Printed from http://tektonics.org/sloang02.php
Recently, a certain Skeptic claimed to have "scored a journalistic coup" when Jesus "hitched a ride" with him somewhere in Louisiana. Allegedly, he sought to interview Jesus about current political issues.
The immediate problem here was that, as a reader specializing in the social world of the New Testament, I knew >many of these "answers" given by the Skeptic's "Jesus" were way out of line. So out of line, in fact, that if it were analogized to an archer shooting an arrow at a bullseye, they would have had a split with no spare.
Knowing this, I immediately activated my Chronic Displacer and arrived in the first century in Palestine to check things out.
I found Jesus engaging in some riposte with the local Pharisees. I waited until he was finished, respectfully following the code of honor that a stranger in his land would have to observe. Of course we had met once before when I needed an opinion about the latest Mel Gibson flick; so after his discourse with the Pharisees was finished, he gladly met with me.
I decided it would be best to keep things objective by not mentioning the Skeptic's alleged interview with him in the 21st century -- for now. Instead I asked him the same questions the Skeptic did to see what would come up.
"Should," I asked, "the rich be heavily taxed?"
"Taxed?" he replied. No -- the rich should willingly give of their largesse. A good patron -- like my supporter Mary Magdalene -- gives freely as a matter of honor. It is done from client to patron. Why would anyone want Rome redistributing wealth?"
"But," I said, "you once said not to 'lay up treasures here below. One can't serve God and mammon.' "
Jesus held out his hands in an ancient Oriental gesture of supplication. "True. And a patron who gives freely is not serving his mammon, at least, and not laying up treasures here -- unless their goal is to accumulate honor among men, which is just another treasure."
I tried the next question. "Won't stringent taxation of the wealthy weaken the economy?"
Jesus cocked his head slightly to one side. "Economy? Young man, Rome has enough spears to take what it wants from weaker people. I don't understand your point."
That seemed a loss. I tried the next question. "What can the wealthy do to avoid exorbitant taxes?"
"Avoid taxes? What do you want them to do, live in the woods? Not with Rome at hand to -- "
But you told the rich young ruler, "Sell all you have and distribute the proceeds to the poor."
"Young man, I told him that because wealth was a grave hindrance to his entry into the Kingdom. Since you know my career, remember that I did not give such advice to other wealthy persons -- Zaccheus, Nicodemus, or even Mary Magdalene, for that matter. Not all have problems with the temptation wealth causes. It is as I said, if your right eye or right hand keeps you from going to heaven -- "
"Yes, kurios, I recall. It's just that some people take that advice to the young man as though it were universal and not to one person. Just like they think you literally mean to pluck an eye out."
Jesus frowned. "You must have a lot of strange people in your time."
I shrugged and decided to try the next question. "Should entitlement programs be expanded?"
Jesus stroked his beard. "What's an entitlement program?"
I thought for a moment. There were none to speak of as yet; Rome would soon provide "bread and circuses" but that wasn't exactly like our welfare system. "I mean, should the government give out money to people and should they be entitled to a bare subsistence at the government's behest?"
Jesus looked stunned for a moment. "Your government does this? What are all your patrons doing who should be doing this?"
"We have no patrons, sir."
Jesus gave me the ancient equivalent to a shrug. "I feel sorry for you."
"But didn't you say, 'Give to everyone who begs from you, and of him who takes away your goods do not ask for them again'?
"That doesn't sound quite right. I think you're misunderstanding my teaching about borrowing."
I realized that he was right: "Begs" didn't really capture the meaning properly; what had to be kept in mind was that the ancient world, unlike ours in America, was collectivist in orientation -- people shared goods in common, for the common good. It didn't mean anything like what the Skeptic figured.
I then asked, "Should the Pentagon budget be increased?"
"How do you increase a 'budget' to a shape?"
"Excuse me. I mean miliatry budgets."
Jesus threw his hands up. "You're asking me? Does your military need more money for a just cause? Why do you ask?"
"Well, you did say, "To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other." It seems that some people from my time say that means pacifism.
Jesus shook his head in annoyance. "The strike to the right cheek is done with the back of the hand; it's a personal insult. It doesn't have anything to do with the relationships between nations. Who is asking these questions and using my words so?"
"Well, sir -- I'll tell you, but can I finish asking first?"
Jesus set his lips together tightly. He seemed inclined to conclude the interview but finally consented with a wave of his hand.
I looked at the next question in my crib notes. It was asking, "Should the U.S. have invaded Iraq?" I realized I couldn't easily contextualize the two countries and their relationship, so I asked instead, "When you said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, the meek, the merciful," does that not stand against war?"
Jesus looked at me aghast. "The meaning of a 'peacemaker' is one who brings order, stability, and what "s necessary for a meaningful human existence -- even if that means war. 'Meekness' means gentleness, but gentleness coupled with non-violence that is followed not because of any revulsion to violence, but because the meek person can use violence but has enough confidence and ability not to threaten or challenge others. It is someone whose opponent is unworthy or too weak -- in other words, not strong enough or right enough for you to bother with. It says nothing about going to war against an enemy that overpowers you or someone else."
I realized someone needed to read The Handbook of Biblical Social Values, all right. "And 'merciful'?" I pressed.
"That means, young man, blessed are those who pay their debts of personal obligation. What does this have to do with war?"
I shrugged too. "You can ask them sometime. I'm sure you will. Now let me switch gears -- Should politicians get tough on criminals?"
Jesus looked at me as though I had asked him to hold a rabid weasel. "You don't think leaded whips and crucifixions are tough enough as is?"
"No, kurios, it's just that some in my time say you were against the death penalty when you said, Let those without sin cast the first stone."
