Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the "synoptic gospels" because they're so much alike in many ways that religious scholars -- including those of the big 'C' Church -- long ago concluded there was a lot of copying, plagiarism, if you will, by Mark and Luke of Matthew's rendition. The solemn truth is, no one knows as a certainty what Jesus actually did and said. But, without professing that absolute certainty, for the purposes of this discussion, we're going to stipulate that what he allegedly did and said is what he did and said.
All across America, in huge mega-churches and small gatherings in small villages, the words "He is risen" are so construed as truths that they are sufficient for celebration; the joyful sermons being orated and the festive hymns being sung mark the day as one of wide-swath gladness. Hosannas abound.
But I want to know: Where in all of this is the "love," that which Jesus is reputed to have been singularly concerned about, that of loving one's neighbor as oneself, that which is directed to the poor "among you"?
One can scrutinize the four gospels, along with a few sentences in the book of The Acts -- the only places in the entire Bible that contain what are supposedly his words -- and one will not encounter a single word indicating Jesus felt the first concern for the wealthy. Not a single word! Rather, his every sentiment relative to issues economic, was on behalf of the poor. For as he said, "The rich have their reward." Indeed, so irrelevant did he feel that those of fair comfort were to his mission that he said that the ONLY way those who would follow him could do so was 1.) to sell EVERYTHING [Not like clothing contributions to Catholic Charities or Good Will or the Salvation Army, where the items being donated are those one no longer has any use for, and for which a tax deduction is being sought]; 2.) donate the ENTIRETY of the proceeds to the POOR, and then, and only then 3.) follow him. Not much about singing hymns, clapping hands, praying, and just plain all 'round treating him like some modern day E! Hollywood celebrity. His is a tough act to follow and embrace: not for the faint of heart -- or conscience.
The way things have turned out, as contrasted with how they began, reminds me of Woody Allen's Stardust Memories. One scene in the film has Allen, who plays a film director, standing in line behind two self-anointed film critics. The critics are conversing over the deep "meaning" of one of Allen's films, much as they might over something from Ingmar Bergman. Allen, sotto voce to the audience, remarks something along the line, "That's not at all what I meant."
I read the gospels, read what Jesus supposedly said, then scan the present faiths, and I am forced to assume that Jesus would remark at least as did Woody Allen; probably much more vociferously. I read the gospels, read what Jesus supposedly said, then scan the present faiths, and I am forced to suppose he might be really, really pissed off.
An article in Saturday's New York Times described how, due to the economic morass we're in, states across the land are eviscerating or eliminating altogether programs specifically designed to assist those very folks Jesus spoke of, and, according to Christian faith, who comprised the population segment he was almost exclusively concerned about -- the poor, the destitute, and the children and the sick within that segment. In Arizona, the frail elderly are now without public-funded assistance that will help them bathe, help them get to a doctor. Ohio has slashed child-welfare services such that reports of child abuse will, in many, many cases, not be investigated. Kids suffering from autism and Down's syndrome are going without the necessary therapies. Illinois' budget proposes gutting educational assistance designed to counsel first-time indigent mothers on parenting skills.
An April 6 CBS 60 Minutes' first segment was entitled The Clinic is Closed. Although the focus was Las Vegas' University Medical Center's Nevada Cancer Institute, county hospitals, from the Atlantic to the Pacific are shutting down vital services, leaving the poor and those without health insurance absolutely nowhere to turn, and with nothing to look forward to except an early death. The Medical Center, last December 31st, announced it was no longer providing chemo-therapy (to anyone), nor accepting new outpatients.
Even if someone who's been recently laid off had employer-paid health insurance and has legal recourse to COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) rights, for all intents and purposes, the health insurance premiums are so well beyond what a laid-off person can afford that it's like having no insurance at all. That translates into having to fall back on county hospitals and the services they provide -- which more and more are no services -- or do without. Doing without, in many instances, is a death knell, especially for young children and for those with serious medical conditions, especially for those Jesus most often said he cared about more than any others.
But Republicans and blue dog Democrats have repeatedly exclaimed that their first priority is not to those Jesus cared about, but to a reining in of government spending now, most particularly now. Senator John McCain has gone so far as to claim it is "generational theft."
Remembering that Jesus was just a bit upset about the financial transactions occurring in the temple, if the "risen" Jesus were to be a guest, say on Meet the Press, is there anyone who will suggest he'd be more concerned about that "generational theft," than he would about the impoverished elderly, the sick, the children who are facing the most extraordinary of truly dire life-and-death circumstances?
Just because I'm an atheist doesn't mean that I do not genuinely admire the man from Nazareth. From what I know of the fellow, through my studies of him, I'm guessing he might wonder, as do I -- where's the love? I find it curious how loudly many Christians proudly thump their chests, while at the same time thumping Jesus on the head, as if he could have had a V8. However, although I find it curious, my best guess is that Jesus would be apoplectic. He was reported to have been basically a man of peace. But boy! when Jesus was ticked off, he also had an incredible temper.
Seeing what's going on today as I write this on Easter Sunday, the really stark contrast is between what Jesus was all about, and the true orientations of those attempting to identify themselves with him . . .