Who is Matthew?

 

What do we know of Matthew? I am referring to the one who wrote “Matthew’s Gospel”, the initial contribution we find as we open our New Testament. He is to us what he allows us to know of him in this Gospel.

What can we ever know of another person? We have what they give to us of themselves, from out of their own life, their words and their deeds. It is a fragile as any inter-personal, inter-human communication.

There is a recorded saying of Jesus that Matthew gives us that may help us deepen our appreciation for how he views himself, and thus how he presents himself to us.

Jesus is recorded as having just finished telling some parables about the Kingdom of Heaven, about how God’s purposes for the Son of Man will be sorted (the wheat separated from the weeds) at the appointed time. Having affirmed that this will involve “weeping and gnashing of teeth”, Jesus turns to his disciples:

“Have you indeed understood all these things?” he asked, their reply being, “Yes, we have.” And to that reply he gave this further comment to them: “And so it is, then a teacher of the law becomes a student in the kingdom of heaven, he will resemble the master of a household who draws forth from his treasure, new things as well as old.” (Matthew 13:51-52).

It is, admittedly, an indirect clue as to how Matthew saw himself in the writing of this Gospel, but this Gospel is, in fact, the only source we now have for our knowledge of him. We have good reason to suppose that Matthew is the tax-collector whose part in the back-story of this Gospel began when Jesus called him as recorded in 9:9-13. We learn from Mark that his other name was Levi, son of Alphaeus, who then threw a party for Jesus (Mark 2:13-17). But Matthew’s account doesn’t tell us that; he simply indicates that this was the occasion by which Jesus gained a reputation from the Pharisees for consorting with undesirables, with tax-collectors and sinners.

These indications are similar circumstances to what we confront when we meet a person who is so concerned with what he is teaching that he turns our attention away from himself. By mentioning that Matthew the tax-collector followed Jesus, this account of the Good News may also be telling us of the impact of the ministry of John the Baptist (Luke 3:10-14) upon himself. Later on in this Gospel that teaching is confirmed when tax-collecting and tax-paying is affirmed in Jerusalem’s temple in dramatic fashion (22:15-22).

Matthew’s account of his adherence to Jesus comes after Jesus’ preparation, his 40-day trial in the wilderness, the account of the Sermon on the Mount. It suggests that what Jesus was busy with took place within John’s movement across the Galilean region. A repentant spirit had taken hold of many people. Jesus’ teaching even commended the faith of a Roman Centurion (8:5-13). This was something big.

In confronting the religious leaders, those claiming to hold the title deeds to Israel’s sacred traditions, this Teacher was certainly continuing the public critique of religious hypocrisy that John had initiated “You breed of snakes” (see 3:7 for John; 12:33 and 23:34 for Jesus). But more than that. Yes Jesus was busy in a self-disciplining way of life that not only gave strict formal assent to what the Law and the Prophets had announced concerning the works of the Lord’s Anointed. But he was also teaching in a way that relieved people’s anxieties about God’s love and favour toward them. He commended the faith of a Canaanite mother, in distress at her child’s chronic condition (15:21-28). He showed mercy to his hometown by revisiting there even though the people had previously tried to execute him and remained deeply resentful of his teaching and person (13:54-58 cf Luke 4:14-30 when his ministry was inaugurated).

Matthew’s Gospel is written as an account of a Divine visitation about which the author is in no doubt. He is the tax-collector who has become a student, an amanuensis, in the Kingdom of God, and this is his story of what is old and what is new. This is his attempt to give a cogent, palpable account, presumably for the people of Galilee who, having been stirred by God’s Spirit under the teaching of John, desperately clung to the teaching of “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” and who needed to know the Good News of Jesus’ Resurrection after his trial and crucifixion.

The visitation had taken place in the fields, and on the roads of Galilee, within its villages and towns, as this Rabbi disclosed his mission as the Son of Man.

John’s disciples were no doubt distraught and disoriented (11:2). This was evidence of basic injustice. His imprisonment must have raised questions for them. Some disciples he had re-directed to follow Jesus. But of the others, no doubt, some went to him pleading for his advice as to what they could do. And meanwhile, understandably, John is prone to doubts himself. Was not a fire of cleansing on the way? Was not that what he had proclaimed? (3:1-12) What is he to make of his own imprisonment? Has it all been a wonderful, heroic failure? Well, he tells his disciples, you better go and ask Jesus. Ask him. He’s the One in whom I have rested my hopes.

And Matthew the tax-collector, no doubt impressed by John’s invitation to tax-collectors to get ready for the Kingdom of Heaven breaking out in human history, is writing his Gospel to confirm his faith that John’s ministry in the desert was continued and fulfilled by Jesus and his works.

It was this service performed by Jesus in Galilee, this body of teaching of which Matthew had become the Kingdom-of-God scribe, that would assist all those who came to belief in Israel’s Messiah, who had come to trust that His work was completed in Jerusalem despite his betrayal, trial, the denial of his closest disciples, and death. That work with the stamp of approval from God raising him from the grave, completed and retained its meaningful character for the proclamation of forgiveness of sins in the Kingdom of Heaven – this is what Jesus’ resurrection and ascension announces. The disciples of Galilee needed to hear this Good News, they needed to hear again that the Kingdom of God had truly come and has been made known in their midst by the Person elected by God the Father to be their King.

And indeed Matthew is suggesting this is truly Good News directly for tax-collectors and tax-payers, for those employed in collecting taxes for Caesar or for that matter in any other lawful authority. This is because the Kingdom of God is a regime that not only invites and requires one’s opened-up civil and political efforts to proclaim, advocate and implement public justice, but can be utterly relied upon for every detail of one’s life, not just for the accountant’s office, or the bank ledger, or the tax office records, but of blessing to your household, your marriage, your children, your neighbourhood, school, hospital, marketplace … your taxes are due for the administration of your transport, rubbish collection, water supply, public health, security. Your love for God is called for because the God and Father of Jesus Christ who makes all this, and more, available, is your Maker, your Ruler, your King. These too are the avenues of his love to you and all the world.