"That's untrue. As you well know, Rome holds capital power. Those who brought me that woman were attempting to trap me: If I had said, 'yes, stone her' they would have reported me to Rome for encouraging violation of their laws. If I had said, 'no, don't' they would have spread the word that I didn't agree with our Jewish Law. So as you know, I threw their trap back into their teeth -- if one of them was perfect, they were obviously able to solve their own dilemma."
I checked the next question. "What about convicted terrorists? How should they be treated?"
Jesus frowned, seemed to concentrate for a moment as though consulting some invisible source. "What we will call the Sicarii will not be around for at least another 15 years, and then not by that name yet. They will deserve what Rome gives them."
So what of those who say you said, 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you'?
Jesus sighed. "The same as before. That is for interpersonal relationships, not relations among nations. Besides, remember that agape love seeks the greater good for the whole. Those who use terror harm the greater number of persons; true love will punish such people for the love of the whole. And of course you can obviously pray for them even as you punish them."
I thought this one might be hard. "How important are family values?"
"Well, we are a collectivist bunch, and family is our core ingroup."
But some say you left your own family early on..."
Jesus shook his head. "They're assuming too much. I did not leave them. They disowned me when I went on my unpopular mission. Remember how my brothers reacted when it was time to go to the feast. At that point it was clear that they were treating me as an outsider. But you will notice I was at home with them at the time."
The next question was, "Should Social Security be a concern for the present generation of U.S. citizens?" That would be hard to contextualize, so I put it this way: "Do you think we should be concerned about provision in our old age? Some point out that you said, 'Do not be anxious about tomorrow. For tomorrow will be anxious for itself.'"
"A very poor use of my words, as you know. Our lifespan today is only about 35. We believe that all goods are limited and supply has already been distributed -- which, until your Industrial Age, they practically will be. That is why our sages today -- such as that fellow Seneca, who is a toddler just now -- speak of the dangers of wealth as they do. We don't have your banks or credit unions available; our holdings will literally rust out from under us. In light of the passing nature of wealth and life in our world, our sages -- not just me -- advise people to be generous with their holdings and use them before they decay. Social Security as such may make sense in your time, but not today when almost the entire population will be dead before they reach 35. Anyone who gets beyond that, though, will today rely on their social ingroup. I take it your government handles this now?"
I nodded. He went on, "Besides, notice that I was saying not that one should not plan for the future, but that one should not worry about the future -- which I think your silly person would agree with, since worrying simply takes up valuable time that could be used for planning. And of course, in such circumstances as ours here, present-time orientation is the usual value-preference, because present-survival needs cannot be taken for granted. Matters of the remote future are indeed of no concern, because any plans you lay could be confounded."
"Different issue now. You don't have abortions and stem-cell research now so our critic figured you'd have no opinion on it."
"I'm sure he can figure out some part of it from the Judaism of my day. Abortion at this time is considered abominable."
"How about for same-sex marriages?"
"You know as well that in our day, Judaism considers homosexuality abominable."
"How about this: Do you favor separation of church and state? You did say, Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God what is God's."
Jesus chuckled and shook his head. "I suppose your questioner is unaware that our main political body is a religious one -- the Sanhedrin -- and that Caesar himself is associated with the imperial cult of Rome. There is NO separation of church and state here, young man. That statement was, if you want to put it that way, separation of 'church' -- our state religion -- from 'church' -- their state religion."
I saw I had to contexualize again. "Do you think leaders should attend prayer breakfasts?" You have been noted as saying, Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them.."
"Is that why they go to these meals? Just to be seen?"
I shrugged. "I don't know for sure. Some day that's why they go."
"Then yes, they shouldn't go. But I don't see why that would stop a man with a sincere devotion and love of community."
I contextualized the next as well. "Is military experience an asset to a political leader?"
Jesus nodded. "It has been, of course. Look at Julius Caesar. Look at Vespasian and..." He paused for a moment, as though checking something with an unknown source. "...and Titus, and Hadrian."
I was about to note what he said about blessed are the meek again, but knew from his prior answer that the Skeptic had been erring on the context again. I figured to best not to waste Jesus' time, so I went to this question: "In leadership elections, should character be an issue?"
By now Jesus knew the drill. "I would say so. What quote of mine did they use to the contrary?"
"Oh, they have you agreeing, and note that you said, Woe to him whom all men speak well of."
"I did say something similar: Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets. What's the relevance to the issue of character in leaders?"
I didn't know either, so I shrugged in the Oriental fashion and went on. "What do you think of partisan politics?"
"Well, obviously we have our partisan groups -- Sadducees, Pharisees, and my own ingroup which I set against these others at certain points. Why?"
I hesitated to reply, seeing that this was where Jesus' words had been most misused. "They have you say, 'A politician sees the speck in his opponent's eye, but does not notice the log in his own..."
Jesus slapped his forehead in a way that I would have sworn was like Homer Simpson. "Oh, come now! Hypocrites are in every part of life, I am sure even in your day. I did not address politicians alone."
"And what of, 'A kingdom divided against itself is laid waste?'"
"How are they using that? If their point is to speak against partisanism, I would remind this person that by my reckoning, the likes of the Pharisees are not part of the same kingdom as I am."
I was on the last one, so I asked it and bid Jesus farewell. "You would never run for high office, right?"
On that last one, Jesus had, at last, to laugh aloud. "Why would I ever need to? In your time, I am enthroned in Heaven and rule the universe as the broker of my Father's Kingdom. What is to 'run' for? I am a king, as you know -- and that's monarchy, not republican democracy!"
I thanked Jesus for his time, bowed graciously, and returned to my Chronic Displacer. It had indeed be a most revealing interview. The critic had certainly made his comments and put words in Jesus' mouth in a way of one clearly unfamiliar with how to interpret Jesus' words.
And with that, I had some spare time, so I went to see Pope Leo X for a story about that 'fable' quote.