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Rev. Dr. Eric D. Barreto
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The Rev. Dr. Eric D. Barreto is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul. He was ordained by Peachtree Baptist Church (CBF) in 2006. After completing a bachelor of arts degree in religion at Oklahoma Baptist University and a master of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary, he earned a doctoral degree in New Testament from Emory University.

His research interests range from the Acts of the Apostles to ancient and contemporary questions about race and ethnicity. In 2010, he published his first book, "Ethnic Negotiations: The Function of Race and Ethnicity in Acts 16." He is also a regular contributor to and

Entries by Rev. Dr. Eric D. Barreto

Preaching Reflections On Freddie Gray and Baltimore

(0) Comments | Posted April 29, 2015 | 6:31 PM

This post was co-authored by Rev. Eric D. Barreto, Ph.D., Rev. Wil Gafney, Ph.D., Rev. John Arthur Nunes, Ph.D., Rev. Karyn L. Wiseman, Ph.D., Rev. Greg Carey, Ph.D., Rev. Billy Michael Honor, Ingrid E. Lilly, Ph.D., Rev. Karoline Lewis, Ph.D.,...

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Sell All Your Possessions! (Acts 4:32-35)

(0) Comments | Posted April 6, 2015 | 2:15 PM

Teresa Ghilarducci talks about economic inequality, the power of a living wage and why this is a faith issue.

Inequality is a relentless blight. The hopelessness too often engendered when a lack of resources aligns with insufficient educational access, the easy prejudice of one's neighbors, and the ubiquity of oppression is dehumanizing and crushing.

In recent days, much of our political discourse has focused -- at least in words -- on economic inequality. From the left and right alike, laments arise about the shrinking of the middle class and the widening and yawning gap growing between those who are thriving in a rebounding economy and those left behind by a rising Dow.

The next presidential campaign will likely be dominated by questions of economic justice and the American promise that hard work and perseverance can yield a better life. Is this dream a myth or reality? How we answer this question will say much about our hope in the future, our trust in one another, our faith in a God who promises life abundant, though an abundance that comes in a form we might not expect.

This week, we read a text about the life of the early church. Acts narrates how in these idyllic days, the faithful sold all their possessions and shared all they had with their sisters and brothers in faith so that there was not a needy person in their midst.

Acts makes it seem so clear, so easy. All these problems with inequality would evaporate if we lived in such an exemplary and faithful way! This is a picture of the ideal community, one in which no one lacks for anything!

Things are more complicated than this as we know too well.

Often times, Christians have turned to the Acts of the Apostles hoping to find there the perfect church or at least a really good model of what church might be like. We hope that if we could just do church the way the early church did, we would be in a much better place.

This passage is one key motivation for these nostalgic hopes. Acts notes that this is a community of "one heart and soul." Doesn't that sound like what we yearn for most? In a world where we many of us don't know our neighbors, where we are so easily divided over political questions, where we can't seem to agree on anything, where we legislate the privileges of some over the simple liberties of others, don't we yearn to be of "one heart and soul?"

Now, notice that this is a community that talks the talk and walks the walk. They love one another by selling their possessions. And why do they do this? We find the answer in a verse we too often miss.

Verse 33 reads: "With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all."

They were not of one heart and soul because they tried really hard. They did not sell their possessions because it was the right thing to do. Instead, everything they did was because of their belief in the resurrection. They so believed in a Jesus who defeated death and promised life to us all that they trusted every bit of their lives into the hands of God and their neighbors. They so trusted each other that they gave all that they had to one another so that there would be enough for all. They believed because if God can raise the dead, then surely God will provide our every need. They believed in this God who can raise the dead and in this way discovered what it meant to be children of a God of hopeful abundance.

But come on. Isn't Luke being naive? Doesn't he know that such a community seems impossible?

Actually, he does.