Those who, upon hearing this “old, old story”, want so much to believe it because the story brings to mind how much they have stuffed up their lives and the lives of others. They have so often broken their own strict standards of conduct and become hypocrites in their own eyes, let alone anyone else’s. They feel guilty, “unclean”, in need of being put right, their lives straightened out. They know all too well that they can pretend to believe to show off their piety. These are those who, when it comes down to it, simply want to believe. To them Matthew’s Gospel seems to be saying, and also to us in the 21st century, something like the following:

Well don’t try to work out all that happened in Jerusalem, as if a full historical record is what you need. I have recounted that in the latter portions of my Gospel; and you can’t deepen your understanding by ignoring these accounts, brief though they be. But, faith in God, as Jesus taught it, is not some kind of self-imposed self-hypnosis – instead take what I have written there and look again at what is recorded of what Jesus taught from the outset, from John the Baptist, and get a sense of how he was alert to what the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms were saying about the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 42 and Matthew 12:18-21) and the impending treatment that would be meted out to him.

Matthew’s Gospel, like that of Mark, and in contrast with Luke and John, seems to end so abruptly. But if we read Matthew’s account from the outset we may then get that sense that he is trying to suggest to us that the way to deal with this “religious conundrum” is to work backwards as it were from where you are now. For the Galileans who were still caught up with Jesus’ parables, poetry and teaching – the Sermon on the Mount in particular – it meant being instructed about how God’s purposes were fulfilled in what transpired when Jesus “went up” to Jerusalem. He had taught his disciples to help them understand his works, the works his Father was pleased to take and complete.

If we go to Matthew’s Gospel seeking to appreciate how the Christian Church was inaugurated by the fulfilment of the coming of the Spirit with wind and fire at Pentecost, we will note what John the Baptist proclaimed prior to Jesus’ baptism, and what Jesus said about the disciplined waiting of the apostles to receive the new life he had made available (Acts 1:4-5 and Matthew 3:11-17). Pentecost thus needs to be appreciated in terms of the apostles’ teaching of Jesus ascension to God’s right hand; and if with Jesus’ ascension to God’s right hand then we need to confront Jesus’ resurrection; and if with his resurrection then with his crucifixion; and if with his crucifixion then with his trial; and if with his trial, then how he was left on his own; and if his being left on his own then by his betrayal; and if by his betrayal by what he had continued to teach in the temple infuriating those who believed they owned Israel’s bequest of “religious capital”; and then by his teaching, the teaching he had first enunciated and developed when he began his ministry in Galilee after John was arrested. This is the literary flow that can be detected in the Gospel of Matthew, presumably Matthew the tax-collector, the follower of Jesus who came to see tax-collection as meaningful public action in the Kingdom of God.

BCW 18.6.17

Local Government, Public Justice and Community Health Care

In our previous three posts on local government, we have developed a critical analysis of a political problem that derives from the recent 2016 LGA council election for the Borough of Queenscliffe. We began this discussion about local government last year with a post that responded to the political ambiguity and instability that had come about as a result of that election. The erosion of trust is very serious. Deceit on the hustings cannot be talked away. Our analysis has identified a variety of failures in the political context of mutually interlocking social responsibilities; each of these failures contribute to the “crisis”:

the flaw (the lack of truthfulness) in the conduct of the election; the failure of Candidates to disclose their political party affiliation; the conduct of the Local Government Authority and its elected Council; the negligence of the political parties in political education; the failure of the Victorian Electoral Commission to address to electoral deceit; the State Government’s policies with respect to police officers being available to stand for election to LGA Councils; the Victoria Police’s silence with respect to the question mark now placed against the application of the code of conduct for police officers.

This is a gridlocked ethos of political irresponsibility. It illustrates a political unwillingness to view this state of affairs as a serious political problem that needs to be solved. Our system of public governance is being weighed in the balances and found wanting.

Nurturing Justice is contributing to a political debate in which many commentators are suggesting similar things about the brokenness of our political system; try here and here. Our particular contribution to this debate in this post is to identify some important local indications of this widespread brokenness.

As Australian electors, those to whom elected representatives are nominally accountable for the way we are governed, we have learned too well how to avoid long and complex political argument; as a polity we are allergic to extended discussion about complex political history. The political controversy we instinctively avoid may even be about what happened last week, or even, as we have been saying, about the LGA election in 2016, but we electors in this polity – in the BoQ and anywhere else – have learned too well the art of political avoidance. It was precisely electors with that reduced and a-historical mind-set that gave a full quota of first round votes (1/5th of 3000 electors = 600) to the candidate who announced:

I am not a politician!

Some readers may have been attracted to this post because I have added “Community Health Care” to its title. And they may well be interested to read what NJ has to say about “Community Health Care”. So let us first frame our reflection with this question: what has health care provision in our community got to do with our political responsibilities let alone with any crisis we might have with political irresponsibility at the LGA level?

One needs to follow closely because as well as the “legitimation crisis” in the BoQ there is also an ongoing political battle going on about the way Bellarine Community Health is conducting its affairs and contributing to “Health Care” provision in this local community. There is, of course, much more that can be commented upon, that what is contained in one post.

In The Queenscliffe Herald, the local monthly newspaper, readers can read “Verbal Stoush Continues Over BCH” (p.3). This latest chapter in that ongoing BCH saga not only concerns the disagreement between the State Government and Bellarine Community Health over the BCH’s recent appointment of a new CEO, but we also read an article there by 4 members of BCH Ltd making public their concerns about BCH management. They have serious criticisms about the conduct of the Company’s affairs. Consider the following statement:

The BCH Board made a decision to exit Residential Aged Care and divest themselves of these community assets without community or member consultation.

This is a serious accusation. But how is this statement to be evaluated? What kind of criteria are appropriate for evaluating the actions of BCH Ltd, a company limited by guarantee?

Part of the Board’s self-inflicted political problem is their unwillingness (or is it inability?) to draw attention to the reason they had to exit from Residential Aged Care provision. For some years before the closure of Coorabin, Government funding policy for aged care had been redesigned in order to provide services that assisted elderly people to stay in their own homes.

As a consequence of changes in aged-care funding from Canberra, decisions were made at the State Government level to re-configure the constitutions of community associations that had, up to that point, exercised oversight responsibility for aged-care facilities like Coorabin. If aged-care facilities were to remain viable in an era where government funding was to be dispersed with the aim of keeping elderly people in their own homes, and that funding for aged-care facilities was only going to be for those with special needs who could not any longer stay at home, then Coorabin would need to be run on business lines and that meant that the Queenscliffe Community Health Association would have to change its constitution to become a profit-based operation, a company limited by guarantee. That was the policy decision made by the State Government’s Department of Health and it meant changes to community health associations across the state. The Queenscliff Community Health Association was not exempt from this.  

