Sunday, January 29, 2012

Luke, Chapter 6: Remember the sabbath, and keep it holy

Jesus and the disciples are in a cornfield, rudely stealing corn. On the Sabbath, no less. The Pharisees point out that this is work and people have been stoned to death for working on the Sabbath. No really, go look in Numbers 15. Jesus says that David stole bread from the priests and he's god so he can do whatever the hell he wants, even if it is the Sabbath.

Another Sabbath day, Jesus is preaching in the temple when a man with a withered hand approaches him to ask for healing. The Pharisees lean in close to see whether he'll break the Sabbath again. Jesus says to them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it? (v. 9) Which is the stupid thing about sabbath days: even in freaking Saudi Arabia, where you have morality police that force shopkeepers to shut down five times a day for prayers, the police are working. Anyway, Jesus heals the man and the Pharisees go nuts.

Jesus gets bored of the city and heads out to the mountains, where he commences the very important business of deciding which animals are more equal. Then they go out to a plain, or a mountain, whichever you prefer, to give a sermon. And you just know that somewhere in the back, the Pythons are arguing about whether he said cheese-makers or meek, and who has a bigger nose.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Luke, Chapter 5: The Compleat Angler

Jesus is preaching by a lake. Behind him, some fishermen are cleaning their nets. For some reason, he decides to board one of the boats and ask the captain, Simon, to head out into the lake a bit so he can continue his sermon, even though he's busy cleaning his nets. When he finishes speaking, he tells Simon to let down his nets. Simon reports that the fishing has been poor recently, but does it anyway. When he hauls the net back in, there are so many fish, the net breaks. Well, a lot of fish, plus Jesus didn't let them finish repairing it. Simon, now suddenly Simon Peter calls out to his business partners, James and John, to join the massive haul, which nearly sinks their boats. The three of them decide to give up fishing and become full-time missionaries.

As they're walking, a leper comes up and Jesus heals him. He swears him to secrecy, telling him only to tell the priest. But of course word gets out and soon thousands of people are mobbing him everywhere he goes, so he retreats into the wilderness.

When he gets back, the Pharisees have heard of him, and they sit at the edge of the crowd, watching the goings-on. A paralysed man in a bed is brought to him. Jesus forgives his sins, and he's able to walk. The Pharisees start grumbling that only god can forgive sins, and Jesus pretends he's psychic and tells them he does, in fact, have the authority to forgive sins.

As our company is leaving the city, Jesus notices Levi the tax collector sitting in his tollbooth. Because the Romans have never done anything for them, he convinces Levi to follow him by going home and cooking for them. The Pharisees don't like that either, but Jesus points out that the righteous don't need him. They point out that John's followers fast, but Jesus is feasting. Jesus compares his message to that of a wedding, where you're expected to eat, drink and be merry, not be all austere and dull. Besides, he points out, he'll be dead soon, and then people will fast and mourn. Then he repeats the parables about patching old garments with new cloth and putting new wine into used bottles.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Luke, Chapter 4: Hunger pangs

Jesus goes off into the desert to fast and be tempted by the devil for 40 days. We get a repeat of the 3 tricks from Matthew, but not Mark: Satan challenges him to turn a stone into bread, then takes him up a mountain and offers him everything he sees, then sets him on the temple roof and dares him to jump off. Jesus refuses to do any of them.

After 40 days and a quick stop at an all-you-can-eat buffet, Jesus goes back to the Galilee to preach in the synagogues. One day, he stands up to read a particularly juicy passage from Isaiah about ministering to the poor and free the Jewish exiles in Babylon. Everybody stares at the weirdo who claims to fulfill a 'prophecy' that isn't actually a prophecy. They finally place him as Joseph's son as he keeps babbling about doing miracles and being misunderstood.

To quote Winston Churchill: A fanatic is someone who can't change his mind and won't change the subject. So the people of Nazareth decide to do the only logical thing to shut Jesus up: push him off a cliff. Alas, Jesus escapes and goes off to annoy the people of Capernaum.

He is immediately recognised by the devil possessing a man, which tells him to stop poking his nose into everyone's business. Jesus tells the devil to leave, and it does. Then he cure's Simon, or possibly Peter's wife. This causes people to line up with their sick and crazy relatives for faith healing because what the hell? Without a concept of science or medicine, the opportunity cost is low, so why not go for it? Jesus swears all the devils to secrecy.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Luke, Chapter 3: Is Mitt Romney going to heaven?

