service (by which he often denotes leadership, cf. 22:24-27), service grounded in and brandishing moral intuitions other than those formed through hearing the word is unacceptable. The welcome Jesus seeks is not epitomized in distracted, worrisome domestic performance, but in attending to this guest whose very presence is a disclosure of the divine plan.”
 Green 437, “…his status as Lord identifies him as the one whose design transcends self-oriented or conventionally correct plans and whose message takes precedence over the same. Thus, over against the attempt of Martha to assert the priority of her enterprise over that of her sister, Jesus provides his own two-sided valuation of the scene before him. Martha is engaged in anxious, agitated practices, behavior that contrasts sharply with the comportment of a disciple characteristic of Mary. Martha is concerned with many things, Mary with only one. Hence, Martha’s behavior is negatively assessed, Mary’s positively. What is this ‘one thing,’ this ‘better part’ Mary has chosen? Within this narrative co-text, the infinite range of possibilities is narrowed considerably: She is fixed on the guest, Jesus, and his word; she heeds the one whose presence is commensurate with the coming of the kingdom of God. With Jesus presence the world is being reconstituted, with the result that (1) Mary (and. With her, those of low status accustomed to living on the margins of society) need no longer be defined by socially determined roles; and, more importantly in this co-text, (2) Mary and Martha (and, with them, all) must understand and act on the priority of attending to the guest before them, extending to Jesus and his messengers the sort of welcome in which the authentic hearing of discipleship is integral.”
 Gonzalez, Luke, 141. “In the coming of Jesus, something radically new has happened, and this radically new thing demands an equally radical obedience (see, for instance, 9:57-62). The parable of the Good Samaritan calls for a radical obedience that breaks cultural, ethnic, and theological barriers. The story of Mary and Martha is equally radical. First of all, we often do not realize that the first one to break the rules is Jesus himself. He is the guest, and against all rules of hospitality he rebukes Martha, who is his host. And Mary too breaks the rules. Her role as (most probably) a younger sister, or as one living in the house of her sister, is to help her in her various chores. Instead, she just sits at the feet of Jesus and listens to him.”
 W. Travis McMaken Our God Loves Justice Minneapolis, MN: 2017. “Theological commitment to the true socialism of the kingdom of God and engagement with socialist analysis of capitalist social structures, which are antithetical to that kingdom, coalesce in Gollwitzer’s thought to make the fundamental point that Christians must take sides on political issues, and they must take the side of the oppressed. Many of those Americans today who think of themselves as Christians feel very uncomfortable when faced with this demand. As Gollwitzer correctly notes, however, taking sides ‘sounds terrifying only to him who is blind to the fact that the empirical church has actually always taken sides.’ Christians have, by and large, sided with the status quo, But the gospel’s call to repentant conversion—to metanoia—‘reaches into the politico-social dimension,’ and ‘as long as we shrink from revolutionizing [that dimension], we have not really heard’ the gospel’s call. That is, we have not encountered the God who loves justice, and who is consequently served through the pursuit of political love.” 146
 Helmut Gollwitzer “Fellow-Workers With Love” The Way to Life Trans David Cairns. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1980. “When we no longer defend and justify ourselves, then God, who is greater than our heart, defends us, and holds us fast…and we can breath again; we are not rejected as we deserve to be, we are still accepted by the love of God.”132.
Psalm 25:7-9 Gracious and upright is God; therefore God teaches sinners in God’s way. God guides the humble in doing right and teaches God’s way to the lowly. All the paths of God are love and faithfulness to those who keep God’s covenant and testimonies.
Mercy seems lacking at many twists and turns of life. Mercy nearly feels out of place as a characteristic. It’s got that distant vibe of something that once was but isn’t anymore; it’s gone archaic, become a relic of ages past, no longer a functional aspect of our modern human society, something we’ve evolved out of. Mercy feels out of reach, like grasping oil with the hand; like something slippery, of divine substance locked in noncorporeal estates of spiritual realms.
When was the last time you experienced mercy? When was the last time you acted merciful?
The tragic thing about our distance from mercy is that it’s an exceptionally human characteristic and action. It doesn’t exist in our world if it’s not performed. Mercy, simply, is not getting what one deservesto get, most often in terms of punishment and consequences. Mercy is an action, a definite and precise action of refusing to condemn another’s actions. It’s the opposite of revenge. Mercy is born from compassion; when extended, mercy turns into forgiveness. All of this of the human realm.
