Thursday, March 29, 2012

John, Chapter 6: Winning souls through free food

Jesus goes across the Sea of Galilee in the effort to escape the crowd, but they follow him anyway, demanding faith healing. He has to go up a mountain to get away from them. It's almost Passover, because it's always Passover. As he looks down at the crowd, Jesus wonders about feeding them. But it's a test of course. The disciples think they couldn't possibly buy enough food, and no one has thought of the all-you-can-eat buffet yet. Andrew mentions that somebody has a few loaves and a couple of fishes, but there's nowhere near enough. Jesus tells everybody to sit, prays over the food, and tells the disciples to distribute it amongst the 5000 people. When everyone has had his fill, there are still 12 baskets left over. A miracle! That is not at all diminished by the fact that this is the 4th account we've had of it in a row. After that, the people want to make Jesus their king, but he's feeling shy, so instead he retreats even further up the mountain. Meanwhile, the disciples take a boat to Capernaum. On the way, the wind kicks up a storm. Jesus then casually walks up, gets in the boat, and right away they're at their destination. Another miracle! Meanwhile, on the other side of the lake, the people notice that a boat is gone. More people are arriving, having heard that Jesus was there. They all head over to Capernaum together. They find Jesus there and ask why he left. He accuses them of not loving him, only his bread, and says they ought to love heaven more than food. Yes, but food is here and no one has ever actually seen heaven, so I can't really blame them. They ask what they have to do for god. It's very simple: believe. But the crowd isn't satisfied, they want more bread, and barring that, a miracle. But really, they want bread. Jesus' reply: I am the bread of life (v. 35). He tells them that he's from heaven, here to do god's will on earth and save people when the end of the world happens. The people start whispering amongst themselves that this guy is just Jesus from Nazareth. Jesus them to quit it and promises again to raise them all up into heaven during the apocalypse. He also insults Moses' bread from Exodus, pointing out that all the people who ate it are now dead, but his followers will have eternal life. This sets off a few quarrels about the morality of eating flesh, which Jesus quells by telling them the only way to salvation is to eat his flesh and drink his blood, which does not get any less creepy the more you repeat it. Even the disciples start murmuring about how creepy it is. Jesus confronts them, saying non-believers are not going to heaven and will betray him. This causes some of them to leave, until there are only 12 left. Jesus knows that one of them will betray him, and that one is Judas. Dun dun dun!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

John, Chapter 5: Sunday schooled

Christ & Co. head for Jerusalem for Passover, which I learned yesterday, thanks to my hero Bart D. Erhman, was an act of silent protest against the Roman occupation. In response, the Romans would bring in extra legions in case the silent protests turned noisy. So you can imagine there was already some tension in the air. But before we get to the main story, the narrative veers left to tell us about a pool in Bethesda that apparently really did exist. Anyway, sick people hang around this pool a lot, waiting for an angel to come along and stir the water, after which anyone who goes in is cured. Jesus passes by and sees a dude who has been sitting there for 38 years. He asks him why he hasn't gone into the water. He finds begging too lucrative hasn't been able to make it, because he doesn't have a helper, and when the angel stirs the water, people shove him aside in their zeal to be cured. Jesus cures him and instructs him to take his bed home. As he's carrying the bed, some nosy Jews confront him for working on the Sabbath. The guy defends himself that he's just following Jesus' orders, and they demand to meet this Jesus person. But when the guy leads them back to the pool to find him, Jesus has disappeared. They do meet again the next day in the temple, when Jesus warns him not to sin anymore. The man helpfully points Jesus out to the morality police, who decide to persecute him for working on the Sabbath. When the god squad confronts Jesus, he says My Father worketh hitherto, and I work (v. 17) which only serves to make them madder than ever. Jesus serenely tells them he has many more tricks up his sleeve, like raising a zombie army and total control over judging people. He says people should worship him as a god, which went over so well with the Jews when Caligula tried it (they rioted). He promises eternal life to those who follow them, and promises them the apocalypse is coming up quick. He says John can vouch for him as will god, and to search the scriptures if they don't believe him. He also condemns them all to hell for not believing in him, or god, or Moses which is always a surefire way to get converts.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

John, Chapter 4: Fortune-telling

The Pharisees hear that Jesus is baptising more people than John, even though it's the disciples who are doing all the actual dunking. Then Jesus goes on a trip. That's seriously the transition: the Pharisees hear a rumour, then Jesus goes for a walk. Eventually he ends up perched on the ledge of a well on a farm near Sychar in Samaria that once belonged to Joseph of the technicolor dreamcoat.

