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Things Jesus Did Not Say: part one - MoonScape [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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Things Jesus Did Not Say: part one [Jun. 7th, 2010|04:16 pm]
[Current Mood |determined]

From teaching a high-school Sunday School class, and listening to radio and TV preachers and some of their followers, I learned some years back that a lot of people think Jesus said things Jesus never said.    And as a result, both people who consider themselves Christians, and those who know they're not Christians, can have a very distorted view of what Jesus actually said, and what Christians (defined here as "those who intentionally try to do what Jesus told his followers to do) actually believe and do.  So I'm setting the record straight.

Here beginneth the first lesson, which is in three parts, like Gaul.

1) Jesus did NOT say "If you give a man a fish you feed him for a day; if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime."  He had every opportunity to say that--to the crowd who were right there beside a fish-containing body of water while he was talking to them, for instance, and with disciples who were experienced fishermen and could have given hands-on instruction--but he didn't.  

What Jesus said (and did) on multiple occasions including that one was, "Feed the hungry."   His followers, Jesus said, would be those who did just that.  Nothing at all about teaching them to fish, or hunt, or grow wheat, or make bread instead of feeding them.  Just...feed the hungry.

The alternative, which sounds so wise and philosophical and practical...is a way of evading that command: Feed the hungry.  Feed my sheep.   If you can push the responsibility for hunger onto the hungry ("Just learn to fish."  "Just plant a garden.") then you don't have to do more than send along a booklet on how to fish, grow a crop, etc.  It's the fault of the hungry if they don't get busy and shape up and feed themselves for the rest of their lives without bothering you.

But that's not what Jesus said.  Jesus said "Feed the hungry."  Not the deserving hungry.  Not the hardworking hungry.  Not the white/black/brown/Jewish/Christian/pagan/etc. hungry...just the hungry.   If they're hungry, feed them.  If it looks like there's not enough food, feed them anyway.  Or....admit you're not a follower of Jesus.  Not everyone is, and if your ethos allows you to not feed the hungry because they're the wrong color, the wrong age, the wrong religion, the wrong nationality, the wrong political party, or it's too much trouble...then you're not a follower of Jesus and those commands weren't given to you.  Your choice. 

2) Jesus did NOT say "Follow me and give me money and you will get rich."   He'd have had a lot more followers a lot faster if that had been the message, but it wasn't.  And yes, I know, there are televangelists who love to put out exactly that message--look, these people sent my program money and their money problems improved and now they've got better jobs and paid off the mortgage--but that's not Jesus.  That's someone fleecing the rubes, as bad religious leaders have been doing since humans first got the "god" idea. 

Jesus said, very plainly, that his followers were going to have a tough time of it:  there was that whole crucifixion thing, to start with, and then there was the every day, every moment practical difficulty of actually loving your neighbors (someone else's neighbors maybe, but that rotten scumbag next door/across the street/down on the corner, across the alley?), sharing your possessions, taking the responsibility for feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, visiting the sick and imprisoned...endless unpleasant and expensive work, which will often get you in trouble with those in power, because power doesn't accumulate by following those commands. A lot of his early followers ended up in prison, injured, and dead because they were perceived (rightly) as a disturbing influence.  That was no surprise to them, as Jesus had warned them such was likely.  

Here again, if you're not claiming to be a follower of Jesus, you can continue to think that bribing God will result in  financial gain.   But if you are serious about following Jesus, you really do need to look away from the television screen and dig into the Gospels, where you will find little encouragement for the notion that being a Christian is a good way to rise in society and become more affluent.   When Christians do get rich, it's not by doing what Jesus commanded, but by other methods, some more compatible with Jesus' teaching than others.

3) Jesus did NOT say that natural disasters were caused by human sin (for instance sexual misconduct, a favorite of moralists through the ages) and that therefore a natural disaster was an excuse to go beat up on someone you think is sinning (like, for instance, women dressing immodestly or gays.)   People have thought that off and on throughout history, and it would have been easy for Jesus to lay every ill,  from volcanic eruptions to storms at sea to epidemics and invasions on human sin, either individual or group.   That was a common belief then, as it is now.   Tell people their country is overrun with foreign soldiers because they sinned (Romans in Judaea, for instance)  and they'll probably believe it, because it's easier to bear if you can blame someone (and maybe even punch them out for causing you grief.)   After all, we all know a lot of troublesome people (surely they're sinners!) and storms/earthquakes/freezes/droughts/floods are an everyday occurrence, somewhere in the world.  But  that's not what Jesus said.  