John the Baptist has his first schizophrenic episode, which causes him to run off into the wilderness like, oh, I don't know The Unibomber and shriek at people that they are a generation of vipers (v. 7) and to repent and cut down non-fruit-bearing trees and burn them. As Monty Python teaches us, with prophets the crazier the better, so naturally he has a rapt audience. They ask how they can get into heaven. Well, first of all you have to donate most of your worldly goods to the poor, so Mitt Romney, donating 7 million smacks of his 43 million dollarincome isn't quite going to cut it. But he will be fine in Mormon heaven. Other things you can do to get into heaven: have a fair tax code, don't kill people, don't lie, be happy with your wages. So, heaven will be pretty empty, then, I guess.

All this makes people start to wonder if John-boy isn't the Messiah. He says no, he's just here to baptise people with water, but someone even better than him is on his way to baptise them with fire. See what I mean about the crazier the better?

Herod hears about John, and also that he insulted his sister-in-law, so he locks him up in prison. But before that, Jesus came along to get baptised and god was pleased, because heaven forbid the narrative should be linear. In the time it has taken us to flip from chapter 2 to chapter 3, Jesus has aged another 18 years and is now 30.

The last 15 verses of this chapter are Jesus' genealogy, which I am not going to read on principle.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Luke, Chapter 2: Miraculous Miracles

So in Mark, which is actually the earliest gospel even though it appears second in the bible, we start off in medias res with Jesus already an adult and performing miracles. But then the end of the world didn't happen, so Matthew amps up the dramatic story and pithy sermons. By the time Luke comes along a few generations later, he's going for full-out bombast, adding miraculous and contradictory details to Matthew's narrative at every possible turn. I'm not going to point out the contradictions, as they've all been pointed out many, many times before by people far more pedantic than I.

Anyway, Luke's version: Cesar orders what is called a tax by the KJV, and a census by many of the other translations. For some bizarre reason, he orders everybody back to their home cities to register for this event. What a logistical nightmare!

Joseph is a descendent of David, so he needs to go back to Bethlehem to register, along with Mary, who is now heavily pregnant. When they arrive, there is no room at the inn because of the crazy logistical nightmare that would so obviously be created by forcing everyone to return to their ancestral homes to register for a tax, so like every bad sitcom ever, Mary goes into labour. And like every sitcom ever, she gives birth in the barn and lays the kid out in a manger.

Meanwhile, out in a field somewhere, an angel, probably Gabriel, because he's the only one, appears to some shepherds and tells them a miracle has happened in Bethlehem and to go there and worship the baby in the manger. So they go, and after figuring out the mix-up with Brian, they find the proper baby and start worshipping him.

Eight days later, Jesus is circumcised and named. A couple of weeks after that, Mary is ready to sacrifice her two turtledoves or pigeons and they start off for home. No word on whether they've spent this entire time in the barn with their kid sleeping in a food trough.

Rather than going straight back to Nazareth like any sane new mother would want to do, Mary and Joseph head to Jerusalem to do more new-baby things. Waiting for them is a crazy person named Simeon, who has been told that he will not die until he sees the Messiah. He grabs the baby and calls him a miracle, then goes off to die happy.

Next up on the crazy train is a prophetess named Anna, who also pronounces the baby the saviour. Mary, it should be mentioned, is lapping all this up, but what parent in history wasn't convinced that his or her kid wasn't a Messiah/Michelangelo/Mozart/miracle?

Finally, finally, Joseph and Mary are able to head back to Nazareth for some peace and quiet. And again like a bad sitcom, Jesus grows up in one verse. We next see him 12 years later in Jerusalem, where he is at the family Passover feast. Now, despite church teaching that Mary stayed a virgin all her life and Jesus had no siblings, they somehow manage to leave him behind. And then they don't notice for an entire day. Parents of the year, those two.

After three days of frantically calling relatives, they finally find him in the temple. They scold him for making them worry, but Jesus, clearly already a smart-mouth, replies How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? (v. 49) They're too tired to argue, so they simply take him back to Nazareth, where he continues to be too big for his britches.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Luke, Chapter 1: The Holy Ghost gets horny

Finally! I've reached the last of the synoptic gospels (that's old-timey speak for 'plagiarized')! It's no holds barred for the next 24 chapters, and I plan to link to every clip from Monty Python's Life of Brian I can find on You Tube.

Luke starts off as a letter to someone named Theophilius, which probably means we shouldn't be reading his personal mail, right? Anyway, he admits right off the bat that he isn't an actual eyewitness to anything he's describing, and in fact implies that he's at least a couple of generations away from anyone who actually was an eyewitness. This is odd, because in both Mark and Matthew, we were promised the end of the world within a few years. But then, many a doomsday cult has survived long after its expiry date.

