Finally Comes the Poet
● it is precisely the problem for the proclamation
of the gospel that the great claims of the gospel do not seem to be
problematic or in question.
● The gospel is too readily heard and taken for
granted, as though it contained no unsettling news and no unwelcome
● To address the issue of a truth greatly reduced requires
us to be poets that speak against a prose world.
● Now, however, there is disclosed a new word,
a new hope, a new verb, a new conversation, a new risk, a new
possibility. It is not a new truth, but rather one long known that had
been greatly reduced.
● The truth known by the poet is that the tears of
the judge permit a new move. If the judge had spoken only in
harshness, the people of God would be fated.
● The connection between Yahweh and economics is a
bold and persistent one in the Bible, because the Bible knows that
economics is one of the two spheres where we live our life. The
violation is rendered artistically in this text, not focused on an
economic issue, but on pain and hurt and exploitation. The pain, hurt,
and violation in this text concern taking what belongs to another,
e.g., power relations in the family, robbing the value of another life
by sexism, racism, or ageism. Or turn the metaphor to
Central America and notice how well we live from food
taken from the table of a peasant. It is dawning on us slowly
that in both El Salvador and Nicaragua we are concerned with
long-term U.S. robbery that we have come to think of as business as
usual, as we enjoy the fruit of the United Fruit Company.11 How
strange to have a "ritual text," so conventionally ignored by
us, become so immediately available for the scary places in our
life that have to do with problems of guilt and alienation.
● Restitution costs: "He shall restore it in full,
and shall add a fifth to it." Restitution costs twenty percent
according to Leviticus. Guilt requires not simply equity and an even
balance, but gift beyond affront. It requires surplus compensation.
Such a rule is both economically shrewd and psychologically sound.
● The anguish of our preaching is that these truths
are frequently reduced in ways that rob the gospel of its power and
urgency. We have the perspective of romantic psychology that concludes
that I am not guilty but only "feel" guilty. And because the problem
is not taken seriously, no serious response can be entertained. Such
a conclusion, of course, only buries the alienation at deeper
● We have no language to say fully what we know
about God's love, which in self-giving transforms. Unless we
speak poetically, we invite terrible reductions. Unless we speak
poetically, God's self-giving transformation will be heard as a form
of cheap grace that costs God nothing because God simply overrides.
● Let preaching be as conservative as it can
possibly be about the self-giving of God who stops the poison. Let the
preacher be as dangerous as she possibly can be about
reparations in the family, in Central America, in all the
enslavements and exploitations we practice. The preacher must be
conserving of the grace of God and open to the pain and
injustice of the world. Neither may be neglected. Both must
be enacted. Only a poet can speak both dimensions of our
dangerous way with God at the throne.
● who believe it is better to be nice at the throne
than it is to be honest, who must practice denial and guilt in order
to enhance God.8
● Such alienation and muted rage have a central
characteristic in common: an absence of conversation, a loss
of speech. In both cases, life is reduced to silence. Where
there is theological silence, human life withers and dies. Where
● Muteness is practical atheism.
● Praise is difficult for those caught in
● Our obedience will not venture far beyond or
run risks beyond our imagined world.
● The text we have cited from Amos shows that the
Sabbath was a great line of defense against exploitation, to permit
the humanization of public life. In the context of Mark's Gospel,
however, Sabbath practice had become so restrictive and
oppressive that it worked against acts and gestures of human
caring. The command that was a guard against economic
destructiveness now had been distorted to sanction other
kinds of communal destructiveness.
● The theological issue in the Sabbath command is
rest. The preacher's theme for those who gather is restlessness.
● The Tenth Commandment concerns land, which equals
● The theological issue related to the land is
sharing-respecting the entitlement of others. The preacher's
theme for those who gather is greed. Greed touches every aspect
of our lives: economic, political, sexual, psychological, and
theological. Greed bespeaks a fundamental disorder in our lives, a
disorder that reflects distortion in our relation with God.
● To violate Sabbath and to covet is, in each case,
to seize control of one's own life. Such seizing leads to death.
● Daniel reckons that the imperial diet will make
him unacceptable and distort his person. How peculiar! It is peculiar
that marginal people should find royal food objectional, when they
have a chance to abate their hunger with it. Normally it is the
well-off who will disdain the diet of the marginal.
● We may notice how "the others" have conformed; we
are not so skillful in noticing how we ourselves have joined the
version of ideology most compatible with our social location and
● Remember who you are by remembering whose you are.
Be your own person even in the face of the empire, of the dominant
ideology, of the great power of death. Be your own person by being in
the company of the great God who works in, with, and through the
training program of the empire for the sake of God's own people. Be
your own person, because God has not succumbed to the weight of the
● It matters what we eat. It matters who feeds us and
● on whose food we rely. Food, elemental sustenance,
always comes with a price. Eat royal bread and think royal thoughts.
Eat royal bread and embrace royal hopes and fears. Exiles who did not
assimilate are those who know there is another bread close at hand,
not provided by the Babylonians. Another poet, in some ways close to
Daniel, said it this way:'°
● Ho, every one who thirsts, come to the
waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Why do
you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor
for that which does not satisfy? Hearken diligently to me, and eat
what is good, and delight yourselves in fatness." Incline your
ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live.
● The poet speaks of imperial bread that costs and does
not satisfy. Submission to the empire causes us to labor for
that which does not satisfy, that exhausts and leaves us with greater
● Whoever feeds, owns. And we are children of
● The theme of the preacher is not nonconformity,
but the freedom, energy, and courage of an alternative identity.
● God's new humanity requires the courage of great
resistance: resistance to every enslavement, refusal of every
cooptation in heaven or on earth, a resolve to be one's own person.
God's new humanity requires at the same time the bold practice of
doxology: engagement with the dream in all its threat, submission, and
relinquishment in order to be safe.
● On the economic dimension of this petition, see
Michael Crosby, Thy Will Be Done: Praying the Our Father as
Subversive Activity (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1977), chap. 8,
and Sharon Ringe, Jesus, Liberation, and the Jubilee Year
(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985).