Sunday, March 9, 2014

Our Greatest Temptations

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Matthew 4:1-11

...it would be fitting and symbolic that ships from all over the world, entering the Golden Gate, would first see Indian land, and thus be reminded of the true history of this nation. This tiny island would be a symbol of the great lands once ruled by free and noble Indians.
Indians of All Nations, The Alcatraz Proclamation to the Great White Father and His People (March 9, 1964)

On this date exactly 50 years ago, citing an 1868 treaty which empowered Native American peoples to claim surplus federal land, five Sioux activists occupied & took possession of Alcatraz Island less than one year after the notorious federal prison closed down after decades of complaints over high costs and the flushing of sewage into San Francisco Bay. These indigenous prophets envisioned a transformation of the island into a cultural center & university. They were apprehended and removed after only 4 hours, mostly dismissed by empire dwellers as typically "crazy Indians."

But after centuries of abuse from the government and then apathy from the American people, shouldn't the Original Americans have claim to this land? And, with History as Reminder, shouldn't white suburban settlers (like us) be ripe for repentance, a "turning" away from land grabs and a "turning" towards gifting back what was and is rightfully theirs? On this anniversary, the lectionary shimmers with an episode that prophetically calls followers of Jesus to consider what it originally meant to be God's children.

After Jesus is baptized into the Heavenly Movement ("the kingdom of heaven") and inaugurated as its undisputed leader (a voice from heaven declaring him "the Beloved Son"), he embraces the spiritual discipline of fasting...for 40 days and 40 nights (an echo of Noah's journey of global purification?) in the wilderness (an echo of Israel's exodus journey?). His confrontation with Satan reveals a series of three illusions about what it means to be a people committing to be "salt" & "light" for the world (Matthew 5). Notice the contest over biblical interpretation ("it is written"). As it turns out, everyone wants to quote Scripture to justify their own agenda, whether it is rooted in the American Dream or the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Satanic agenda is as follows:

1. Commanding stones to become loaves of bread (economic hoarding)
2. Jumping off the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem (religious stunts)
3. Controlling and colonizing the globe (political patriotism)


This agenda is contrasted with the simple prayer that Jesus will soon teach his disciples (Matthew 6):

1. Give us this day our daily bread (living simply so that we can all simply live")
2. May God's kingdom come (not a shoo-in for my soul to get to Heaven but a shoe on the soles of all feet)
3. May God's name alone be holy (for America to bless God and not the other way around)


Forty years after the death & resurrection of their leader, Matthew's wilderness temptation story summoned a network of communities pledging allegiance to the Jesus-inspired Heavenly Movement to reject, resist & repent of the fully ingrained principles & practices of empire. The Gospel reached back into the Hebrew Bible to offer a challenging choice: Exodus or Egypt. It called them out of empire and back to the wilderness where they unlearned the road of hoarding & hurry and learned the way of manna & mercy. As Brazilian theologian Rubem Alves writes, these disciples participated in a counter culture:

The early Christian community was…an underground counter culture. The reason it was so ruthlessly persecuted was because the dominant powers perceived it as a basically dysfunctional and subversive social reality. The values it wanted to realize and live out implied in the long run the abolition of the very foundations of the Roman Empire.
Today, all over the United States, small clusters of citizens of the Heavenly Movement continue to be prodded into a lifestyle that confronts the political, economic & religious illusions of the American Dream. Like Martin Luther King's well-known dream for the U.S., Jesus' dream for human liberation threatened those for whom society privileged. The status quo dies hard and both of these men were murdered as a consequence.

Today, the American Empire spends billions on farm subsidies, providing the entire globe with cheap corn for all the processed food we are becoming addicted to. Today, millions of Americans flock to churches that cater messages about an all-sovereign God who guarantees heaven and provides for luxuries on earth. Today, our hearts & heads are filled with patriotic symbols (from the flag to the F-15 flyover to the first pitch after the National Anthem) that beckon us all to pledge ultimate allegiance to country. These 3 messianic mechanisms motivate the masses. Jesus rejected all 3. So should we.

Like the short-lived Sioux takeover of Alcatraz 50 years ago, Jesus' wilderness wandering functions as a call for all God's children to reclaim our roots and to strategically practice a restoration of that Original vocation. The Satanic force always presses us all to be in the majority, to join the masses no matter how much it veers off-course. The minority report is always an option, however in convenient and uncomfortable. Both the Sioux of San Francisco Bay & Jesus of Nazareth threatened conventional wisdom. Will we follow their lead?

*I am greatly indebted to the biblical scholarship of Ched Myers utilized in this post.

1 comment:

  1. I have often said that the U. S. govt should give native Americans the land that they want. I know that would be ridiculous, just as ridiculous as kicking people off of the land that they originally subsided on. And that it would be chaotic, because, who's going to take Manhattan or Santa Monica back from the glimmering buildings and beaches that are currently there? Not the govt or the proverbial gray-haired owners of the world.

    I am not one that likes to live in the past, nor do I defer to the past for all wisdom or knowledge. So, we could go back in time, back to where the native Americans were here and the settlers, The Carthaginians or even Leif Ericson had not yet arrived on the eastern shores, but then I thought, what good would that do? The big problem is the ideals in which the two sides live; the native American and the U.S. govt (& the majority of the people), which is to say, live as one with the land, or conversely, to try to "own" the land? Since these ideals differed, and since, well, I have called it the Gandhi approach did not work, that being that the native americans, while not all went away quietly, they, in the end, did get squashed by the U.S. govt..

    So, would that happen again if the native americans got all of their land back? I doubt it, but I don't know, and I am sure we will not find out.

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