Remember that the chapters and verses in our Bibles were added later, and sometimes they were added in the worst places. Because v. 37 concludes ch. 4, we assume Luke is turning a new page when he begins chapter 5. But the beginning of ch. 5 and the end of ch. 4 must be read together. There is an important "but" at the beginning of ch. 5: "But a man named Ananias..." And soon we hear about Sapphira as well. We learn of their greed and deception. We learn of their untimely demise.

That is, right after this community begins to unify, the greed of one couple starts to tear the community apart. As soon as this community starts to come together, as soon as everyone's needs are being met, it all starts to fall apart. And perhaps this was inevitable. We know what we are really like. We are not all that surprised that we have established systems that privilege some and neglect others. This is what we do!

And this is precisely why Acts is not a mere blueprint for the perfect church or even an instruction manual for putting it together. The church in Acts is as flawed, as difficult as any community we are a part of.

So what do we do with these stories? Do we lament our inability to live as this early community did? Do we excuse ourselves from the call to serve our neighbor? Do we dwell in guilt that we have more than enough while others lack the basics? Do we ignore the plight of others because there is nothing more we can do? Do we seek to enfranchise our "rights" at the cost of the rights of others?

No, the gospel calls us to imagine what it would be like for us to live in such a community. The gospel calls us to wonder what would keep us from selling all we have for the sake of the other. The gospel calls us to wonder whether our stuff has become our "stuffing" in life. Does our stuff give our lives shape and meaning? Or might it just be that our stuff is a gift not for us but for others? That our stuff is never about us.

What might it be like to trust -- really trust -- our neighbors with all we had? And an even more radical thought for many of us: what might it be like to rely on God to form me into a person and us into a community worthy of such precious trust?

Bible Study Questions

1 When you read about this community where need is eradicated, how do you feel? That is, do you feel inspired, dejected, incredulous about these stories?

2 How have you developed trust in others in your life? How have you shown yourself trustworthy to others?

3 How does your faith inform the economic, political, and personal decisions you make everyday?

For Further Reading

Luke Timothy Johnson. Sharing Possessions: What Faith Demands. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011.

Eric D. Barreto. "'To Proclaim the Year of the Lord's Favor' (Luke 4:19): Possessions and the Christian Life in Luke-Acts" in Rethinking Stewardship: Our Culture, Our Theology Our Practices; Word and World Supplement Series 6, 2012.

Jill Lepore, "Richer and Poorer," The New...

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In the Beginning and in the End: Christians and Climate Change (Genesis 1:1-5)

(78) Comments | Posted January 5, 2015 | 8:37 AM

Creatures "mentioned" in the Book of Genesis that are threatened by climate change.

In the beginning, God created the world. In the beginning, God drew order out of chaos. In the beginning, God breathed life into every living creature. In the beginning, God crafted and made the world.

In contrast, it seems like we as a people are committed to leading the world back into chaos, to recreating the world in our distorted image. We seem determined to create a world characterized by death and loss not the miracle of life and breath and goodness and the flourishing of all living things.

In the end, we seem driven to dismantle the world. In the end, we are opting for the chaos God held at bay as an act of grace, love, and power.

The threat of climate change and the pollution of our natural resources is a theological problem. In our efforts to enhance our comfort and ease our work, we have mistaken what is good with what is merely advantageous for a narrowly circumscribed us. Our ravaging of natural resources reveals our arrogance. We think that the world's water and air and many precious resources are due to us, recompense we have earned by the sweat of our brow or the ingenuity of our efforts rather than gifts from God meant to enhance the life of all not just the extravagance of a few. We have turned the world upside down, served the forces of destruction, and declared them "good."

In short, we have lied about what we do to the world. We have concocted complex (but easily disprovable) denials of our many sins against the world God crafts, God loves, God calls good.

So let's go back to the beginning and wonder for a moment why the Bible starts in this way and why a community of believers chose to capture the dawn of creation in this way. As we well know, these opening chapters of Genesis have been embroiled in unavailing arguments about science and evolution. Are these opening chapters blueprints of the created order? Are they precise recollections of the world's creation? Are they science or theology, both or neither?

