The Beatitudes in the Solemnity of All Saints define justice.


MLK quote“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me…”

The above describes a saint. “The use of chiasmus as a rhetorical device dates back to the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. Greeks developed an unmatched inclination for this device and made it an essential part of the art of oration.” The Beatitudes is an example of chiasmus. As we look at the rearranged structure we learn the meaning of the key words.

The emphasis is upon the poor in spirit, the persecuted. This is mentioned in the first verse of the passage, in the next to the last, and in the last. Those suffering persecution inherit the kingdom of God.

Those who mourn are peacemakers. Those who have seen the bestiality of war, the guts spilled out on the ground, the smell of rotting and burning flesh, dying women and children, sons sent off to serve Molech, Hebrew for King, become peacemakers.

The pure heart are meek, comparing themselves to God in every person they see. Halloween teaches us to see the ghost and goblin in all of us. In Halloween we die with Christ. Seeing our faults, we cannot help but to become meek, and this is the pure of heart. On all Saints we rise with Christ.

Statue of liberty lighning strikeIn Semitic thought, mercy and justice are related. The righteous are those remembering what it was like to suffer, remember their rescue, and desire to bring this mercy to others. This is mercy and justice.

John embellishes upon “Children of God.” “We are God’s children now… We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure.”

“Nation,” comes a Latin root meaning to be born. We are all born together, by common heritage, the New Colossus on the Statue of Liberty, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and American heritage relate what this means. Catholics all, we are all family. Americans all, we are all family.

Justice is seeing everyone we see as family, showing mercy, and meekness, to all we see, mourning with them in their suffering, and doing something to end that suffering. We will be persecuted and slandered. Welcome to the Catholic religion. Your reward will be great in God’s kingdom.

Nadab and Abihu speak to Leadership , or what does leadership mean?


The second reading for the Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Hebrews refers to Deuteronomy 17:15. “You may set over you a king whom the NAME, your God, will choose. Someone from among your own kindred you may set over you as king….” This is very good advice when choosing a leader. He should be like those he leads. Machiavelli said as much in, “The Prince.” Machiavelli tells the prince how the first thing to do when taking a province is to join the people and learn their ways. Christ does this when he comes to earth and becomes like us.

Leviticus 10 has the story of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu. Sons of Aaron, they are priests and have the authority to offer sacrifices. They offer strange fire to God. For this, God sends fire to consume them. Hebrew has a rule called “Kal Vahomer,” (Light and heavy.) If something applies to a lighter case, it applies more to a heavier one. If Nadab and Abihu are priests and God consumes them for offering strange fire, how much more will he consume those who are not priests but claim to represent God?

8919_1243228163516_2601477_nGreek has three words for “Priest,” “Presbyter,” “Episcopal,” and “Hierarch.” St. Paul uses the third. This translates the Hebrew, “Cohen,” and means an official. Taking on such a role is a weighty decision and one should make sure that is their calling, vocation, profession, before taking it on. A person can be part of a hierarchy and not be religious. The new priest is the head of the corporation, the head of the business.

If we claim the profession of priest, or any vocation, and we are not called to that vocation, we rob God in two ways. First, we claim a vocation that is not ours. Second, we fail to complete our vocation, being too busy trying to be someone we are not. How do we know we have this vocation?

St. Ignatius of Antioch tells us, “As therefore Kyrie did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do anything without the bishop and presbyters. Neither endeavor that anything appear reasonable and proper to yourselves apart; but coming together into the same place, let there be one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and in joy undefiled.”

As with any organization, there must be a leader. When we do anything, we speak with the authority of the Bishop. The Bishop has subordinates, so we can go to the subordinates to find the will of the Bishop.

“Let the presbyters be compassionate and merciful to all, bringing back those that wander, visiting all the sick, and not neglecting the widow, the orphan, or the poor, but always providing for that which is becoming in the sight of God and man;  abstaining from wrath, respecting people, and unjust judgment; keeping far off from all desire, not quickly crediting an evil report against any one, not severe in judgment, as knowing that we are all under a debt of deviation.” Polycarp, Philippians, chapter 6

Another test of all leaders is that they are compassionate of their charges, being an example to those who wander, and therefore bringing them back. They visit the sick and the widow. They care for the poor.

The Gospel shows what leadership is. True leaders lead from the front. Today’s leaders lead from behind. They like to be managers. They plan, organize, staff, and control their businesses. They do not lead. They are not from the poor and disenfranchised, nor do they claim to be. The idea is degrading.Most management schools do not even offer classes in leadership, and when they do, the classes are classes in sales, not leadership. These schools focus on controllorship, a fancy word for accounting, running their business by the numbers. Their business is their busy ness, their employees cogs in the wheel of the business, not real human beings. Knowing all about controllorship, and not about people, they sit in their offices and crunch numbers.

The Gospel reading is of Bar Timaeus. “Timaeus,” has meaning in Hebrew and Greek. In Hebrew, it means “innocence,” and “Simplicity.” The Greek, means “Value.” Courtesy Holy Land Pilgrimage Mary's well Ein Kerem JerusalemThis son of innocence and simplicity, or son of value calls out for pity. Jesus, comes from the poor and outcast so can understand his plight. He engages in what management schools today call, “Management by Walking Around.” Unlike managers of today, or his day, his concern is people. Therefore, he walks around and when he sees suffering, he acts.  St. Francis learned from Jesus and did the same when he met the leper in the road.

The crowd, acting like most crowds, then and today, prevent the blind man from coming to Jesus. When Jesus calls the man, they about face, just like they, and we, do between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. They are poor, but they are not of the same as Bar Timaeus. They do not see each other as part of the same family. Jesus is the just king, Melchi Tzadik, Melchizedek. Deuteronomy 16:20 states, “Tzadik, Tzadik, you will run after.” The first “Tzadik” refers to charity, as a community, and the second to justice. Justice means seeing a piece of ourselves, our family in our neighbors.

The question before us? “Do we see in the least of our brothers, family, a piece of ourselves, or strangers? In preaching to others, do we offer strange fire to God? The Hebrew word for “Fire,” and for “Manhood,” is “Ish.” Do we offer strange manhood to God, or do we offer ourselves, as ourselves? God greets fire with fire, and the last fire is never ending.

What do John 10 and Matthew 25:31-Matthew 26:1 have to do with the readings for the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time?


lionOnly lions, tigers, and other predators have reason for rules of etiquette. The Gospel reading is about the twelve and who is first. The first write rules of etiquette. Like our modern pushers of etiquette, the main push was for where one sat.

The sheep of his flockSheep are fussy eaters, their mouths specialized for eating grass. Goats are mixed feeders, eating plant life which is above the ground, leaves, berry stalks... Sheep are communal, goats individualists and innovators. Goats have fighting horns to defend their space. Sheep require others to defend them This requires sheep herders to have goats.

