The Servant Song from Isaiah (42:1-7) describes the messiah as one who would bring justice to the nations. Justice and mercy (chesed) are the key biblical values. Justice denotes right order. The messiah will restore right order-the right order that was lost in the Garden. Chesed is the ever-abiding love and presence of God.
The last part of the song was on the scroll Jesus read in the synagogue. It was the core of his inaugural address. Jesus clearly identified, not with a kingly, military Davidic messiah, but rather with a Servant messiah—a messiah who would suffer, who would overcome sin and death through the cross.
We still have problems with our messianic expectations of God today. We know a nonviolent God of Peace. Yet, much of the world and many political leaders reject our concept as Sunday School pablum. For them, God is a mighty warrior—a tribal chief. God is on our side. Manifest destiny requires America to dominate the world so as to instill biblical and democratic values. We just received an email exhorting all Catholics to pray the rosary for peace on Good Friday afternoon between certain hours. I have no problem with people praying for peace in any mode with which they are comfortable. However, the rationale for this was that God delivered the Christians from the Turks when the Christians prayer the rosary. With this, I have a problem. God is not much more than a tribal warmonger.
Why the political commentary? It is Holy Week. This is the week when we are reminded what happened when Gospel values collided head on with the values of Empire. Jesus was not overcome by Empire. He overcame Empire. In the person, power and presence of the Risen Jesus, we are called to work for justice, to restore right order and to bring God’s mercy to all people.
Finding ways to eliminate nuclear weapons is one step toward restoring right order in a world gone mad. Until we do that, how will we have credibility with the little guys in the world who want to have what we have-nuclear weapons? Time has come to apply Gospel values and to agree with the increasing number of theologians who believe that having nuclear weapons and using them as a deterrent is immoral. It is time for America to embrace Gospel values and to become, once again, a light for the world-a light of peace, justice, and hope.
Today’s reading from John (12:1-111) has Jesus eating with Lazarus, Martha and Mary. Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead and people are coming to believe in him. Coupled with the cleansing of the Temple, the raising of Lazarus sealed Jesus’ fate. The priestly officials and the Roman bureaucrats knew he was dangerous. He was undermining all their wrong thinking and misguided values. If he kept on, he could bring down the Empire and priestly estate. Horrors!
Wes Howard-Brook (Becoming Children of God: John’s Gospel and Radical Discipleship) points out something in this passage that I have never noticed:
Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany,
where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served. . .
He suggests that the word used for meal (deipnon) may indicate something more than an ordinary supper. It may indicate, in the mind of the Johannine Community, that this was seen as a Eucharistic meal in which Martha is the “minister.” Who said there were not women ministers in the early church?
The focus today is on the anointing of Jesus’ feet by Mary. Again, the greed crowd represented by Judas swings into action. Why waste this? It could have been sold. We could have given the money to the poor.
Right! Unfortunately, a misinterpretation of Jesus’ response has been used throughout the centuries as an excuse for not doing anything to alleviate poverty. That is the wrong interpretation. Jesus is simply saying, “Let her prepare me for my death and burial. You will have plenty of other opportunities to care for the poor who are ever present in your communities.”
We need to eliminate the injustice of poverty. God wants every person to have what he or she needs to live a decent life in relationship to God. This is not socialism. It is Gospel values lived out in our social and political lives. Everything is gift. The resources of creation are for the benefit of all. Injustice comes when people hoard resources in silos while others languish in hunger and poverty.
WWJD? Jesus would redistribute the wealth and restore justice. Today, leaders will seek to neutralize and/or eliminate disciples who take this Gospel challenge seriously. The power brokers will denounce disciples as fuzzy headed liberals, socialists, or communists. The events of this Holy Week assure us that, in the end, Gospel values will trump the values of Empire. Peace will trump war. Justice will trump structural violence. Love will trump hate. Mercy will trump judgment. God will prevail—on behalf of all humanity.