Sunday, February 26, 2012

Luke, Chapter 17: On the care and feeding of slaves

Jesus admits that sins are inevitable, but condemns those who tempt us to having millstones tied around their necks and being thrown into the sea. Then he tells us that if your brother sins seven times in the same day, you have to forgive him each time.

The apostles ask how they can increase their faith. He informs us that people with only a little faith can tell a sycamore tree to pick itself up and replant itself in the sea, and it will happen. G'head kids, try that one at home.

Then he starts talking about the proper treatment of slaves. How you can still have slaves if you've sold all your property and given the proceeds to the poor is not made clear. Anyway, most people don't invite their slaves to dinner after they've spent a long day in the field. Rather, they first make the slaves serve dinner, then dismiss them to their own suppers. They don't even think to say thank you. The disciples should think of themselves as the slaves here, and should do their tasks out of duty and not expect thanks.

That matter out of the way, they continue on towards Jerusalem. They pass 10 lepers who ask Jesus for some faith healing, so he obliges. One man follows along afterwards, praising god. Jesus asks where the other nine are, but doesn't get an answer. He dismisses the former leper.

Now the Pharisees have found him again, and they ask when heaven is coming. Jesus says you can't see heaven because it's inside you. What a rip-off! He turns to his disciples and completely changes his tune from what he said in Mark and Matthew about the End of Days happening within their lifetimes (because it didn't and this book was written 100-200 years after his 'death'), telling them that now they won't live to see his return. There will be lots of fake Jesus', just as there have been many Elvis sightings, but they'll know it's really him when there's a lot of lightening. Life will continue as normal, just like it did in Noah's and Lot's times, but then suddenly armageddon will start and only half of us can expect to live through it.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Luke, Chapter 16: Laws of convenience

A rich man hears that his steward has been fiddling the accounts. He calls the steward in to ask him to explain himself, then fires him. The steward panics, thinking about how he's too weak to dig and too proud to beg. He decides that the best way to get people to welcome them into their homes is to REALLY fiddle the accounts and starts knocking zeros off their debts. For some reason, this pleases his master. Lesson learned: use your worldly wealth to make friends with people now and they'll be nice to you when you have nothing. Nice thought, but it's the total opposite of how people have treated their 'friends' since the beginning of time. We also learn that people are faithful or dishonest regardless of circumstances. Clearly none of Jesus' girlfriends ever asked him if they looked fat in their jeans.

Then we get what is quite possibly my very favourite verse in the entire bible so far, verse 13: No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Oddly, in 20 Republican primary debates so far in the 2012 campaign season, not once has this verse come up, for all every one of them claims to have a non-gay hard-on for Christ.

The Pharisees are listening, and they immediately start mocking. Jesus retorts with possibly my second-favourite verse in the entire bible: that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God (v. 15). Not that it has stopped many of us from pursuing shiny trinkets.

Then he says something contradictory and confusing: first, the Old Testament law applied up until John the Baptist's time, but has now been replaced by the Good News. Then, the law can never be changed. So apparently this is why Christians can eat shellfish, but hate gays? Also, no divorce.

Now he has a story about Lazarus: A rich man who happened to like purple and fine dining, passes Lazarus, a beggar with open sores, outside his gate every day. But weren't Mary and Martha from a few chapters ago Lazarus' sisters? They had a pretty nice set-up, why are they letting their brother hang out with seeping wounds and beg for money? So confusing! Anyway, both men die. The rich man goes to hell and Lazarus to heaven. The rich man calls up to Abraham to relieve him of all his suffering. Abraham's response? Tough titties. Also, there's a rule that people can't travel back and forth between heaven and hell. So the guy asks him to at least send Lazarus to his father's house to warn his brothers not to be such shitty human beings. Abraham: No. They can read. The guy starts to whine but Abraham insists they won't listen.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Luke, Chapter 15: Sibling rivalry

Jesus is starting to attract unsavoury types like tax collectors and other, undefined 'sinners.' The Pharisees don't like this, but it's hard to imagine them liking anything. Jesus' retort is perhaps the first trolley problem: if they had a hundred sheep, and one wandered off, wouldn't they leave the other 99 alone in the wilderness while they looked for the lost one, and then throw a party when they found one? I dunno. Frankly that seems like an awful lot of effort for one sheep and pretty risky to leave 99 of them alone in the wilderness, but I'm no shepherd.

