The Curmudgeon


Sunday, December 16, 2018

Bad Theology

Text for today: Matthew 10 xvi-xxiii

Having selected twelve apostles to spread His message, Jesus instructs them to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. He warns that they will be prosecuted and punished, but enjoins them not to worry about what to say because they will not be speaking: the spirit of their Father will speak through them. When faced with danger, He instructs them to flee their persecutors and go on to the next town, and He assures them that they will not have reached every town in Israel before the coming of the Son of Man.

The question inevitably arises why Jesus selected men of this quality as His apostles. He wishes them to be as wise as serpents, yet they cannot understand the simplest parables by which He expounds the doctrine He expects them to spread. Small wonder that neither He nor His Father can trust the apostles to speak for themselves, and that soon after the Saviour's ascension He essentially abandoned them in favour of a rabid little Tarsus tentmaker. Brute economics would dictate that as long as God must preach His own gospel an empty vessel makes the best megaphone; but undoubtedly Jesus had an ulterior purpose too. Thanks to His double tactic of flattering the disciples' wisdom and power while taking every opportunity to show up their stupidity and faithlessness, Jesus appeals to the arrogance of posterity. He flatters the intelligence of future disciples who believe they can follow His words: comparing themselves to the dull-witted and uncomprehending apostles, such people will feel superior to His original chosen and hence a fortiori among the elect.

Jesus predicts that His coming will occur before everyone in Israel has heard His teachings. Presumably their zeal for righteousness blinds the apostles to the implications of this statement in light of the fate which the Saviour and His Father have in store for anyone who fails to hear the gospel: far from yearning to save the world, it seems Jesus does not even care to save all the towns in Israel. Fortunately for His reputation, the statement is clearly a deliberate lie: most authorities agree that the Second Coming did not in fact occur before the apostles had reached every town in Israel, and Jesus as the Son of God must have known that it would not. Jesus merely intended to keep the apostles in good spirits by assuring them of their power to consign an entire community to eternal fire simply by keeping away from it for long enough.


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