Outsiders & Jesus

Jesus is often cited as being a peaceful, loving guy. How do we square this with his violent act of overturning tables of money changers and driving them out of the temple – with a whip? His stated purpose is: ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ 

In this account as well as numerous others, we are confronted with a God-man of seeming contradictions. And on one issue – God’s view of insiders versus outsiders – this Jesus of Nazareth can come across as a man with a split personality.

In the temple incident, Jesus appears to be welcoming both insider and outsider, both native and foreigner – a place of gathering “for all nations.”

But on the other hand, he was explicitly exacting vengeance against money-changers. Why?
The reasons are not clearly stated but the information available suggests a possible nativist bent to this savior.

The money changers were exchanging local and Roman currency for the pure silver shekel coinage of Tyre – even though the Tyrian coins were often stamped with pagan images. The pure shekels were then used to purchase animals for sacrifice.

In effect, Jewish rabbis had decided that the commandment to give the half- or full-shekel Temple tax, with its proper weight and silver purity, was more important than the prohibition of who or what image was on the coin. For Jesus, it would appear that the rabbis had it all wrong. On God’s holy site, purity should be more about coinage that reflected Jewish monotheistic values than silver content.

Trump vs. Outsiders

Today, the American and global landscape is being shaped by a president who puts “America first.” A leader who wants stricter enforcement of borders – even if it may mean separation of children from parents. A president willing to use high tariffs in an effort to promote purchasing of domestic goods over products shipped in from elsewhere.

And this president’s view is not just that of a lone wolf. It’s a perspective shared by a substantial (though perhaps not majority) contingent of American voters. And it is a viewpoint that is increasingly gaining traction abroad – from Europe to China – further fueled by retaliatory motives of our trading “partners.”

What Would Jesus Do?

Jesus never made an explicit statement about tariffs or closing borders or separating children from parents – at least nothing recorded. If we are looking for a clear-cut Christian perspective on contemporary issues that are now tearing the social U.S. and global fabric, that distinctly Christian position is hard to find – even harder to biblically defend.

Jesus’ own ambivalence on matters bearing on the current debates makes the job of articulating right from wrong yet more challenging. Should Christians then sit silently on the sidelines? Or actively engage in the debate – even when believers may be pitted against each other?

While there is no clear-cut Christian platform on which to run, Christ’s ministry offers some guideposts useful to better frame the believer’s response. So, let’s consider the evidence.

A Random Gospel Walk

Jesus’ temple experience occurred just a few days before his death by crucifixion. Let’s start this walk from in Jesus’ formative years – from childhood – then travel forward to his short period of earthly ministry:

  • Geographically speaking, the most glaring omission of the New Testament gospels is the lack of any reference to the most important Galilean cities of Jesus’ youth and adulthood – Sepphoris and Tiberias. Located about an hour’s walk from Jesus’ hill country hometown of Nazareth, Sepphoris was the capital city of Galilee while Jesus was growing up. As a city being rebuilt after recent destruction, Sepphoris was a major construction site, perhaps a source of employment for carpenter Joseph, with Jesus perhaps accompanying his earthly father to the construction site.
    In adulthood sometime before beginning his ministry, Jesus moved to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum was only about 6 miles from Tiberias to which Herod Antipas had relocated his capitol (from Sepphoris) in about 20 AD.
    Unlike smaller largely Jewish settlements of the Galilee, Sepphoris and Tiberias were multi-cultural with substantial pagan influences – including those of the Herodians and Romans. Why are these cities never mentioned in the New Testament? Is it because Jesus assiduously avoided places dominated by “outsiders?” We are not told but this deafening silence seems more intentional than inadvertent.
  • Jesus appears to have mixed views on the Samaritans – those half-breeds of Jews not deported during the Babylonian exile who intermarried with surrounding non-Jewish neighbors. There is a time (recorded in Matthew) when Jesus instructs his disciples to “enter no town of the Samaritans” during their missionary travels, but to confine their ministry to “the lost sheep of the Jews.”
    However, Jesus would interact with Samaritans, most notably with the woman he met at a local well – the one who had five husbands  but became a convert to the “living water” offered by this Jewish and messianic itinerant.
    And there was the time when Jesus was again traveling through Samaria, but not received kindly by the local population. And so his disciples ask: “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But now Jesus comes to the Samaritans’ defense. He tells his disciples that “the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”
  • This unpleasant Samaritan encounter must weighed on Jesus mind afterward. Because it’s not long thereafter that he lays out a parable for his disciples and a Jewish lawyer to ponder – the story of the Good Samaritan. This was in response to the lawyer’s question of “Who is my neighbor?”
    Jesus tells the tale of a Jewish priest and a Levite who passed by a man on the roadside who had been beaten by thieves and who is then finally rescued by a lower class Samaritan. So at the end of his story Jesus asks: “Which of these three do you you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” The lawyer was boxed in, and so answered : “He who showed him mercy.” And so Jesus drives his point home, telling this lawyer to “Go and do likewise.”
  • Consider another encounter by Jesus with an outsider. Jesus and his disciples are traveling when a non-Jewish Canaanite woman accosts him, crying out: ““Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.” Jesus refuses at first to acknowledge her. His disciples suggest that he act more definitively and tell her to go away.
    Jesus then observes that “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (an Israel first type of comment). The woman is not deterred as she comes and worships him, literally begging: “Lord, help me.”
    Jesus is still in no mood to lend a hand but rather responds in rather pejorative (if not racist) terms saying: “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”
    To her everlasting credit, this petitioner does not back away but again confronts Jesus with this rejoinder: “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” At this, Jesus finds himself with little choice but to acknowledge: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.”
    Matthew’s gospel records that immediately (as at “that very hour”) the daughter was healed. Score one for confronting the divine and winning!