He warms us up by telling us the story of Zacharias the priest and his wife Elisabeth, who were John the Baptist's parents. Now, despite being pious Jews who follow all 613 of the Torah's laws to the letter, they don't have any children, which in itself is a violation of law 63, but never mind.

One day, Zacharias is in the temple burning incense when the angel Gabriel appears and informs him that his wife is finally going to get pregnant and give him a son. And not just any son, he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. (v. 15) Oh, great, he's going to be one of those terrifying children from Jesus Camp. Zach is incredulous, for which Gabriel strikes him dumb.

Elisabeth falls pregnant, though how exactly is not specified, so I'm going to go lowest common denominator and say it was the Holy Ghost and not Zach. Six months later, the Holy Ghost gets horny again and sends Gabe along to Nazareth to inform a virgin called Mary that she is the next 'chosen one.' Mary is skeptical at first, claiming it's impossible as she's never had sex, but Gabe reassures her that with God nothing shall be impossible. (v. 36) God and a healthy dollop of credulity. Mary happens to be Elisabeth's cousin, so Gabe directs her to go and check things out for herself if she doesn't believe him. So Mary sets off for an unnamed city in Judea. When she arrives and calls out a greeting, the baby in Elisabeth's uterus gives a kick, prompting his mother to complete the first verse of Hail Mary.

Mary humbly goes on for a bit about how awesome she is for getting pregnant and fooling everyone into believing it's god's baby, and a very non-specific speech about all the great things god has done for us.

Anyway, after 3 no doubt excruciating months of the two women praising each other to the skies, Mary goes home before John's birth, which is the weirdest thing ever, because didn't women historically stick around for a few weeks after the birth to help with the swaddling and the dishwashing?

At first, everybody wants to call John Zachariah after his father, which I thought Jews didn't do? But Elisabeth remembers that Gabriel told them to name him John instead. The busybodies are confused, and ask Zach if he agrees. Since he can't talk, he signs for a writing tablet, where he scribbles that the baby's name is indeed John. This miraculously loosens his tongue, which he immediately uses to pray.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Mark, Chapters 15 & 16: Haven't we read all this before?

Chapter 15

Jesus' trial concluded, he's taken to Pilate, who again asks him if he's the King of the Jews, but Jesus is tired and cranky by now, so he'll only answer Thou sayest it (v. 2). He refuses to speak after that.

Because it's a feast day, Pilate decides to pardon the prisoner of the people's choosing. Thanks to some priestly meddling, they choose Barrabas, a revolutionary and murderer who probably photographed well.

Pilate then asks what he should do with Jesus. The crowd's answer? Crucify him. He asks what, exactly, Jesus has done, but they only yell crucify him louder.

So the soldiers beat Jesus up, then put a purple robe on him, then beat him some more, then put him back in his old clothes. Then the lead him to Golgotha to be crucified. While he's dying, they gamble for his clothes. People passing by mock him, as do the other two thieves who were crucified that day.

After 6 hours, there's a 3-hour total eclipse of the sun, then Jesus cries out and dies. An indeterminate number of women named Mary is watching, as is Joseph of Arimathaea. Joseph goes to Pilate and asks for the body, which they wrap in a shroud and put in a cave with a rock over the entrance.

Chapter 16

On Sunday, the Marys return to the tomb to anoint Jesus' body with oil. But they quickly prove that their brain power is every bit as feeble as that of the disciples, when they remember that there's a big rock in front of the cave and they didn't bring anything to help move it out of the way. Fortunately, this doesn't prove an obstacle as the rock has miraculously moved on its own.

Inside, they find a creepy young man dressed in white who tells them that Jesus has left, but has left word with him to tell Peter to meet him in Galilee. The ladies flee and don't tell anyone about the weirdo in the tomb.

Apparently the original text ends there, but a few centuries later, someone tacked on a more dramatic ending in which Jesus goes on to appear to several of his former disciples and perform some more miracles.

First he appears to Mary Magdalene, but because she was crazy before Jesus cast seven devils out of her, no one believes her.

Ghost Jesus next appears to two of his disciples while they're taking a walk in the countryside. They rush home to tell the others, who again, dismiss the claim.

