Wednesday, July 7, 2010

305: The Tax Collector

Luke 19-20
"So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, 'Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.' So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly." - Luke 19:4-6

The chapter starts with a strange story that isn't told in any of the other gospels. Jesus is passing through Jericho. In Jericho there is a tax collector that really wants to see Jesus (for some reason), but he's too short so he can't see over the crowd. The only solution, obviously, is to climb a tree. After he's climbed the tree, Jesus somehow sneaks up on him and tells him (by name) to come down from the tree because he wants to stay at his house. This is one of those "so stupid it's funny" moments.

This transitions into the same old story about Jesus eating dinner with tax collectors. The tax collector goes on to say that he gives half his possessions to the poor, and pays back four times the things he steals from people. Jesus then says the tax collector is saved. That's it? The guy is still rich even though he gives away half his things. Isn't he supposed to be poor before he can be saved? Not to mention the fact that he does steal things. Giving back four times what you've stolen doesn't exonerate you from your crime.

Next is a morphed version of the parable of the talents (from Matthew). This time, it's minas (~50 shekels, says google) instead of talents (~3000 shekels). This time the main character of the parable is a king, instead of a man going on a journey. This time there are 10 servants instead of 3. And this time all the servants are given 10 mina, instead of the three servants being given progressively less. You may wonder why, then, I think they're the same story. It's because the parable plays out almost exactly the same.

The king goes on a journey and, like I said, gives all 10 servants 10 mina each. When the king returns, he only talks to three of his ten servants (sounding familiar?). Of the three servants he talks to, they have each earned progressively less return on the king's investment (sounding even more familiar). The first gained 10 minas (on top of the 10 he was given), the second gained 5, and the final servant gains nothing. The king immediately orders that the man that earned nothing have his 10 minas taken away and given to the man that earned 10 (exactly as in Matthew). The moral is also the same, those who have more will be given more, and those who have less will have everything taken away. I'm still not sure if God/Jesus is saying this is a good thing or not.

We're then back to Jesus stealing a colt (or more accurately, he tells his lackeys to do it). This time the servants are confronted by the owners of the colt. The owners ask why they are taking the colt. The disciples obediently respond by saying "the Lord needs it". The bible switches directly to the disciples bringing the colt to Jesus. What happened? What did the owner say in response? We'll never know. I guess speaking to the owner directly makes it all ok in Luke's mind. They still took the colt without asking (which still fits my definition of stealing).

As Jesus enters Jerusalem, his followers praise him. The Pharisees tell Jesus to shut the people up, and Jesus asserts that if they are quiet the rocks will cry out. I wasn't aware that Jesus had a large number of stone followers. I guess they're big fans.

Jesus doesn't do any table flipping when he gets to the temple. He just drives the people out. Luke is again remiss in giving us any details.

At the beginning of chapter 20 Jesus is asked (again) by who's authority he performs his acts. This turns out just like the other gospels (with Jesus avoiding the question). I don't get it. Why is he shy all the sudden? He seems to tell everyone else that he does his miracles with the authority of God. And he's obviously not afraid of being executed.

The other three parables are similar accounts of parables we've already heard: The parable of the tenants (minus the servants being killed), paying taxes to Caesar (because money has Caesar's face on it), and Jesus being the son of God (instead of the son of David).

Jesus is the son of God, of course, because of some obscure reference to David saying something in the Old Testament. This somehow means that David calls Jesus "Lord", therefore couldn't possibly be his father. Even if David had directly said that Jesus was the Lord, I'm not sure how that would affect his paternity.

Billy Graham never fails to spout fundie illogic:
The Bible is actually a library of books, written by different people over many centuries. They believed God's Spirit was guiding them as they wrote, and that He was the real author. Over time, their books were brought together to form our Bible, because people were convinced they were indeed the Word of God. The Bible says, "Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21).
What if people hadn't been convinced? Would that affect the truth/untruth of the bible being written by God? I hear this argument in a different context all the time. "90% of Americans are Christians. QED: Christianity must be true because everyone thinks it is." Thinking it's true doesn't make it so.
The real question, however, is this: Why did God give us the Bible? The main reason was so we could know him -- not just know some facts about him, but come to know him personally. One of the Bible's major themes is God's love for us -- and the proof is that he came down to earth in the person of his son, Jesus Christ, to bring us back to himself.
I constantly wonder if I've somehow mistakenly read the wrong bible. What is this "theme of love" that you speak of? God's "love" was mentioned only a few times in the Old Testament, between him killing off large portions of the population and saying how much he abhors people that break the sabbath law. I certainly wouldn't call that a "theme of love". In the New Testament so far, Jesus (the evidence of God's love) has come and told us that we should hate ourselves and our family in exchange for everlasting happiness. He's also called the disciples/foreigners derogatory names, that's far from "I love you guys, dad loves you too". Where's the love?
I invite you to discover the Bible for yourself. Begin with one of the Gospels (such as John), asking God to speak to you and show you its truth. When you do, you'll not only discover that God loves you, but you'll find the new direction you seek by giving your life to Jesus Christ.
Right, pick a book and take it out of context. Isn't that what I'm rudely told not to do every time I quote anything from the bible? I guess taking a book of the bible out of context is ok when you're trying to give someone a dishonest good impression. But try to give someone a perfectly honest bad impression of even the smallest bit of the bible and you're a dirty heathen.

This is your Wednesday public service announcement: Don't start the bible from the middle. Read it honestly and (at least) start from the beginning of the New Testament. And if you're a sadist, start from the beginning of the Old Testament. That torture is surely worse than whips and chains.

1 comment:

  1. Luke 19:2. The name Zaccheus comes from an Aramaic name meaning "to give alms." Another character who has a name that conveniently represents his (or her) function in the story.

    Luke 19:11. First of all, note that Luke appears to be saying that the people were expecting the Kingdom of God to come soon, but that Jesus attempted to disabuse them of this notion. More evidence that Luke was writing at a very late time, when apocalyptic expectations had receded among Xians. It's not clear what the parable has to do with this expectation, either, but then, in Matthew 25, it follows the parable of the ten virgins, which is concerned with a delay in the Parousia, and is introduced with the word "again," implying that the theme was the same.

    Luke 19:14,27. Why did Luke add this bit about some people not wanting the man to be king? Who do these people represent? Is this another dig at the Jews? It really has no connection to the rest of the parable? And executing people who were opposed to him becoming king (how does one get "appointed" king, anyway? appointed by whom? the Lady of the Lake?) is exactly the kind of excessive punishment that we've come to expect from the Biblical God.



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