The disciples go off in search of a grocery store, leaving Jesus alone at the well. As he's sitting there, a woman approaches to draw water. He rudely demands a drink from her, as if he can't dip his own damned bucket into the well if he's thirsty. She asks him why he's talking to her, since normally If you're a Jet you're a Jet. Jesus says that if she only knew who he was, she'd be the one asking him for a drink and he'd give it to her. She points out that he doesn't have a bucket and does he somehow think he's better than Jacob, the one who gave them the well? Jesus points out that drinking from this well will only make people thirsty again, but his well will lead to an eternal life where we'll never be thirsty again. She asks for some of this extra-special water. He tells her to fetch her husband. She says she has no husband. Jesus points out that she has had five husbands and then implies that she's either separated or living in sin, the commentaries are divided. Jerry, of course, is useless.

She calls him a prophet. Either that or someone who's been sitting next to the village hot spot listening to the gossip all afternoon. One of those. Anyway, she asks why he isn't in Jerusalem. Jesus tells her that soon it won't matter where anyone worships and they should all start praying to god now. She starts to recognise him as this Christ guy she's been hearing rumours about. Jesus admits it.

The disciples come back and the woman leaves, forgetting her water pot. She goes into town to tell the men to come and see the fortune-teller by the well. As she's away, the disciples urge him to eat something, but he refuses, preferring to meditate further on sowing and reaping souls.

The woman returns with a crowd, and Jesus spends the next two days on palm and tarot readings before he departs for Galilee. On the way to Cana, a man stops him and says his son is sick. Jesus tells him to go home, because his son is all better. And he is. Spooky!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

John, Chapter 3: Sports eye black, explained

A king named Nicodemus approaches Jesus and starts asking questions. How can one get into heaven? Rebirth? How? Do you have to crawl back into your mother's uterus? Because, ew. No, water and the holy spirit. Nicodemus is still skeptical and Jesus turns mocking, asking how he can explain heaven if Nick won't even believe him about earthly matters?

Then we get to Tim Tebow's favourite eye black saying, before they changed the rules so he couldn't do that anymore: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (v. 16) He insists that he's there to save the world, but then instantly starts telling us about how people who don't believe in him will rot in hell.

All talked out, he turns next to baptising, which I suppose is better than all the faith healing he was doing in the other books. Less harmful, certainly. Somewhere else, John the Baptist is also baptising people. John's followers tell him that Jesus is engaging in some copyright infringement, but John isn't bothered, insisting he never said he was the Messiah and repeating that non-believers are going straight to hell.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

John, Chapter 2: How to liven up a Mormon wedding

Jesus goes to the wedding at Cana. Turns out the bridal couple are proto-Mormons and there is no wine, even though Jesus & Co. are thirsty. Very thirsty. So thirsty that Christ is rude to his sainted mother, who throws up her hands and tells the slaves to do whatever Jesus wants.

He tells them to fill up some nearby water pots, then pour a cup out for the Master of Ceremonies. When the MC drinks it, the water turns into wine. He accuses the bridegroom of holding the good wine back until the end, thus commencing an endless cycle of family arguments at Thanksgiving.

After the feast, the company heads briefly to Capernum, then to Jerusalem, since it's Passover time. Upon arrival, he sees the moneychangers and sacrifice-sellers and continues his little fit of pique, throwing their tables to the ground and yelling a lot. The sellers are rightly offended that he is ruining business right before the holy day and ask him to perform a miracle to prove he has authority to do this. Jesus challenges them to destroy the temple and he'll have it rebuilt in 3 days. They point out that it took 46 years to build the temple, and there's no way they're starting again from scratch. But of course Jesus is talking about his body. The disciples will remember this conversation after his crucifixion and finally believe the scriptures. As for Jesus, he remains doubtful about humans. So do I.