Finally Ghost Jesus gets the bright idea to appear to a crowd rather than a couple of individuals, so he finds the disciples at dinner and scolds them all for their lack of faith. Then he reminds them to go out and preach and baptize the willing and curse the unwilling to hell. How will you know whether someone's a true believer or not? Well, true believers will cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. (v. 17-18)
Kids, do not try any of those things at home. Well, speaking in tongues is weird but harmless, but don't pick up snakes or drink poison, mkay?

Anyway, after leaving us with that insanely dumb advice, Jesus goes off to heaven.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Mark, Chapter 14

The priests and scribes are fed up with Jesus and gather to find some pretext to have him arrested and killed. The only stipulation is that it can't be on the day of the Passover feast, lest it spoil anyone's supper.

Meanwhile, Jesus et al. gather at Simon the leper's house for dinner. A particularly aggressive department store perfume sprayer approaches and dumps the entire bottle over Jesus' head. The disciples are in high dudgeon, not only because now they can't smell their meals, but also because the oil could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus is cool with it, and explains that there will always be poor people, but his death is coming up very shortly, and this woman is just a bit over-enthusiastic in her funeral preparations. He says they should spread the word of her deed after his death.

Meanwhile, Judas, repelled by the smell, has sneaked off and made a deal with the priests to betray Jesus.

The next day, the disciples ask Jesus where he wants to eat for Passover. He tells them to go into the city and find a guy carrying a pitcher of water. That guy will lead them to the proper place. Are they eating in a speakeasy? Why not just give them an address?

Anyway, at dinner Jesus informs them that one of them has betrayed him. The brain trust has no idea who, and they all ask themselves if they're the ones what done it. Jesus then tells them the bread is his flesh and the wine is his blood, which serves to put everybody off their food. So they head up to the Mount of Olives where he makes a few more predictions about how the rest of the evening is going to go: he's going to get hit A LOT, then he'll go on to Galilee after he dies. Peter will deny him 3 times.

They wander into the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus asks all the disciples save Peter, James and John to stay behind. Once inside, he asks them to hang out while he goes and prays. He comes back an hour later and finds them asleep. He rouses them, only to go back and pray alone some more. Again, they fall asleep. The third time, he leaves them be, because the betrayal has begun. Judas appears with some soldiers and says he'll identify Jesus with a kiss on the cheek.

One of the disciples that is with Jesus tries to stop the soldiers, and even cuts off someone's ear, but most of them flee. One flees so hard he forgets his robe and runs off naked.

Jesus is lead to the high priest's chamber. Peter follows and huddles around the fire with the other slaves. The priest has gathered plenty of people with evidence against Jesus, but none of it adds up. The priest gets frustrated and finally asks Jesus if he's the Christ. He cops to it, and adds that soon he'll be ruling all of them from heaven. This is considered enough to convict him of blasphemy. They start to beat him.

Back at the fire, Peter denies Jesus three times.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Mark, Chapter 13

Because they are yokels, the disciples admire the fancy buildings in Jerusalem. Jesus, however, is in a crappy mood and says ominously that all of it will be destroyed soon. The disciples want to know when all this will happen, and how they'll know it's the second coming and not, say, a random series of natural disasters. Jesus says first of all, don't believe anyone claiming to be him. Then don't worry about wars, because that's just the first stage, to be followed by famine, rebellion and earthquakes.

The disciples themselves can expect beatings, family strife and patricide. Lots of people will hate on them, but if they can survive it all, they'll be rewarded in the joyless, sexless heaven promised in chapter 12.

When they see the the abomination of desolation (v. 14) that Daniel talked about, they should flee to the hills without pausing to take their treasured possessions, clothing or pregnant wives. Oh, and it will be ever so much worse if all this happens in winter.

What will this abomination of desolation look like? Well, it will be hell on earth. No one would survive if god didn't shorten the days to spare the faithful. There will be plenty of false Christs with tricks to convince us they're the real deal. The sun and moon and stars will all be blacked out.

But in the end, Jesus will come back and save the chosen. All this will happen soon, within the disciples' own lifetimes. He can't be specific about times, though, because he isn't sure. Only god knows.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Mark, Chapter 12

Oh, goody. Jesus is now going to speak in weird parables that are supposed to teach us things, but what those things are isn't clear because they're super-confusing.

First parable: a man plants a vineyard and becomes an absentee landlord. As you will see from the Wikipedia article, this situation has been problematic throughout history, and this case is no exception. When our landlord starts sending his slaves back to collect the rents, the tenants beat, then kill them. Eventually he runs out of slaves, so he sends his son, who is summarily beaten and killed. So the landlord comes back, kills all the tenants, and rents the farm out again. And what is our lesson? Draining wealth out of a region really pisses the residents of that region off, so it's better to live where your money is earned, lest you lose all your slaves and heirs? No, the lesson here is that the leaders of Judea have rejected Jesus, and now it's payback time. Clear as mud.

