Monday, October 27, 2014

God's QC 10.8: Jesus And The 99%

Here I continue my thoughts on the question whether Jesus can be regarded as a compassionate figure, moving now to his attitude toward the needy. Naturally, most of what we can learn on this topic will be found in his teachings. But in this video, I'll take a few moments to consider the backdrop for those teachings. Specifically, the circumstances into which he is born, and the lifestyle he chooses as an adult. Let's have a look:

The bible tells us that the infant Jesus has to sleep in a barnyard feeding trough. This is frequently taken as a sign that he is born into poverty, but that is to ignore some important details of the story. For example, it isn't because they are poor that Jesus sleeps in a manger. It is because there are no available guest rooms. Even if this were to suggest that they couldn't afford a room, soon after the child is born, Magi from Herod arrive with expensive gifts, including gold.

But there is a good reason that the biblical nativity stories don't say that Joseph and Mary are poor: they're not. Consider how much traveling they do. Before Mary leaves her father's house to live with Joseph, she visits her cousin Elizabeth in Judea, to celebrate the news that Mary will give birth to the Messiah. Although Christian tradition makes this an eight-day round trip, the bible isn't specific. But it does seem that the journey can't be fewer than four days. It's unsafe to go alone, so she must join other travelers, or bring her own companions. Food and other supplies must be drawn from a household surplus, or they must be purchased along the way.

These same conditions apply later, when Joseph and the heavily pregnant Mary travel four days from Nazareth to Bethlehem. With their new child, they head back to Nazareth via an indefinite stopover in Egypt. Given that Egypt is a good 200 miles in the wrong direction, that's a full month away from home, even if they were to stay for only one night. But apparently they spend some time there, awaiting the death of Herod. It seems unlikely for the average Joseph to walk into a foreign town and immediately find work. Either manna falls to them from heaven, or the family has respectable material reserves available. We also find that they make the customary pilgrimage to Jerusalem every year--a round trip of eight days.

It must seem to Mary that every time they make the trip, it is with one more child than the time before, as she bears at least six more after Jesus. But having so many mouths to feed does not seem to drive the family into poverty. Consider: it is in Capernaum that Mary and her other sons attempt to take Jesus home for fear that he has lost his mind. This is the second time we find his family making the three-day trip from Nazareth to Capernaum and back. Or perhaps the first time was just a reconnaissance mission in preparation for completely uprooting their lives to move to Capernaum. Also note that Jesus begins his ministry with a fast lasting 40 days. Voluntary fasting is a luxury; 40 days of it extremely so, enough to suggest that he is reasonably well fed in general.

Jesus and his pals are shown quite a bit of hospitality over the course of their ministry. To keep up their strength between extravagant feasts, the well-to-do Mary of Bethany and "many other" women provide material support for his entire horde. And Jesus had the extravagance part worked out in advance: a "great banquet" for him and a large crowd of tax collectors is hosted by none other than homeboy Matthew. Maybe Jesus doesn't suck at choosing disciples after all. The wedding reception at which he converts water to wine is a gala affair attended by servants. Soirees are held at the homes of a couple of different Pharisees, but these are humbler affairs, servants not included. Passing through Jericho, Jesus invites himself to stay at the house of Zacchaeus, a very wealthy chief tax collector. The Last Supper, secretly prearranged by Jesus, takes place in a home with a furnished upstairs guest room large enough to accommodate 13 men.

Jesus is born into comfortable circumstances. He chooses friends from comfortable circumstances, some lavishly so. He loves being wined, dined, and put up in cozy accommodations, and he's not shy about demanding it. This is the backdrop. The stage is set for Jesus to demonstrate his attitude toward the needy.

That's 10.8. Thanks for watching.

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