Just last year, a "debate" pitching creationism against evolution drew plenty of attention on Twitter but did little to clarify the meaning of these resonant words, "In the beginning." The "debate" was an exercise in missing the very point of Genesis 1. These verses are not a blueprint of the world or a play-by-play of the dawning of creation. These verses are not just an ancient fairy tale we can dismiss as the atavistic ramblings of our ancient ancestors. All such readings miss a critical point. These verses are controversial precisely because we think these verses about us.

They're not. Genesis 1 is about God first and foremost.

And yet when we turn to these passages we are usually propelled not by knowing something about the past but understanding something about the present, the future, and the God who accompanies us always. The authors and collectors of the traditions we find in Genesis and we its readers are not just driven by historical curiosity, by a drive to know what happened back then. We want to know why more than we want to know how and when.

Why is the world the way it is? Why does life sometimes flourish while at other moments death seems to strike us at every turn? What kind of God created this world? And what kind of world is it anyway?

In Genesis 1:1-5, we confess that the world and the God who created it are both good. We join in God's declaration even as we might whisper it, unsure that it is true. We hope that the God who created the skies and the oceans, the highest peaks and the lowest valleys is the same God who will shelter us from the storm and hold death at bay. We yearn for a world that can dazzle us with its beauty, silence us with awe even as we tremble at forces largely beyond our control: winds and mudslides and tornadoes and typhoons.

And if we're honest, we can acknowledge that the "natural" evils that harm our neighbors are not always beyond our control, that these disasters are not "acts of God" as the insurance companies say. Yes, we did not control the tsunami that decimated Indonesia or direct the vicious path of Hurricane Katrina or determine than an earthquake would strike Haiti. And yet aren't we all embroiled in systems of oppression that while they advantage us force others to live out with difficulty on faults and on seacoasts? Our cheap produce is expensive, our inexpensive water is costly, and our affordable energy comes at a steep cost. Someone always pay the price, whether the earth or our invisible neighbors near and far.

And yet God called the world good. God was and is right. But in the ways we pollute the world and oppress one another, we seek to deny this divine declaration.

In the beginning of this new year, we can resolve to do otherwise, to count the costs of our conveniences, to join God in the declaring of a "good" world in which life always prevails.

Bible Study Questions:

1. What do you think God means when God declares the creation "good" in Genesis 1?

2. In what ways does your daily life help affirm God's declaration of the creation as "good?" How does your daily life deny this declaration, even if you do so unintentionally?

3. What changes might you make in your life in order to be a part of helping make the world more life-giving to your neighbors?

For Further Reading:

Believers, Sympathizers, and Skeptics: Why Americans are Conflicted about Climate Change, Environmental Policy, and Science

Revkin, Andrew C. Tracing the Roots of Pope Francis's Climate Plans for 2015

Palmer, Parker J. Five Questions for Crossing the Threshold

Blanchard, Kathryn D. and Kevin J. O'Brien. An Introduction to Christian Environmentalism: Ecology, Virtue, and Ethics. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014.

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You Don't Want to Be a Prophet (Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11)

(5) Comments | Posted December 9, 2014 | 12:12 PM

Ninety-year-old Arnold Abbott feeds the homeless despite a local ban on the practice in public places.

You don't want God to ask you to be a prophet. You really don't.

When God calls you to some holy task, you might expect a contemplative path, a quiet life of service and love of neighbor. You might expect a comfortable life of piety and hopefulness, grace and caring.

But true prophets know better.

Prophets tend not to have such idyllic hopes for God's call. Prophets know too well that the call of God to speak hard truths is paved with difficulty. The prophet's road is lonely not because she escapes the hubbub of everyday life in order to retreat and draw near to God. No, the prophet's road is lonely because she is called to the most troubled corners of the world, places which existence we would rather deny or ignore. The prophet's road is lonely because she must speak boldly to an upside-down world that doesn't realize it is upside-down. The prophet sees the world as it really is while we see the prophet and marvel that she is walking on the ceiling.