We could continue with yet other examples of Jesus’ seemingly contorted responses to the never-ending divisions between locals and foreigners, insiders versus outsiders. If this great teacher – this divinely appointed figure – comes across as conflicted, is it any surprise that people of otherwise goodwill might also come across as deeply divided?

Statutory vs. Common Law

There is one other issue that rears its ugly head in issues pitting insiders versus outsiders. That is the question of whether rules-based statutory law should prevail over a more flexible, situational common law approach. This conflict is particularly evident with the current immigration question of whether to follow existing statute which appears to mandate separation of children from parents versus a more humane and situationally responsive approach to the unique circumstances of this particular immigration crisis.

Again, the question could be posed: What would Jesus do? And again, Jesus’ position could come across as fairly confused – at least based on an initial cursory review.

After all, it is Jesus who is recorded by the gospel writer Matthew as firmly stating:

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”

This suggests a fairly rules-oriented messiah. However, Jesus could say one thing and do another. In practice, this itinerant master and his disciples would intentionally violate the myriad of legal provisions of first century Judaism – in matters both trivial and consequential – for example, engaging in prohibited practices ranging from picking corn to healing on the Sabbath.

And it was in response to the corn-picking incident that Jesus would opine for a more fundamental concept, that: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” To wit: laws were made for humans, and not humans for statutory compliance.

And there’s an even more fundamental statement, boiling down statutory to common law as two commandments. First, to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” And the second: “to love your neighbor as yourself.”

The bottom line is: when push comes to shove, Jesus is more of a common law and less of a statutory kind of guy. 

Of course, the first command is directed to those who are adherents to a heavenly kingdom and not applicable to an earthly state such as the U.S. with clearly stated separation of church and state.

Jesus’ second command is directly applicable to earthly common law – the dictum to “love your neighbor as yourself.” And who is your neighbor. It’s the one who is prepared to show mercy – not limited to sectarian or nation-state borders.

Take Aways

What can you or I take away from what Jesus has to say. Three possible answers – not necessarily comfortable, but yet maybe imperative:

  • Expect conflict even between persons of good-will – not all issues are readily resolved.
  • There’s nothing wrong with prioritizing localized over broader global concerns – so long as localized actions for the benefit of insiders do not come at the expense of outsiders.
  • Treat the outsider as you would want to be treated – consistent with the heavenly mandate of a creator who prioritizes mercy over sacrifice.

—–

For additional information on multiple topics of earthly to divine import from our web site, check out: http://www.jesustheheresy.com

Advertisements

The Conservative, the Liberal, the One in the Middle

A tumultuous 2016 draws to a close. An uncertain 2017 lies ahead. Time to consider where we’ve been and where we may be going from the vantage point of the three who have defined this political year – radical conservative Donald Trump, the old liberal Bernie Sanders, and the one in the middle – the defeated presumptive front-runner Hillary Clinton.

