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Monday, July 6, 2015

Babylon

Years ago when I delved into biblical prophesy I puzzled as to where the United States might be, in the contest of such great forces as Gog and the Sons of the East.  Were we perhaps the People of the Islands of the Sea?  How could such a great and godly thing as America go unremarked by the good prophets?

Now I think that we are counted as among the mere nations, no special country set apart, no people coupled in amity with Israel. How could this be?  From such a sacred and special beginning, like a city on a hill, like a family called out of the nations, like a child of the king, are we now no more than a wastrel living among pigs?

It may be, I think now, that we were never anything more than that -- a nation blessed as nations sometimes are, but with no special blessing, only of being used for a certain purpose.  A golden chamber pot is in reality no more noble than one of clay.

Admittedly, this is a dark view, and disrespectful of the highest aspirations of our history.  If however our American dream is just a fantasy, a national myth such as  every nation has, different only in our idealism -- well, there is much to be said for a myth that is an ambition, but we must know reality for what it is.  I say we must, even if reality makes us unhappy.  That's my own version of idealism: there are things more important than happiness.

There were true prophets who were not godly.  Balaam, for example.  More to the point, there were great national powers that were used for a time as an instrument of God's will, but which were condemned.  Assyrian Ninevah comes to mind, as we know it from Jonah.  More telling is Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.  What could be more filthy than Babylon?  Who could be more depraved than its king?  Yet Nebuchadnezzar was known by and himself knew God.

Is this it?  That is where we fall?  Are we Babylon, one of the many Babylons?    It may be that our increasingly erotic embrace of the mores of paganism is reversible, as a prodigal may repent and wipe off the pig shit that covers him.  The news of the day may somehow be a footnote and not a theme of our history.  Indeed, perhaps.  I don't wish to be direful, as I was in my formative years.  Optimism, pessimism, realism -- you know the studies, and who is happy.  It must be a temperament thing.  I crave reality.   Given almost every lesson of history, what does it take to reverse a civilizational trend?  Revolution, catastrophic invasion, plague, decades of famine -- you see the magnitude.  Nothing like anything in the brief history of the nation.  It's not a law of history. It's just the pattern.

 So I'm not optimistic.

The answer of course is to stop caring about idealism and work for what is attainable.  What is left for us to fight for?  It's coming as sure as abortion and gay marriage: churches required to officiate over such unions.  Unthinkable you say?  The Leftist movement against true free speech proves otherwise.  We no longer live under a Constitution with the rule of law.  Sorry, we just don't.  Law is whatever current and progressive opinion would have it to be.  If you deny it, I refer you to a June 26 Supreme Court ruling.

This is why I now come down firmly where I do.  We can't push back, and holding actions have inevitably, universally failed.  Over time, we lose, always, always.  Every victory was in battle, not in war.  Proof?  You actually ask for proof?  This is your proof: America wills that it shall never win a war.  Witness all the wars we have won, then lost.  The last one we didn't lose in this way was re Korea, and, my sweet naive friend, we will, will, will lose that one as well.  It's what we do.

This is why I have for so long been silent in these pages.  I don't want to be pessimistic, a negative voice, disloyal to what I have thought to be true.  All we have is faith, in this case a sort of hope that things are different than they seem according to the evidence.  Puts me in a bind.  So I've been silent.

Is it worth it?  To speak up?


J

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Psychology of Jesus: X

Halfway through the Feast Jesus went to the temple court to preach. No cleansing is reported. The Levites must have been on their best behavior. “How did this man get such learning without having studied?” the leaders asked with amazement. “My teaching is not my own,” starts Jesus, and he finishes, “Why are you trying to kill me.” They take it as a non sequitur: “You are demon-possessed. Who is trying to kill you?” In all fairness, people had indeed tried to kill him. Just not here, now. It’s a failure to communicate. Some people get it right: “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? Yet here he is speaking publicly and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded he is the Christ? But we know where this man is from, and when the Christ comes no one will know where he is from.” And Jesus cries out, “Yes, you know me and where I am from. I am not here on my own but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.” At which they “try to seize him but no one laid a hand on him because his time had not yet come.”

There’s a lot going on here. Much confusion. On the last day of the Feast some ask, “How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say the Christ will come from David’s family, and from Bethlehem?” Some say no one knows, some say it is known, where Messiah is from. Many teachings and traditions and interpretations, only one of which will do. Many believe, many do not, many are amazed, some want him dead. The temple guards fail in their mission to arrest him. “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” they said. “You mean he has deceived you too,” answer the Pharisees.

 The next day they bring the woman caught in adultery. It’s a trap, “in order that they may have some cause to accuse him.” Jesus writes in the dust with his finger, and says, “whoever among you is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” And he resumes writing in the dust. What does he write? Mene, mene, tekel upharsin? It’s the only time we’re told Jesus wrote something, and we’re not told what. Did nobody know? The “earliest and most reliable” manuscripts don’t have this account. It must not be vital, for all that it’s interesting. We know that Jesus judges, and will judge. We know also that he forgives. So nothing is lost, or introduced, in these verses. 

Immediately after he says, “I am the Light of the world.” That’s in all the manuscripts. There follows an exchange, discussion, argument, replete with accusations. “Your testimony is not valid … Where is your father … Will he kill himself?” He’s a liar, a bastard and a lunatic. Hardly a high level of debate on the part of the Pharisees. “Aren’t we right in saying you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” Some questions hardly seem worth an answer. Jesus answers this one, for his own reasons. “I am not possessed by a demon, but I honor my Father and you dishonor me.” Just clarifying things for the record. Eventually Jesus comes out with it: “Before Abraham was, I AM.” They pick up stones to kill him, but he “hid himself, slipping way…” I AM is the literally unspeakable name of God; to utter it was in itself blasphemous, and to say it as Jesus did, as an identity, was a claim to be God.

 Jesus isn’t arrested because his time hasn’t come, but he makes claims that justify arrest. Jesus is a great blasphemer. That’s what he is called, in the Talmud – “that blasphemer.” Jesus is absolutely blaspheming the god of the Pharisees. That god, however, is not the God of the New Testament, who is, as we would have it, the God of the Old Testament. There is a virtual infinitude of gods of the imagination. There is, at most, only one true God. We need not have a perfect understanding of God, or even a good understanding. Minimal is sufficient.

 On Mars Hill Paul refers to the shrine of the Unknown God.  What god was unknown to the Greeks?  God, of course -- and Paul says God has so far overlooked their pagan ignorance.  Nebuchadnezzar, king of most pagan Babylon, knew God. This is a mystery. Pagans can be saved, not by a name, not by a scripture or a tradition, but by, somehow, what we must call election. Indeed, if a charismatic Christian can speak in tongues, which is the ecstatic utterance of one’s spirit divorced from one’s own understanding, then why might not the spirit of any person do the same? It is certain that merely knowing the name of God saves no one, nor pronouncing creeds, nor mouthing professions. It is not minds or souls or bodies that are saved, but the spirit. And spirits speak in alien tongues.

 Is this a new teaching? I don’t know – there have been two thousand years of teachings, much in foreign languages, much that was heretical. I know it’s not a teaching that should be relied on as anything other than a justification of God’s wisdom. It is offensive to reason that all of humanity has been damned, except those expressly indoctrinated into a specific and ethnic tradition.

 Having slipped away somehow from those who would stone him, Jesus comes upon a man blind from birth. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents?” Pharisees believed in reincarnation – was the man punished in this life for the sins of a past life? “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” says Jesus, “but this happened that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Another hard, harsh teaching. The man has suffered his whole life, so that now he might be cured. It’s another example of how we are pots, made by the potter, for his purposes, not ours. Jesus heals the man, with mud made from spit and dirt.

 How merciful is it to make a man to suffer from birth, that decades later he may be relieved? Is this not something like the coward who sets a fire so that he can rescue its victims? Such a hero. Yes, if the pots are mine I can shape them or break them as I please. The value is in the owner, not the object. What children are we then? Are your children worthless? What kind of father is God? It must be that it’s not us, but our sufferings, that have no true meaning. There must be some lesson here other than that we ourselves are worthless. It must be that suffering is valuable. God created this universe so that Jesus could suffer all the damnation there is. For such a cost, there must be a greater reward. We have not an infinite spirit, to suffer some lifelong disease joyfully. Suffering must expand the spirit into joy. The only reason God is not odious and cruel is that this must be true. Very unsatisfying. Jesus is not nice.

The Pharisees learn that Jesus had made mud on the Sabbath and are scandalized. A scandal is indeed a stumbling block. They had already decided to expel any follower of Jesus from the Synagogue, so the parents of the healed man are cagey: “We know he is our son, and he was born blind, but how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we do not know. Ask him.” They did, and they put him out of the Synagogue. No matter: he finds Jesus and worships him as the Son of Man. This is the second time Jesus receives worship. He preaches, I am the good shepherd, I am the gate, I have other sheep, I lay down my life. Many said Jesus had a demon and was a lunatic. Many said a man with a demon did not teach or heal thus.

We can’t blame the Pharisees, first, because it’s not our place to blame. However much they were hypocrites, they thought they were right. If their standards were too high to realize, well Jesus says we are to be perfect. There must be some meaning other than that of the plain words. Why are we willing to assume this for Jesus, and not for his adversaries? The short answer is that one side is right and the other is wrong. Glued into this is that the only way to discern truth is to be told what is true, by God – not via words, since everyone hears the words, but with letters of fire inscribed into your spirit. How can we be blamed for not being selected? Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated. It is our place to be blamed. I’d say this is un-American, but there is no America.


J

Supremacy, Sodomy and Slavery

I have deeply wished to avoid this.  It's too much.  I find myself driven to it.  Therefore:

Last week the Supreme Court created a new right, a new institution, a new Constitution and a new country.  Apparently we, we, were asleep.  It turns out that we are the unworthy servant, given a talent which we buried; while the other side is the more worthy, the good and faithful servant to its cause, and will receive its rich reward now, regardless of what is to come.  Rather than be bold and resolute and fearless and energetic in our cause, we retreated into civility and adherence to rules and decorum, while they were brazen, fierce and successful.

Years ago for some reason in my disparate readings in history I came upon the tale of some Sheikh or Pasha or Emir who had purchased a pretty blue-eyed slaveboy and wished as was the custom to enjoy some sodomy. A Western traveler inquired of the potentate how such an insertion might be achieved, against a determinedly resistant sphincter.  Steady pounding, was the reply -- no resolve is sufficient to resist constant pressure upon such a minor muscle, designed as it is to keep things in, not out.  Test it for yourself.

I now believe it is inevitable that, given generational time, the Left will always prevail.  Erosion is a law of nature.  Attrition is the greatest general.  Degeneration is the rule of civilizations.  Entropy is universal.