Those same priests were listening to this parable, and they sneak off to confer. They decide to send some Pharisees to ask about taxation and he advocates for separation of church and state.

Next up are the Sadducees, who don't believe in the afterlife, but want to know what would happen in the case of a woman who was widowed by seven successive brothers: whose wife is she in heaven? According to Jesus, heaven is a sexless paradise, not that anyone has ever come back to confirm or deny this.

Finally a scribe wants to ask him which commandment is the most important. Personally I've always liked the ones about graven images, the one nobody seems to care about. But Jesus says we should love god and our neighbours with all our hearts. That shuts everyone up.

Later, Jesus is teaching in the temple and asks why people think he's related to David when David was god, so how can he have a son? Or something. It's incredibly confusing. Then he starts criticising the scribes and priests for their love of fine fabrics and lavish feasts, which they finance by fleecing widows. Odd how no one ever follows that particular lesson, innit? To demonstrate, he leads them over to the collection plate, where people are just throwing in money. He notes a poor widow who has still managed to scrounge up some loose change for the church, and says she has given more than any of the rich people because she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living. (v. 44)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Mark, Chapter 11: Jesus the horse-thief

Some prophet predicted that Jesus would ride into Jerusalem on a colt, so he steals one. People make a carpet of clothes and branches for him to ride on, and dance around him. He rides the colt up to the temple, takes a tour, then heads for his inn.

Now, unfortunately for Jesus, his hotel is on the Mount of Olives. If you've ever been there, you know that it's a food desert because it's in Arab East Jerusalem and it's nearly impossible for anyone to get planning permission for a balcony, let alone a restaurant. Anyway, Jesus is hungry, but his hotel doesn't do breakfast, so he tries to pick some figs from a nearby fig tree. But it isn't fig-picking time, so there aren't any. So he does the natural thing, at least for a person with low blood sugar, and curses the tree, thus making it even harder to find something to eat up there.

He continues on his merry way back to the temple, where his bad mood causes him to throw out the money-changers and dove sellers, calling it a den of thieves (v. 17). He forbids all commercial activity in the temple.

Now, as we established back in Exodus and Leviticus, the priests have a pretty good business going in the temples, what with their exclusive rights to sacrifice animals and sell things like tassels for your garments and tefillins and whatnot, a tradition that churches have kept up, first with indulgences and now with coffee shops, book stores and souvenir stands. And like anyone whose livelihood is being threatened by a crazy guy killing fig trees, the priests are none too happy with our boy and start trying to figure out how to get rid of him.

Meanwhile, Jesus heads back up the Mount of Olives. On the way, they pass by the fig tree, now withered. Jesus tells the disciples that they can have anything they ask for, even moving a mountain into the sea, as long as they pray for it. He reminds them to forgive, or god won't forgive them.

Not yet bored with the temple, Jesus heads back down there the next day. The priests have figured out their strategy, which is to ask him whose authority he is acting under. Jesus refuses to answer until they answer a question for him: the baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? (v. 30) The priests huddle up and decide that if they answer it was divine, Jesus will point out that they didn't believe it. But if they say it was of men, then they have the people to contend with, because they sure believed it. So they decline to answer. As does Jesus.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Mark, Chapter 10: Divorce is adultery

The Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce. Jesus points out that Mosaic law only allows it because people are so shitty, but he thinks that since god creates marriage, divorce is adultery.

Then some people bring kids to Jesus for healing. The disciples make frowny faces, which is nonsensical because he's cured plenty of kids already, hasn't he? Jesus says that even children can become members of the church.

As they're leaving a man runs up to them to ask how he can be good. Jesus instructs him to follow the commandments. He says he already does. So Jesus tells him he has to sell all his worldly possessions and follow them. The guy doesn't like that, because he's rich, so he leaves them to found the prosperity gospel. Jesus says again that it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven, and bible commentators everywhere repeat 'Difficult, but not impossible!' so they don't have to give up their occasionally cushy lifestyles. He also says that if you give up your family and inheritance for him, you'll be rewarded tenfold in heaven. And again, if people really believed that, their would be a lot less talking about death taxes and a lot more charitable giving in life.