When Jesus speaks of separating the sheep from the goats, he speaks of separating the guard from the communal animals. Matthew 25:31-26:1 is about communal people.

Predators are about competition. Predators establish rules to protect themselves. Otherwise, they will compete and destroy each other. Predatory/competitive people need etiquette. The sheep eat grass; there is plenty of grass for everybody.

GoatIn the first reading, “The Russia say: Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us…” “Russia/wicked” is Hebrew with the same root as “Rosh,” as in “Rosh Hashanah,” or head, first of the year. “Russia,” think themselves first. They are the goats/competitors of the human world.

James presents,” Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder… The wisdom from above is first pure, peaceable, gentle, compliant, and full of mercy… The fruit of charitableness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.” This is being like sheep. “Talah,” lamb is the Aramaic base for “Talitah,” child.

Our Gospel brings up who will be first. James and John come to Jesus using bad etiquette. In bad faith, they choose to engage in office politics. They come behind the other apostles trying to win first chair. The others complain to Jesus about this use of bad etiquette, this bad brown nosing to win the game. They all engage in back biting office politics; they just want competition using good etiquette. Jesus hates the office politics of who is first. Talah/talitah, need no etiquette, no office politics.

Jewish justice springs from the escape from Egypt. “Bring me your tired, your poor, those yearning to breathe free. Bring these, the tempest tost to me.” “As Christ died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.” It is tied to being rescued from over there, wherever ‘Over there.”  It is about feeling the pains of being ‘Over there,” and the sense of freedom coming from being ‘Over here,” and bringing that sense of rescue to others. There is no room for who is first.

Jesus tells us to be like Talitha’ lambs/children. Jesus and James teach people to be like sheep. They are about helping all the sheep to find that plentiful grass, to be healthy and happy. Are we rugged individualists, individuals like the goats, or do we desire to be the sheep of God? Read Matthew 25 again and see what happens to the goats.

Imaginative remembering


As I worked at an animal facility while being abused by a Senior Chief Petty Officer in the Name, I suffered the feeling that I was in a world that was surreal and the rules did not apply. It caused me to question my understanding of Basic Right and Wrong and to define the concept as what re-orients us in a time of crisis, when the world is surreal and the rules do not apply.

I attended a Lutheran Church studying the Documentary Hypothesis. I was doing my own re-evaluation of my values. That meant looking for the Ten Commandments, finding it in three places, and the Ten Commandments were different in all three places. As I counted I found fifteen commandments. The first rule of a counselor was to confuse the patient. Mission Accomplished!

Courtesy Holy Land Pilgrimage GalilleeJesus, uses the Jewish count, “You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.” If Jesus combines our last two, how does he get Ten Commandments?

Imaginative remembering is about how the Jewish community took the customs, judicial precedents, and folkways of the surrounding neighborhood and incorporated it into their legal code. For Jesus, the first commandment is, “I am the Personal Name your Almighty Judge, who brought you out of the land of Egypt/Oppression, out of the house of menial labor.

Deuteronomy adds, “The Personal Name, our Almighty Judge, cut a Social Contract with us at Horeb; not with our fathers did the Personal Name cut this Social Contract, but with us, each of us, alive, here, this day.” “An Unsettled God,” relates imaginative remembering includes the social contract. The second is that God creates his nation from the outcasts of society.

To remember what it was like to be there and your rescue, is to get that pit in your stomach when others suffer and do something. The Passover is our liturgical celebration of that rescue. The surrounding nations had precepts for helping the poor. Israel added the reason, and made in central to the Social Contract. If everyone remembers oppression, they become too engrossed with saving the oppressed to oppress him.

The Jewish Fritz Pearls and his Gestalt therapy emphasize talking in the present tense. This is an important part of imaginative remembering. Imaginative remembering is how the Jewish community distorts time. The Jewish community created the concept of the Physical Presence, their escape from Egypt.

Another part of imaginative remembering is, “Hear, you who struggle with God! The Personal Name is our Almighty Judge, the Personal Name is One! You shall love the Personal Name, your Almighty Judge, with all your hearts, and with your whole anima, and with your whole measure.” The word for hearts,“ לְבָבְךָ” has a second “בָ” making it plural. The ending means “You,” and is singular. We each have more than one heart. “Ecclesiology for a Global Church,” mentions how Freud was also Jewish. We each have more than one heart, inclination. Our inclinations are by themselves neither good nor evil. It is how we use them that makes them good or evil.

The bully convinces his victim, he gets what he deserves. Exodus 1 quotes Exodus 1:10, “Starting in Genesis 47, and using the thinking of the modern bully, we can show how Pharaoh “Deal wisely with them.”

In his book, “A Theological Introduction into the Old Testament,” Walter Brueggemann, re-introduces the concepts of form and source criticism. In the process, he relates how scholars attribute Genesis 1 to a Priestly source. It begins:

בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים בְּרֵאשִׁית

Genesis 2:4 begins:

בְּיוֹם עֲשׂוֹת יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים–אֶרֶץ וְשָׁמָיִם

We notice אֱלֹהִים in both passages, but the second passage adds, יְהוָה indicating a second author. Walter Brueggemann relates how there is great debate about the various forms used in Torah. Ever watch Bob Ross and his “Joy of Painting?” The order of how he painted his landscapes is like how the Priestly source drew in his order for creation. Genesis 1 could simply be a verbal landscape to introduce us to Genesis.

Hebrews 4 speaks of Genesis 2’s Sabbath Rest as a type for a coming Sabbath Rest. II Peter 3:8 speaks of one day being a thousand years. From this comes the allegorical interpretation of creation being six thousand years old. The landscape hypothesis makes more sense.

Genesis 2 speaks of the four rivers. The first is Pishon; which winds through the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. Some have noted how Troy, north of Israel, had bountiful amounts of gold. Others note a dried up river bed in Saudi Arabia, also famous for its gold.

The name of the second river is the Gihon, and winds all through the land of Cush. Cush is in Africa, south of Israel. The name of the third river is the Tigris; east of Asshur. The fourth river is the Euphrates. Geometry points to Israel as Eden.

Genesis 3 has the tree of knowledge of good and rot. Jeremiah 10 prohibits following the way of the nations. This is the apple from the tree of knowing good and evil. It knows other ways of doing things, other than the ways of Ha Shem. When we look at early depictions of the cherubim and the fiery revolving sword east of the Garden of Eden, we note how very similar they are to the Assyrian soldiers, from the east. Likewise, Cain travels east, toward Babylonia, where God puts a mark on him so that those in the east, Babylonia and Assyria, not kill him.

