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"A Change of Pope" and: "Are Three Gods Better Than One?"
Is this the Viceroy of the carpenter of Galilee?
As the story is told in the Gospel of Luke, two thousand years ago, more or less exactly this year, the twelve-year old son of a Judean carpenter astounded the learned priests in the temple in Jerusalem with his wisdom and humility. Eighteen years later he emerged in Galilee, fully fledged as a radical populist leader, and embarked on the most remarkable three-year career known to history. At his death at the end of the three years, it wasn't clear that Jesus had achieved anything. His avowed mission, to reform Jewry and lead the Jews back to the Law of Moses, had failed. His example, a life of asceticism, humility, and service, had predictably attracted few followers, and not many of these would be expected to continue the effort after his death.Abstract:
But unexpectedly, Jesus' teachings found an entirely different fertile ground. His disciple Simon Peter took the message of Jesus to Jews in far-flung communities around the Levant and as far as Rome. Soon the gentile convert Paul adjusted the message, removing the Jewish cultural elements and the association with a chronically angry and jealous Yahweh-god, and pitched Jesus' philosophy as one of mutual love, humility, and service, and worship of the now universal – no longer tribal – Jehovah as a reinvented God of love.
During 300 years of persecution, the early Christians in Rome lived lives of enforced humility and privation, emulating Jesus' life of simplicity and dedication to God. During these difficult years a class of religious politicians evolved in the Christian community, and after Christianity was elevated to the status of official church in Rome, the top theo-politician, the bishop of Rome, began amassing power, which over the centuries grew to vast proportions. The power of the bishop, now called "Papa" – Pope, eventually became absolute in Europe, and the papacy went on to demonstrate the old saw that "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely". Through his armed might, through his power of taxation, by means of terror, torture, and assassination, but most of all through his control over people's souls, the Pope gathered to himself and his cronies in Rome riches beyond belief, forced from rich and poor by the threat of eternal damnation, first throughout Europe, and then from the Americas as well.
The Popes' obscene display of wealth has known no bounds. While millions in the Catholic flock have suffered and died in poverty, disease, and starvation, the Popes (for some reason God has appointed a number of excessively evil men, even by worldly standards, to this post) have spent their parishioners' tithes on fantastically decorated gilded palaces for themselves and their cardinals. While the Pope to this day proclaims himself the Vicar of Christ, Jesus' ambassador on the Earth, sole holder of God's truth, the real truth is that the total disconnect between the lavish life of the Pope and his minions and that of the humble Galilean carpenter whom the Pope purports to represent puts the lie to the pretensions of the Roman church as representatives of this humble hero of Judea.
The Pope expects Jesus to come to Earth again, and is prepared to greet him in his gilded halls. But those who know anything of the life and mind of Jesus know well that if he makes a second appearance, the Pope will never see him. Unlike the Pope in his palace, where the poor and unclean unfortunates will never gain an audience, Jesus would, as before, walk among them, owning no more himself than do those to whom he ministers. What a difference from the pride, wealth, and corruption of his gold-brocaded "vicars" in Rome. Jesus would do to the residents of the Vatican as he did to the Pharisees and money-changers in the temple: throw them out on their ear; command them to sell their goods to provide for the poor.
Each time there's a change of Pope in the Vatican, we hope that this time it will be different. (See the BRJ essay of April 2005.) This time perhaps a leader will arrive with enough compassion for his charges to overcome his and the Church's love of their own authority, power, and wealth. But it didn't happen in 2005, any more than it had happened any time before, through the centuries.
We identified, in 2005, four major evils in the Catholic Church that the new Pope needed to root out. But he has dealt with none of them:
What would Jesus say, if he should, on the odd chance, run into the Pope and see the Vatican on his hoped-for return to Earth? Unless he has taken a sudden liking to magnificence and gaudy wealth, he might remind the Pope of what he said two thousand years ago: "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." We might guess (and would certainly agree with) what his follow-up advice might be to this unfaithful steward: "Sell what you have and follow me." He would mean follow me into the streets and alleyways, into the hovels of the poor and sick. And on seeing the palaces of the Vatican: "Sell the lot, divest the Church of its wealth and return it to the poor from whom you took it; take a humble room and walk among the people. Then, and not 'til then, may you be my Viceroy."
Shame, shame, Pope Benedict.
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