Today we invite you to explore Jesus’s culturally and historically specific “folk wisdoms,” and the theology of Jon Sobrino; engage Pope Francis’s writing on community and solidarity in Fratelli tutti; and consider embodying these teachings through the Berrigan brothers and mutual aid work.
YHWH told Moses to tell whole Israelite community these things:
Be holy, for I, YHWH, am holy.
Do not nurse hatred for a neighbor .
If you are angry with your neighbor, speak frankly about it,
to avoid storing up ill feelings.
Never seek revenge or hold a grudge toward your relatives.
You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.
I am YHWH”.
Response: Happy are they who walk in Your Law.
Happy are they whose way is blameless, / who walk in Your Law.
Happy are they who observe Your decrees, / who seek You with all their heart.
R: Happy are they who walk in Your Law.
You have commanded that Your precepts / be diligently kept.
Oh, that I might be firm in the ways / of keeping Your statutes!
R: Happy are they who walk in Your Law.
Be good to Your faithful one, / that I may live and keep Your words.
Open my eyes, / that I may consider the wonders of Your Law.
R: Happy are they who walk in Your Law.
Instruct me, O God, in the way of Your statutes, / that I may exactly observe them.
Give me discernment, that I may observe Your Law / and keep it with all my heart.
R: Happy are they who walk in Your Law.
Are you not aware that you are the temple of God,
and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
If you destroy God’s temple, God will destroy you —
for the temple of God is holy, and you are that temple.
Do not delude yourselves.
Any who think themselves wise in a worldly way had better become fools.
In that way you will really be wise,
for the wisdom of this world is absurdity with God — as scripture says,
“God knows how empty are the arguments of the wise;”
and again, “God is not convinced by the arguments of the wise.”
So there is nothing to boast about in anything human,
whether it be Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future —
all these are yours, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
Jesus said to the disciples,
“You have heard the commandment,
‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
But I tell you, offer no resistance whatsoever when you are confronted with violence.
When someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer the other.
If anyone wants to sue you for your shirt, hand over your coat as well.
Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go two miles.
Give to those who beg from you.
And do not turn your back on those who want to borrow from you.
“You have heard it said,
‘Love your neighbor — but hate your enemy.’
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.
This will prove that you are children of God.
For God makes the sun to rise on bad and good alike;
God’s rain falls on the just and the unjust.
If you love those who love you, what merit is there in that?
Do tax collectors not do as much?
And if you greet only your sisters and brothers, what is so praiseworthy about that?
Do Gentiles not do as much?
Therefore be perfect, as Abba God in heaven is perfect.”
The Inclusive Lectionary © 2022 FutureChurch. All rights reserved.
The inclusive language psalms:
Leach, Maureen, O.S.F. and Schreck, Nancy, O.S.F., Psalms Anew: A Non-sexist Edition
(Dubuque, IA: The Sisters of St. Francis, 1984).
Used with permission.
The sayings from today’s Gospel may be the most cliché in the entire Bible. They have become ubiquitous, and thus have become deradicalized. With historical context, perhaps we can revive them. Using scholar John Dominic Crossan, and theologian Jon Sobrino, we can see how Jesus wanted us to rebel in everyday life.
In Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, Crossan explains how, in ancient times, you would only ever slap someone (usually a master slapping a laborer) with the back of your hand. However, once you slapped someone, if they were to turn their cheek, a second slap would mean the slapper would be touching them with the palm of their hand (try recreating it with a friend!). The trick is, embracing someone with your palm was reserved only for beloveds, and more specifically, people that one would leave an inheritance. In another example from our readings, a Roman soldier was only allowed to ask someone to carry their things for one mile, so to offer to carry for two would involve the soldier facing consequences. What becomes enlightening here is that Jesus seemingly chose to rebel in every sector of life. He was not just a revolutionary giving rousing speeches and stoically whipping cords in the temple – he was an everyday pest, gumming up the daily workings of the empire, his “folk wisdoms.”