Last week issued the irrefutable affirmation of the Supreme Court's supremacy, and of course at first as is my way I felt nothing.  Profound stillness, as the Spirit upon the Deep.  But I slipped the hold I have on myself and allowed emotion and judgment in, and concluded that this was truly the end of America, the end of American exceptionalism.  We are now just another country.  This fact brought only a dull depression, nothing profound, which surprised me.  About a day later I realized that my timing was wrong.  We stopped being America over forty years ago, with Roe v Wade.

Life is far more important than the institution of marriage.  We allowed the Supreme Court to well and truly assert its supremacy with that power grab, that plunge into insanity, where life itself is defined as not meaningful, given a woman's right to privacy.  As if life were not, above any other consideration, public.  Ah well, no matter.  How much less, the meaning of marriage than the meaning of life.  And conservatives are polite and will never impose, the New Testament commandment to be bold notwithstanding.  As it is the scorpion's nature to sting, it is ours to be silent and comply.

As I say, there is too much to say.  How did this perversion creep into our system?  It was inserted, like a penis, by John Marshall with his invention of Judicial Review, whereby the Court upon a merest majority may nullify any law.  Which is a good idea, in principle, but it had the effect of making the smallest, least, most inconsequential branch of our Federal system into the most powerful.  This is undeniably a profound perversion -- a check without a balance.  What business had the court to say a law is unconstitutional?  The job was to adjudicate cases under the law, not over it.  If the court deemed a law unconstitutional, would not the proper recourse have been to refer the matter back to Congress?  Breathtaking in its audacity.

Allow me to state the obvious: the Supreme Court is supreme only over our Judicial system.  It is not supreme over the Constitution, nor the Legislative nor the Executive Branch.  The President is the supreme Executive, and the two houses of Congress are the supreme Legislators.  See how that works?  No one else ever seems to have noticed this before.  There are three Supremacies, the least of which is the Court.  Andrew Jackson was a disaster and wrong about almost everything.  He was right about the Court, in his putative statement, that the Court had made its decision, now let it enforce it.  No government official takes the oath of office to support and uphold the Constitution as the Supreme Court asserts it to be -- rather, it is one's own conscience and intellect that must dictate conduct.  This very easy fact is made somehow impossible to grasp.

Precedent and custom have made this essential to be nugatory.  What remedy?  A movement  on our part for a constitutional amendment?  -- to repudiate the specific of gay so-called marriage? -- or to forbid the Supreme Court from making law and inventing so-called rights?  A hopeless cause.  Can't unring a bell, in any case.  The gays have invented a new thing, destroyed an old one.  It hath made  me mad.  We shall have no more marriage.

But here's the thing.  We cannot have judges dictating the course of our civilization.  We can't have that.  True, some three-fourths of the states had gay marriage, prior to the impositional diktat of the Supremes, but that was largely because state judges had struck down state bans on gay marriage.  See how that worked?  Now it's national.  All from judges.  So much for the fantasy of democracy.  We were fools ever to use the word.

How then shall we rein in our overlords, this rampant hyper-minority, this quintumvirate, this gang of five?  Well, simply, by each of the two now-subservient Branches of government, Executive and Legislative, asserting a right of Review over the Courts.  See the symmetry of it?  So elegant.  Marshall invented the idea, and it was a good one.  Laws need to be checked for Constitutionality, and the Supreme Court is the correct body to provide that balance.  In the same way, the Court needs to be checked.  The President checks Congress via his power of veto.  Congress checks the Executive via its control of the budget (ahem, we must suppose it to be so). Where, where, where is the check on the Court?  Mere nomination and consent is an initial step, but some of us remember how stealth-candidate Soutor  came to the bench -- approved as a conservative and manifesting as a liberal.  Initial steps alone are insufficient.

Impeachment is a theory, but it addresses wrongdoing, not incompetence or insanity.  While a justice, John Rutledge tried several times in several rivers to drown himself -- he was "much deranged" and  subject to "mad frolicks".  Henry Baldwin was confined to an asylum in his third year with "incurable lunacy".  He remained a member of the Supreme Court for another eleven years.  Nathan Clifford was described by a fellow justice as "a babbling idiot" -- not an invective, but a diagnosis; he refused to resign and died on the court.  Ward Hunt refused to resign because he wanted the penison -- he was paralyzed and could not speak; Congress voted him a pension to get him gone.  Frank Murphy bought illegal drugs from his pusher twice daily.

Therefore, Congress must assert its power to nullify (a word fraught with history) odious decisions of the Court -- as, say, Dred Scott or Plessy v Ferguson.  There was no recourse, no remedy for such perversions, save Civil War and civil disobedience unto martyrdom.  There must be some more political answer, or we are a people not free but subservient. As indeed we are, but should not be.   Likewise, the President must assert his ethical and sworn duty to uphold the Constitution as he understands it.

There are several means of amending the Constitution, but the only one that's succeeded is where two-thirds of both the House and the Senate agree to send a proposal to the state legislatures, three-fourths of which agree to make it law.  A high standard.  John Marshall did not adhere to such rigor, and I suggest and propose that no one else need do so. We need not amend the Constitution to curb the abuse.

Congress shall assert its duty, as an element of its legislative mandate, upon a quorum vote of two-thirds (or three-fourths) of both Houses, to reverse a decision of the Supreme Court which Congress deems to be obnoxious ... to a reasonable interpretation of the historical understanding blah blah blah.

Likewise, the President, as the chief law-enforcement officer of the land, has the positive duty to enforce laws enacted by Congress, and no duty to enforce laws enacted by Judges -- which in any event is an impossibility.  Because of the deeply political nature of the office, the conduct of the President will be checked by popular opinion, party politics and imminent elections.
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Will this happen?  Yes, because my blog is a National Power and I myself am a force to be reckoned with.


J

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Psychology of Jesus: IX

When Jesus rejoined the rest of the disciples he found them arguing with the rabbis. “What are you arguing about?” The question doesn’t get answered. Immediately a father comes and asks that his epileptic son be healed. This must be what the argument was about:  Jesus can’t heal him. Yes he can. No he can’t. Yes. No. Yes. No, and if he does it’s by the power of Beelzebub. No it isn’t. Yes it is. No. Yes. No, because he’s the Son of David. No he isn’t. Yes. No. Yes. The child cannot speak, he screams and falls to the ground, convulses, gnashes his teeth, foams at the mouth, falls into fire, into water – the spirit hardly ever leaves, and is destroying him. The disciples could not cure him.

 “Oh unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” Impatience, certainly. It can’t be insulting, if it’s true. Not all epilepsy is organic; here, it’s a demon, and when the child is brought the convulsions come on. “How long has he been like this?” “Since childhood,” replies the father, adding, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help him.” Jesus repeats it back at the man: “If you can?”

The original language was Aramaic, the language of Babylon; it comes to us in common Koine Greek, the linga franca of that age; we have it here in Anglo-Saxon root words of English. I wonder what the Aramaic for ‘if’ is. That’s where the emphasis would be. IF I can!?! He’s not being touchy, but he refuses to be silent in the presence of doubt. Does the man doubt? – he did after all bring his son to be healed. Desperate hope is not faith, and even the syntax of doubt is corrected. Words, to Jesus, have meaning: “All things are possible for him who believes.” And from a father’s desperate heart arises the cry, “I do believe! Help me to overcome my unbelief!” There we have it, the human condition, that allows Peter to walk on water, and sink. We have a God who demands that we be righteous, and forgives us when we are not – because we are never righteous, but perverse.

 “When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit.” Mark’s phrasing suggests the gathering crowd was a factor. All that perversity and unbelief would hinder the healing? We’ve seen it before, in Nazareth where Jesus could do no miracles. Perhaps he didn’t want a crowd because he was about to loose a demon in their midst? Seems unconvincing. “You deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” Note again how precise Jesus is when addressing demons, and the dead, and Pharisees and crowds. Maybe that’s why he’s so often called a teacher and hardly ever called a prophet: prophets are not clear.

 The spirit shrieked, convulsed the boy, hurled him to the ground and fled. The boy looked dead; maybe he was. Jesus took him by the hand, lifted him to his feet, gave him back to his father. No emotion in all this is named, but stone would melt. Sounds to me like the child was called back to life. We’ve seen it before, this hand-taking unto life. Indeed, this demon was homicidal, hurling a small child into fire and into water. Convulsing bodies are not fireproof and cannot swim. Other demons enjoy the madness they create, but want to live. The Gadarene swine killed themselves, rather than host Legion as that herd of demons desired. 

Later the disciples asked why they couldn’t cast out this demon. “Because you have so little faith,” reports Matthew. Jesus speaks of the mustard seed – the smallest seed from which grows the greatest herb. He adds, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.” We are not given a primer on exorcism. We’re told there are different kinds of demons, some homicidal, some hidden behind diseases, some specializing in afflictions. Some respond only to the greater authority of higher faith and the purity of spirit that fasting may bring. Demons, according to what I call the best theory, are the ghosts of the nephalim – the pre-Flood hybrids of fallen angels and human women, who were the giants and mighty men of old. When such a creature died, whither its spirit? Sheol was not made for them, thus their disbodied spirits, derived from fallen angels whose nature is set and irredeemably evil, wander and seek once more to occupy flesh. Their number has not decreased in the ensuing millennia. How many? For all I know, we are surrounded. Lock your doors.

They travelled through Galilee. “Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were because he was teaching his disciples.” There was a secret teaching. Perhaps it’s public by now, or perhaps there remains a valid esoteric Christianity, handed down from mouth to ear, remaining pure or being corrupted as the case may be. No matter – everything needful will have been made known. “Listen carefully. The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” It could not possibly be made more clear. The disciples did not understand. They were filled with grief. They were afraid to ask what it meant. Indeed, what other secret teaching could they have retained? How to cast out demons, or walk on water, or multiply loaves? There’s no secret: have faith. Maybe that’s the secret – how to have faith. But that’s no secret either. Decide, and commit. It’s like getting married. Not everyone is faithful.

Remember the broad theme of this project, a study of Jesus’ emotions. Mostly we have to infer them, since few are labeled. So far I don’t think we’ve seen one happy moment. We can suppose he was happy at the wedding in Cana, but we are told only that he had an objection. We know it must be gratifying to restore life to the only child of a widow, or to call back the sanity of a demoniac child, or to heal the sight and limbs of those close to despair. But are we ever told? Maybe it’s coming. Maybe the closest we’ll get is thanks, thanksgiving. It is offensive to reason to suppose Jesus did not know joy. It would be nice to be told of it. We need rain, but we miss the sun.

