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Life Arts    H1'ed 9/1/19

Everyone Likes A Good Joke: Jesus Makes Fun of "Humble" Religious Hypocrites

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Readings for 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: SIR 3: 17-18, 20, 28-29; PS 68: 4-5, 6-7, 10-11; HEB 12: 18-19, 22-24A; LK 14: 1, 7-14.

[What follows is a dramatic re-creation of Luke's rather abstract account of Jesus' dinner at a Pharisee's home. (See the narrative here.) While Luke seems to have the Master recommending impossible (for Jesus) hypocrisy and self-promotion, the re-creation seems more probable and gets at Jesus' real message about the Kingdom of God and its preferential option for the poor. It's an example of how liberation theologians approach such narrative.]

In this morning's gospel, Jesus finds himself invited for dinner to the home of a Pharisee. All present, Luke tells us, are watching Jesus closely. No doubt, they're keeping an eye on his disciples too. And they don't approve.

After all, like Jesus, his disciples are mere riff-raff. But at least Jesus is the reputed peasant-rabbi. Everyone's talking about him. And investigating Jesus is the whole reason for this dinner. So for the moment at least, the Pharisees are willing to cut him some slack. He's sitting near his hosts towards the head of the table.

His hangers-on however are a different story. They're rough. They smell of fish and sweat, and have no manners. And yet, as Jesus' friends, they've been granted a place at table down towards the end. Even there, they feel out of place, but for that very reason they are enjoying themselves tremendously. You can imagine their rough jokes and loud laughter.

Yes, the Pharisees are watching Jesus and his friends. But obviously, Jesus has been watching them as well. He knows they are expecting some words of wisdom. So . . . he tells them a joke. And the joke's on them. It contains a sharp barb.

"Thanks for inviting us to this banquet," Jesus begins. "Unaccustomed as we are . . ." He pauses and smiles. "That's quite generous of you. After all, none of us can repay your kindness. We are homeless people, as you know. We're unemployed too, so we are in no position to return your kindness.

The best I can do is offer you some wisdom. So let me tell you what I've been observing here.

"Evidently," Jesus goes on, "it's your custom to adopt the humility recommended in the biblical Book of Sirach. I can't tell you how impressed I am; I'm edified by your piety. I mean, you have clearly taken to heart the words of the sage, Jesus ben Sirach what he said about being humble, especially if we are 'great' as all of you are here, I'm sure."

Jesus eyes his listeners. He can tell that they are waiting for the penny to drop. So he drops it.

"I can see that when you come into a place like this, you take the lowest place available -- down there where my friends are." With this, Jesus stands up bows his head, stoops his shoulders and slumps towards the lowest place at table. He laughs.

"That way," the Master continues, "our host, of course, is obliged to publicly invite you to a more honored position at table. 'Friend,' he'll say, 'come up higher, and sit in the place you've merited not down there with the unwashed and poor.'"

Now Jesus is standing. He throws out his chest and strides towards the seat right next to his pharisaical host. He chuckles again. "That enables you," Jesus continues," with great protestations of unworthiness, to take your 'rightful' place at table. Your stock has risen in everyone's eyes.

"So congratulations are in order," Jesus says. "All of you have learned your lessons well. You've just created a show, and have actually exalted yourself by pretending to be humble. In a sense, you've received your reward."

Jesus is seated again and looking intently at everyone. Their mouths are open with shock.

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Mike Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. Retired in 2014, he taught at Berea College in Kentucky for 40 years where he directed Berea's Peace and Social Justice Studies Program.Mike blogs (more...)
 

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Mike Rivage-Seul

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Reza Aslan (and Russell Brand too) is always worth listening to.

Submitted on Sunday, Sep 1, 2019 at 10:00:01 AM

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You glorify these words because you believe they belong to Jesus. I do not think they are extremely wise. Much more wisdom may come to people when they refuse to compare themselves with others. Why? Because the greatest benefits people can reach come from self-feeling and self-understanding, not from comparing with others.

Submitted on Sunday, Sep 1, 2019 at 6:58:52 PM

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I think you have a point that 'going inward' is vital. Self-integration and awareness is essential if we are to experience any substantial change on the globe.

But I also think you missed the point of the message here.

As to comparing ourselves to others: If you were dirty and hungry and had no pillow or safe place to pee, you just might notice 'the others" with stuffed grocery bags...and compare your life to theirs. How could you NOT?

Here is a brief but razor sharp commentary on life here today:

https://www.globalresearch.ca/what-about-me-i-feel-the-future-trembling-like-a-stranger-in-the-land-where-i-was-born/5687597

Submitted on Sunday, Sep 1, 2019 at 8:40:31 PM

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If one is hungry he needs to search for food. He does not need others to recognize his hunger. This is the point. Today we have accepted alienated needs imposed by others. We need to find what we want by ourselves. Once we do it we would live much better lives.

Submitted on Sunday, Sep 1, 2019 at 11:50:10 PM

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People break in different places and for different reasons, particularly in modern society. Please do not speak to equal opportunity. There are only so many 140 IQ's .... as well as, toilet-cleaning jobs and ripe strawberries.


Perhaps the 'lesson' is not that the hungry need their hunger to be recognized; but that the satiated need (for the sake of their spiritual growth) to recognize the hunger, then share from a place of gratitude, not superiority. ?


Perhaps the hungry man, determined to search for food, finds opportunity in cracking you over the head and taking your bread. Might be easier on you to simply share. Practically speaking. :)


Submitted on Tuesday, Sep 3, 2019 at 3:42:51 PM

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Equal opportunity is the only condition for reaching a good society. Nothing else can do it.