And introduce three who define the religio-poltico shape of a much earlier era that still resonates today – conservative James brother to Jesus  of Nazareth, liberal Saul of Tarsus, and the war-horse in the middle – St. Peter of Capernaum.

What’s the Comparison?

Comparing three characters of biblical proportion with the trio that have dominated the political headlines of the last couple of years may seem a bit odd – perhaps forced. Bear with me and consider:

  • Of the leaders of the early Christian movement, Jesus’ brother James was a Johnny come lately. James criticizes his brother’s earthly ministry, yet somehow mysteriously ascends to leadership of the Jerusalem church as carefully alluded to by Luke the writer of the Acts of the Apostles. As later recounted by the 1st century Jewish historian Josephus, James climbed his way into but was then murdered by the establishment aristocracy. Mr. Trump similarly came out of nowhere to overturn the establishment of his party and the political correctness of the two coasts. A wealthy and privileged New Yorker, he yet remains an outsider scrapping his way to anointing as leader of the yet dominant nation on the globe. One difference: James fell to his antagonists while Donald (so far) has prevailed.
  • Yes, Paul was the liberal of his era – breaking the new found Christian movement free of its Jewish moorings. With a message that appealed to a Roman world hungry for authentic rather than tired and ineffectual spirituality. And like his modern counterpart Bernie Sanders, Paul pulled no punches – even advocating that those troublesome followers of James and Peter castrate themselves. The difference is that Paul’s message of a universal Christianity prevailed while Bernie’s socialist crusade has foundered – at least for now.
  • Then we have the front-runners who choked before getting to the finish line – tripping over flaws too big to ignore. As Jesus’ lead disciple, we know about Peter’s impetuous behavior – such as cutting off the ear of an officer come to arrest Jesus. There may have been worse – witness the demise of Ananias and Sapphira at the hands of Peter as the first leader of the post-resurrection church. In the fourth century, church leader John Chrysostom was forced to deny rumors that Peter may have had an active hand at least one of these deaths. While Hillary Clinton may not seem to be so openly brash, think throwing dishes at Bill Clinton over Monica and other trailer trash . Think Whitewater, conducting national business on a personal server, or maybe Vince Foster. Unending, whispered and not-so-whispered rumors.

Definitions

Before going further, it’s time to define the terms of engagement. Webster’s dictionary offers the following definitions for the terms liberal and conservative:

  • Liberal – “one who is open-minded or not strict in the observance of orthodox, traditional, or established forms or ways …”
  • Conservative – “believing in the value of established and traditional practices in politics and society …”

In short, the conservative is ever glancing in the rear-view mirror; the liberal looks and acts forward. 

So, What are the Take-Aways?

At first blush, there is no apparent rhyme or reason to the determination of whether the conservative, liberal or one in the middle will prevail. Fate seems so fickle, blown about by the moods of the moment combined with the quirks of the respective lead personalities:

  • The reactionary movement of the Donald has carried the day today – although the much earlier conservatism of James lost out despite the familial connection with the anointed one – the Savior.
  • The liberalizing and liberating New Testament theology of Saul (renamed Paul) prevailed because it played to the interests of the Roman populace for a more believable deity than the shopworn gods of the Greeks and Romans. Two millennia later, Bernie’s socialist ideals would play well to millennials feeling betrayed by their elders – but not enough to carry the day (at least not yet).
  • The losers then and now were the middle of the road types – a Peter who vacillated between adhering to Judaism versus opening to Gentiles and a Hillary who has wavered on issues ranging from global trade to support and then opposition to the Iraq war.
  • In ascendant periods, middle of the road types represent continuity combined with the aura of all boats rising together. Think Peter as lead disciple during Jesus’ ministry continuing forward for awhile as leader of the pack once his master had departed the earthly scene. In the U.S., think Eisenhower as the victorious WWII general leading a homogeneous nation during the period of American ascendancy in the 1950s. Or consider Hillary’s precursor in husband Bill as the New Democrat in the wake of the post-Soviet 1990s.

But in uncertain and troubled times, the mood swings to more extreme options. The only question is whether the populist conservative or liberal plays better to the temper of our times. For Christianity, liberality won out because it played to a much larger market – the whole Roman empire, not just one isolated province. In 2016, the reactionary (but not fully traditional) conservative solution won out because the populace found itself betrayed by the patronizing liberalism of two Obama administrations. As many working class Americans and millennials have perceived. the emperor is wearing no clothes.