On the road back to Capernaum the disciples squabble about which of them would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. An insight into their motivation. ‘Me!’ ‘No, me, it is I who am the one who is so awesome!’ ‘Feh! Jesus loves me the most!’ Jesus must be walking apart, ahead or behind; maybe he hears them, maybe not. “When he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept quiet.” Of course they did. Interesting that Mark, who wasn’t there, is the one who notes this silence. Someone told him about it, but Matthew and John didn’t write it down in their version of events. Being a saint isn’t the same as being good. Jesus, “knowing their thoughts,” sat down and delivers a long teaching. Anyone who would be first must be last. He has a little child stand among them; Mark gives us the detail that Jesus took the child in his arms. I like that. You must become as little children. Whoever is not against us is for us. Whoever causes a little one to sin, better a millstone and the sea floor. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. Hell, redemption, forgiveness. 

 Still in Capernaum, the tax collectors expected payment from Peter. Jesus observed that the son of the king does not pay taxes. A different legal system than ours. “But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line.” A fish is caught, with coins in its mouth. The stuff of folktales. Something of the trickster, where Jesus pays the tax, but is it he who is taxed?  (Something like what he did on the cross -- he pays what he does not owe.)  Nevertheless, he is practical. They surely do call him a lawbreaker, but the charge can in no way be sustained.

Jesus continued teaching throughout Galilee, “purposely avoiding Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life.” His brothers, however, told him that he should go to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. They say, “No one who wants to be a public figure acts in secret.” Hm, sounds legit. But John offers a gloss in the matter: “even his own brothers did not believe in him.” So we go back and hear their words in a different tone. Previously they had wanted to take Jesus in charge because his wit's diseased; any gossip about miracles would be rumors that got out of hand. Now they suppose Jesus wants to be a public figure. He replies, “The right time for me has not yet come. For you any time is right – the world cannot hate you. It hates me because I testify that what it does is evil.” That’s all we’re told. Some human-interest details would be nice. Clearly, the gospels aren't  meant to be entertainment.

 His brothers left for the Feast. So did Jesus, “resolutely” and “in secret.” A Samaritan village refused to welcome him because he was on his way to Jerusalem, hostile territory. “Lord,” said James and John, Boanerges, “do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” Could they have? Jesus calms storms; he does not stir them up. He “turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village.” Time enough later for hellfire. On the road a teacher of the law exclaimed, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go!” Jesus is not encouraging: “Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” It’s a count-the-cost reply. Knowing the hearts of men, Jesus isn’t impressed by vows. He says to a disciple, “Follow me.” “Lord, first let me go bury my father.” Jesus says, “Let the dead bury the dead.” Another man says, “I will follow you, Lord! I’ll just go say goodbye to my family.” And Jesus replies, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and then turns back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Very uncompromising. We can easily enough draw out lessons from these incidents, chiefly about how impossible it is to follow Christ as he instructs. What we find in Jesus himself is a self-confidence so deep his responses are effectively arbitrary. He chooses, he rejects, he gives mercy, he condemns, according to no discernible principle. In any normal person we must see this as arrogance and caprice. Most assuredly, Jesus was either the Son of Man, or an egomaniac. It takes only one mistake to reveal a messiah to be a fraud. Holy teachers stink when they’re dead. Look out, Jesus – we’re watching.

J

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Psychology of Jesus: VIII

Moving into the region of Caesarea, Jesus finds a chance to pray in private. Interrupting himself, he asks the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” He’s asking about rumor, speculation and gossip. That’s what disciples do best. “Some say you are John the Baptist, or Elijah, or Jeramiah, or some other prophet from long ago who has come back to life.” John was the greatest man born of women, per Jesus’ report, but lesser than anyone who has been born again. It’s a dispensational thing: Old Testament saints still are not the Bride. Thus he is ranked among the prophets, as the greatest. Elijah is to come again, herald to the Messiah, First or Second Coming. Jews still set a place for him at the Seder meal of Passover, because he is expected. John came in the spirit of Elijah, and would have been him if the Jews would have it so. A mysterious teaching, the ambiguity of which allows a conceit of reincarnation. Perhaps it’s that Elijah was given a spirit, which was also later given to John. Not the personal spirit of one’s unique individuality – some other kind. But I have said too much. It is not for you to know such things at this time.

“But what about you? Who do you say that I am?” Quite a famous passage. “You are the Christ,” blurted Peter, “the Son of the Living God.” Jesus is pleased, and changes Peter’s name to Peter – well, before this he had been Simon, and his name was actually changed to Cephus, but that’s Aramaic, which translates to the Greek, Peter, Petros, which means a small pebble, which is a pun on Petra, a big rock, which is the foundational confession of Jesus as God, upon which the Church will be built – and also there will be a Pope. Jesus warns them not to spread the fact around, that he is the Messiah.

This secrecy seems odd. What is the point of all the healings and miracles, which are public, and the conversations and confessions and revelations in private which of course become public, if they don’t announce the fact that Messiah has come? Not to mention the rather explicit teachings in the synagogues, so incendiary in their pellucid intent that the congregation would slay him for blasphemy? “My time has not yet come,” Jesus says, which indicates there is a plan with a timeline. It must be that Jesus doesn’t mind general rumor, but wants no groundswell. He did not come to lead a movement. If human nature had it in itself to demand a truly divine king, well there he was; but that’s not human nature, and Jesus came not to rule but to die.

I’ve called this current undertaking “The Psychology of Jesus”, no longer a satisfactory name, but consider what Jesus must have meant when he spoke of ‘his time.’ Time for what? What time? Not Palm Sunday. We aren’t in on the specifics, but is it fair to suppose Jesus doesn’t want to rush things because it would be a rush to the Cross? He is, after all, a human being. The Christ in his God-nature, being eternal, is in every moment at all times. He is on the Cross right now, and forever. Suffering. To atone for sin is to suffer its consequence, and the penalty of damnation is the pain of hell. If Jesus could tarry from the Cross for a season, and simply live as a man, well what could be more human? Regardless however of his “strict warnings”, some news is too big to hold back.

After this Jesus was explicit about his death and resurrection. At which point Peter pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him. “Never, Lord!” You may have notices that my tone is sometimes light. Not here. What will we do, to protect those we love? So it is with Peter – his love for Jesus could not allow the thought. But Jesus never needs a rebuke, most especially in the hardest thing that he absolutely must do. Did anyone ever encourage Jesus? Praise, worship, adoration – sure. But did anyone, along with the hosannas and the thanksgiving, ever just say thank you? Peter didn’t. The opposite. Just because someone has to do his duty doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be thanked.

Jesus’ response: “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me. You do not have in mind the things of God but of men!” We add the exclamation points. Only the context can suggest the tone. I hear anger and fear and a feeling of betrayal and a sort of fragility. God is infinite, but a man can break. Later Jesus will sweat blood. Now he orders the tempter to take the place of a dog or a slave. Here is a lesson to us about how to keep resolve: by enforcing it. Jesus doesn’t need others to be perfect, but he needs it in himself. No blinking. At this point Jesus summons the crowd and preaches one of his more stern sermons: we have to take up our own crosses. He ends by saying some there would see the Kingdom come, with power.

Context is a teacher. We are immediately told how a week later Jesus goes up a high mountain with Peter, James and John. There he is transfigured, his face like the sun, his clothes dazzling as lightning; and with him are Elijah and Moses in glorious splendor. Elijah never died, taken up as he was bodily into heaven in a fiery chariot. Not, I assert, a UFO piloted by ancient aliens. Moses did die, and stewardship of his body was the subject of divine controversy between the archangel Michael on one side, and Satan on the other. Why the fight? Because Moses, though dead, had further need of his body – on this Mount of Transfiguration, and later, perhaps, as one of the Two Witness in the Book of Revelation. (He could not be given his Resurrection body, because Jesus is the First Fruits, and because such a body cannot die, yet the endtime Two Witnesses are killed.) Yes, it’s all rather mystical. Whatever else the term may mean, here we learn that the “Kingdom of God” means Jesus radiating glory in the presence of at least two Old Testament prophets. What did Jesus speak of, with these two saints? “They spoke of his departure…” Ah. Remember how Peter rebuked rather than encouraged Jesus? I have decided to believe that Moses and Elijah spent some time, here, thanking him.

The disciples were sleepy and afraid, disoriented, and Peter blathered about putting up three shelters. Then a bright cloud appeared and enveloped them, so they were even more afraid. From the cloud, therefore from all around the disciples, came a voice, declaiming; “This is my son, whom I love. With him I am well pleased. Listen to him.” Almost exactly the words from the sky, with the Spirit descending like a dove, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, at his baptism. They fall face down, terrified. “Get up. Don’t be afraid,” says Jesus. He seems to say that a lot. Oh. Interesting. The words from the sky this time were not exactly those of the baptism, because “Listen to him” is added. Context. What’s the first thing Jesus says? “Stand up. Don’t be afraid.”

I have a lot of fear. I fell down years ago and haven’t gotten up. I should listen to encouragement as if it came like a commandment from heaven.

Somebody should give this precept a name, like, um, the Unilogue, or the, uh, Iron Rule.

Coming down the mountain Jesus commands them not to speak about what they had seen, not until “the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” Mark tells us “they kept the matter to themselves, discussing what ‘rising from the dead’ meant.” We can’t blame them for not understanding, given the many generations that have since stumbled knowing what it meant. Sheep are not the most cerebral of the ruminants.

 Meantime they ask Jesus what the teachers of the Law meant when they say Elijah must come first. “To be sure, Elijah does come first and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?” The teachers you see taught only some of the Law. “But I tell you Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him.” John the Baptist, of course – he was and was not Elijah. Not, because we just met Elijah in a divine cloud; yet he is Elijah in spirit. Prophesy is equivocal for a reason: it allows for both symbolic and literal meanings, the final meaning resolved by the free will choices of mankind.

J

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Psychology of Jesus: VII

Then Jesus returned to the Sea of Galilee. Mark alone tells of the men who brought a deaf mute for healing. Jesus drew him aside, privately. He puts his fingers in the man’s ears. He spits. He touches the man’s tongue. He looks skyward and sighs deeply, says, “Be opened.” Luke was a physician, and would have had a professional interest in healing, but for some reason it’s Mark who relates these details. Maybe I’m missing some insight. Maybe I’ll think about it. In any case, this is the first time we get such peculiar detail. Was all this necessary? Why are so many healed just by touching his clothes, or merely by expressing persistent faith, while others require such on-the-nose ritual or intervention? Perhaps the many of whom we are given no details were healed in like manner.

