Sunday, November 27, 2011

Matthew, Chapters 11 & 12: Jesus' family values

Chapter 11

John the Baptist, still in jail, sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he's rilly rill or if they should keep looking for the real thing. Jesus says, of course he's genuine! Look at all his good works!

When they leave, Jesus asks John's followers why they spent all that time in the desert if their beliefs are so uncertain. He concedes that John is great and all, especially for a human, but he can't hold a candle to the beings up there in heaven. He also informs us that heaven is under attack, because of previous prophecies that he fulfils, as long as you call him Elias. Also that people think John's crazy and Jesus is crazier.

Then he starts listing all the cities that don't believe in him and condemning their citizens to hell.

Chapter 12

Jesus and his disciples are in a cornfield, rudely and no doubt illegally picking and eating the corn. The Pharisees see it, but only point out that it's the Sabbath and this is one of those weird kinds of 'work' you aren't supposed to do. Jesus points out that David did it, and so do priests, and he's Jesus, so fuck you.

Having eaten his fill Jesus heads over to the Pharisees' synagogue to piss them off some more. While he's in there, a man with a withered hand shows up and asks for healing. The Pharisees ask if this isn't also forbidden on the Sabbath. Jesus again tells them that emergency work on the Sabbath is okay, though this doesn't seem like an emergency, then goes ahead and heals the man. The multitudes follow him.

He is soon waylaid by a blind, mute man who happens to be possessed by the devil. The masses assume Jesus is the noble son of David, but the spoilsport Pharisees think the devil is controlled by Beelzebub. Jesus points out that every city or house divided against itself shall not stand (v. 25), which I did not know was a biblical expression. I also didn't know it's talking about Satan and how he can't both possess someone and cast himself out. But if Jesus is the one casting out devils, this somehow makes people closer to god.

Then he quotes George W. Bush He that is not with me is against me (v. 30) and tells us that blasphemy is the worst kind of sin. The Pharisees challenge him to prove his divinity. He refuses, on the grounds that An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it (v. 40), and also because he can't, but he does promise to spend 3 days in the ground later, just like Jonah and the whale.

Next we find out what happens to evil spirits after an exorcism: first they wander around for awhile, then decide to go back to the old host, but always find the house abandoned. Then they'll go and find seven even worse spirits and they'll possess a new person who will be ever so much worse off than the first.

While Jesus is talking, Mary shows up with some of his brothers. But he won't acknowledge her, instead calling his disciples his family. It's very heart-warming.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Matthew, Chapter 10: Couch surfing

Jesus settles on his 12 Bachelor finalists: Simon, who is called Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, another James, Lebbaeus, another Simon who is just called Simon, and Judas. On the TV Bachelor show, there are always several people where I'm like, 'Huh? Have we seen this person before?' I'm feeling the same way here. Who has ever heard of Labbaeus? Anyway, he imbues them with exorcism powers, and the ability to cure diseases and/or raise the dead, and sends them off to spread the good word, warning them not to go to Samaria or be tempted by the Gentiles. On the journey, they are not to carry any money and should travel light, only the clothes on their backs, barefoot, and not even a walking stick. They may accept any and all hospitality, as long as the house is worthy.

If anyone refuses to listen to these barefoot, no doubt smelly people with no money who nevertheless expect food and a bed, they are to continue on their way, because the town will be destroyed on the judgement day. They can expect arrests and flogging and hatred and for families to tear themselves apart, but in the end, salvation. What a fun religion! They should not fear death, only eternal damnation. People who confess will be allowed into heaven, deniers are going the other way.

Jesus confesses that he is here not to send peace, but a sword (v. 34) and to spread major family conflict at Thanksgiving, because He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (v. 37). Being killed in the pursuit of salvation is fine. Jerry Falwell, for the record, completely glosses over those happy verses.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Matthew, Chapter 9

Jesus' cruise returns to port and he is immediately asked to heal a man who is sick with palsy as a punishment some unknown sin. Jesus not only cures the palsy, he forgives the mans. Some scribes look at him askance for this, because only god is supposed to be able to forgive sin, but Jesus answers that it's totally cool, because he has a permission slip from god.