In our readings for this week, we encounter two prophets who speak bold words to a world predisposed to ignore them. We encounter two prophets who speak a word of deliverance to the downtrodden and judgment upon the powerful. We encounter two prophets engaged with the most pressing matters of all. We encounter two prophets that we still refuse to heed.

Isaiah and Mary: A Prophetic Duet

Isaiah 61 begins by declaring the advent of the spirit upon the life and work of the prophet. God has anointed the prophet, sealed him with a holy task and call. But his holy task and call is not to do the stuff we usually call "spiritual." The prophet is bringing a word of hope for some but condemnation to others. By declaring free those who are enslaved, the prophet points out those responsible for the enslaving of God's children. By comforting those who mourn, the prophet names the sources of their grief.

So also when Mary's becomes a prophetic singer at the announcement of Jesus' arrival in Luke 1:46-55, she leads a chorus of prophetic voices. She is a pregnant teenager in an insignificant corner of a mighty empire and yet her voice resounds with hope and truth. The world, she says, is about to be turned upside down and right side up. As New Testament scholar Beverly Roberts Gaventa has argued, Mary here becomes the first disciple of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. She is the first to recognize who he is and name the transformation his life will bring. Mary is a prophet whose voice reverberates throughout the generations.

Advent--these weeks leading to Christmas--is a time of prophets and prophecy. As we wait during these ever shorter days for the birth of Jesus, prophets and their prophecy ring in our ears. Resonant promises speak of justice and liberation and deliverance. We yearn to believe these words because they ring so true even as we look around us and see a world tearing itself apart.

Prophecy (Re)defined

Prophecy, we must remember, is not a synonym for prediction. Prophets are not prognosticators guessing at what the future holds. Prophets look at the world as it is and imagine its transformation through a God-infused imagination. What if violence and death were not the order of the day? What if compassion, not selfishness, reigned in our midst? What if we could all see ourselves and our neighbors as God sees us?

And so the prophet does not guess what's next. The prophet does not set her eyes to the future but plants herself in the present, in all its blessedness and mire, and says God is present here. She declares a new world and in this bold, courageous declaration God acts. In the very act of speaking a God-inspired word of consolation and hope, the prophecy comes to life in our midst as we lift our hands to serve our neighbor and move our feet to go to the most desolate places and discover there that God and God's servants are very much alive, very much present. We find that those desolate places are not so desolate after all.

Blessing or Privilege?

In this season of gift giving, prophets like Isaiah and Mary call us to mindfulness. In the wake of Black Friday, we ought to reflect on the unavailing search for meaning in stuff.

We must ask whether we can tell the difference between blessing and privilege.

In fact, we tend to misname privilege and call it blessing. Worst still, we attach a hashtag to it: #blessed.

We confuse luxury for grace. We embrace extravagance and call it God's gift. We devour excess and thank God for daily bread. Blessings are gifts from God given to us but for the sake of others. Privilege is a structural advantage that curves us in on ourselves, a way to aggrandize ourselves at the expense of others.

So Where Do We Find Prophets Today? What Are They Saying to Us?

We find prophets today in all kinds of places. We just need to know how and where to look.

We find prophets imprisoned for feeding the homeless. We rally to their side by sharing their story on Facebook even while we would wish for more ways to cover up the problem of homelessness and our complicity in its sources. We find prophets in the passionate protests at Ferguson even while our eyes are drawn by the media and our worst instincts to focus on the violent few who express a boiling and legitimate rage. We find prophets in the cry #ICantBreathe, in the dire yearning for a world where violence and death don't have the final say, even as we deny the chains of racism and prejudice that weigh heavily on all our shoulders. We find prophets in young people lying down on the ground to symbolize the deaths of their neighbors even as too many of us doubt the power of protest and symbolism.

No one really wants to be a prophet. Their road is hard, and no one really listens to them. Their declamations make us profoundly uncomfortable. True prophets are dismissed as lunatics even as they point out the insanity of a broken world.

