Jesus wasn't naïve.
He knew how the Jews – his own - were being dispossessed and oppressed, systematically.
The Romans created an entire industry to bring in exotic animals for the simple “pleasure” of watching them be murdered. Whole species of God’s precious creatures were brought to extinction, and Jesus knew.
People – God’s precious children – were being trafficked for cruel purposes: labor, sex, murder. The government was in on this – they vigorously protected the rights of slave-owners.
In Rome, a father could beat, mutilate or murder his own wife and children, his slaves or animals, without fear of retribution. Patriarchy in its most perverted forms was perpetrated in Rome.
A common evil that occurred at the time of Christ was child exposure. Babies were being abandoned in woods and on hilltops. These wretched killings were not forbidden in Rome until the late 4th century, and at the time of Christ, were accepted.
Orgies of lust and blood and hate and exploitation abounded all around him, and yet, we don’t see Jesus take the kind of forceful actions we might expect.
We have almost no record of Jesus fighting the contemporary “social justice” issues of his day. We do see him in personal encounters with tax collectors (systematic oppressors), prostitutes, Samaritans, lepers and the mentally ill.
Christians cannot ignore the seeming disconnect between the kingdom of God - with it’s message of love for the poor and outcast - and the relative silence of the gospels around abortion, murder, slavery, rape and systematic oppression, during the time of the ministry of Jesus.
I’ve been coaching middle school boys basketball for a little under two decades, and it is one of my greatest joys.
Our season was cancelled this year due to covid and it was a real drag. So, while I’ve been at tournaments with my son Noah these past two weekends, it took everything in me to refrain from being “that parent” and running out to the coach between games with “tactical recommendations”. I sat on my hands and bit my lip in the stands.
One of the things you learn sitting in the stands is how powerful referees are – they determine the outcome of almost every single game 😉
I remind my players all the time – the referees blow several calls each game, sure, but - how many layups did we miss? How many free throws? Did we – all of us - box out on every shot? How many turnovers did we have? How many times did we let the other team get ahead on the fast break because we were mentally or physically loafing?
I scout other teams to put my kids in the best position to win. Last year, in our final game, I put in a unique defense to limit a particularly strong opposing player.
Almost always, however, the most important thing I think I can do as coach is make sure my kids are achieving OUR goals. In almost every single case, if we do this, we will win.
And when we lose, it is most frequently about how we failed to meet those objectives.
We can't get distracted fighting the right battle in the wrong ways.
What is the supreme objective – the strategic focus - of Christ and his church? The scriptures teach us that one thing CONQUERS all – LOVE.
Jesus defeated death by death. He was a "social justice warrior" in truth because justice can never be about victory over others. It can only be about reconciliation.
The civil rights movement was a success, if not completely. What were their weapons of aggression? They were two: Suffering and love.
Misguided revolutionaries talk about victory at any cost and tend to leave more destruction and lingering resentment in their wake.
True revolutionaries – Gandhi, MLK, Socrates, Jesus – count the cost, and indeed, it is high. Nevertheless, they pay in love, aggressive love, for it is the only way forward, the only way to bring in the Kingdom of Heaven.
When we keep chanting slogans, keep toeing party lines, keep requiring purity tests – we make things worse, not better.
If you are a believer, and even if you are not – do you really think Jesus wasn’t brokenhearted about the wretchedness - the degradation of his creation - that surrounded him on every side?
Many of his followers saw these evils and wanted him to go to war. They were not alone.
“… the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.’”
The Devil’s strategy is conquest. I see a lot of political warriors on both sides who want to defeat the "others."
It’s a losing strategy, and we have to lay it down, though it might cost us our lives.
On Great and Holy Friday, it seemed like Oklahoma weather came to Jersey.
During the service, we carry the light of faith outside into the world, but when I walked in an usher nodded at the stack of unlit candles, and shrugged-
“Don’t know if you want those or not. It’s pretty windy.”
Great and Holy Saturday, and the wind had died down a little.
This was also the moment of the Resurrection of Our Lord, so we braved the weather, carried our candles, even though they kept blowing out.
Amidst the chanting crowd of worshippers, huddling outside the tomb, someone always kept the light of faith alive, and kept passing it along to others, even though this risked their losing the flame for themselves.
No candle remained lit the entire service, but between us, the flame always burned.
These two happenings, on consecutive evenings, were stark in their contrast, and in their meaning.
On Holy Friday, I did not take the candles, and something about that felt quite jarring, and reminded me of my doubt.
Often, when I anticipate disappointment, I avoid my faith. I don’t understand the ways of God, and I don’t wish to be troubled by the thought that I might have been abandoned.
I own my failures, so I cannot blame my God. And the candle of hope remains buried, deep within my soul.
Our vigil on Holy Saturday begins at 11:30 PM, and old and weary as I’ve become, a little sloth crept in. I confess that I considered just going for liturgy the following morning.
Then Christian, my second-born, came to me, said he’d laid out his church clothes, just in case we went to church. There was pleading in his eyes.
Well, we made it to church that night, but again, I did not initially take the candles.
My heart yearned for the candle, though, and my boys wanted them, too.
So, as we walked out into the breeze, the church bell tolling in the night as we walked three times around the church, our fingers clung to the wax of candles that did not remain ablaze.
We had them, though, and they could be re-lit.
During those services we represent the Myrrh-bearing women who were faithful throughout - while Jesus suffered his passion, and after he’d died. Their dreams of salvation were also dead, yet they still loved Christ with all their being, despite their broken hearts.
We must follow their holy example; we must hold fast to hope.
It was midnight-thirty, and as we walked the thrice-round path outside the church, the bells were ringing, loud and continuous, for at least ten minutes.
My boys giggled quietly, pointing at lights coming on here and there from windows among the rowhouses that frame the edge of the church property.
Internally, I was musing about whether our parish sent out a notice to the neighbors. I can imagine some people were annoyed by our celebration.
I also thought about those who heard the bells, and remembered the faith of their youth, or a time when they still held the candle of hope. I prayed they were buoyed by our shouted and sung declarations and confirmations of victory:
CHRIST IS RISEN!
TRULY, HE IS RISEN!
"Examine all things; hold on to the good."
-Saint Paul the Apostle