Friday, April 29, 2005

So Far Away from Home....

I'm away from my resources at home (i.e., my Bibles), and I'm supposed to teach a Sunday School class on a topic of my choosing at week's end (or beginning, whichever you prefer), so I'm mulling over the topic of hospitality, and I come across this article by Jack Hiatte (via a link to a link to a link to a link; ain't the Internets wonderful?), which includes this passage that sets me thinking:
Here is a quote from Jesus that you almost never hear: "What do you think?" It's right there in the Bible. Jesus asks this question all the time.

One parable Jesus taught was this one, from Matthew: "What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' And he answered, 'I will not,' but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, 'I go, sir,' but did not go." Jesus' disciples all strenuously raised their hands. They knew the answer! The first son was the most virtuous!

Whereupon Jesus (whose sense of humor is underrated) replied: "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you."
Since I don't have my Bibles handy, I can't tell you where in Matthew this parable occurs, but that doesn't really matter. What caught my eye was the treatment of it (Jesus has a sense of humor?! Well, of course he does!), and that final statement: "The tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you."

Maybe I should explain that "tax collectors" in 1st century Palestine worked for the Romans, which made them "traitors" to their people. Prostitutes, of course, are shunned by everyone except their clients. And how does this connect to hospitality?

Well, I'm going to be teaching from Luke 7:36-50, the anointing story. The woman who "anoints" Jesus doesn't anoint him, actually; not the way a king or honored guest would be anointed. She performs what can only be described as an erotic act, because that's the way it was used in Greek literature: she washes Jesus feet with her tears (her own moisture), and dries them with her hair (something usually bound and kept hidden; and again, a very intimate gesture). The euphemism of "feet" for genitalia is not to be overlooked in the symbolism of the act, either. This is almost a symbolic act of oral sex; which Jesus turns into an act of hospitality (he tells his host: "You provided no water to wash my feet, but she has washed them with her tears."). He goes on to tell her, who has shown no faith at all: "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."

Well, perhaps she has shown 'faith.' She has acted hospitably, in Jesus' interpretation, toward God. Or another human being, which amounts to the same thing.

But how is the kingdom of heaven like that? That's the point of the parables, of course. Not to lay down prescriptions, but to provoke discernment, new ways of seeing, openness of heart. As Mr. Hiatt points out, nobody ever clamors for the posting of the Beatitudes. He has his answer as to why that is, but perhaps we should simply be asking: why not? Why not the Beatitudes from Luke, and in a newer, clearer translation, such as the "Scholar's Version" crafted by the Jesus Seminar? The word "blessed" in that translation is replaced with one they argue is more accurate and true to the original Greek: "Congratulations!" Try it, and see if it doesn't make a difference.

"Congratulations, you poor! Congratulations, you hungry! Congratulations, you who are mourning!"

And Luke, of course, includes the curses, the "woes" in most translations. But let's be more honest about those, too: "Damn you rich! Damn you who are full! Damn you who laugh now!"

Any wonder we don't see those posted in prominent public places? And questions as to which are more important to us? Any answers as to what those Beatitudes really mean?

What do you think?

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