They leave and start walking towards Jerusalem, and Jesus starts prattling on about his death again. As I predicted in chapter 9, the disciples are like, 'Yeah, yeah, you'll die and go to heaven, great, but which of US will sit on your right side and who gets the left?' Jesus again refuses to settle the question, preferring to cast a devil out of a blind man sitting by the side of the road.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mark, Chapter 9: Disciples & Tiaras

Jesus promises some of the disciples that the end of the world will happen within their lifetimes. Whoops! Then he goes up a hill with Peter, James and John and does his Sparkle Magic trick. Moses and Elijah appear. For some reason, this makes Peter think of DIY and he offers to build them huts. Then the disciples blink and Moses and Elijah are gone. As they go down the mountain, Jesus swears the others to secrecy until he rises from the dead.

The disciples change the subject, asking why the prophecies say that Elijah must come back from the dead before the Messiah will arrive. Jesus says that Elijah is on his way to get things ready, then asks them why the scriptures say the Messiah will be treated badly. Then he changes his whole story, saying Elijah was already there and people were rude to him. Apparently, Elijah is John the Baptist.

By now we've reached the rest of the disciples, who are surrounded by a large crowd. Jesus asks for the 411 and someone from the crowd pipes up that his son is possessed by a spirit that won't let him talk and makes him foam at the mouth. The disciples have been unable to come up with a cure. Jesus calls them all faithless and grumbles that he simply cannot wait to die and be done with them. Then he asks for the kid, who immediately falls to the ground and starts playing his bit. He promises that all things are possible to him that believeth. (v. 23) Which is totally awesome for him, because it means that anything good that happens to you is to his credit, whereas anything bad is your fault. The father replies that he believes, since it's not like Jesus gave him anti-psychotics. Anyway, the spirit comes out and the boy is cured.

The disciples pull Jesus off to the side and ask why the trick didn't work for them. Jesus says this particular spirit was only responsive to prayer and fasting, as if nobody had ever tried it before.

They head off towards Galilee, and Jesus starts talking about his death some more. As they arrive, he mentions that he heard the disciples arguing earlier and asks why. They don't want to admit that they were squabbling about which of them was Ultimate Queen Grand Wizard Royal Nacho Supreme Burrito. Jesus replies If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all (v. 35) thus ensuring that the argument will never, ever be settled. He picks up some random child from who knows where and tells them Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me. (v. 37)

The disciples change the subject randomly to a guy they saw somewhere doing their same dog-and-devil trick. Jesus says it's fine, the dude is on their side and For he that is not against us is on our part (v. 40). Then he starts babbling about cutting off hands and feet and plucking out eyes and worms and salt.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mark, Chapter 8: Here's spit in your eye

Jesus & co. have been hanging out in the wilderness for 3 days, and the big guy finally notices that people are getting hungry. He doesn't want to send them home for food, in case they faint from hunger on the way home, but the disciples point out that they're in a food desert, so what to do? It turns out this has all been an elaborate ruse so that Jesus can repeat the ole loaves 'n' fishes trick for the fourth time. The disciple brain trust, of course, doesn't get it.

Having fed the 4000-strong crowd, Jesus gets bored and takes yet another boat trip. The Pharisees are waiting for him to challenge him to prove he's the real deal. Jesus sighs and says the sign won't happen during this generation. Then he gets back on the boat and sails away. But the disciples quickly discover that they've forgotten to bring any food, save for one loaf of bread. Rather than point out that there are worse things than missing one freaking meal, Jesus jeers at them for not recognizing him.

After what we can only assume was a grouchy night with a bunch of hypoglycemics, our heros arrive in Bethsaida where a crowd immediately gathers. A blind guy is among them and he asks Jesus to restore his sight. And how will he do it? Surgery? Eye drops? No. Jesus spits in the guy's eyes. Ew. I'd almost rather be blind. It doesn't work completely, because that's the beauty of faith healing: if it doesn't work, it's your fault, so Jesus puts his hands over the dude's eyes and his sight is fully restored.

Jesus decides to go for a walk, and as they're strolling, he asks who people are saying he is. The prophets answer that some people think John the Baptist, others one of the prophets. Dissatisfied, Jesus asks who they think he is. The disciples identify him correctly and he swears them to secrecy. Then he tells them how he's going to die.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Mark, Chapter 7: Plug your ears to cure deafness

In a show of unconventionality and, now that we have a germ theory, nastiness, Jesus & Co. don't wash their hands before eating or after coming in from the market. Nor do they wash their dishes, cooking pots or tables. And these four verses crystalize perfectly why this book is and ought to be completely irrelevant to us except as a literary and historical curiosity, because I doubt there are any Christians out there who eschew hand washing and claim they're 'following Jesus' teachings.'

