Abel’s blood echoed on throughout history, and echoes still. Whenever justice is deferred. Whenever voices that deserve to be acknowledged are silenced. Whenever the wounds of the people are dressed as though they’re nothing. Whenever people suffer alone. Wherever anybody prays, How long, O LORD?—that is the echo of Abel’s blood crying out.
For years I have rejected any application of Ezra-Nehemiah in the church, other than a stern warning not to imitate them. The racism and sexism that justified their decision to have Israelite men desert their foreign wives and children reflects an appalling lack of concern for the vulnerable; and care for the vulnerable is at the core of what it means to be God’s holy people. But can these Scriptures be reclaimed for use in the church? In this post, I explain again why I think Ezra and Nehemiah set a terrible precedent for God’s people; but I also point out a few helpful applications from these texts for the church.
I haven’t posted anything angry for a while. Here, I go to war against the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, and the culture wars, which in real time are actually wars on poor people, especially poor people of color. I ain’t got much happy or constructive to say, other than that American Christians should stop engaging the system by buying into these wars, and stage an insurrection for the kingdom of heaven. Could you conceivably build affordable housing and playground equipment from shrapnel and old weapons? That’s something for the artists and engineers to figure out. Shalom, y’all.
The conversations we have about big issues like war and capital punishment; about abortion and euthanasia; about economic inequality and food justice–they are all carried out in terms of rights and sanctity. I suspect that one reason we do this is that it tends to make us think that by so arguing, we are elevating serious discussions to their appropriate level of seriousness. But I also deeply suspect that we do so in order to place these discussions into the metaethical realm, where they don’t have to be taken sufficiently seriously–as if they had real consequences for the world or anything. Once we have framed issues of dying and killing as metaethical abstractions, we have turned them into topics fit for polite conversation–a diversion that lets people know that we really do, after all, believe in something, even if it is of no practical consequence. After all, it’s not worth dying over But it seems that a society that is premised upon the idea that there is very little worth suffering and dying over, ironically has little trouble finding things that are worth killing over.
When introducing their 1992 song “Revolution,” hip-hop group Arrested Development’s front man Speech mentions those in previous generations who were tortured and killed for the freedom and dignity of generations to come. “They died for me, and they died for you,” he concludes. Might this expression shed some light onto the Bible’s claim that Jesus died “for us”?
Matthew’s Jesus tells the church, “You are the light of the world.” John’s Jesus proclaims that “I am the light of the world.” How can both be true? Because Jesus continues to be present in his church. Paul’s idea of the church as the body of Christ is not simply a crafty metaphor for the division of labor in the church, as most interpret it. Rather, it is an ontological description of our existence, character, and especially, our vocation. The Church is what happens when the creative Word of the Sermon on the Mount becomes flesh.
If it is Christ we have been baptized into, then all things are made new. We are given the resources to live without being afraid of giving too much, too soon, and looking too foolish. We have been dispossessed of our amnesia, our despair, and our self-preoccupation. We are free and able to welcome God’s insurgency like children. If our baptism has not rendered us free and able to so live, was it Christ we were baptized into? And if it wasn’t Christ we have been baptized into, what have we been saved from?
Preachers–this Sunday either give us words to chant down Babylon . . . or hang up your lyre on the willows with us.