Monday, March 19, 2012

John, Chapter 1: Crying in the wilderness

God made everything, including people. But because people are ingrates, we didn't get it, so he sent us John the Baptist to tell us that Jesus was on his way. Then Jesus came, but because we're ingrates, most of us didn't get it. God will adopt those who did get it.

Sudden transition back to John, who tries to tell people that Mosaic law is not enough, we also need grace and truth (v. 17). The priests hear about John and send for him. He says he's not the Messiah. They ask him if he's Elijah. Nope. Well, who is he, then? I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness. God, I hope not. The Pharisees come along and ask why he baptizes people, if he's neither the Messiah nor one of the prophets. John says he only uses water and Jesus is on his way. The next day, Jesus himself shows up and asks to be baptised. Several miracles happen.

As Jesus is leaving, John says Behold the Lamb of God! (v. 36). A couple of his disciples hear this and follow after Jesus to ask where he lives. He invites them over for coffee. One of them is called Andrew, who is Simon Peter's brother. He goes to find his brother and tells him he's found the Messiah. Simon Peter comes along and obtains a third name, Cephas, which means stone. Next Jesus goes and finds Philip, who in turn finds Nathanael, who hilariously asks, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? (v. 46) But he comes along anyway. Jesus recognises him, and Nathanael asks how. Jesus says he saw him under a fig tree. Nathanael is impressed. Jesus tells him he ain't seen nothing yet.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Luke, Chapter 24: The end is upon us

The scene at the tomb. Again, if you're actually interested in all the inconsistencies between Luke and Matthew, plenty of places do it much more justice than I ever could. Even funnier is the respons of some Christians, which is often to say, 'Stop writing a whole new gospel dammit! I already did.'

Anyway, in this version, the various women arrive at the tomb early in the morning after the Sabbath and find it open and empty. Two angels appear and remind them what Jesus said about resurrection. They run off to tell the apostles. Most of them don't believe them, and go about their day. Peter is the one exception: he runs over, sees the shroud, and wonders what's next. Cleopas and another one start off for Emmaus. On the way, Jesus accosts them, but they don't recognise him because god fools them. Right. This is definitely Jesus, whom they've seen nearly every day for years, and they would totally recognise him normally, it's just that god doesn't want them to see it! It makes perfect sense! Jesus asks why they look so sad. They fill him in on the recent events in Jerusalem. Jesus calls them fools.

When they arrive, Jesus makes like he's going to continue on, but they ask him to stay and eat with them. As he passes the bread basket around, they suddenly recognise him, at which point he vanishes. They run back to Jerusalem and find the other apostles. As they're recounting their day, Jesus pops up again in their midst and says hello. I guess this is where the expression 'Scare the bejesus out of someone' comes from. Jesus acts nonchalant, inviting them to touch him and kick him to prove he's flesh and bones. Then he asks for food, and all they can come up with is a bit of broiled fish and a honeycomb. Yech. Then he says this was all to fulfill a prophecy and does some magic trick to make them understand the scriptures in the correct way. I'm guessing it involves beer. They certainly don't share it with us. He tells them that now it's up to them to spread the word, but to stick around in Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high. (v. 49) So the very next thing he does is take them to Bethany, where he disappears again. The apostles go into the temple to preach. The end.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Luke, Chapter 23: Corporate team-building exercises

Jesus is taken to Pilate and accused of not paying his taxes and calling himself King. Pilate asks him if he's the king, and he says Thou sayest it. (v. 3) Pilate, not wanting to be disturbed by this intra-tribal spat, says he can't see what Jesus has done wrong, but when he hears he's from Galilee, sends him off to Herod, who happens to be in town.