Of course the Pharisees don't have a germ theory, because all this 'happened' two thousand years ago, so to them this is just a pissing match about religious customs, which Jesus escalates by pointing out that the Pharisees don't kill disobedient children, even though it's written in Mosaic law. He raises his voice to address the crowd: whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? (v. 18-19) except again, we now have germ theory. Oh, and apparently this is why we can now eat things like shellfish and pigs. Just make sure you wash them first. Then we get a list of things that do defile us, like fornication and foolishness, at least until we discovered germs.

Jesus tries to pull a Greta Garbo and sneak off to Tyre to be alone. Invariably, people find him and start asking for faith healing. First is a Greek woman with a possessed daughter. Jesus initially refuses, saying he needs all his mojo for his fellow Jews and comparing her to a dog, but she argues with him and he decides to save his energy and just save the girl.

His cover blown, he next seeks some peace and quiet in Decapolis, but no, someone is waiting for him with a deaf guy who also has a speech impediment. Jesus cures him in exactly the way you would expect if you come from a society that values science: he gives him some hearing aids and speech therapy. Oh wait! That's not what happens at all! In fact, he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue (v. 33). Gross! And not likely to work at all! But have at it, true believers, more science for the rest of us. Jesus swears everybody to secrecy, which as we all know is the best way to make sure everyone in the world hears about it.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Mark, Chapter 6: How to cure faith healing

Jesus goes back to Nazareth and starts teaching in the temple. The people are amazed that this is the same carpenter with 6 brothers and sisters, which the bible commentaries either gloss over completely or dismiss as being mere relatives, because in the fantasy, Mary stayed a virgin her entire life.

Anyway, the Nazarenes don't believe in Jesus and so take away his ability to heal people. Because it was only based on faith. Just like the idea that house prices will always go up or gold is a good investment.

Jesus quickly bores of his hometown and sends the disciples off to do good works, telling them to only take a staff, a cloak and a pair of sandals. Any place that refuses to receive them will be burnt up like Sodom and Gomorrha. So they go around casting out devils and anointing people with oil.

Meanwhile, Herod finally hears about Jesus and thinks he's the reincarnated John the Baptist, who, you will recall, he executed after his sister-in-law forced her daughter to ask for his head in a basket after she danced really nicely instead of an iPhone or some Ugg boots like any other teenage girl would want. Other people think he's Elijah or another prophet.

The disciples return, and Jesus decides to take them out to the desert for a corporate retreat, where they'll picnic and share their stories from the road. Unfortunately, people see them leaving and follow them. And after sitting out in the desert all day, they start to get pretty hungry. The disciples nicely offer to go into town and get some bread, but Jesus wants to show off his loaves-and-fishes trick, so they do that instead. Then the disciples take off for yet another cruise while Jesus heads up a mountain to pray. In the evening, he walks across water to rejoin the disciples, who are attempting to row the boat in a nasty storm. Jesus calms the sea down and they continue to their destination, where people immediately start bringing sick relatives over for him to heal.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Mark, Chapters 5: Meet Houdini

Jesus gets off a ship and is immediately accosted by a guy suffering from multiple personality disorder who lives in a cave. The townspeople have tried to tie him up with chains, but the guy is an early Houdini and always manages to wriggle out of them. So now he spends his days howling and cutting himself. The devil inside him recognises Jesus. Jesus tells him to come out of the guy and asks his name. I never knew this was a biblical line: My name is Legion: for we are many. (v. 9) Jesus repeats his trick of casting the devils into pigs then sending the pigs into the sea. Then all the other MPD sufferers start coming around with their devils. Oddly, the people are rather fond of their multiple personalities and ask Jesus to leave.

So Jesus leaves on his ship and goes back across the sea, where word of his works has already spread. The first person to nab him is a priest with a sick daughter, whom he heals. Then a woman who has been experiencing unexplained bleeding for 12 years that doctors cannot seem to cure comes along and he fixes her right up. We're all flashing to that faith healing scene in Man on the Moon here, right? Because all she has to do is touch his robe and the bleeding stops.

But! A sick woman touching his robes apparently causes Jesus to lose all his power. He asks who touched him, and the woman admits it, so he calms down. Then! Somebody from the high priest's house comes and says the daughter is dead. And Jesus repeats that she's just resting. He downplays the whole thing and swears them all to secrecy.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Mark, Chapters 3 & 4

Chapter 3

Jesus is in the temple on the sabbath day. A man with a withered hand approaches to ask for healing. The Pharisees lean in close, eager to see if Jesus will break the sabbath. He just stares back at them defiantly and heals the dude. The Pharisees go off to find the Herodians to gossip about what a horrible, sabbath-breaking bitch he is.