Genesis 1-11 is an allegory to explain the Babylonian and Assyrian exiles. When we read the Song of Songs in Hebrew, we notice how much the Bride resembles the temple, in poetic language. Ruth, on the surface is about a farm girl from Edom. From the Jewish perspective, that she is not Jewish, with the story written at a time when Ezra commanded Jews not to marry non-Jews, speaks volumes.

Abraham, he feeds his three guests a non-kosher meal. If Halachic comes before Haggadic, if Ezra comes before this story, this part of the story at least, is an attack upon the dietary rule against eating meat and milk products together. Haggadah as a form is polemic, one group in dialectic against the other. Torah is dynamic debate, not statute, and ordinance.

I sat at a coffee table with several friends, including a fundamentalist, and a Jewish lady. As we discussed things, an atheist came up and asked if God could create a rock so big he could not pick it up. Schooled in Philosophy, the fundamentalist launched into the standard defenses, which the atheist quickly destroyed. Then he went after little Pam.

She simply said, “God threw horse and rider into the sea; then came Assyria, strong and mighty, then mighty Babylon, Greece, Rome, the inquisition and the Nazi régime. They are all gone now. If God is Almighty, All knowing, and All Present, I do not know. One thing I do know; I am picking no fights with him.” The atheist walked away.The Western God is Trinitarian, three in one, mystery. The Jew says:

Rabbi Eliezer said: If the law is as I say, let it be proven from Heaven. A Heavenly voice rang out: What do you want with Rabbi Eliezer. The law is in agreement with him in all areas. Rabbi Yehoshua got up on his feet and declared: ‘Torah is not in Heaven.’ What does ‘It is not in Heaven’ mean? Rabbi Yirmiyah said: Since the Torah was already given at Sinai, we pay no attention to Heavenly voices. It is written in Torah: ‘After the majority one must follow.’ Rabbi Nathan met Elijah the Prophet and asked him: What was God doing at that time when His Heavenly voice was disregarded? Elijah answered: He laughed: My children have triumphed over me. My children have triumphed over me.

Sholom Aleichem’s, Tevye the dairyman, had Job-like conversations with God: “O God, All-powerful and All-Merciful, great and good, kind and just, how does it happen that to some people you give everything and to others nothing?” Even in the middle of his prayer, Tevye would interject his own personal comments: “Thou sustainest the living with loving kindness, and, sometimes, with a little food.” Tevye could even be somewhat sarcastic at times: “With God’s help, I starved to death three times a day, not counting supper.”

In the Bible, we see God accepts and even welcomes criticism. Abraham told God: “Shall the Judge of the whole world not act justly?” God’s manifests his sense of irony by telling Abraham to name Isaac. Abraham laughed when he heard that he, and Sarah, his 90-year-old wife, would have a child. The Hebrew name Yitzchak means ‘he laughed,’ a name showing our God has a sense of humor.

The Israelites are able to cross safely. When the Egyptians follow they become stuck in the mud and as the waters come rolling back over them, they drown in the sea. The angels break out into song, relieved that the Israelites are finally safe. God sees the angel’s rejoicing, but God isn’t pleased. “My creatures are drowning in the sea and you sing songs.”

The angels were supposed to have a somewhat broader perspective. They should have kept their awareness of the spark of God that is in every person, even the Pharaoh himself. They should have remembered God’s teaching, “it is not the death of the Russia/wicked/those thinking themselves first, I seek, but only that he should turn from his evil ways and live.”

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The ancient Midrash is preserved in our Passover seder rituals even to this day. When we come to the retelling of the ten plagues, we pour some wine out of our cup, or some families take a little bit of wine with their finger at this point. We show God that we understand that our cup of joy cannot be filled to the brim, as long as others, even if they were our enemies, have lost their lives.

This is the Jewish God.

We need to read Torah as a text in constant tension with itself


What would happen if the US government collapsed? First Texas, and then the states of the South secede from the union because of the politics we see today. After a few years, the great fear of the conservatives came true; the ultra orthodox Muslims came and imposed Sharia Law.

courtesy Dor Smeltzer Beacon 3

This would cause chaos as Christian conservatives fought this. After another couple of decades, the Chinese came in with a more Buddhist understanding and decided to allow the Americans decide upon their own laws. Let us also allow that the liberals are correct in arguing that global warming is the case. After all this time expired, the main cities along the eastern seaboard are now under water. To correct the problem requires building walls around the cities and pumping out the water. After the radical Muslims, leave the country, exiles returning from all over the world decided to build these walls and impose a strong central government.

Conservatives would object to the strong central government to China, and China would ask the Americans to prove they are in fact a nation, a people. We are of course, not one people. We are westerners, New Englanders, Southerners, people of the Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic, among other places. We are African-American, Hispanic, German, Irish, Anglo-Saxon, and more. We are rich, poor, conservative, and liberal. Not all of the people assembled would support building the city walls around Washington D.C. Still, they would want China out of America, so they could have their decentralized government.

declaration-of-independenceLiberals, and others with a bent for nostalgia, would want the walls rebuilt. Some would desire a strong centralized government headquartered in D.C. while others went with strong chieftains, governors, for the various states. Some would push for strong moral, Blue Laws, while others pushed for strong Social Justice Laws. The age old fights between these diverse groups would flare up again.

As the leadership meeting in Washington writes the statement of who we are as a people, they must first convince all these disparate groups that we are one nation. The second audience, China, or its officials looking over the process, would see the approval by the people of the document, agree that we are a nation, or the disapproval, and deny the request to rebuild the walls and historic places of the nation.

Of course, this could never happen. On the other hand, it did, when Persia conquered Babylonia in 538 BCE. Tradition states the men of the Great Assembly then reconstructed Torah as we have it today. They also created the shell of the Jewish Liturgy, which evolves into the Catholic Mass. If these men did reconstruct Torah as we know it, what would Torah have?

First, we would expect a work by committee, and it would look like the proverbial work by committee. Under pressure to create a document, these men would write one, but we would see them sniping at each other in the text. This explains much of the contradictions we now see in our text. Because these men could not agree before 587 BCE, when the Babylonians came, they would not likely be able to agree afterwards. Still, needing to develop a text, they would enmesh competing traditions into the text, so each could have their side in the final text.

Ezra is sometimes accused of having been a legalist who gave excessive attention to the letter of the law. This would imply Ezra used his influence to cause חלק Halacka, or the walk, to come first in our text. This would imply Ezra used his influence to cause חלק Halacka, or the walk, to come first in our text. הַגָּדָה‎, “telling,” or story to back up or dispute חלק Halacka.

Abraham rushed into the tent and told Sarah, “Quick, three measures of fine flour! Knead it and make rolls.”

