Wednesday, June 16, 2010

284: The Greatest Commandment

Matthew 22-23
" 'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?' Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' " - Matthew 22:36-37

The first parable of the day is about a man that invites a bunch of people to his son's wedding banquet. When he sends his servants out to tell the people to come to the banquet, the invitees kill the servants. Maybe the man should have spent a little more time considering who he was going to invite.

When the man hears about this he kills all of the people that killed his servants, and instead invites everyone to the banquet. The man then runs around throwing out all the bad people he just invited. This is, of course, meant to imply that God is going to throw out the Israelites and invite everyone into his good graces. Then go around throwing out the bad people.

Next, people approach Jesus and ask if they have to pay the unfair taxes. I'm not sure why they're worried about this, considering Jesus told them to give all their money to the poor. Jesus asks to see the coin used to pay the taxes, and when he sees Caesar's portrait he says, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's".

The Sadducees then ask Jesus a question about the end of days (where everyone will supposedly be resurrected). They say that when a man dies, his brother is supposed to marry the widow. Following this logic, they ask who's wife the widow will be when both husbands are resurrected.

Jesus says they are wrong because they do not know the scriptures (he doesn't mention where their logic when wrong). He says that when everyone is resurrected nobody will be married to anyone (where does the scripture say this?). Jesus then says that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. What? God stops being God when you die?

Jesus goes on to tell the crowd what the greatest commandment is. He says that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart. Why, then, did he fail to mention this commandment when he was listing the commandments you need to follow to get into heaven? It's somehow the greatest commandment but you don't actually need to follow it to get into heaven?

Jesus then asks the Pharisees who's son the "Christ" is. They reply that he is the son of David. I'm not sure how they know this. Jesus then asks them how it is that David (speaking "by the spirit" whatever that means) calls him "Lord". Jesus contends that if he were David's son, he would never call him "Lord". Wait a minute. Didn't Matthew just spend almost an entire chapter trying to convince us that Jesus is the son of David? Isn't Jesus completely contradicting himself here?

At the end of the chapter, everyone is so terrified at Jesus's response that they don't dare ask him any more questions.

For the entirety of chapter 23, Jesus chastises the Pharisees for their many hypocrisies. Unfortunately, Jesus is starting to repeat himself. There's really not too many new things in this chapter.

The only thing mildly original (albeit mostly irrelevant) is Jesus's condemnation of what the Pharisees swear on. Jesus says that the Pharisees swear on what is on the altar, instead of the altar itself. He asks which is greater, the altar itself, or what is on the altar. He says, therefore that anyone who swears on the altar also swears on whatever is on it. I thought we weren't supposed to be swearing on anything.

Is being open to the existence of aliens irrational, or even a religion? These questions have been brought up as a result of new findings on Titan, one of Saturn's moons:
New findings have roused a great deal of hoopla over the possibility of life on Saturn's moon Titan, which some news reports have further hyped up as hints of extraterrestrials.

...All this excitement is rooted in analyses of chemical data returned by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. One study suggested that hydrogen was flowing down through Titan's atmosphere and disappearing at the surface. Astrobiologist Chris McKay at NASA's Ames Research Center speculated that this could be a tantalizing hint that hydrogen is getting consumed by life.
I agree that this is an interesting revelation. However, I am as skeptical as the astrobiologist at NASA is. According to the writer of this article, many people are less than skeptical:
"Suggested..." "speculated..." "could be..." "tantalizing hint..." And based on these incredibly weak pegs I guarantee you there is a plethora of folks out there hoping, praying that there are Methane Messiahs on Titan just waiting for the moment to offer us salvation from our many sins, including political, environmental, and budgetary sins.
What? Even if there does turn out to be life on Titan (which is still very unlikely) it would probably be microbial life. I don't think anyone is even considering intelligent life, much less a "Methane Messiah".
Think I'm kidding? Then try this experiment. Go up to a friend and say something like the following:

"I just don't think there is any other intelligent life in the universe based on the fact we have been searching for signals in the cosmos for decades with absolutely no results."

