Week of Sunday May 4 - Easter 3
Gospel: Luke 24:13-35
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’19He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
From the Sunday Litany at Hare Street:
Grant to our nation
a clear sense of justice
at this time when we spend billions on armaments,
but signal that we shall cut compassion
for the poor and the elderly
and continue to imprison innocent children.
We pray for our Prime Minister, Tony Abbott,
and for his cabinet ministers.
May they remember
they are elected not to serve the rich and powerful
but for the good of all God's people.
It is a truism to say that history is written by the victors. The trouble is that we assent to this as though history were something ancient, and something from which we are in some way separate or above. But history is now. It is today that the victors are writing the history of now.
In Australia we have a Budget Emergency!!!. It is the eternal shtick of the party which has just won government to claim that it has inherited a "fiscal black hole" which has been hidden by the previous government. This is used to justify the breaking promises and to force through less popular policy. The victors are already writing history.
Treasurer Hockey is reciting his mantra of Budget Emergency!!! to soften us up for the coming Federal Budget. We are expecting cuts to pensions, to the NDIS, the watering down of bulk billing for Medicare, and so on. All this while we are sucking up to the Americans and buying 58 dodgy fighter planes that no one wants or needs.
Much less reported is the question of just what changing the pension age would do for the current budget emergency; it will have no effect for years, and whether we even have a budget emergency caused by social welfare payments.
As this was being discussed on Radio National's Sunday Extra yesterday, the compere introduced an economist who has calculated that if we removed the tax breaks on our (compulsory in Australia) superannuation contributions, we could pay everyone the pension, increase the pension, and significantly improve the budget bottom line almost immediately. This suggestion by him and his colleague has mostly been ignored. "Why?" asked the compere.
"Well, because it would work!" he said.
We don't want to solve the budget crisis. We need a budget crisis so that the rich can stay rich, and not have to pay the taxes which are their ethical responsibility as the wealthy and secure of the nation. Similarly, the only reason we don't have a mining tax is because the rich don't want to pay their fair share. And that all might have something to do with Mr. Hockey's shortage of money.
The victors in Australia are the rich, and the political parties of the rich, and they are writing history as they wish it to be. Which includes that the poor are undeserving, a drain on society, and are poor because of their own actions.
If you can write this history by conning people with a Budget Emergency!!! rather than having a war, or armed conflict on the streets, much the better.
The victors want there to be a budget emergency so that they can use it as leverage to get their own way. The poor and the elderly are their scapegoat. Now that we are all on board with the scapegoating of those hordes of evil boat people who are invading us; aka refugees, and have protected ourselves by locking over a thousand children in jail, we can pick the next easy target.
It was ever so.
Cleopas and his friend had high hopes about Jesus. "We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel." (Luke 24:21) The Messiah, it was thought, would come and drive out the Romans, and all the other oppressors in a great victory and justice would reign.
But Jesus was dead. He didn't even fight back. (Luke 23:47-53) It's not as if his followers were unwilling to fight; he refused. He insisted they not resist!
NT Wright says
The crucifixion of Jesus was ... the complete and final devastation of their hope. Crucifixion is what happens to people who think they are going to liberate Israel and find out, too late, that they are mistaken. It is not simply that Jesus’ followers knew from Deuteronomy that a crucified person was under God’s curse. Nor was it simply that they had not yet worked out a theology of Jesus’ atoning death. The crucifixion already had, for them, a perfectly clear theological as well as political meaning: It meant that the exile was still continuing, that God had not forgiven Israel’s sins, and that pagans were still ruling the world. Their thirst for redemption for God’s light and truth to come and lead them had still not been satisfied.
So they are walking away from the City of God in despair. The City of God remains in the hands of the unjust and the evil. The Promised Land is far distant. They are exiles in their own land.
Things are as they always were. The rich rule. The Tony Abbot of the day has kept the peace, and the country is still safe in the care of Rome. And the poor? Who cares... it's their fault, after all; God blesses those who are righteous.
In their despair Jesus approaches them and is unrecognised. "Are you the only one who doesn't know what has happened?" they ask. (Luke 24:18) The irony is, of course, that he is the only one who does know what has happened.
It is here that the Good News of resurrection is preached.
25Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. (Luke 24)
"It is the suffering Christ, the suffering God by which Scripture is to be interpreted." (Preaching Peace)
[He] begins to make of the story of his life and death a way of opening the imagination of his disciples, offering a new interpretation of texts which they already knew, so that they, not yet dead, might begin to live... James Alison
The new imagination sees the scripture they already knew with new eyes, with eyes which were opened. In that imagination they see the scriptures from a completely different point of view, inside a new paradigm; they see Promised Land, Messiah, and Kingdom of God, in a whole new way.
Of course, Cleopas was not familiar with paradigm shifts! That is our language. But his companion is unnamed, and can stand in for anyone of us, as we walk our road of despair at the state of the world, seeing only defeat and oppression. The Good News to which our eyes is opened will be re-expressed by each generation, in its own language.