 Different eras have different theories of healing. There are current alternative-medicine schools of thought which deny the validly of “the germ theory” – true, germs appear with certain illnesses, but they’re opportunistic symptoms, not necessary causes. You’d think an application of scientific method might resolve this raging controversy. Perhaps it already has. For some reason I’ve been youtubing Cristopher Hitchens today – it’s bearable because I’ve recently discovered that you can adjust youtube to play at double speed. Man. Do. People. Ever. Talk. Slow. I generally avoid his atheism polemics – very frustrating to have no opportunity to rebut, and why else would I listen to an atheist expound his faith? Point is, evidence has no necessary correlation to conviction, be it about religion, or healing. Why are we so dull?

Some demoniacs require prayer and fasting to cure them. Some need only a word. Some blindness is healed by the application of clay made with spit, or spit alone. What’s the difference, and how would we determine it? Well, it’s not our business, generally, unless you are, you know, like, an exorcist or a miracle worker. So it must be with healing: sometimes it’s fingers in the ears or mud in the eye, other times something less. I think there is a tradition and school of healing shown but not taught, here. Finding truth is hard enough when it’s not surrounded by screaming lies. Secret knowledge will be revealed not because you seek, but because it is necessary to find. But I’m being sententious.

 At this time, again, there are great crowds and many who are healed. Much amazement and praising of God ensue. This goes on for three days, and the people were out of food. Compassion again, from Jesus: “If I send them away they will collapse from hunger.” The disciples, true to form, don’t quite comprehend: “Where in this remote place could we get enough bread to feed such a crowd.” Hmm, I wonder. “How many loaves do you have?” Seven loaves, and a few fishes.

 Hey! Didn’t we just see this a little ways back!? The first miraculous feeding was reported in all four gospels. Only Matthew and Mark relate this one: seven baskets left over; four thousand men, more women, more children. Is this just a careless and corrupted second version of the previous occasion? – as there are many versions across Eurasia of the Cinderella folktale, originally with fur shoes? Myths and fairytales do have a long half-life, with very much mutation involved. Another approach would be that this is a separate occasion, similar in detail because it’s similar in circumstance. What does Jesus do when a crowd gathers to him in the wild fields? He provides for their needs, the way a shepherd is supposed to do. Why four thousand men here, and five thousand last time? Because last time there were five thousand men, and this time there were four thousand. See how that works? You count about how many people were there to be fed, and then you report it because that’s what happened. Not dissimilar to how Jesus might on several separate occasions cleanse the Temple of moneychangers. Maybe such things get easier, with practice.

 Then a boat trip to another shore, another town, where Pharisees and Saducees ask Jesus to show a sign from heaven. He speaks of portents, about how these people can’t recognize what is so obvious, and he sighs deeply and says they’ll get only the sign of Jonah. Later Jesus will tell how Jonah was three nights and three days in the belly of the great sea creature. But Jonah himself was a sign, in his body even, bleached dove white by stomach acid; Jonah, like Juno, is related to the word for dove. He was a sign to Nineveh, reluctantly and resentfully preaching that city’s destruction. Did he even tell them to repent? – or just that they were doomed. But they did repent, and gained four decades of reprieve. Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus in 70 AD, precisely forty years after these miraculous feedings and walks on water and resurrections. “Why does this wicked and adulterous generation ask for a miraculous sign?” The words could be angry, but the sigh is sadness. Jerusalem got a reprieve without repenting. It got a reprieve after killing the Messiah.

Another trip across the lake, and “the disciples had forgotten to bring bread.” Of course they had. “Watch out,” said Jesus, “for the yeast of the Pharisees.” A mysterious non sequitur, they thought. “It’s because we didn’t bring any bread.” Oy. “Why are you talking about having no bread?” It becomes comical, his exasperation, their thickheadedness. “You still don’t understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes? You don’t remember? When I fed 5000, when I fed 4000 – how many baskets were left over?” ‘Oh. Oh! Hey, fellahs! He’s talking about false teaching! It’s a metaphor! It’s like yeast is fluffy emptiness that seems filling but isn’t!’ And, ‘Ah!’ they all enthuse. I paraphrase.

 At Bethsaida a blind man begs for a healing touch. Jesus takes him by the hand and leads him out of the village. Not all blind men are led by the blind. Jesus spits on his eyes and lays on hands. A light spray? A glob? “Do you see anything?” “I see people, walking around like trees.” Jesus puts his hands, more specifically we’re told this time, on the man’s eyes, and “his eyes were opened, his sight restored, and he saw clearly.” Restored, so the man had not always been blind; that’s how he knew what trees looked like. “Don’t go back into the village.” But you know the man did. A two-part healing, spit and then hands. Hands work better than spit, or first a loosening then a clearing, a cleaning and a wiping. We don’t know how or why, only what Jesus did. Mark likes these details.

 J

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Psychology of Jesus: VI

Upon sating themselves with Jesus’ loaves and fishes, the multitude resolved to make Jesus king, by force. And who better? What a king is this! Jesus sent his disciples back across the lake, and himself dismissed the crowd. Then he went alone into the hills to pray in the dark. The solitary prayer is easy to understand – he was always looking for that chance. But why dismiss the twelve, and how did he turn away this forceful crowd? For the latter, well, Jesus had authority. As for the twelve, they must have been a distraction.

 On the lake the winds grew rough and contrary, and Mark tells us that Jesus, on land, “saw the disciples straining at the oars.” Matthew says they were three or four miles out; John says it was dark; Luke has nothing to say. So Jesus saw them with a vision other than of eyes. Even rowing they didn’t progress: deep in the night Jesus came walking on the water and was about to pass them. Was he lost in thought? Did he nod a greeting to them? More pertinently, how could he walk on tumultuous waters, and he was not tossed? Clearly it has nothing to do with surface tension. We’d have to suppose a path of stillness. If a ladder can ascend into heaven, a path can be made on the waves. But the disciples were terrified. “It’s a ghost!” There’s only one ghost in the bible, and that’s the shade of Samuel, under special dispensation. The dead may rise, and demons may walk, but ghosts remain in Sheol. “Take heart. It is I. Fear not.” Short declarative sentences.

Matthew alone tells us what came next. “Lord,” said Peter, “if it’s you tell me to come to you on the water.” You must know the story – or have you spent all your leisure rooting for your preferred professional athletics association? That’s really important too; it’s practicing faith. “Come,” said Jesus. And Peter did. A miracle. Perhaps the aura of calm was extended to him. What was Peter’s real aim in this? Just looking for a new experience? It only seemed to be a test, ‘if it’s you’. It’s easier to believe Jesus could walk on water than to think God would allow a ghost to looked like Jesus. Well that’s Peter for sure: impulsive; he seems young. But he sees the wind and grows afraid and starts to sink. The impression is that the descent was slow, as in quicksand. “Lord, save me!” Immediately – note that, it seems important – immediately Jesus reaches out his hand and catches him. Sounds like a grab. “You of little faith. Why did you doubt?” Sometimes a question is not a rebuke, but a request for thoughtful information. And this is a fair question, given Jesus’ example and Peter’s few moments of success. Then again, it wasn’t a little faith, but a lot, for a simple, calloused and sunburnt fisherman – a hard and practical man who made his living by killing fish. Yet his faith was not as much as a mustard seed. Doubt here is the opposite of faith. Faith must be a kind of certainty, the kind perhaps that keeps the law of gravity in force. Well, in this particular instance it was doubt that enforced gravity, but you get my meaning.

 The miracle continues for a little longer. Somehow Peter is raised up – he’s not being carried. It’s not about Peter’s faith anymore, though, but an ongoing support from Jesus. That would be nice. “When they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.” No need to row against the wind any longer. The disciples were “completely amazed,” and worshiped Jesus. “Truly you are the Son of God.” They hadn’t learned much from the loaves and fishes – “Their hearts were hardened.” That tells us about the men. Some miracles are more amazing than others.

 We learn nothing new of Jesus. He saw the hard night-rowing as he saw Nathaniel under the fig tree, with the vision of a prophet. Did the vision just come, or did he go looking? Was this a rebukeable storm of evil origin, or just common local weather? Did he walk out because he was done praying or to rescue, relieve and inspire? Was this why he sent them ahead in the first place? Would he have otherwise walked across the water in the calm of morning, or taken a boat? This may be the first time he receives worship. We’re not told what Jesus is thinking. We have to infer it from his simple, direct and clear words.

 They landed back at swine country. Very much healing. Anyone who touched him was healed. The throng he had fed had been mystified by his disappearance, but tracked him down at Capernaum. In the synagogue he gave “a hard teaching.” I am the bread of life … unless you drink my blood and eat my flesh…  Many who were his disciples fell away because of this. He asks the Twelve directly, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Peter gives an emphatic no, or yes … whatever the right answer is to a question framed in the negative. “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” Again, a question in the negative. Seems like this formulation would make an interesting study. He may have been prompting for a different answer, you know, from Judas. Better he had never been born. “Devil” in the Greek means ‘false accuser.’ What a thing to hear of yourself, from Jesus. But there will be a lot of that, come Judgment Day. More devils than saints. If it weren’t for abortion and infant mortality, heaven would be mostly empty.

Some Pharisees ask him why his disciples don’t observe Jewish customs, of hand washing. Seems like a fair question. Jesus thinks not: “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites…” Was their tone wrong, sly, antagonistic? No matter – their hearts were wrong. There must be something about joining the Pharisee Party, taking certain stands on public policy, which declares a filthiness of the soul. As true two thousand years ago as today.

 Later the disciples comment on how offended the Pharisees were, and we’re told of the blind leading the blind. Peter wants clarification of the parable. Jesus replies, “Are you still so dull?” Is he just being insulting? Is he amazed at their, our dullness? Yes, Jesus, your chosen, favored, intimate students are so dull. Maybe he means not ‘stupid,’ but ‘lazy.’ That’s not an insult. Being stupid is inborn, like being male – no operation can cure it. Lazy, unthoughtful, these are correctable. There it is: ‘Are you still so inattentive.’ This is an insight into free will. It’s not that we can’t understand; it’s that we ignore evidence. Willful, therefore culpable. Or praiseworthy. Again we are pointed to the Bereans. Intellectual integrity doesn’t have to be bookish, but it has to be unblinking.

 Moving northward into the region of Tyre, Jesus sought anonymity as a houseguest. But the Messiah is allowed few secrets. A Canaanite woman came and fell at his feet. Weren’t the Canaanites supposed all to be killed by Joshua? Wasn’t the Promised Land supposed to be cleansed? I do recall that the entirety of certain cities were to be destroyed. But we know that didn’t happen. And fifteen hundred years allows for a lot of migratory shifting. She’s Greek. “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me. My daughter suffers terribly from demon possession.” There was a lot of that in those days. Maybe there still is. Jesus replies, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” There it is. Not. Very. Nice.

 What of compassion? “Lord! Help me!”

 ‘No.’

