Thursday, January 8, 2015

NT: Matthew - the Sermon in Parables

Jesus will complete his “Sermon in Parables” - or “Parabolic Discourse” - entirely within the limits of Matthew 13. But we shouldn’t get the idea that the structured sermons are the only place that Jesus’ words can be heard.

The Sermon in Parables is given to assembled multitudes on a shore line while he sat on a ship. He appears to interrupt the sermon to answer questions from his disciples:

(KJV) Matthew 13:9 Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
10 And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?
11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

...then gets back to being parabolic. That “in-line interlude” is kinda weird, don’t you think? Regardless, if mystery religions are your thing, then this sermon probably catches your ear. He appears to be willing to let the masses hear the mysteries, but we’re left to assume that only “adepts” will be able to decipher the encoded message(es). Then:

(KJV) Matthew 13:34 All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them:
35 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.
36 Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field.
37 He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man;

He then wraps it up:

53 And it came to pass, [that] when Jesus had finished these parables, he departed thence.
54 And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this [man] this wisdom, and [these] mighty works?
55 Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?
56 And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this [man] all these things?
57 And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house.
58 And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.

So he goes back home to teach in the synagogues, where he gets no respect. Ignoring the lack of respect, you can imagine how Jewish this time and place is, just by virtue of his relationship to Jewish establishments and people.

For the next several chapters, Matthew segues into what will be Jesus’ fourth sermon.

Chapter 14 is momentous: Herod beheads John the Baptist, Jesus feeds the five thousand with the fishes and loaves, Jesus walks on water. In between, there’s some healing and memorable sayings - all-in-all, two thumbs up!

Matthew 15 has Jesus bantering with the Pharisees about his disciples lack of adherence to the comands of the Jewish faith. He then does some healing and some parabolicizing

(KJV) Matthew 15:11 Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

...and feeds four thousand with a few loaves and fishes. The feeding the multitudes schtick was apparently so well received that he found it worth an encore!

Matthew 16 begins with Pharisees and Sadducees teaming up to tempt Jesus into showing them signs of heaven, to which he replies with some parables, then turns his attention to hungry disciples, who also get parabolicized. Soon the discussion turns to who the disciples think Jesus is (the son of God?)

(KJV) Matthew 16:20 Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.

...but he wants to keep that a secret. The last few verses of Matt 16 are famous, setting the stage for his eventual run-in with Pilate.

(KJV) Matthew 16:21 From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.
22 Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.
23 But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.
24 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
28 Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.

Chapter 17 begins Erlich tripping on mushroomswith Jesus transfiguring and looking shiny

(KJV) Matthew 17:2 And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.
3 And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.

...and then the voice of God speaks from the clouds

(KJV) Matthew 17:5 While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.

...which echoes what we heard when Jesus was baptized by JtB (Matt 3:17). From there, some more pronouncing in advance of the fourth sermon.

Let me be clear, I have mentioned my deconversion in connection to reading the Bible, but please don’t get me wrong. Its not that the Bible might be inconsistent or say things that are apparent nonsense. The Bible’s part in my deconversion and eventual (decades-long) transformation into an atheist is that it served as a catalyst. It made me think about the nature of God. It made me think about the possibility of the supernatural, the nature of religions, the nature of Christianity specifically, and allowed me the opportunity to conclude that the God around whom the whole religious endeavor revolves is not “God” in any sense that I would recognize it if I were to be born tomorrow.

You often hear “sophisticated" arguments for the existence of God that define God as omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omnipresent, infinite, eternal, able to run, block and catch passes. That God is not described in the Bible. We assume that that’s the God being written about in religious texts, but the words don’t actually describe that God. So I concluded that the Bible was, at best, a poor early attempt at getting to “the real God”. And from whenever I deconverted - 1974? 1975? - to when I started to reconsider the whole idea of religion in the early 2000’s, I merely assumed that God existed, but in a form that human religions had so far been incapable of describing. I felt, up until the millenium, that my journey in life included finding that “real God”.

So, if I have a bone to pick with any believer - or the underlying belief tradition - it’s not about Yahweh or Jesus (or Allah or Krishna, et al). It’s that the holy texts we read and base our religions on don’t really provide any basis to mentally construct an entity that can do the things we ascribe to God (create a universe, create life, wipe out all life, define morals and ethics that we can live by, create a Heaven and Hell to serve as punishment and reward for those whole fail or succeed at living by the ethical and moral guidelines, offer redemption through Jesus). Jesus seems like a good guy, maybe better than most. Is he better than John the Baptist? I would love to have a gospel or two about JtB to allow comparison. How about Buddha? Ghandi? The Dalai Lama? Your neighbor Bill? My sister Judy?

In light of God being such an ill-defined, apparently incapable, unbenevolent, unknowing, localized entity, it seems like anyone in the 21st century that reads about Yahweh would be fully justified in considering the guy incapable of providing any threat to one’s corporeal or spiritual existence - so why spend even an afternoon worrying about him?

And in light of the above, why does anything Jesus says or does carry any weight in influencing the way we think or act?

I grant you, some of what I’ve read about Jesus I find inspiring. Some of what I’ve read is a muddle. Some is irrelevant. So I’m left assuming that, like everything else I’ve ever encountered, that Jesus provides lessons to be learned, and also he provides filler. Bulk that fills out the package but provides no nutritional (or spiritual) content.

So let’s stop fretting and read some more about him to see what’s up.

No comments:

Post a Comment