In the End, Liberalism Wins

Does the example of Paul or that of Mr. Trump better represent likely long-term outcomes? For all of the arrogance and independent of any theological truth, the Pauls of this world always win out in the end. Inclusion beats parochial self-interest. Serving the common good is better politics than propping up the cultural and economic elites. And despite twists and turns along the way, the world of today is better than that of renaissance Europe,the Greco-Roman empires or even earlier civilizations whether on the scale of the Egyptians or nomadic tribes from Africa to the Americas.

For better or worse, there are two reasons why liberals inevitably beat out their more conservative counterparts:

  • The first reason is empirical. Despite jarring cyclical swings between liberality and retrenchment, the long-term march is upward – toward the ever-beckoning city on a hill. The world is a better place to live today than at any time in recorded human history. And so long as we survive our own suicidal tendencies, life 100 years from now will be even better than today.
  • The second reason is spiritual. The divine embodies the discordant mix of mercy and judgment. Individually and culturally, we are responsible for our actions. But in the end, mercy trumps judgment. And as Jesus would say: “I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.”

If this view is correct, President-elect Trump’s victory may be short-lived. For us conservatives, now is the time for some thorough house-cleaning. Whether or not Mr. Trump is the man for the job remains to be seen.

Without fail, liberalism will live to again carry the day. This will happen when liberals regroup to again embrace rather than patronize the needs, the preferences, the aspirations of all humanity – not just the imperatives of like minded elites.

—————–

For additional information, even insights, on jesustheheresy, check out the full web site at: http://www.jesustheheresy.com

Jesus vs Trump – On Trade (Part 2)

In the wake of the November election, I wrote that President-elect Trump’s opposition to free global trade was not only bad economics but downright immoral. Looking back to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, the case is made that if The Donald is to define neighborly based on America first (to the exclusion or detriment of our extended neighbor network), then he’s missed the point of what the Christ advocated.

The message of Jesus is clear. Eternity belongs to the neighborly – even when it may cost to be neighborly. And in the end, squeezing our global neighbors will prove counterproductive. The road kill we pass by will inevitably include our own.

In this sequel to the earlier blog, a counterargument is made from another event during Jesus’ ministry. That counterclaim is that Jesus argued that taking care of your own comes before taking care of the alien, the other. Is Jesus contradicting himself? Or How are these two seemingly opposed viewpoints to be reconciled? And what practical advice can be drawn for application to the steps that Mr. Trump may take upon inauguration.

And was asked in the first installment of this blog discussion, the question is posed: What would Jesus say about being pro- or anti-trade? 

Jesus A Racist?

For a different perspective on how the Christ – the anointed one – might react we look not to a parable but to perhaps the most perplexing encounter that Jesus has with a stranger as recorded in the Christian New Testament. As recounted by the gospels of Matthew and Mark, this is Jesus’ encounter with a Gentile woman from the non-Jewish area of Tyre and Sidon (in present day Lebanon). Jesus deliberately left communities in the Galilee with Jewish population to venture into less familiar Gentile territory. He finds and enters a house where he could be incognito. But alas, his whereabouts are soon discovered – by a women desperate to find a cure for her demon possessed daughter.

The exchange that then unfolds between the male rabbi and the female foreigner is nothing short of astounding:

  • The Canaanite woman cries out to Jesus: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.
  • Jesus doesn’t answer – but ignores this foreigner, this alien.
  • Jesus’ disciples pile on, urging Jesus to “Send her away, for she cries out after us.”
  • Then to make sure the welcome mat is withdrawn, Jesus for once supports the logic of his disciples, saying: “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
    Implication: Preferred access to God’s kingdom is for the Jewish population to the exclusion of all others.
  • The woman tries again, calling out to him: “Lord, help us.”
  • At this point, the Savior of the universe comes across as more than a little bit perturbed, answering: “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” Meaning little bitches, or at best little puppies. The debate over what Jesus meant rages down over 20 centuries. What we do know is that dogs were not man’s best friend in Jewish culture – but were low on the animal pecking order. As the Proverbs say, “As a dog returns to his own vomit, So a fool repeats his folly.”
  • In today’s world, Jesus remark would be taken as blatantly racist, certainly not politically correct. But this alien woman holds her ground, bypasses the insult, and responds with even a bit of good humor: “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”
  • She has the better of the exchange and Jesus caves: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed “that very hour.”

So, What Does this Have to do with Donald Trump & Global Trade?

