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Philosophers have always had a lot to say about Christianity. Sometimes they’ve been right.

A Reflection for Tuesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Thus says the LORD: See! I will restore the tents of Jacob, his dwellings I will pity; City shall be rebuilt upon hill, and palace restored as it was. You shall be my people, and I will be your God. (Jer. 30:18, 22)

Famously, secular philosophers have had a lot to say about Christianity. The example that comes most readily to mind is Friedrich Nietzsche. Many of us will be familiar with Nietzsche’s “Madman,” who runs up and down the city streets shouting that “God is dead and we have killed him.” That proclamation has become a sort of watchword for our modern age. Heck, it even got slapped on the cover of Time Magazine.

That wasn’t all he had to say about the Abrahamic God, though. In his tract On the Genealogy of Morality, Nietzsche recognized something radical about the Jewish and Christian traditions. He noticed that they turned the idols of the ancient world—money, power and conquest—on their heads. The ancient Greeks, he reasoned, valued strong, rich and violent men—the sort of people who go out and get what they want, by any means necessary. Think of Odysseus, for example.

The Jewish and Christian traditions did something very different. They lifted up the weak, the poor and the peacemakers, and in doing so, they reappropriated and devalued the highest glories of the Roman world. Nietzsche derisively called this inversion “slave morality,” the ultimate revenge of an oppressed people and a hope they could cling to even when all else seemed lost.

It should be no surprise that marginalized, poor and enslaved peoples up and down the ages have found something beautiful in the Gospel.

Even if Nietzsche hated “slave morality,” he’s fundamentally right to call it that. Quite literally, the prophet Jeremiah is speaking to an enslaved people in today’s passage, at a time when Israel was held captive in Babylon. And it’s not the only instance when they had been trapped in slavery; Egypt also comes to mind. Judaism and Christianity are religions rooted in the experience of the poor, the outcast and the enslaved. They represent something radically unique among the religious traditions of the ancient world.

God’s message is one of justice. Even when the rest of the world has abandoned Israel, God does not forget his children. They are his people, and he is their God. Here, that God promises to set his people free, just like he did in Egypt, and just like he will soon do on the Cross. He does not abandon them to perpetual servitude; instead, he promises final victory over the oppressor.

It should be no surprise that marginalized, poor and enslaved peoples up and down the ages have found something beautiful in the Gospel.

The reason?

Nietzsche is right. Our God subverts the empire’s moral and political paradigm. He casts aside the mighty for the lowly and lifts up the forgotten.

After all, they are his people, and he is their God.

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