Herod, who has been excited to meet Jesus for some time in hopes of seeing a miracle, proceeds to question Jesus, but doesn't get much in return. Eventually he gets bored, dresses Jesus up, and sends him back to Pilate. This somehow becomes a bonding exercise between two exasperated managers who really don't care.

Pilate still can't find anything to fault Jesus with and announces he's going to welease him, as is the Passover custom. The priests suggest Barrabas instead. Pilate is reluctant and asks if they're sure they wouldn't rather set Jesus free, but the priests are adamant that it has to be Barrabas. They make someone called Simon carry the cross. As they're walking a crowd gathers with women wailing. Jesus tells them to calm down, they're not getting nailed to a cross today, and besides, pretty soon it will be the end of the world and it will be better not to have had kids.

After a time they arrive at Cavalry and Jesus is hung up on his cross while the soldiers gamble for his clothes. And the people stand around mocking him and hanging a sign up over his head that reads THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS (v. 38) and challenging him to save himself if he's god, because people suck. Even one of his fellow executees get in on the act, mocking him and calling him names, but the other maintains that Jesus is innocent. Jesus promises him he can come to heaven with him.

After a couple of extraordinary events: a solar eclipse, the veil in the temple ripping, Jesus dies. One of the centurions converts to Christianity. Some of his followers are watching and one of them, Joseph of Arimathaea, convinces Pilate to give him Jesus' body, which he puts in a tomb on his property. The women follow and prepare spices for the body, which they don't apply because it's the Sabbath and that would be work.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Luke, Chapter 22: Trial and Error

It's Passover, and the priests are trying to find a way to kill Jesus without upsetting the public. Conveniently, Satan chooses that moment to possess John Malkovitch Judas Iscariot, who makes a deal with the priests to give them Jesus when there's no one around.

Now, if you want to nitpick all the contradictions that will appear in the next three chapters between Luke and Matthew, I suggest you start with one of my personal heroes Bart D. Ehrman. I'm not going to discuss them unless I can snark on them. Anyway, the first contradiction is that the ball gets rolling on the day before Passover, when the bread and sacrifices have to be made. But what about way back in Leviticus when we're told that you have to eat your thanksgiving sacrifices on the day? It's not explained.

Anyway, Jesus sends Peter and John off to find a place to have their seder. They ask how they'll know which is the right place. Jesus rolls his eyes and tells them to look for the guy with the pitcher of water, who will lead them to a large, airy room with enough space for all of them. He will not explain why they can only sit on one side of the table.

Of course as soon as they sit down, Jesus starts into his Debbie Downer routine about how he's going to die that night and urging them to drink his wine and eat his bread, calling them his blood and his body and no doubt causing quite a few of them to throw up in their mouths a little.

He also tells them that his betrayer is at the table, and they are curious about that, but really more interested in squabbling about which of them is the greatest. Which is what you would expect when you put a group of men together and give them wine and a big meal. We should only be thankful that they cut out the uh, manhood comparisons that no doubt also happened. Jesus quickly lays the smackdown on them, telling them the youngest will be the ruler of them all. He also promises each of them a tribe of Israel to judge. Even Judas? So confusing!

Next, he starts telling them secrets about themselves. Satan was especially keen to have Simon, and Jesus prays that he won't be tempted. Simon promises not to be. Then he informs Peter that he'll deny him three times before the cock crows. That's another contradiction with Matthew, BTW, for those who are playing along. Also, aren't Simon and Peter the same person? I don't know anymore.

Then he starts talking about their proselytising mission from earlier. Did they lack for anything, despite their lack of shoes or money? Nothing. But now he wants them to do something weird: if they don't have any cash, they're to sell their robes for swords, because this will somehow make a prophecy come true. The disciples, not keen to sell their cloaks in the Jerusalem spring, where it can still freeze at night, manage to muster up two swords. Jesus says that will suffice.

No doubt without doing the dishes after their free meal, our company heads back up the Mount of Olives. Jesus stops somewhere to pray, asking god to take away his suffering, but promising to do whatever god chooses. An angel comes along to comfort him, but it only makes the praying more fervent, until he's swaying back and forth so hard that huge droplets of sweat are flying off him. When he gets up, the disciples have fallen asleep. He rouses them, by which time a crowd led by Judas has appeared. Judas comes up and gives him a kiss. An ear gets cut off. Jesus reattaches it. He asks the priests why they've come at him with swords drawn now, in the dark, when they've been so nice to him at the temple. They don't answer, they just cuff him and take him to the priest's house.

Peter follows behind and huddles with a crowd around a fire. A few of them recognise him, but he denies Jesus three times. At the exact moment that he utters the third denial, the cock crows. Jesus looks at him and he runs outside to cry. Inside, they beat Jesus and blindfold him and hit him again and tell him to say who did it. They also ask him some questions about his claims, but he refuses to answer. So they decide to end the trial and take him off to Biggus Dickus Pilate.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Luke, Chapter 21: No good times in the end times

Jesus sees some fancy rich people making their tithes and a poor widow donating 2 cents. He says the widow is better than the proto-Romney because her contribution is an actual sacrifice.

Trying to change the subject, someone comments on the lavish riches that have been put into the temple. Jesus continues to be scornful, saying that it will all be gone sooner rather than later. Well, there is still a wall but alright.

Then he starts talking doomsday: famine, earthquakes, false Christs, persecution. But not to worry! They'll be fine. Pregnant or nursing women? Not so much.

Jesus promises to return on a cloud. The signs will be like spring, when the leaves start to bud on the trees. All this is supposed to happen within the Apostles' lifetimes, even though the Gospel of Luke is widely accepted as having been written between 75 and 100 AD, or at least 40 years after all this supposedly happened, when, first century sanitation and medical care being what it was, they would all have been dead already. Nonetheless! They should all prepare by being abstemious, lest this prophecy come to pass while they're in a drunken state of depression.

That night he goes up to sleep on the Mount of Olives and comes back down in the morning to pray some more.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Luke, Chapter 20: Tabloid Fodder

As Jesus is teaching in the temple, the priests set the wheels of their conspiracy in motion. First, they ask him under whose authority he's teaching. Jesus counters with a riddle of his own: was John the Baptist's authority human or divine? The elders put their heads together and conclude that if they say it was human, the people will stone them, but if they say divine, he'll ask why they didn't believe him. So they don't answer the question and neither does Jesus.

Turning away from the time-wasting nincompoops, Jesus starts to tell a story about a rich man who decides to rent his farm out and go on holiday. Why are these stories always about rich people? Are they like our tabloid magazines? Did people back then want to fantasize about being rich, just like now? Anyway, the rich man sends a rent collector after the harvest, who is beaten by the tenants. A second, then a third collector meet the same fate. Next, he sends his son, believing him beloved by the tenants. Not so much, as they kill him. Finally, the man comes back in person and kills all the tenants and finds new ones. The disciples are rightfully horrified, so Jesus retorts What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner? (v. 20) Then he threatens to either drop people or have them dropped on the stone.

That lovely little parable finally prompts the priestly decision to arrest Jesus, but they hesitate at first because he's so popular. They send out spies to find evidence of blasphemy.

First they ask if they should pay their taxes. For the record, the answer is yes, no matter what a Republican presidential candidate tells you, you should pay your taxes. Then the Sadducees ask what will happen to a woman who marries seven brothers and is widowed seven times: whose bride will she be in heaven? Answer, in heaven you won't have to hold aspirin between your knees because there won't be any sex. This stops all the questions, but Jesus has a question of his own: why do people say the Messiah will be one of David's great-great-great grandkids, when David himself calls the Messiah Lord? Finally he warns the people to be wary of vain priests who cheat people out of their property, because they will be punished.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Luke, Chapter 19: Equus

Jesus comes to Jericho, where his number-one fan, a rich tax collector named Zacchaeus, is eager to meet him. But Zach is small and the crowd is big, so he climbs into a sycamore tree to see better. Jesus sees him up there and tells him to come down. He also invites himself to stay at Zach's house. The people see this and are shocked, not because Jesus is too cheap to pay for a hotel room, but because tax collectors are seen as the corrupt tools of the Roman occupation. It's hard to argue, given that the dude's rich.