The trouble is that we too often scarcely open our eyes. The church becomes the oppressor, whether through the propaganda of Holy Wars and Crusades, or the sale of indulgences, or the mythology of the victors writing out the victims and sheltering the child abusers.
Girard says that "myth" is written from the perspective ... of the perpetrators of collective violence..." Myth does not mean an 'old story.' In this context it means the story the nation lives by, especially the story told by the victors, also known as the government and its supporters. Our history is a myth.
The Good News of the crucifixion and resurrection— they are not separate events— is that they are a key point in an alternative history that we call Gospel . This history is written "from the perspective of the victim... In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, you have for the first time in history the permanent survival of the victim's perspective becoming a thematic in history ..."
The death and resurrection of Jesus turns our received history— our imposed history— on its head. It lets us critique all the stories we have been told about who we are. And if we are rich, it judges us because our being at the top, even if only relatively so, is always at the expense of a victim.
The doctrine that all have sinned reflects the fact that we are all enmeshed in a system that is founded on violence and oppression. And we are stuck in it, whether we are Cleopas, or whether we are Pilate, pushed and pulled and powerless in the face of political pressures.
We are told that Cleopas' heart burned within him. But as I walked beside him listening, I was appalled. You see, it is not so hard to see that penal substitutionary atonement, which claims "Christ's sacrifice on the cross is a substitutionary sacrifice to a wrathful God who otherwise would be punishing us sinners... goes back to the old logic of the ancient practices and theologies of sacrifice." It clearly makes God no different from the arbitrary and jealous tyrant Gods of Olympus, or from a super version of a hardline moralist dictator. (Nuechterlein) Violence and oppression rule.
Neither is it so hard to see that "[T]he responsibility of the cross's violence lies fully with us human beings and not with God. John 3:16 tells us that God gave us the Son out of love, not wrath. In other Johannine language: God gave his Lamb to our satanic engines of sacrifice so that this sin would be taken away from us. We finally understand that if 'God requires mercy not sacrifice,' then we are the ones, not God, who have required sacrifice all along." Ibid
Until, that is, we look with our Emmaus opened eyes at what our less extreme theologies say! How many of us are happy with the notion that Jesus is very God; that is, the way he acts is how God acts? Jesus
disappointed [the disciples with his] ... inability or unwillingness to defend himself, to achieve victory with shock and awe. He let himself get killed. Fool. God’s emissary would never let that happen. God is all powerful, so also would his agent be. It did not occur to Jesus’ followers that he would choose to not use this potential power in his own defense or in retribution.
Well and good on paper, all this, but it means that
"Beyond the cross there isn't a reservoir of awesome force. The power of God just is the weakness of the cross. The cross exhausts what we mean by "the power of God," with no remainder. As Bonhoeffer says, God is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which God is with us and helps us. .... There is no Big Stick, no Big Power Switch sitting in reserve. The weakness of the cross is the only way God rules the world. The. Only. Way."( Beck)
Is this good news?
Saved through suffering!? Not fighting back!? Weakness will win over tyranny!? How can this be so?
When logic kicks in I realise that this stranger from some other place has a silver tongue, but his message does not match the reality of life. We need a Lord "mighty in deed and word before God."
Cleopas insists we invite the stranger for tea. And he reaches out and takes the bread, and blesses, breaks, and gives it to us. And in that moment— for just that moment— I see it is Him. It is all true! I see the world stood on end! My eyes are opened.
And we race back to Jerusalem to tell the others that we have seen him, and that we have seen and heard how the world really is! Messiah has come.
But the night is cold, the road is just as long, and despite all Cleopas' enthusiasm, I can't see it when we get back. They're full of the news about Peter seeing him, but I am standing alone in the crowd, wondering. It sometimes seems a very small thing that a man might be raised from the dead. It's a far easier thing than to trust that the whole world is upside down! I can't see how to even begin living that.
When I began theological college, it was horrible. We had a baby who didn't sleep past 4am— on a good night. We felt profound culture shock moving from a poor desert tribe into an affluent inner suburb. The study was intense and challenging... and there was too much.
Each Wednesday in the first year I would go to the college Eucharist, and each Wednesday I would be put back together. I would see again a little of the world upside down. And I could manage one more week.
It still happens. At each Eucharist we stand around the table, poor, battered inside and out, leaning on sticks and walkers... and we see.
The economy of resurrection is not the economy of the world. There is no budget emergency— there is love to spare.
And some of the vision has begun to "stick." The diagnosis of the world and its endemic violence and injustice is no longer a theory. I see, and I experience, the injustice of our systems. I feel my enmeshment in Sin, the compromise of almost everything I do. I cannot not see the world this way.
Tech stores, bike shops, web sites where I would once spend hours, hobbies I once had— all these have faded. I have new appetites. The old diversions are not only boring. Some of them offend me. I have been changed.
How will Kingdom happen? How does suffering, death and resurrection "fund" Kingdom? That's where I have to have trust, also known as... faith. When I see the bare faced media lies, the and power grabs of the powers-that-be, I cannot imagine how Kingdom justice and peace will ever replace them.
Yet in each breaking of the bread there is still a taste of Kingdom before, again, he disappears from my sight.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!
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