Fragments from some Prophetic Loaves and Fishes

Ronald Rolheiser
Reproduced with Permission

After Jesus had fed a crowd of more than five thousand with five loaves and two fishes, he asked his apostles to gather up the fragments that were left over, scattered here and there on the ground. They did as he asked and ended up filling twelve baskets with leftovers.

Recently, I attended a series of lectures by Walter Brueggemann. He is widely respected for his biblical scholarship, he feeds crowds from some healthy baskets, but he is perhaps even more deeply regarded because of his concern for the poor and his challenge to us to reach out to them with justice and generosity. After he had fed us, the crowds, here are some of the fragments that were gathered up:

· There is today a real danger of excessive privatization of our faith. The church must advocate too for the public conscience, not just for the private conscience.

· Jesus before Pontius Pilate turned the question of power into the question of truth. Truth will always erode the chains of power and power will never stop truth. Truth is a spirit that works at bringing the world into harmony with God.

· Where truth operates you see poverty turn into abundance; death turn into life; war turn into peace; and hunger turn into food.

· In Moses, truth confronts power; in Elijah, truth ignores power; and in Josiah, truth transforms power.

· You can always recognize a “Pharaoh”: If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all! Pharaohs all have bad dreams, accumulate things, need ever larger bins to store their possessions, are permeated with anxiety, and are de-absolutized as soon as God enters the situation. Where do we have bad dreams?

· A truth-filled God always conspires against Pharaoh. God, eventually, comes to a crisis and redefines it.

· Scripture ultimately speaks of bodily pain and painful slavery. Redemption, just as at the original Exodus, will always begin with a cry of distress and end with a dance of joy. Bodies that hurt must come to voice and that voice must say that this pain is abnormal and shouldn’t be borne any longer. Painful slavery and a truth-filled God will eventually make for you a path through the waters where Pharaoh cannot follow. Therefore we must never allow our pathologies to become normal, nor accept slavery for the security it brings.

· For the most part today, the media reflects the ideology of Pharaoh and yet we willing pipe it in. When we turn off our screens for awhile we begin to feel freer.

· God’s task of transformation is invariably entrusted to reluctant human will and courage.

· The Book of Deuteronomy is one of the greatest social documents ever written, it links faith to public life, to economics, and to justice. It directs faith always to the poor, towards “widows, orphans, and strangers.” Deuteronomy might be the most subversive document in the entire Old Testament. Among other things, it teaches uncompromisingly that laissez-faire economics needs some clear moral checks. In the temptations of Jesus in his dialogue with the devil, he quotes scripture three times and each time it is a passage from Deuteronomy.

· Deuteronomy keeps reminding us that we once all were slaves and that it is not good to have amnesia. We should not absolutize the present and imagine it has always been this way. All of us should remember where we came from, not least today in our debates about immigration.

· If we do not heed the words of Deuteronomy about taking care of the poor we will have to deal with the scroll of Jeremiah who assures us that the world as we know it will come to and end because it cannot be sustained in its falseness.

· For Jeremiah, to intercede for the poor and needy is to know God.

· The prophetic tradition in scripture reminds us that there are three great virtues: generosity, hospitality, and forgiveness. Conversely our culture invites us to guard possessions, protect ourselves, and hold grudges.

· Our great rationalization: “If I had lived in those early times when the issues were clear, I would have offered myself as a martyr, but today the issues aren’t that clear.”

· The preaching of justice is only going to become more difficult as society is more and more devoured by anxiety. However, if we preach justice and society doesn’t listen, it’s society’s problem. But if we don’t preach justice, it’s our problem.

· In answer to the question of why God sometimes seems to counsel violence in Scripture: The God of the bible is in recovery for all the violence that has been attributed to him and done in his name. And, inside our churches, we are all in various stages of recovery.

· Our prayers are generally too reverential: We need to pray more like Moses and remind God of what he promised us.

· We are the only ones in town who know the way out of this crisis!

Ron Rolheiser

Bainbridge Island, Washington

July 4, 2010