 Well, no, Jesus didn’t say ‘No.’ Not directly. “It is not right to take the children’s bread and feed it to the dogs.” Didn’t he a short time ago say he was the bread of life? Doesn’t he feed stray multitudes, yet will not spare a crust? Doesn’t he heal just any stranger who reaches out and touches his clothes? Does the woman have to grovel? For her daughter? How much lower can she fall, than her knees? What is this ‘help me’ but a deepest cry from the soul? And Jesus plays word games? He toys with the agonizing love of a parent?

“Lord,” she says, “even the dogs under the table eat the crumbs.” Whence comes this answer? Out of her cleverness? Rather from her desperation. Let’s call it despair, in the face of his rejection and coldness. What reply shall we make to the hard heart of the judge who rejects our appeal? This is the Jesus who casts into hell. Except, no, he is merciful: “You have great faith. Your request is granted. For such a reply you may go: the demon has left your daughter.”

There it is. It’s not the wordplay of her reply, it’s her persistence. Prayers are not answered, the first time they’re made. How do I know? I was just shown it. She isn’t arguing, trying to convince Jesus. She’s showing that her faith has roots. Why do we have to show such a thing? Doesn’t God know it? Roots grow by pushing dirt out of the way. If Jesus had turned on his heels and strode regally away, she would have crawled after him and wrapped her arms around his legs. Good for her.

 I did want Jesus to be vindicated, here. But it was me, my silly childish American idea about being nice. God, like nature, is not nice. Reality requires effort. And how, we might ask, did a demon even get at this little girl? What parental negligence, what perversion made her vulnerable? And what cleansing in the mother would ensure that it not happen again? Desperation teaches resolve. This would be the moment when the woman finally determined not to attend any more orgies of Cybele.

 J

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Psychology of Jesus: V

Two blind men followed Jesus, calling “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” The idea of blind men trying to follow carries with it a feeling of desperation. “Do you believe I can do this?” An emphatic yes. He touched their eyes. “According to your faith let it be done to you.” Some parables take the form of action. But it cannot be their faith that healed them. It was Jesus. Hospitals are full of people with faith. No believer would ever die, if faith healed. At that same time a mute demoniac was brought to him. The sick seek out Jesus, and demoniacs are brought. ’Tis the time’s plague when madmen follow the blind. It must have been new and other Pharisees who claimed the healings were of Satan. It can be only a rare individual who risks repeating a public upbraiding from Jesus. Even shameless hypocrites have egos to protect.

 Back in Nazareth Jesus preached in the synagogue, and no one could deny his wisdom and miracles – but they were offended. “Isn’t this the carpenter? Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joses, Judas and Simon? Aren’t all his sisters here with us?” He could do no miracles except a few healings, and he was amazed at their lack of faith. So along with patience and frustration, amazement must be a common emotion; would dismay be a fair name for it? Disappointment? But it’s possible to be surprised even by an outcome we expect.

He traveled through Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, preaching, healing every infirmity. When he saw the crowds “he had compassion on them, for they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” I think there’s a vagueness of language, here. I don’t think it was the crowds that moved Jesus. I think it was the individuals in the crowd. Rock stars deal with crowds. In any case, Jesus commissions his disciples to go preaching and working wonders. Apprentice shepherds, then, because the flock was limitless.

 In his commission instructions Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” Well. Preaching is always about an ideal. Who is it in reality that can fearlessly face martyrdom? That’s why we tell stories about heroes – because they are so rare. Then again, that’s what the word inspired means – in-spirited. It isn’t the martyr who is fearless, but rather the spirit he has been given. Take heart, take courage, encourage – all the same thing. Likewise, cower and coward mean almost the same thing.

 Is this supposed to be enough? These words? This long instruction list to these missionaries? Seems like there are some vital directions missing. Or rather, the presence of Jesus made the words sufficient. That’s great for them, but what about us? We have two thousand years of Jesus tarrying, rather than the inspiration of his physical presence. I have prayed. I’m still not holy. Clearly I do it wrong. Jesus is amazed at disbelief. I’m amazed at this disgusting universe, and having a God whose plan depends entirely on faith – yes, I get it, but it’s a bad plan, regardless that it’s the only one that could work. What’s my complaint? Probably that this isn’t two thousand years ago. We’re on our own, with only some inartistic unpoetic amateurishly written gospels to tell us about who we have to believe in. He invites the weary and the heavily burdened to come to him, and he will give them rest. But where is he? How do you come to him? In your imagination? Well, of course, in your actions – come to him by acting like him – give comfort to others who are weary and heavily burdened. In other words, we have to be saints.

 But I digress.

Eating a meal in peace seems not to have been an option that was on, so to speak, the table. Demons and Pharisees and relatives and throngs all clamored for his attention. Hard to digest, with all that stress. So again Jesus sought rest in a quiet place, only to be, frankly, pursued by a ravenous hoard. Thus, a second miraculous feeding in the wilderness of a multitude, 5000 men, more women, more children.

 We’ve seen three types of miracles of this sort – wine from water, fish and bread from fish and bread, and dead bodies made alive. The loaves is a multiplication of matter. We cannot say if this has to do with the law of the conservation of matter; perhaps it’s creation ex nihilo, or perhaps a seemingly more straightforward transmogrification of matter already existent. Either way it’s a quantum event, in the first instance virtual matter becoming manifest, and in the second matter changing not at the chemical but the atomic level.

 Water into wine is a ready metaphor for inspiring life into nonlife, inert into active, potential into actual. They are not truly to be compared, though, making wine or giving life. The first is alchemical, the second divine. This acts as a response to my previous complaint – Jesus is the catalyst, the thing that causes change without itself changing. Unchanged is so much like unmoved that it might as well be remote.

 What has all this to do with the personality of Jesus? I seem to have expanded my brief. But you knew I would.

 Jesus came ashore and saw the throng approaching, the hoards descending, and he welcomed them. Was he disappointed? Frustrated? Maybe, but he was compassionate and gracious. Again, sheep without a shepherd. Why is it that God, with all his promises, let’s generations rise up and pass away without a sufficient number of shepherds? Are there so many wayward sheep that wolves are bold to despoil the flock? – the guardian off seeking some stray? The sad truth may be that there are sufficient shepherds, but too few sheep – mostly goats. Saying that people are like sheep without a shepherd is not the same as saying they are like sheep. Which means that Jesus feels compassion for goats, as well, for whom there is nothing to be done. Compassion for the wolves too, perhaps. The existence of hell doesn’t mean God doesn’t care about the damned. Justice is more important than the suffering it brings.

 Late in the day the disciples want to send the people away to forage for their food. But Jesus says he will provide. If you do not know the story, you have neglected your education. The Trojan Horse, the sword Excalibur, the Feeding of the Multitude – these are as important to our culture as for example the long quest for self-discovery of the Kardashians et al. Maybe even more important. Philip, one of the Twelve, does some quick calculating and says it would take eight months wages to buy enough bread to give each person just a mouthful. How much bread would a drachma buy? Must have been a lot of women there, and children. But Jesus has a plan, and a small boy has five loaves and two fishes, which Jesus multiplies. It’s not as bad planning as it seems, to take a boat ride to the wilds with so little provender. Not that Jesus would just conjure bread, but rather that they had money, and there were villages nearby.

 An elaborate distribution system is set up to distribute the meals, from which elaborate allegorical teachings have been drawn. But aside from elegance, order has its necessity when dealing with milling sheep. The organization brings to mind the Hebrews in the wilderness, setting up camp around the Tabernacle. Everyone is fed to satisfaction, and twelve baskets of leftovers are gathered up, lest there be waste. For all the True Pieces of the Holy Cross that circulated in the Middle Ages, I’ve never heard of a True Crust from the Miraculous Feeding. Sheeple just don’t think ahead.

 J

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Psychology of Jesus: IV

Jesus was followed by crowds so dense that he and his disciples couldn’t find the peace to eat. His family was distraught by news of this sort of thing, and set off to take charge of him, saying, “He is out of his mind.” Something here of a prophet, not accepted in his home town. His family didn’t want to hurl him off a cliff, but it’s no compliment to suppose he is merely mad rather than possessed. Meantime Jesus heals a deaf-mute demoniac. The Pharisees use this evidence once more to accuse him of being the tool of Beelzebub the prince of demons. Jesus replies with logic: How can Satan drive out Satan … a house divided cannot stand … by whom do your people drive him out … blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven … you brood of vipers…. 

 During his vituperative sermon, his mother and brothers arrive to take him in charge, but it’s too crowded. He’s told they are waiting outside, and in short he replies, “Whoever does the will of my father in Heaven is my mother and brothers and sisters.” No dramatic details. What a great scene that would have been, the women, mother and aunts and sisters, weeping and pleading, brothers and uncles, grim or silent or resolved. Did they just go home? Speak to him later? Did he just ignore them, after publically diminishing their relationship as he did? We’re not given details, but clearly Jesus had priorities greater than the specific comfort of his immediate family. Mary, most blessed of all women, didn’t have a son who dropped everything to please her. For all we’re told here, he left her standing outside. Jesus is not a mama’s boy. He takes after his father.

That same day from a boat on the lake he preaches many parables, and later privately explains the meaning to his disciples. Later he crosses the lake, stilling a storm with his command. On the other side the demoniac Legion rushes from a distance to Jesus and falls to his knees, shouting at the top of his lungs, “What do you want of me, Jesus son of the Most High God? Swear that you won’t torture me!” Jesus could sent him, them, into the Abyss before the appointed time. At some point during all this Jesus was saying, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit.” It would be interesting to know the timing – was it before the demoniac came running? during? on the ground? Did Jesus initiate it, or was the demon compelled, by inclination or its nature, to approach?

In any case, Jesus cast Legion into a herd of swine rather than into the Abyss. Was this mercy? Or a necessary withholding of final judgment until the fullness of time? What mercy is it to leave demons free to roam among men? And someone owned those 2000 pigs, which immediately went mad and drowned in the sea. The townspeople saw the cured demoniac, sane, clean, listening at the feet of Jesus – and they asked Jesus to leave the area. Where they afraid of running out of pigs? It would have been a sort of a local economic catastrophe. Maybe they made jerky. At least they didn’t try to kill him. Jesus didn’t allow the cured man to stay with him, so he went preaching throughout the area.

What may we learn of Jesus, here? He doesn’t give people just whatever they want. How he delivers his “No” is not given, but we sense he is never apologetic. There is a necessity to things that never sacrifices clarity for courtesy. First comes his authority, matter of fact, as an absolutely secure birthright. It isn’t hero worship to say that Jesus is the master of all occasions. How could we expect anything else? So my vague impression, that Jesus isn’t always nice – a vestige of childish thinking.

