Monday, September 29, 2008

Mike: Matthew 5:33-37

"Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.' But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let you word be 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one. (Matthew 5:33-37)

Jesus continues to illustrate kingdom life, turning to the matter of oaths.

Leviticus 19:2 and Numbers 30:2 prohibit swearing falsely, that is purporting to tell the truth while in fact doing otherwise, whether by outright lying or shading the truth. In the time of Jesus, it appears many folk believed oaths came in varying degrees of seriousness. For example, one might say, "Be it on my own head, if what I say is not true" or "As heaven is my witness, this is true." Such oaths were felt to be less binding than an oath sworn in the name of God.

Jesus says that kingdom people will not use such tactics for two reasons. First, anything we might call as witness to our oaths belongs to God. Invoking such things effectively involves God in our oath, and any attempt to act as if God is not involved is futile. Second, kingdom people should not need oaths. Living in the presence of God, they practice integrity. They do not need an oath to strengthen their own commitment to speak truth or keep their word.

A few commentators attempt to restrict the teaching's application to formal settings, such as the courtroom. Like most Christian commentators I think it applies to all arenas of life, but most especially to giving and keeping one's word and speaking truth in ways appropriate to a given setting.

Of course, I cannot help but think of the passage when I listen to partisans "spin" the words of a political candidate. For example, I watched the entire first debate between the presidential candidates. Each explained his particular approach to diplomatic conversations with leaders of rogue states. One used the term "precondition" to describe his own approach; the other chose the term "preparation." Try as I might, after listening to their explanations of their chosen terms, I could discern little difference in the mechanics of each candidates approach (tone and style, perhaps, are different matters).

Immediately after the close of the debate, political pundits of various persuasions began to "spin the discussion." Most attempted to persuade me (and other viewers) that there was a considerable difference between the two candidates on this matter. To put it gently, the commentators had to shade the truth in order to make the attempt. Most of them, no doubt, have Christian or Jewish affiliations. I was struck, yet again, by how hard it is to take control of our tongues and speak with integrity rather than to use words to serve a particular ideology or party affiliation.

Lest I seem to pick only on political operatives, Baptist preachers have a mixed record at best. For example, the New Testament clearly records two approaches to baptism: one follows personal confession of Jesus as Savior and Lord, the other is administered to entire "families" (perhaps including household servants)when the head of a household becomes a Christian. Baptist preachers, for the most part, "spin" their discussion of the matter to make it sound as if the New Testament presents only one option, namely the one we practice. Again, it's awfully hard not to shade the truth to serve one's own position or felt needs.

One more word: Some Christians use this passage to argue that we must have a clear position on all matters or that we can never change our minds. In other words, they believe it wrong to admit to grey areas, or that one does not know the right answer, or to change one's position in light of new evidence. If ever you say "yes" to a position, it ought to remain your position and so the argument goes. Nothing could be farther from the intention of Jesus. His call for radical truthfulness requires we admit when we do not know, recognize the reality of ambiguity, and declare that we have changed our minds when we have done so.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Rami: Response to Mike's 9/23 Post

This is fascinating, Mike, even if only to the two of us.

Judaism, rooting itself in God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28) is decidedly pro-marriage.

The Shulchan Aruch, the basic code of Jewish law says, “Every person is obligated to marry in order to fulfill the duty of procreation, and whoever is not engaged in propagating the species is accounted as a murderer, diminishing the Divine Image and causing the presence of God to depart from Israel (Even ha-‘Ezer 1:1). And the Talmud tells us that “One who has no spouse is less than human,” (Yevamot 67a); and that “One who dwells without a spouse dwells without joy, without blessing, without good, and without happiness,” (Yevamot 62b). And while the primary purpose of marriage was to have and raise children, the rabbis urged that sexual activity within marriage has its own value and should continue beyond the childbearing years.

The Shulchan Aruch also tells us that the ancient rabbis ruled that High Priests and judges in capital crimes must be married (Shulchan Aruch, Orah Hayyim 53:9), though I can’t tell if they ruled this way in order to make the judges more or less compassionate toward the accused.

Perhaps the most interesting teaching on marriage is that only a married man could study the deeper mysteries of the Torah (women were not allowed to study this at all until modern times). The rationale here was that these mysteries use sexual imagery and one needed the grounding of a sexual partner to keep from being overwhelmed by the poetry of the teachings. We see this is the case of many medieval Catholic mystics as well (especially nuns) who speak of their love of Jesus in very sexual terms. Sex may be so central to humanity that we cannot imagine the Divine without invoke the sexual.