Put yourself in the shoes of Jesus Christ – or Donald Trump. Do you see much difference?

  • Both demean the foreigner
  • Both espouse taking care of the people at home first
  • Both deliberatly insult the one(s) who come across as their adversary
  • Both engage in what at least appears to be racist rhetoric
  • And both are engaged in no holds barred negotiation.

Jesus makes a 180° turn, yielding to the woman’s better reasoned case. The Donald has shown, in some cases, similar flexibility (witness his bromances with Dr. Ben Carson, maybe even Mitt Romney). Could he cave on trade as well?

And the Moral of the Story Is …

Put aside the apparent put-downs, the seeming racism, the disingenuous baiting of the audience, the blatant inequity of parochialism. Admittedly, these are thorny moral questions. But morality may be irrelevant to outcome.

What is on display with Jesus  and Mr. Trump is the willingness, the seeming reckless abandon, to push for resolution that would not have been possible without an adversarial encounter.

And What does this Mean for the Global Community?

Based on the parable of the Good Samaritan,  I have argued that President-elect Trump’s opposition to free global trade is not only bad economics but downright immoral. How is the example of the caring Good Samaritan to be reconciled with the image of a grasping Canaanite woman and her belligerent all-powerful adversary?

The answer comes down to the distinction between free trade and fair trade:

  • The example of the Good Samaritan speaks loudly for free trade – a world where every nation, every person is our neighbor.
  • The example of the Canaanite woman speaks volumes for fair trade – if you’re going to get, you have to give.

So, it is for Mr. Trump. Uphold the global community. Reward those who can do more for less – for improved standard of living and reduced environmental footprint.

Concurrently, push without ceasing for exchange that recognizes the full cost versus benefit for all transacting parties.

And if it all involves a bit of hard-edged politics along the way, so be it.

—————–

Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician (Canaanite) Woman (Matthew 15:21-28, NKJV)

Then Jesus went out from there (around the Sea of Galilee) and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.”

But He answered her not a word.

And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.”

But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”

But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”

And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”

Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

—————–

For the first installment (Part 1) of Jesus vs. Trump on Trade, click: https://jesustheheresy.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/jesus-vs-trump-on-trade

And for additional information and insights on jesustheheresy, check out our full web site at: http://www.jesustheheresy.com

Jesus vs. Trump – On Trade

President-elect Donald Trump ran a campaign focused on scrapping current and pending trade agreements, and increasing tariffs on imported goods from countries like Mexico and China. It’s all part of an America First approach to doing business domestically and globally.

The arguments over trade are  being made on economic grounds. Free traders articulate the case that everyone is better off when people in each part of the world produce and sell what they’re best at doing. Those who would retreat from trade point to perceived and real loss of American jobs to other countries – especially in manufacturing.

But to date, few consider whether not just economic but more fundamental moral issues are at stake. Is it moral or immoral to say I will no longer buy from the country next door – or even half a world away?

And so the question is posed: What would Jesus say about being pro- or anti-trade? 

The short answer: Jesus is a free-trader. And not on primarily economic but rather on moral grounds.

Trump is wrong. So are fellow travelers Hillary and Bernie. Shutting down free trade is not just bad economics, it’s downright immoral.

Even if it could work, a beggar my neighbor world where my counterpart in China or Korea or Vietnam loses his or her job so I can (maybe) keep mine is helping is certainly not making human-kind better. But rather, more impoverished.

Jesus’ Good Neighbor World

Does Jesus have anything to say that bears on the morality of free versus restricted commerce? Very simply, it’s all to be found in the most famous story ever told by Jesus – the parable of the Good Samaritan.

If nothing else, Jesus is a story teller. In this case, the impetus for Jesus to tell the parable of the so-called Good Samaritan comes from Jesus’ interaction with a lawyer – a trained debater who wants to test the God-man by asking a basic question: “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds not with an answer but with a question of his own: “what is written in the law?”

