The Curmudgeon


Sunday, April 01, 2018

Bad Theology

Text for today: The Seven Last Words

Luke 23 xxxiv
Jesus asks His Father to forgive those who crucify Him, on the grounds that they do not know what they are doing. Since Jesus Himself has the power to forgive sins, why does He call on His notoriously vengeful and murderous Father to forgive His executioners? Even at this late stage of His career, Jesus evidently lacked confidence in His personal ability to forgive non-Jews; and with good reason, since even with Jews His record of forgiveness is ambiguous. There is, for example, no indication that He ever forgave Judas Iscariot, and He certainly did not forgive anyone at all, even the populations of entire cities, for the irremediable sin of failing to hear Him preach. The Roman occupiers presumably did not hear Him either, but their ignorance provides a pretext for the Saviour's forgiveness rather than for His more usual recipe of outer darkness, wailing and gnashing of teeth, and eventual annihilation. That Jesus desires the Romans to be forgiven at all indicates that He foresaw the later importance of Rome in spreading His blood-cult throughout the world; thus His words are essentially a political expedient, an advance recognition, perhaps not entirely untinged with envy, of the far more influential ministry of Paul.

Luke 23 xxxix-xliii
One of the criminals crucified with Jesus asks for a miracle to save them and Himself; the other acknowledges the virtue of Roman justice while admitting the occasional mishap, and asks that Jesus remember him when He achieves His kingdom. Two other Gospels contradict this account, claiming that both criminals reviled Jesus (Matthew 27 xliv and Mark 15 xxxii); but as theologians we are fortunately not subject to the whims of majority rule. The criminal who proclaims that Jesus has done nothing wrong makes an avowal of faith, in ignorance or defiance of the Saviour's well-documented sins of pride, wrath and (thought and deed being equal in His philosophy; see Matthew 5 xxviii) torture and genocide. In return Jesus promises Paradise for the criminal, thus emphasising once again His central message that righteousness before the law counts for little or nothing next to repentance and unquestioning faith in Him.

John 19 xxvi-xxvii
Jesus bequeaths His mother to His favourite disciple. Given that Jesus rejected conventional family ties and, as the Son of a jealous god, was intensely jealous of the love of His disciples (Luke 14 xxvi), there can be no question of the disciple being charged with the mere worldly care of His mother in her old age. Far from such materialistic and mundane concerns, Jesus is testing the beloved disciple's devotion, which will presumably be measured by the disciple's hating the adoptive mother as if she were his own. Since the relationship has been imposed from above, this constitutes a somewhat easier test of faith than the one God imposed on Abraham (Genesis 22 i-ii) and thus, relatively speaking, a fulfilment of the Saviour's promise of a light yoke and an easy burden. Happily, there is no reason to believe that the disciple failed the test: the Gospel states that he took the mother into his home, but not that he refrained from hating her.

Matthew 27 xlvi, Mark 15 xxxiv
Jesus is quoted in Aramaic as crying out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Either He suffered a crisis of faith and belatedly realised the true nature of His Father's sense of humour, or else He was quoting the first line of the Twenty-Second Psalm in order to fulfil what He retrospectively deemed a prophecy. On the latter reading, Jesus presumably did not suffer a genuine crisis of faith, but merely went through the motions for the benefit of later scholars; which is certainly a comfort for the theologian.

John 19 xxviii-xxx
In His last extremity Jesus admits to the worldly appetite for water, rather than for fire and the holy spirit. This is one of the few signs of modesty He ever showed; and His next utterance, "It is accomplished", indicates that He may at last have achieved peace with Himself, having finally acknowledged His own flawed and physical being.

Luke 23 xlvi
Jesus commits His spirit into the hands of His Father: the pendant to His cry about being forsaken, and equally ambiguous. Either Jesus is speaking with His accustomed arrogance, taking for granted that the heavenly tyrant will recognise and receive Him at court; or else He is driven by pain and despair to the bleak conclusion that He has no better hope than this cruel, punitive and arbitrary parent.

Matthew 27 l
Jesus, having cried out again with a loud voice, gives up His spirit. It is a matter for debate whether this final cry is one of the utterances noted above, or simply an inarticulate yell. In view of the tentative flickers of insight, noted above, into His own and His Father's true nature, a further possibility is that Jesus shouted something even more theologically problematical than lama sabachthani, the substance of which has been spared us thanks to the mercy of the Evangelists and the generations of their transcribers and editors.


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