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  • Then to make sure the welcome mat is withdrawn, Jesus for once supports the logic of his disciples, saying: “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”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.

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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.

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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 …

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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.”

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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.

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

Jesus the Boomer?

A columnist for the Washington Post, Dana Milbank, has recently posted a pre-election op-ed with the headline: “Baby boomers, you’ve done enough; it’s Generation X’s turn.”

The columnist’s invective is strong and spot on. While much of his fire is aimed at Donald Trump, much the same could be said of fellow baby boomer Hilary Clinton. As Milbank says: “Boomers, coddled in their youth, grew up selfish and unyielding. When they got power, they created polarization and gridlock from both sides. Though Vietnam War-protesting boomers got the attention, their peers on the right were just as ideological, creating the religious right.”

Beyond the harsh condemnation of the baby boom generation, Milbank offers a an insightful categorization of generational patterns that “repeat over time.” And jesustheheresy.com asks the question: could there have been a similar patterns of intra- and inter-generational conflict much earlier – for example, dating to the time of Jesus’ sojourn two millennia  back?

Generational Patterns

Consider first the four generational descriptions offered up by Milbank:

  • The Civics – most recently epitomized by those termed as the Greatest Generation, born in the first 2-3 decades of  the 1900s, serving on the front lines in World War II and building the post-war America of Leave it to Beaver.
  • The Adaptives – a much smaller cohort coming of age during the Depression and World War II, also known as the Silent Generation. 
  • The Idealists – aka today’s Baby Boomers born amid the great population explosion of 1946-64.
    Note: Donald Trump was born in 1946; Hilary Clinton in 1947.
  • The Reactives – today comprising the group known as Generation X, a much smaller cohort in numbers but now with the task to “clean up idealists’ messes.”

Milbank observes that idealists  are responsible for previous messes throughout American history. Idealistic generations led us into the U.S. Civil war, followed by a similar generation leading into the Great Depression, and with the latest incarnation of idealists giving us everything from civil disobedience in the 1960s to the financial collapse of 2008 and ensuing Great Recession.

But our columnist also offers hope via the next up-and-coming generation of Millennials. If history repeats itself, it will be today’s twenty-somethings who will take the helm as the next installment of Civics, building on the clean-up by Gen X of the now fractured American polity.

What Generation Jesus?

Can the American experience be translated back into the era of 1st century Palestine? Consider the evidence that Jesus’ generation may serve as a remarkable forerunner of today’s baby boomer set:

  • Start with The Civics – some of the greatest builders and power players the world has ever known – Caesar Augustus, Marc Antony, Cleopatra, Herod the Great – all born between about 63 and 83 BC. Just as the Civics of the last century produced leaders of great good (Roosevelt, Churchill, Eisenhower, Marshall), so this generation also produced those of great evil (as with Hitler and Stalin). Much the same could be said of the Civics that preceded Christ.
  • Then look for the Adaptives – a relatively silent generation then as well as more recently. Examples of persons born from the 50s to 20s BC include the conservative Jewish philosophical leaders Shammai (a counterpoint to the older and more liberal Hillel), Johanan ben Zakai (a primary contributor to the core text of Rabbinical Judaism after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD), and Philo (Jewish Hellenistic philosopher). Another born with this generation was the man who would become Emperor Tiberius during Jesus adulthood (and who retreated from the rigors of imperial governance for the isle of Capri after his own mid-life crisis).
  • Now we come to the Idealists – persons born from about 20 BC to the first decade of the common era – including Jesus, Jesus’ mother Mary (at the older end of the same generation), the disciples, Paul the apostle, and the birth of the Jewish zealot movement.
  • Finally, there are the Reactives – those born up to about 30 AD including King Herod Agrippa II (respected by Paul) and the Roman General and future Emperor Vespasian (who initially led the fight to suppress the Jewish insurrection against Rome starting 66-67 AD).

As is potentially the case with today’s Millennials who follow in the footsteps of America’s Greatest Generaion, so there was a new round of Civics born in the Mediterranean region in the decade of the 30s (about or just after the time of the crucifixion of Jesus). Examples are Luke (the writer of a gospel and the Acts of the Apostles), Josephus (Jewish general turned historian), and Emperor Titus (son of Vespasian, conquerer of Jerusalem and acclaimed final builder of the Roman Coliseum).

The Road Ahead

Despite strong condemnation of today’s baby boom generation, columnist Milbank concludes as bullish on prospects for a better world – as the reins of leadership and power are inevitably transferred from “narcissitic” boomers to Generation X and then the Millennials.

But just how rosy is that future? Yes, America patched up the wounds of the Civil War over the decades that followed. And, after another generation of idealists led us into the Great Depression, a world war pulled us out – establishing American preeminence that only now is beginning to fade. In both instances, the case can be made that the U.S. ended up better than before – despite the pain and suffering in-between.

But there is a darker scenario to consider – the experience of the 1st century AD. Rome fared well but first century Judea did not survive its spell of what Milbank terms as “hyper-partisanship and polarization and gridlock.” Rather than solving their own problems, the cities of Judea and Galilee were destroyed and the population dispersed – waiting nearly 1,900 years for the long awaited re-establishment  of a Jewish state in Israel. Two millennia earlier, the ultimate idealist – Jesus of Nazareth – saw it all coming in advance but stepped aside for history to take its own course.

As an American nation and as a global community, we may get lucky again – survive, heal and rebuild from the nasty divides engendered by the Clinton-Trump campaigns – not to mention all the rocky battles ahead. A positive outcome is by no means assured. The downside risk is that this American experiment fails; that democracy is proven as not sustainable. The Gen X’ers may start but not finish their clean-up of Boomer inflicted wounds on each other and the nations. Millennials will never get their chance to rebuild anew. And the world will be the worse for it.

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

Jesus & New York Values

Ted Cruz lit the fuse back in January when he criticized the “New York values” of his campaign adversary Donald Trump. Since then, everyone who is anyone has piled on – exposing the widening chasm between urban versus suburban, exurban and rural perspectives on America.

Despite protestations, all of our candidates evidence traces of this American urban/rural dichotomy:

  • The son of a Cuban immigrant, Ted Cruz was raised a Texan but left for the elite meritocracies of Princeton and Harvard; wife Heidi has worked for JP Morgan Chase, Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs – all New York based Wall Street firms.
  • Born in Queens, counterpart Donald Trump epitomizes the wealthy New Yorker, stepping out for just two years to get educated at Philadelphia’s University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Finance.
  • Like the Donald, Bernie Sanders was born a New Yorker, raised in Brooklyn, then ventured to Chicago and Israel before settling in Burlington, the largest city in the otherwise rural state of Vermont.
  • Hilary Clinton was born in Chicago, grew up in suburban Park Ridge Illinois, escaped for the more rarified worlds of Wellesley and Yale, went to Washington DC and then further south to Arkansas before returning to Washington and ultimately to New York as U.S. Senator from her newly adopted state.
  • The outsider of the group, John Kasich was born and raised near Pittsburgh, graduated from Ohio State University – but did burnish his “inside the beltway” credentials with 18 years in Congress including six years as House Budget Committee chair, before a private sector stint with Lehman Brothers and then currently as governor of Ohio.governorship.

With the departure of the man termed by The Donald as “lyin’ Ted Cruz” followed by dark horse Kasich, it appears that New York values trump all. Which specific New York values prevail – the in-your-face brashness of Trump, the socialism of The Bern, or the Wall Street coziness of Hilary – all remain to be seen.

Jesus & New York Values

Strange as it may seem, we have been here before. The conflict between rural and urban has animated humanity since the earliest days of civilization. And this interplay is nowhere as evident as with one Jesus of Nazareth. The questions posed here are two-fold:

Did Jesus embody rural (Galilean) or urban (Jerusalem) values?

And what message does the experience of 2,000 years past possibly convey today? 

At first blush, the answer seems obvious. The Galileans of Jesus day were the uneducated, poor working classes of Palestine – lorded over by Judeans and Romans alike. And Jesus’ home town was particularly insignificant. As John’s gospel records, one of the earliest disciples Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law, the One whom the prophets foretold—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathaniel responds dismissively with the rhetorical question: “Can anything good come from Nazaraeth?” Like any good Missourian of today, Philip is ready with the simple come-back: “Come and see.”

But let’s retreat back just another century or so in history. With the Maccabees successful revolt against foreign domination, the largely unsettled region of the Galilee was quickly repopulated. Much as  the rural kittbutzim of the 20th century served to secure the viability of the modern Israeli state, so the initiative to rebuild a self-sustaining economy prompted the re-settlement of urban Judeans to the countryside in the century before Christ as a means to make the deserts and marshes of the Galilee bloom again.

The available evidence suggests that, while perhaps disparaged by their urban counterparts, the Galilean settlers were a surprisingly educated, certainly religious, perhaps even sophisticated group. And the evidence is that Jesus knew how to mix it up in both worlds. Consider that:

  • His (step) father Joseph had family roots in Bethlehem, next door to Jerusalem; tradition is that the Garden of Gethsemane may have been owned by Jesus’ mother’s family.
  • At the mere age of 12, young Jesus engagedwith the teachers in the Temple – and those who interacted with the boy were “astonished at His understanding and answers.”
  • As an adult, Jesus was equally at home with the poor, the dispossessed and working classes of the Galilean villages as with the elites of the Jewish capital.
  • Even when on trial for his earthly life, he could confound an Idumean king, a Jewish high priest, and a Roman governor.
  • And the gospel writer John (possibly Jesus’ cousin), finds privileged access to the Herodian household even as Jesus finds himself inexorably led toward death by crucifixion – a disciple “known to the high priest” … who went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest as sidekick Peter was forced to remain temporarily outside the door.

The Aftermath

Even as he faced his own untimely demise, Jesus would lament over the fate of his adopted city:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”

The destruction of the urban capital would be delayed beyond Jesus’ earthly sojourn by nearly two generations. But the destruction would come – a remarkable calamity for all. The leaders of the Jewish revolt and final defenders of the City before its destruction in 70 AD were the Zealots from out of the Galilee. While battling the Roman besiegers, within the City walls they were simultaneously executing the religious and political elites – even burning the graineries as added incentive for those still alive to fight for life. Meanwhile, their urban revolutionary counterparts – the Sicarii – fled the city to die via mass suicide at the desert fortress of Masada.

The Last Word

Today, the upper hand remains with the elites of the Big Apple – as disparate as they are. However, history suggests that in the end it is the folks of the hinterland that carry the day. Slow to anger, but with a fury not easily abated when finally aroused.

New York values may carry the day in 2016. But if the underlying frustration and anger of the electorate is not satisfied by this election, watch out! The fuse has been lit; if and when the explosion occurs for marginalized America is still anyone’s guess.

More: A Sampling of Recent Candidate Views on New York Values:

Exchange with Ted Cruz (January  2016):

MARIA BARTIROMO (Fox News): “Senator Cruz, you suggested Mr. Trump, quote, ’embodies New York values.’ Could you explain what you mean by that?”

CRUZ: “You know, I think most people know exactly what New York values are.”

Donald Trump (sometime long before 2016): “I’ve lived in New York City and Manhattan all my life. So, you know, my views are a little different than if I lived in Iowa — perhaps.”

Bernie Sanders (on the Nightly Show April 2016): “That’s right, it’s me, Bernie ‘Brooklyn Born’ Sanders, and guess what, Ted Cruz? I have New York values. I value a living wage for all Americans. I value a justice system that treats everyone fairly. I value a government which works for all of us, not just Wall Street and powerful special interests. Those are New York values.”

And in the closing remarks from the April 14 debate with the Bern just ahead of the state primary, Hilary Clinton was asking for the support of voters in her adopted state so she can take “New York values to the White House.”

From John Kasich: “I’ll tell you the way I see New York values: It’s excitement, it’s innovation, it’s fun, it’s big-time living.” And then the comparison with Ted Cruz and his views via TV ad: “Ted Cruz divides to get a vote, John Kasich unites to get things done.” (But no matter, both Ted and John are now out of the game).

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Harper Lee & Mary Magdalene

Reality & Myth Embedded in Go Set a Watchman

Wittingly or otherwise, the 89 year-old author Harper Lee has set off a firestorm with the release of her first novel – Go Set a Watchman written in the mid-1950s but released 55 years after her second book To Kill a Mockingbird. This new release turns the story of family patriarch Atticus Finch inside out.

Instead of the color-blind attorney of To Kill a Mockingbird, we now see an older Mr. Finch with clear vestiges of continuing if not hardened racism. All coming at a time when a now 21st century America that we thought might be post-racist  is again experiencing repeated instances of violent interactions between law and order and the nation’s African-American communities.

The story is fascinating not only for the re-take on the fictional Mr. Finch as villain (or perhaps realist), not hero. It’s fascinating on another level as well – for the interplay between the fictional child Scout now (or Jean Louise as adult) and the author Ms. Lee. A real life tale of mystery, perhaps intrigue.

All of which brings to mind a similar tale from two thousand years back – that of Mary Magdalene, devotee of one Jesus of Nazareth.

Parallels?

The details including the timing of the two stories are worlds apart. Yet there are interesting similarities:

  • It is difficult to know where the real world of Harper Lee merges with or diverges from the fictional world of Scout/Jean Louise. Similarly, it can be challenging to separate the reality from the myth of Mary Magdalene. Was the Magdalene the prostitute whom Jesus saved from stoning or was she the well educated daughter of a prosperous family who was possessed (or mentally ill) till encountering Jesus?
  • The men in the respective stories are both larger than yet inextricably part of the world in which they live. Are they heroic, or with feet of clay? Is Atticus a racist, realist, or hero? Is the Jesus of the beatitudes the same as the wild man who berated Jewish leaders, rampaged through the temple mount, belittled a non-Jewish woman, and cursed a fig tree? Was the man at the tomb just the gardener – or a resurrected friend?
  • What is the relationship of the women to the larger than life men in these stories? At the end of the day, is Jean Louise disowning or accommodating the vile characteristics she sees in Atticus? For Mary, is she merely a devoted acolyte (and financial supporter) or also romantically attached to her savior? Could there be any truth to the persistent rumors that they may even have been married?
  • And while there may be sexual overtones, isn’t the real action all about gender politics? Jean Louise standing up to father and boy-friend – both respected community leaders? Mary taking on the post-resurrection skepticism of the male apostles?
  • Bottom line, is Jean Louise the new hero or is she overly self-righteous and unaccepting? Is Mary Magdalene saint or sinner?

The Meaning of Mary

For a bit more perspective, let’s dive a bit deeper into the story of Mary Magdalene. Most likely, she came from the town of Magdala on the southwest coast of the Sea of Galilee.

After Jesus reportedly healed her by exorcising seven demons, she became a devoted follower. Along with other well placed women, she also may well have helped finance the travels of the carpenter from the Nazareth village and his entourage of male disciples.

The Magdalene was a doer, most clearly evidenced by her initiative to attend to the grave of her master at the earliest opportunity after death and the intervening Sabbath. This is where she takes center stage.

After the initial grave site visits, the disciples apparently return to their homes. Only Mary stays around the tomb site, where she then has her encounter with the assumed gardener, actually Jesus.

So, it was to the Magdalene that a newly resurrected Jesus first appears, as recorded by John’s gospel saying: “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

The conflict between the women including Mary and the disciples can be found in the New Testament gospels – especially in the accounts of Mark and Luke indicating that their accounts were received by the eleven disciples as “idle tales.” It takes the fragmentary non-canonical manuscript of what is today known as the Gospel of Mary to offer a more detailed counterpoint to male-centric Christianity. For this, let’s travel back to the resurrection – this time as told by Mary.

Mary’s account begins mildly enough. Upon issuing a commandment to “preach the good news of the domain” (much as is recorded in the four gospels), Jesus leaves them. The disciples “were distressed and wept greatly”. It is at this point that Mary takes command:

Then Mary stood up. She greeted them all and addressed her brothers: “Do not weep and be distressed nor let your hearts by irresolute. For his grace will be with you all and will shelter you. Rather we should praise his greatness, for he has joined us together and made us true beings.” When Mary said these things, she turned their minds toward the Good, and they began to ask about the words of the Savior.

Following this, Peter is reported as saying to Mary: “Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than any other woman. Tell us the words of the Savior that you know, but which we haven’t heard.” Mary then begins to “report to you as much as I remember that you don’t know.”

After speaking of the secrets of what she terms the seven Powers of Wrath, Mary falls silent. At this point, gender surfaces as the real issue:

“Andrew said: ‘Brothers, what is your opinion of what was just said? I for one don’t believe that the Savior said these things, because these opinions seem to be so different from his thought.’

After reflecting on these matters, Peter said, ‘Has the Savior spoken secretly to a woman and not openly so that we would all hear? Surely he did not wish to indicate that she is more worthy than we are?’

Then Mary wept and said to Peter, ‘Peter, my brother, what are you imagining about this? Do you think that I’ve made all this up secretly by myself or that I am telling lies about the Savior?’

It is Levi (Matthew) who finally comes to Mary’s defense, rebuking Peter for his “constant inclination to anger” and for “questioning the woman as if you were her adversary.” Mary carries the day, with Levi leaving to “announce the good news” of a resurrected savior.

A New Paradigm?

The Gospel of Mary (at least with the manuscript fragments as currently available) ends here. Clearly, this non-canonical (and deeply heretical) gospel provides the most open assessment of the tension between the sexes that appeared early in the history of the Christian movement.

From both New Testament and non-canonical sources, the weight of the evidence available is clear. Without the Magdalene to carry the message of resurrection, there would be no Christian church. For women, the message of this gospel also is one of hope; Mary prevails over the objections of other prominent male disciples.

For Jean Louise, Go Set a Watchman comes with reconciliation between father and daughter. After all the disagreement and hostility, Atticus tells his daughter: “I’m proud of you.” And he dismisses the harsh words spoken in the heat of the battle with the comment: “I certainly hoped a daughter of mine’d hold her ground for what she thinks is right – stand up to me first of all.”

What is the legacy that Mary of two millennia past and Harper Lee of the 20th century have in common? It resides in the victory of a voice of justice, a woman’s voice that prevails over the male-centric voice of tradition, no matter whether right or wrong.

Neither succeeded in full. Mary Magdalene kept the nascent Christian movement together at a point when all was falling apart at the seems. But any hopes of keeping her man were lost in the process.

Harper Lee (aka Scout, Jean Louise) gains the recognition of Atticus that justice needs to prevail over continued segregation. But at the cost of a revolution – transitioned to a slow (perhaps unending) work in progress. As the sins of racism continue to haunt a nation known for freedom – even into this current 21st century.

These are tales of reality interwoven with myth. With Mary, the biblical and non-biblical evidence is clear that she brought the early disciples back together when they were ready to call it quits. But, just how special was the nature of her individual relationship that may have made all this possible?

With the contending works of To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman, we are left to ponder the inter-relationship of the author with the subject(s) of her stories. Who speaks for whom? Will the real 89-year old Harper Lee please tell us what we should really think?

Epilogue: Reality & Myth in Go Set a Watchman

We end on the note that Harper Lee’s first (and most recently published) book is titled from a passage in Isaiah 21:5-6 of the Hebrew Scriptures, with the directive to:

Prepare the table,
Set a watchman in the tower,
Eat and drink.
Arise, you princes,
Anoint the shield!

For thus has the Lord said to me:
Go, set a watchman,
Let him declare what he sees”

Obviously, Harper Lee has some affinity for the Hebrew Scriptures. So did Jesus, for whom Isaiah was clearly his most quoted source.

In the novel, the watchman (the declarer) is the grown-up Scout, Jean Louise. She calls her father and community to task – with a little help from her Uncle Jack. In the New Testament gospels, a case can be made for Mary Magdalene as the watchman who declares that the movement isn’t over but just getting started – with a little help from her risen savior.

And that’s it for now – for the rest of the story.

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For a more complete account of Mary Magdalene’s role in the life and resurrection of her savior, click http://jesustheheresy.com/marymag.html

To check out our full web site, click www.jesustheheresy.com.

Campaign Tips from Jesus 2016

In October 2012 – at the height of the last presidential campaign – we offered seven (7) campaign tips from none other than Jesus of Nazareth – God in human form. While it is yet early in the 2016 electoral campaign, now may be a good time to go back to re-learn what Jesus said and did – all in the context of the next installment of America’s quadrennial drama.

7 Tips From Jesus

At the outset, let’s put a potential objection to rest. Jesus ran with the objective of losing, not winning – of virtually guaranteeing his execution. For a non-elite coming from out of the center of Jewish action, he pulled it off masterfully. For today’s campaigners, whether the objective is conquest or defeat, do it masterfully. So here, forthwith, seven tips from the master:

1. Keep it simple

Jesus mastered the KISS principle. Consider his most famous campaign speech – the Sermon on the Mount. As recounted by the gospel of Matthew, the first words out of the Jesus’ mouth were “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

Like today’s putative front-runner, Hillary Clinton, Jesus ran a values campaign – centered on addressing the social, economic and religious inequalities of his day. Perhaps unlike Mrs. Clinton, Jesus recognized that corrective action comes from within the person as well as from sources external to individual resources, evidenced by his statement that “the poor will always be with you.” Conversely, Republicans have yet to figure out how to coherently address the widening gap between the haves and the have nots – perhaps the underlying domestic flash-point of the 2016 campaign.

2. Tell stories

Jesus used stories (known as parables) to convey complex ideas in terms to which everyone could relate. Even if he skipped a lot of detail in the process. The parable of the prodigal son reflects a universal theme and offers a clear message of hope for the future. The moral of the story is that God the father is always on the lookout and ready to accept his wayward children back home, no questions asked. Always a second chance.