He tells another parable that I can identify with much more: a woman who has 10 pieces of silver, loses one, and turns the house upside down looking for it, then throws a party when she finds it. I hope the party costs less than a piece of silver. Anyway, Jesus says he feels the same way when he convinces a sinner to repent.

Now he has a sad parable for us: the younger of two brothers asks his father for his inheritance, which he then spends partying it up in another country. As in all cautionary tales, things quickly go wrong: there's a famine and the young man falls on hard times. So hard that he is forced to take up a position as a swineherd. In a rather illustrative argument for the welfare state, the man is so poorly paid and fed that the pigs' feed starts to look good to him. He finds himself thinking about how his father has lots of hired servants, all of whom eat better than him. He resolves to go home and throw himself on his father's mercy, and to become a servant if need be. However, he gets lucky, and when his father sees him, he hugs him and calls for the boy to be dressed in fine clothes and shoes, and for a feast. The boy tries to protest, but is ignored.

Now, his dutiful older brother has been out in the field this entire time, and didn't even realise there was a party going on until he hears the music on his way back from a hard day's work. He asks one of the servants what's going on, then refuses to enter the house in disgust. His father comes out to entreat him to join, and then the long-stored resentment comes out: he's been working his ass off for years and his father never so much as gave him a goat kid to roast for a party! And now this buffoon, who spent his entire inheritance on whores, gets a whole fatted calf! It's not fair! The father assures him that he'll get his full inheritance, but they had to have a party, see, because the prodigal son was dead and is now alive. We'll see what's left when the will is read.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Luke, Chapter 14: Jesus' advice on dinner party etiquette

Jesus is invited to a Pharisee leader's house for lunch on a sabbath day. Because he can't even have one great shag meal in peace, a man with dropsy approaches him. Jesus coyly asks the Pharisees if he can cure the man's ailment. The Pharisees are silent, so he does. And because he can never let anything go, he asks them if they would ignore a cow or donkey or person who fell into a hole until it was no longer the sabbath.

They don't answer, so he starts into a parable about seating arrangements at a wedding. Lord, do not get me started on wedding seating charts. Anyway, the Israelites have not cottoned onto the idea of place cards or seating arrangements, so there's always this confusion about who should sit where. Jesus points out that if you sit in the most important place, someone more important than you could come along and your host will have to ask you to leave and you'll be embarrassed because you'll end up at the freak cousins table with Adam Sandler singing 'Love Stinks' at you. Instead, he says we should take that seat at the freaks' table and the host will eventually tell us to move. Not if he doesn't want the bride to freak out and throw the seating chart at him, he won't.

He also says that when you throw a dinner party, you shouldn't invite friends, family or neighbours, because your only reward will be a reciprocal invitation. Instead you should invite these guys. Plus, you know, the poors, the blind, the lame, etc. Then you'll get into heaven. Again, not exactly an edict you find a lot of Christians following.

The Pharisees all smile politely, which Jesus takes as a signal that they want him to launch into another parable, this time about a man who throws a dinner party, but all of his invitees make excuses including, get this, I'm going to be screwing my new wife. This pisses the guy off, so he sends his slave out to find the first group of schmucks he can round up. The slave finds a bunch of people, but the house isn't full, so the rich man sends him further afield, including into hedgerows and under bridges. When the house is finally full, the man gloats that none of his friends can even fit inside to taste his supper. Which they clearly proved that they did not care about when they refused the invitation.

Now Jesus turns back to his disciples and tells them that they can only keep being disciples if they hate their families.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Luke, Chapter 13: Dammit, what happens to the tree?

The people tell Jesus that Pilate killed some Galilaeans who were innocently making sacrifices at the temple. Jesus is not particularly sympathetic, and asks if these particular Galilaeans maybe suffered because they deserved it. It turns out no, but he threatens those gathered with the same fate unless they repent. He tells them an equally lurid story about some people killed by a falling piano falling tower.

Now he has a parable about a gentleman farmer with a fig tree that never bears fruit. He asks his tree guy why he doesn't cut down the tree. The tree guy wants him to give the tree one more year and promises to give it special fertilizer. If it doesn't bear fruit next year, he'll cut it down. We never find out what happens to the tree.

Another day, Jesus is preaching in the temple when a possessed woman shows up. He lays his hands on her and commands the spirit to leave. She immediately converts to Christianity.

