Throughout Holy Week, the Revised Common
Lectionary readings for all three years focus on the Gospel
of John, and the Servant Songs of Isaiah. The readings are
carefully selected to show that Jesus is God’s Son, the Anointed One,
known and ordained by God from the beginning of time to suffer and die
for the sins of humanity, as foretold by the Prophet Isaiah. The
writer of John’s Gospel intensifies his proof that Jesus is the Christ,
the Anointed One, the eternal Logos, the Word of God known from the
beginning of time, and the light of the world.
Over the next two weeks, this Holy Week series assumes particular
answers to the four questions for the apocalypse, which have defined Liberal Christian
Commentary for the past 4 years.
1) What is the nature of God? Violent or non-violent?
2) What is the nature of Jesus’ message? Inclusive or exclusive?
3) What is faith? Literal belief, or trust and commitment to the
great work of distributive justice-compassion?
4) What is deliverance? Salvation from hell, or liberation from
“God” here is non-theistic, and “kenotic.”
“emptiness.” As a Christian term it has been defined as in
Philippians 2:6-7: “. . . although [the Anointed] was born in the image
of God, [he] did not regard “being like God” as something to use for
his own advantage, but rid himself of such vain pretension and accepted
a servant’s lot. . . . [H]e was born like all human beings . . .”
forthcoming from Polebridge Press [October 2010]) In John Dominic
Crossan’s words, a kenotic god
is “the beating heart of the Universe, whose presence is justice and
life, and whose absence is injustice and death” (John Dominic Crossan
and Jonathan L. Reed, In Search of Paul: How Jesus’s
Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom, Harper
SanFrancisco, 2004, pp. 288-291). In these commentaries, that
“god” is the creative force that both contains and is contained by the
In answer to the questions, the nature of that force is nonviolent;
Jesus’s message is inclusive. Faith is trust in an inclusive,
non-violent universe. The context for human personal, social, and
political life then becomes a Covenant with justice and life, and
commitment to the ongoing struggle for liberation from injustice.
Civilization defines justice as retribution – payback; an eye for an
eye. But the deeper meaning of justice is fair
distribution. “Distributive justice” usually is narrowly defined
as the fair distribution of wealth. But here the meaning is both
wider and deeper to include the fair distribution of justice. Far
beyond economics, as the rain falls on the good, the bad, and the ugly
without partiality, distributive justice shows no partiality for any
particular human condition. Human civilizations have not used that
definition except in cases where there is clearly injustice if
partiality enters the picture. The classic example in the United
States is that if you are rich, white, and male your chances of serving
jail time for possessing cocaine is an order of magnitude less than if
you are poor, black, and female, charged with possessing
marijuana. Occasionally there is a reversal of this pattern, as
when an over-zealous
North Carolina prosecutor trumped up a case of gang rape of
a black stripper against a championship team of white LaCrosse
players. In either case, distributive justice is at work –
although in a negative sense.
The positive understanding of distributive justice is contained in the
term distributive justice-compassion.
The normal development of civilizations has historically led to systems
for assuring safety and security of citizens. But as any reader
of Charles Dickens must be aware, those systems often exclude the poor,
the uneducated, those who are presumed to have no economic or social
power (women, minorities). Members of societies who are denied
access to those powers often become ensnared in activities deemed
anti-social or criminal in order to survive. Distributive
justice-compassion would not demand payback or retribution for such
activities, but would provide solutions: reeducation, rehabilitation,
redress of grievances.
Distributive justice-compassion holds sway in the Covenant relationship
with the non-violent, inclusive, kenotic
realm or Kingdom of God. Justice as
holds sway in the normal march of humanity into civilization. The
short-hand term for the seemingly inevitable systems of injustice that
are the result of that march is “Empire.”
See especially the
work of Jesus
Seminar scholars John Dominic Crossan and
J. Borg for a thorough discussion of these concepts.
The context for the above four questions of the apocalypse is the post-modern era of the late 20th
and early 21st Centuries. Generally, historians speak about time
in terms of premodern, modern, and post-modern. Pre-modern refers
to the time before the Enlightenment and Descartes. The Modern
era (post-Enlightenment) lasted for about 350 years. During that
time, God was a separate being or entity, who created the universe, and
proclaimed humanity to be the fulfillment of God’s creativity.
The “post-modern” era might be argued to have actually begun with
Charles Darwin. But regardless of the timing, “post-modern” means
the time in which humanity began and continues to deal with the nature
of the Universe as science has defined it. “God” as a separate
being who intervenes in human life from “heaven” somewhere beyond
Antares no longer makes intellectual sense.
This leads to another term that has migrated from post-modern science
into post-modern spiritual and religious language. Cosmology means the science or
theory of the universe. But the term as used by Rev. Dr. Matthew
Fox in his ground-breaking theology of original blessing
goes beyond the scientific. Cosmology for Fox means humanity’s
intellectual understanding of the nature of the universe.
“Cosmology” as Fox (and this writer, among others) uses the term can
describe the mind-set of pre-modern, modern, and post-modern people, as
each of these evolutions of human thought has understood our place in
and our relationship to the universe, and God.
If, as John
Shelby Spong argues, Christianity is to have any relevance
at all to post-modern spirituality, changes in focus and metaphor must
be made. This series of essays for Holy Week calls for a change
in paradigm, and points toward a beginning.
Friday and Holy Saturday