He ran to the herd, picked out a tender, choice steer, and gave it to a servant, who quickly prepared it.

Abraham got some curds and milk, as well as the steer that had been prepared, and set these before the three men. He waited on them under the tree while they ate.

You will not boil a young animal (Gadi) in its mother’s milk.

You will not slaughter an ox or a sheep on one and the same day with its young.

If, while walking along, you come across a bird’s nest with young birds or eggs in it, in any tree or on the ground, and the mother bird is sitting on them, you will not take away the mother bird along with her brood.

Jews do not serve meat and milk products together to this day, and this is the reason. Also, it teaches us to be humane, and not serve mother and child together. The problem with the rule as doctrine is that it tends to replace the meaning for the rule.

Abraham has to push Sarah to kneed the flour, as she is more interested in what the men, the messengers of God have to say. There is something more going on here, and it is in what Abraham chooses to serve his guests. After all, why should we care what a Bidoun Arab served guests three millennium ago? Bidoun is Arabic for homeless, and Abraham was at that point a wondering, stateless, Arab, from what is now Basra Iraq.

If חלק Halacka or the walk came first, the writer of this story gives the details for a reason. “Abraham did it; it must be OK to mix these products together for a kosher meal. Didn’t the angels eat it too?” We would expect different versions of the same folk tradition to be in our text, as in the story of the flood. Did the animals come in two by two, or seven pairs of Kosher, and only single pairs of non-kosher?

If you only put in one tradition, not only would you alienate the representatives present, but also the mothers with their children outside, expecting the text to relate their tradition.

Southern representatives would want to snip at their northern counterparts, but not too hard. Therefore, we see the story of the Golden Calf, Exodus 32, referring not to the time of Moses, but to the time of Jeroboam, in I Kings, 12:26-31.

We would also expect to find Brothers Grimm and Nursery Rhymes in our text. We would expect poetry and grand literature. We would expect real history, written at the eighth grade level, Paul Bunyan, George Washington and his dollar crossing the Potomac River, along with his cherry tree.

Walter Brueggeman writes in his book, Prophetic Imagination: Revised Edition (p. 68). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition, “Second Isaiah presumably lived through and knew about the pathos of Lamentations and the rage of Job.8 Nevertheless, he goes beyond pathos and rage to speeches of hope and doxology. Second Isaiah has indispensable precursors in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, as Thomas Raitt has made clear.

Jeremiah of course wrote Lamentations. Second Isaiah presumably lived through and knew about the pathos of Lamentations. Second Isaiah and Jeremiah therefore presumably knew each other.

This has profound effects upon the correct way to read Torah.

Jeremiah and Second Isaiah together, poets of pathos and amazement, speak in laments and doxologies. They cannot be torn from each other. Reading Jeremiah alone leaves faith in death where God finally will not stay. And reading Second Isaiah alone leads us to imagine that we may receive comfort without tears and tearing. Clearly, only those who anguish will sing new songs. Without anguish the new song is likely to be strident and just more royal fakery.

Reading Torah chapter and verse, “This is the law; this we must do,” would be out. Instead, we need to read Torah as a dynamic text, a grand dialectic, of people struggling to find God and create a community in the face extreme adversity. It means we read the various parts of the text in extreme tension, one with the other. It means to ignore the tension is to misread the text.

The prologue to the Ten Commandments reads in most translations:

Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and ordinances which I proclaim in your hearing this day, that you may learn them and take care to observe them. The LORD, our God, made a covenant with us at Horeb; not with our ancestors did the LORD make this covenant, but with us, all of us who are alive here this day. Face to face, the LORD spoke with you on the mountain from the midst of the fire, while I was standing between the LORD and you at that time, to announce to you these words of the LORD, since you were afraid of the fire and would not go up the mountain:

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall not have other gods beside me.

This is usually cut to “You shall not have other gods beside me,” when listing the Ten Commandments. Properly translated from the original Hebrew, the text reads:

Moses summoned all those who struggle with God and told them, Hear, you who struggle with God, the customs and what comes from the lip of God, I proclaim in your hearing, this day, that you may learn them and guard to do them. The Personal Name our Almighty Judge, cut a Social Contract with us at Horeb; not with our fathers did the Personal Name cut this Social Contract, but with us, all of us, alive here, this day. Face to face, the Personal Name spoke with you on the mountain from the midst of the fire, while I was standing between the Personal Name and you at that time, to announce to you these words of the Personal Name, since you were afraid of the fire and would not go up the mountain:

I am the Personal Name your Almighty Judge, who brought you out of the land of Oppression, out of the house of Menial Labor. You shall not have other saviors beside me.

A custom is by definition, not a written code. It comes from below, the masses. It is the accumulation of unspoken tradition passed on from generation to generation. “That which comes from the lips applies to what comes from above, the judicial precedents coming from the leadership. It is by definition an anachronism for these two words to be here. Custom and judicial precedent come into being over time, and cannot be given at any one point in time.

Jeremiah, Ezra, Nehemia, the men of the Great Assembly, the Gospels, St. Paul, and the other prophets disagree with one another, as do most tenets of custom and judicial precedent. What comes to us is not statute and ordinance, but custom and tradition. Never having been debated or thought out fully, these often contradict one another. The truth is not in one custom, but in the tension between customs. It does not even sound right, speaking of one custom. It is in the debate between custom and judicial precedent. This is how God wants it.

To read only one side of the story, whether it is “J,” “P,” or “E,” is a grand mistake. Finally, it means we need to look for this historical anomalies in our text, so we might understand the text for what it is, a statement of culture, a culture far more advanced than ours, and not as history.

Talking about God in times of suffering


In his book, “On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent,” Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez Merino, O.P. argues that the central tenet of Job is found in the Job 1:9, “The Great Accuser answered the Personal Name, “Is it for nothing that Job looks to God?” Father Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez misses some key points in his reading of Job, some of which support his argument, and some of which should take the reader in a different direction. The Gospel of St. Luke does tell us in Luke 17:7-10:

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“Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come, immediately; take your place at table’? Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare something for me. Put on your apron; wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’? Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.”

The problem is that our Gospels also tell us in John 15:11-16 “I told you this so my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my Mitzvah: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do my Mitzvah. I no longer call you Avodim/servants. An Avod does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends; told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me. I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain. Whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.”

Which account is the right one? Are we all simply servants doing the will of an unkind master? Do we follow the rules as Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez seems to argue, “For nothing?” Is this our lot in life, or are we friends? Which is it? One of the seven rules of Hillel is “Kayotze bo mimekom akhar.” Two passages may seem to conflict until compared with a third, which has points of general though not necessarily verbal similarity.

cart before the horseFr. Gustavo Gutiérrez puts the cart before the horse and this is his first mistake in translating his work. We are not the humble servants who do the work “For nothing.” We are not the humble servants who simply say, “We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.” There is a reason we are obliged to do the work and this is where putting the cart before the horse comes into play. “It was not you who chose me. I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.”