Mercy doesn’t exist in nature. Nature is beautiful and majestic, it’s worthy of honor and respect, care and love. But merciful? Nope. Nature’s laws work themselves out as they will, irrespective of persons. For mercy to exist and be experienced, it must be brought into the world from one person to another; no one stumbles into a pool of mercy. We receive it; from my hand to yours or your hand to mine. Even in the presence of the law, mercy exists, because law serves love and love serves the neighbor and therein is mercy.
It’s an essential element of the fabric of thriving human community. Without mercy, the other will grow more and more into a threat. In an environment and atmosphere where everyone one must fight for their own, claw their way to survive, and be wary of all dangers, mercy cannot exist. It will be suffocated and strangled; for lack of air and light, it will cease to grow. Sadly, that community will cease to be justifiably described as human. Where mercy is lacking, love is lacking, and where there is no love there cannot be human life.
Now, wanting to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” … [Jesus asked the lawyer] “Which of these three it seems to you has become a neighbor of the one who fell in with the robbers?” And [the lawyer] said, “The one who caused mercy with him.” And Jesus said to him, “You go and you, youdo likewise.” 
(Luke 10:29, 36-37)
Our gospel passage is quite familiar to us. One so familiar it warrants pause and reflection. I think we might be missing something crucial in the parable if we don’t slow down. Believe it or not, it’s these parables of Jesus that simultaneously define and substantiate the life and presence of the church; and continue to do so if we listen today.
So, Luke, the master story-teller, sets the scene: Jesus is approached by a lawyer-priest who wishes to test Jesus. What must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus responds, In the law, what is written? How do you read it? I imagine Jesus smiled, loving him, knowing full well the intention of the lawyer-priest. All teachers of God’s word should be tested. I think we read into this moment our obsession with hierarchy and silent compliant obedience. There’s actually nothing wrong with this exchange; there’s nothing wrong with Jesus being tested. The only risk here is that the one testing may find themselves failing their own test.
The lawyer-priest’s answer to Jesus summarized the law: love God with your entire self and your neighbor as yourself. So far so good. You answered rightly; do this and you will live, says Jesus. But then, the lawyer-priests shifts gears—wishing to justify himself—and asks Jesus, annnnnnd who is my neighbor? Again, I imagine Jesus loved him and smiled in a way that spoke to an oncoming encounter with God.
Jesus proceeds to lead the lawyer-priest to the answer by telling a story about an unknown man who fell in among robbers, was beaten, stripped of his clothing, and left for dead (ἀφέντες ἡμιθανῆ). Then, a priest walks by and seeing the man left half-dead on the road passes by on the other side (ἀντιπαρῆλθεν) of the road. Later, a Levite does the same thing. Then a Samaritan comes along, sees the man, and felt compassion (ἐσπλαγχνίσθη) and went toward (προσελθὼν) him with the intent to minister to his wounds and generously care for him. Jesus stops and asks the lawyer-priest, Which of these three it seems to you has become a neighbor of the one who fell in among the robbers? And everything changes.
The lawyer-priest is cornered and must answer: the one who caused mercy with him. In a beautiful and stunning way, the lawyer-priest is forced to confess that his conception of what defines a neighbor is painfully narrow: neighbor isn’t geographically defined, isn’t defined by agreement of interpretation of God, but by love and mercy. It’s compassion that makes the Samaritan stand out; had he just passed by his Samaritanness would’ve meant nothing.
Again, I’m compelled to point out that it’s not that the lawyer-priest is confessing that the Samaritan correctly identified that the half-dead man was his neighbor (this is how we normally interpret this parable). It is not that we recognize others as neighbors, but that we act neighborly. Thus, Jesus’s injunction at the end to go and do likewise isn’t a throw-away mandate, but rather this: the one who acts as a neighbor loves the neighbor by showing mercy and thus loves God. This is the point of the law, in other words.
This is the point of the parable: one cannot love God and cross by on the other side of the road while someone lies half dead in the gutter. You might be able to recite the law and believe it, but if you can cross by and ignore someone who is suffering, well then…it begs the question. Love of God and love of neighbor knows no boundaries when it’s you charged with the love of God to act neighborly. Mercy creates neighbors and is the evidence of love for God.
