Friday, June 01, 2007

Me and Jesus: Episode 3

This morning in bed I read Matthew chapter 22.

First there is a parable about a king inviting people to a feast, the respectable people won't come so the servant invites any old person who happens to be in the street. I sort of get that, the last will be first, the priority of outcasts and stuff. Then one of them gets thrown out because he's not wearing the right clothes. And there's 'weeping and gnashing of teeth.' I don't like it when there's weeping and gnashing of teeth. Jesus seems to be scaring people to do stuff, which I don't like. Plus I don't really understand what not wearing the right clothes at the feast is supposed to mean. I don't get it.

Pay to the emperor what belongs to the emperor, give to God what belongs to God. I think I get that.

Some theological argument about resurrection. Who cares?

The greatest commandments are love to God and neighbour. I agree with that.

An argument about whether the Messiah is David's descendant. Jesus says he isn't. I think that comes from Mark who insists Jesus is the Messiah but doesn't say that he's a descendant of David. This is carried across to Matthew, even though Matthew says Jesus is a descendant of David. But it brings up the question of whether Jesus thought he was the Messiah, and what does that mean?



So from five distinct teachings in one chapter: two seem irrelevant, one I don't really understand, one I think I understand and agree with and one I definitely agree with.

Now does this make me a Christian or not? I find it difficult to claim with integrity that I'm a Christian just because I believe in the love to God and neighbour bit. That's only a minority of this one chapter. The tax question I think I'm OK with. I find questions about resurrection and Messiah-ship entirely irrelevant. And then there's confusing nasty bits.

Now, I could claim that some of the bits I don't like are added by other authors and didn't come from the lips of Jesus. But then that feels a bit like wishful thinking, how do you know you're not just shaping Jesus in your own image if you do that?

Let me say again: I'm happy to be a theistic biblical Abrahamic Unitarian who gets a great deal from the teaching of Jesus. But if I neither believe in the orthodox doctrines of 'Christianity' nor agree with central teachings of Jesus, then how can I be a Christian?

That's the issue I suppose: what is central to Jesus and what is peripheral? What is permanent and what is transient? What is the heart of the Gospel? Even Jesus himself didn't get all of the periphery of the Gospel worked out, but did he get the heart of the Gospel?

Let's say there's this thing called 'the Gospel'. The Gospel is what is religiously good and true. No one has a perfect sense of what the Gospel is. Some people have a better sense than others. The question then is: is my sense of what the Gospel is centrally about the same as Jesus' sense of what the Gospel is centrally about? If it is then perhaps I could be said to be a Christian in the sense of following the same path as Jesus.

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