Back on the other side of the lake, in Nazareth, Jesus is asked to heal the sick little daughter of Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue. On the way a woman – who had been menstruating unceasingly for twelve years, spending all she had, getting only worse – reached from the crowd to Jesus and touched “the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, ‘If only I can touch his cloak I will be healed.’” You know, I’m weeping right now. Suffering and desperation and hope. Where is the hem of his cloak, that we might touch it and be healed? Instantly she was healed. Jesus looks about: “Who touched my clothes?” Well, it’s a jostling crowd, but clearly he means something specific. He felt power go out of him. Trembling with fear, feeling exposed, the woman falls at his feet and confesses, confesses her faith. “Take heart, daughter, your faith has made you whole. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

At that moment some men come and tell Jairus his daughter has died. Too late. “Why bother the rabbi any more.” Jesus ignores them: “Don’t be afraid. Just believe and she will be healed.” Believe what? That she’s not dead? That death is reversible? That faith is sufficient to get your wish? Faith, hope, belief – what guarantee, what doctrine is implicit here? Faith in the future events of your imaginative hope changes nothing; only faith that agrees with what Jesus has determined to do is efficacious; faith is agreement, not persuasion. When we ask for blessings, we haven’t changed God’s mind. Here, Jesus juxtaposed faith with fear. Are they opposites? We’ve already seen that Jesus knew fear, so, no. There is a fear that is mostly doubt, fear as the absence of hope. Human history is the story of parents begging that their children be spared, but they’re not. Faith must be the ability to accept this pattern, without despairing. What good thing will come of such faith? We have to wait and see.

At the house there is great weeping. “Why all this commotion? Stop wailing. Go away. The child is not dead but sleeping.” Yeah, right. When a corpse lays there with its open eyes dry and turning gray, you recognized death. Because we know how the story has to turn out, it’s delicious. But Jesus is telling a mother, family, neighbors not to feel a grief that is utterly appropriate. True, he’s putting things in perspective, and he’s the guy who can fix things, but what comfort is there when it’s too late? Some lessons are not universal, but specific. Thus, this. This particular child was revivable – yes, dead not sleeping, but to wake from death makes death a sleep. So it’s yet another equivocation, people using the same words to say different things. Words have power, but only insofar as they communicate meaning.

The people laugh – derisively since there’s no humor here – but Jesus clears the house and brings the parents and his disciples to the body. Taking her dead hand he says, “Little girl, I say to you, get up.” We’ve heard precisely these words already with the widow’s dead son. “Her spirit returned and immediately she got up and walked around. Her parents were completely astonished.” I should think so. Jesus tells them to give her something to eat. That’s a nice detail. And he tells the parents to not tell anyone what had happened. That’s hard to understand. No one was supposed to notice that the synagogue ruler’s little dead girl was brought back to life? Maybe it was the derisive laughter – they deserve no explanation, a pearls before swine sort of thing.

Miracles are vanishingly rare occurrences. Faith is not a coin that purchases blessings, because God is not a hireling, working for a wage. We are wired to be vulnerable to magical thinking, where our thoughts are supposed to affect not just events, but the laws of nature. Certainly thinking makes a difference in the world – it’s called acting on decisions. But our contact with the quantum dimension wherein thought and miracles come together to manifest what we pray for in the material world – that kind of purity of spirit is a miracle in itself. We believe that faith can move mountains, because Jesus says so. We don’t however understand what it means. Because, you know, no mountain has ever been moved by faith.

Jesus will not be pleased by my observation of this fact – he likes the faith of a small child. I don’t understand it. Jesus doesn’t care that I don’t understand. Have the faith of a child, then concern yourself about understanding. I don’t understand that either.

J

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Psychology of Jesus: III

Just me, trying to understand Jesus. Regardless of how perfectly human he was, he was not normal. First, it isn’t normal to be perfectly human. We are imperfectly human. But that’s wordplay. There have been only three perfect humans, Adam and Eve, and Jesus. We know how that first pair worked out. Why their failure, and his success? Turns out that being created directly by God, given life directly from his breath rather than distilled from a human antecedent, is not the same as having life before you are conceived. There must be a flaw inherent in being summoned into existence. So Jesus, complete in his human nature thanks to Mary, is yet the only person to exist before his humanity. Of course, the only thing that exists before creation is God. So that’s a difference.

Adam fell, and with him the universe. So be it. It was not a test, because Adam could do nothing else. He was made, to fail. Couldn’t be any other way, since Jesus was slain from before the foundation of the world. Redemption existed prior to corruption. Thus, Jesus, who fulfilled the perfect human life. As for us, we can only try. We cannot succeed. But try we must – not to be perfect, but to be good. Anything else is wordplay.

No matter how human Jesus was, his normality can only have been in his circumstances. How normal after all is it to be unable to sin? I am sure I’ve just reiterated some ancient heresy. Whatever. Show me where I’m wrong and I will be corrected. But your evidence has to be better than mine.

Nevertheless, Jesus had a fully human life. Sounds as if sin, though inevitable for us, is not necessary. Does that even make sense? This is what happens when some human has two natures. It’s not confusion, but it’s confusing. Maybe apple-oranges shouldn’t be compared to apples and oranges. Jesus, living a sinless life, was constantly surrounded by sin. The only relief must have been seeing people attempt to be good. It would have been like living with drug addicts – lying, betraying, addicted, degraded. But you love them. Nightmarish. Sometimes sober, sometimes recovering, never cured, always tempted. Of course Jesus knows how to forgive. It’s enough to make someone crazy. As I say, frustration and patience.

People tried to touch Jesus, because healing power came out of him. Very mystical sounding, because it’s mystical. Jesus glowed, sometimes. He was in the literal presence of the Holy Spirit. That’s why saints in stained-glass windows have halos – apparently being truly holy makes you shed power.

Then Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. What, you want me to discuss that? No. Outside our scope. I find no reference to his emotion, here. Invite me to speak at your church or men’s group, with an honorarium, and I’ll consider it. And airfare. And a per diam. I don’t need a limo but send a driver. First class airfare … well, business class.

Previously, at Cana, Jesus healed from a distance the child of a royal official. At Capernaum he is asked to heal the servant of a centurion. On the way he is met by a messenger: “Just say the word and the servant will be healed.” And Jesus is *amazed. Such faith. Well, faith is not uncommon. In fact it is cheap. Marxists have faith. Betrayers engender faith. What is amazing then must be faith in Jesus. Faith, rightly directed. A rarest thing indeed. What is amazement, exactly? I think it must be a kind of joy.

By the way, this story illustrates ancient narrative convention: Luke says friends met Jesus on the way and delivered the centurion’s humble message. Matthew gives it as directly from the centurion. There is no contradiction, no conflict. Every writer has an intention, and will suppress, condense, organized details to best emphasize a truthful point. One writer may have one blind man, another two, waiting at the gates of Jericho; mentioning only one blind man is not a denial of the presence of a second. It’s like reading Shakespeare in the original spelling – it’s not wrong, it’s just different. A request in the mouth of an emissary comes from the mouth of the supplicant. An address to an ambassador is an answer to the king. That’s why God has a Logos.

In Nain Jesus sees the dead only-son of a widow being carried out for burial. “His heart went out to her, and he said, ‘Don’t cry.’” He touched the coffin and said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” And he did. Empathy, compassion – from Greek and from Latin, with the same meaning: *when your heart goes out, to suffer. Jesus commands cripples to get up and walk, and the dead to get up and live. Get up. Something about doing it now. Make of it what you will. Notice how he did not ask the mother, “Do you want your son to live” as he asked the cripple about walking. And there must be some meaning in that “I say to you”; he didn’t want *all dead young men to get up. Not yet.

John the Baptist sent from prison to inquire if Jesus is truly the One who is to come. Prison, then, engenders doubt. Jesus comforts those who suffer, so he sent back evidence. It’s very human, of both of them. Then Jesus gave a sermon, denouncing doubters – the cities where he had worked most of his miracles. It’s forgivable to doubt rumor; those however who reject clear evidence – it will go hard for them.

There is much to say about repentance, but it’s outside our scope; Jesus never had to do it. Nothing is more revealing in human psychology, I suppose, or revolutionary, than the complete turnaround, the change of mind embodied in repentance. Innocence becomes corrupt, and corruption repents. If it can. Jesus experienced neither.

Then Jesus invites the weary and troubled to come to him, “for I am gentle and humble of heart.” It’s not complex. There is no contradiction in both condemning and being gentle, in being humble yet fierce. An easy observation: behavior arises from character. Gentleness is not an emotion, it’s a trait.

When Jesus got news that John had been beheaded, he “withdrew” – by boat, to a “solitary place”. That’s all we’re told. Yet another missed opportunity for good storytelling, Jesus grieving, if he was grieving. I have to believe he was. It would have been nice to be told how he dealt with it. But we know. Prayer, of course. In any case, the multitude found him and he fed them, miraculously. There must be a lesson in this; we think our need for preaching is greater than his need for solitude. Maybe we’re right. Oh, and it’s good to be fed.

My seeming irreverence – maybe I’m wrong. But there is so much suffering. Gallows humor, then. The cross after all is a kind of gallows.

J

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Psychology of Jesus: II

The miracle at Cana was his first. He attended as a guest. Jesus, please come to the wedding. There’ll be lots of wine! But there wasn’t. Bad planning. Mary asked her wonderful son to do something about it. “Dear woman, why involve me? My time has not yet come.” To our ears “dear woman” sounds tender – “Woman” alone, per some translations, sounds abrupt. He voices a mild objection, and creates wine out of water. Let the festivities continue. Perhaps we’re hearing that Jesus likes weddings. Something like, Be happy. Let me help. Who called the cosmos out of chaos also makes wedding wine. He would not have a bride embarrassed.

His first public act in Jerusalem was to cleanse the Temple. He does it again three years later. Now we have the first clear description of emotion. He scatters coins, overturns tables, orders the merchants to get the doves out. “How dare you!” He makes the whip he uses to drive out the sheep and oxen. The only realistic reading is of indignation, outrage, anger. Did the whip fall across the backs of the beasts, and men? We’re not told, but “zeal” would not balk at it. This is the man whose Second Coming is with a sword, who judges and consigns to Hell. Perhaps he makes that sword as well as this whip. Perhaps he made the beams of his own cross. Jesus makes things.

Some critics say the first Temple cleansing, in John, and the latter in the synoptic gospels, record a single event – the assumption being a mishandling in the manuscripts of chronology. Could be: the Surahs of the Koran were originally recorded on palm leaves and bits of leather and shards of pottery, whatever was at hand. Ancient writers did not have the tool of quotations marks, and literary conventions change. But the Temple will certainly have needed more than one cleansing, and who better than Jesus? We aren’t given any details about the second cleansing. Seems unlikely that it was perfunctory.

Did the merchants and moneychangers return the day after such a cleansing? Were the Temple priests shamed temporarily into enforcing the laws of decorum? What did Jesus feel when he learned of the returned and ongoing desecration? Perhaps he just avoided going to the Temple, because he would have had to cleanse it every time he was there. And his time had not yet come. Perhaps that second cleansing, starting the week of his Crucifixion, was one cleansing too many, and his enemies found the impetus to work their purpose.

John tells us there were many miraculous signs performed at this time in Jerusalem, and many believed. “But Jesus did not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need men’s testimony about a man, because he knew what was in men.” This very nearly puts Jesus outside normal humanity. Anyone else, it would indicate cynicism and trust issues. Well, maybe common sense and equanimity, to not buy into adulation. It’s not that they weren’t sincere – they saw wonders! It’s that they were not deep. Jesus has no respect for shallow. It must be that he has the full measure of maturity – sorry, but a Buddhist ideal, if you will, unmoved by the moods and whims of a crowd. There’s the word, crowd – Jesus is moved by individuals.

Jesus confronts. He challenges. To Nicodemus wondering about “born again” Jesus says, “You are a teacher of Israel and you do not understand these things?” It’s not insulting, not necessarily hard, but it would be very hard to hear. Let’s take Jesus here as primarily a teacher. What tone gets the best results? Mild would work best on me. Refer me to my conscience and integrity. A slow upwelling of shame and I would be overwhelmed. Anger just makes me laugh.

Jesus is a genius. He gets it, immediately. Hence his frustration. Anyone who teaches knows you say something a thousand times, and they finally hear it once. So, patience, the need for which is frustrating. Frustration comes when you aren’t getting the outcome you’re working hard for. Is Jesus allowed, in his genius, to have unreasonable expectations? No he is not. Therefore his expectations, though disappointed, must be reasonable.

It is in this interaction that the John 3:16 summary of the gospel appears. Jesus gives Nicodemus the teacher of Israel a lesson in things he was expected to know, but hadn’t a clue. Had there been no prophets, that there was so little knowledge? What bible were these people reading, that they didn’t know the Holy One of God when he performed wonders before their very eyes? The demon Legion of the Gadarene swine recognized him. John the Fetus recognized him. He was there to be known. But there are so many plausible lies, convincing frauds, and we know the meaning of prophesy almost always only after it comes to pass. Must teachers be prophets, lest they be shamed by Jesus? It must have something to do with humility, and diligence, and a noble spirit. There is a deepest place in Hell for careless judges. To set oneself up as a teacher carries a terrible risk. That’s why I mostly ask questions.

This is the first recorded sermon of Jesus. It’s typical. My opinion only, but Jesus doesn’t develop an argument using evidence. He doesn’t try to be persuasive. He asserts. Often there’s no editorial organization to what he says. Sometimes it comes off like a jumble of utterances on a general theme. Is that what it is? Or is it a perfectly ad hoc flow-of-consciousness discussion, where he is responding to the specific needs of the moment and of the specific person or the crowd? I don’t know. Either the scribes and memorists who noted his sermons were precise in their recount, or they were not and never went back to edit. Either possibility will have to be good enough. Clearly, Greek and Jewish literary conventions were different; the great collator Aristotle had a deeper influence shaping the modern intellect than did the visionaries of Israel.

At Sychar Jesus asks a Samaritan woman for water. “How can you ask me for a drink?” Sort of a separate-but-equal thing, between Jews and Samaritans. Even as a child I was bothered by Jesus’ answer. “If you knew who asked, you could have asked me for living water and had eternal life.” Then he tells her she’s had five husbands and is currently living in sin. A talk about where it’s appropriate to worship, and then he identifies himself as the Messiah. He stays two days preaching, and many Samaritans believe.

It’s not that he’s cryptic. It’s that what he says is very hard to understand and believe. He’s not taunting the women, he’s identifying missed opportunity. But how was she to know? Yet he expects it of her. It’s not his failure to communicate, but hers to discern. Does Jesus understand that not everyone is a prophet? There’s something in it of the professor lecturing a child. But that would make Jesus a poor teacher, and we can’t have that. Maybe that’s why he speaks to her about living waters and about living in sin: she can’t understand eternal life before she understands the reason for death. It’s not a linear argument, it’s a contrast, with the expectation of insight. Incidents like this aren’t about the psychology of Jesus, but Jesus the psychologist. His presiding emotion must be patience.

At Cana once more, a father begs Jesus to heal a far-off child. Jesus complains, and heals the child. “Unless you people see signs and wonders you will never believe.” Yes, Jesus, that’s right. It’s called evidence. Why the complaint? We’re told to test all things, but no, we shouldn’t? Test all things but you? True, we’re told not to test God, but the word there means provoke. Equivocation could send us to hell.

What do we learn of Jesus the man? He never denies anyone healing. But he will tie it to a comment on our frailty and need for proof. Complaint must not be the right word. He likes the faith that children have. But children haven’t lived in the world very long, with its lies. Apparently we’re expected to slough off betrayals and treat every occasion as an opportunity for faith? Can that be right? That is simply undoable. I’m talking myself into a corner. Jesus was once asked, “how many times should we forgive our brother – seven times?” And he says, “Seven times seventy times.” That is, endlessly. Frankly, I’d rather let Jesus complain about my lack of faith, than constantly forgive congenital betrayers. Was it easier to forgive the betrayal from Judas because Jesus knew it was coming? I must not be getting something. Forgiveness is not trust? It’s about equivocation yet again: There’s the forgiveness that wipes the slate, makes scarlet turn as white as snow, and the forgiveness that abandons resentment but remembers lessons learned. God can afford the first; we need to find wisdom where we may. At Nazareth Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah and proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor. Some doubt issues from the congregation, and Jesus says, citing examples, that no prophet is accepted in his home town. The people are infuriated and drive him to the cliff to kill him. That must have been the custom for killing demoniacs, human or pigs. He passes through the crowd and goes on his way. Surely in this are clues to the psychology of Jesus. He is fearless in naming himself a prophet, bold in confrontation, fearless in the face of murderous wrath. The details of his departure from the cliff – escape simply isn’t the word – are withheld. Miracle? Charisma? Police escort?

In Capernaum there is very much healing of disease and casting out of demons, and of a morning he goes to pray in a solitary place. Found, he says he will go to nearby villages, “So I can preach there too. That is why I have come.” This is the first time we’re told he is alone, since the wilderness. When he is tired, he would rather pray than sleep.

A leper begs for healing. “If you are willing you can make me clean”. Jesus is filled with compassion. “I am willing,” and he touches what is not touched. “Be clean.” Jesus sternly warns the man not to speak of this, but of course the fellow won’t stop talking. After all the wonders Jesus has worked already, there shouldn’t be anything special in the healing of a leper; but more crowds come, not for the preaching but the healing. That’s our psychology. Compassion is the first named emotion in the New Testament. After this, Jesus often seeks solitude for prayer.

A paralytic is lowered through the roof to get close to where Jesus is preaching. Jesus rewards such faith: “Son, your sins are forgiven.” I never noticed that before. “Son.” An endearment, tender, gentle. Is the paralytic a child? a youth? Or just a pathetic man? Luke has a looser translation, as “friend”; something is lost in translation. Either way, this is the first term of endearment in the New Testament – the“dear” woman to Mary is so translated to indicate courtesy. The Pharisees were offended that Jesus took it upon himself to forgive sins. “Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit what they were thinking. ‘Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?’” He tells the man (so not a child) to take up his mat and walk, and people are amazed. As for Jesus knowing their thoughts in his spirit, it’s either human intuition or divinity. I can’t say that Jesus had mere hunches. He always will have known how offensive his statements could be. Most notable then may be that to doubt him is “evil”.

The tax collector Levi follows Jesus and changes his name to Matthew. He gives a great banquette for Jesus and a crowd of sinners attend. The Pharisees see and find fault in this: the disciples of John the Baptist fast and pray, but these people feast!  Jesus calls himself the Bridegroom and says the time for mourning will come. Mourning is the first emotion Jesus names.

At the healing pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem, Jesus asks a crippled man if he wants to be healed. The man can’t get into the water at the propitious moment – someone else always gets there first. “Get up. Take up your mat and walk.” Sounds like a command. And the man is healed. In this instance, faith in the waters seems to be enough. Maybe Jesus is moved by the futility. Thirty-eight years the man had been crippled, and no one ever took pity to hold a place in line. Maybe the pool’s water stirred only rarely, very rarely, and even great vigilance was insufficient.

Why does Jesus ask if he wants to be healed? Because not everyone does. Even perched at the edge of the pool for decades, the man may finally have despaired, become bitter, complacent, waiting out of habit, content to beg. The man could have been faithless. So Jesus asks, and the man gives a reason which is sufficient. Sometimes we are blameless in our affliction.

Later that day the man sees Jesus at the Temple and learns who he is. “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” It’s not a cause and effect statement; I think he means hell. The man spreads news of the healing – how wouldn’t he? – and the Pharisees want to kill Jesus: he heals on the Sabbath, you see, and says God is his father, making himself God’s equal. But in a long speech Jesus says far more – he gives life where he pleases, he judges as he chooses. From anyone else it would be monstrous blasphemy. There is nothing of all men are gods here. Jesus claims exclusivity.

On later Sabbaths Jesus gathers wheat to eat, and heals a man with a shriveled hand. When confronted he asks if it is good to do good on the Sabbath, but his enemies are silent. And Jesus looks around in anger, and is “deeply distressed” by their stubborn hearts. It was probably a different group of accusers every time. Every age has an endless supply of self-righteous hypocrites. One community organizer is outfaced, and the next one steps up to attack. Pharisees demonstrate that shameless and shameful are the same thing.

The lack of detail in all these incident is bothersome. It’s not good storytelling. How did Jesus pass unmolested through a murderous crowd? The cripples and lepers and sightless he heals – the bare facts are too bare; all that potential delightful emotional drama, lost in what amounts to a list. This is bothersome however only for those seeking to be entertained. As reportage it works fine. For those who are pleased to suppose such miracles are boilerplate inventions by cultists with an agenda, well, liars embellish their lies with false details, for verisimilitude. This needs to be pointed out? We don’t find the poet’s imagination at work in the gospels, no wine-dark seas and smoking towers of Ilium. It’s people telling a long important story in a short amount of time, no space to be wasted on, well, verisimilitude. Sounds like the gospels, too, are not trying to convince, but simply to inform. Isn’t that an interesting way to look at it?