The chief priest sees this and is immediately in high dudgeon because this happens to be a sabbath day, and why can't people get healed the other six days of the week. See, that's what a real 'remember the sabbath and keep it holy' society would look like. Jesus rightly calls the guy a hypocrite because he leads his oxen and donkeys outside to water them. The poor guy hasn't come up with an eruv yet. And anyway, why shouldn't this woman finally have some peace from her demons on the sabbath? The others agree and the priest is embarrassed.

Jesus starts waxing poetic about what heaven is like: a mustard seed that grows into a mighty tree that birds shit all over, and a little bit of yeast that mixes with a large amount of flour to make dough. Can't wait to check it out for myself!

That same day? A week later? Jesus continues on his way to Jerusalem. Someone asks him if it's true that only a few people will make it into heaven. He advises him to aim for the narrow gate, because god is going to lock most of them out. Who will get into heaven? Poor people. Those not going? The one percent. Including Rich Santorum.

A couple of Pharisees approach next to warn Jesus that Herod is looking for him. Jesus replies that his schedule is full: faith healing for the next couple of days, but on the third day he'll be perfected (v. 32), whatever that means. He also needs to keep walking, for it would be undignified to die outside Jerusalem. He laments the number of prophets who get stoned to death in Jerusalem, and how they'll do the same to him.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Luke, Chapter 12: How much did god provide you with today?

Thousands of people are showing up, so many that they're trampling each other. In the wings, Jesus turns to his disciples and warns them that the Pharisees are probably going to show up to heckle him, because they're hypocrites. He promises that soon they'll all be in heaven, where there are no secrets and not to be afraid, except of god, who might send them to hell. He also informs us that we have so many hairs on our heads that they cannot be counted, and therefore we're more valuable to god than sparrows. Good to know.

Next he tells them that true believers who accept him as their lord and saviour will get into heaven, but deniers are going to hell. Oh, and here's an interesting tidbit: you can blaspheme against Jesus all you want, but insulting the Holy Ghost is a one-way ticket to hell.

Should they find themselves on trial, fear not, the Holy Ghost will put words into their mouths.

Next, someone pipes up that his brother is refusing to share the inheritance. Because he is convinced that the world is going to end, Jesus does not counsel him about elder mediators. Rather, he tells him to stop being selfish and tells a parable about a man who had such an abundant harvest that he couldn't fit it all into his existing barns. Instead of just building a new barn, he decides he needs to tear down his current ones and start over. Then he'll take a nice long rest, since his stores will last him several years. But then god appears to him that very night and tells him he's going to die, and who will get all his treasure? Apparently, this is meant to illustrate that we should take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on(v. 22-3). Again, not exactly a principle one finds many Christians following. He illustrates this with yet another parable, this time about how ravens and lilies don't save for the future, because god takes care of them. No nature red in tooth and claw for this guy! He advises them to sell everything and spend the rest of their short lives thinking about god.

Peter asks if this is intended only for the disciples, or for the thousands of people who are eagerly waiting to hear his speech. Jesus says that after he dies, he's counting on them to rule in his place. If they do well, he'll reward them. If they're bad, though, and start beating people up and drinking and acting like every religious leader ever, he'll cut them up and beat them and send them to hell. He also informs us that he didn't come to bring peace on earth, he's actually here to divide families.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Luke, Chapter 11: Jesus gets the munchies

Jesus is praying, and his disciples ask him to teach them how to do it, like John did for his followers. Seriously? We're this far along in the story and Jesus has not thought to teach them a prayer? So he teaches them a version of the Lord's Prayer.

When he's all prayed out, Jesus suddenly has the munchies. Problem: it's midnight and it's the first century and no one has thought of 24-hour fast-food restaurants yet. So he challenges the disciples to think of a friend who might be willing to give them some bread at this late hour. He also gives a long-winded speech about Martha Washington and aliens. Whoops! It's about eggs and scorpions, but I suspect the level of sobriety is about the same.

Another time, Jesus is casting out devils. His critics suspect that he's able to do this because he's an agent of Beelzebub. His supporters beg him to prove them wrong with a sign from heaven. He points out that the Pharisees themselves cast out devils and people who live in glass houses and all that. He has a few more pearls of wisdom to drop about mental illness, namely that there's no point treating it because the devil that possessed you will just come back with seven of his friends.

As he's talking, a woman blesses Mary's womb and breasts for successively bearing then nursing Jesus. After an uncomfortable silence, Jesus replies that people who listen to him and follow him are more blessed than she is. Not satisfied with insulting his mother, he keeps going, insulting all the people, who refuse to listen to him and will suffer armageddon.