But Zach is one of the good billionaires who gives away half his earnings to the poor. Jesus promises he's going to heaven.

The people have the crazy notion that the apocalypse is going to happen soon. To soothe them, Jesus tells a parable about a rich man who becomes even more wealthy when a relative dies abroad and leaves him his estate. So the rich man goes off to survey his domain and leaves his servants in charge, with 10 pounds for emergencies. As soon as he goes, his send word that they no longer intend to be ruled by him. Nonetheless, he is made king and eventually he comes back to see how his servants have put his money to work.

The first servant has managed to decuple his pound into 10 pounds. The lord makes him mayor of 10 cities. The second has managed to quintuple his money, and is given 5 cities. But the third has kept his pound tied up in a napkin. He digs himself even further into a hole by explaining that the master is a hard man who reaps what he doesn't sow. The master admits as much and says if the servant knew that, why didn't he at least put the money in the bank, where it might have earned some usury (v. 23). He orders the pound given to the guy with 10 pounds, and says unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him (v. 26) and then But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me. (v. 27) Which is just about the only thing this year's Republican presidential candidates have not had to promise yet.

Jesus walks on, eventually reaching the Mount of Olives. He sends one of the disciples off in search of a tree with a colt tied to it. If anyone asks, they're stealing the colt because Jesus needs it. Handily enough, the colt's owners do see them, but are oddly cool with people running off with their horse and claiming it's for a divine purpose. When they get back with the horse, they throw their garments over the horse's back, and everybody else throws their clothes down in front of the animal. Remember that Jesus has told people that they can only have one outfit, so what this must have been is a group of naked, singing people throwing their clothes down so a horse can walk over them. Though one suspects that this is just another day in Jerusalem.

The Pharisees try to get him to be reasonable, saying if they're going to run around naked throwing their clothes under a horse, at least do it quietly so they can get some work done, but Jesus says if the people shut up, the stones will start singing, turning this into even more of a Monty Python sketch than it already is. When Jesus sees the city, he starts to cry about how they wouldn't listen to reason and no he has no choice but to unleash armageddon. Then he arrives at the temple and starts throwing all the merchants out and starts preaching instead. The senior priests are mighty ticked off and start plotting against him.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Luke, Chapter 18: Activist judges are heaven-sent

A godless, liberal activist judge is being bothered by a woman who wants vengeance against her enemies. He puts her off for awhile, but finally decides that it's easier to settle her dispute than to have her coming to bother him every day. Jesus informs us that this illustrates that god will always come through for his followers in the end, so just sit tight, yours is coming.

Then he tells a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector who go into a temple to pray. The Pharisee thanks god for not making him a tax collector, and reminds him that he fasts and tithes. The tax collector just hangs his head in shame and asks forgiveness. Only one goes to heaven.

Because the people can't leave him alone for even one second while he tells his repetitive, nonsensical stories, someone thrusts a baby in his face and asks him for faith healing. The disciples want to hear the end, so they rebuke the woman, but Jesus repeats his line about Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God (v. 16).

Now a rich man in the crowd pipes up to ask how he can get into heaven. Follow the commandments. He already does that. Sell all your possessions and follow Christ. The guy likes the following part, but not the selling. Jesus repeats that it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God (v. 25) but the guy isn't sold.

This piques the crowd's interest, and they ask how they can get into heaven. Peter points out that they've already left their families, but Jesus insists that Christianity is their family now and promises them all eternal life in heaven.

Jesus decides that they've tarried long enough and it's now time to get to Jerusalem so the scourging and mocking and dying can get going and he can be resurrected. As they're passing Jericho, a blind man hears them and asks who they are. When someone explains, he asks for faith healing. The others, anxious to get their bloodbath on, tell him to shut up, but Jesus agrees to restore his sight, so he joins their little band of merry men.