I was hoping the missile launched by James today might whiz by me and skewer some other hapless target. After all who’s rich? Bill Gates. David Beckham. Queen Elizabeth. Not me. Not you.
But here’s James’ description of the rich: they have stuff enough to store; they have enough to live in comfort; they have enough economic clout to drive a hard bargain; they have blood on their hands.
The first three make me wriggle a little. The last shakes me to the core. Because globally speaking I know I am rich and I know I’m part of a world economy that coolly sacrifices the distant poor for my sake. I’m not bringing in the big bucks but I’m wound into the web of it all. And I don’t know a way out. I do have blood on my hands. And James sees that double tragedy: first the sacrificed poor and the world we ravage for profit and fear; and second we who buy our safety only to find we have bought a corrosive fire to eat at our souls.
Gehenna. Gehenna or life, says Jesus: choose. Gehenna is hell. Where the fires never go out. That was meant literally because Gehenna was the Holy City’s dump where all the rubbish was taken for burning and burial. A perfect image for a Jewish hell—the stink, the flames, the sheer un-kosher-ness of it all. Yet after all a city’s commerce has to make some waste, every economy has its costs… There’s a darker memory to disturb us though, buried layers deep, from generations ago when the valley of Gehenna was where Jerusalem took its children to sacrifice to satisfy a hungry God. Past and present, the prosperity of Jerusalem was built on the bones of its slaughtered children, the little ones, the expendable, the poor.
That’s indeed an image for hell. But it’s an image for our daily life and trade too. Just beneath the surface of our struggle and our comfort, our prudence and our profligacy, underneath our economic life there is a sacrifice. A price we pay—or let others pay—for our security.
Is there no way out of that? No way to live justly? No way to wash the blood from our hands?
Jesus seems to say there is. At least he offers that choice: Gehenna or life…
Security and sacrifice both stand on fear. But James and Jesus seem to see differently: what we think makes us safe is what we should be fearing. And what we do fear— a threatening future or a God who wants sacrifice —is all an illusion. Let go your hold, Jesus seems to say, and trust the God who holds you safe. He even did it for us first—let go and lived free—even to the point of death.
What would the world be like if we took him at his word?
And what we do fear— a threatening future or a God who wants sacrifice —is all an illusion.
The threatening God of the OT … on the one of the blog, discussing the death penalty, someone (I think a priest) posted this about the Father …
Check out the death of Onan (Genesis 3, the slaughter of Egypt’s first born (Exodus 11), the ban of Jerico (Joshua 6) and of Ai (Joshua for a sampling of God killing men directly or indirectly through Israel. Or even
worse, the dreadful punishments given the unfaithful and unjust as related in Matthew 25 and Revelations (“The second death,” Rev 20:6).
The way of the Beatitudes is the preferred way for the disciple of Christ. Nonetheless, it is not a teaching that is absolutized in Catholic Tradition nor is it something that binds God either as He seeks to maintain justice in this world and in the next.
He is scary! Sometimes I think I’d fit into that heresy of Marcionism 🙂
Rob – Thanks for this blog, it has really stirred me. When you say ‘wound into the web of it all’ – that’s how i find myself when reflecting on this. Interesting that you used the term ‘web’. I imagine getting tangled up in a big spider’s web. But if we think about it, individual threads in that web aren’t very strong on their own. If we cut the web, one thread at a time, after a while there won’t be much web remaining. The web is daunting, but individual threads aren’t.
Personally, I think that a lot of people get overwhelmed by the web because we’re sold this vision of perfection. And when overwhelmed, it’s easy to shut down and give up. But if we bring our focus to the threads, working them one by one, consistently and pervasively (i.e. the whole church), then that is manageable. It’s a process, and I think Ignatian Spirituality recognizes this and is a great method of working that process.
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