When he finishes talking about the apocalypse, a Pharisee stupidly invites him to dinner. First off, Jesus sits down to the table without washing his hands. Then he admits that he doesn't clean his plates and silverware before he eats, either, because inner cleanliness is what counts. Note that you will not find many Christians following this particular teaching of Jesus. Then he starts ranting about how the Pharisees love status symbols too much and have killed all the prophets. As he's raving, the Pharisees egg him on, hoping he'll trip himself up.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Luke, Chapter 10: Too many bloody Marys

Jesus chooses 72 new disciples and sends them a-proselytizing with no money or shoes and instructions not to talk to anyone and to stay in whatever house offers them shelter. They're not to be picky, and they're to heal all the people who ask for it.

As for the cities that reject them, well, we all remember what happened to Sodom, right?

The evangelists return triumphant a while later, full of stories of conquering Satan. Jesus, for his part, gives them power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy (v. 19). Then he thanks god that only stupid people really get his message and all the smart, educated ones reject him. He tells the disciples that they are extra-super-special for all the things they have seen and heard that kings would pay dearly to see and hear.

At this point, a lawyer stands up to ask how he can get into heaven. Jesus' answer is simple, because his followers have just been proven to be idiots: love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. (v. 27) The man, dissatisfied because he's intelligent, asks who his neighbour is. Jesus launches into a story about a man who went to Jericho and got mugged. A bunch of priests passed the man by as he was lying there bleeding from his injuries, but none of them stopped to help. Finally, a Samaritan sees him and takes him to hospital and gives him the cab fare to get home. So, which one was the better neighbour? The lawyer says the Samaritan, and Jesus tells him to act like that guy.

Our entourage leaves and comes to the village where Mary and Martha live. This is at least the third Mary in just this book. Did they have no other names for girls back then? Anyway, Mary and Martha invite them in for tea. Mary sits down to listen to the good news, but Martha is busy serving. After awhile, she whines to Jesus to make her sister help her. Jesus replies that she's being a fusspot about irrelevant details, and her sister knows what's important.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Luke, Chapter 9: No funerals

Jesus gathers the disciples together and gives them the power to cast out devils and cure diseases, because when you have no science, why not? Then he sends them out to spread the good news with only the clothes on their backs. I don't know which would be scarier: a bunch of smelly, unwashed, underfed beggars, or these guys.

Meanwhile, Herod has been hearing rumors, that Jesus is the reincarnation of John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the other prophets. He decides he wants to see Jesus, but his storyline is abruptly ended like a bad soap opera.

The disciples return from their trip and head to Bethesda to tell Jesus all about it. People hear about them and start bringing their sick and demented for faith healing. As the day wears on, the disciples realise that they don't have any food for the people still waiting. Given that this is at least the fifth time this has happened, I'm going to skip over this incident.

The next day? 5 years later? Jesus is praying, but stops to ask his disciples what people are saying about him. That he's John the Baptist, or Elijah, is the main consensus. And the disciples? Who do they think he is? The Christ. He swears them to secrecy. Then he tells them how he's going to die.

Eight days after that, he takes James, John and Peter up into the mountains to pray and do the old sparkle trick. As usual, Moses and Elijah show up to talk death some more. The disciples get bored and fall asleep. When they wake up, they pledge to build three temples in honour of this momentous occasion, but Jesus swears them to secrecy again some more. How all these books got written, then, is a mystery.

When they go back down the mountains the next day, the crowd has grown. One man cries out that his son has rabies or epilepsy or something and the disciples have been unable to cure him. Jesus criticises the disciples for not putting the faith in faith healing and proceeds to cure the kid himself. He reminds them he's going to die soon, but they don't get it, and fearing more criticism, are afraid to ask.

Like any group of people that spends too much time together, the disciples descend into petty squabbling about which of them is Jesus' favourite. Rather than pick a side and end the discussion, he accosts a child and puts it on his lap, then tells the disciples that accepting him is like accepting this random kid, and accepting the random kid is like accepting god.

This prompts John's memory about a guy they saw who was casting out devils, but wasn't one of them. Jesus says that's cool, the more devil-casters the better.

A week? Five minutes? later, Jesus decides to face the music and head to Jerusalem. On the way, they enter a village of unfriendly Samaritans. John and James want to reenact Sodom and Gomorra on their asses, but Jesus says no, he's into letting sinners hang themselves by their own ropes and moves on.

