"Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Luke 23:42)
In December 1997, Las Abejas, a group of forty-eight indigenous communities whose name means "the bees," came to the world's attention when forty-five of their members, mostly women and children, were murdered. They were killed by paramilitary troops while they were fasting and praying for peace in their rough-hewn wooden chapel in the village of Acteal, Mexico.
The readings for this Sunday have a rather sober, even ominous mood about them. A famous passage from the Prophet Malachi speaks of the final days of judgment that will fall upon Israel. That day will be "blazing like an oven" and those who are "proud" and "all evildoers" will be like burnt "stubble." The "fire" of that judgment day will consume them and leave "neither root nor branch".
Jesus proclaimed, served, and witnessed to the Reign of God. He proclaimed it through his parables, served it through his actions of healing and forgiveness, and witnessed to it through his behavior, particularly in table fellowship with the marginalized. These were all counter-cultural actions. By our baptism, we are to continue this mission of Jesus, with and without words, in both small and large ways.
Tax collectors were not the most loved people in 1st Century Roman Palestine. The economic situation at the time was characterized by the notion of "limited good," that is, all goods (both tangible goods such as food, money, and property; and intangible goods such as power and status) were in limited supply and were already distributed. In this equation, to take more than what is rightfully yours meant that your neighbor would have less.
This Sunday's gospel reading deals with the necessity of being persistent in prayer. To understand the drama of Jesus' story of the determined widow and the corrupt judge, it is important to appreciate the justice system of the ancient Near East. We need to forget the ordered nature of our own courts where (usually) one person speaks at a time and there is an orderly presentation of evidence by both sides of a dispute. We are a world away here from Judge Judy!
The Broad Embrace of God. What is called leprosy in the Bible may have been any skin ailment, from the dreaded disease itself to psoriasis or eczema. Such conditions were not only feared because of the possibility of contagion, but also abhorred because of the nature of their oozing sores. Besides the hygienic reason for the quarantine imposed on all those who were so afflicted, there was a religious stigma attached. Running sores kept people from participating in religious celebrations. They were thereby deemed unclean, unfit to be counted among a people who considered themselves "a kingdom of priests, a holy nation" (Exod 19:6).
"Write down the vision clearly" (Hab 2:2). The lament of the prophet Habakkuk, as he decries the violence, strife, and clamorous discord in his day, seems to have a timelessness to it. During the recent hot summer, several US cities saw a spike in gun violence and senseless deaths. Public discourse has grown more rancorous as marchers proclaim competing visions for what would make for a peaceable world.
In the movie of John Grisham's novel "A Time to Kill," two lawyers engage in a battle of legal tricks and attempted power plays in a Southern U.S. courtroom. The younger lawyer, who is defending a black man who killed his daughter's white rapists, knows he is losing the case. At the eleventh hour it dawns on him that it is not strength, but weakness, that will turn the tide. He stands up in front of the jury, admits his ineptness, and then simply recounts the horrifying story of the child's rape.