Whether or not this lawyer-priest rejected this premise or agreed to it is uncertain; but one thing is: he couldn’t leave that moment unchanged. Neither are we left the same. The lure of the parable is to reconsider yourself: are you merciful? And, the harder question: do you love God? You can come here and worship all day long; you can sequester yourself in retreat upon retreat, covered deep in silence and prayer, but if you do nothing out of mercy, out of love, then you do not love God. You can know all the dogma and doctrine well, but if you have not love, you are just a clanging gong, says Paul. You can wear all the fancy robes, light every candle, and say the eucharist, but if you have not mercy for others who are suffering, you serve yourself and not God.
If you never step foot in a church, and you express mercy and compassion with those who suffer, you love God.  You can deny God’s very existence and yet that you love and have mercy on your neighbor makes you that much closer to God than those who claim to love God but hate their neighbor. Why dare I say this? Because God is love. To love and have mercy for and with others is evidence of God and God’s spirit living in the world, even more so than any stone building or wood table.
God is the force and thrust of love and mercy in a world that is bent in on itself, a world dying for its own insatiable desire to feed its ego, a world killing itself because it believed the lie that it has no purpose. God is the force and thrust of love and mercy in cacophonous noise of humans clamoring for more isolation and exclusion, more me and mine, more death and destruction. That love and mercy might still yet exist means God is alive.
Please remember this, beloved, God is not dead; we are. But, also, hear this: our hope rests in the mercy and compassion of the One who raises the dead into new life. This hope, this claim is our religion, our story, our myth; dare we believe it? Dare we follow this God, this Jesus the Christ of Nazareth who brings mercy and compassion so close to us, we’re not only bathed in it but it recreated by it? Dare we live like this God is real? I hope so; too many people are dying in the streets as we walk by on the other side.
 Joel B. Green The Gospel of Luke The New International Commentary on the New Testament Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. 427. “When it is recalled that priests functioned as experts on the law when not performing their priestly duties at the temple, this adds to the drama of the unfolding encounter – not least since the ensuing parable will have as one of its primary characters a priest returning from duty at the temple (v 31). That is, within the socio-historical context imagined by the narrative, the identification of this lawyer and the temple staff of the parable may be more immediate than normally thought.”
 Justo L. Gonzalez Luke Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2010. 138. “He uses theological debate as a means to avoid obedience. Just as it is possible for a church body to postpone decision by referring matters to committees, so is it possible for a church and for individuals to postpone obedience by seeking further clarification. Quite often, what the Lord requires is clear; but the cost is also clear, and so we ask more and more questions.”
 Green, Luke, 429. “The choice of opening, ‘a certain man,’ constitutes a powerful rhetorical move on Jesus’ part. In light of the debate surrounding the reach of love, grounded in how one reads Leviticus 19, the impossibility of classifying this person as either friend or foe immediately subverts any interest in questions of this nature. Stripped of his clothes and left half-dead, the man’s anonymity throughout the story is insured; he is simply a human being, a neighbor, in need.”
 Gonzalez, Luke, 139. “The first is that the exclusion of the Samaritan is not only racial or ethnic. It is also religious. From the point of view of the Jewish doctor of the law, the Samaritan was a heretic, one who did not serve God properly. …Now it is the Samaritan heretic who is the obedient servant of God. Thus the parable has much to say about recognizing the action of God in those whose theology we may find faulty-in itself a very valuable lesson in these times of theological ad political polarization.”
Cardenal, Solentiname, 332, 333. “OLIVIA: ‘Your neighbors are all of humanity, that’s what that fellow didn’t know, that his neighbors were everybody.’” And “OLIVIA: “He gave him as an example a person of another race and another religion so we can know that everybody is a neighbor. He gave as an example one who wasn’t a neighbor but just the opposite, an enemy.’”
 Green, Luke, 431. “As a result, what distinguishes this traveler from the other two is not fundamentally that they are Jews and he is a Samaritan, nor is it that they had high status as religious functionaries and he does not. What individualizes him is his compassion, leading to action, in the face of their inaction. Having established this point of distinction, his status in comparison with theirs becomes shockingly relevant, for it throws into sharp relief the virtue of his response. For the same reason, his actions condemn their failure to act. Unlike them, he has compassion. and this is the turning point not only of his encounter with the wounded man but, indeed, of this entire narrative unit (vv 25-37). The Samaritan, then, participates in the compassion and covenantal faithfulness of God, who sees and responds with salvific care. The parable of the compassionate Samaritan thus undermines the determination of status in the community of God’s people on the basis of ascription, substituting in its place its place a concern with performance, the granting of status on the basis of one’s actions.”