As a legal question, the lawyer quickly gives a rote legal answer about loving the Lord your God with all your heart … and loving your neighbor as yourself. Jesus indicates the lawyer has passed His test: “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But rather than being shown up by an  itinerant Savior, the lawyer presses the point by asking a definitional question: “And who is my neighbor?” A bit like Bill Clinton before a grand jury parsing out “what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

Jesus is more than game. He defines “neighbor” not as Webster’s or Wikipedia might do it, but with a story. And to refresh, here are the essential points:

  • A man is robbed and left half dead.
  • The first people to come across the beaten man are a priest and a temple helper, agents of a supposedly compassionate faith. Neither stops to help but stay away as far as possible.
  • Next comes a Samaritan, a low life in the eyes of the first century Jewish elite. But the Samaritan stops, treats the wounds, takes the victim to an inn, even pays for about 24 days of lodging during which time the wounds can heal. The Samaritaan even says he’ll pay more if the tab runs higher.

Here, Jesus’ story ends – as he focuses back on the lawyer to ask a pivotal question: “(who) was the neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer has no choice but to answer the obvious: “The one who showed him mercy.” Or as another New Testament translation puts it: “The one who helped him.”

And then comes the master’s punchline: “Go and do likewise.”

The World of Trump vs. Jesus

America’s president-elect is like the priest or the temple helper who passes as far as possible from the wounded, the “losers” of this universe. Perhaps a bit more charitably, The Donald might first go over, pull out the wounded’s ID to verify if this victim is native born – preferably one who voted for him on November 8.

For the president-elect, a woman or man is a neighbor only if bred and born in the U.S. For Jesus, the neighbor was the Samaritan – of a different ethnicity, a different religion, a different nation. For Jesus, our neighbor is as much the person in the Vietnamese footwear manufacturing shop or the Indian call center as it is the steelworker in Ohio or aircraft manufacturer in Seattle.

For Jesus, our neighbor is not only the person next door but the individual, family, nation half a world away. Our neighbor is anybody with whom we interact or affect – wittingly or otherwise.

The arbitrary restriction of trade would mean that the person or nation who can do the most for the least is cut out of the action – in favor of the person, business or nation that will do the least for more. Everyone loses. The productive soul that could do it best is displaced, impovrished, beaten. And the less productive entity gets its just reward by paying more for the same (or perhaps inferior) product, resulting in a reduced standard of living, especially for those of the most limited means.

There is a case to be made for free trade that is also fair trade – no selling below cost, no stealing someone else’s invention, no lying or cheating to make the sale. Jesus speaks favorably of those who play by the rules and work or invest for positive, predictable return.

But for those displaced by American industries no longer competitive, consider again the words of Jesus when he admonishes: “Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum (or China), do also here in Your country (state, city, rust-belt – as the case may be.)” No people, no country is entitled to rest on its laurels. Eachand every  day is a fresh new occasion to prove oneself worthy in the global marketplace of goods, services, ideas and values. 

Conclusion

There are two questions the lawyer asks. #1 – what can I do to inherit (not earn) never ending life? Jesus’ answer: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

Lawyer question #2 – who is my neighbor? Jesus’ answer: It’s anyone whose path I cross – whether intentionally or inadvertently.

In other words: I need to be prepared buy from or sell to the worker halfway around the world on similar terms as I would buy or sell from my immediate family member, co-worker, or store down the street. And to give each the same measure of respect.

The bottom line: if The Donald is to define neighborly based on America first (to the exclusion or detriment of our extended neighbor network), then he’s missed the point of what The Christ advocated. The message of Jesus is clear. Eternity belongs to the neighborly – even when it may cost to be neighborly.

In the end, squeezing our global neighbors will prove counterproductive. The road kill we pass by will inevitably include our own.

So come, listen to Jesus’ story, again and yet again. And then, act accordingly.

Rather than beggar thy neighbor; how about assist and enrich the neighbor – whether that neighbor be Mexican, Canadian, Indo-Chinese, Indian, African, Russian, Kurdish, or …

—————–

The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37, NRSV)

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite (temple helper), when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii (paying for 24 days lodging), gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’

Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

—————–

For additional information and insights on jesustheheresy, check out our full web site at: http://www.jesustheheresy.com

Let my people go …

The people of the U.S. have spoken. And the electors will soon follow:

As Moses implored the Pharaoh of Egypt repeatedly: “Let my people go…

Moses’ campaign pleas were made on behalf of Israelites who believed in their leader as well as those who though this aged murderer was leading them to disaster.

President-elect Trump has just made a mockery of the elites of the U.S. – the pollsters, the media, the high-tech gurus, the entertainers, the Wall Street tycoons, the educators and those inside the Beltway.

The president-elect may be a coarse buffoon but he knows his people. He has made promises impossible to keep, but he has given hope to those screwed over by the last decade or more. Even as the elites have come to control more of the goodies while the “deplorables” work harder and receive less – except the patronizing derision of their new techno masters.