“Why were the Ten Commandments not written in the beginning of the Torah? A parable was given. To what may this be compared? To a king who entered a province said to the people, ‘May I be your king?’ The people told him: ‘You have not done anything good for us to rule over us.’ What did he do? He built the wall for them, he brought in the water for them, and he fought their wars.

He told them: ‘May I be your king?’They replied: ‘Yes, yes.’ Likewise, God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, divided the sea for them, sent down manna for them, brought up the well for them, brought quail for them, and fought for them the war with Amalek. Then God said to them: ‘Am I to be your king?’ They replied, ‘Yes, yes.”

St. Luke writes well within the tradition of Deuteronomy and the Ten Commandments.

Moses summoned all those who struggle with God, telling them, Hear, you who struggle with God, the customs and correct judicial precedents, which I proclaim in your hearing, this day, that you may learn them and guard to do them. The Personal Name, our Almighty Judge, cut a Social Contract with us at Horeb; not with our fathers did the Personal Name cut this Social Contract, but with us, all of us, alive, here, this day. Face to face, the Personal Name spoke with you on the mountain from the midst of the fire, while I was standing between the Personal Name and you at that time, to announce to you these words of the Personal Name; you were afraid of the fire and would not go up the mountain: I am the Personal Name your Almighty Judge, who brought you out of the land of Egypt/Oppression, out of the house of Avodim.”

“It was not you who chose me. I who chose you…” I rescued you from oppression first. That is the main point. We do not serve, “For nothing.” We serve because he served first. He rescued us from oppression and now he asks us to return the favor for all those other on this planet who suffer. That is the point of Job.

Speaking of God from The Suffering Of The Innocent,” is the original title of Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez’ work, “On Job.” His main point is that there is a right way of speaking about God. In his argument, he seems to agree with Fr. Francisco at our Cathedral in Reno Nevada. There is a rhetorical form the B.A.G. refers to as “Ironic Inversion,” in which a word is said to mean its opposite.

As it applies to “Job,” Satan continues his point, “Have you not surrounded him and his family and all that he has with your protection? You have Barack the work of his hands, and his livestock are spread over the land. Now put forth your hand and touch all that he has, and surely he will Barack you to your face.” Father Francisco, and by extension, Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez argue that in the first case, “Barack/Bless” is meant to be taken literally. In the second case, the context dictates “Barack,” must be taken as meaning its opposite.

Job chapter 1 ends, “Job said, “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked I go back there. The Personal Name gave and the Personal Name has taken away; Barack/blessed be the name of the Personal Name!” Job, according to the argument, again reverses course and uses Barack in its literal sense of “To Bless.”

The Great Accuser answers the Personal Name in chapter 2, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. Put forth your hand and touch his bone and his flesh. Surely he will Barack you to your face.” According to the Biblical commentators, the writer reverses himself again, and uses “Barack” in this alleged “Ironic Inversion.” Job’s wife also tells him, “Are you still holding to your innocence? Barack God and die!” The reason for doing using this “Ironic Inversion” is not clear. Hebrew does have a word meaning “To curse.”

The writer of Job uses it in chapter 3:1, “After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed /קַלֵּל his day.” The Septuagint translates Barack as “Eulogize.” It uses “κατηρασατο,” which means to curse. If Ironic Inversion applies here, why the Septuagint does not apply it is not clear. The Artscroll book of Job calls Ironic Inversion, “Euphemism.”

Using the K.I.S.S. Principle, instead of positing the writer moving back and forth in interpreting the same word to mean itself and its opposite, when the writer is aware of a perfectly legitimate word meaning the opposite of “Barack,” it makes more sense to posit that the writer means for Barack to mean the same in all cases.

This leaves the question, why does Satan say, “Now put forth your hand and touch all that he has, and surely he will Barack you to your face,” twice. Why does Job’s wife also tell Job that if he blesses God, he will die? Job says, “Job spoke out: Perish the day on which I was born, the night when they said, “The child is a boy!”

For Job, at this point in the story, dying would be a blessing. For Job’s wife, if Job dies, he takes his bad luck with him, and that is a blessing. More important, it sets up what for Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez is the main point of his work.

Our God is not a God who wants empty blessings. Our God is a God who wants us to get down and dirty with him and argue with him. Midrash states:

Rabbi Eliezer said: If the law is as I say, let it be proven from Heaven. A Heavenly voice then rang out and exclaimed: What do you want with Rabbi Eliezer, since the law is in agreement with him in all areas. Rabbi Yehoshua then got up on his feet and declared: ‘It [the Torah] is not in Heaven.’ What does ‘It is not in Heaven’ mean? Rabbi Yirmiyah said:

Since the Torah was already given at Sinai, we therefore pay no attention to Heavenly voices. After all, it is written in the Torah itself: ‘After the majority one must follow.’ Rabbi Nathan met Elijah the Prophet and asked him: What was God doing at that time [when His Heavenly voice was disregarded]? Elijah answered: He laughed and said: My children have triumphed over me. My children have triumphed over me.

Sholom Aleichem’s unforgettable character, Tevye the dairyman, had Job-like conversations with God: “O God, All-powerful and All-Merciful, great and good, kind and just, how does it happen that to some people you give everything and to others nothing?” Even in the middle of his prayer, Tevye would interject his own personal comments: “Thou sustainest the living with loving kindness, and, sometimes, with a little food.” Tevye could even be somewhat sarcastic at times: “With God’s help, I starved to death three times a day, not counting supper.”

In the Bible, we see even though God is perfect, He seems to accept and even welcome criticism. Abraham had the temerity to tell God: “Shall the Judge of the whole world not act justly?” This may God’s manifests his sense of irony by telling Abraham to name Isaac. Abraham laughed when he heard that he, a one-hundred-year-old man, and Sarah, his 90-year-old wife, would have a child. The Hebrew name Yitzchak means ‘he laughed,’ a strange name for an individual.

Job demanded to confront God and know the reason for all his suffering. Job angrily railed against the injustice that he perceived when he said, “He destroys the simple/Tam and the Russia/those who think themselves first.” God answered with magnificent sarcasm: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth.

God appears to enjoy negotiating with mortals. The most famous example is that of Abraham “haggling” with God to save Sodom and Gomorra from destruction:

Abraham: “What if there are 50 innocent people in the city? Will you still destroy it?”

God: “If I find 50 innocent people in Sodom, I will spare the entire area.”

Abraham: “Suppose there are 45?”

God: “I will not destroy it if I find 45.”

Abraham: “What if there are 40?’

