Hearty Heresy

If I Owned a Fast Food Chain, I’d Print Isaiah 61:1,2 on My Cups
March 2, 2007, 5:16 am
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Heresy, Jesus, Religion, Spirituality, Theology

One of the things I’ve found as I continue my Lenten discipline of reading daily Stephen Mitchell’s pared down Gospel According to Jesus is that I definitely don’t agree with all of Mitchell’s choices. For example, he keeps Mark’s account of Jesus’ debut as a teacher in a synagogue:

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.

But he leaves out Luke’s fuller account, which I quoted in an earlier post about my friend Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley. I’ve always liked Luke’s version for the same reasons Marjorie did—it’s an example of Jesus saying in no uncertain terms what his mission was:

The Spirit of the Eternal is upon me, because he has ordained me and called me forth to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to all who are in bondage, to recover sight to the blind, to liberate all of the oppressed, and to proclaim Jubilee, the year of God’s freedom and restoration.

I’m sorry that Mitchell deletes this passage, because if it is Jesus’ mission statement (as Marjorie put it) we can use it to assess whether or not he made any progress toward his goals. (Brand Xians would hold up a different passage to measure Jesus’ success, John 3:16—all together now—“For GOD so LOVED the WORLD…” und so weider; Jesus came to die for our sins, he died on the cross, mission accomplished! Yay!) But if we choose (and that’s what heretics do—choose) not to accept at face value the teachings of the church and try, instead, to understand the teachings of the living Jesus, we find evidence that he made enormous progress toward his goals, progress that continues to this very day.

At the heart of Mitchell’s Gospel According to Jesus is a straightforward presentation of the Sermon on the Mount, and at the core of those teachings are Jesus’ words to the oppressed:

You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

According to theologian Walter Wink, “The examples Jesus gives are something more than nonresistance. They are gutsy, courageous, and aggressive.” And as I indicated before, it’s the teachings of this Jesus, the one who is “lovely, fiery, utterly brave…,” that I choose to follow. So, if you’ll bear with me, I’d like to take the next few posts to look at Wink’s interpretation of these teachings. I think they should say more to us than any number of In-N-Out Burger cups with John 3:16 printed on the inside of the bottom rim.


2 Comments so far
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He probably chose to leave it out based upon a the beliefs of a major branch of New Testament scholarship that tries to winnow the gospels down to the “authentic sayings” or original form. From what I can tell from the website, that’s what he’s doing, so he cannot necessarily pick the passages that he likes.

However, I can say with some amount of experience that picking passages based upon personal preference is largely what Jesus seminar/authentic gospel scholarship is about. This form of biblical criticism frequently assumes what Jesus must have said and then deletes those passages which do not corroborate.

If memory serves, the Luke form of the Nazareth sermon could not have been authentic because it borrows from Isaiah and cuts Isaiah short in a way that perfectly suits Luke’s purposes. And New Testament authors are to be distrusted whenever possible. Those authors believed in supernatural events which (of course) is evidence that they are less than trustworthy.

Of course Tillich and Borg and their followers will never explain why the supernatural is unbelievable. The premise is taken on faith.

Sorry if I ramble. But in determining “the authentic sayings and doings of Jesus” the author must use some standard other than aesthetics. Still, every interpretation of the New Testament (including this one and my own) boils down not to an approximation of truth but what the interpreter would like to believe.

Comment by ganes

I think you’re probably right about why Mitchell leaves out the passage from Luke. It is a little too convenient to have Jesus say exactly what Luke needs for his purpose. Mitchell does include many healings (including raising the synagogue leader’s daughter from the “dead”). I haven’t looked closely at the Jefferson Bible (Mitchell’s inspiration for his Gospel), but I do know that Jefferson kept it 100% miracle free. I personally think the Luke passage is a nice set up for what Walter Wink has to say about Jesus’ teachings on nonviolent action, which is why I missed it in Mitchell. Pick and choose.

Comment by heartyheretic

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