Hearty Heresy

It’s Not Easy Being a Heretic
March 13, 2007, 11:20 am
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Heresy, Jesus, Religion, Theology

Sure, they don’t burn us at the stake anymore. But the one-size-fits-all version of Xianity still leaves little room for free thinkers. What’s worse, there are plenty of secular folks who think that Jesus is a figment of Paul’s imagination and that heretics should bail out of the religion game altogether. The more I search internet, however, the more self-proclaimed heretics I find. And that’s good news, literally. Remember, both Jesus and his Good News were considered heretical back in the day.

So here’ s another passage from Wink’s essay is Yes! magazine. As you may recall, I’m claiming that this is the heart of Jesus’ gospel: nonviolent resistence to evil.

Jesus’ second example deals with indebtedness, the most onerous social problem in first century Palestine. The wealthy of the Empire sought ways to avoid taxes. The best way was to buy land on the fringes of the Empire. But the poor didn’t want to sell. So the rich jacked up interest rates—25 to 250 percent. When the poor couldn’t repay, first their moveable property was seized, then their lands, and finally the very clothes on their backs. Scripture allowed the destitute to sleep in their long robes, but they had to surrender them by day (Deuteronomy 24:10-13).

It is to that situation that Jesus speaks. Look, he says, you can’t win when they take you to court. But here is something you can do: when they demand your outer garment, give your undergarment as well. That was all they wore. The poor man is stark naked! And in Israel, nakedness brought shame, not on the naked party, but on the one viewing his nakedness. (See the story of Noah, Genesis 9.) Jesus is not asking those already defrauded of their possessions to submit to further indignity. He is enjoining them to guerrilla theater.

Imagine the debtor walking out of the court in his altogethers. To the question what happened, he responds, That creditor got all my clothes. People come pouring out of the streets and alleys and join the little procession to his home. It will be a while before creditors in that village take a poor man to court! But, of course, the Powers That Be are shrewd, and within weeks new laws will be in place making nakedness in court punishable by fines or incarceration. So the poor need to keep inventing new forms of resistance. Jesus is advocating a kind of Aikido, where the momentum of the oppressor is used to throw the oppressor and make him the laughing stock of the community. Jesus is not averse to using shame to kindle a moral sense in the creditor.

“Jesus is not asking those already defrauded of their possessions to submit to further indignity. He is enjoining them to guerrilla theater.” Now those are the actions of a prophet worthy of the name. Remember, Jesus started his prophetic ministry (according to Luke) by referencing his Isaiah. And once again, one need not be “fully human/fully divine” in order to encourage others to stand up for their rights. It’s what King and Gandhi did, too. Thank God we don’t have people trying to claim divine status for them as well!


7 Comments so far
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Neither Ghandi or King claimed divine status, but Jesus did. In fact, MLK may never have become MLK had not the fully divine and yet fully human Christ been a tremendous part of his life. There is, perhaps, a message of nonviolence in the Gospels, but I hesitate to see that as the “lens” through which the gospels should be analyzed. For example, there are far more commands to “repent and be baptized” or to “repent because the Kingdom is near” than there are commands of nonviolence. Again, as you have stated in some of our previous dialog, you are willing to subjectively choose the passages from the Gospels that fit your own view of who Jesus should have been and how he should be interpreted. I just can’t get away from the fact that the canon must be considered as a whole if we are to discover from it the full picture of God and his intentions for us. Of course, the trend in the media and in more conservantive Christian circles has also been to excerpt only the material we like. Thus, having removed text from context we can make Jesus say whatever we want him to say. By the way, glad to catch a post, HH. I haven’t glanced at one in a couple of weeks. How have you been praticing nonviolent protesting as of late?

Comment by j4jesus

Good to hear from you, Jason. I was thinking about your “A Cross in Baghdad” post when I was reading Wink’s essay. I couldn’t help but wonder if a 21st century Jesus in Iraq might not have been whisked off to Guantanamo or secreted away in Europe as part of the CIA’s rendition policy. Just a thought. As you know, I don’t believe that Jesus made any extraordinary claims about himself–those are part of the accepted canon orthodox Xians put into place to exclude heretics. Which is why I keep them at a respectful distance. As far as my own practice of nonviolent resistance, as an enlightened oppressor, my lot is to work for the liberation of others using the tools I have at my command. Consider Danny Duncan Collum’s recent column in Sojourners. He says “Someday, if the earth survives our petroleum binge, people may look back at archived editions of early 21st-century consumer catalogs and think…, ‘It’s amazing what you can afford when you don’t have to pay for the labor.’ Of course, our slaves are mostly in China, but the distance only makes us more vulnerable to the corruption of our unearned loot.”

Comment by heartyheretic

The claims to divinity may have been recorded later than the calls to subordination to evil, but this is not evidence that the former are fabrications and the latter are accurate. I’m sort of with j4j on this one. We don’t need to take the canon as a whole, but we should at least look at each gospel or epistle as the unit it was intended to be. Jesus seminar types (who divide the gospels into authentic and nonauthentic parts based on their modern prejudices )take liberties with intellectual honesty just as much those Christians who find just war theory in the New Testament.

Comment by ganes

HH, Raymond Brown, a famous New Testament Scholar from Union Theological Seminary in New York, once noted that if Jesus were to return today he would be crucified all over again and it would probably be the Christian Church that would drive the nails. If you aren’t familiar with Brown, you might really be interested in a couple of little works he wrote; one in particular called ‘A Crucified Christ in Holy Week.” It is a collection of essays on the passion narratives as contained in each of the four gospels. There are two others: one on the birth narratives and one on the resurrection narratives. I agree that one does have to push hard to find just war in New Testament. At the same time, we do have to deal with Jesus’ admonition that the coming of his kingdom would bring deep division. I don’t think this is a sanction for Christians to go to war, but it is a reminder that Jesus’ message is a defining sort of thing for the world to be dealing with.

Comment by j4jesus

I would love to take the time someday to look at each gospel and epistle (including Paul’s of course) in the NT and thoroughly understand it using the latest scholarship…but that’s not in the cards at the moment. Raymond Brown sounds intriguing. I’ll check him out. And yes, bringing about the Reign of God does bring deep division. I think that’s what Gandhi’s and King’s actions proved.

Comment by heartyheretic

Yeah. Jesus brought a sword of division. He turns parents against their children and allies into enemies. But from Jesus’ actions and the testimony of New Testament authors, I think it is fairly clear that Jesus’ bringing of a sword is to be understood in the same way as YHWH’s use of evil Babylon as his tool (in Habakuk and Isaiah). Division is the result of divine interaction with sinners. Strictly speaking it is the sinner who causes division and God who often brings it to the surface (shines light). I believe that reconciliation and love are God’s ends. Any division is the consequence of someone’s sinful response to this love (and God’s subsequent refusal to compromise his love).

Comment by ganes

I see it less as bringing a sword and more as bringing already exisiting injustice into sharp relief, which can feel like a sword to those who haven’t entered into the kingdom: oppressors, folks trying to maintain the status quo (parents, priests, etc.). The division is in our relationships with one another, not between God and ourselves (in my heretical opinion).

Comment by heartyheretic

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