The Jesus we see in the Gospels is consistent with the concrete and liberatory message of the Bible. Jesus cares in his salvific core about the material liberation of the people he was siding with, this “siding with” making his commitment clear. Jesus is not just siding with the poor and the marginalized before God or before Augustus Caesar, but he is standing with the poor in the realities of everyday life – when they are being abused by their masters, and used by the Roman army. He is standing with them and saying, “Rebel!”
Jesus is not only standing with the people, but standing against the Roman Empire, and the slave conditions of the time. This Jesus reminds me of the Jesus that beloved Salvadorean liberation theologian, Jon Sobrino, paints in his Jesus the Liberator: A Historical Theological Reading of Jesus of Nazareth. Sobrino and his communities found within the Gospels a Jesus who, translated into today’s world, would have taken the side of the poor and fought for liberation against the side of property and capital, because that’s what he did in the world he lived in. This Jesus had been speaking to the church communities on the ground in Latin America long before Sobrino wrote this theology.
Sobrino is well aware of the reality that Jesus took stands throughout history. He notices that European Christologies often reduce Jesus to both an abstraction and a reconciler. Here, what Sobrino means by an abstraction is the reduction of the person of Jesus to a spiritual being who will save our souls in the end, instead of someone who took a strict material stand with the poor, against the rich. He writes of this conciliatory European Jesus: “The practical consequences of this have been to produce an image of Christ devoid of the real conflict of history and Jesus’ stand on it, which has encouraged quietist or ultra-pacifist ideologies and support for anything going by the name ‘law and order,’” (16).
So, what do we do with the rest of the Gospel? The famous line about loving your enemy? Well, it seems Jesus and Sobrino are both clear that we should, “defend the poor and [issue] a radical call on their oppressors to be converted,” (16). That call is the love that Jesus demands of us when he asks us to love our enemies. Liberation for all, including our enemies. Not silence, or the classic, passive rendering of “turning the other cheek.” But, if we refuse to create an abstraction of Jesus, we must also refuse to create an abstraction of our taking sides. This cannot be a purely ideological fight. It must be material rebelling. Find the cracks in the society around you and poke holes in them. Jump the turnstile. With consent, help out when a neighbor in a tent is getting swept by sanitation services. Join your local liberatory group. Defend drag shows. Most importantly, do these things in community with your comrades. Rebel in every aspect of life, because every aspect of life needs liberation. Needs salvation.
Above, I tried to break open the Gospel passages to see what exactly a historical Jesus and his “folk wisdoms” would be pointing at today. I found myself reflecting on this act of small scale rebellion, of becoming a nuisance, and it led me to reflect on how joining in on these things is also an act of solidarity. This solidarity is something Jon Sobrino talks about beautifully and fiercely. The aforementioned “taking sides.”
In the papal encyclical Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis discusses this “solidarity,” saying, “At a time when everything seems to disintegrate and lose consistency, it is good for us to appeal to the ‘solidity’ born of the consciousness that we are responsible for the fragility of others as we strive to build a common future.” It is through this solidarity, and making solid of relationships and networks, specifically workers’ relationships to one another, that there is revolutionary possibility. After all, the action of physical abuse, the taking of cloaks, and asking people to carry your stuff a mile, are minute actions that empire uses to cause instability in people’s lives. These actions of disruption and displays of force cause instability by taking people’s time, and threatening their physical well being – like the policing of modern day subway fare evaders, or a homeless encampment sweep. They are violent ways to ensure people’s lives stay within a zone of financial and material instability, stealing people’s time and peace of mind. So, what is needed to help fight against these actions of instability is the solidity, the solidarity, that Francis is talking about. This solidarity is needed to be shown through the acts of small rebellion that are Jesus’s “folk wisdoms.”