No one really wants to be a prophet, but we need them more than ever when Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and countless others whose names we don't know pay the ultimate price for an upside-down world.

Study Questions

1. What are the greatest blessings in your life? Do you ever confuse blessing and privilege?

2. Have you ever felt called to say or do something prophetic? How did you respond?

3. Where do you find prophets today? What are they telling us?

Further Reading

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and Cynthia L. Rigby. Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002.

Honest Speech and Transformative Potential: An Interview with Walter Brueggemann

The Perfect-Victim Pitfall: Michael Brown, and Now Eric Garner

Ta-Nehisi Coates: "Fatalism Is Not an Option"

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Should Christians Be Afraid of Ebola or Climate Change or ISIS or...? (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)

(4) Comments | Posted November 10, 2014 | 11:15 AM

Teresa Ghilarducci on faith and economic inequality.

Fear is in the air.

Ebola, war, conflict, economic turmoil, political victories, political losses: This is the stuff of the nightly news. And everywhere we look we have a new villain to worry about, a new threat against which we ought to brace, a new sense of hopelessness.

This is nothing new, of course. The world has always been a scary place. If anything, we have become inured to the greatest threats we might face. With roofs over our heads and weather forecasters to warn us of impending storms and economic structures to cushion us from financial catastrophe, we keep many dangers at bay.

And yet in the midst of so much safety and comfort, we seem to search compulsively for something to fear, something to raise our ire, something that will keep us up at night. It is not enough to feel safe apparently; for some reason, fear is too tempting.

Anytime these world disasters emerge -- whether disease or storm or war or financial crash -- some Christian or another will step to the microphone to declare the end of days. Things have never been this bad before. The global crisis is unprecedented. This can only mean the dawn of the end as we know it.

Then again, the same could have been said in the days when the plague was ravaging Western Europe. The same could have been said by the victims of Western expansion in the Americas. The same could have been said by our grandmothers and grandfathers as the economic system crumbled before their eyes in the Great Depression. The same could have been said by a Jew facing the Holocaust. The same could have been said by the Nigerian girls who were stolen for the sake of a deluded ideology.

Disasters are not new. Recent disasters do not erase old ones. And old ones do not discount new ones.

And yet our current compulsion to call today's tragedy the worst ever is the arrogance of the present day. We feel that we must be the center of history, the moment when everything changes, the hinge upon which Jesus' return will occur. That compulsion is driven by fear not sobriety, by anxiety not hope.

And most troubling may be that all that misdirected energy keeps us from loving our neighbor near and far and addressing the real dangers we face as a people. As we worry about some fantastical fear, the reality of a yawning gap between the wealthy and the poor can seem too ordinary and thus not worthy of our attention. While we tremble at the prospect of an international war that may well be averted or at the threat of a disease that we have a minute chance of catching, we don't see the victims of that potential war, that ravaging disease. While we worry about the remotest possibilities, the real, daily cries of our neighbor go unrequited.

Too often, we act as if their lives are worthy of our concern only insofar as their affliction might become my problem.

That's what we call sin.

Paul addresses parallel concerns in 1 Thessalonians 5. This letter is likely the oldest text we have in the New Testament. In this community of Christ-followers, some had died. Those who remained were worried that Jesus' return and the resurrection Jesus would precipitate might occur but leave their departed sisters and brothers in the grave. In Chapter 4, Paul declares that God's promises of new life will not be curtailed by the grave. In fact, the dead will rise first and then we will all meet Jesus in the air. In short, we will not be separated from our loved ones for long. The bonds we develop in this life will extend into the next, and so Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to "encourage one another with these words" (4:18).

