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Sowing and Reaping

The Christian faith is an outgrowth of the Judaism that developed out of the religion of ancient Israel. It is not too much to say that virtually every line of the New Testament is related in one way or another to the Jewish Bible and the traditions it spawned or reflected. Jesus, of course, was Jewish and showed no desire to be anything but Jewish, and sometimes in certain sectors of Judaism, he is even considered as someone who acted in the tradition of Israel's prophets.

The tradition of the prophets is marked by the boldness of speaking truth to power. The prophets observed closely the circumstances in which they were living, both in times of weal and woe, and attempted to say how these fit into the scheme of the God of Israel. Mostly their outcry comes in time of woe, when things are bad for Israel, so bad at times the Jews have been displaced from their land and moved into exile—think, for example, the refugee camps in which Palestinians have been living for 40 years or more or where Syrians are living today. The prophets presume to say why this is happening, or more specifically, why God has permitted this to happen. The answer every time is corruption—the corruption of the religion of Israel, the corruption of the society of Israel, the corruption of the mission of Israel to be light to the nations.

The church I serve is located in the center of New Jersey, surely one of the most corrupt states of the 50. I don't know whether this is an especially corrupt time in the state's history, but the profile of our present governor, Chris Christie, whose boundless ambition has brought attention to him and to the running of the state, makes one more aware of the corruption that is business as usual in New Jersey. We call ourselves "The Garden State," but certainly this is no Garden of Eden, though if it is, it is the Garden of Eden after the Fall from grace.

Money, of course, is fundamental in the state's corruption, though I don't think that money is the principal demon driving our Governor. Everything about him suggests that he is ravenous for power and has done and will do pretty much anything he has to do to get it. There is nothing in his demeanor or his policies that would indicate he is interested in the well-being of the people of New Jersey. He is hostile to programs that serve the poor and disenfranchised, and he calculates his every policy and every move by how it will position him for a run for the Presidency on the Republican ticket. Thus he cannot even admit the reality of the human impact on global warming or endorse a raise in the minimum wage, because these are anathema to the most retrograde wing of his Party. At the same time, he has forged alliances in the state with power-hungry Democrats like George Norcross and Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, all of whom seem to be unprincipled opportunists. Power is their god, and their devotion is absolute.

When the prophets of ancient Israel spoke up, it was always in defense of the God who had led Israel out of bondage, the Eternal One who is the God of liberation and justice. They understood the ruin of Israel as a consequence of the departure from devotion to this God who is true in preference for false gods of power and wealth and selfishness, the very sort of things we see being played out in New Jersey. The state has frequently made itself a laughing stock, but its corruption is really no laughing matter. As in ancient Israel, the corruptions of wealth and power have real consequences, not least of all for the poor in the state, but also in our day for the environment and hence for future generations, who may find that they are not able to do much gardening in The Garden State.

I don't know whether or not the corruption in this state is worse than it has been in the past or whether it is, as I say, simply more in our faces because of the governor's national profile and because his vaunted "straight-talking" seems so brutal and bullying. But the corruption is real and as much a denial of the God of justice and liberation as was anything that confronted the prophets of Israel. If we ourselves are not prophets, perhaps at least we can be prophetic in realizing that the corruptions of power are religious and not merely political. Writing to the Galatian church, St. Paul said, "Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow." It does not seem to me that we are reaping good things in the Garden State these days.

Blessings in your quest,

Jeffrey Eaton