So when Coorabin ceased operating as a residential aged care facility, four years ago, it was also at a time when the ongoing funding for aged-care was dispersed with the presumption that Residential Aged Care would have to operate on for-profit business terms. Facilities would have to be upgraded to cater for the less mobile and more needy clientele. And this change in orientation for Coorabin was already prefigured by the change in the constitution, a change that made it’s founding association into a company, and that meant a basic change in what it meant to be a member of a community health body like BCH Ltd, the successor to QCHA, as a change to its name – no longer Queenscliff but Bellarine. When that changeover took place, the constitution of the new body replaced the old constitutional provisions by which the Board had to be elected by, and was accountable to, the members of the Association for the conduct of the Association’s affairs. The changeover meant that the Board of BCH Ltd, a “company limited by guarantee”, was not elected by, nor accountable to, members in the way that the Board of the previous association had been. What had changed was the nature of membership and the structure of public accountability as this was spelled out in both constitutions.

It is a remarkable and continuing feature of this “stoush” that these constitutional changes are regularly absent from the debate as it now rages back and forth. The recent history of public policy and government decision-making simply doesn’t make it into this public controversy. As a result the public debate is gridlocked in disappointment from one-side and self-justification from the other. And these are the flow on effects to the local community life that came about from changes to Federal and State funding for aged-care.

Meanwhile the community’s corporate responsibility for aged-care seems to have evaporated. For many, I suspect, it is a mystery, but it is a mystery that can only be overcome if people are willing to think about their own responsibilities for aged-care in public-legal, historical and political terms. Sadly the major political parties are on another planet as far as rendering assistance to overcome this deficit in public understanding. 

But by having their appeal broadcast, these four BCH members have made a public their appeal to the BCH Board. It is a significant political statement. From reading it carefully our attention with be drawn to the fact that the BCH Board lacks the kind of constituted accountability to its members and to the community that the four writers believe it should have and which was a central feature of the Board’s relationship to members in the predecessor body as a community association. BCH Ltd is a “company limited by guarantee” and so it is subject to different constitutional requirements. To criticise BCH Ltd by appeal to the former constitutional criteria misses the point and simply draws attention to “the world we have lost”. The public debate as it rages on all sides manifests a serious declension from comprehensive political debate.

This ongoing “stoush” is also what remains of an incomplete political debate about the closure of Coorabin, about the appropriate public policies for the provision of aged-care. Nurturing Justice is about the seeking of public-legal wisdom in situations of political gridlock such as these..

We have been discussing how a local community’s corporate sense of responsibility for the provision of aged-care, having set up an association that would, in time, allow local residents access to their own “retirement home” in their own locale, a residence for which they already been responsible. And so, what we are discussing is such a possibility that has been lost. 

Some say, and not without good reason, that the local community’s involvement in aged-care has been vandalised. But to use the term vandalised when criticising new developments in public life, is to remind ourselves of the way public facilities and buildings left in a derelict state, with inadequate maintenance, invite vandalism. To use the term politically requires us to turn the critical light upon ourselves: could we as association members or as citizens have brought this state of affairs upon  ourselves? Could we have facilitated the vandalism – not by what we actually did but by what we failed to do? That is certainly a question that residents of the Borough of Queenscliffe need to ask themselves, particularly if they are prone to lament the decline of our community life. 

The “stoush” goes on, but unfortunately, those in charge of BCH Ltd are not drawing attention to the constitutional framework in which the company is required to do its work, and for which the Board of Directors are responsible. Somewhere in the midst of this confused situation, the accountability of BCH Ltd to the “Bellarine community” needs to be rediscovered. But to do so they would then have to face up to the fact that successive governments have redrawn public-legal the map and hence changed the prospects for local associations exercising civic responsibility for aged-care.

“Both sides” of parliamentary politics seem content to allow BCH Ltd to shoulder all  or most of the public disquiet for the resultant confusion. These privileged election machines, as Nurturing Justice regularly refers to them, are not showing any keenness to foster insightful political understanding about these community changing changes to legislation and public policy. They are merely acting as the political children of TINA – There Is No Alternative.

But there is always more to be said and the former members of the former association that had fostered Coorabin, the former aged-care facility that was a focus for local community’s sense of responsibility for the elderly, need to look carefully again at the way in which our God-given public responsibilities to care for our neighbours is an integral part of our everyday life. We stand in need of deepened political wisdom that respects our history as well as the public-legal dimensions of our neighbourhoodedness.  

BCW 15.6.17

How Should Political Parties Conduct Themselves in Relation to Local Government?

Our previous post has concluded with the affirmation that the Liberal Party is a primary cause of the serious crisis that has now befallen the Borough of Queenscliffe. Of course this is a serious accusation. Can I back it up?

Many of my fellow citizens in the Borough will ask: “What crisis?” My answer, along the lines of the previous post, may well bring forth the following rejoinder:

Well what do you expect? They are after all, all politicians!

So, what am I to say when that is said? Am I to walk away, shrug my shoulders and let the matter drop?

Actually, there is something political I can say there and then – it may at least give some cause to pause. I could say:

And our Mayor’s election platform insisted that he wasn’t a politician!

To highlight this fact is not to indulge a “cheap shot”; this is an important clue to the crisis we face. Our contradictory political situation needs analysis and this contradiction should be front and centre as we carefully unravel the various responsibilities that have formed, and are shaping, our political lives – this anomaly is central to political beliefs that are basic to this crisis.

Readers will also notice I have avoided names. The names can easily be found by a diligent search of the web. I have spoken to the person concerned and told him I am willing to discuss the matter with someone else present. But here I prefer to talk in terms of offices, positions of public responsibility. It is a crisis and it is shared; the mistakes that have been made which have deepened this crisis are not solely the errors of one person acting alone, no matter how unencumbered politicians of Liberal persuasion view themselves to be.

