June 19, 2011

Christianity Part III: A Tale of Two Christs

I'm not sure how to approach this. I'm re-reading the Gospel of Matthew for the first time in many years, and there is such beauty in some of the parables and teachings of Jesus. I can't help but feel, however, that the overall message of this gospel is "You must strive to be perfect, because only the really good people are going to make it to heaven. Most of you are screwed."

I guess after reading this gospel I'm starting to see the correlation between Old Testament God and New Testament God, because Jesus was no Gandhi:
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me."
"When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, 'Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.' Jesus replied, 'Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.' Another disciple said to him, 'Lord, first let me go and bury my father.' But Jesus told him, 'Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.'"
"Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, 'May you never bear fruit again!' Immediately the tree withered."
"While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, 'Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.' He replied to him, 'Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?' Pointing to his disciples, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.'"
"While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. 'Why this waste?' they asked. 'This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.' Aware of this, Jesus said to them, 'Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.'"
 At risk of being struck down - Jesus was kind of a dick. He spoke often (according to Matthew) about who was going to hell as well. The Pharisees are going to hell, the rich are going to hell, the cities in which he performed miracles are going to hell because they didn't repent, those who don't forgive are going to hell, anyone who entertains adulterous thoughts is going to hell, and on and on. It's so pervasive that I'm not even going to list quotes, just know that there's a whole lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth. He repeatedly implies that it's really tough to get into heaven and not very many people will make it:
"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."
For many are invited, but few are chosen.
How do I reconcile this temperamental, judgmental Son of God with the beautiful Teacher portrayed in the same Gospel? Some of the greatest teachings ever written are in there:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you."
 You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? ... And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?"
"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
 "While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, 'Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?' On hearing this, Jesus said, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'”
"I desire mercy, not sacrifice." Jesus says this a few times according to Matthew. I have a dear friend who once believed (we haven't discussed it lately) that Jesus' death erased the sins of all mankind. She sincerely wished that the rapists and the child molesters and Hitler himself would be shown mercy when they died and would be allowed into heaven. Isn't that how it should work? Isn't that the definition of mercy? So why does Jesus put all these stipulations on salvation and make it sound like a gnostic process?

What purpose did the death of Christ serve? We're taught in church that all we have to do is "ask Jesus into our hearts" and we will be saved. Well. That's not what he had to say about it.
"Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, 'Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?' 'Why do you ask me about what is good?' Jesus replied. 'There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.' 'Which ones?' he inquired. Jesus replied, 'You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.’ 'All these I have kept,' the young man said. 'What do I still lack?' Jesus answered, 'If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.' When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.'"
My journey will continue. I don't know what answer I'm looking for. I suppose I just want to know why so many people believe in this religion that doesn't really make any sense to me. I also want to know why nobody knows anything about the Bible. I have encountered many Christians who don't even realize there is a connection between Judaism and Christianity. It scares me when people are willing to follow something they don't understand, and are afraid to question it at all.     -Kim

Please note: I know I didn't cite the quotes in this post. All of them are verbatim from the NIV version of Matthew. If you're desperate to know exactly where they appear you can Google it.

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