It’s a good day to reflect on what we get in exchange for our growing and increasingly inequitable tax burdens.
Last night was the start of Passover, a potent Jewish holiday of liberation, commemorating the ancient story in which the Angel of Death passed over Israelite homes during the dramatic plague-filled run-up to the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt.
This year, Passover occurs at the same time as the Christian Holy Week, which began with the Palm Sunday uprising, tracks through Jesus’ betrayal and martyrdom, and ends with a grand finale of resurrection in which the struggle goes on despite the brutal execution of its messianic leader.
Passover is the “reason for the season,” as people like to say during another big Christian holiday. Passover is why it all went down. There are some specific political, social and economic reasons why Jesus chose this festival to launch his inflammatory march on Jerusalem, in which he mocked the usual Roman war-horse triumphalism with his ridiculous mother-donkey as a steed, then promptly ransacked the Temple’s market that served as a nexus of the tainted relationship between the Jewish establishment and the Roman overlords.
It’s no surprise that Jesus got himself killed.
Some Christians believe that co-opting Passover will somehow bring them closer to Jesus. That might be so, in the sense that mimicking a ritual in which he participated every year of his life helps to remind us of Christianity’s roots in the Jewish struggle for liberation. I hope to avoid the many land mines littering that terrain while still pointing out that Easter is rooted in Passover. I am not claiming that Passover was somehow a festival cooked up in anticipation of one particularly-rowdy year’s observances. Rather, the Passover upheaval that occurred around 32 C.E. was the predictable result of a festival of liberation observed by a community in urgent need of liberation.
So what was Passover like in Jesus’ day?
Imagine that the Soviets won. Now we all have to grit our teeth through that humiliating military parade every May Day, knowing that it’s only a couple of months until the Fourth of July. And that’s our Passover, when our suppressed sacred holiday comes. The freedom fighters up in the hills will launch raids, and protests and riots will erupt in the cities. People will get hurt but it’s a good season overall, when we reconnect with who we really are.
That analogy gives some idea of Passover in Jesus’ day, but there is one more detail:
We are the Soviets. As ironic as it seems, the snowballing confrontation with Russia coincides with a sort of role reversal, in which the U.S. has taken on the role of global bully and boogeyman that was the Soviet Union – our rationale for McCarthyism, a suicidal arms race and a military industrial complex that is making great strides toward destroying what’s left of our republic.
Our “Christian” nation is engaged in exactly the sort of imperial overreach that made life in first-century Palestine so violent, tumultuous and often miserable. Washington isn’t nearly as brutal or capricious as Rome, yet, but it plays that same sort of role.
Yes, Russia is bad. Russia is probably up to no good in a whole variety of places, most notably Syria and Ukraine. But consider how the U.S. has been behaving, egging on a revolution that has yielded Europe’s most terrifying military confrontation in decades. The Russians, for all their flaws, have good reason to fear a failed state on their doorstep, considering how things are turning out in other places where the U.S. has intervened, most notably Iraq and Libya.
There has been a mind-blowing string of revelations in recent days, underlining how far the United States has fallen from its ideal (which it never really reached):
Surveillance is rampant with no real judicial restraint. Guantanamo is still in operation, and the trial that is the best hope of escape for a few of those poor souls imprisoned for more than a decade has been disrupted again by accusations that the FBI was attempting to convert defense attorneys into government informants. Drone ostensibly run by the CIA are actually flown by regular army personnel. Meanwhile, USAID is running CIA-like covert ops to destabilize Cuba in the way it destabilized Ukraine. God only knows what our tax dollars are doing in Venezuela.
Sometimes it seems like our government knows that it has lost its way. It knows our nation is dying, and it is trying to take down as many other nations as possible, so we will have lots of company when we finally become a failed state.
Having lots of company will help us avoid the hard truth that failure wasn’t inevitable. And oddly enough, the path to avert failure is our supposed “Judeo-Christian” heritage. Ironically enough, our failure will come from our denial of the call for justice that is the common root of Judaism and Christianity.
It’s not too late, of course, but for starters, we have to remind ourselves that whatever happened after Jesus’ death (a topic that is a source of division), his martyrdom can be a source of unity among everyone interested in real justice – people of many faith traditions and those of a more secular bent. Let it remind us of the importance of confronting power run rampant even at great cost.
Jesus died for something. Let it not be in vain.