I guarantee you will get a much angrier reaction than if you had denied the existence of a Supreme Being. In fact the most famous atheist of them all, Richard Dawkins, is quoted as saying, "Life could conceivably have been seeded on Earth by an alien intelligence from another planet." So despite the fact Dawkins fervently denies the existence of God, the idea of "Space Messiahs" bringing life to our planet is entirely within the realm of possibility according to Mr. Atheist.
This guy obviously hasn't lived in the bible belt. Either that or he's never actually bothered to deny the existence of a supreme being. If he had, he'd realize that at least a small percentage of Christians freak out if you even imply there is no God. While on the other hand, I've never heard of a Christian (or anyone from any other religion) that had terribly strong feelings about the existence of alien life.

What would make alien life more unlikely than a deity? Would alien life be inconsistent with reality? I would certainly consider an all powerful, all good deity inconsistent with the pain and suffering that exists.


  1. Matt 22:1-14. Matthew has made some more alterations to this Q parable than Luke did, who preserves a more primitive version (cf. Luke 14:16-24). What's notable about Matthew's changes are that he has (1) changed the man to a king (still representing God, but now more "appropriately"), (2) added the fact that the banquet was for the king's son (representing Jesus), (3) stated that the servants were killed (the slaying of the Jewish prophets, or perhaps the Christian apostles), (4) stated that the city of the murderers was destroyed (alluding to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE by the Romans), and (5) grafted on that part about "many are invited, but few are chosen," as illustrated by the man with no wedding clothes being thrown into the darkness, where there will be, in one of Matthew's favorite sayings, "weeping and gnashing of teeth."

    One odd thing to note is that the destruction of Jerusalem is attributed to the slaying of the "servants" rather than the Son, which is what we would expect by a Christian. This is in keeping with the fact that Q has no notion of Jesus' death, but it is curious that Matthew didn't change this (especially since Luke's version has no mention of the slaying of the servants at all, which would normally lead one to conclude that Matthew had invented it). Perhaps he is drawing on an earlier source that was written when the Christians were still attributing the destruction of Jerusalem to the death of James the Just.

    Matt 22:11-12 is rather strange - in his effort to change the point he was making, from the idea that God's favor would pass from the Jews to the Gentiles to that that not everyone called would be rewarded (typical sectarian thinking, found throughout the Gospels), Matthew has this poor man being brutally (and excessively) punished for not wearing wedding clothes, even though it says (in Matt 22:10) that the servants were ordered to gather random people off the streets, who could hardly have been expected to be prepared for a wedding feast! Once again, God is depicted as an a-hole.

  2. Matt 22:18. Why does Jesus call the Pharisees hypocrites? (This seems to be one of Matthew's favorite words, which Jesus blurts out at every opportunity for no apparent reason.)

    Matt 22:34-40. Bryan, earlier (in Matt 19) when Jesus was asked what one must do to gain eternal life, he doesn't appear to have been giving a complete answer, as first he lists some commandments and then he says that the young man must also give all his possessions to the poor, so the commandments were obviously not sufficient. He was just testing the man because he knew that, being rich, he wouldn't be able to follow. Who knows, if the man donated everything he had to the poor, Jesus probably would've added more requirements.

    Matt 22:41-45. The Pharisees, and Christians such as Matthew, "knew" that the Christ was the son of David from OT prophesies. Matthew inherited this argument, to show that the Messiah could not have been the son of David, from Mark, who apparently didn't hold to this belief (as we'll see later, Mark says nothing about Jesus being from Bethlehem).

    Matt 23. Bryan, Jesus is "starting to repeat himself"? He's been doing it for chapters already.

    Matt 23:3 and 23:23. Note that Jesus is still advocating that one do everything that the Pharisees say one should do; his only objection seems to be that he doesn't think they are doing it themselves. Unlike other Christians, Matthew (and thus his Jesus) believes that one really must adhere to all the minutinae of the law.

    Matt 23:5-8. Another anachronism - "Rabbi" didn't become popular as a title among Jewish leaders in Galilee and Syria until the late 1st century. Note also that Jesus is referring to "the Christ" in the 3rd person - this clearly is a polemic by a later Christian. Another place where you can see that this is being written much later than Jesus' time is in Matt 23:34, where Jesus "predicts" that his followers will be flogged in synagogues and crucified.



Copyright © 2009, Page Info, Contact Me