Tuesday, October 28, 2008

3/3 "Spread the wealth" and what the Bible says

The story of Jesus and the disciples utilizing the charity of the excess grain being kept in the field for use of the poor and the traveler is told three times in the Gospel.

Matthew 12:1-8. At that time Jesus went through the standing grain on the Sabbath; and his disciples being hungry began to pluck ears of grain and to eat. But the Pharisees, when they saw it, said to him, “Thy disciples are doing what is not lawful for them to do on the Sabbath.” But he said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and those who with him were hungry? How he entered the house of God, and ate the loaves of proposition which neither he nor those with him could lawfully eat, but only the priests? Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath days the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are guiltless? But I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. But if you knew what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would never have condemned the innocent; for the Son of Man Is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Jesus and the disciples were collecting and eating grain from the “pantry” that God mandates which is that part of the ongoing harvest of the fields must be kept available for those who were poor or were traveling. And notice that the Pharisees do not criticize Jesus and the disciples for that. However, the Pharisees and many of the devout Jews of that time had come to warp God’s instructions. In this example, the Pharisees had decided that the poor could not collect their food on the Sabbath since the act of picking up food was considered “work” and that is forbidden on the Sabbath. So the rich could eat food they had already harvested but the poor were expected not to “violate the Sabbath” by bending hand to stalk of grain and picking the food up. This is one of the many abuses that Jesus had come to chastise and correct. And so he rebukes the Pharisees pointing out the many scriptural examples where obviously something that would be considered “work” must be done in dire need and those who are sanctified. So this scripture is cited mostly because of Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees, but if you know your Bible you also know what I’m pointing out to you, that this is how Jesus and the disciples traveled and gleaned their food. They weren’t like Buddhist monks shuffling along with bowls begging under vows of poverty, though many modern liberals try to paint Jesus that way. Far from it, Jesus and the disciples availed themselves of these continuing food sources that God had mandated be available in every town, in every field, to be available to the poor, the widow, the orphan, travelers and foreigners passing through. (Another example is when Jesus curses the fig tree that is not available with fruit when he is in need of it. People think of that as ‘bad temper’ if they do not realize that it is instead a statement that all is subject to the Son of Man, and that Jesus’ action is to underscore that there is to be an expectation of food available as prescribed by God).

Mark 2: 23-28. And it came to pass again as he was going through the standing grin on the Sabbath, that his disciples began, as they went along, to plunk the ears of grain. But the Pharisees said to him, “Behold, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and those who were with him were in need and hungry? How he entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the loaves of proposition, which he could not lawfully eat, but only the priests? And how he gave them to those who were with him? And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man Is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

While Matthew and Mark recall the words slightly differently, Jesus makes the same important point. God created rules for the benefit of humans, in his mercy, and not to enslave humans to rules. Thus it is obviously that God created the rule that poor humans could glean food they need from the fields for their benefit since the poor are high in the priority of God. Likewise the Sabbath is created so that all can rest, for their benefit, from their labors, not so that they have “another rule to follow.” Therefore it is doubly insulting to the great mercy of God that the Pharisees of the time had viewed both signs of mercy by God as a way to beat the poor down and call them in violation of the Sabbath because they fed their hungry stomachs on that day. That is quite an example of those who are supposed to know better to be preaching the opposite of what God intended. This is why Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man (so he can rest) and not man for the Sabbath, just to be having a rule to follow. And likewise Jesus is saying the same thing in Matthew when he cites God in scripture to the Pharisees “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Providing food in the field for the poor is another mercy, not imposing another special ‘sacrifice’ on them because Pharisees try to keep them from “working” to gather their food.

Luke 6: 1-5. Now it came to pass on the second first Sabbath, that he was going through standing grain, and his disciples were plucking and eating the ears of grain, rubbing them with their hands. But some of the Pharisees said to them, “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Have you not, then, read what David did when he and those with him were hungry? How he entered the house of God, and took, ate, and gave to those who were with him, the loaves of proposition, which no one may lawfully eat except the priests?” And he said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

I repeated all three of the scriptural references to this event of the plucking grain on the Sabbath in order to point out some additional information. It’s the same event but obviously described in separate writings from Apostles and disciples working separately so slightly different things are emphasized, which adds to understanding, not detracts. Luke, a Greek, mentions exactly how the disciples were gathering the grain, “rubbing them with their hands.” See, Luke is writing for those who are not necessarily Jewish and would not understand what “work” Jesus and the disciples are accused of doing on the Sabbath. A Jewish reader would understand, but a Gentile would not. So Luke adds the explanatory description that when one plucks a stalk or ear of corn (grain), one has to rub the stalk in the palms of one’s hands in order to loosen the grains from the stalk and make them free to eat. It is this rubbing of the hands together that the Pharisees accused of being “work.” I’ve done this, by the way, walking along some wheat fields in Germany back in the 1960’s, and the grains are kind of sticky and you do have to rub in order to get them loose from the stalk to eat.

So it simply is outrageous and not true when liberals try to portray Biblical charity and almsgiving as anything other than that described in the Bible per God’s direct word, and also the example that Jesus himself set of utilizing that very system that God had mandated.