_ _ _ _ _

Readers who have followed the discussion on this site since late 2016 will know I have identify various “offices” contributing to this crisis:

1. The Borough of Queenscliffe Council
2. The Returning Officer for the Council Election
3. The State Electoral Commission
4. The Victorian Parliament
5. Victoria Police
6. The Ice Police Task Force in the Geelong Region
7. The State Member for the Bellarine Electorate
8. The Liberal Party (Bellarine Peninsula Branch).

In this post I simply wish to make a point about what I consider to be the deep failure of the Liberal Party, the 8th on my list. And when we have understood their failure in this matter, we might have begun to develop a new idea of what a political party might be and how it should conduct its affairs, and be seen to conduct its affairs, in relation to LGAs in this polity. There is one step that should be taken immediately by the Liberal Party; I leave that till the end of this post.

I narrow the focus to the Liberal Party even though I believe the Borough Council seriously erred when it failed to raise an objection to the suitability of the person who is now Mayor, not only to be Mayor, but to be a Councillor. The failure to disclose party affiliation during the election campaign was bad enough, and I grant that it may have been an oversight. But to then simply do nothing when, one week later, the incumbent of the Mayoral Office is appointed President of the Bellarine Liberal Party, simply confirms the Council’s deeply disrespectful attitude to the Borough’s electors. Everyone in the Borough who has looked into it knows that the successful Candidate’s subsequent appointment as Liberal Party President disclosed an electoral deceit. By failing to address what is still a scandalous state of affairs (that, by the way, has not been redressed by the President’s subsequent resignation from the party post) the Council has undermined public trust in itself. The Council owes a public apology to the electors of the Borough.

The nomination of the Senior Sergeant in the Geelong Police – who is head of the Police Ice Task Force for the region – must have been endorsed by the Borough official who had to verify the eligibility of candidates. The State Electoral Commission must have also given approval and has still not made any public comment about the election of the said candidate and his failure to disclose his political affiliation as part of his election campaign. The Victorian Parliament, it would seem, has legislated or gazetted changes to regulations that allow serving officers of the Victoria Police to stand in local Council elections. At the very least the political parties have not helped electors know why this has been allowed. We have also heard nothing from the State member as to how the Victorian Government views the deceit as perpetrated upon the Borough’s electors. We have not heard from Victoria Police as to why it is that the Police Code of Conduct has not been violated by that failure during the election campaign. There seems here to have been a significant blurring of what constitutional jurisprudence would call “the separation of powers”, the separation between law making and law enforcement. Do not the police have a code of conduct provisions that forbid gaining office by deceit (even if it were an unintended oversight)?

There may be an explanation from these offices that will shed light on what is a complex and messy business. And yes, people in public office can make mistakes. So, can people in their running for public office but we also haven’t heard an apology yet from the elected councillor.

Electors will know that members of the police force, not least members who are front line with respect to the problems of law and order in relation to drug usage and the illicit supply thereof, are subject to peculiar tensions. But this is precisely the point at which I wish to discuss the Liberal Party contribution – what it has done and what it has failed to do. It has acted publicly in a way that simply cannot pass without comment.

A Liberal Party that was sensitive to the seeming intractable problems that pertain to the interface between drug use and law enforcement, would never seek to gain political advantage by an opportunistic blurring of the distinction between law-making and law-enforcement. If a Senior Sergeant has joined its ranks, it should welcome him and forego the temptation of using him for election purposes. Their contribution as a political party would be much better served by encouraging said new member to simply take his place among the party membership and offer his advice about public policy when it is relevant to do so. And given this particular police officer has regional responsibilities for the Victoria Police Ice Task Force, should they not be persuading him to concentrate on that very important police work, without distracting him with managing party political business?

I would also suggest that the Liberal Party, as part of their adherence to appropriate constitutional and jural principles, should positively discourage any police officer, and especially senior police officers, that have become members of their party, from trying to gain election to local councils while still serving – even if as in our case regulations do not prohibit it. It should be part of their party’s overall political philosophy that law enforcement should not be blurred with law-making. And that’s the principle they have seriously violated by their effort to piggy-back on the (compromised) election of one of their members. Instead, they opportunistically tried to add to that important police officer’s load by trying to engineer him into the front-line of an attempt to unseat the sitting member (who is police minister) at the next State election.

Their actions actually show a party unfit for public office. And let’s have no more ambiguous nonsense that LGAs should be apolitical!

Let’s hear the truth from the Liberal Party in an acknowledging its own contribution to the deceit that was perpetrated in the Borough election and that as a party it is committed to truthfulness at all levels of our public governance!

Remarkably this disreputable political party, which has treated one of its own paid-up members in such questionable ways, is proposing next week to hold a “law and order” forum nearby in Drysdale. The advertising invites us to “come and have our say”. “Only the Liberals will make Victoria safe again”.

Of course there is a “law and order” problem facing us. But the Liberal Party’s wheeling and dealing speaks too loudly of a political ethic that borders on wall-to-wall disrespect, and that is not irrelevant to the ethos that spawns law and order concerns – there is the Liberal Party’s disrespect for the separation of powers principle that one might have thought was part of the Liberal’s view of public governance; there is in this sorry saga elements of disrespect for the Victoria Police, disrespect for the integrity and good standing of the Borough of Queenscliff. There is the Liberal Party’s continual ducking and weaving when it comes to speaking truthfully.

The Liberal Party has completely avoided dealing with the flawed LGA election in 2016 that had significant consequences for one of its own members. As I said, that failure may have been the Candidate’s  mistake, but if it were a mistake to fail to mention party membership, why should the party reward him with the regional party presidency and thereby further compromise the Borough Council’s standing?

As long as this Liberal Party fiasco continues (see p.2), such actions as we have recently witnessed in the Bellarine Peninsula from them simply suggest that they are beating the “law and order” drum to distract attention from their party’s lack of political principles, from their party’s persistent pragmatic manoeuvring, a failure as a party to be seen in the inadequate support and advise rendered to a new member, and a total failure to insist upon a measure of political discipline by one of its prominent members who, as a senior police officer, is obviously keen to make a contribution to life across the Bellarine.

The electors of the Borough of Queenscliffe deserve a full and frank apology from the Liberal Party for their unscrupulous destabilising of local government.

In a further post, “Local Government, Public Justice and Community Health Care“, we will discuss how this same deep political crisis has manifested itself in the ongoing regional dispute following the vandalisation of innovative and creative local initiatives in aged care. This series of posts aims to explore the complexity of local politics and indicate how it is being shaped by legislative and political developments further afield, beyond any one LGA’s area.