"But when will this happen?," you can hear the Thessalonians ask. When can our grief shift to rejoicing? Paul explains that the return of Jesus will be sudden and unexpected, comparing it to a thief that arrives without warning or labor pains that arrive too soon. But don't be afraid, Paul says. You don't have to cower in your homes worried sick that a thief might break in. You don't have to stay in bed hoping to abate early labor pains. You don't have to worry because "you are children of the light and children of the day" (5:4-5). God has destined you for salvation, not wrath. And if God will deliver us from death, what then is there left to fear? And so, Paul concludes, "encourage one another with these words" (5:11).

Alas, too many Christians have looked at these two chapters in 1 Thessalonians to deal in fear not encouragement.

Jesus is coming! Be ready! (Fear!)

This person must be the antichrist! (Fear!)

Don't be left behind! After Jesus comes, we will be taken up, and you will be left here to suffer. (Fear!)

This disease must be the plagues of the last days! (Fear!)

In these two chapters, there is no fear to be found. In light of the resurrection, death is no longer our foe. This does not mean that we ought not worry about our loved ones, those who live and those who have died. After all, if love has drawn us together while we live, why wouldn't love continue to achingly draw us together when death has separated us?

But it does mean that the kind of frenzied fear that we see in breathless predictions of doom and gloom, the harried anxiety that sees imminent destruction around every corner has no place in the Christian's life. The world is difficult as it is. The real problems we face are significant and destructive. The suffering of thousands of Ebola sufferers in west Africa ought to temper our own apprehension, soften our fear into the compassion of Jesus' faithful, life-giving hands.

The kind of fear that is running rampant among us today is debilitating. But love can conquer that fear. Hope can conquer that fear. Faith can conquer that fear. Fear will not enable us to tackle the ordinary but destructive arrangements we have created between rich and poor, the powerful and the powerless. But hope can transform both.

And when fear subsides, our hands have no need to be clenched in apprehension. They can only open to love the neighbor in need.

Bible Study Questions:

1. The Gospel reading this week is Matthew 25:14-30. In this parable, Jesus weaves a story about those who have and those who lack. How might this parable speak to our current economic situation? Where is there hope in the midst of reasonable fear about the gap between rich and poor?

2. What are your greatest fears today? What do these fears keep you from doing for the sake of your neighbor?

3. What does fear have to do with faith? What does faith have to do with fear?

4. Is there a difference between "good" fears and "bad" fears? Why or why not?

For Further Reading:

Brian Blount, Invasion of the Dead: Preaching Resurrection (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014).

Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993).

"The Fear Equation"

"Treating Ebola Without Fear"

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Blessing Those Who Have Cursed Us

(0) Comments | Posted September 15, 2014 | 10:33 AM

Sometimes, we teach children the oddest Bible stories.

It is certainly curious that we would decorate baby nurseries with images from the story of Noah's Ark. The smiling elephants in the comically tiny boat must always be blocking out the mass of humanity and animal life drowning under a seemingly never-ending deluge.

The story of Jonah is another favorite in the Sunday School classroom. And for those of us who remember the story, one aspect of the narrative is most memorable. We remember that Jonah is eventually consumed by a whale or a fish or some sea creature. He spends three days in that great beast's belly only to be jettisoned when he has finally learned his lesson.

But what lesson exactly did he learn? For some reason, being devoured and then regurgitated by a huge fish is more memorable than the point of this story.

Jonah 3:10-4:11 contains the rest of the story, a story we would do well to consider anew today.

You see, Jonah had heard God's voice unmistakably. God clearly called this prophet to go to the people of Nineveh, to beg for them to turn from their ways and follow the one God of the universe on the paths of righteousness. What a lofty task! To be sent to an important city, perhaps the most important city in Jonah's day, and declare God's call for repentance and God's promise of forgiveness. What a gift to offer a new path of life, a path of justice and hope!

But Jonah is not interested. At all.

In fact, he tries to run away, flee in the opposite direction, get as far away from Nineveh as possible. Jonah has no interest in entering that city of iniquity and violence and empire. He has no interest in sharing a word of grace to its vile denizens, people luxuriating in the spoils of warfare and imperial expansion. Jonah was convinced that these people were barely people at all. After all, it was Jonah and his people who had been at the losing end of Nineveh's violent expansiveness.

