Lectionary Scriptures and Comments

The Hateful Jesus? 092511

Jesus with children, early 1900s Bible illustr...

Image via Wikipedia

The Hateful Jesus? 092511

 

Philippians 2:1-13

Matthew 21:23-32

 

 

Philippians 2:1-13

2If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

12Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Matthew 21:23-32

23When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

28“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

The sermon this morning centers around the story, stories in Matthew 21. The parables of the New Testament are a common form of teaching. Scholars have thought long and hard about the New Testament and how it came about, and this parable presents a challenge.

 

First, parables may not be the actual words of Jesus, or they may be. A parable is a handy way of remembering a story, and a story is a good way to remember a certain philosophical or theological teaching.  The actual words of Jesus may have been in the form of a list of sayings. These sayings may have been grouped in a pattern, so that the first letter of a main idea word becomes part of an acrostic. So, for example if we were trying to remember a list of sayings we might just remember the word ADD, then we would remember that ‘A’ stands for adultery, and we’d remember Jesus’ saying about adultery, then ‘D’ might stand for divorce and we’d remember a teaching on divorce, then a final ‘D’ might stand for destruction and we’d remember Jesus’ prediction about the destruction of Jerusalem.

 

We might remember these saying until it became easier to copy and carry scrolls around, and there were fewer disciples memorizing the oral tradition, so someone took the saying, wove a story around them, and wrote it all down as a narrative story, or like a biography. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John did this in very familiar and similar ways, so Matthew, Mark and Luke are very much alsike, and John is sort of a variation all its own but with a certain underlying story line we can still hear and see.

 

Exactly when the gospels were written down becomes important also. How long did these sayings get passed around before someone wrote them down? In our New Testament the letters of Paul are the earliest written, about 70 AD, and Paul never knew Jesus face to face, but just by means of a vision. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written after 100 AD, so Jesus had been dead for 70 years before they were written down.

 

Human beings using language as they do, they mold, craft, change, and distort every thing they hear and then say. One of the things that happened in the 70 years after Jesus was executed was that the feelings of the early Jesus Jews became less and less Jewish and more and more Christian and anti-Jewish. But the early Christians still lived in a predominantly Jewish and Greek world, and one way Christians clarified who they were was to say what they were not—-they were not Jewish and they were not Greek.

 

So, these earliest Gospels contained a lot of language that was anti- Jewish, but not just ‘non-Jewish’, they were anti-Semitic. This is what we believe is the beginning of anti-Semitism, and all the hate and violence directed against the Jewish people. In total there are 102 hateful mentions of the ‘Jews’ in the New Testament; on the basis of repetition anti-Semitism may be the strongest and most repeated idea in the New Testament.

 

Yet, Jesus was and is primarily a Jewish peasant, probably a Jewish teacher called a Rabbi, and certainly was very intelligent and quick of intellect, and knew well what it meant to be Jewish. Much of his teaching comes from Jewish background, and you have to think like a Jew sometimes to get the idea of what Jesus meant.

 

Matthew 21 is an example of anti-semitism in the New Testament. The elders and the high priests whisper among themselves to decide how to anticipate Jesus’ response to their question, and trap him. But Jesus is clever, in this story and evades their trap.

 

But, usually the story is far more subtle and more complicated. This is not one of the better Jesus stories and doesn’t portray Jesus in the best light. Jesus seems needlessly evasive and petty, and the story does not teach something new, surprising and insightful about God, about humanity or about Jesus.

But, referring to our previous discussion, Jesus may not have crafted this story. Some underlying ‘saying’ may have been the basis of this story such as Matthew 21:31b-32: “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

 

This saying by itself does not condemn or even name ‘the Jews’. But making the saying into a story of trickery, deception and human conflict might make the saying more memorable and might provide an example of this storytelling-teaching method.

 

Additionally, in these stories when Jesus or the storyteller talks about the ‘Jews’ they are themselves Jews and that’s a strange way to talk. If the Tea Party said something and we responded ‘that’s how those white Americans are’, that would be a little strange way to talk—to condemn a group of which we are part.

 

As a result, you and I are in danger of belonging to a religion that attempts to use racism and hatred of the Jews to gain philosophical power or clout. But that’s exactly what Hitler did. Matthew’s stories about the Jews are no worse than Hitler’s stories about the Jews. That’s what various political campaigners are doing more and more in America, it’s what the Hutu’s and Tutsis did in Rwanda in 1994. A group of the ‘other’ is named as a group, then humor, legends, myths, rumors and the media all jump in to clarify why the group should be kept separate and perhaps suffer violence.

 

It’s what Christians do to Jews, it’s what Americans do to black people, who suffer as the beasts of burden of 500 years of American capitalism; to every successive new group who threaten our economic wealth and control such as the Chinese, the Indians and the Middle Eastern cultures do now.

 

On the other hand, we all know the Jesus that lives now, and lived 2,000 years ago who continues to teach us, despite the hateful overlay of storytellers on top of his teachings, that we should pay no attention to all these divisions people create but to love everyone as God loves us, to forgive our enemies, and to follow him.  Yes, it is true that mankind has made even the New Testament into a thing of hate, of division, differences and separation.

 

But somehow, the love and passion of Jesus shines through all humanity’s crap, and we have a Jesus like Paul describes in Philippians 2:1-13:

2If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

12Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

 

This leaves us as Christians in the very same position we were in before we came to really know Jesus—do we follow the Jesus created by human institutions, such as the early, early church that already had developed that us/them conflict, or the in/out conflict, or do we know enough to go back to the Jesus that is with us still today? The Jesus that asks us to love one another, to forgive our enemies, and calls us to erase all these human ideas of divisions and separation?

 

We can watch as we hate other races, other genders, other religions, beliefs and ethnicities, and we can watch as the world dies of starvation, thirst and war as we drive our armies around in big circles using the last gallon of gas to search for the last clean water and the last morsel of bread. Earth has become devastated by our mad rush to deprive all our enemies of life. We can watch this happen, or we can listen to the original Jesus, whose love comes through to us clearly every day.

Advertisements

Comments on: "The Hateful Jesus? 092511" (2)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: