The Bible is literary and sometimes literal Part 2: Jesus words

I heard this proof text used today from Jesus' sermon on the mount in Matthew's gospel , Matt.5:17-18 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." This occurs in the same message where he overrides Moses' eye for an eye teaching.


Fundamentalist Johnny (FJ) would use this proof text to retain whatever Old Testament moral teaching that seemed to be in contradiction with Jesus. But Jesus does this so much. Jesus is not a religious lawyer. He is a humanist (someone who emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively) who values people enough to say when the Mosaic law conflicts with human flourishing, the law loses. When his followers get criticized for "working" while grabbing some grain and eating it off the stalk during the Sabbath, a violation of one of Moses' 10 commandments, Jesus replies the Sabbath was made for humans, it serves them, not the other way around. When the religious leaders bring a woman condemned to stoning for adultery, another violation of one of the 10 commandments, he points out to them their own hypocrisy resulting in her deliverance. Jesus is a lover, not a lawyer. He loves people. Part of this demonstration of his love is to abolish laws by calling them inapplicable, or even wrong. Nevertheless, if that weren't enough, how was his self-sacrifice and resurrection not when "everything is accomplished"? The author of the New Testament letter of Hebrews says all those sacrifices and cultic rituals of Moses were foreshadowings, now fulfilled in Jesus.

So if that's also true, then there is nothing to appeal to as a guide for life post-Jesus that is "assholery." But I'm speaking as if it's all literal.

When Jesus uses these absolutist terms in Matthew 5:17, where FJ raises his literalist flag on, but uses the same absolutist terms 10 verses later about cutting off my own body parts if they cause me to sin, where FJ no longer finds a literalist flag to plant, more right brained (code word for "liberal") Johnny can walk up to both spots and raise a literary flag. The words are not the end of the discussion because they are placed in conflict either with each other or with his actions.

The big question is how then to arbitrate the objective these words point towards? It will depend on the descriptions of God that are given the highest priority. If the ground of your Christian theology is "God is love" you will assemble these parts in conflict differently than if your foundation is "God is holy" or "God is judge." If your experience with your father is damaged and unexamined or unrepaired, then your understanding of "God our father" will also result in different assemblies of the pieces.

For me, the loving Father God, as represented by Jesus, values his children so highly he always makes a way for them to get to him no matter what circumstances they come from, religious, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, age or mental capacity. Those passages FJ focused on where he saw a vindictive, nasty, assaholic god are reevaluated in light of those other passages where he is amazing - the good shepherd, the woman in search of her lost treasure, the father who rejoices over his whoring, partying son, the prophet who protects a woman from her judges, etc. A literary approach gives that flexibility. Not all passages are equal because they are not literal.

Comments

Popular Posts