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Universal Gnostic Ministry & Study
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Circle of the Free Spirit is a founding member miniistry of the Liberal Gnostic Community.

Homily for December 29, 2013 - Feast of the Holy Family

Given at the Parish of the Holy Spirit, Catholic Universalist Church,
Jackson Heights, Queens, New York

“He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, He shall be called a Nazorean.” [Matt. 2: 23]

What did – and does? – it mean to be called "a Nazorean"?

Does it really mean “someone from Nazareth”? Scholars debate whether or not Nazareth existed at the time of Jesus. The archeological evidence is not conclusive. When, for example, Saint Paul (as recorded in Acts) is suspected of being “a ringleader of the Nazoreans”, did this mean he was a ringleader of people from Nazareth? No, I think not. What do you think? Consider.

There is evidence that the Nazoreans were a movement within Judaism to which John the Baptist and Jesus belonged, and which was a movement of and for "the Poor". The Poor in Hebrew is “Ebionim”. In the first few centuries of the Christian or Common Era, there were Jewish Christian groups who called themselves Nazoreans and Ebionim, or Ebionites. They were denounced as “heretics” by the newly-forming Roman church, but they claimed to be faithful to the original teachings and movement to which John the Baptist and Jesus were a part of.

John baptized as a alternative to, or replacement for, the animal sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple – bloody rituals for which Jews paid the animal-sellers and priests, and hoped to be forgiven for their sins, or to be purified and reinstated into the community. Later, Jesus occupied the Temple and drove out the sellers of sacrificial animals (and the money changers who converted “impure” Roman coins into “pure” Temple coins). When asked by what authority he disrupted the sacrifice business, Jesus said “First tell me by what authority John baptized.” This is recorded in Mark’s Gospel. In other words, the same righteous authority and purpose was behind John’s baptismal alternative to animal sacrifices and Jesus’s direct action to stop these sacrifices.

Replacing blood sacrifice with non-violent Baptism was at the core of the Nazorean movement, which may have gone back centuries to the time of the prophets. Jesus quoted scripture: “I require mercy, not sacrifice.”

A few days later, when Jesus was executed by the Romans, two charges were nailed to the cross above his head: “Nazorean” and “King of the Jews”. Crucifixion was reserved for those posing a threat to the imperial System of exploitation, of which the Temple was an integral part. Rome took a cut of the sale of sacrificial animals and the fees paid to the Temple – like the animals, the Poor were bled dry. The Poor – the Ebionim. “Blessed are the Ebionim!” As recorded in Acts, the life of the Nazoreans, the Poor, was a life of communal abundance. They shared all property and possessions in common, and all their needs were met! How different is this from our 21st century so-called “Christian nation” where those at the top of the social pyramid grow fat feeding off the life blood and body of the rest, and particularly deprive those at the bottom of even the basic means of survival. And now, those who cannot afford food, or jobs, are being further deprived of governmental social support. Woe to our so-called “Christian nation”!

But I digress. Let us backtrack. The first Nazorean leader after Jesus was James – called “the Just” and perhaps “the Less”. James the Little. James the Young. James, of the Holy Family whose feast we celebrate today! James, the little brother of Jesus? What, brother of Jesus?! Yes, it is directly stated in the synoptic gospels that Jesus had brothers and sisters. The brothers are even named: James, Joses (or Joseph), Simon, and Jude (or Judas). And if he had sisters, then there were at least two, maybe more. Maybe they were among the women who stayed faithful to Jesus when all the macho men deserted him.

In any case, James was the successor to Jesus and the first bishop of the Jerusalem Community. Peter answered to James! (Don’t tell the pope!) This is recorded in Acts, letters of Paul, and in non-canonical scriptures such as the Gospel of Thomas. To James is attributed an epistle found in the New Testament. In this letter, James blesses the poor and castigates the rich, as his Brother did. This was the Nazorean agenda! James was martyred in 62 AD at the hands of the Roman-appointed Temple high priest, himself a relative of the high priest who had handed over Jesus to the Romans. The fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple a few years later was interpreted by some as divine wrath for the killing of James – the one revered and called by many in Jerusalem as “The Just”.

Let’s now fast-forward to Bohemia’s tenth century Good King Wenceslas who, “on the Feast of Stephen”, brings food and drink to the poor peasant, as we will sing today. For the ancient Nazoreans, this would not have been so much an act of charity but moreso an act of justice. King Wenceslas, as an archetype, is an expression of King Jesus. “Jesus the Nazorean, King of the Jews” was himself an archetype and an incarnation of The King as Servant to the Poor. This ideal was also taken up by Saint Francis, and it seems, by the current pope who has Francis as his namesake.

And now, one last backtrack. The first Nazorean martyr after Jesus was Stephen, around 37 AD, who opposed the Temple sacrificial exploitation system and leadership as did Jesus. His feast day is December 26th, just three days ago. In earlier times, the day of your martyrdom was considered your feast day because it was your spiritual birth day into heavenly glory, and even the day of your sacred wedding to the Lord. That Stephen's Day is the first day after Christmas hints at the importance of Stephen's witness, as the first martyr after Jesus – a martyr or witness to the radical justice message and mission of "the Nazorean" and the Nazoreans. And Wenceslas, too, dies a martyr’s death, which forges a link between him and the other martyrs – John the Baptist, Jesus, Stephen, James.

He was “called a Nazorean.” They were called Nazoreans. Theirs was a movement of "the Just" – and that meant it was a movement of, by and for the Poor, overturning a system that enriched the powerful at the expense of the common people. “The last shall be first, and the first, last.” It was a movement of both Mercy and Justice – for in their Jewish tradition, Mercy is Justice. The Nazoreans – the Ebionim, the Poor – shared everything in common, and all their needs were met.
So give, give, give to the Poor today – the victims of our socio-economic System – as a matter of Justice, even if expressed as Mercy. And work, work, work to transform our cruel and unjust System into one that indeed embodies and dispenses Mercy and Justice. As the carol “Good King Wenceslas” concludes: “Ye who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing.”

And if you bless the poor, perhaps you, too, “shall be called a Nazorean” – and a member of the Holy Family! For did not Jesus declare that those who do the will of the Father – which is Mercy and Justice – are his mother, brothers and sisters? ✠





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This page created: September 4, 2008

Updated: October 10, 2013, March 10, 2014