While celibacy is not limited to Christianity (Hinduism too honors celibacy), and while I am pleased to hear that the early church removed the stigma Judaism placed on eunuchs, celibacy is still one of the clearest differences between our two traditions.

On to the next teaching?

Mike: Response to Rami's 9/22 Post

Thanks for the excellent overview of the Pharisaic debate and it's possible application to Matthew 19:3ff. Your description of the matter accords well with that of many modern Christian scholars.

That being said, let's spend a little time on the matters of marriage, celibacy and "eunuch's for the sake of the kingdom of heaven."

With regard to marriage, Jesus teaches that the dissolution of a marriage should never be taken lightly. I think we have to admit the School of Hillel's position potentially lent itself to such an abuse. Whatever else we might conclude, Jesus' position brings a dose of sobriety to the matter.

In the first century context, Jesus' teaching represents a large step forward for women, in that he appears to treat both male and female as equals even as he reins in supposed male perogatives.

What about the exception clause? Some manuscripts do not include it, though the consensus of textual scholars appears to be that it belongs in the original text. Let's assume this to be the case. The followers of Jesus began to wrestle with the teaching within the first generation of the movement. We see this is the response of the disciples. We also find Paul (1 Corinthians 7)suggesting a believing spouse is not to be held accountable if an unbelieving spouse seeks divorce. In the past century of so, many Christians have concluded that spouse or child abuse should be added to the list of exception clauses. In the West, at least, most Christians recognize that when all efforts at reconciliation have been exhausted, divorce may become the only realistic option available to one. Here, I think, we see the living church and the Spirit of God working to interpret the teachings of Jesus in settings quite different from the first century world.

To summarize, it seems to me that Jesus taught that marriage is meant to be an unbreakable union, that both partners bear responsibility for the success of the union, that it must not be lightly ended, and that divorce entails considerable consequences. At the same time, Jesus teachings on the grace of God, coupled with the writings of Paul and subsequent developments in Christian thinking, make it clear that forgiveness and a new beginning are always possible.

Now, with regard to "eunuchs" for the kingdom of heaven, a small segment with the early church (second century and following) took the matter quite literally. This has never been the interpretation of most Christians. Most ancient and modern commentators argue Jesus taught that a minority of people might be gifted to embrace celibacy, so that they might focus solely on knowing and serving God. To put it another way, the strongly pro-marriage Jesus made space in his world-view for kingdom-dedicated singles.

Western Christianity, in my opinion, misapplied the teaching when it made celibacy a requirement for the priesthood and often devalued the spiritual possibilities within marriage. On the other hand, Protestant Christianity, in reaction to medieval excesses, went too far in the other direction, in effect creating a religious culture that is often uncomfortable with celibant Christians.

Jesus took a different tack. He taught if we enter into marriage, we then are called to do all in our power to make it work well. In much the same manner, if we choose celibacy, we are do so in order to devote ourselves the kingdom of heaven. In either case, we should make decisions in light of our particular gifts.

One last thought: the account of Philip and the Eunuch (Acts 8:26ff)demonstrates that the primitive church attempted to remove the stigma attached to eunuchs. With his baptism, the eunuch was admitted to the church with all the responsiblities and rights of any other person. At the very least, Jesus' teaching opened the door into the Christian community for such persons.

OK, Rami. I've written a more length than is usual for me. Back to you.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Rami: Response to Mike's 9/16 Post

This is a tough teaching. Is Jesus denying the option of divorce? It doesn’t sound like it. If Jesus wanted to outlaw divorce he could have simply said, “But I say to you, you shall not divorce.” He didn’t say this, but instead claims that a divorced woman is still bound to her husband so that she cannot remarry without committing adultery, which we know is a capital offense.

Two rival schools dominated rabbinic thought in Jesus’ time: the conservative school of Shammai and the more liberal school of Hillel. More often than not, Jesus follows the position of Hillel, but in this case he sides with Shammai who argues against divorce in all cases but that of sexual misconduct.

The Pharisaic debate focuses on Deuteronomy 24:1 where divorce is allowed if a man finds “something objectionable” regarding his wife. The question is, What is objectionable? For Hillel is could be almost anything, for Shammai it refers only to sexual misconduct.

Jesus is drawn into this debate in Matthew 19:3 where the Pharisees ask him, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” The key phrase is “for any cause.” The Pharisees of Hillel’s school say a man can divorce “for any cause,” while the Pharisees of Shammai’s school say only the one cause, sexual misconduct. The Pharisees are asking Jesus to identify with one school or the other. Jesus, again, sides with Shammai. The difference between these two teachings (Matthew 5 and 19) is that in the first he focuses on the woman, in the second on the man saying that any man who divorces his wife (except in the case of sexual misconduct) and marries another woman is himself an adulterer.

The two teachings together are consistent and fair: both the woman and the man become adulterers if either remarries after divorce. But Jesus goes even further in his second teaching arguing that, “What therefore God has joined together, let no one separate,” (Matthew 19:6). Here Jesus sounds like he is opposed to divorce under any circumstances, perhaps taking up the teaching of God in Malachi, “For I hate divorce, says the Lord” (Malachi 2:16). When the Pharisees ask him why then, if divorce is to be outlawed completely, God allows it in the case of sexual misconduct, Jesus says God is bowing to human hard-heartedness (Matthew 19:8).

Given that Jesus generally sides with the School of Hillel in matters of Jewish law, even his disciples are shocked by his pro-Shammai stringency. They say to him, “'If such is the case of man with his wife, it is better not to marry.' But he said to them, ‘Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can,’” (Matthew 19:10-12).

Jesus is not anti-marriage, but he is uniquely pro-eunuch. In Leviticus 21:20 and Deuteronomy 23:1 we are told that eunuchs cannot marry, become priests, or legislators. My holding up the eunuch as his ideal, Jesus is calling his followers to opt out of the social, religious, and legal systems that define the Judaism of his day. Jesus is calling to an elect that can achieve a status above householder, priest, and rabbi. This is an incredibly radical and new idea that reaches far beyond the issue of mere celibacy that troubled the apostles.

While I am intrigued by this hint of a higher state, and why Jesus chooses the term eunuch to reflect it, I admit to not knowing what to make of this call to become a eunuch for the kingdom of heaven. I would love to hear your take on this, Mike.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mike: Matthew 5:31-32

"It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce. But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.'" (Matthew 5:31-32) (NRSV)

Few New Testament passages provoke more conversation than Matthew 5:31-32. American Christians tend to treat it in one of several ways: make it a church law, apply it mostly to special groups (pastors, etc.), ignore it, restrict its application to the first century, interpret it in terms of leveling the playing field for women and men, or simply live uncomfortably with the knowledge that it exists within the canon. Individual Christians sometimes elevate the passage, treating it as a kind of supreme test of fellowship. More often than not, such individuals are dealing (poorly) with painful divorces within their families or friendship circles.

According to many a commentator, Jewish men in the first century could rather easily divorce their wives. Adultery, disobedience, and--at least in one often cited list--burning the meal were considered amble cause for divorce. Insofar as I know, women had little if any recourse. My best guess is that divorce proved a little harder in practice, not because of legal restraints but because of the forces of family, economics and compassion. Still, there seems little doubt that men held an enormous advantage with regard to power and that women were blamed for divorce.

Jesus seems to insist on at least two things.

First, he clearly take marriage and divorce seriously. Kingdom life does not trivialize marriage. Ending a marriage is not a light matter. Even if we allow for the "exception clause" (and it may well have been added by editors), Jesus clearly teaches that divorce should be rare.

Second, he places enormous responsibility on the husband. The husband forces his former wife into a situation where she may well be compelled by economic necessity, family pressures or other considerations to marry another male. In such a case, both men effectively force her to commit adultery. In the first century world, a divorced woman had few economic options. If her birth family refused or was unable to care for her, she might well be forced into prostitution or into another marriage in order to survive. All of the preceding can provoke endless discussion, but for me the key point is this: Jesus took the "get out of jail card" away from men.

