We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Matthew 4:23-25

The author of Matthew wants us to understand that Jesus quickly became famous both for his message and for his ability to perform miraculous healings, which ability was a confirmation of the validity of his message.  He became the first century equivalent of a rock star who provoked excitement, curiosity, and became the latest hope for a nation living under the thumb of Rome.  Jesus,we can safely assume, understood that the success of his ministry depended upon becoming well-known, and we can also assume that he knew that fame is a two-edged sword, as much a danger as an opportunity.
His fame did turn out to be dangerous for Jesus, and it continued to be a serious problem long after the first century.  His followers in succeeding generations, that is, created what has become a vast international Christian establishment of bishops, synods, seminaries, general assemblies, and media of various types dedicated to transforming the first century prophet into the saviour Christ of today.  That Christ is their source of authority.  Every pastor in every denomination and nation depends on him to legitimize their right to stand in front of their congregation week after week and speak “in his name.”
That Christ is spiritual and universal.  And reasonably safe.  We can control him (usually).  He comforts us.  He inspires us through wonderful music sung by Mormon Tabernacle choirs.  He is the Christ we want to keep in Christ-mas, the “baby Jesus” of Sunday school pageants.  That Christ is the inspiration of a crusading mentality that allows his modern disciples to look down on their neighbors of other faiths and pass laws that require certain kinds of people to sit in the back of busses.  That Christ allows his followers to sing songs of praise Sunday morning, gossip about each other Sunday afternoon, and engage in bitter disputes with each other all during the week.  In his name, they engage in acrimonious, sometimes horrible fights that split churches and denominations down the middle.  In his name, avowing the right set of doctrines takes precedence over compassion.

Let us make no mistake.  This safe, universal, spiritual Christ is not the controversial, politically dangerous Jesus of the gospels.  The story we are following here is not about our invented Christ.  It is about Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter’s son, who of necessity became God’s famous prophet for the sake of his people.  He had to be famous.  We know that.  But we should not let that necessity blind us to all of the the massive folly his followers have perpetrated in the name of the safe saviour Christ.  Fame is always dangerous.  (And, gentle reader, don't slide past that hard truth by hurrying on to say, "Yes, but...  There is, of course, a "yes, but"; but we like to go there too quickly so we don't have to face the truth of what we've done to Jesus of Nazareth.)