God: ‘I will not act if there are forty.”

We see the same in relation to superiors in the New Testament. Mary, a poor woman from the Boondocks, tells Elizabeth, the rich woman whose husband qualifies to enter the Holy of Holies, “He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with nobility; the rich he has sent away empty.”

Elizabeth probably could not help but feel the comments were directed against her. A chapter later, Mary receives the same in kind, “When Jesus’ parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother asked him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” Jesus told them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” This shows the same clear argumentative style.

The Jewish tradition, which comes into the Catholic Christian tradition, is not that of a cold, stoic father figure who insists upon pure obedience. Rather, he is a warm, caring father figure who wants honesty. There is a proper time to bless God, and a proper time to argue with him.

There is a proper time to tell jokes with him and proper times to be his friend. During wild party times, it is not proper to bless God, as Job 1:4-5 relates. Times of suffering are not times to bless God either, at least without mentioning qualifications. “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked I will return; the Personal Name gave, and the Personal Name takes away;”

The point at question when discussing the proper meaning of “Barack” in Job is the very personality of God. It has ramifications in the way we counsel parishioners. Is God the Stoic high and Almighty, pure everything good, a god with no personality? Is God like us, brash on occasion, a caring father, a real character who wants to be down with us and be like us?

If God is the former, there is no room for debating with God. He is all knowing and has all the answers. If the latter, he might still be all knowing, but he gets down to our level and wants to hear our cries and our complaints. He wants us to yell at him when things are not going well. That is the very point of Job.

As the article, “Put the academics aside and your heart will tell you what the command of God is,” and Romans 2:14-15 tells us, God wrote the law and put it into our hearts. He expects us to use our understanding of the law. That means he wants us to confront him when things are not right, and do something about it.

“Barack” blessed be the name of the Personal Name. We therefore do not need to posit some “Ironic Inversion” to interpret the passage. Rather, let us have bold conversations with our God, scolding him when we think he needs it, joking with him when it is appropriate, and giving him a blessing when we are filled with joy. We then go out and rescue others, not to receive a reward, but because we have already received it.

The Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time helps us define Christian


Put to death the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, the greed that is idolatry. Stop lying to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator.

voiceSt. Paul, in this passage talks about a physical death. In baptism, and in the Eucharist, we die with Christ, and in baptism and the Eucharist, we rise with Christ. Our Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Second Reading tell us, “If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Gustavo Gutierrez, in his Book “On Job: God Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent” translates Job 17:15-16 in this way: “Where then is my hope? Who can see any happiness for me? Unless they come down to Sheol with me, all of us sink into the dust together.” He says it well. Unless we die with Christ, we cannot understand the suffering of others. Happily, through baptism and the Eucharist, we die with Christ; we suffer with him.

8919_1243228163516_2601477_nIf we fully participate in the Eucharist, if we really feel the pains of Jesus’ death, we rise with him, and we come to understand the suffering of others. St. Paul speaks of the identity of Idolatry in our second reading. St. Paul describes it in this way, “greed that is idolatry.”

Our Blessed Pope Francis also speaks of Idolatry. Faith by its very nature demands renouncing the immediate possession which sight would appear to offer; it is an invitation to turn to the source of the light, while respecting the mystery of a face, which will unveil itself personally in its own good time. Martin Buber once cited a definition of idolatry proposed by the rabbi of Kock: idolatry is “when a face addresses a face which is not a face. In place of faith in God, it seems better to worship an idol, into whose face we can look directly and whose origin we know, because it is the work of our own hands.

Courtesy Holy Land Pilgrimage  coin from 66-73 bce He goes on, “Before an idol, there is no risk that we will be called to abandon our security, for idols “have mouths, but they cannot speak” (Ps   115: 5). Idols exist, we begin to see, as a pretext for setting ourselves at the center of reality and worshiping the work of our own hands. Once man has lost the fundamental orientation, which unifies his existence, he breaks down into the multiplicity of his desires; in refusing to await the time of promise, his life-story disintegrates into a myriad of unconnected instants. Idolatry, then, is always polytheism, an aimless passing from one lord to another.

Idols are the work of our own hands. They are not necessarily something we posit that is out there, or up there, or down there. They are anything we make with our hands. They cause us to put ourselves at the center of all reality, because we posit ourselves, and not God as the force who made them. As Pope Francis states, our orientation breaks down into the multiplicity of our desires. We fail to see the big story of God’s creation and we focus on the short term, the myriad of unconnected instants. We pass from one lord, possession, to another.

dollar-billThe Jewish Creed comes from three places in Torah. Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Deuteronomy 11:13-21, and Numbers 15:37-41. The last is the most telling for our readings for Our Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time:

Speak to those who struggle with God; tell them that throughout their generations they are to make tassels for the corners of their garments, fastening a violet cord to each corner. When you use these tassels, the sight of the cord will remind you of all the Mitzvah of the Personal Name and you will do them, without prostituting yourself going after the desires of your hearts and your eyes.

You will remember to do my Mitzvah and you will be dedicated to your Almighty Judge. I, the Personal Name, am your Almighty Judge who brought you out of the land of מִצְרַיִם/Oppression/Egypt to be your Almighty Judge: I, the Personal Name, your Almighty Judge.

Going after the heart and the eyes is juxtaposed with God. It is either one or the other. Greed, putting possessions first, is idolatry. When we die with Christ, we put that away. We put on a new focus, being Christ like. That is what Christian means. It comes from Christ, with a stem meaning to be like-ian. To find out what that means, we need to read the Gospels to find out who Jesus was/is and what he did. Then we need to copy that.

Later in Colossians 3, St. Paul describes the Christian life, “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, dedicated and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and long suffering, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Personal Name forgives you, so must you also do for others. Over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection/Shalom. Let the peace/Shalom of Christ control your hearts, the /Shalom/ peace into which you were also called in one body. Be thankful/Eucharistw/Eucharist. This is what being Christian means.

Investigate the great sin of Sodom and see if we can find it in America


The Personal Name said: “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great, their deviation so grave, that I must go down and see whether or not their actions fully correspond to the cry against them that comes to me. I mean to find out.”

What is the crime that was so great, and the deviation so grave that God felt compelled to investigate it?

Entering RenoLook at the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were proud, sated with food, complacent in prosperity. They did not give any help to the poor and needy. Instead, they became arrogant and did things which made me nauseous and they did them before my face. As you have seen, I removed them. Ezekiel 16:49-50

Sherry's home at the ranchWhen the Personal Name saw how great the rot of human beings was on earth, and how every desire that their heart conceived was always nothing but rot, the Personal Name regretted making human beings on the earth, and his heart was grieved.