Jesus said "The rain falls on the just and the unjust."  In multiple places, in multiple ways, Jesus made it clear that misfortune could happen to anyone, without their having done something specific for which that misfortune was the punishment.  Nature's tantrums are not all about us, in other words.  The man born blind wasn't blind because his parents sinned, or he sinned...but his blindness was an opportunity for God's mercy to act--in this case, through Jesus.  In other situations, through the actions of followers of Jesus, who console the miserable, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, visit the sick and imprisoned.  (Do you see a theme here?)   The beggar at the rich man's gate, dying of starvation, wasn't there because he'd sinned--but the rich man who ignored him did sin, and was condemned because of it.

We hear a lot about how sin has caused this or that disaster, from the attacks of September 11, 2001 to earthquakes and tidal waves and so on.   Lots of people find "revenge theology" a comfortable framework: somebody sins (someone else of course) so God sends a tidal wave or an earthquake.  The focus can shift from helping those who suffer to blaming those presumed to have caused the disaster.   But when it's a supposed Christian saying those things...or worse, attacking those that person considers sinners...that person is not following Jesus, not saying what Jesus said, not acting as Jesus acted.  In fact, that person is saying the opposite, just as the "comforters" of Job said the opposite.   Followers of Jesus will note that disasters are not an occasion for looking around for someone to blame for sinning, but an occasion to care for those suffering.   If we can't heal the blind as Jesus did, we can at least refrain from assuming that (and all other misfortunes) are the result of bad behavior, and get to work helping.

This doesn't mean Jesus was unable to attack sin, of course.  He said harsh things about the uncaring rich who ignored the needs of the poor, the religious profiteers who exploited the faithful, the unjust judges who favored those who gave them bribes, the cruel soldiers who stole from those over whom they had power, and so on...all of whom inflict misery on other people and (in this world) too often get away with it.   Human sin causes human misery by human means--by the power of money, the law, the sword.  But that leads into the second lesson, which will be along another day.  


[User Picture]From: galbinus_caeli
2010-06-07 09:58 pm (UTC)
I am not a Christian, but I have great respect for his actual words, and especially for those who follow them.
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[User Picture]From: bunny_m
2010-06-08 11:44 am (UTC)
This, precisely.
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[User Picture]From: ann_mcn
2010-06-07 09:59 pm (UTC)
Makes me nuts when people try to tell me what Jesus said, or what I believe "since you're a Christian" but they've never read the Gospels, much less the rest of the Bible, to see what it says.

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[User Picture]From: fair_witness
2010-06-07 10:31 pm (UTC)
I wish my father were able to read this now. He'd be giving you an "amen."
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[User Picture]From: gifted
2010-06-07 10:39 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-06-08 04:09 am (UTC)
Those who are actually trying to follow Jesus (and not the televangelist) tend to be quieter than the televangelist and his/her followers. Which leaves the person who wonders what Christians are about hearing a very different message than Jesus gave.

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[User Picture]From: keristor
2010-06-08 06:07 am (UTC)
That is the case in so many areas, it's the noisy ones who get noticed and the quiet ones who just "do it" who don't. For that matter, it's what Jesus did (and Buddha for that matter), if he wasn't wanted somewhere then he just went somewhere else. That's what made the few times he did get mad (like with the moneychangers) spectacular, because something had to be really bad for him to make a fuss (if he'd been ranting all the time about hellfire then no one would have noticed an extra rant).

All the Christians I know personally are of the "just live it" school, this may be self-selecting of course (they are friends, and I'm unlikely to spend much time around people who tell me every day that I'm going to hell!) but I suspect that they do represent the majority and it's the noisy minorities who get into the news.

