How Jesus opposed the Jewish Taliban

Consider the case of Jesus.  He is not pestering the Pharisees to practice what he practices; rather, he is trying to stop them from imposing their thinking on everyone else.  This is what fundamentalist love to do.  They persuade themselves that they have “God’s absolute point of view” and that their mission is to bring everyone else into line with “their God.”  In so doing, they become the Catholic Taliban and justify their “moral terrorism” as somehow required by God himself.  This is why Pope Francis calls them “godless.”

Do the Pharisees stop pestering Jesus and concede that the disciples do have sufficient cause to override the Sabbath?  We don’t know, but probably not.  In any case, the Evangelists do not tell us.  But the Evangelists do go on to tell us that Jesus put forward a general norm: “The Sabbath was made for [the benefit of] humankind, not humankind [made] for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27 and par.).  Thus, Jesus takes the stand that “the day of rest” was designed by God as a blessing to relieve exhaustion from the six days of work.  In Gen. 1, even God shows himself as resting follow the exertions of the six days of creation.  Thus, according to this, God learned from his own experience how a day of rest could be beneficial.  Hence, according to Jesus, every Jew was invited to free themselves of a wooden conformity with Sabbath regulations, especially when the welfare of suffering individuals was at stake.

This has a bearing on our topic of homosexuality.  How is it that Evangelical Fundamentalists are so quick to gather up texts condemning homosexual sex when they so easily dispense themselves from the Law of Moses that condemns anyone failing to keep the Sabbath rest with death by stoning (Exod. 31:14, 35:3; Deut. 5:13; Neh. 13:15-21)?  Or, to take up again the argument of Matthew Vines: How can Evangelical Fundamentalists turn to those on their right hand and preach the good news of the Gospel to heterosexuals saying, “God solemnly promises you companionship and sexual intimacy when he says, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him’”(Gen. 2:18) and, then, to turn to their left and say to homosexuals, “None of this applies to you.  God blocks his ears to your cries of loneliness, and he makes no provision for any sexual intimacy to gladden your hearts.  You will go into your twilight years utterly alone and no one will care for you as you take you final breath”?  And if Jesus acted outside of the letter of the Mosaic Law when he was moved by compassion for the man with the withered arm and moved by compassion for his disciples stricken by hunger, would not this same Jesus rush to act outside of the Christian Code of Ethics in order to bring a speedy relief to those gays and lesbians pleading to have Christians recognize the legitimacy of their love and their desire for marriage?  And should not the churches be the first (rather than the last) to recognize that God created the blessings of marriage for both the heterosexual and the homosexual alike?

Then another case of Sabbath fundamentalism is introduced:

3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 3:2 they watched him to see whether he would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3:3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.”  3:4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 3:5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 3:6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. 3:7 Jesus departed with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him. (Mark 3:1-7)

In the earlier case, Mark makes it clear that Jesus was not accused for violating the Sabbath.  Only his disciples were accused.  In this second case, Jesus stands alone as the healer and he alone is accused.  This narrative presupposes that Jesus has already gained the reputation as a healer (Mark 1:39-2:12) and that his enemies acknowledged his power to heal but attributed it to Beelzebub (Mark 3:22).  At one point, Jesus uses the metaphor of “the physician” to describe his work (Mark 2:17).  It cannot be that “magic words” are used, since Jews distrusted magic and a magical healing would not constitute “work.”  The presumption of Jesus’ accusers here must be that healing involved some manipulation of the arm or hand as a physician would do.  Likewise, the term “withered” does not have to imply a congenital deformity because the term “restored” implies that the hand was useless and Jesus restored its use.[i]  Jerome, for instance, thought that the man was a mason who suffered an injury that put him out of work.  Jesus restored his hand and restored his livelihood as well.  It must also be noticed that if the restoration were very dramatic (bone and flesh are suddenly or gradually entirely transformed), the sheer power of the transformation would have caused awe and fear in Jesus’ enemies because they would know that he could afflict a man just as well as heal a man.  So the fact that they do not back away or shudder with amazement also indicates that Mark does not think of this event as frightening.  The issue, after all, is whether Jesus would heal on the Sabbath.

Notice also that the healing in this narrative is not endangering the life of the man.  Everyone would recognize the legitimacy for life-saving remedies on the Sabbath.  In this case, therefore, Jesus uses this as a teaching lesson for the Pharisees.  The issue is not that of doing a “miracle,” since even a miracle would be presumed to be done with God’s power and God is surely the Lord of the Sabbath.  The words of Jesus as well make this clear: “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?”  Jesus is on target, here, when he gives them a black and white question.  Do good or do evil?  Save a life or destroy a life?  If they say, the former, then Jesus has their approval and can go ahead without any fear that he and his adversaries are on the same page.  If they choose the latter terms, then Jesus has them over the barrel because they will be unable to justify their choice from the Scriptures and will look silly in the minds of the people.  So they are sullenly silent.