As Jesus is leaving, he sees Matthew the tax collector sitting in his office. This may or may not be the person this book is named after. Anyway, he invites Jesus over for lunch, along with a bunch of other tax collectors and sinners.

The Pharisees then show up to be all judgey about Jesus eating with vagabonds and Jesus tells them to mind their own business. They persist, asking why they fast and Jesus doesn't, and Jesus says it's like a wedding: you party now, and when the groom dies, you fast.

Jesus' lunch is further interrupted by a local official whose daughter has just died. While he's on the way, an old woman with a blood disorder touches his robe and asks to be healed. He turns and says, thy faith hath made thee whole. (v. 22) Odd that you don't see many Christians, even literalists, trying that one out.

When he finally arrives, he says that the girl isn't dead, she's just resting. He wakes her up by taking her hand.

I'm only nine chapters in, and I'm already bored of recounting all Jesus' miracles. And if I understand correctly, all the gospels repeat these same stories. Urgh. In a nutshell: 2 blind men and a dumb (as in non-speaking) man. The Pharisees, of course, are skeptical and say it's the work of the devil, not god, but no one listens to them.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Matthew, Chapter 8: Devil pigs

Jesus finally finishes the Sermon on the Mount and comes down, where millions of new converts are waiting to greet him. And here's the part where being famous starts to become a pain in the ass. The first person to approach him is a leper, who asks him to heal his illness. Jesus touches him, and he's cured. Next, a Roman centurion has a story about a sick slave. Jesus amiably agrees to go home with him, but the centurion is too embarrassed to admit that his house is a mess and he has no idea where the slave keeps the coffee, so he insists it's enough for Jesus to say the slave is healed.

Now, Jesus, the guy who was supposedly all about brotherhood and equality, doesn't pause here to tell the guy to set his slave free. Oh no, he's got plenty of time to tell us about how Jews are going to hell, but no space to condemn slavery.

Next up is Peter's mother-in-law. According to his Wikipedia page, Peter was the first pope, so I don't know how they reconcile that one. Anyway, she has a fever, and Jesus heals her. Then he sets about exorcising a number of anonymous demons.

All the while, he's collecting more and more followers. Some of them have personal difficulties, like one who says he needs to go home for a bit to tend to his sick father. Jesus is less sympathetic than you might expect: Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead (v. 22).

Somewhat later, Jesus and his disciples go on a cruise. One night, either due to bad weather or bad seafood, the ship starts pitching back and forth. The disciples get scared, so they go to Jesus, who is grouchy at them for waking him up, then calms the sea down.

They were on their way to a place called Gergesenes, where two men have been possessed by devils. They taunt him, and tell him to cast them into a nearby herd of swine. So Jesus does, then he makes the whole herd jump off a cliff into the sea. The swineherds flee to the city to tell their story, then the residents ask Jesus & co. to leave and really, who can blame them? No bacon for them all winter now.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Matthew, Chapter 7: Why don't Christians take this one literally?

Because it starts with maybe my favourite verse in the entire bible: Judge not, that ye be not judged (v. 1). Then there are a bunch of good verses about avoiding hypocrisy and not criticising the faults of others.

Then there are a couple of verses that I did not know were biblical: neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find. (v. 6-7) Of course, the second forms part of the basis of the prosperity gospel, and it's a giant lie, because once again, it didn't come with, you know, vaccines or nitrogen fixation or microcredit or anything, so I don't know why I'm surprised.

Wow, this chapter is just chock-a-block with famous sayings! Next we get the Golden Rule, followed by strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it (v. 14). And again, how do you know which gate, exactly? Catholic? Mormon? and then a bit about wolves in sheep's clothing, which in my mind had somehow become a line out of Little Red Riding Hood.

Of course most of this chapter is threatening bad people, especially bad prophets, with eternal damnation. He informs us that saying his name won't be enough, though it is for Jerry, we'll actually have to, you know, do stuff.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Matthew, Chapter 6

Not getting into heaven: braggarts, which is fine, because they're boring. Also, people who pray in public. Surely there's an exception for Tebowing though! In fact, Jesus instructs us when thou prayest, enter into thy closet (v. 6), which gives a delightful new meaning to the expression that I am so going to use the next time I meet an anti-gay Christian, of which there are fortunately very few in Europe.