Our presidential aspirants need stories that are real, that resonate, and that offer a hope worth reaching to achieve in the next four years (eight at best). In the midst of this nation’s greatest turmoil, Abraham Lincoln was the premiere storyteller – often to the chagrin of those around him. But his words and his actions – enigmatic though they often were – resonate to this day.

3. Stay on message

But be prepared to flex. It seems that Jesus had a set of stump speeches which were repeated in town after town, but varied to fit the needs and interests of the local listeners. Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount becomes Luke’s Sermon on the Plain. Matthew’s Jesus begins by saying “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Luke’s Jesus says yet more simply “Blessed are the poor.” Amazing how the meaning can shift so radically with the deletion (or addition) of just a couple of words!

The message on everyone’s minds is the future of the great American experiment known as Obamacare. Not likely to be repealed but gobbling up 50-100% more of the share of gross national product than occurs in most other western nations.

With the late June Supreme Court decision, the now worn Republican message of repeal falls flat – and everyone knows it. Democrats can savor the victory but in the absence of fixes to further increase coverage, increase transparency, and make this affordable for the nation, our ship may yet be sunk. The message needed is the “how to” of the fix – and why others should come along for the ride.

4. Don’t suffer fools

Jesus certainly wasted little time with on those who aimed to bring him down for reasons of their own personal gain. He went after the religious and social leaders of his day. He was unafraid of using tough language when required, for example, calling out the leaders of his Jewish world as follows: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! … Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?”

A little bit of Chris Christie or, God forbid, even Donald Trump comes through in the seemingly off-hand remarks of this 1st century savior. But Jesus also backed up his ad hominem personal attacks with substance. In the encounter noted above, he was criticizing the way in which the supposed leaders of his day emphasized trivialities rather than paying attention to “weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.”

So, don’t be afraid to take the opposition to task. Be succinct in pointing out failures that are at odds with American values of justice and equality of opportunity. And take the blow-back in stride.

5. Go long

Even in advance of football season, most of us know what this means. Perhaps not as dramatic as the “hail Mary” pass, but sell the crowd on a vision for the long term. For Jesus, his kingdom was “not of this world.” The long bomb is the pass play into the kingdom of heaven.

Our candidates are more earthly bound, but the ability to clearly articulate how tomorrow can be better for us and our kids is pivotal to a successful campaign outcome. Seven years ago, Barack. Obama sold us on the “audacity of hope.” Before that, the great communicator Ronald Reagan used the metaphor of America as “shining city on a hill” to depict his vision for a country ever “stronger,” “freer” and “in good hands.”

Americans may yet yearn for a common vision, despite deep cynicism. The candidate who can communicate an authentic vision for this as-yet early 21st century period will stand out among the crowd. What will the vision be? Hard to tell but likely something akin to our nation as an ever more diverse and changing melting-pot, the rewards of work, and care for others at home and abroad.

6. Time the peak

Jesus had an incredible (if surprising) gift for timing. He know when and how to pull in a crowd and when and how to escape through a crowd unnoticed. He seemingly timed the climax of his career with a triumphal entry surrounded by the praises of the crowd into the streets of Jerusalem – only to be put to death a week later. That result could be viewed as disaster except that, for Jesus, death and resurrection were really the point of it all.

With a presidential race that looks for one party like a marathon and the other like a coronation, the trick is not too peak too soon and certainly not to peak too late. To get to the right place at the right time, humility helps. Picture Jesus’ masterful entry into the holy city on a donkey. Who on the D or R side of the field could pull this off?

7. Wrap it in love

As in 2012, if there is an Achilles heel for the current crop of candidates (whether the few on the Democratic side or the many on the Republican), this is it. The Democratic heir-apparent stands aloof; the Republican wanna be types are engaged but narrowly focused – like the horse that can see neither to the right nor the left.

Look to the example of Jesus. When arrested, Peter showed momentary bravery by slicing off the ear of the of the high priests servant. Jesus healed the ear. When crucified, Jesus prayed that God would “forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

And after resurrection, to whom did Jesus pay special attention? To Mary Magdalene who had ventured to attend him, to Peter who had betrayed him, to Thomas who doubted him.

Which of the 2016 crop will show this type of caring? Look for the candidate who will be gentle and magnanimous, sharp but patient, whether in victory or defeat.

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To check out our full web site, click www.jesustheheresy.com.