BCW 10 June 2017.

 

 

Local Government, Public Justice and the “Separation of Powers”

How can a serving policeman stand for public office. When did that change to our system of public governance come in? Why? 

Last time Nurturing Justice discussed the current “constitutional crisis” which has enveloped the Queenscliffe Borough Council. The term “constitutional crisis” may appear to some readers to be too strong, somewhat sensationalistic. Part of the crisis, I would maintain, is that though everyone knows that the election was compromised by the electioneering deceit of the candidate who won the most votes and subsequently became the Mayor, there has been only concern among electors that the election was compromised and among Councillors, State Government politicians and major parties it would seem that things just go on as usual. And that only deepens the crisis; our Borough’s constitutional crisis includes a widespread malaise and even if there is some concern about what has transpired in the Borough’s coffee shops, there is little evidence of a political effort to find a remedy.

As I pointed out last time, those who consider that local politics must be “above politics” will simply continue to see the Borough’s “situation” in such a-political terms. They probably won’t even see it as a “crisis” at all. The Liberal Party continue to ignore the impact of the crisis upon their own standing in the State electorate of Bellarine.

The Liberal Party machine is so politically incompetent – it is almost as if this is the distinctive characteristic of their political contribution to the entire system of Government at all levels; it is a persistent feature of their political contribution that they continue on, despite the scandals as if being blind that their own party’s crisis is part of their own party’s ongoing political contribution. They do not see themselves as part of the ongoing structural crisis in public governance in which they have been instrumental since 1974. They do not see their party in this way possibly because too many people are members who simply see the party as a path-way to their own status enhancement in the community. They do not seem to appreciate that their too-smart-by-half strategic attempt to use the Queenscliffe Mayor for their own electoral advantage had to back-fire.

As for the Mayor, or more accurately the person who occupies that office, he may well have resigned his Presidency of the Bellarine Liberal Party because of  potential “conflict of interest”. But what “conflict of interest” was it? Was it not because he is a Senior Sergeant in the police force and such a Presidency means he has to face an Opposition going ballistic over law and order issues. He has shown no sign whatsoever of appreciating the deeper “conflict of interest” between his public duties as a policeman and his standing as a Council candidate! To raise this will probably meet the same old “that is a cheap shot” accusation (his words to me in a phone-call in relation to my Geelong Advertiser letter) but the issue is not about “personalities”. To imply that it is, is a red herring.

The issue is about the constitutional presumption of a separation of powers in our system of public governance. The arm of law making is separated from that of law enforcement. To say it once again, the question is: how is it that a Senior Sergeant can be allowed to stand for public office in an LGA election?

Now what is obvious here is that the Liberal Party’s political opponents, the Labor Party,  have not actually drawn attention to this issue. They should have. Their silence is appalling. We should not thank them for their failure to speak up and explain. And so we have many people in the Borough, and across the State electorate (within which the Borough is located), now bemused and confused by this situation. Resident after resident continue to put it in these terms:

I would have thought that a serving policeman cannot stand for public office. When did that change come in? Why?

With that question on the lips of many, many citizens another dimension of our national political crisis is disclosed. I am referring to the fact that the citizens no longer know how our system of Public Governance has changed. We no longer know basic facts about the system for which we remain responsible and accountable. We have not been adequately informed about how the regulations governing our hard-working, even over-worked, law-enforcement officers, have been tweaked to allow “community involvement” to include standing for public office in an LGA.

And why are we ignorant? Here we confront again the brokenness of our public governance – and the major political parties have to take responsibility for this. They continue to stave off bankruptcy by fighting yet another election with all the electoral rubbish they send into our letter-boxes – paid for with public funds – they have the hide to convene raucous and inflammatory public meetings stirring up public fears about law and order as if their own time in Government has nothing to do with what they are complaining about and try to blame their opponents. And yet their involvement in political education is non-existent at local levels. Political understanding of how our system is formed withers. The lack of political education programmes at local levels by these bloated electoral machines tell us their operations are designed to keep us ignorant. And at the same time we will hear hollow talk about the responsibilities of electors to whom the elected members are supposedly accountable.

This is another root of our deep political crisis. We are dealing with the consequences of a way of “doing politics” that has dissolved the primary accountability of those elected to their electors. Public governance, at all levels in our Federated Commonwealth, is being swept along by a politically ignorant, populist and elitist class lurching to an unbridled authoritarianism. We may sneer at what has engulfed the American polity in recent times. But one root of our own political crisis is the political viewpoint among Australian citizens that local government has been, is and always should be, above politics.

As the current Mayor tried to tell us during the election last year: “I am not a politician!” This is nonsensical. And much of our political crisis starts on our own front door step because we refuse to acknowledge our own responsibilities for the way we are governed, and instead give free reign to such political nonsense.

In a further post, “Local Government, Public Justice and Community Health Care“, we will discuss how this same deep political crisis has manifested itself in the ongoing regional dispute following the vandalisation of innovative and creative local initiatives in aged care. This series of posts aims to explore the complexity of local politics and indicate how it is being shaped by legislative and political developments further afield, beyond any one LGA’s area. But first we will pinpoint with greater precision the very serious misuse of political power by the Liberal Party in the above-mentioned crisis.

BCW  9.7.17

Local Government and Public Justice

There is a long-running and very widespread political viewpoint among Australian citizens that local government has been, is and always should be, above politics. Even to state it like that in its simplest terms, in one sentence, is to begin to see how absurd such a political viewpoint is. As a political view it is simply ridiculous; it is illogical and contradictory. But try arguing against it with neighbours in your Borough or Local Government Authority (LGA) and you will soon find how politically entrenched it is. You might also find that it is more of an aspiration for many people, an ideal that at least at the LGA level political life can find mutual compromise and avoid the cynical self-interest ascribed to State and Federal Governments. Nevertheless as a political view it is politically incoherent.

