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