Sunday, April 27, 2008

Rami's Reply to Mike 4/27

Your reference to the cross reminds me of a panel I shared with Father Thomas Keating, one of my spiritual mentors. Someone asked him if the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is absolutely necessary to salvation. Not wishing to be drawn into an argument about Christian exclusivism, Father Thomas gave a very diplomatic answer.

I then took the microphone, and offered a different take: Yes, the death and resurrection of Jesus is absolutely necessary—necessary but not sufficient. Unless and until you are willing to die and be reborn, your salvation is not secured. Jesus is paradigmatic. He showed us what it is to live the Kingdom of God, and what the consequences of doing so may be. Jesus says, “he who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).

In 1st Century Roman occupied Jewish Palestine the cross was a sign of state sponsored terrorism. Tens of thousands of Jews and others were crucified by Rome. You were hung on a cross as a warning to others to not do what you have done. To take up the cross meant to confront injustice, to stand up to the state and decry exploitation and oppression. And the consequences then and now can be fatal.

Christianity, as the dominant religion of the West, seems to have lost that edge. With wonderful exceptions: St. Francis, Martin Luther King Jr. and Bishop Desmond Tutu to name but three, the Church since the time of Constantine has more often been the crucifier than the crucified. That certainly has been the Jewish experience of Christianity up until the modern period.

I want to comment on the link between this commandment and the Land, but while we are on the topic of Jesus, I would like to hear your take on several statements attributed to him that seem to fly in the face of the Fifth Commandment.

In Luke 14:26, for example, Jesus says, “If anyone come to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Similarly in Luke 9:60 Jesus says to a potential disciple who wished to bury his deceased father before joining Jesus, “Let the dead bury the dead.” These sayings would be, and in fact still are, shocking to Jewish ears.

Hating family and even one’s life is considered a rejection of God who gave you life. And burying the dead is a cherished mitzvah (divine command). While it is true Job said it would have been better that he had not been born (Job 3:3), he was speaking out of his pain. Jesus seems to be making a general philosophical statement.

I thought about linking this to Mark 13:12 where Jesus says parents and children will turn against one another because of the Good News Jesus is bringing. But this might be a latter addition to the text reflecting the state of things after the death of Jesus.

So rather than my guessing, and before I return to the notion of the Land, what is your understanding of these teachings?


rbarenblat said...

Count me as one of the Jews who finds Luke 14:26 troubling. I don't know what to do with it. I can soften it by reading it metaphorically -- "in order to really be awake to the transformative possibilities of living in a redeemed way, you may need to take drastic steps to individuate from the family in which you were shaped" -- but it's a bit of a stretch. Jesus was perfectly capable of speaking plainly (and/or: the writers of the gospels were perfectly capable of speaking plainly), and the pshat -- the plain sense -- of this passage is that Jesus is calling his disciples to hate their families of origin in order to follow him fully.

Maybe this is one of those passages that's meant to startle the listener into discomfort. Isn't that one of religion's tasks -- to "comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable"?

Mike Smith and Rami Shapiro said...

This Mike. I appreciate the point Rami and you make. My own take on the matter is now posted. Thank you for contributing to the discussion.