Coming to terms politically with that political incoherence, however, will require ongoing engagement. And it is not just intellectual, but political. It will mean pointing in a different political direction. If that means people will stop listening, then ways will have to be found to counter those wilfully deaf ears. And it will not be easy. nevertheless, for most citizens LGAs are remote and as riven with similar tensions and arguments that are found at State and Federal levels. Perhaps it is just the inherited complexity of social life these days that prompts so many to avoid thinking about “local politics”. And yet it still will have its everyday impacts upon them from garbage removal to local health services, to Meals on Wheels for the elderly, to planning laws that restrict your neighbour from building a multi-storey townhouse next-door.

We have recently discussed how local politics in the Queenscliffe Borough, in which NJ’s editor lives, has been deeply corrupted and also by political actions that appeal to this a-political viewpoint. And it would seem that those perpetrating this most recent corruption use this a-political viewpoint (Local Government is not about politics) as a cover for what is nothing other than their own political deceit. Queenscliffe has 3,000 voters on its roll and at most 2,500 permanent residents – probably the smallest LGA in Australia, certainly the tiniest in Victoria. Compared with the City of Greater Geelong (currently under administration) which has 250,000 residents it is but 1% of the size of this LGA neighbour. The fact that it is still an LGA entity certainly suggests wheeling and dealing and in future posts we will explore some of the ongoing political and social ambiguities that arise from this. But let us return to the corruption of the electoral process that pertains as at this moment.

I suspect that the person involved who became Mayor, who had been a member of the Liberal Party for 18 months prior to the election but never revealed it during his campaign, simply assumed that since the Liberal Party’s policy with respect to local government is the aforementioned a-political viewpoint, he didn’t have to mention his party affiliation on the hustings. If that is so, it indicates a level of political naïveté not only in the successful candidate but also, most worryingly, among the persons who voted for him. “I am not a politician” he told us; not once but repeatedly. And so he presented himself as someone who aspires to be “above politics”. Then, upon being elected, the body of elected five Councillors convened and since he had a quota (600+/-) from first preferences, they decided he should be the Mayor. They didn’t have to do this, and certainly the LGA election is not meant as a Mayoral election. But they did it and, as it happens, simply compounded the political problem as it has subsequently unravelled.

A week later, the Bellarine Liberal Party announced that this same man, who had just assumed the public office of Mayor, was elected unopposed as President of the Regional Branch of the Liberal Party. The electoral stump speech “I am not a politician!” certainly seemed like it had been a carefully worded diversion keeping the true state of affairs from the electors, at least until they had voted. Shouldn’t the electors have been made aware of this Candidate’s political affiliation before they cast their ballot? But because the election campaign proceeded without this fact being disclosed, the Borough electors had not been properly informed and the integrity of the entire election seems in retrospect to have been compromised.

What the Liberal Party did by appointing him as their President, and what he did in accepting that appointment, was nothing other than delivering a mortal blow to the trust electors in the Queenscliffe Borough could have in their Council. There’s no other political way to see it. Trust, central to our political system’s claim to embody a genuine representative element, has thereby been broken.

The subsequent action of the Liberal Party seemed oblivious to this fact. It certainly casts doubt on the way in which they – the self-proclaimed “movers and shakers” of our Federal polity – had grossly mis-read the political situation. An appeal to the alleged principle that “local government should be above politics” simply compounds the issue. This is deceitful politics that would make Machiavelli blush.

Local sentiment from those who bother to reflect about political life is that the Borough Council has now broken trust with the Borough and has allowed itself to become a de facto sub-committee of the regional branch of the Liberal Party.

What does this story tell us? Before I go on we might note that the said person has since resigned from the Liberal Party Presidency. Why? Was it because as Mayor there might arise a conflict of interest? No. At least that is not why he said he had to resign. The incumbent of the Mayoral Office resigned from the Presidency of the Bellarine Liberal Party because as a Senior Sergeant in the Victoria Police Force (heading up the task force on ice across the Bellarine Peninsula) there is a risk of a conflict of interest with the Liberal Party machine as the State Opposition gears up for the next election with a law and order campaign.

If you are bamboozled by all this, then join the crowd of confused electors across the Bellarine and in particular in the tiny Queenscliffe Borough. The Liberal Party has decided to go all out to attack the sitting Member for Bellarine Electorate, the Police Minister in the State Labor Government! We do not even know whether she will stand again next time around!

What a complete mess! So to return to our question: what does this tell us? There are the obvious questions we have previously asked about this: about the apparent compromise of the police’s code of conduct; about the silence of the Victorian Electoral Commission on the compromised election; and on the fact that a Senior Sergeant in the police force can even run for public office without there being a compromise of the separation of powers between law-making and law-enforcement. Admittedly it also happens elsewhere. So my guess is that this is not just a matter of one LGA, but indicates something that needs to be clarified across the state.

 Moreover, true to their form, the political parties have failed to make any clear statement about this matter. Electors are still waiting to be educated politically about the propriety of a police officers running for and taken up public office when also serving in law enforcement. And the Police Minister, the local member for Bellarine, has not actually gone out of her way to address this issue.

Somehow we will have to make some sense of this deeply political failure. Even in the tiny political community of the Queenscliffe Borough our politics is no better than what is found in larger, more impersonal LGAs. In subsequent posts we will explore other dimensions of the way in which our political community is out of step with its neighbouring political communities. There are ongoing consequences in all areas of our social life and these need to be explored.

And as well as all this we are now confronted by a national political situation in which the political parties themselves have shown that they are up to their necks in crooked dealing. The simple fact that we need to get into our political heads is that our system of public governance is mightily compromised.

How is this political situation to be addressed politically? To ask the question in terms Nurturing Justice has been asking for some time: Is the political party over? A Christian political option, if it is ever to emerge in the Australian polity as more than a Nurturing Justice aspiration, is going to have to deal with that question, root and branch, all the way down, and it will not be able to avoid promoting public justice at the local government level however “local” is configured.

We will continue this discussion next time and extend our discussion of the “constitutional crisis” of the Borough of Queenscliffe by analysis of the crisis in community health care. Stay tuned.

BCW 8 June 2017

 

 

 

Matthew’s Gospel for Quisling Tax Collectors and Other Deviants

There will probably be those who instinctively interpret Nurturing Justice as an attempt read the Bible in political terms. What follows is a “reading” of a seemingly innocent passage from Matthew’s gospel (“politically innocent” that is) that not only tells us that what is “on the page” is filled with political implications, but more importantly it indicates something about a Gospel-directed political involvement for us in this time. Matthew’s Gospel is characterised in toto by this leit-motif:

It is mercy I delight in, not sacrifice. (Hosea 6:6 see Matthew 9:13).