Another problem is that in the New Testament the word “charity” does not mean specifically alms giving and giving or lending to the poor. Charity means “kindness,” including affectionate and benevolent thoughts. This is another thing that drives me crazy. So rather than reading what I have pointed out about what God has said about genuine charity, as in alms giving and lending, and how exactly to do it, those who try to pop culture Jesus erroneously use scripture about “charity” to justify whatever “good cause” and economic or donation structure they are trying to advocate. It’s totally infuriating. When Jesus preaches about charity, whether he uses that word or not, Jesus is referring to benevolence and kindness, not rewriting the rules of almsgiving and lending that God has laid out in the Law.

Further, one cannot argue that those rules were part of the “Old Covenant” and “only apply to the Jews.” No, you cannot. Why? Because as I cited God said in Deuteronomy 6:15 this line “If you but heed the voice of the Lord, your God, and carefully observe all these commandments which I enjoin on you today, you will lend to many nations, and borrow from none.” If God is referring only to the Jews, as a law they keep only among themselves, who are the “many nations?” God is “laying down the law” for all who are believers in him, and so that obviously applies to the Jews, Christians and Muslims. That’s another peeve of mine. Those who cherry pick Bible readings by their agenda like to arbitrarily assign what they don’t want to do as being “Jewish and part of the Old Covenant, and don’t need to do none of that, no sirree” while the stuff they want to do or that they want to apply to someone else (as in their crazy “interpretations” of revelatory material), don’t hesitate to decide what countries or people they wish to slap it onto. So one minute they will say part of the Bible applies only to the Old Covenant Jews, while the next line they claim is a prophecy about “Russia” or whatever. You must believe exactly what God said, and that did not “go away,” anymore than the Ten Commandments “went away” when Jesus arrived, which they clearly did not. In fact, nothing really “went away” from the Old Testament, there were simply the appropriate updates, to use a secular word, as per Jesus and the Apostles. For example, yes, circumcision was no longer required but something took its place, and that is baptism. So that is a primary example of where the spirit of all that was stated by God in the Old Covenant is retained, while the specifics of the New Covenant brought by the Savior fulfills not only the promise of the Messiah but also the behavior that is incumbent upon all true believers.

Think about it. It’s not like that when St. Paul and St. Peter and the other disciples started moving around and preaching in both synagogues and to the Gentiles that they stopped gleaning grain from the fields to sustain them “because the Old Covenant law is no longer valid.” I mean, duh. Their families would have maintained that form of charity and they also would have benefited from it; that would not have changed after Jesus. But because they were going into Gentile areas to preach, this is why they developed different communal and alms asking practices, since they were traveling outside of areas where these Old Testament “pantries” existed. It was not a new chapter in self abasing poverty, as certain ignorant nut jobs like to push. It was the reality of not only a spiritual mindset of “poverty” so that the Lord God can fill that space, but also a literal reality of traveling in areas that never received the original word of God and thus did not have the system of the fields, of the alms, of the lending admonishments, of the Jewish schedule for the forgiveness of debts and provision of free use of the fields, etc. When the disciples encountered such areas of Jewish settlement, obviously they partook of the system that God had established in the Old Covenant.

Pretty much the last mention of almsgiving (not the more generic charity of kindness of thought and deed) is Luke 14: 13-14 where Jesus said “But when thou givest a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; and blessed shalt thou be, because they have nothing to repay thee with; for thou shalt be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Again, this is Jesus being specific and connecting via parable exactly what God has already put forth. Jesus is reinforcing how God mandates sharing of the actual goods at the actual time they are being had by the prosperous, not later and not in token “donations.” Genuine charity as in the sense of almsgiving and tending to the poor is continually taught and mandated by God as being enfranchising the poor in normal life, day by day, on special occasions, and when they experience set backs, just as the scripture mandates that I cited from Exodus, Deuteronomy, Leviticus, and Esdras. In fact, remember how Esdras taught the Law that during festival the poor should have the same fat meat and sweet wine as those who have? This is exactly what Jesus says here, with one exception. Jesus explains that now the “crippled, lame and blind” are to be also invited. It’s not like God “left them out” back in Exodus, but in the times of Jesus the erroneous teaching had arisen among the Pharisees and others that the sick and maimed were that way because of sin. So rather than erasing and replacing what is taught in the Old Testament, such as almsgiving and lending, Jesus explains over and over that this is to continue and to refute those who try to exclude in the name of God. Remember that the Pharisees tried to exclude Jesus and the disciples from eating what they gleaned on the Sabbath. Well, the Pharisees and others like them tried to exclude the sick and maimed also from pretty much everything, writing them off as “sinners.” This is of course never what God said or meant (God, in facts, warns in the Law that no one should put stumbling blocks before the blind, which means that people should not allow those who are blind to be hindered in their well being and survival because of their blindness).

Jesus repeated, rather than replaced, what God has mandated and taught, over and over and over again.

Luke 20: 45-47. And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, “Beware of the Scribes, who like to walk about in long robes, and love greetings in the market place, and front seats in the synagogues and first places at suppers; who devour the houses of the widows, making pretense of long prayers. These shall receive a heavier sentence.”

Interesting, the mention of the “market place,” isn’t it? It all comes back to how far astray both the economic structure and its moral unpinning has become, by both the right (“the lords of the market place”) and the left (“first places at the celebrity fund raisers”). Think about it.

I hope that you find this helpful. You better, my friends, you better.