The Personal Name said: I will wipe out from the earth the human beings I have created, and not only the human beings, but also the animals and the crawling things and the birds of the air, for I regret that I made them. Genesis 6:5-6

The earth was mutilated before God, and the earth was filled with violence. God saw the earth, and, it was mutilated; for all flesh had mutilated their way upon the earth. Genesis 6:11-12

Hear the word of the Personal Name, princes of Sodom! Listen to the instruction of our God, people of Gomorrah! What do I care for the multitude of your sacrifices/Liturgies? says the Personal Name. I have had enough of holocausts and fat of fatlings. In the blood of calves, lambs, and goats I find no pleasure. Appearing before me, who asks these things of you?

Trample my courts no more! Bringing offerings is useless; incense is nauseating to me. New moon and Sabbath Services, calling assemblies, festive convocations with oppression, these I cannot bear. Your new moons and festivals I detest; they weigh me down, I tire of the load…I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood! Wash yourselves! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing rot; learn to do what satisfied me. Make correct judicial precedent your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow. Isaiah 1:10-17

This Mitzvah I give you today is not too wondrous or remote for you. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who will go up to the heavens to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may do it?” Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may do it?” No, it is something very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it. Deuteronomy 30:11

The deviation of Sodom and Gomorrah is not hard to find, in the valley of the Dead Sea, or in the United States, Nevada, or Reno. Sorry, conservatives, but Torah has far better quotes against homosexuality. Sodom and Gomorrah have nothing to do with it. Legalism has everything to do with Sodom and Gomorrah, not sexual behavior. Basic civility has everything to do with the place, not what goes on in the bedroom.

Compare last week’s reading with this reading. Abraham serves non-kosher food to angels and they are satisfied. The dietary laws of the nation are less important than civility to strangers. Now compare this to this week’s readings:

Before they bedded themselves, the townsmen of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to your house tonight? Bring them out to us that we may וְנֵדְעָה אֹתָם be crushed by them.” The נֵ in front of דְעָה makes it passive.

Lot went out to meet them at the entrance.

He shut the door behind him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not do this rotten thing! I have two daughters who have never יָדְעוּ אִישׁ known men. Let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you please. Do not do anything to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”

They replied, “Stand back! This man, came here as a resident alien, and now he dares to give orders! We will treat you worse than them!”

Notice the importance of “The shelter of my roof.” We have the civility of Lot and his dealings with his neighbors, men who view him as a resident alien, much as we view Hispanics and Muslims today, Irish, Italians, Poles, Jews, and others a century ago. Lot would treat guests in his home better than he would treat his own daughters. As a punishment of a kind, his daughters will know him, in the biblical way. His neighbors will not know his guests.

Like so many in our nation today, we see an extreme paranoia. These people do not like strangers coming into their city/nation. Lot brings three more, and this is the issue. “Sodom and her daughters were proud, sated with food, complacent in prosperity. They did not give any help to the poor and needy.

Instead, they became arrogant and did things which made me nauseous and they did them before my face.” This nation has plenty for all, if only we can learn to share. This lack of civility, of Sodom, of our rich and powerful in every time and place is the great deviation of Sodom, and no more.Cheeseburger

What some Bidoun fed strangers three millennium ago relates to how we read Torah


In our Cathedral in Reno Nevada we read the first reading and the Gospel reading and find one very powerful thing in common.

Abraham rushed into the tent and told Sarah, “Quick, three measures of fine flour! Knead it and make rolls.”

He ran to the herd, picked out a tender, choice steer, and gave it to a servant, who quickly prepared it.

Abraham got some curds and milk, as well as the steer that had been prepared, and set these before the three men. He waited on them under the tree while they ate.

Sarah is much like Mary in this story and Abraham is so much like Martha. Abraham has to push Sarah to kneed the flour, as she is more interested in what the men, the messengers of God have to say. There is something more going on here, and it is in what Abraham chooses to serve his guests. After all, why should we care what a Bidoun Arab served guests three millennium ago? Bidoun is Arabic for homeless, and Abraham was at that point a wondering, stateless, Arab, from what is now Basra Iraq.

Cheeseburger

You will not boil a young animal (Gadi) in its mother’s milk.

You will not slaughter an ox or a sheep on one and the same day with its young.

If, while walking along, you come across a bird’s nest with young birds or eggs in it, in any tree or on the ground, and the mother bird is sitting on them, you will not take away the mother bird along with her brood.

Jews do not serve meat and milk products together to this day, and this is the reason. Also, it teaches us to be humane, and not serve mother and child together. The problem with the rule as doctrine is that it tends to replace the meaning for the rule.

As related in the article, “Its over so eat your chickenfeed forget Travyon Martin and the Zimmerman Trial,” Jesus confronts the young scholar using the parable. Dogma may be in the head of the legal scholar, but the truth is in his heart, and Jesus is about to put it in his mouth. Over time, dogma comes to trump reality, what we see with our eyes, hear with our ears, and feel with our own skin. A teaching designed to teach kindness even to animals has become a stale, cold dietary law. The writer of this story about the birth of Isaac, confronts this.

Abraham serves the three messengers of God, a non-Kosher meal and they do not object. As Christians, we like to speak of the Gospel truth. We quote the Bible chapter and verse like it is a law book. We refer to Torah, as law. “Torah,” in Hebrew, does not mean “Law,” but “Teaching.” There is an important difference.

We quote Deuteronomy 5: Moses told unto them: Hear, Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and observe to do them.”

This is a bad translation, The Hebrew, הַחֻקִּים, does not translate as “Statute,” a legal term, but as custom. “הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים,” does not translate as “Ordinance,” but as “Judicial Precedent.” Think of Ruth, chapter four. Boaz goes to the gate with the other elders in the community and, as a community; they decide the case of Ruth. This is “הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים,” not the US Supreme Court.

This brings us to the first reading. Most scholars now agree that one of the twists of fate, Deuteronomy, which means “Second Giving of the Law,” was probably the first one given. Torah, the Five Books of Moses, is generally divided into three parts, Halacha, or “Walk,” Haggadah, or story, and Midrash, or interpretation. Deuteronomy, or “Walk,” probably came first. Then came the story to back up, and in the case of our first reading, contradict, the “Walk” of cold dietary law.

Israel does not mean, Ish are, El, or “Upright of God,” but “Ishar, El,” “Struggles with God.” Torah is the history of that struggle, as a community. It is full of contradictions; several different groups are engaged in debate in Torah, as to who God is and what he wants. It is a dynamic text, relating the dynamics of that struggle, and we need to read it that way.

Abraham’s feeding a non-kosher meal to angels relates part of the dynamics of that struggle. The writers of Torah as we have it were in dialectic/dialogue. To truly understand Torah we must enter that dialogue.

Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Adonis, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.”

Adonis replied, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

One important hint, “Martha,” in Hebrew is the perfect tense of the verb, “Mary,” or “Teacher.” Both women have the same name. Martha is that part of us that wants statutes and the ordinances.

Mary is that part of us who wants Torah, teachings, things to meditate upon, narratives that teach things, and not required walks down some straight, “Iashar,” path. Mary desires to enter into the dialogue, and that means spending time with the text and the 120 writers who wrote it.

food laws

Statutes and ordinances are easy. Learning from Hagaddah and Aesop’s Fables, the customs and traditions of a people two to four thousand years and seven thousand miles distance from us takes time. Mary chose the better path, and it will not be taken from her. We err in not taking her path ourselves.

Its over so eat your chicken feed and forget Travyon Martin


When this writer was growing up he would often travel the 318 some odd miles from Levittown, PA to Vandgergrift, in the same state. When we would arrive, we would visit Aunt Bess, Uncle Dean, Margie, Sherlie, Robin and across the street, Aunt Betty, Uncle Sai, Debbie, Diane, Doris, and Danny. The hike across the street and up the hill on Uncle Sai’s property was well worth the trip. Aunt Betty made the best chicken. The spices were just right, not too hot, and not too bland.

Red hens courtesy Examiner Cheryl Hanna

Today, for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Father Matthew related a similar story of his growing up, from the standpoint of the chickens Aunt Betty and Uncle Sai were raising in their back yard, as my grandfather, Uncle Sai’s dad raised before him. Every Sunday, and every time we came to visit, Uncle Sai would go into the backyard, grab one of the chickens, and snap its neck. As Father Matthew related, the other chickens would understand the horror of losing one of their own. After some time, they would then go about eating their chicken feed. After all, Aunt Betty and Uncle Sai did take good care of them, only buying the best chickenfeed, building the best roosts, and the like. It is the same in our world.

Every once in a while we do lose one of our own, whether it be Rodney King, Yoshihiro Hattori, Timothy Thomas, Lt. William Calley and My Lai, the students at UC Davis, the students at Kent State University, those killed in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory, the Bangladesh factory collapse, the Hamlet fire, Katrina, the Deep Water Horizon, where ten died, and many, many more. Sadly, we sometimes lose one of our own who is unarmed at the hands of establishment folk, who get away with it. We see this in the case of the first three cases above and in the case of Travyon Martin. Father Matthew asked why we choose to go back to eating our chicken feed. It is a good question.

APTOPIX ICELAND VOLCANOSometimes, we find the system just too big and powerful to take on. That may be one of the reasons the Pharisees and the Sadducees in our Gospel reading, the story of the scholar of the law, choose not to confront Imperial Rome. Those of us in the American Middle Class find it easier to live our middle-class lifestyle than to confront injustice when we see it. It was Gertrude this week, not me, why bother. We forget that the generous people who give us those nice jobs this week, might just be fattening us up for next week.

There is another, more important reason, that brings us to the first reading for this Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary time. That is the importance of Dogma, Doctrine, in Hebrew, Halakha, or walk, Torah or teaching. It is the code, written and unwritten by which we live our lives, sometimes conservative, and sometimes liberal. We love to live by this, and not what we see around us. Our first reading tells us:

This Mitzvah which I give you today is not too wondrous or remote for you. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who will go up to the heavens to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may do it?” Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may do it?” No, it is something very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.

declaration-of-independenceThe scholar tries to make excuses for what he is doing. He tries to hide behind the very legal code written to protect us, to protect himself what is right and wrong. Jewish tradition told the young scholar that he was not to go next to a corps. The priests and the levites were therefore liturgically correct in not approaching the man on the road. Jesus confronts the young scholar using the parable. Jesus confronts the young scholar using the parable. Dogma may be in his head, but the truth is in his heart, and Jesus is about to put it in his mouth.

I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live. The command, the Mitzvah, is to always choose life. It is just that simple. The Mitzvah is to choose life from conception to the grave. This is what the evil Samaritan does. He is not so evil after all. He knows to choose life, and this is the essence of the true Torah.

We see the same in the Travyon Martin story and in all the other tragedies mentioned above, and not mentioned. When we strip away the excuses and look at the incident with our own eyes, and our hearts instead of our dogma and our heads, we learn the correct answer, “choose life!” If we let this one go, Uncle Sai will be back next Sunday, or the next Sunday those strange people in that Rambler American station wagon show up.

Father Matthew also mentioned Matthew 25:31-Matthew 26:1, the Address to the Nations. “As you do to the least of these, you did it to me.” We see the same excuse making, in this story, as with the young scholar, “Adonoi, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?”

“We chose to hole ourselves up in our suburban neighborhoods and not see you hungry, thirsty, or in prison.” The minorities are not like us. We choose not to see them. They live over there. They are not my problem. We choose not to see that Matthew 26:1 begins the Passion. As we do to the least of our brothers, we do it to Jesus himself.

Father Matthew was mistaken on one key point. He chose the standard “dogma” which says none of us are worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven. This is standard Pauline dogma. The truth is that we are all worthy, but not because of something we did or did not do. In this point he is correct.

We know that what the law/Torah/teaching says is addressed to those under Torah, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world stand accountable to God, since no human being will be a Tzaddic/charitable/just in his sight by observing Torah; for through Torah comes consciousness of deviation. The Tzaddicim/charity of God has been manifested apart from the Torah, though testified to by Torah and prophets. Romans 3:19

Dogma, Torah, the Law, does not save us. Teddy Kennedy, quoted below, explained what does. Justification, becoming a Tzaddic, just, righteous, charitable before God, does not come from dogma, doctrine, right wing or left wing. Tzaddic comes from Deuteronomy 30. It comes from looking with our eyes and seeing wrong and trying to right it, seeing suffering and trying to heal it, seeing war and trying to stop it.

The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects. Rather it will belong to those who can blend vision, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of American Society.

Courtesy Holy Land Pilgrimage  Jordon RiverOur future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny. There is pride in that, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth. In any event, it is the only way we can live.”

For the fortunate among us, there is the temptation to follow the easy and familiar paths of personal ambition and financial success so grandly spread before those who enjoy the privilege of education. This is being content with our chickenfeed. But that is not the road history has marked out for us.

Like it or not, we live in times of danger and uncertainty. But they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history. All of us will ultimately be judged, and as the years pass we will surely judge ourselves on the effort we have contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which our ideals and goals have shaped that event.

“What it really all adds up to is love — not love as it is described with such facility in popular magazines, but the kind of love that is affection and respect, order and encouragement, and support. Our awareness of this was an incalculable source of strength, and because real love is something unselfish and involves sacrifice and giving, we could not help but profit from it.”