It is the Gospel account of a tax-collector and I wonder whether it is actually written with fellow tax collectors, as well as other outsiders, in mind. The opening song of the Sermon on the Mount reminds us:

A blessing rests on those who are merciful; mercy will be shown to them (Matthew 5:7).

The Lord’s Prayer reiterates this:

Remit us the debts we have incurred against you as we remit the debts incurred against us. (Matthew 6:12)

Yes reading the Sermon on the Mount from a Tax Collector’s perspective might indeed deepen our understanding not just of Matthew’s response, but of Jesus’ teaching! A Biblically-directed Christian political option will need to avoid self-justification by conveniently dogmatised Bible teaching, and find ways to support merciful compassion in political conduct. And in this context I propose to consider

Matthew 4:23-25.And as he went around from place to place around the Galileean region, Jesus was teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. Because he was healing every disease and all kinds of afflictions among the people, his fame spread across all of Syria too, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

We have to wait until we are right into this story, known as Matthew’s Gospel, before we learn about the call of Jesus to Matthew the tax-collector (9:9; 10:3). And when we, 21st century readers, come to that – not being in a position to ask Peter or John or those who were in touch with the apostles – we are prodded to go back and re-read the earlier parts of this extensive chronology and carefully note its nuances. We might even do a bit of cross-referencing with other Gospels to get a sense of what was going on and how it was that Matthew framed his account in the precisely the way it has come to us.

We note Matthew’s focus. Was he reliant upon the story of Joseph concerning the early life of Jesus? (see Chapters 1&2) And we then jump with him perhaps 25 years, plus or minus, to hear of the arrival of John in (3:1) to begin his work. And as if John is the MC of some still-to-be-disclosed event, we then learn of the arrival of Jesus coming from Galilee to be baptised. Matthew does not tell us what John is reported by Luke to have said to tax-collectors –

Quit this workplace habit of taking a bit on the side habit which has become a feature of your tax-collecting work – you are answerable in your employment to the Anointed of the God of Israel who is on his way! (see Luke 3:14-15).

Was the person Luke identifies as Levi (Luke 5:27-32) Matthew? Well we do not know for sure. But Matthew’s list of the specially selected twelve (10:2-4) certainly lists Matthew the tax collector, who Jesus had called to follow him (9:9-14). And by working our way through this we can suggest that this Gospel is intent upon majoring upon the message of Hosea:

It is mercy I delight in, not sacrifice. (Hosea 6:6 see Matthew 9:13)

So what was Jesus to teach to the crowds coming to him, once he realised that Isaiah 61 and all the other prophets applied to himself? He had been prepared, Matthew tells us, (4:1-11) by the most agonising of privations and cruel suggestions – these started then before his ministry gathered any momentum in the wilderness for 40 days and nights and was continued right up until his dying breath (see 4:3,6,9 and compare with Matthew 27:40-44). Clearly, he had become aware of a temptation to use the mass appeal of his teaching to meet his own needs, to embellish his own grandeur. And so, he is depicted in all Gospels as one who is deeply aware of the possibility that his teaching, if deconstructed to function within the Tempter’s deceitful strategy, would wreck immeasurable havoc by capturing God’s elect in a net of slavery once more.

“Why not, it will only be for a time after all, but then by allowing yourself to inherit all the kingdoms of the earth my way you can take the next step and offer it all up to God, your Heavenly Father … “

And Jesus’ reply:

“You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve!”

sent Satan away.

There are other features of Matthew’s discussion here of the move of Jesus from Nazareth to Capernaum and the calling of the young men in the Galilee fishing co-operative that are worthy of our continued reflection. Peter and Andrew, James and John – who were also disciples of John the Baptist – were called to travel with Jesus in an enterprise designed “to trawl for people”.

In the desert by prayer and fasting, Jesus had undergone a 40 day preparation. And when all the temptations had been resisted and the Tempter sent on his way “for a time”, Jesus had confirmation of his Father’s blessing by his own specially sent visitation of angel-messengers.

But in 4:23-25, Matthew is almost taking on the archetypal characteristics of what we might expect from a Jewish tax-collector who joined in the joyful task of proclaiming the Good News of God’s Kingdom:

Have I got a good news story for you!

He is saying something like:

This was big, truly big. After John’s call for repentance there was a very wide expectation of something big and important unfolding … before their own eyes.

And Matthew then, by indicating just how widespread this movement had become, tells us what he is going to try to convey in what follows. So from Chapters 5-9 we seem to have a “Chapter”, a focus upon a peculiar and identifiable stage in Jesus’ ministry. From 10:1 we read of a further intensification of what is to be the future ministry of the apostles, the twelve disciples he especially called to be by his side.

We might say that Chapters 5-7 is the record of Jesus’ teaching, the basic outlook on life that Jesus expects of his disciples. It is also very clearly the proclamation of the Kingdom of God (the “good news of the kingdom”), which then suggests that Chapters 8 and 9 is a selective record of these healings, how diverse diseases and ailments were met by his competent and authoritative health-care ministry, confronting those possessed of demonic powers, those crazy and paralysed. Matthew is also suggesting that the people “came out” to him and that in response Jesus was pleased to convene a plein air synagogue.

Is Matthew suggesting that we will want to know what Jesus planned to do with all the crowds that came out to him? Matthew indicates Jesus made careful and well-planned choices of those who would travel closest to himself.

But he is also suggesting that Jesus was going out to a desperate, hurting, confused and angry people. Here they were: they had gone out en masse to John and confessed their sins, being baptized in the Jordan by him. And then John was arrested – his days evidently numbered. It is in this context – we will be told – although it is not said so explicitly by Matthew – that some of the most desperate, and abused, were also numbered among the crowds that then went out to hear Jesus teach (9:10). And the Pharisees, ever vigilant in their role of spiritual overseers, saw this and complained. Jesus confirmed that his ministry was precisely to such people. These were they who fulfilled the prophet’s criteria at the time Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum. Matthew was alert to how Jesus’ ministry fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecies:

Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, the sea road beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who spent their days shrouded in darkness have seen a great light; and on those that dwelt in a land overshadowed by death has a light dawned (4:15-16).

