Text Of the Day for February 20, 2018

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

(Matthew 4:1-4)

In the story of Jesus in the wilderness, he confronts the tempter three different times. The first time, he is tempted to turn stones into bread.

800px-Temptations_of_Christ_(San_Marco)

Of course, Jesus was hungry, but bread was symbolic and political. The phrase “bread and circuses” comes to us from Rome. The Empire used food both as a reward and a weapon, to punish and pacify occupied territory—like the land where Jesus lived.

Later on, when he feeds thousands of people by the sea with only a handful of loaves and fish, the people are ready to follow him into battle. Mark points out that they sit in groups of fifties and hundreds, which is biblical language implying an army (Mark 6:40; (compare Exodus 18:25 and 1 Maccabees 3:54-57)). John says that after the miracle, the people come and want to make him king by force (John 6:15).

The politics of bread still is still at work today. Alabama is one of the few states that actually tax groceries. A pastor friend confronted an Alabama legislator about it, and he replied, “How else are you going to get money out of poor people?” Whenever politicians talk about “makers and takers,” whenever they blame immigrants for stealing jobs, they are playing the Roman game of weaponizing food. But the alternative is not “bread and circuses” to pacify the poor. The alternative is the living bread. “I will feed them with justice,” says God (Ezekiel 34:16).

When Jesus does provide bread, the miracle is understated. He doesn’t wave a wand and turn stones into bread. That would make him the dispenser. No, the bread appears because it is shared and not hoarded. He also tells his disciples to pray for daily bread.

The fact is, the world produces enough food to feed everyone on it. What we have is not a supply problem, but a distribution problem. We even use biblical language to describe it: food deserts. We don’t need to turn stones into bread. We need to address the sin that leads to hoarding and inequality. “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life,” (John 6:27).

 

Twice a week during Lent (usually Tuesday and Thursday) I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here: 

Text Of The Day

You can give online here to support the ministry of Saint Junia. 

Text Of the Day for February 15, 2018

Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob
    and chiefs of the house of Israel,
who abhor justice
    and pervert all equity,
who build Zion with blood
    and Jerusalem with wrong!
Its rulers give judgment for a bribe,
    its priests teach for a price,
    its prophets give oracles for money;
yet they lean upon the Lord and say,
    “Surely the Lord is with us!
    No harm shall come upon us.”

(Micah 3:9-11)

It is heartbreaking to begin Lent with news of another school shooting. Yet another. Another.

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Jesus_Tempted_in_the_Wilderness_(Jésus_tenté_dans_le_désert)_-_James_Tissot_-_overall

Lent begins with the story of Jesus tempted in the wilderness. The devil offers Jesus political power if only Jesus will bow down and worship him. He tries to bribe the Son of Man. Everyone has their price, right? As Micah says of his leaders in Jerusalem, “its rulers give judgments for a bribe; its priests teach for a price.”

We know that our leaders are susceptible to bribery and the promise of influence and power. There have been plenty of articles about the NRA’s influence on congress, and the devil’s bargain white evangelical churches have made with the far-right. We are so weary of those who “abhor justice and pervert all equity, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong!”

A lobbyist came to see Jesus. He offered him an endless supply of bread, fame, and political power if only he would worship the devil. The lobbyist quoted the Bible and phrased his arguments in religious language. Jesus was tempted. But Jesus knew the price of the kingdom he was proclaiming. He would pay it himself, and it was not for sale.

The story teaches us that the devil will hide behind moral and religious language as he offers his bribes. Jesus says we’ll know such by their fruit.

The story also raises another question for those of us who follow Jesus: What’s your price?

Twice a week during Lent (usually Tuesday and Thursday) I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here: 

Text Of The Day

You can give online here to support the ministry of Saint Junia. 

Text Of the Day for Feb 13, 2018

“Then the Lord God said, “It’s not good that the human is alone. I will make them a helper that is perfect for them.” (Genesis 2:18)

Tomorrow is both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. I’ve joked that I will impose the ashes on people’s foreheads in the shape of a heart.

It’s actually a fitting coincidence, when you think about the story of Saint Valentine. He was allegedly martyred by the Emperor Claudius on February 14, 269, for helping Christians under persecution (including performing marriages). I think it’s especially fitting to remember Saint Valentine on this Ash Wednesday for a couple of reasons:

1) My own denomination, the United Methodist Church, is currently struggling with how it will organize itself, since many Methodists disagree over the ordination and marriage of LGBTQ persons.

2) The movement toward Good Friday during Lent is usually portrayed as an individual’s “dark night of the soul,” a journey of penitence and fasting, very much at odds with images of hedonistic romantic love and boxes of chocolates in popular culture. But the juxtaposition and reconciliation of the two is appropriate for Christians, I think. First, because our journey of penitence and fasting is never actually alone. The sin we repent of is not just individual but corporate, so we have partners on our journey. Second, because fasting is a means to an end. Jesus said of his disciples, “They cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they?” (Mark 2:19). Jesus compared the kingdom to a wedding banquet where all are invited, but he indicated there are different times for different behaviors.

Of course, romantic love is idolized in our culture, and many people, both religious and non-religious, have had their fill of it. The idea that we each have a “soul mate” in another human being who “completes us” is pernicious and destructive. 

But romantic love, for many of us, is the first inkling that we have of the Divine. Whether it’s driven by physiology or spirituality, the feeling of losing-youself-while-finding-yourself is mystical. One of my biggest complaints about the hetero-patriarchy is that it has stifled heterosexual men’s religious imagination about God, since it refuses to ever refer to God in feminine terms. The idea that God woos us like a lover, that God desires intimacy with us, and actually loves human bodies enough to hold us accountable for the way they are treated is a corrective that the church desperately needs.

Rome was right to be afraid of Valentine, as it was right to be afraid of Jesus. Love does, in fact, threaten the Empire.


Twice a week (usually Tuesday and Thursday) I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here: Text Of The Day

You can give online here to support the ministry of Saint Junia.