Monday, June 14, 2010

282: Who is the Greatest of Them All?

Matthew 18-19
"At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: 'I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." - Matthew 18:1-4

Jesus starts the day by saying that you have to be like a child to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. If anyone ever tells you to "grow up" just tell them that you're trying to become great in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus goes on to say that whoever welcomes a child in Jesus's name, welcomes Jesus himself. But if anyone causes a child who believes in Jesus to sin, they would be better off drowning themselves.

Jesus then says woe to the things that cause people to sin. But at the same time he says that those things must come, and woe to the people through which these sinful things come. So these sinful things must come into the world, but we have to punish those through which they come. How do you get chosen to be the unlucky sin deliverer? Jesus again repeats the idea that you should cut off your hands and gouge out your eyes if they are causing you to sin.

Next is a parable about a lost sheep. Jesus says that if you lose one out of a hundred sheep, you will leave ninety nine behind and search for the one you've lost. When you find that one sheep you will be more happy about that sheep than the other ninety nine you left behind. Jesus says it's the same way with God. So no matter how good you are, God is always happier when a non-believer is converted than he will ever be with you. Nice guy.

Jesus goes on to give us a long process on what we are supposed to do for a brother who sins against us. First we are to approach him alone. If he doesn't listen, we should grab a few friends and try to convince him of his wrongdoing. If he still doesn't listen, then we are supposed to inform the church. Finally, if he doesn't listen to the church, then you are supposed to treat him like a pagan or a tax collector. And how are we supposed to treat them, Jesus? Aren't we supposed to love everyone, even pagans and tax collectors?

[edit: I missed an important paragraph here. Jesus says that if any two people on earth agree to something, then it will be done by God in heaven. Excuse me? What if two people agree to kill someone else? Jesus says that God will do anything, no qualifiers. Jesus goes on to say that where two or three come together in Jesus's name, Jesus will be there. What was that about locking yourself in your room, alone, to pray? Jesus says if you're praying alone, he's not there.]

In the last section of the chapter, Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother when he sins. Peter suggests forgiving him seven times. Jesus says not to forgive him seven times, but seventy seven times. Could this number be any more arbitrary?

The last parable of this chapter is about an unmerciful servant. The servant owes the king ten thousand talents (however much that is). The king orders that he sells his wife and children to pay his debts. The man begs the king not to make him do this, but have patience with him. The king relents and allows the man and his wife and kids to go. As soon as the man leaves he goes to someone who owes him money and demands that he be repaid. When the second debtor can't repay the first debtor he has him locked up. The king is infuriated when he hears how his mercy was not passed along and has the debtor locked up. This parable seems incredibly familiar. It seems like this was a story from the Old Testament. I'll give you a million internet points if you can figure out where this story is in the Old Testament (keep in mind that I could be sending you on a wild goose chase).

In the beginning of the next chapter, Jesus again talks about divorce (uh oh, he's starting to repeat himself). The Pharisees ask if it's lawful to divorce someone, to test if Jesus has the right answers. Jesus repeats that it is not lawful, except for the case of the wife being unfaithful. The Pharisees say, "Why then, did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?". Good point, considering Jesus isn't supposed to be changing the laws of the prophets. Jesus says that Moses only did this because the Israelites' hearts were hard, but it was not that way from the beginning. Are the Israelites' hearts less hard now? Regardless, the Pharisees' point still stands. Jesus continually contradicts his original assertion that he's not here to change the laws of the prophets.

The next section is about Jesus touching little children. Jesus says "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these". Then he "places his hands on them". I'm not going to imply anything here. But I think if some thirty year old creepy dude wanted to "lay his hands" on your kids, you'd be more than a little hesitant.

A man comes up to Jesus and asks what he needs to do to have eternal life. Jesus tells the man to follow the commandments. When the man asks which commandments he has to follow, Jesus says "Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself." That's it? What about not being gay, or not working on the sabbath, or worshiping God, or following Jesus (I'm probably leaving out hundreds of other commandments that the Old Testament demands you follow)?

The man says that he has done all these things, and asks Jesus if there is anything else. Jesus tells him to sell all of his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow him. When the man hears this he is terribly sad, because he is very wealthy. Jesus then says the famous "it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." What does someone's richness have to do with how good they are? Sometimes being rich gives you unique ways to help people (see Bill Gates).