This is an inauguration of an ongoing mission of mercy (9:10), a root and branch restoration of God’s rule amongst his people, and not just from the “grass roots” or the massed convening of “popular sentiment” but of the endowment of a “new heart”. And when the Pharisees make their complaint – this is a movement that is attracting tax-collectors and sinners! – Matthew is in the thick of this contention because Jesus has personally called him to his side.

And the disciples of the imprisoned John the Baptist, still smarting from the injustice of his imprisonment – we don’t hear that his murder had made an impact until Chapter 14 – are also somewhat uncertain with Jesus’ apparent lack of concern for ritual purity. In 11:2 we read of Jesus’ answer to John’s question as to whether he is truly the one who fulfils John’s preparatory work. The answer Jesus gives is to reiterate the Messianic promise that Jesus had confirmed in his own person from Isaiah.

On your way and report to John the things which you are seeing and hearing, how the blind receive their sight, the lame can walk, the leprous are cleansed, the deaf can hear, the dead are raised to and the poor are having good new proclaimed to them. And one more thing: a blessing rests on all those who take no offence at me (Matthew 11:4-6. See also Isaiah 29:18, 35:5ff, 61:1).

John’s disciples had earlier complained about Jesus’ apparent neglect of fasting. But then (9:14-17), and in this passage to his imprisoned cousin, Jesus confirms that his work is nothing less than a living celebration of the breaking out of God’s ministry of mercy.

It is mercy I delight in, not sacrifice. (Hosea 6:6 see Matthew 9:13).

Jesus’ disciples are participants in an ongoing, joyful and richly satisfying “engagement party” – and so we confront something that will call forth the imagery of the apocalyptic Marriage Sup of the living and resurrected Lamb of God bearing the wounds of his trial as the betrothed of his bride – and in the meantime there is a harvest of grapes to begin the brewing of a new wine, a time to design new wedding garments. This is good reason why John, even under such privation and potential agony should take heart. His work will have enduring significance.

So, do we have one teaching in the open air and synagogue and another teaching altogether in private when his disciples confront Jesus face-to-face with their questions? Is that what this is to be? Is this how the Kingdom comes? Well, it is quite conceivable that those who experienced the crowds and thought that this was a movement that would throw the Romans out would have to be organised. But if they thought this was indeed Jesus’ plan – and the possibility that this is what God had intended seems to have still been on the strategic horizon of the closest of Jesus’ disciples right up until just before his parting words to them and his ascension. But they would also have great trouble lining it all up with what follows in Matthew 5-7 – the Sermon on the Mount.

There is an “insider” view that Jesus explains to his disciples when he draws them in close. That is undeniable. But it is a cut of quite a different cloth from any reading of his teaching that would suggest it was in someway beholden to the expectations of popular sentiment. But any “inside” or “up close” view is not to be part of any deception against those “outside” or “far away”. It is rather a matter of having Jesus as our teacher of wisdom, helping us to understand the teaching he has given to us. (We might have to look more carefully at Mark 4:11 ad Luke 8:10 on another occasion with respect to what these tell us about what Jesus expected of his specially chosen twelve.) The purpose of being “up close” to the disciples is to give them his own teaching about how they are to teach and proclaim God’s Kingdom. They are drawn in close to learn of Jesus’ own explanation of his teaching, teaching he knew was going to be thought of as “common property”.

And Matthew tells us how, on the mount, Jesus sat down to teach in his open-air synagogue. And that teaching has everything to do with our life lived fully within the maintained and blessed creation order of the Lord. Creational living is not exhausted by our political  responsibilities but neither can these be excluded. And moreover, with the message of the Good News inspiring us, we will confess that Jesus Christ has restored political responsibility within God’s creation order. And that is why we seek a Christian political option.

Further thought (12.6.17):

How do you write a post-resurrection account of the Sermon on THAT mountain when you have met with the Resurrected One a year or so later at the same place?

How do we now read Matthew 5 to 7 after Jesus instructed his disciples to go back to Galilee to “the mountain” to meet with him (28:16)? And then, as Luke tells us, when he is about to leave he instructs them – (not here, don’t go making this into a shrine like Peter wanted to do on that other occasion, it’s back to Jerusalem and wait … and while you’re about it you’re going to have to appoint – your task now – another to fill the 12th spot).

I guess Jot and Tiddle tax-man Matthew knew all about keeping records and keeping track of important information from his professional involvement for the occupying powers, if not for the quislings running the temple tax department – you won’t be entering the Kingdom of heaven without your accounts books being more transparent and fully audited than those of the scribes and pharisees.

And at the time Matthew wrote this, he must have wondered if his quill was catching fire as he penned 5:43-48 and he remembered how Jesus was entrapped. But then there is that parable (13:24-30) that coincides with 5:45 (God from his creational faithfulness sends his sunshine to rise upon the just and unjust) – the parable that Muhammed has seemingly ignored in his rooting out the infidels or simply requiring the Dhimmis not to sprout – and Matthew is well and truly on the path of realising that that sermon was setting them on their way …

But I’m thinking about how you or I would go about writing the story of a Man’s teaching career after you’ve met him once more, large as life, when he was resurrected. I mean who could ever pay attention to what Jesus was saying when he appeared to them and he was right there? Then again who wouldn’t be all ears? Then again who wouldn’t be making sure that they had heard him right the first time before they had deserted him and gone back over the entire time they had been with him to make sure they would not blot their copybook a second time. It’s obviously an event that strains all our contradictory instincts competing with each other to find a “balance” to complete breaking point. I ask: so wouldn’t I have wanted to go fishing under such circumstances, as Peter evidently wanted to do?

Every Thought Captive to Christ

Christian Higher Education, Africa

Since this is Saturday evening – the sun has gone down – a good way to prepare for the Lord’s Day might be to type up a “Bible study” I composed 29.8.87 and had published in a student newspaper. I was looking for a way to explain to Christian students. as well as all the students in my sociology class at Chisholm Institute of Technology, Melbourne, why I considered the Bible to be centrally important in my own studies. It’s not that easy to do and it’s easy to be misunderstood. But it is also important, as Christian professionals, that we keep on listening to the Bible. We don’t all have to spend our scholarly hours reading the Bible, (some of us do) but it is most important that we hear and sense just how God is at work in His creation with his call to us to get in…

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