What is also enlightening to me in Fratelli tutti is Pope Francis’s reflection on the act of building a future together. It is through this solidarity that people, in community, are able to give themselves agency over their own communal future – a future with no more abuse from masters, no more cloak-taking, and no more military at all. It is a future where Jon Sobrino’s communities aren’t oppressed by the companies that are extracting resources and exploiting people for slave labor in their countries. Through the solidarity and definitive side-taking that Jesus, Sobrino, and Francis are pointing to, comes the political agency and the ability for a community to decide their future for themselves. For Francis specifically, this is the task of creating a “new humanity.” He writes: “… if we accept the great principle that there are rights born of our inalienable human dignity, we can rise to the challenge of envisaging a new humanity. We can aspire to a world that provides land, housing and work for all.” Francis calls this the path of peace, the path of making humanity anew.
I would like to invite you to reflect on the ways in which you have seen state power demonstrated in your lifetime: deployment of police onto crowds of protestors; sweeps of homeless tent encampments by your local sanitation department; anti-loitering laws and enforcement; or the slow debilitating force of too-large-to-pay student or medical debt. What do these things make you feel? Do they make you feel alienated? Ripped away from the networks of care you maybe once had? Do you feel any solidarity in this all?
I then want you to focus on the word “solidarity,” and phrase, “standing with.” How can your community be in solidarity, and stand with the people who are the victims of this state violence? Is your community being preyed on? How can you become a nuisance? How can you ensure that your life is enmeshed with the life of the oppressed? What would it look like for you and your community to break from the alienation and atomization our economy demands, to stand with others and against the forces of power, capital, and property? What are folk wisdoms your community has learned that you can share, and what are folk wisdoms you would like to learn?
How can you deepen your roots in the communities you are a part of, and how can you stretch your branches to the communities that need your solidarity?
One of the first radical Catholics I ever encountered was Daniel Berrigan, S.J. Most known for his radical activism with his brother Phil Berrigan, Dan fervently believed in the strength of direct action and the importance of solidarity. Together, the Berrigan brothers embodied what it meant to be a nuisance in every sense of the word.
By burning draft cards and founding the Plowshares Movement, they ensured that they would be resisting the warmongering government for years to come. The special thing about the Berrigan brothers is that they insisted on doing all of this in community. They knew individual actions were not much more than useless. It is the community in full, offering a different way of relating to the world, that acts when the need bubbles up. It is in the community, attuned to the world. The Berrigan brothers fully believed in these actions of radical solidarity.
If you live in or around New York City, you may be well aware of the burgeoning mutual aid scene popping up in nearly every neighborhood throughout the five boroughs. This organizing creates incredible spaces of horizontal encounter, or anti-hierarchical community. They attempt, at best, to create blips of autonomous zones, places where people can feel safe for a second from the police and bosses, in either rented out spaces or in public parks.
They usually involve collecting and distributing the necessities of life like food, clothing, and money. Like Jesus in the gospel, and Jon Sobrino in his liberation theology, at some point what they are truly trying to do is to pierce through the economic order and brute force of society to create different ways of relating to each other – to create a world built less on fear of scarcity, and more on the embrace of abundance. In my experience, these mutual aid groups often have aspects of communal education or skill sharing.
Autonomous zones like these are any anarchists’ dream, and at the same time, create a space where hopefully people can feel temporary relief from the oppressive forces of the city and its economic order. I would implore you to try and find a mutual aid group in your area and get involved! If there are not any, perhaps you could get with your friends and start one of your own! A great resource to begin with is Mutual Aid by Dean Spade.
In this song, the Silver Jews band member David Berman sings with his then-wife Cassie Berman about the simple act of dreaming of a place built on the foundation of solidarity and love. This dreaming involves the story of a man, completely anonymous, who makes the simple decision to always take the side of, “The Poor, the Fair, and the Good.” It’s an old reference to the play by Douglas Jerrod, Black-Eyed Susan; or, All in the Downs, that turns on its head the bourgeois sense that the rich are moral and upright and the poor are immoral. It is the simplicity of the decision that the man takes and he makes it and, “rises like a lion to line himself with the poor, the fair, and the good,” that reminded me of the Gospel passages of today, and the Jesus that Sobrino was trying to paint for us.
Song: “The Poor, the Fair, and the Good,” by the Silver Jews from the 2005 album Tanglewood Numbers.