Eventually (specifically, after a three-day interlude in the guts of a whale or a fish or some sea creature), Jonah relents. And yet despite the success of his preaching, Jonah is still put out. He sulks on the edge of the city, confused that God has even loved these people. He cries out, "That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing" (Jonah 4:2b). God gives him shelter but then a worm withers the plant that was once shading his head and a blistering wind beats on his head. What a powerful image. Worms gnawing upon us from inside out, creating a path of bitterness in their wake. And when those worms have consumed the shelter God has given us, we dwell in the heat of our hatred.

The Jonah story is supposed to entertain its readers. After all, the potential shipwreck with which Jonah begins and the image of a man swallowed by a sea creature is the stuff of a compelling story. Plus, the scene of a sulking Jonah is supposed to be funny. Yes, the Bible can be funny. And in that delight of the ears as the storyteller creates this parabolic world, God speaks powerfully to us today.

We have to note that Jonah was speaking from the "underside" of history. Jonah and his people were victims of Assyria's imperial force. Why would he want to speak a word of grace to his conquerors? And yet God shockingly sends Jonah to his bitterest foes.

How strange then that our practice seems to be to save our disdain not so much for the powerful who lord their strength over us but those whom we deem less than us. They have cursed us not by conquering us but by falling short of our expectations or by revealing a dark truth we would rather not confront or by forcing us to confront our own sins.

What happens when we look at our neighbor today with such disdain, with such fury and fear? Little by little, caricature by caricature, we whittle away their humanity, their worth until all that is left is an idea of our own creation, a husk of a person characterized by our narrowest thoughts and not the fullness of who they are.

It is such dehumanization that sees the poor as solely responsible for their perilous lives. It such a dehumanization that demands them to pull themselves from the valley of poverty without any assistance whatsoever. Seeing those who lack the basics of life as God sees them demands compassion from us and perhaps even the sweat of our brows.

It is such dehumanization that justifies the leaking of personal photos, that allows us to Google those images without a second thought, that permits us to blame victims for their afflictions. Seeing these victims as God sees them means we share in the blame for their assault, for we too are participants in a ravenous culture that treats women's bodies as property to be gazed at.

It such dehumanization that allows us to cheer great athletic feats with little thought to the long-term health of these disposable gridiron warriors. It is such dehumanization that perpetuates violence against women, especially that violence that is not splashed on TMZ's website, those anonymous but all too pervasive moments of violence that shatter women's lives. It is such dehumanization that looks at children and mothers fleeing violence in Central America and sees only pestilence and a threat. It is such dehumanization that denies our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers legal protections most of us simply expect without a second thought. It is such dehumanization that refuses to hear the witness of our African American neighbors as they lament and demand justice in the wake of an unnecessary death.

In the end, God calls us to a grace we can barely grant to our enemies. But that is the very essence of God's grace. It saves us and scares us in equal measure. Because if God's love is so expansive, then whom do we have left to despise, whom do we have left to deem less than human, less than beloved by God?

Bible Study Questions

1. Name a time when you have resisted God's call. Or name a time when you felt compelled to do something for someone else but were restrained by fear or anxiety or indifference.

2. Have you ever been dismissed by someone else? Have you ever felt like your humanity, your worthiness was being denied by someone? In what ways did your faith help you in those situations?

3. Whom do you have trouble believing God loves? Why?

For Further Reading

Michael J. Chan, "Commentary on Jonah 3:10-4:11," Working Preacher

A Hymn by Kim Fabricius, "Migrant Jesus, at the border"

James W. McCarty III, "Reading Differently," in Reading Theologically, edited by Eric D. Barreto

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Preaching Reflections on Michael Brown and Ferguson

(3) Comments | Posted August 15, 2014 | 4:59 PM

This post was co-authored by Billy Honor, Valerie Bridgeman, Greg Carey,Dr. Karyn L. Wiseman, and Brian Bantum.

