Growing up, whenever religion didn’t make sense to me I looked to my mother for grounding. She was my center and the person for whom I measured everything and everyone against. She is a proud, faithful, and firm believer in her Seventh-day Adventist faith. Still, I’ve always believed there is something about my mother that feels better, more genuine, and more loving than her religion.
Whether she’s aware of this or not, she’s always been more concerned about doing the right things than believing the right things. She’s very practical. And she never wastes a minute worrying about what other people think—particularly if what she thinks they think is impractical or unloving. Rules were never enforced for rules sake. Instead, she intuitively and seamlessly interpreted rules in the context of every day life. She’d ask: Do these rules make life better or not? If not, she’d simply ignore them and ask me to do the same. She’s not political in the traditional sense. And she doesn’t use phrases like “social justice” or “the status quo.” Yet, I’ve known few persons more active in challenging everyday injustices inflicted by the status quo, than my mother.
I suspect this is what happens when one is born and raised in poverty in the late 1930s in the back muddy hills of Puerto Rico. One of seven children, she went to bed hungry on most nights. Their daily meal consisted of either avena (Spanish for oatmeal), or rice and beans. On rare occasions, the family enjoyed a meal of pork or chicken. She often talks about the conflict she felt as a child over feeling both satisfied and saddened after feasting on meat. Satisfied, because she’d eaten until she couldn’t take one more tasty bite. Saddened because her “pet pig or chicken” would be missing in the morning.
When one’s life is shaped by survival, wondering where the next meal will come from, one sees life differently than those who’ve never known hunger—than those whose comforts, much less survival, has never been challenged. The silver lining of poverty, if there is one, is poverty necessarily requires one to focus on the “stuff” that really matters. It’s why people like my mom are not moved by fancy words, belief systems, or fiery sermons if such fancy and fiery talk doesn’t lead to simple solutions that make life better for everyone.
We debate whether or not every human being should have access to health care, but the poor have always understood we are our brother and sister’s keeper. Indeed, the poor see things more clearly than those of us who have more than we need. Their vision is superior, in that is it more accurate, than the big banks, mega-churches, and silicone valley “visionaries,” when it comes to seeing the way things really are.
They aren’t fooled by American propaganda and politicians who gloss over the facts and swear that the gap between the rich and the poor isn’t as wide as it’s ever been.
The poor don’t need a degree in economics to understand how the economy is doing. They can sum it up in two words: We’re hungry.
Like my mother, Jesus was born poor. I imagine that even as a child he sensed the injustices suffocating his parents and his community. He watched, wondered, and understood, but not really, why the majority of people went hungry while an elite few—non-religious and religious alike—knew no hunger.
His family ate their version of “avena,” while the religious elite ate breakfast in bed with the empire.
His family and community toiled from sunup to sundown giving most of their wages, time, energy, and life to the empire while Caesar and his religious groupies watched from ivory towers.
He didn’t like it.
I think it’s accurate—even appropriate to say, it pissed Him off.
So he stood in the dirty River Jordan, in line with all the other weary souls who dreamt of a better life, and asked to be baptized. And from those muddy waters Jesus’ singular mission of undoing the undoing of humanity would soon become clear. More than just ignore the rules of Caesar’s kingdom, He resisted and replaced them with the rules of the kingdom of God.
As modern day readers of scripture we know how it ended for Jesus.
His passion, His love for humanity—his giving a damn—meant giving His life.
But not before He changed the world.
His extravagant mission of love took root in the simplicity of a couple of fishermen.
It advanced with every trepid step of the adulteress as she walked towards the first man who truly loved her.
It gained momentum on the mountaintop where the poor in spirit learned love wins.
It multiplied in the hands of the children who, for the first time, ate their fill of fish and bread. It triumphed on the back of a donkey.
It gained strength with every table overturned.
And, It conquered death—from the cross to the grave.
“He’s not there! He’s not there! She shouted almost out of breath. “Nobody is in the tomb!”