Jesus's disciples are disappointed and ask how it is possible for any man to get into heaven. Jesus says what with man it's impossible, but with God all things are possible. Yes, especially when God is holding the keys to the kingdom of God.

What's the best way to stop oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico? Some people say we should do nothing pray.
Pray for Our Coast is urging people to pray from 10 am to 2pm everyday for “the healing of the land”. Blaming and shaming they say won’t resolve a thing.
People are praying for four hours a day?! It turns out no, the website this article links to says that they are praying at 10am and 2pm for one minute each. The telephone game is at work. Whether it's 2 minutes or four hours, contending that "blaming and shaming" does less than praying is just silly.

"Blaming and shaming" BP means that if they don't work harder to fix this problem, they will lose more money. What if we hadn't blamed BP at all? Would they even be doing anything? What does BP (as a corporation) care about killing animals?

If praying makes you feel better, then fine. But how often has God come down and plugged an oil leak, or helped clean oil soaked birds? As a side note, every prayer is a test of Jesus's assertion that anything asked for in his name will be given to you. Keep in mind that even one unanswered prayer would be enough to disprove this hypothesis. All these people seem to be doing by praying twice a day is proving that Jesus is full of shit.

I can think of no more relevant saying than "Two hands working are better than a thousand clasped in prayer". And blame and shame is just what BP needs to get their hands working.


  1. Matt 18:17: "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector."
    First of all, what church? There were no churches in Jesus' day. Another saying retrojected back into Jesus' day. Next, we have here yet another example of Jesus denigrating Gentiles (=pagans, back then). Finally, according to Matthew so far, Jesus frequently cavorts with tax collectors, having dinner with them regularly, so is that how you should treat a sinner who won't change his ways?

    Matt 18:18: "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
    We have so much control over heaven, that events down here strictly control those up there? God and the angels don't have any latitude?

    Matt 18:19: "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven."
    So why hasn't all this praying for the oil spill to stop worked yet? For that matter, what happens if at least 2 people on each side of a conflict (or sporting match) ask for God's or Jesus' help?

    Matt 18:23-32. Once again, Jesus is implicitly endorsing the idea of master/servant relationships. Selling someone's wife and children into slavery to pay off a debt is also not condemned here.

    Note this line in particular: Matt 18:34-35: "In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."
    First of all, God is going to "torture" those who do not forgive?! What is torturing someone who is already dead going to accomplish? Is this how God shows mercy? And how is the servant going to be able to pay back the large debt if he is locked up in prison being tortured? (Note that it the parable says that he owes the king millions of dollars but is owed by the other servant only a few bucks.)

    Matt 19:9. Now it is the husband who commits adultery if he gets a divorce and remarries. So (almost) everyone has been covered, and at least this makes sense this time.

    Bryan, how could you miss the following (Matt 19:11-12)?

    11 Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage [have made themselves eunuchs] because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."

    So Jesus is recommending that his followers should castrate themselves!

    Matt 19:13-15. Did Jesus give the little children "Jesus juice" before he "placed his hands on them"?

    Matt 19:16-17: '16 Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"

    17 "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments." '

    The man didn't ask what is good, he asked what good thing he must do. Also, what does the "only One who is good" have to do with the question or answer? What we have here is another example of Matthew altering Mark's wording to get around the embarrassing implications of the earlier Gospel. Matthew removed the assertion the Jesus is not Good, at the cost of introducing some non sequiturs.

    Matt 19:21. It goes without saying that not only do we not see many Xtians gauging out their eyes or castrating themselves, but we don't see many selling all their possessions and donating all the proceeds to the poor either.

  2. Bryan,
    Just b/c Jesus says that if 2 or 3 come together in his name, then he is there with them, doesn't necessarily mean that he won't answer prayers of only a single solitary individual. For that matter, why specify "2 or 3"? What if there are 4 people?

  3. I see your point, but why mention 2 or 3 if 1 is sufficient.

  4. I agree. But then why mention 3 if 2 is sufficient unless 4 or more is too many?

  5. Matt 18:4 This verse wants followers to become like children, ie so they can be easily ordered about and readily manipulated.

    Matt 18:6&7 says that woe (whatever that entails) will come to anyone who offends those who have made themselves as the child. I've often wondered why so many religious people are so easily offended when they find out that I think differently from them. I don't expect them to agree with me and they are welcome to argue with my thoughts, but why "offended"?



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