Submitted on Tuesday, Sep 3, 2019 at 4:54:16 PM

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I'm sure the exact words Luke records do not belong to Jesus. He surely could not have recommended the hypocritical show they ostensibly advise. However, I do imagine Jesus would agree with you about going inward. Hence, this Gospel episode seems to criticize precisely the kind of external show that qualifies for so many as religious humility -- a necessarily internal attitude.

Submitted on Sunday, Sep 1, 2019 at 8:51:24 PM

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I agree with you about Luke, especially at 19:27. But then, how can we know which apostle recorded the truth? Or even, how can we know that Jesus told the truth? If Jesus and God the Father are one, should not Jesus knew much more about the world we live in? Why is Jesus's knowledge about our world limited by the knowledge which existed in those time?

Submitted on Monday, Sep 2, 2019 at 12:11:14 AM

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Aleksandar: It all depends on what you mean by the truth. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, "Everything in the Bible is true; and some of it even happened." As for Jesus' knowledge . . . In my understanding, Jesus became an enlightened master. But becoming so is a process. All of that has been obscured by Christians' emphasizing Jesus' divinity to the detriment of his full humanity. As Luke says, Jesus advanced in age and wisdom and grace. He wasn't born that way.

Submitted on Monday, Sep 2, 2019 at 1:19:16 AM

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But then why is Jesus the son of God? And why other fully human people were not proclaimed as the sons of God?

Besides, I've just finished a discussion with one rabbi. We agreed about many things but in the end, he said that my theory of equal human rights does not fit with the reality that the Creator has for the world to reach its completion.

All religions need authorities for reaching a better future and I strongly believe that equal human rights are all that we need to build a good society. They must be the ultimate will of God.

Submitted on Monday, Sep 2, 2019 at 2:10:57 AM

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In my understanding, Jesus message is that we are all sons and daughters of God just as he was. Human nature is openness to that reality. Jesus (as well as other avatars) succeeded in appropriating the full possibilities of human nature -- thus demonstrating what is possible for all of us.

Submitted on Monday, Sep 2, 2019 at 2:43:09 AM

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I like this part that we are all sons and daughters of God. Jesus did point to wisdom as the path "to the possibility of human nature -- thus demonstrating what is possible for all of us" but he did not succeed fully in it. His words did not make us living in a good society. Why? Because he was not right enough.

I claim that equal human rights are the missing part of his teaching. Equal human rights will enforce the golden rule. Equal human rights are alpha and omega for ending all of the social evil and start building a good society. I wonder why people cannot see it?

Submitted on Monday, Sep 2, 2019 at 1:17:06 PM

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Equal human rights, of course, is a modern concept. And you may be right; perhaps Jesus was too radical in his call for turning the wisdom of the world on its ear with its social order completely reversed -- with the rich impoverished and the poor enriched (as Aslan puts it in the video at the end of my posting). But one should remember the desperate social situation in which Jesus lived -- an imperialized province of the cruel Roman Empire where the Jewish religious authorities cooperated with the oppressors. His example of resistance and his call for socio-economic non-violent revolution is much more compelling to our contemporaries in similar situations (in the former colonies) than any talk of "equality."

Submitted on Monday, Sep 2, 2019 at 1:55:33 PM

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I remember Jesus said somewhere if you have a house give it to poor but never understood it as his whish to impoverished the rich and enriched the poor. That would be completely wrong and unwise.

When we talk about truth, there is no such thing as a modern and old concept. Truth is universal. Truth is knowledge and knowledge puts us forward. Only knowledge can do it. Equal human rights are missing part in the history of humankind because they were always prevented by authorities. Missing equal human rights are the only reason society was never good. Establishment of equal human rights will make a good society unconditionally. Do you understand this sentence?

I do not understand why is talking about equal human rights less compelling to you than the teachings of Jesus which do not work.

Submitted on Monday, Sep 2, 2019 at 2:30:50 PM

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I feel you struggling to make a point in the face of powerful religious/social force. And I respect that struggle. But am without answers.

Equal human rights. Sounds simple; but never has been. Likely for the mere existence of Opinions! (Hell, even my dog is opinionated) :)

Equal rights require equal responsibility requires an equal playing field requires balanced opportunity requires balanced human brain function (left/right hemispheres) requires acceptance of widely divergent personalities requires equally nourished and cherished infants, ad infinitum.

And THAT's why it has never worked and we sit arguing over suffocating, authoritarian, forever-punishing religion.

Maybe Jesus is laughing because the whole thing is one big nasty joke.

If I were really smart I'd write a book called The Raggedy Toys of Wickedly Childish Gods

Submitted on Tuesday, Sep 3, 2019 at 4:16:11 PM

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You are right, equal human rights never existed and this is the only reason society was never good. Equal human rights are the only condition for creating a good society and that means they are the only thing worth fighting for. Equal human rights are more simple than they sound. Here is all that is needed for the creation of a good society: http://www.sarovic.com/2006_10_19e.htm

Submitted on Tuesday, Sep 3, 2019 at 5:49:35 PM

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Maybe because Jesus understood that our "knowledge about the world" is irrelevant.



Submitted on Monday, Sep 2, 2019 at 2:34:39 AM

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We are a part of this world. Are we irrelevant?

Submitted on Monday, Sep 2, 2019 at 1:17:50 PM

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Maybe.

Submitted on Tuesday, Sep 3, 2019 at 4:21:23 PM

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Good One. Love the Painting image.

Submitted on Sunday, Sep 1, 2019 at 8:18:24 PM

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Is this your translation? There's a lot more here than the Luke story I'm accustomed to. I love the way this is spelled out -- but Jesus is usually more cryptic. Anyway, great job!


Submitted on Monday, Sep 2, 2019 at 2:36:18 AM

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Thanks so much, Feliz.

Submitted on Monday, Sep 2, 2019 at 3:30:14 AM

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