Saturday, April 03, 2010

Good Essay on What Jesus Meant

With so many of the Tea Partiers spouting the wisdom of the Bible, some of the following questions have arisen in my mind, too. I wonder if the Christians among the Tea Partiers can explain it all for us. Personally, judging from the conduct and diatribe of some of the Tea Partiers, I find it hard to believe they are following the words of Christ at all. They seem to have invented in their own minds a new Jesus to agree with their prejudices and hatreds. Just my own opinion.

By Guy T. Saperstein

I have just finished reading Garry Wills' "What Jesus Meant," and what an extraordinary read it was. For me, it was a reintroduction to the Jesus I grew up with [ages 5-18], reading my Bible and going to the Little Brown Church every Sunday to learn more about this revolutionary man from a lower-class background who spoke truth to power again and again, who spent his life in the company of society's outcasts, who let the unclean touch him, who was born homeless and spent his public life homeless, who treated women as first-class citizens [rare in those days], who was scandalous, who demonstrated super-natural powers repeatedly, who inveighed against the wealthy and powerful, who taught that he who is last shall be first and he who is first shall be last, who said that it was easier for a camel to get through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter heaven, who taught that wealth was the enemy of the spirit, who was a threat to the politicians and churches and who preached unconditional and abiding love.

But some things remain unexplained, things which have bothered me for 50+ years:

1. Leviticus 25.44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided that they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans but not Canadians. Why can't I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21.7. In this bad economy, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. The Bible teaches that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her menstrual period, but how can I tell? Whenever I ask women I meet if they are menstruating, they take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor to the Lord [Lev. 1.9]. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35.2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination [Lev. 11.10], it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. Are there different degrees of abomination?

7. Leviticus 21.20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Leviticus 19.27. How should they die?

9. I know from Leviticus 11.6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes people unclean. Does this mean that Tim Tebow must stop throwing footballs, or that football should be abolished?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Leviticus 19.19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread [cotton and polyester blend]. He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary to get the whole community together to stone them [Lev. 24.10-16]? Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family ceremony, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws [Lev. 20.14]?

I know some of you highly-educated people have studied these things and I'm confident you can help. And thank you---and Garry Wills---for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.