He looked around at them with anger (Mark 3:5).  Most Christians only think of Jesus as flaring up in anger only when he drives the money-changers from the temple.  But here he is livid with anger.  This is how I feel when writing about Archbishop Schnurr, Father Kneib, and Father Coelho—“Don’t you dare treat my Brothers and Sisters in this way!”  I want to scream at them.  “You’re destroying people’s lives with your fundamentalist bullshit.  Stop it!”[ii]  Pure and unadulterated anger[iii] is sometime the only authentic response to the evil that fundamentalist do. . . .

How the Jewish Taliban was paralyzed by Jesus

Jesus turns on his critics by questioning them sternly: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm?” (Mark 3:4 and par.) and again “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and was hungry?” (Mark 2:25 and par.).  In the end, he entirely dismisses the notion of “true religion” embraced by his critics. He ends up saying to them, “The Sabbath was made for [the benefit of] humankind, not humankind [made] for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27 and par.).  Thus, Jesus takes the stand that “the day of rest” was designed by God as a blessing to relieve exhaustion from the six days of work.  In Gen. 1, God shows himself as resting following the exertions of the six days of creation.  Thus, according to this, God learned from his own experience how a day of rest could be beneficial.  Hence, according to Jesus, every Jew was invited to rid themselves of a wooden conformity with Sabbath regulations especially when the welfare of suffering individuals was at stake.

How Jesus impacts events today

This has a bearing on our topic of homosexuality.  How is it that Evangelical Fundamentalists are so quick to gather up texts condemning homosexual sex when they so easily dispense themselves from the Law of Moses that condemns anyone failing to keep the Sabbath rest with death by stoning (Exod. 31:14, 35:3; Deut. 5:13; Neh. 13:15-21)?  Or, to take up again the argument of Matthew Vines: How can Evangelical Fundamentalists be so certain that God wants to extend to heterosexuals companionship and sexual intimacy when he said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:18) but, then, he turns around and says to the homosexual, “None of this applies to you.  God blocks his ears to your cries of loneliness and he makes no provision for any sexual intimacy to gladden your lives”? 

And if Jesus acted outside of the letter of the Mosaic Law when he was moved by compassion for the man with the withered arm and compassion for his disciples stricken by hunger, would not this same Jesus rush to act outside of the Christian Code of Ethics today in order to bring a speedy relief to those gays and lesbians pleading to have some small recognition of the legitimacy of their love and their desire for marriage?  And should not the churches be the first (rather than the last) to recognize that God created the blessings of marriage for both the heterosexual and the homosexual alike?

Last of all, we need to note that confronting fundamentalists is a dangerous affair.  The Jewish fundamentalists take their complaints to the court of Herod, King of Galilee.  According to the Synoptic Gospels, Herod had John the Baptist arrested on trumped-up charges.  Because of his indiscretion on his birthday, Harod gets trapped into killing him even though “Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him” (Mark 6:20 and par.).  Jesus could well be next on the list. . .

Many other texts in the Gospels demonstrate how Jesus even challenged certain bad habits on the part of his own disciples.  Consider this:

An argument arose among them [the 12 disciples] as to which one of them was the greatest.  But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, and said to them, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.”

One can think here of how the churches argue among themselves as to which denomination is the greatest or which is the closest to God’s heart.  One can think here also of how Catholic fundamentalists dispute with each other as to what sexual ethics is most pleasing to God.  And how about those Catholics who secretly pray in their hearts: “Thank you God for not creating me or any of my children as homosexuals”?  How does God respond to this prayer?

Those who want to interact with this blog are invited to “Leave a Reply” below.  A solid way to begin doing this is to offer “readback lines.”  To do this, quickly glace back over the entire blog and pick out the one or two lines that have made a deep impression upon you.  Copy them [CTRL-C] and then paste them [CTRL-V] into an empty comment box below.  If you wish, signal the emotion that you feel when reading your readback lines.  The primary emotions are anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise.   No need to further explain yourself.  It is enough to identify the text important to you and to name the emotion(s) that it evokes.  All of this normally takes less than a few minutes.

I and others will “thank you” for your contribution.  If you are tempted to say more, I urge you to hold back.  Your sense of safety and the safety of others is best protected by not getting overly wordy in the beginning.  This will come after a few days or weeks.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Endnotes and Leave a Reply~~~~~~~~

 

[i] Robert H. Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on his Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 153.

[ii] Used twice: http://prolife365.com/those-awaiting-the-synod-to-redefine-the-churchs-dogmatic-teachings-on-marriage-will-be-greatly-disappointed/ and  http://prolife365.com/problems-with-gay-marriage/

[iii] Thomas Aquinas makes the point that anger is the passion that naturally arises when justice is being denied.  “Far from being a sin, ira [Latin: anger] is a positive good when directed by reason” (II-II. 158. 8 ad 2).  Thus, some theologians argue that “not being angry at times may, given the circumstances, constitute a sin” (Robert Miner, “Thomas Aquinas on the Passions: A Study of Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae 22-48,” p. 286).

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