In another village, a man comes up and says he wants to join them, he's just gotta bury his dead father first. But no, Jesus is fixated on his death march and doesn't have time for shilly-shallying. He won't even wait for the guy to give his excuses at the funeral that's going on at his own house. He basically tells the guy he's going to hell for not wanting to be a rude bastard to his own guests.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Luke, Chapter 8: Jesus' Harem

Jesus and the apostles travel around preaching. Following them, and supporting them financially, are a number of women, including Mary Magdalene, a lady called Joanna, and another called Susanna.

As they travel around, people gather to hear, and what they hear is mostly confusing gibberish, which Jesus calls 'parables.' We've already seen the first one, about sowing seeds, back in Matthew. He repeats the confusing whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have (v. 18) which is supposedly about faith, but really makes him look like Michele Bachmann.

As he's talking, his mother and siblings show up wanting to talk to him, but he refuses, saying his family is already here. But fortunately, thanks to cherry-picking, we can ignore any knotty questions this incident might raise. Certainly most churches seem to.

Now we're on a boat, and Jesus goes to sleep. While he's asleep, a storm comes up and the disciples get scared and wake him. He rebukes them for their lack of faith.

When they arrive on the other side, a crazy, naked man starts screaming at them. Jesus casts the devils that are clearly causing him to act crazy into a herd of swines, which he then causes to run into the sea. Some locals see this, and they run off to the town to tell their tale. When they come back, they find the crazy guy is now dressed and acting sane. Oddly, this does not fill them with a sense of gratitude. Rather, they ask him to leave. The crazy guy asks to come along, but Jesus tells him to stay behind and spread the word.

When he comes back, the people are in a better frame of mind for some faith healing. First is a guy whose daughter is dying. Then a woman who bleeds constantly. When she touches Jesus, he feels his faith leave him and demands to know who touched him. She comes forward and is forgiven.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Luke, Chapter 7: Jesus Christ and Zombies

A Roman centurion's bestest slave is ill. And we all know how hard it is to get good help. So he goes to the Jewish elders to ask them to ask Jesus to come and heal his rentboy slave. Why he can't go himself is not answered.

The elders make the argument that the centurion is a friend to the Jews who donated money to the synagogue, which convinces Jesus to go and heal his servant. While he's on the way, the centurion's friends stop them because he hasn't had time to vacuum. He asks Jesus to heal the servant from outside. Somehow, Jesus interprets this to mean that the centurion is the most faithful man in Jerusalem. When the friends get back, they discover the slave has recovered.

The next day, Jesus goes to Nain, where he finds a funeral in progress. The young man is his widowed mother's only child. Jesus goes up to the casket, touches it and says Young man, I say unto thee, Arise (v. 14). The guy does, and says BRAINS!. Is this Lazarus?

Anyway, raising a zombie makes the people believe that Jesus is a new prophet. Rumours quickly spread all over Judea, even reaching John the Baptist in prison. John sends two of his followers to ask if Jesus is the real deal, or if they should keep waiting. So Jesus cures a bunch of people in front of them, then tells them to go back to John and report their findings.

Jesus turns to his own followers and says that John is the person the scriptures predicted, and he's a good prophet, for a human, but he's nothing compared to what you find in heaven. The people who have been baptised lap this up, but the unbaptized Pharisees and lawyers are skeptical.

Then he starts criticising the current generation, like all old farts everywhere, in this case for failing to recognise John the Baptist's or his own awesomeness.

The Pharisees decide that if they can't beat him, they should join him, so they invite Jesus over for a meal. While he's sitting there, a woman comes along with a box of ointment. Then she stands behind Jesus, whining and snivelling and washing his feet with the tears and drying them with her hair and rubbing them with ointment.

The Pharisee is watching this, and like any sane person, thinks it's weird. Jesus listens in on his thoughts and tells him a weird parable about a man who has two debtors, one who owes him 500 pence, and another who owes him 50. He forgives them both. Which one is more grateful? Given that gratitude is the shortest-lived human emotion neither of them. Nevertheless, the Pharisee, now called Simon, says the man who owes 500 pence will love his creditor more. Jesus says that's correct, then explains the moral: this woman is a very sinful person, being a woman, but because she has shown him much love, he will grant her much forgiveness. But Simon, who has not been very loving, except for the free food, will not be forgiven for most of his sins. This gives the Pharisees new reasons for their skepticism, but at least the woman leaves happy.