J

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Psychology of Jesus: I

Interesting title. Requires some clarification though, some defining of terms. Psychology here must mean emotional life. It could seek to deal with psyche, mind, soul, but these are too complicated. Emotions are simple, physical, hormonal, brain-body feedback loops. So, not actually simple, but at least, or at most, definable. How and what did Jesus feel, and more broadly, think. And by Jesus we must mean the man, the son of David, and more immediately of Mary, the Jewish Nazarene from Bethlehem. More fully, Jesus Christ, the Christ, Messiah, Meshiah, but per the orthodox Christian approach we are taking here, to speak of the psychology of Christ is to speak to the mind of God, and that to us must be an address to paradox. Free will and predestination, time and eternity, foreknowing yet repentance. We accommodate such ideas by labeling them, the way we have a word for infinity, without the capacity to understand it.

I’m avoiding any argument of theology, rather asserting and affirming the dual nature of Jesus, fully God yet fully man. What after all are we to make of the Logos? The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. For God so loved the word that he gave his one-of-a-kind son to die for us. That all may repent and be saved. Simple yet hard. Too much to deal with before it’s time, before its time. Many after all are called, and few are saved. I think it is the great sad fact, that most of the afterlife is hell. Certainly for adults. This realization is of course a, the, major factor in the subject at hand, the psychology of Jesus.

Specifically, I’m dealing with Jesus the man. This is precisely what Thomas Jefferson tried to do in his bowdlerized edition of the bible – he snipped out all the hard to believe miracles and claims to divinity, and left the parables and moralistic preaching; yet, somehow, I’m doing the opposite – leaving out the preaching and dealing with his actions, which are mostly miraculous.

I have to say, confess frankly, that I’m writing this because of a certain dissonance I feel, towards Jesus. I know him only through the bible. I can make up ideas about him, suppose I have a uniquely special personal relationship with this personal savior, but I don’t suppose so. The nature of my salvation is the nature of faith. I do not understand. I trust. A major accomplishment, for someone is skeptical as myself. My study of apologetics convinced me of the truth of the gospel, and as there must be something of the Berian in someone who demands to know the truth enough to seek and to test it, thus far might my nature be called noble. So, faith in truth must be a kind of nobility. Faith in lies must be the opposite. As must be indifference.

The dissonance? Jesus doesn’t seem like an altogether nice guy. The thought arises virtually every time I read the gospels. This most recent time I took a moment to analyze it, and the instant answer was that Jesus must have spent very much time feeling frustration. That seemed interesting enough for me to undertake, reluctantly, this present project. I don’t know its size, but I know it’s a biography.

His childhood is deep shadow, to us. We are not told. Must not be important. Various adventures involving family members, not within our scope. He has a number of what are called brothers and sisters. Roman Catholicism has it that Mary had no other children, translating brothers and sisters as cousins or relations. Whatever. Maybe it’s a perpetual virginity thing. Another theory would be that most normative is to have siblings. Then again, if Jesus didn’t have a wife, why should he have brothers? Then again, he does have a Bride, and all men are brothers to all other men. Take your pick. There are essentials, and there are things to argue about.

We’re told he grew and became strong, full of wisdom, given grace; no details are provided. There are later, silly “lost” gospels that have fanciful tales in them, bringing clay birds to life and whatnot. Hocus-pocus. In the real bible we’re told that when he was twelve he stayed behind in the temple courtyard discussing adult topics with the rabbis; when his parents finally got around to finding him, he is matter of fact: “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I would be in my father’s house?” Is this how young Jewish boys talked? He hadn’t even had his bar mitzvah yet. The emphasis, I realize, is on searching. Observe his logic: there was only one place he could have been. He expects people to follow the evidence of their analyzed observations. Jesus was precocious.

After this Jesus continued to grow, in wisdom, stature and approval. Joseph his adoptive father disappears from the story. So that’s interesting. He was the eldest child and perhaps the male head of the family. He was an admired teenager. We’d have to say he was well-adjusted, with high self-esteem.

The process, degree, unveiling of his mature self-knowledge is not given for us to know. Whether he always knew he was, well, God, or whether it was withheld and then revealed – guesswork. A bit of evidence: When pregnant Mary and the pregnant mother of John the Baptist came together, John leapt in the womb, with joy, at being in the presence of the Savior. Thus at least one of these unborn prophets had knowledge of an elevated sort. If John did, only special pleading would say that Jesus did not.

So we have an infant Jesus who is a human infant, needing to learn all those basic lessons, and at least one lesson which is not basic: that the Temple is the house of his own Father. Is this a childhood claim to being the divine messiah? It is certainly used as evidence toward a later claim.

Silence then, until Jesus is about thirty years old. No so-called lost years: there is no respectable evidence that he traveled to Persia, India, Tibet, Utah, what have you. Such claims come from crypto-history, stories that pop up very many centuries later, unsupported by actual documents, which history requires in order to be history and not crypto history. Such stories are very cool and intriguing, as are stories of a hollow earth and ancient aliens and Darwinian evolution. We each decide for ourselves the rigor of the theories we will accept.

At age thirty Jesus comes into focus. As if out of a wilderness he appears, to be baptized by John. What psychology is revealed in this? A sort of humbleness, where he is acknowledged to be the greater, yet submits to a discipline, or to a mere ritual. That all righteousness may be fulfilled. He’s acting a role, not for himself, it’s nothing he needs, but as the symbolic type, the archetype, the substance of which ritual is the shadow. History after all requires remembering. It is, frankly, a mystery, or confusing, or some other word that indicates something less than full understanding. I don’t understand it. Jesus had to be baptized as an example that we should be baptized, unto repentance, or salvation? I kind of get it. Baptism as a symbolic cleansing, and a symbolic death and rebirth. Jesus was first to receive this particular baptism, different from John’s customary, of repentance. It’s a ritual because children copy parents, after the manner of higher primates. But all these symbols and types and rituals – metaphor is too often vague and arbitrary and ambiguous. It’s not my story though – I don’t get to make up the details. If I did, you know what that would make me? God. No thanks. I want fewer, not more, responsibilities. But Jesus did his duty.

What must he have felt when the Holy Spirit in dovelike bodily form lighted upon him, with a voice redounding throughout the heavens, “This is my son, whom I love, with whom I am most pleased”? For an honorable father to tell his son, with actual words, that he was pleasing and loved – how pleasing that must be. My father called his sons his “offspring.”

Then Jesus goes into the wilderness and fasts for forty days, and is tempted, tested, by Satan. No temptation involved, as we commonly understand the word. What psychology, emotion, habit of thought is revealed in all this? Well, a markedly austere character. Forty days is a long time to fast. On top of which, Satan is there, however much. Is it a vision? Is it symbolic? Is it physical, Satan in a body, the way angels, Jesus himself preincarnate, sat in the grove of Mamre and ate the bread of Abram? Did the two of them, Satan and Jesus actually go to the high place where Jesus might be caught up by angels, and were there revealed somehow all the kingdoms of the earth that Jesus might rule, if only such-and-such? Surely this latter must have been a vision – I can’t support the idea of a global view from space, or of a magic carpet ride, a Ghost of Christmas Present, a Santa’s sleigh dash across the continents. As for bread, Jesus doesn’t make bread from stones. And from these tests – Away from me, Satan – we must deduce, what? Jesus does not suffer fools gladly? Certainly that he had a ready answer based on scripture. So, as we’re told, he spoke with authority, but he also cited authority. And he abides for a while the presence of Satan - as we know in any case from the book of Job; and he was ministered to by angels as physical as Satan would have been. This must certainly impute something dramatic about his character, his psychology. Perhaps you can find the words.

He gathered his disciples. The process cannot have been arbitrary, but we don’t know his criteria. He has information not available to us. In some instances he simply tells a man, “Follow me”, and the man does, giving up, well, his life to do so. We’re told of a rich man who cannot so give up his life, from which we draw a contrast. Jesus seems never to compromise. Can you think of an instance where he does? Maybe with Abraham, negotiating for Sodom – if an ever-decreasing number of righteous men could be found, Sodom would be spared. But not even a minyan, a mere ten, could be dredged up, so fire and brimstone rained down. It only seemed like compromise.

A failure to compromise doesn’t prove a rigid or narrow character. Jesus is broad, complex, showing the balance, between justice and mercy, required by wisdom. The woman taken in adultery gets mercy. The self-righteous teachers, he calls a generation of vipers. The woman is told to repent, but we don’t know that she does. And do any of the vipers repent? Seems unlikely, but there are legends that Barabbas repented, and Pilate; most likely just a satisfying fiction, not even crypto-history. As for Jesus, we can see that he is always decisive. Self-confident, then.

Does he have doubt? None is revealed. So by the record, the evidence, there is no doubt. Certainly there is pain, mental distress. He seeks out solitude. He weeps. He complains. Raises the question, how happy a man was Jesus? Rephrased, what were his needs, and were they met?

While I think of it, what about sexuality. Regardless of fictions, Jesus cannot have married. His bride is the Church, and a prior divorce or bereavement from a First Century Hebrew woman is contraindicated, typologically. (Jesus did however come from a broken home: God had divorced his whorish wife Israel, as Hosea informs us.) Jesus the man, however, human in all things, had a sexual nature. Did he have a naturally low libido, of the sort Paul speaks of – some born, some made to be eunuchs? Did Jesus have all the properly functioning equipment, but superhuman self-control, or meditational techniques, or some other means of sublimating instinct and biology? Assertion has it that yogic practice more easily increases than sublimates sexual energy. But if as we’re told he was tested, proven, in all things, then he didn’t get an easy pass regarding sex. He had to deal with it. Sorry, but morning erections. Otherwise his was not a normal male body, for all that his nature was dual. Nutritional practices, and habits of mind, can subdue urges. But urges do have to be dealt with.

We’re not told the details though; somehow, somehow it must not be important. Is it permissible to disagree with God? The owners’ manual seems incomplete. “Be righteous” is insufficient, as operating instructions go. Something must be wrong with my understanding, or practice.

We can confidently assume that Jesus knew his mission, as exactly that, a solemn, no, sacred duty. The purpose of his humanity was to live and die as a man. Expressly he had feelings about this. He is at what we would call his most human in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying fervently, in dread, sweating blood. Jesus was afraid. Thus we understand that fear does not require doubt, for he cannot have doubted. It was purely the pain that he feared. Forgive me, please, if I sound glib, but pain hurts, and is rightly to be feared. Not to fear pain is perverted. So, yes, Jesus was afraid.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This, at one sitting, and without actually opening a bible, so pretty much first draft. Sorry. I plan or hope to go through the four gospels and using the details to find out what to think. Can’t go around thinking that Jesus isn’t nice. Unless of course he isn’t nice. Nice, after all, used to be an insulting word. We shall see.

 J