In light of this week's events in Ferguson, Missouri, several of our ON Scripture writers took a few moments to reflect upon what they would/will be preaching on...

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Heaven Is a Home (John 14:1-14)

(37) Comments | Posted May 12, 2014 | 8:53 AM

Undocumented immigrants like Thelma live in fear...

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How to Be Perfect (Matthew 5:38-48)

(2) Comments | Posted February 18, 2014 | 9:09 AM

There's more to this year's Olympics than...

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Was Jesus Political? Undoubtedly

(49) Comments | Posted October 7, 2013 | 1:37 PM

Let's get this out of the way right away: Jesus was political.

His preaching was tinged with political statements. His healings carried massive political implications for the ways we structure our world and understand our neighbor. His execution was of the kind reserved for acts of political disruption. That...

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Good Samaritans All Around

(125) Comments | Posted July 10, 2013 | 11:06 AM

The story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 is so familiar that to some it probably starts to verge on a cliché. Even people who have never read the Bible, let alone the Gospel of Luke, know the image of compassion embodied by...

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Luke 7:11-17: Women, Work and the Word

(73) Comments | Posted June 6, 2013 | 10:06 AM

A recent Pew poll revealed a significant shift in American families. Four in 10 of this country's households now rely primarily on the income of women.

This is both good news and bad. For many women, new opportunities are allowing them to be...

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Majesty and Tragedy in Oklahoma

(117) Comments | Posted May 21, 2013 | 4:35 PM

In churches around the world, Psalm 8's resounding praise of God will be read this Sunday. "O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!" Women and men will confess that these are the words of God. But we will...

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Love and Hope in the Wake of Boston

(1) Comments | Posted April 16, 2013 | 1:52 PM

We should have stopped trying by now. We should have thrown up our hands in despair and cried, "Enough." We should have relented by now, given up any hope that our lives would cease being punctuated by random violence. We should have stopped hoping for something different.

But we haven't.

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When People You Don't Much Like Receive God's Love

(326) Comments | Posted March 6, 2013 | 4:14 AM

Our distaste for people who cut in line remains unchanged as we grow up. Whether someone gets to the front of the lunch line or the airport security check before us in an unfair way, our annoyance is raised. People who steal our parking spots...

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Luke 4:1-13: Giving Up Guns for Lent

(63) Comments | Posted February 13, 2013 | 6:49 AM

Obviously, Jesus didn't own a gun, never said anything directly about firearms. He couldn't have.

Of course, that won't solve the debates now roiling this nation about violence and the people and tools that perpetuate it. Nonetheless, the fact that Jesus has nothing to say...

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Mark 12:28-34: How To Vote Like A Christian

(248) Comments | Posted October 31, 2012 | 11:10 AM

It seems so easy, doesn't it? Love God. Love your neighbor. The two greatest commandments encapsulate the core of faith and could -- if we really were to trust God -- transform the world.

Similarly then, and with election day looming, voting should be...

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James 3:1-12: Sticks, Stones and the Power of Words

(57) Comments | Posted September 12, 2012 | 8:08 AM

Why do we repeat adages we know are false? Why do we deceive ourselves with seemingly soothing words that instead burn invisible scars upon us? Why do we persist in the deception that words cannot harm?

Anyone who has been at the receiving end of...

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2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a: Perilous Power

(17) Comments | Posted August 1, 2012 | 8:25 AM

Every Bible ought to have a warning on its cover.

Some of the stories found herein will shock your senses. They will test your faith. They will stretch you. They can hurt you and hurt others. Therefore, handle these texts with care and caution.

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Acts 2:1-21: Think Differently About Difference

(54) Comments | Posted May 23, 2012 | 12:00 PM

Christians have often hoped for a time when our racial and economic differences would cease, when in Christ we would all be indistinguishable. Such impulses are earnest but fundamentally misguided.

Many such interpretations emerge from a fervent hope that the specters of racism, sexism...

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