“It’s a question of discipline,” the little prince told me later on. “When you’ve finished washing and dressing each morning, you must tend your planet.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince, 1943.
Today in the Christian calendar is the Second Sunday in Lent, the Gospel of the Transfiguration. Matthew tells us that Jesus had taken three of his disciples, Peter, James and John, to climb a high mountain. While there they saw Jesus’ face and clothing become radiant, or transfigured. The flowery language of the Bible then tells us that they were then enfolded in a bright cloud, and heard a voice saying: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Mt 17:5).
Jesus or Joshua, as he may have been called at the time, thereafter endures the trials of his passion and crucifixion, a punishment that was meted out to those who attempted to subvert the Roman Empire. This was not a punishment for thieves and other malefactors, but specifically imposed on those who were plotting to subvert, or engaging in subversion in the eyes of the Empire and its tame collaborators, the Judaic representatives of the time. Although this is not something that our Church spoke much about, in viewing the actions of the historical Jesus, they are nothing if not subversive.
In our modern world we learn to view subversion with fear and loathing, but this is because we are under the thrall of colonialism. Save for an outpost of sanity and peace here and there, our civilization as we know it has gone from empire to empire. We live in what is called a democracy, but have never really had the rule of the people in our land. From earliest times, the protections of the law have been granted to the white, propertied, male members of our society. The electoral college of the United States, for example, is able to disregard the popular vote and install into power “presidents” that the people did not elect by popular vote. During the Bush/Gore election, they were aided by a Supreme Court that has, for most of its long history, except for the glorious time of the Warren Court (1953 to 1969), been the handmaiden of moneyed interests and corporate power.
I will not speak of the additional revelations that the apostles report, but of the entire concept of subversion. The Merriam Webster dictionary tells us that to subvert means 1: to overturn or overthrow from the foundation. Regard this first and thus, principal, meaning of the word: To overturn or overthrow from the foundation. The foundation that Jesus or Joshua was attempting to subvert was a many-fold one, that enshrined power over others, and duality, and that in the name of God committed outrages and kept people in dire poverty, by extreme taxation of the most subjugated members of the society. Life in the Palestine of that day was dreadful, as the Jews were frequently unable to keep their families fed, being overwhelmed by punitive taxation both from the Empire and from their Jewish representatives.
This is somewhat similar to the current situation where programs for the least of those in our society are closed down or diminished daily, while the wealthy class gets a pass from those in government, and pay little or no taxes, frequently getting even a refund from the corporate government. And the institutions, particularly in the United States, that are said to protect the common folk, betray them, creating legislation instead to protect the killers of young people, mostly of color, raping the land here and overseas, taking the heritage of native peoples, and subverting “whatsoever things are good” and kind and of good report, because we are indeed in the time of double think and double speak that Orwell so prophetically described in his work.
Thus, as Dr. King said almost half a century ago, the only solidarity that is allowed in our society is the “brutal solidarity [of white and black boys] burning the huts of a poor village.” We are in a time of “cruel manipulation of the poor.” The voice that is heard not only says “this is my beloved son,” but also says, “listen to him.” Jesus the subverter was calling for an end to empire and to greed, and a world where the deed of the Samaritan was more acceptable to God than the prayers and sacrifices of those whose worship was only outward, “the whitened sepulchers” to whom Jesus compares the hypocrites of society (Mt. 23:27).
So if we are to grow in the knowledge of Jesus and listen to him, we must subvert the rotten foundation, as he did. We must become Dr. King’s beloved community and while we pray, move our feet. We must replace the rotten rock of patriarchal oppression with the love of the good Samaritan, we must become a true spiritual ecclesia, whose mission will be, as delineated by the Jesus whose coming passion we remember, to take the message of love to everyone, with no exceptions. A mature community will be loving, peaceful, and committed to help all of its members, whether young or old, abled or disabled, homed or homeless, rich or poor, sick or well, of all colors and creeds, of all genders and languages and cultures. So listen to the words of Jesus, and spread his message of holy subversion outward. May you be a sign of God’s love in the world. We are all God’s children, in whom she is well pleased.