The Curmudgeon


Sunday, July 08, 2018

Bad Theology

Text for today: Matthew 9 ix-xiii

Jesus recruits a tax collector and dines at his house, where they are joined by other pariahs. The Pharisees ask the disciples why their teacher dines with sinners, and Jesus replies that, just as the sick and not the healthy require a physician, He has come to call sinners and not the righteous.

Although superficially sensible, Jesus' words are at best disingenuous. Since by His reckoning none save God is good (Mark 10 xviii), He cannot have believed that any human being was righteous, and He certainly did not believe it of the Pharisees. Throughout His ministry, Jesus specified belief in Himself as the sole prerequisite for salvation, and He repeatedly proclaimed that all who failed to hear Him would be condemned and damned; therefore, no matter to whom He preached, He would have been addressing sinners.

In any case, Jesus held earthly virtues generally in very low regard: the parable of the prodigal son makes clear that a lifetime of work in God's service counts for little in the kingdom of heaven, particularly when compared with a life of degradation followed by humiliating penitence and submission. His choice of tax collectors and other social outcasts for His ministry was dictated less by medicinal considerations than by psychological ones: people of degraded and humiliated social stature would be more easily led by promises of heavenly reward for themselves and eternal torment for their persecutors.

Rebuked by the Pharisees, Jesus quotes Hosea 6 vi: I desired mercy and not sacrifice. Since Jesus eventually gave Himself up as a blood offering, He cannot have had much objection to sacrifice in principle; nor is the appeal to mercy very convincing from someone whose ministry, from beginning to end, consisted almost entirely of genocidal threats. Indeed, the context of Hosea's words is a series of denunciations and threats against breakers of the covenant: the phrase which Jesus quotes is immediately preceded by the sanguinary boast I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgement goes forth as the light. It is is as common for génocidaires and their operatives to proclaim their frustrated desire for peace as it is for them to justify their crimes in terms of sterilisation, amputation and other medical procedures. Clearly, God is no exception.


  • At 6:53 pm , Anonymous Brian M said...

    This is awesome stuff, Philip! Kudos!

  • At 11:38 pm , Blogger Philip said...

    Thanks. I'm beginning to wonder if my sermons are to blame for our little local heatwave, either as a sample of approaching hellfire or a buildup to my inevitable demise by divine lightning-strike.


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