In our time, roughly 50 percent of American Christians experience divorce. Most, in my experience, feel they had few options, yet they also tend to wrestle with considerable feelings of guilt. My personal position is that all the brokenness of human life (including divorce) is subject to the grace of God, through which we not only receive forgiveness but often find God fashioning an unexpected good thing. This does not eliminate personal responsibility and pain, but it does project the possibility to an end to what we might call an "exile experience" coupled with some kind of restoration/rebirth.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Rami: Response to Mike's 9/11 Post

I hope we aren't presuming too much in this dialogue, though if and when we edit this for publication we should be careful to go back and add material when necessary.

Let's go into "lust" a bit more deeply. Certainly lust that excuses treating an other as an object, what Martin Buber calls an I-It relationship, is unhealthy and cannot be the foundation of any long term holy relationship (defining holy as a treating one another as I-Thou, a manifestation of God equal to oneself). But, having said that, should we give up on the word altogether?

Is there such a thing as "holy lust"? This might be a level of desire/attraction that surpasses mere passion. I have no idea, really. I'm just thinking out loud. Yet I seem to have a sense, perhaps a long lost memory, of holy lust—a desire so great that it overwhelms the ego's sense of separateness (its intrinsic sense of hellish isolation), and pushes us beyond both I-It and I-Thou into the radical nonduality of I-I where self and other are united in a way that reveals something all embracing, all consuming—something the mystics of all traditions might call God—as the root and branch of all reality.

The intense sexual imagery that Jewish and Christian mystics use to speak of their relationships with God comes to mind, though I doubt they would use "holy lust" to describe it.

I admit to a love of mixing words in odd ways to create controversy, but sometimes doing so also opens new windows and lets in some fresh thinking. Any thoughts on this? If so, I would love to hear them. If not, let's move on.

Mike: Response to Rami's 9/9 Post

Thanks for the overview of the history the rabbinic materials. Both of us draw heavily and easily on the accumulated "wisdom" of our traditions. Occasionally, it's probably a good that we slow down long enough to share such information with our readers.

Turning back to the text and your remarks, I did not mean to suggest lust was the primary or only ingredient in male/female relationships prior to Jesus. In fact, I do not think is an ingredient in any healthy relationship. I do think, though, that Jesus' words remove lust (as previously defined) from the list of acceptable components of that relationship. This is important. Historically, there's a rather large "disconnect" between the teachings of either of our traditions and the popular assumptions of large numbers of adherents. This is certainly true with regard to the relationship between men and women. The teaching and example of Jesus functions as a counter to the assumptions of many a male in many a society across the ages.

We agree as to the church's poor record with regard to women. Insofar as the church taught or supported the inferiority of women, it departed (and departs) from the intention of Jesus. At the same time, the church, operating within the context of various western cultures, preserved the teachings of Jesus. Such teachings often furnished raw material for various forms of women's liberation. It's a strange thing to observe in history, the way in which the "good news" (as we call it) keeps breaking through cultural constraints.

With regard to hell as a kind of self-isolation, the notion is really quite old. While we disagree as to what happens to the individual at death, I think we agree on the power of the paradigm of hell as self-isolation. The paradigm, by the way, may be applied not only to individuals but to cultures as well. North Korea's political culture comes to mind as a possible example.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Rami: Response to Mike's 9/8 Post

The issue of dating the early rabbinic material is complex. The literature was oral until the third century when Rabbi Judah haNasi, Rabbi the Prince or Head of the Rabbinic Court, wrote it down. This is the text we call the Mishnah. Some scholars say the material in the Mishnah stretches from 250 B.C.E. to 250 C.E.

After the writing of the Mishnah oral debate resumed for another three centuries until that material is written down as the Gemara (the “conclusion”). Together Mishnah and Gemara comprise the Talmud, the authoritative collection of rabbinic teaching.

Alongside this material are collections of midrash, investigative (I would say imaginative) tales, some legal others moral. These stories and teachings seem to date from before 200 B.C.E. to around 200 C.E. when the practice of writing them down begins. Midrash continues to be created even today.

Turning to our text, is Jesus extending the Jewish view of adultery? Probably not. He is conflating two biblical ideas of which we have already spoken in our examination of the Ten Commandments. We are prohibited from both adultery and coveting our neighbor’s wife. The former deals with the act, the latter deals with the heart or will. We also find a similar teaching in the Talmud, “Immoral thoughts are worse than immoral deeds,” (Yoma 29a); and in the midrash, “Do not think that he is an adulterer who, by his single act, has sinned; he also is an adulterer who lusts with his eyes,” (Pesikta Rabbati 124b).

It is true that adultery carried with it the death penalty, but, again, we have dealt with this previously. The rabbis required that the adulterous couple be interrupted mid-act and warned about the consequences of their actions, and that without two witnesses to the act no charge of adultery could be brought.

I am intrigued by your notion that Jesus calls for a new relationship between men and women. What is that relationship? Was the old relationship based on lust alone or even primarily? Was the old relationship to treat one another as objects, and the new one as equals? I would be hard pressed to see things that starkly.

Yet women were certainly second-class citizens in biblical and rabbinic Judaisms, and one could argue that inviting women to the table of Jesus changes all that. But then most of Jesus’ followers couldn’t accept his radical egalitarianism, as the misogynist material attributed (falsely) to St. Paul and the anti-Mary Magdalene material in several of the Gnostic Gospels attest. Once again Jesus’ message is lost on his followers and “his church.”

I certainly agree that the talk of eye plucking is hyperbole, and not to be taken literally. And I am interested in your notion of hell as self-isolation. I have heard this before: hell is being cut off from God. I would agree. For me God is Reality, all that was, is, and will be. Being in touch with God is the realization of God as Reality, and our inconnectedness with all life, so it is only logical that being out of touch of with God is being disconnected from all Reality, and that would be hell.

But, because I believe you need a self to be selfish, and that the self dies when the body dies, hell is only in this world. When we die the ego dies and as it does it realizes the truth that all is God (alles iz Gott, as my Hasidic teachers put it is Yiddish), and so we all “go to heaven,” just as every wave returns to the ocean from which and in which it lives, and moves, and has its being.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Mike: Matthew 5:27-30

"You have heard that it was said,'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell." (Matthew 5:27-30) (NRSV)

(One aside: Rami, would it be possible for you provide dates for some of the rabbinic sources you cite from time to time. Insofar as I know, the earliest date from the second and third centuries.)

Jesus cites Exodus 20:14, prohibiting adultery. Most American Christians probably understand the commandment to forbid all sex outside of marriage. In its ancient setting, however, the commandment referred to sexual relations between a married man and the wife of another man. Many commentators argue that adultery, therefore, had to do with property laws, in that a wife was considered to be her husband's possession. Officially, the offense required the death penalty, though in practice the penalty was seldom if ever exacted, at least insofar as we can determine from written accounts.

Whereas the commandment deals with a specific action, Jesus moves to deal with the heart (as in the imagination, will, desire, etc.). In effect, Jesus calls for a redefined relationship between men and women, one in which lust per se is taken off the table. Normal desire is not the issue here. Lust is. Lust is the feeling that reduces others to objects, even as it atrophies our own capacity for empathy.

Two things need to be said about the illustrations of eye and hand. First, they are a kind of hyperbole, designed to drive home how seriously Jesus takes the matter. Second, they make a theological/existential point: in the end unbridaled lust reduces the one lusting to an utterly self-centered person, the kind of person who cannot experience the genuine, interactive presence of any other living being, even God. Such isolation is among the classic definitions of hell.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Rami: Response to Mike's 9/4 Post

The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ articulation of how to live the Kingdom of God. As Jesus himself said, his teaching is not a repudiation of Torah but a highlighting of those aspects of Torah that he takes to be essential. This is certainly true in this section on anger and reconciliation which is classic Jewish teaching.

For example, according to the New Revised Standard Version of the New Testament we have extant Greek manuscripts of the Gospel of Matthew that add the phrase “without cause” to the first teaching about anger: “If you are angry with a brother or sister without cause, you will be liable to judgment.” While the NRSV relegates this information to a footnote, I think it is crucial since Jesus himself gets angry in Mark 3:5 at the Pharisees’ refusal to cure on the Sabbath, and again in Matthew 21:12 when he drives the money changers out of the Temple. Both instances are clearly in line with the righteous anger of the Hebrew Prophets.

As for Jesus’ condemnation of calling people “fools,” something Jesus himself does twice (Matthew 23:17; Luke 11:40), a fact that I find humanizing and endearing, here, again, Jesus is citing established Jewish teaching.