Anyway, people who pray for too long will not get extra rewards. Amen. And I mean that sincerely. Then he recites the Lord's Prayer, or at least a version of it. We're told not to look sad while fasting, which just strikes me as unreasonable. He reminds us that we can't take it with us and tells us we can't love two masters. He's talking about gods here, but he could just as easily be talking about bosses.

Jesus then makes the absurd claim that swallows don't work, god feeds them. Jerry Falwell seems to think it means we don't have to worry about using up the earth's resources, because god will take care of us. God that country sucks sometimes.

He also tells us not to worry about clothing ourselves and says to Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin (v. 28). I did not know that was biblical. Anyway, he says not even king Solomon was as pretty as a lily, though I bet ole Joseph and his technicolor dreamcoat were. Then he tells us not to worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Matthew, Chapter 5: Every single one of us is going to hell

This chapter contains the sermon on the mount, where Jesus outlines who will be rewarded and how. There are some nice things about the meek inheriting heaven and merciful people being shown mercy. Also he uses the expression salt of the earth (v. 13) which I did not know was biblical.

He assures everybody that he's not here to overturn the law, he's just fulfilling some prophecies. He in fact explicitly says that people who break the Old Testament laws will be punished in heaven. Note, too, that although Matthew is the first book in the New Testament, it was written about 80 years after the events it depicts ended, so clearly lots of OT laws were still being followed.

Of course none of this applies the Pharisees. They will never get into heaven. Who else is going to hell? Cursers and people who fight with their brothers. In fact, patching things up with your brother is so important, you should alter your sacrificing schedule to do it.

Other people not making the cut? Adulterers, which now include men who just look at women lustily have committed. In other words, everyone is going to hell.

How can we avoid sin? Plucking out our eyes and cutting off our hands. Yes, in the same chapter as that famous bit about the poor and downtrodden inheriting the earth, we get the other famous bit about cutting off the body parts that are causing you to sin. Wonderful.

Apparently in other gospels, Jesus will tell us that divorce is wrong and bad and never okay, but here he tells us that if a wife commits adultery, the husband is cleared for separation.

We're also instructed never to make oaths in heaven's name. So that locks the pearly gates to every woman who has ever been nine and tried to convince people that a lie is true by saying 'I swear to god!' Also, anyone who has ever been asked to tell 'The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you god.'

This chapter is extraordinarily muddled. First all the good people, then the bad, now we're back to good people again, who are supposed to turn the other cheek when someone hits them, and give their coats to people who steal them. In short Love your enemies (v. 44) which rings a little hollow after all that condemning to hell in the middle bit.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Matthew, Chapter 4: Jesus goes to Burning Man

Jesus and the holy spirit go off into the desert to be tempted of the devil (v. 1). Hoyay!

After 40 days, Jesus is pretty hungry, because the thoughtless holy ghost forgot to even pack some beef jerky. Unsurprisingly, he hallucinates that satan appears, if only so he can quit the desert and go find a 24-hour waffle house. Satan taunts that if he's really the son of god, he should turn some rocks into bread. Jesus priggishly replies that Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God (v. 4). But he does at least get a free ride back to Jerusalem, where satan puts him on a tower and challenges him to jump off and get the angels to save him. Jesus is no dummy, though, and refuses, reminding us that we shouldn't test god. Except for those times in Judges and 1 and 2 Kings, that is. Because he'll fail. Is something that isn't in there, but should be. Satan, note, does not push him.

Anyway, satan's next bizarro test is to take Jesus up to the top of a mountain and tell him he can rule over everything he sees if he'll just turn over to the dark side. Jesus again refuses, saying we should only worship and serve god. Satan gives up at this point, and some angels come down to minister to Jesus. And hopefully give him some food.

In verse 14, we get yet another of the bible's awkward transitions to a completely unrelated story where suddenly John is in prison, so Jesus leaves Nazareth for Galilee, home of the Gentiles. Where he doesn't free his friend, but rather, starts preaching. One day, he heads down to the beach and finds two men fishing, Simon Peter and Andrew. He convinces them to become his followers. Then he meets two more fishermen, James and John, still not the John in prison, and convinces them to come along as well.

This bunch of merry pranksters heads all over Galilee, preaching and healing people and casting out devils, and soon he's known all over Syria.