 Gonzalez, Luke, 139-140. “The second is that Jesus’ question at the end is not, as one might expect, who realized that the man by the roadside was a neighbor, but rather which of the three who went by was a neighbor to the man by the roadside. If that is the question, Jesus’ final injunction to the lawyer, ‘Go and do likewise,’ does not simply mean, go and act in love to your neighbor, but rather, go and become a neighbor to those in need, no matter how alien they may be. It : is not just a matter of loving and serving those who are near us (which is what ‘neighbor’ means) but also of drawing near to those who for whatever reason— racial, ethnic, theological, political-may seem to be alien to us.”
 Green Luke 425-426. “That the practice of God’s word is the unit is obvious from the repetition and placement of the verb ‘to do.’ The lawyer inquires, ‘What must I do?’; following their exchange, Jesus responds, ‘Do this’ (v 25, 28). In this way the first segment of this unit…is bound together with references to praxis. The question of the identity of one’s neighbor leads into a further exploration of appropriate behavior, however, with the conclusion drawn by the lawyer himself. The one who was a neighbor, he acknowledges, is ‘the one who did mercy’. Jesus responds, ‘Do likewise” (v 37). Jesus’ closing words, then, do not summarize the parable of the compassionate Samaritan (as though the purpose of the parable were to present a moral obligation to act in such-and-such a way). Rather, they return to the original question of the lawyer ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ The parable thus serves a hermeneutical function. It interprets the summation of the law provided by the legal expert.”
 Green, Luke, 426. “By the end of the story, Jesus has transformed the focus of the original question; in fact, Jesus’ apparent attempt to answer the lawyer’s question turns out to be a negation of that question’s premise. Neighbor love knows no boundaries.”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 333. “FELIPE: “It seems that instead it’s the one who serves that’s the neighbor.’”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 335. “ELVIS: ‘The fact is that in your neighbor there’s God. It’s not that love of God gets left out, it’s that those who love their neighbor are right there loving God.’”
 Green, Luke, 427. “In his Galilean ministry, Jesus had worked to exterminate those boundaries that predetermine human interaction; what was begun there will continue to characterize his message on the way to Jerusalem. His portrayal of a Samaritan as one who embodies the law, and whose comportment models the covenant faithfulness of God—and whose doing stands in sharp contradistinction to the practices of temple personnel on the road—serves this wider motif as it obliterates the construction of human existence sanctioned by the religious establishment in Jerusalem. Although Luke does not document the response of the lawyer, he nevertheless shows the degree to which his encounter with Jesus, if taken seriously, would destabilize the world of this lawyer and challenge him to embrace the new world propagated through Jesus’ ministry.”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 334. “LAUREANO: ‘The people are the wounded man who’s bleeding to death on the highway. The religious people who are not impressed by the people’s problems are those two that were going to the temple to pray. The atheists who are revolutionaries are the good Samaritan of the parable, the good companion, the good comrade.’”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 335-336. “That’s why Jesus somewhere else says that the second commandment is ‘like the first,’ and in this parable he shows that the two are fulfilled by fulfilling the second. And that’s why too, when the rich young man asks him what he should do to be saved, Jesus quotes to him the commandments about neighborly love, without mentioning the one about love of God.”
 Sölle, Bread Alone, 50. “Critics of religion (who at the same time must of necessity be critics of poesy, which portrays man’s search for the absolute) take their stand on their belief in progress. They believe that science will put an end to man’s countless and inexhaustible wishes because on the one hand it fulfills these wishes in a limited way, and on the other hand it also exposes them as illusions. The big question, however, is if it isn’t just the very fulfillment of some wishes and hopes that makes man’s thirst for a final fulfillment even greater. Indeed, research in the field of primitive religions and millennial movements teaches us that magical and real expectations continually evolve into wishes for emancipation from colonial rule and for a new identity, thirst for riches and justice, so that religious behavior cannot possibly be divided into spiritual and worldly components. A purely spiritual part is just as unthinkable as a purely materialistic part. Ultimately, the questions of religion which develop into complex religious systems in the so-called higher religions become increasingly more comprehensive, and the claim they make becomes increasingly absolute and incapable of earthly fulfillment.”