Some call it the greatest story ever told. But if we’re paying attention we know it’s much more than a story. It is the greatest call to action this side of the Common Era. Jesus was the Master of Missions because He was crazy enough to challenge the status quo—to rage against the machine (corporate America, Wall Street, Big banks and Oil, all come to mind)! He dared to stand toe to toe with the empire and ask:
“Do these rules make life for better for everyone or not?”
Then, He resisted.
And with each action of love He performed unto “the least of these,” those for whom the empire considered “nobodies” or “zeros to the left,” and with each time He challenged the status quo on behalf of the “nobodies” and the “zeros to the left,”
little by little…day by day…
He replaced the rules of the empire with the rules of the Kingdom of God. He showed them “what life would be like on earth if God were king.”
His was not a mission of simply believing the right things in order to be saved as many were persuaded to believe in the centuries following His death (and even today).
His was not a mission of simply performing charitable acts. Like, feeding the homeless or sponsoring a cow for a family in a far away country.
These are nice things to do.
And, yes, “nice” matters.
But, Jesus wasn’t killed for being nice.
He was killed because he challenged the legitimacy of an empire that built its wealth and power on the backs of the poor.
He was killed for challenging the idea that social and economic injustice should be accepted as normal and even necessary.
He was killed, because He cared and He did something about it.
As a new mom, I understand better the wisdom of my mother, of the poor, and Jesus. Because there is nothing I wouldn’t do for my children. On the day Jackson and Olivia were born, I recognized the miracle of life in a way I’d not known before. In an instant my priorities shifted and new ones shot to the surface. In my arms were two tiny human beings with no history, no past—just two blank canvases for which everything I said or did would be recorded into their mind and soul forever. What an awesome and profound responsibility! I prayed. I cried. I rejoiced. And I whispered, Please God! Help me be as good a mother as my mother!
My “momma bear” instinct is in full effect. But, not just for my children, I feel more deeply and more protective about everything and everyone. My sense of justice is more acute. And, now, I too wonder why, among other things, we’re still debating something as obvious universal healthcare?
Of course every person should have access to health care!
Of course every person should have enough food to eat!
Of course equality between the sexes and races should exist.
Of course, we should be asking the empire, “Do these rules make life better for everyone or not?” If they don’t…when they don’t…then we must resist, replace and restore the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
We do this because we know Jesus came that all would have life and life more abundantly (John 10:10). And because we know there are millions of mothers and fathers around the globe who, like me, stare into the eyes of their little ones, and want nothing more than to see their children thrive, be healthy, and live long, happy lives.
Jesus, in Your name, may this be so.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT:
If Jesus came back today as the man he was 2000 some years ago, would we recognize Him? And, if not, what would we say about Him? Would we call Him unpatriotic? Un-American? Would we label Him a socialist?
And, I wonder, would He recognize us? Might He wonder why there is still so much fighting going on between people of color—the Blacks and whites, between males and females, between race and religion? That is, might He wonder why everyone is still fighting and arguing over things he thought He’d made clear on the cross?
FOOD FOR THOUGHT 2:
Let’s imagine for a moment that Jesus came back today as the man he was 2000 some years ago. He’d embark on a major crash course in Christian history starting with the gospel accounts of his life. He’d go on to learn about the Council of Nicea and Chalcedon. He’d learn about men people call The Pope. He’d read about The Crusades—or, “Holy Wars,” as many like to refer to them. He’d encounter concepts and definitions like “The Trinity” and “Just War.” He’d learn of The Reformation and the Enlightenment period on up to modern day Christianity. He’d read about the Religious Right and how the Christian Coalition of American wants to “Save Israel” and “Take America Back.” He’d visit mega churches. He’d attend the Southern Baptist Convention and the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference Session. He’d attend mass in Rome followed by a tour of the Vatican. He’d discover that every religious denomination believes they alone believe the right things that will gain them access to God and Heaven.
After all He’d learned and everything He’d seen, I imagine His first words might be, “Who are these people? And, “Who do they say I am? For 2000 years they’ve been arguing about me when I died hoping, believing they’d act like me.”