Sunday October 9, 2022
Could Jesus have been wrong? This is not a hypothetical question. It bears strongly on how we can – or should, or might – respond to a variety of current controversies.
Could Jesus be wrong? The mind boggles. Christian faith worldwide is founded on the conviction that Jesus must have been right, regardless.
After all, he represents God among us.
To suggest that Jesus could have been wrong – about anything – implies that God could also be wrong. We entertain that possibility only when we wonder why God created mosquitos.
Those difficult parables
Now, there are certainly things that Jesus said and did that stretch our credulity. Walking on water, for example. I’ve tried it. It doesn’t work. But we rationalize away that experimental failure, by arguing either that it’s a skill limited to the divine, or that it proves our lack of faith.
But then there are those troublesome parables.
Such as, for those with socialist leanings, the parable of the three managers. The boss went away, and trusted his investments to three managers, or “Stewards.” Two of them took risks and increased the owners’ assets. He called them “good and faithful servants.
The third – knowing that the boss had cut some corners accumulating those assets – tucked his share away in a nice safe bank account. And got fired for it.
The parable seems to endorse rampant capitalism.
Or, conversely, the parable of the workers in the vineyard. In the morning, the owner hired some workers at an agreed wage. During the day, he hired more, at the same wage. Just before closing, he hired a few more.
And then he paid them all the same amount, even though some had worked much longer and harder than others.
What’s the point of busting your butt all day in the hot sun, if some lazy Johnny-come-lately gets the same income as you?
Some would see that as rampant socialism.
So we rationalize this parable by saying that it’s not about earthly wages at all, but about your reward in heaven. There is no partial heaven; it’s all or nothing. Sp the same reward applies to everyone, including last-minute converts..
But what do you do with the parable of the dishonest manager (Luke 16)? He’s caught cheating his boss. Before his boss can fires him, .he cooks the books; he makes under-the-counter gifts to his friends.
And Jesus praises this crook for his foresight, for setting up relationships he can count on later.
Again, we find ways of sanitizing this un-palatable message. Until Donald Trump acts it out. While he still had power, he appointed judges – dozens, perhaps hundreds – who shared his political prejudices.
Now they’re all indebted to him.
So when he gets into legal troubles – over, say, taking classified documents with him when he left the White House – his lawyers can count on getting the case heard by judges who owe Trump a favour. Or two. Or more\
So one Trump appointee grants Trump’s request for an impartial Special Master to review the documents.
Another Trump appointee overrules the Special Master’s decisions.
If Trump ever gets hauled into court, I expect his lawyers will cite a biblical precedent for his actions.
Questioning ancient authorities
Would Jesus himself approve of Trump’s machinations? Based on that parable, he would.
Personally, I find Trump so loathsome that I would rather believe Jesus was wrong than believe that Jesus would endorse his tactics.
But that raises the terrifying prospect that we – fallible human beings, burdened with our own biases and preconceptions – might have to discern when God-among-us was right, and when he was wrong.
And if he could be wrong, could Mohammed, or Baha’u’llah, or Guru Nanak Singh, also have been wrong?
In recent weeks, Iran has doubled down on Mohammed’s command that women must cover their heads in public. Women could “let their hair down” only in private, only for their husbands.
To yield to worldwide protests, the ayatollahs would have to declare that Mohammed might not have been right. That a rule to protect women in a licentious time might not apply 14 centuries later.
Untouchable beliefs go beyond religious matters. It seems to me, for example, that every economic policy takes endless growth for granted. How does any nation find the courage to deviate from this “obvious truth”?
Similarly, Hockey Canada’s executives seem fixated on the belief that winning on the ice excuses criminal acts off the ice.
In the U.S., in Iran, in Canada, belief questions are far from hypothetical.
Copyright © 2022 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
To send comments, to subscribe, or to unsubscribe, write email@example.com
Thoughtful mail about last week’s column, on the apology that launched other apologies.
Ralph Milton: “I was there too. Your description of the event is right on. My memory is that Bob went into the tent with them, where I assumed he read the apology to them. And he did come out to say that it had been received, but not yet accepted.
“Thanks for writing that.”
Louise Burton: “This year I heard a new term being used in speeches -- Truth and Reconciliaction - I think trying to move everyone beyond just words.
“I took part in the walk and events at the Splatsin Centre in Enderby. The lovely weather encouraged a really good turnout of people and the organisers did a good job of presenting the information about their own people. ...And they fed us, which was a bonus.”
Isabel Gibson: “Thanks for this memory. We do have a ways to go, but I think we're going, even if not steadily.”
Paul Irwin: “Happy that you brought back to memory and recorded this momentous event in our United Church’s past. I belong to a post-Christian community named Ruah that makes every effort to be attuned to Canada’s aboriginal people and to decolonialize our thinking and behaviour as we are able.”
Tom Watson: “My daughter was a volunteer at Youth Forum at that 1986 General Council meeting in Sudbury. She still recalls it as a very moving experience.”
Vera Gottlieb: “There is \ no way that the white Christian race will ever honestly and sincerely be able to apologize (and really mean it) for all it has inflicted on other races -- and continues to do so today. With ‘Killer Kapitalism’ rampaging. the chances of justice and equality are turning into mirages.”
Steve Roney: “Your description of what happened at the Sudbury Council in 1986 confirms my contention that ‘decision by consensus’ is a euphemism for dictatorship. Spontaneous consensus is not real. It is necessarily, as here, the imposition of the will of one individual on the group.”
Don Gunning: “Wonderful, timely recollection of Bob Smith's ground-breaking Apology.I forwarded it to him.
We became close friends during 18 years on The Coast, at St. John's. I'm sure he is appreciative of your inspiring respectful words.”
And from Bob Smith himself: “My friend Don Gunning forwarded your column about The Apology, and Ellen and I are grateful to both of you. It made our day to hear you tell the story which had been so important in our lives.”
If you want to comment on something, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or just hit the ‘Reply’ button.
To subscribe or unsubscribe, send me an e-mail message at the address above. Or subscribe electronically by sending a blank e-mail (no message) to email@example.com. Similarly, you can un-subscribe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can now access current columns and seven years of archives at http://quixotic.ca
I write a second column each Wednesday, called Soft Edges, which deals somewhat more gently with issues of life and faith. To sign up for Soft Edges, write to me directly at the address above, or send a blank e-mail to email@example.com
And for those of you who like poetry, please check my webpage .https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetry If you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blank email (no message) to email@example.com (If the link won’t work, please let me know.)
To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think some of these links are spam.)
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures. Her Thanksgiving presentation on the old hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, Is, well, beautiful -- https://www.traditionaliconoclast.com/2019/10/13/for/
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)
ALVA WOOD ARCHIVE
The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns