Tuesday, June 14, 2011

adding to Jesus' words

In Rollins' clever little story and commentary, "Turning the Other Cheek", pp 19-23 of The Orthodox Heretic, he takes what we call the Sermon on the Mount, and in a telling display of unwisdom, he adds to it. In this story, he has the Sermon addressed specifically to only certain people, "...the sick the dispossessed, the widow and the orphan, the ones without a voice and without hope". But then, Rollins has Jesus address another group of people, "we who have the power, who have the authority, and who have a voice". Jesus' words for them is "Do not be mistaken, these words are not for you", and so Rollins has Jesus give these people a different message. It has less to do with what they should do than with what will be done to them.

Jesus finished addressing them with this message, "These people (the one's first addressed) are my message to you. Heed this message, and you will live. Ignore it, and you will perish".

In the commentary, Rollins says that things like the Sermon on the Mount were not addressed to everyone. "However, these teachings were not given to people like us (by us I mean people who can afford to buy this book and are educated enough to be able to read it). These were not spoken primarily for the powerful to apply as middle-class moral platitudes. For us, these words can "become little more than advice on how to treat the shop assistant or a passerby".

Because, of course, how we treat shop assistants and passerbys (or is that passers-by?) is just not so important, is it?

But are Rollins' claims about Jesus' words true?

Matthew 5 begins the Sermon, but the last part of chapter 4 may give some context for it. "Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him."

So, the multitude Jesus spoke to did likely have many people who either were sick or had been healed by Jesus.

Matthew 5. "Now when he say the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him and he began to teach them, saying..."

Notice what is missing from the biblical account? We have no mention of the social standings of anyone in the crowd. While no doubt those who were sick may have mostly been poor, we know that diseases are rather equal-opportunity--they don't go around asking the class status of those they infect. So, if we accept that Rollins was likely right about the mix of classes being present when Jesus was preaching, we have to accept that Jesus was talking to everyone, giving them the same sermon, and that it was as applicable to the rich and powerful as it was to the poor and sick.

Mr. Rollins' attempt to make Jesus a party to class warfare is clever, but it doesn't work.

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