Monday, August 11, 2014

Monday School

                                          Occupy Wall Street 2011

Matthew, chapters 11 and 12

"On that day the deaf will hear when a book is read, and the eyes of the blind will see out of impenetrable darkness. The lowly will once again rejoice in the Lord, and the poor exult in the Holy One of Israel."
Isn't Isaiah obviously speaking figuratively? Yet Jesus gives the reports of the blind and deaf being healed, lepers cleansed, the lame walking, the dead raised, as evidence that he is the Messiah. Isaiah went on to promise that those who "by falsehood deny justice to the innocent -- all these will be cut down." This is the unspoken part of Jesus' message to John.
John was still in prison and possibly having doubts about Jesus, based on what he had been hearing from his own disciples. Earlier, John's followers had asked why Jesus and his disciples didn't fast like John did, and Jesus responded that fasting was inappropriate when "the bridegroom," the Messiah, was present, they would mourn when he is taken away from them.
The prophet Malachi said Elijah would return before the terrible day of judgment. There is no historical evidence of destruction coming to the Galilean cities Jesus cursed, but he compared them to Tyre and Sidon, which Ezekiel condemned for not distributing their great wealth among the poor, and one of the signs that Jesus gave that he was the Messiah (or Christ) was that the good news was being brought to the poor.
Isaiah's prophecy envisions a collective enlightenment accompanying social transformation, a new ethos and spirituality, like the new wine that cannot be contained by old wineskins. Malachi had said that Elijah would return before this Messianic age and there was widespread belief that John was Elijah, because he was hairy and had a wide leather belt, but probably also because of the prophetic authority of his criticism of the priests who were appointed by Herod. John was known for his righteousness, respected by "the Jews" for his observance of Law, his fasting, his abstinence from alcohol. Jesus was being criticized for his laxity in regard to the Sabbath, and for drinking wine with tax collectors and non-observant Jews (sinners).
The gospels show the conflict between Jesus and ultra-orthodox Pharisees and scribes by accusing them of taking offense with the miraculous healing, Jesus' signs of power. Not that they doubted that such miracles occurred, but that they attributed his power to Beelzebul. Jesus had said that his disciples would also be accused of being in league with Beelzebul. In 2 Kings Elijah had shown that Beelzebul did not have the power and authority Yahweh has, in whose name Elijah could call fire down from heaven to wipe out an army. By accusing Jesus of being Elijah's nemesis, the Pharisees were driving a wedge between him and the new Elijah. Was John the new Elijah? Not literally but he is, if you believe, Jesus said. John was the one who prepared the way for the terrible day of the Lord, and now that time was here and the ritual fasting and abstinence practiced by John were out of date.

What did Jesus mean when he said, "Since the time of John the Baptist the kingdom of Heaven has been subjected to violence and violent men are taking it by force?"  I don't know. This is often taken to mean that those who are faithful are forcefully claiming the promised kingdom, but it is also interpreted as a reference to the violence of those resisting the kingdom, such as Herod throwing John in prison, or Pharisees plotting against Jesus. The latter interpretation, which I prefer, is consistent with "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God" and "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake," while the former recalls "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword," which he said before warning his followers that families will be divided by his message.  At the end of today's reading he says "'Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?' And pointing to his disciples, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.'"
Are Jesus' curses upon cities who reject his message terrorist threats of retaliation, or warnings of the natural consequences of injustice? I don't know.
Isaiah's prophecy that Israel is Yahweh's servant, proclaiming justice to the Gentile nations, is claimed by the Matthew community as referring to Jesus the Messiah, in whom "the nations shall put their hope." The kingdom of heaven is all about peace and justice, but the kingdom of heaven is in a state of siege.

Isaiah 42: 1-4
"I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not wrangle or cry aloud,nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick until he brings justice to victory. And in his name the Gentiles will hope."
Matthew 11: 28-30
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will hve you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke s easy, and my burden is light."


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