Moses called out: ‘”Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.”
The Donald cries out: “Let my people go, that they may celebrate the return of hope in the wilderness of a depleted middle America.”

Shame on the elites for dumping on those who made America great!

And the Trump cries out: “Let my people go, to work again in jobs that provide a livable income and a sense of self-worth in life.”

“Let my people go, to worship the God of their fathers and mothers, without fear of censorship or exclusion from the circles of community leadership and authority.”

“Let my people go, to rebuild families torn apart by underemployment, substance abuse, and an overweening state that parses out social welfare to keep the masses fat, satiated, and compliant.”

“Let my people go, to grab their share of capitalism’s booty and put the elites on notice that the thievery of arrogant liberalism is now cut short.”

As Jesus would say, “the first will be last, and the last will be first.” And that’s justice.

—————–

For additional information and insights on jesustheheresy, check out our full web site at: jesustheheresy.com

Blessed Are the Poor … In Spirit

In his infamous Sermon on the Mount, the Gospel of Matthew records Jesus as saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This is the first beatitude … front and center.

Luke’s gospel records what Jesus said somewhat differently, as “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke’s version differs from that of Matthew in three distinct ways:

  • Matthew’s version of the blessing is for those who are “poor of spirit.” Luke has a totally different twist, focusing the blessing on the “poor” in material being. This different nuance pervades Luke as a social gospel – most interested in lifting the poor out of the poverty. Unlike Luke, Matthew is focused on humanity’s spiritual rather than physical condition – a perspective that pervades his entire gospel.
  • Luke’s version of what Jesus speaks is more inter-relational, focused on “you” while Matthew is interested in them and “theirs”.
  • Finally, Luke describes a “kingdom of God” while Matthew depicts a “kingdom of heaven.” For Matthew, the afterlife is about a place – called heaven. For Luke, the kingdom is about “God” and our relationship to the divine.

With the 2016 Republican convention just behind us and the Democratic just ahead, the question posed by this blog is: What does being poor (or poor in spirit) have to do with the 2016 U.S. presidential election? Plenty.

Jesus for Trump?

At first glance, there appears to be little in common between Jesus first beatitude and the behavior of Donald Trump. Mr. Trump is neither poor nor poor in spirit. He flaunts his wealth and exhibits anything but a humble spirit. By the measure of either Matthew or Luke, the Donald would appear to fall short of the kingdom.

But there may be an out. What if, unlike the rich young ruler of the first century AD, Mr. Trump was prepared to sell everything – whether literally or methaphorically – and give it all to the poor? At the GOP convention, he certainly talked a good game. Well, not so much for the truly poor. But rather for the forgotten and shrinking middle. As he declared:

“I have visited the laid-off factory workers, and the communities crushed by our horrible and unfair trade deals. These are the forgotten men and women of our country. People who work hard but no longer have a voice. I am your voice.”

Is this the real Donald? Or just a part of the act? Does he really care? Or is he just looking to ride the presidency to feather his own nest? Will the forgotten middle become even more invisible if and when Mr. Trump becomes president?

Most likely, we won’t know until and unless the American people take the leap of faith with the Donald into the unknown – unknown perhaps even to him.

Jesus for Hillary?

Even though she has long talked a good game, Hillary Clinton appears to fail by the metrics of either Matthew or Luke. Starting at Wellesley college and extending beyond to roles as wife of a governor and president, then U.S. senator and secretary of state, Mrs. Clinton has lived an adulthood of privilege. She fails the material test and doesn’t do much better on when it comes to humbleness of spirit. She is quoted as saying:

“We need to raise pay, create good-paying jobs, and build an economy that works for everyone—not just those at the top. I’ll cut taxes for the middle class, raise the minimum wage, and ensure the wealthiest pay their fair share.”

Sounds good, but how real? No less than primary opponent Bernie Sanders has repeatedly taken Clinton to task for favoring big business and wealth over the everyday American. As he pithily noted earlier this year:

“I introduced legislation to [prevent banks from being predatory] when Secretary Clinton was busy giving speeches to Goldman Sachs for $225,000 a speech.”

And this is the same Clinton who has also observed that “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business,” Hardly a helping hand to workers who’ve now been on the short end of the stick for decades.

