Today's liturgy of the word is about hope in a world wracked by despair. All of us are starved for such hope. In fact, discouragement and apparent powerlessness describe not only our personal consciousness but the larger zeitgeist that is the constant focus of these Sunday reflections dedicated to confronting the world with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Today's confrontation should help progressives realize that our times are actually changing for the better.
Think of the most recent historical roots of today's despair -- the way the world was just 20 years ago. As described recently by Andre Vitchek, it was an unbelievably hard time for opponents of empire.
Then think of how things are different today. It's the difference between the condition of Job in this Sunday's first reading, and the healing Jesus brought to the poor in today's gospel selection.
Twenty years ago Russia was controlled by Boris Yeltsin, a boozy western puppet who betrayed his own people. Like Yeltsin, other heads of state throughout Eastern Europe joined their western counterparts in a shameless surrender to imperial interests. They were largely "led" by the offspring of the elites who preceded them. China 20 years ago was still under the spell of the free market reforms introduced by Deng Xiaoping. Meanwhile, Latin America reeling from decades of dictatorships imposed by the West had turned its economies over to neo-liberals trained in the Chicago School of Economics. The same was largely true of the Middle East and Africa. In those cases, dictators and the one-percenters were firmly in control. Christian vision of a kingdom where the earth belonged to everyone had been completely hijacked by religious fundamentalists and reactionaries including in his own way, the pope of Rome. All of this was largely hidden by both local and international mainstream media (MSM) which applauded dictatorships and plutocracies as "emerging democracies."
Those were indeed hard times for anti-imperialists. I remember the despair. We were like Job in today's first reading sitting on a dung heap lamenting the loss of hope enkindled by the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements of the '60s and '70s.
Remember Job? He too was the victim of an incredible series of misfortunes. They reduced him to a condition worse than poverty. Without warning, he lost all his wealth; his children died; he became terribly sick; and his reputation went entirely south.
Job is the image of us all 20 years ago. Like Job, progressives couldn't be blamed for wondering if our situation could ever change.
Perhaps believers among us had forgotten the general hope offered in today's responsorial psalm. It reminds us of the goodness of Life -- the divine energy in which we live and move and have our being. (Some call that Energy, "God.") The psalmist reminds us that time and history itself have a way of healing broken hearts. Life has a way of supporting even the most devastated. And (as Job's case illustrates) it eventually topples even those who appear to live on top of the world. God is good, the Psalmist reminds us. God is gracious and wise beyond our wildest imaginings. God unifies the poor, even when they're hopelessly fragmented by elite strategies of "divide and rule."
Today's gospel reading offers more particular hope. It recounts the first acts of a prophet from and imperial backwater, Israel -- Jesus, the carpenter-preacher from Nazareth, a "Nowheresville" if there ever was one.
There he encourages the downtrodden every bit as crushed as Job. He heals with a touch, an embrace, a smile, a kiss of the foot, a word of encouragement as the afflicted assemble before him to find health and hope and relief from their demons. In other words, today's gospel locates hope outside the political structure of the day, outside the realm of priests, lawyers, kings and emperors. It finds hope on the margins of empire.
And when you think of it, that's where hope is to be found today. It's not grounded in American presidents, in our imperial army, in the European Union, or in "foreign aid." As I said, it's not even reported in the mainstream media.
And yet the world is changing for the better right before our eyes. And the locus of change is on the margins -- in the 50% of the world that has almost invisibly (for Americans) broken free of the imperial order that has governed the world since the end of World War II. Eventually the gains of that 50% will change us too.
Think of the progress I'm referring to. To even perceive it you have to step outside the powerful system of propaganda that envelops us all. Here are 10 signs of hope emerging from the margins. They have for years been signaled by J.W. Smith and his Institute for Economic Democracy:
- World-wide people have lost faith in the western model of mainstream media (the Great Wurlitzer" as Smith terms it). Most have awakened to the fact that it's all lies. In Latin America, Russia, China, and Iran, the new media is not even "alternative" any longer. Its mission is exposing the crimes of the West, its Empire and client states. Its message couldn't be more straight-forward: No more torture, rape or genocide.
- Russia has risen from the ashes and is confronting the Empire on all fronts. Vladimir Putin has emerged as the world's most effective international leader and practitioner of diplomacy and independence from Empire.
- Russia and China are both returning to their socialist roots advancing policies far more humane than their western counterparts.
- In Greece the overwhelming victory of SYRIZA has threatened the neo-liberal order in the heart of the European Union. The party's anti-austerity message is already being spread to Italy, Spain, and France.
- Latin America has broken free of the shackles of the Monroe Doctrine. Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil are all forging their own paths while cooperating with and supporting one another. All are moving closer to Russia and China.
- The BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) themselves represent at least half the planet's population. They are trading with each other in their own currencies now making themselves immune from western sanctions.
- On June 17 th of this year, under BRICS leadership, 133 of the world's 196 countries declared their intention to "destroy the New World Order" championed by western Empire.
- For those paying attention, even the ISIS barbarians are unwittingly serving the cause of peace by demonstrating the horror of wars instigated by the West. They behead on YouTube videos, while U.S. moviegoers cheer American Snipers who blow the heads off unsuspecting Iraqis defending their homes from Seals. ISIS barbarians set fire to prisoners with matches, while their U.S. counterparts use napalm and white phosphorous. The clash of barbarisms highlighted by ISIS promises to make pacifists of anyone capable of seeing parallels. (It's up to progressives to make them apparent.)
- Even the U.S. president (the first ever influenced by liberation theology) sees parallels like the ones just referenced. He has criticized American exceptionalism by challenging his people to "remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ."
- Pope Francis is attempting mightily to defeat Catholic fundamentalism and to turn 1/7 of the world's population (i.e. 1.2 billion Catholics) in the direction of social justice and environmental protection as advocated by liberation theology.
None of these are "pie in the sky" hopes. They are simply facts known to the world outside our borders but hidden from us by the MSM.
Along with today's liturgical readings, such changes should be cause for hope and encouragement. More than half the world has left Job's dung heap. The world's poor whom Jesus served and embodied are leading the way. The rest of us will join them soon.
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Mike Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. Retired in 2014, he taught at Berea College in Kentucky for 40 years where he directed Berea's Peace and Social Justice Studies Program. His latest book is (more...)