(Mind you, if you read the Koran and try to reconcile it with Muslim behaviour which gets in the news it doesn't exactly match either. I suspect that this is probably true of most religions and the original teachings they supposedly follow; I also suspect that we tend not to hear much about the ones who do follow them.)
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[User Picture]From: kk1raven
2010-06-08 07:57 pm (UTC)
My experience is generally that the noisier someone is about being "Christian", the less actual following of his words goes on. (Essays like this one are an exception. You're not just making noise, you're trying to educate.)
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[User Picture]From: lovely_fatima
2010-06-07 11:25 pm (UTC)
Wonderful. Thank you so much for posting this. Sadly, it has always been the way of humans to manipulate Truth to their own ends and agendas. Jesus' message was one that extolled the awesome and mighty power of Love for all people, not just the ones we like. That's difficult work, when you think about it, and we all know that people in our current culture have a shocking lack of any sort of desire to put any effort--spiritual, mental or physical--into much of anything. Hopefully your work with the next generation will have a positive impact upon this disturbing trend.
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[User Picture]From: pgranzeau
2010-06-08 12:43 am (UTC)
Thank you for reminding us exactly what Jesus preached. It is forgotten so often!
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[User Picture]From: thecaffeinecat
2010-06-08 11:03 am (UTC)
I am a Buddhist of the variety that views Jesus as someone to be learned from. I have always found his words flawless. Thank you for writing this lesson. I wish it could be given to everyone. The world would be a better place. I will be adding you to await future lessons:)
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[User Picture]From: samiraalthores
2010-06-08 12:35 pm (UTC)
sing it, sister!
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From: zackthedog
2010-06-08 12:47 pm (UTC)

what He said

Well said, dear friend.
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[User Picture]From: robinanderson
2010-06-08 06:34 pm (UTC)
Love it! And this would be the reason why I am no longer an Episcopalian and am now a Unitarian Universalist. Rabbi Jesus was a very smart man and I follow his teachings and not the ones many people would like to assign to him. I am NOT a follower of St. Paul or any of his baggage. I stand on the side of Love. I believe in compassion.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-06-08 07:06 pm (UTC)
I am finally softening my attitude towards St. Paul, a little (which at one time I expressed this way: St. Paul was confined in a small room. Every time someone who had been hurt by St. Paul and his writings died, they came into that small room and Paul had to hear out their complaints, and make peace with them, before they could go on. My feeling then was that Paul and I would spend a LONG time in that little room before we made peace.)

And of course we who consider ourselves Christians are not supposed to be followers of Paul, but of Jesus. For some people, Paul is a useful adjunct...but for none of us is Paul an acceptable substitute for Jesus. (Paul did say some nice things about love and compassion...but I have never been able to believe that he actually believed all he said. Than again--he was human, as I am, and we're all fallible.)
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[User Picture]From: robotech_master
2010-06-08 10:41 pm (UTC)
Well said.

Kind of reminds me of this song:

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[User Picture]From: groblek
2010-06-09 02:10 am (UTC)
Thank you for eloquently stating some of the things that have come to my mind in Bible study in the past.
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[User Picture]From: antimony_medusa
2010-06-09 12:09 pm (UTC)
I find this a very interesting post, and I agree with-most of it. However, I find it difficult to classify the invasion of other countries or terrorist acts, as "natural disasters."
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From: fridayflute
2010-06-09 04:01 pm (UTC)
Hear, hear!!! There are days when I feel as if Jesus' message has been transformed from "Love thy neighbor as thyself" into "I'm alright Jack, **** you." And I must say that I love your soapbox rants - so eloquent, so perceptive, so true!
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-06-10 05:34 pm (UTC)
You're right, and I should have been more explicit about that distinction. War is pretty obviously the result of human error (often, but not always I think, "sin" in the usually accepted definition.) (And I will here sidestep the whole question of whether humans, as part of nature, do in fact create "unnatural" disasters...if it is human nature to have dominance disputes, then is it human nature to cause destruction?)

However, those who suffer an invasion, or acts of terrorism, are commonly not on the sharp end of the stick because of their personal sins nor because of personal injury done to those who injure them. (Death and injury to military personnel is a whole different question, as these are people who did in fact enter into a conflict knowingly.)

You will find people trying to claim that a general sinfulness (often of a "sin" that many of us don't recognize as a sin, such as tolerance of gays, or the rate of divorce, or women not dressing modestly enough) causes these acts, rather than making them the individual responsibility of those who decided on them. Certainly the "do-ers" try to place responsibility on the "done to" instead of on themselves and others like them. Other prophets had said that invasions, war, and natural disasters were all punishments by God for someone's sin, or collective sin...not the result of the sins of those who committed the violence.

But Jesus didn't say that, and put responsibility on the do-er, not the done-to...did not look for the sin that caused the invasion or the IED alongside the road, but told his followers to comfort the victims.
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