An Aside

There’s one small additional problem we are only recently beginning to get. The Americans who get the best shake today are the wealthy elites followed by those with the lowest incomes. The wealthy represent modern protective guilds. Those with the lowest incomes are increasingly catered to by the American welfare state – with little incentive to improve their lot on their own.

Which leaves what once was called working class and middle class. Slipping further behind. While perhaps not yet fully financially impoverished, they are clearly emotionally and culturally spent. And anger expressed as a result – as represented by the extremes of Trump and Sanders.

These are the poor in spirit of the early 21st century – with no blessing in sight. 

Does Anyone Really Care?

There is an old Chicago lyric that goes something like: “Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?” The answer: “If so, I can’t imagine why.”

The pivotal economic questions of this presidential campaign are: What do we do about a growing disparity of American incomes? About leaving more working and previously middle class Americans in the dust?

What we get from the Republican and Democratic candidates is less than reassuring. Trump talks about making America great again; Hillary about raising pay. In both cases, actions speak louder than words. As Jesus would say of the teachers of law in his day:

“… be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”

With the election of 2016, it has never been more important to test the rhetoric against past performance and readily understandable proposals for the future. Then vote accordingly. Vote for the candidate demonstrating reasonable knowledge of the issue coupled with articulated solutions and the track record of past performance to match.

——–

For additional information and insights on jesustheheresy, check out our full web site at: jesustheheresy.com

Expect Conflict & Make Peace

Starting in Ferguson and most recently extending to Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Dallas, and back to Baton Rouge, America is in the grips of the seemingly surprising re-emergence of conflict between its African-American communities and the police responsible for protecting these samecommunities. Looking from the vantage point of the Brexit-divided British isles, the Economist magazine on July 16 seems perplexed, stating:

America has problems, but this picture is a caricature of a country that,
on most measures, is more prosperous,
more peaceful and less racist than ever before.

So, what gives? Why is a seemingly post-racial country that has unprecedentedly elected its first African-American president and that experiences greater prosperity than most parts of the world facing renewed racial conflict?

There are plenty of pundits seeking answers from a secular (but confined) perspective. For a few brief moments, consider the alternative divine perspective of the author of both conflict and peace.

Jesus’ Take

During his brief earthly ministry, Jesus comes across as being on both sides of the question. On the one hand, in speaking what are known as the beatitudes to a large audience overlooking the Sea of Galilee, proclaiming:

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

Sounds like the typical liberal, coddling, approach to human conflict resolution. But that’s not the full story. For on yet another occasion, Jesus forcefully articulates an opposing viewpoint as he rhetorically asks:

Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.

This Jesus not only expects conflict; he  actively seeks to create division and disunity. Sounds like the Donald.

So, what is the answer? How are we to resolve Jesus’ expectations of conflict coupled with the countervailing exhortation to making peace?

Shortly after making his this seemingly incendiary statement about conflict, Jesus does provide a way out. It’s not a direct answer but a formula. And a formula that is illustrated in legal terms as Jesus throws the resolution right back to those in the middle of seemingly intractable division –  by asking:

Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?
As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate,
try hard to be reconciled on the way,
or your adversary may drag you off to the judge,
and the judge turn you over to the officer,
and the officer throw you into prison.

I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

Jesus answer is one not of paternalistic enabling but of tough love. He expects, even creates, conflict. He then demands that we each take responsibility to work out our differences. Before getting to the courtroom, or rioting and looting, or mercilessly beating and casting aside the perceived enemy.

Jesus tells us what to do, not how. The how is left up to rational, emotional, even in-the-moment, antagonists.

And if we don’t work it out? Well, the consequences of delayed action can be even more dire than the initial conflict itself.

What do the Donald & Hillary Say?

The re-emergence of racial and class conflict represents a somewhat surprising but nonetheless pivotal litmus test for the two presumed nominees in the 2016 run-off for the U.S. presidency. The liberal candidate takes the path of the peacemaker, the enabler – to the point of glossing over the violence and destruction and illegal and anti-social behavior. The newcomer to law-and-order conservatism overplays justice and retribution at the expense of mercy. Left to their own devices, the approach of either candidate runs the risk of deepening rather than rectifying the great tear in America’s social fabric.

For the voter, expectations should rise above business as usual. Vote the candidate that  demonstrates reconciliation on the way to but before further conflagration.


For additional information and insights on jesustheheresy, check out our full web site at: jesustheheresy.com