The Book of Proverbs says, “A fool always loses his temper, but the wise man holds back,” (Proverbs 29:11); and “A fool’s wrath is known at once,” (Proverbs 12:16). Proverbs also tells us that anger is the source of terrible strife (29:22; 30:33), and Psalm 37:8 urges us to “cease from anger” because it only causes harm. Jesus listeners, familiar with these and other Jewish teachings warning against anger, would not find Jesus’ teaching surprising at all. Even Jesus’ equating of anger with murder is part of Pharisaic teaching: “Whoever shames another in public is like one who sheds blood,” (Bava Metzia 58b).

When elevating reconciliation over sacrifice Jesus is drawing on Leviticus 6:1-7 where God says that if people have sinned against their neighbor they must first make that right and then offer a sacrifice to God. The Pharisees even had procedures for what to do with a sacrifice that has to be postponed.

Jesus’ final teaching regarding the two plaintiffs going to court over some dispute is also standard Pharisaic teaching. Jesus directs this comments to the guilty party since he urges this person to “pay the last penny.” In tractate Sanhedrin 95b of the Talmud the rabbis make the same assumption and urge an out of court settlement. It is likely that both they and Jesus are drawing on an even older teaching in the Book of Proverbs that, again speaking to the guilty, says “Do not go hastily to court,” (Proverbs 25:8).

The Hebrew Bible, the Pharisees, and Jesus are all saying the same thing: anger is dangerous, reconciliation with others takes precedent over prayer and sacrifice, and trying to avoid responsibility for one’s actions by going to court is a bad idea. The Way of Jesus is the Way of Torah pared, in good prophetic style, to the ethical core.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Mike: Matthew 5:21-26

Having called for a righteousness which exceeds that of the Pharisees, Jesus provides six examples (Matthew 5:21-48). He takes a generally accepted version of a law or saying, then insists that his followers go farther and deal seriously with the sources and consequences of actions. The first of the six examples is Matthew 5:21-26:

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:21-26)

Like any teacher of his day, Jesus accepts the prohibition against the act of murder. He goes on, though, to meddle with the human heart. Anger, says Jesus, is the breeding ground for murder. It can easily lead one to lash out with words, such as "fool" or "idiot. Left to fester, anger can incite murder.

Note that Jesus does not forbid the feeling of anger. He knows very well that feelings simply happen. Instead, he teaches that his followers are to face the reality of the feeling, step away from whatever task is at hand (even the act of worship) and go seek reconciliation with one's brother (or sister, for that matter).

Jesus extends the same principle to a less personal situation: if someone is taking you to court, deal with your anger by seeking reconciliation with that person.

Insofar as I can tell, Jesus is calling for behavior consistent with the kingdom of heaven. One such indicator is a passion or commitment to reconciliation, to restored relationships. Interestingly enough, Jesus does not promise the other person (the brother, the adversary, etc) will respond in kind. His followers tend to chafe a bit at this point. For example, Peter will later ask how many times he must forgive someone who offends him. Jesus' classic answer is,"Seventy times seven," a proverbial saying which means "without limit."

Monday, September 1, 2008

Rami: Response to Mike's 9/1 Post

I agree. We are already and always in "heaven," we just lack the "eyes to see" and the "ears to hear." That is why I think all authentic spirituality is about pulling the rug of illusion out from under us, and why most organized religion is about giving us an endless list of illusions to play with.

So, when you are ready, let's move on.

Mike: Brief Response to Rami's 8/27 Post

Later this week, I hope to take up the next segment of the Sermon on the Mount. Today, though, I want to respond briefly to the idea that we're already at the table.

Thinking back, I believe the seed of the idea took root in me when I read C. S. Lewis' The Last Battle. I do not have the book handy, so I'm going on memory. Late in the story line,the children are cast into a dark stable. Some dwarfs, who have served the enemy and opposed Aslan, are also imprisoned there. As the world ends, the children see the stable vanish before their eyes, and they perceive they are now in a wonderful place (Lewis' version of heaven). So far, so good.

The dwarfs are there as well, but they clearly do not realize it. They no longer see the children, they remain hunkered together as if hiding from the dark, they continue to "see" only their prison. Their bent minds deceive them and keep them bound in a prison of their own construction. No one can help them so long as they insist on clinging to their misapprehension.

Insofar as I can determine, and leaving aside the "end times" scenario, this seems to me to be a fair description of the human description.

In the next collection of sayings, Jesus starts to deal with "righteousness which exceeds that of the Pharisees." If you're ready, we'll start to deal with the passages.