But Jesus has better things to do, like go on a healing cruise 'round Judea. He drives out all kinds of devils, all of whom recognise him, and all of whom he swears to secrecy.

When Jesus gets tired of shipboard life, he goes mountain-climbing, where he names his twelve disciples. But eventually the people find them and Jesus gets so busy he doesn't have time to eat. His friends say he's insane and the scribes think his ability to drive out devils must be given by the chief devil, Beelzebub, to which he replies How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end. (v. 23-26) Then he says that all sins save blasphemy against the Holy Ghost can be forgiven. After the argument, Jesus' mother and brothers show up and ask to talk to him, but he refuses, saying the people around him are his real family.

Chapter 4

Jesus heads down to the beach and starts reciting parables. He tells the one about the sower that we already heard in Matthew, so I'm not going to repeat it. The disciples ask him why he's always gotta say such confusing things, and he says that it's deliberate, lest they convert and be forgiven. Then he tells another parable about candles and secrets that ends with For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath. (v. 25) Then they take yet another cruise and repeat the tempest story.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Mark, Chapter 2: Sinning causes paralysis

Jesus goes back to Capernum and is immediately besieged by people seeking cures for what ails them. One is a paralysed man. Jesus looks at him and says Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. (v. 3)

Some concern trolls scribes happen to be watching this, and they fret amongst themselves that Jesus is blaspheming. Jesus reads their minds and challenges them, asking Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk? (v. 9) As he's talking, he's getting more and more pissed off, so he decides to prove that the son of man has the power to forgive sins. So he turns to the paralysed dude and says Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house. (v. 10) This shuts the skeptics up.

Jesus decides to take a beach vacation, but even there people seek him out. He also picks up a new disciple, Levi. They go out for dinner, and while they're eating, people are still coming up to them with their gross diseases and mental illnesses and asking him to heal them. Thank god for health codes, is all I have to say.

The Pharisees make their first appearance, this time to point out that Jesus shouldn't be eating in public, with bartenders and other sinners. Jesus retorts that just like healthy people don't need a doctor, righteous people don't need him. So they ask why they and John's followers fast, but Jesus' followers don't. Tyranny of small differences, that. Jesus compares himself to a bridegroom whose guests eat and drink at the wedding and fast later and tells a couple of confusing parables about a patched garment tearing because the patch isn't pre-shrunk and how recycling a wine bottle makes it explode.

Then we're back to that cornfield interlude where Jesus & co. are rudely picking and eating someone else's corn and the Pharisees have nothing better to do than follow them around criticising them for doing it on the sabbath, as though that's the real crime here. Jesus' answer, again, is David did it and who cares and I'm Jesus, so fuck you.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Mark, Chapter 1: No virgins here

All that stuff about virgin births, mangers, shepherds, stars and myrrh that leads to broomstick brawls? Not in Mark. Nope, we get a cold open on John the Baptist, hanging out in the woods, baptising and eating locusts. After awhile, Jesus comes along to be baptised. This time there's no arguing, he just submerges him and when he comes back up, god says that's awesome.

Then events start happening in a whirlwind, with no pauses for description: desert, temptation, John goes to prison, Jesus walks around telling everyone to repent or go to hell.

He picks up Simon, Andrew, James and John, the fishermen, and they all go to Capernaum to preach in the temple. Everybody finds this most irregular. A crazy dude in the temple recognises him and asks him if he's there to destroy everything. Jesus calls out the evil spirit that is making the guy crazy and tells it to shut up. It obeys. The people around him are amazed, and more than a little wary of this stranger who can control schizophrenics.

Word quickly spreads that there's a guy in the temple who can cure mental illness, so people start bringing their weird uncles and such to him just to get a bit of peace at dinner. Jesus casts out each and every devil, swearing all of them to secrecy. He also cures Simon's mother-in-law of a fever.

The next day, Jesus gets up before dawn to go and pray. The disciples find him and say people are asking for him, but Jesus wants to get a move on. They travel around Galilee, curing people and casting out devils. At one point, a leper waylays them and Jesus does his usual magic and swears the guy to secrecy. But the guy starts blabbing, and pretty soon they can't enter the city anymore, so they hang out in the desert for awhile, curing and casting.