Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Speaking of shouting....

Courtesy of Southern Beale comes the full story behind this bit of nonsense:

Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., then quoted a verse from the 26th chapter of Matthew, saying the “poor will always be with us” in his defense of cuts to the food stamps program. 

Fincher said obligations to take care of the poor should be left to churches, not the government.
I actually heard that same argument from a man I admired (still did, afterwards; it's possible to admire people and know they are wrong about something), and even then (in college, lo these many feckless years ago), I knew the argument was as hollow as a clapper-less bell.

Let's turn to Matthew first:

While Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, a woman who had an alabaster jar of very expensive myrrh came up to him and poured it over his head while he was reclining (at table).  When they saw this the disciples were annoyed, and said, "What good purpose is served by this waste?  After all, she could have sold it for a good price and given (the money) to the poor."

But Jesus saw through (their complaint) and said to them, "Why are you bothering this woman?  After all, she has done me a courtesy.  Remember, there will always be poor around; but I won't always be around.  After all, by pouring this myrrh on my body she has made me ready for burial.  So help me, wherever this good news is announced in all the world, what she has done will be told in memory of her. (Matthew 26:6-13, SV)
So the admonition is not to leave the poor to another time, or another responsibility, or even to ignore them.  And to add a bit more context to this, Matthew 25:

When the son of Adam comes in his glory, accompanied by all his messengers, then he will occupy his glorious throne.  Then all peoples will be assembled before him, and he will separate them into groups, much  as a shepherd separates sheep from goats.  He'll place the sheep to his right and the goats to his left. Then the king will say to those at his right, 'Come, you who have the blessing of my Father, inherit the domain prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  You may remember, I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a foreigner and you showed me hospitality; I was naked and you clothed me; I was ill and you visited  me; I was in prison and you came to see me.'

Then the righteous will say to him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and gave feed you or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we notice that you were a foreigner and extend hospitality to you?  Or naked and clothed you? When did we find you ill or in prison and come to visit you?'

And the king will respond to them, 'I swear to you, whatever you did for the most inconspicuous members of my family, you did for me as well.'

Next he will say to those at his left, 'You, condemned to the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his messengers, get away from me!  You too may remember, I was hungry and you didn't give me anything to eat; I was thirsty and you refused me a drink; I was a foreigner and you failed to extend hospitality to me; naked and you didn't clothe me; ill and in prison and you didn't visit me.'

Then they will give him a similar reply: 'Lord, when did we notice that you were hungry or thirsty or a foreigner or naked or ill or in prison, and did not attempt to help you?'

He will then respond, 'I swear to you, whatever you didn't do for the most inconspicuous members of my family, you didn't do for me.'

The second group will then head for everlasting punishment, but the virtuous for everlasting life.  (Matthew 25: 31-46, SV)
Am I my brother's, and my sister's, keeper?  The answer is very clear.  I am.  Is the church my brother's and sister's keeper?  Perhaps.  That's a matter for ecclesiology.  Jesus doesn't put the burden on any institution (especially since the line between church and state didn't exist in his day).  But he doesn't let us off the hook, either; in either of these nearly back-to-back passages from the same gospel.  He also, however, doesn't exclude government from doing the job.  Jesus, after all, would not have challenged the words of Jeremiah:

Woe to him who says,
"I shall build myself a spacious palace
with airy roof chambers and
windows set in it.
It will be paneled with cedar
and painted with vermilion."
Though your cedar is so splendid,
does that prove you a king?
Think of your father: he ate and drank,
dealt justly and fairly; all went well with him.
He upheld the cause of the lowly and poor;
then all was well.
Did not this show he knew me? says the Lord.
But your eyes and your heart are set on naught but gain, set only on the innocent blood you can shed,
on the cruel acts of tyranny you perpetrate.  (Jeremiah 22: 14-17 (REB))

Those words are directed to the king; the one who is responsible for the people.  In our society, who is responsible for the people?  The church?  Which church?  Roman Catholic?  Baptist?  Lutheran?  Methodist?  UCC?  Church of God?  Church of God in Christ?  Jewish synagogues?  Muslim mosques?  Buddhist temples?

This could end up worse than leaving everything to the 50 states; there's even less coordination between houses of worship than there is between those "laboratories of democracy."

No, the whole idea is an absurdity, and Rep. Fincher is an ass.  He wants to deny responsibility for the most inconspicuous members of God's family, while claiming a privileged place for himself and his own in God's favor.

Southern Beale will enlighten you further on what kind of hypocrite he is.  I just wanted to point out he's not entitled to his own Bible, either.


3 Comments:

Blogger alberich said...

Is Matthew 26:6-13 even about responsibility to the poor? From what I can tell of Matthew, one of the key thrusts of that book is to distinguish (then) nascent Christianity from (then) nascent Rabbinic Judaism. If a Rabbinic sage knew he was about to die at the hands of the Romans and just preached "that which you do to the least of them, you also do to me", then he would dafka tell the woman to sell the myrrh and give the proceeds to the poor for by donating the money to the poor, she would be preparing his body for burial.

I'm sure Rep. Fisher would say that the admonition in Matthew 26 about the poor is certainly to "leave the poor to another time" just as he would say that our responsibilities to "the least of them" as indicated in Matthew 25 are individual, not societal. However, is Matthew 26:6-13 really about the poor or is it really about distinguishing what would become Christianity from what would become Judaism as we know it today? And if that is the social context for Matthew 26:6-13, what does "the poor will always be with us" (which is directly in contradiction to certain verses in the Hebrew Bible although in agreement with other verses in our Bible) really say, if anything, about how we today should respond to poverty in our midst?

10:00 AM  
Blogger alberich said...

Is Matthew 26:6-13 even about responsibility to the poor? From what I can tell of Matthew, one of the key thrusts of that book is to distinguish (then) nascent Christianity from (then) nascent Rabbinic Judaism. If a Rabbinic sage knew he was about to die at the hands of the Romans and just preached "that which you do to the least of them, you also do to me", then he would dafka tell the woman to sell the myrrh and give the proceeds to the poor for by donating the money to the poor, she would be preparing his body for burial.

I'm sure Rep. Fisher would say that the admonition in Matthew 26 about the poor is certainly to "leave the poor to another time" just as he would say that our responsibilities to "the least of them" as indicated in Matthew 25 are individual, not societal. However, is Matthew 26:6-13 really about the poor or is it really about distinguishing what would become Christianity from what would become Judaism as we know it today? And if that is the social context for Matthew 26:6-13, what does "the poor will always be with us" (which is directly in contradiction to certain verses in the Hebrew Bible although in agreement with other verses in our Bible) really say, if anything, about how we today should respond to poverty in our midst?

10:01 AM  
Blogger Rmj said...

No, I don't think it's about responsibility to the poor at all, and yes, I think it is more about the distinction between Xianity and rabbinic Judaism.

And even absent that historical context, the narrative context is clear: the admonition is made to the disciples by the teacher, but not as a general statement meant to be used as guidance in the future. Some of the narrative of the gospels, especially of Matthew and Luke, is simply about Jesus of Nazareth, not about Timeless Truths for Today and Tomorrow.

As I say, sometimes Jesus is even funny; but, 2000 years later, determined to take Everything Jesus Said Seriously, we miss the humor; and even the point of using humor.

Not to say Jesus was Jon Stewart; but he wasn't as dull and pedantic and deathly serious as we try to take him to be.

10:07 AM  

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