Friday, July 4, 2008

Rami: Response to Mike's 7/3 Post

I’m struck by the differences between Matthew and Luke regarding the Beatitudes. Luke doesn’t know about the mourners and the meek. He has no idea that Jesus spoke about the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, or the persecuted. Given the centrality of the Sermon on the Mount to Jesus’ message one would expect all four Gospels to record it, and to do so with some consistency. But of course they don’t.

My sense is that each Gospel writer shaped Jesus in his own image, after his likeness. Matthew’s Jesus, for example, is concerned with the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3); Luke’s Jesus is concerned with the poor (Luke 6:20). Matthew’s Jesus is concerned with those who hunger for righteousness (Matthew 5:6); Luke’s Jesus is concerned with the hungry (Luke 6:21). In other words, Matthew’s Jesus is a revolutionary, while Luke’s Jesus is a social worker.

Given this, I think it is crucial that we not skip over Luke’s use of the word “now.” In Matthew Jesus puts off the fullness of those who hunger and thirst after righteous into the future, in Luke he wants to fill the bellies of the hungry immediately.

The two ideas are not antithetical, however. They are sequential: As any good revolutionary knows you can’t win over hearts and minds until you have won over empty bellies and parched throats. Matthew also realizes this, which is why in Matthew 25:31-46 his Jesus speaks about caring for “the least of these.” Because this text brings Matthew’s revolutionary into alignment with Luke’s social worker, it is surprising to me that Luke doesn’t record the speech at all.

You seem to favor Luke over Matthew in your last comments, and I am struck by your notion of playing “as if.” When we act as if the Kingdom of God were among us, it is.

This reminds me of the response of the Israelites to the reading of all God’s commandments by Moses in Sinai: “Na’aseh v’nishmah, we will do and we will hear” (Exodus 24:7). One would expect the word order to be reversed: “We will hear and we will do,” but that isn’t what Torah says. Why? Perhaps because we only hear the deeper meaning of the commandments when we are actively doing them. This is a central Jewish concept with which Jesus and the Gospel writers were undoubtedly familiar, and one you, too, seem to have adopted.

When we act as if this were the Kingdom of God rather than the Kingdom of Greed we actually establish and expand God’s Kingdom in the world. This is not simply affirming the primacy of deeds over faith, but recognizing that it takes faith in the efficacy of deeds to act for the Kingdom of God in the face (and it is often a dazzlingly seductive face) of the Kingdom of Greed.

So, once again, we are in basic agreement. But lest we be mistaken for clones, let me nitpick your closing comment: “The world is not the way if ought to be!”

On the contrary, given the way we act, the world is exactly the way it ought to be, which is why your suggestion is so compelling. If we don’t like the way the world is, and we recognize the world is the way it is because of our actions, the proper response isn’t to wish things to be otherwise, or even to have faith that God will, sometime in the future, make it otherwise, but to do things differently here and now. To paraphrase from the film Field of Dreams, “If we live it, it will come.”

1 comment:

MaryAnn said...

Going back a couple of entries -- (sorry, severe arthritis in my right hand has prevented me from posting earlier) isn't "adam" Hebrew for earth, and "eretz" the Hebrew word for land, as in Eretz Yisroel (Land of Israel) and Eretz HaKodesh (Holy Land)?
I am totally confused.