Showing posts with label #ChristAlmighty. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #ChristAlmighty. Show all posts

Jesus’s list of works of the flesh.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 July

Mark 7.17-23, Matthew 15.15-20.

Every so often I bring up a fruit of the Spirit like grace, or a work of the flesh like gracelessness. And no, these aren’t among the fruits and fleshly works Paul listed in Galatians 5. Because, in I said in my article on the topic, it’s not a comprehensive list. Wasn’t meant to be.

Because it’s not in Paul’s list, I’ll get pushback from time to time from a Christian who has the Galatians lists memorized, and has it in their head the lists are comprehensive. “Waitaminnit, that’s not one of the fruits.” And then I have to explain how this particular attitude and behavior has its clear origin in a Spirit-led lifestyle, or Spirit-defying human depravity. Grace should be one of the more obvious ones, ’cause grace is obviously a God thing. But you know how literalists can be. The scriptures gotta literally say it’s a fruit, and if they don’t it’s not.

Sometimes it’s not even about literalism: It’s because they want it to be a comprehensive list. Because they’re doing fleshly stuff, and wanna get away with it. Because there are good behaviors they really oughta develop in their lives, and they don’t wanna. Turning Galatians 5 into a comprehensive list is their loophole, and they’ll fight to the spiritual death to defend it.

Funny; the context of Galatians 5 is the Pharisees and their loopholes. Paul objected to how certain Christians figured grace means we can get away with stuff, ’cause no it doesn’t. And right after Jesus critiqued the Pharisees for the very same attitude, he explained to both his students and the crowd how evil comes from within, not without. It’s not what goes into us which makes us ritually unclean; it’s what comes out. Evil attitudes, intentions, and behaviors defile us. And all of ’em come from the id, from the selfish impulses, from the יֵצֶר הַרַע/yechér ha-ra, from the flesh.

’Cause the Pharisees of Jesus’s day claimed evil comes from the outside in. Entirely wrong. Humans are inherently selfish, but we wanna justify our selfishness so we can (selfishly) feel good about ourselves despite all the destruction we wreak by our self-serving behavior. The result is pretty much all the evil in the world. (The rest comes from natural disasters—some of which human behavior also produces.)

First problem Jesus ran into was his students telling him his lesson had offended the Pharisees. Well, Jesus explained, they’re blind guides. They think they understand God; they really don’t; there’s no telling them anything; forgive it as best you can. Pity the fools.

Second was the students not getting it.

Mark 7.17-18 KWL
17 From the crowd, once Jesus entered the house, his students were asking him what “the parable” meant.
18A Jesus told them, “Don’t you understand this either?”
Matthew 15.15-16 KWL
15 In reply Simon Peter told Jesus, “Explain the parable to us.”
16 Jesus said, “Don’t you yet understand either?”

Peter makes it clear they thought this is a parable. It’s not. Jesus’s parables are about his kingdom, and this teaching is about the stuff which keeps people away from his kingdom. So Jesus got blunt: He wants us to understand him, and not weasel out of it by claiming he’s being hyperbolic. He’s not.

Food goes in. Evil comes out.

The Pharisees objected that Jesus didn’t ritually wash his hands. Which is admittedly unsanitary, but they weren’t trying to be sanitary (and since they all dipped their forearms and feet in the same jars, it really wasn’t all that sanitary); it was all about being ritually clean.

The word Pharisees used to describe Jesus and his kids was κοινοῖ/kiní, “common,” which isn’t really an insult unless you have a caste system where Pharisees are nobles in the top rank, and non-Pharisees are commoners in the lowest rank. To them, Jesus was acting like a dirty peasant pagan.

Whereas to Jesus, their ritual washing was all for show anyway. Skipping it didn’t make you “common.” Thinking like a dirty pagan peasant, with a heart full of selfish and depraved ideas, is what did it to you. The show covers up the fact your heart might be full of that selfishness and depravity—but you look good, so nobody can call you on your evil.

Mark 7.18-20 KWL
18B “You know how everything from outside, which goes into the person, can’t make them ‘common’?
19 Because it doesn’t enter their heart, but into the bowels, and goes out into the latrine.
All the food gets cleaned out.”
20 Jesus said this: “What comes out of the person? That makes the person ‘common’.
Matthew 15.17-18 KWL
17 “You know how everything which goes in the mouth, enters the bowels and goes down the latrine?
18 What comes out of the mouth, comes out of the heart—and that makes the person ‘common.’ ”

Food passes through your alimentary canal. It doesn’t get to your heart… although if you eat too much of certain types of foods, you’re gonna clog your arteries with plaque. But Jesus isn’t speaking of one’s literal heart, but one’s mind. Your food isn’t gonna make you think and do evil. Your mind will. Your food’s just gonna come out in your poo.

Evil’s far more deeply embedded than that.

Mark 7.21-23 KWL
21 “For evil reasoning comes out from within the person’s heart:
Porn. Theft. Murder. 22 Adultery. Covetousness. Depravity.
Deception. Immorality. Stinginess. Slander. Conceit. Stupidity.
23 All these inner evils come out and make the person ‘common’.”
Matthew 15.19-20 KWL
17 “For evil reasoning comes out of the heart:
Murder. Adultery. Porn. Theft. False witness. Slander.
20 These make the person ‘common’. Not washing one’s hands to eat doesn’t make the person ‘common’.”

Like Paul’s list, Jesus’s isn’t comprehensive either. But these are traits we should never see among Christians. When we see the Spirit’s fruit in our lives, we’re clean, kosher, Christian. When we see no evidence of any influence of the Holy Spirit—unchanged, unregenerated, unrepentant, unfruitful people—we’re unclean, treyf, pagan.

Evil reasoning (διαλογισμοὶ πονηροί/dialoyismé poniré, KJV “evil thoughts”) tends to get listed with the others, but really all these things are evil thoughts. And notice how a number of ’em violate the Ten Commandments.

PORN (πορνεῖαι/porneíe, “sex-minded,” KJV “fornications”). Porn refers to any inappropriate sexual activity: People who regularly have sex on the brain, and won’t limit it to monogamy, fidelity, and the considerations of their partner.

Lots of Christians figure sex isn’t an issue once you’re married: Have all the sex you want with your spouse! But you can still be inordinately interested in sex. Some years ago a few famous pastors raised eyebrows by declaring Christian couples need to have sex daily… despite what either partner, usually the under-appreciated wife who now has to submit to her husband’s objectifying lusts, is comfortable with. Look, if the wife doesn’t wanna have sex every day, usually there’s good reason! Her husband probably sucks at ministering to her needs. (And not just her sexual needs; get your mind out of there.) The demand for daily sex is still selfish. Still lacks self-control. Still porn.

Bad Christians dismiss their promiscuity by claiming it’s a form of love. I once met a guy who called himself a “love addict”—by which he meant he couldn’t keep himself from bedding women, despite his marital vows. What he was really addicted to was the thrill of adulterous fornication.

THEFT (κλοπαί/klopé, KJV “thefts”). Refers to whether you’re outright stealing things, or secretly trying to get away with stuff. Getting an unfair advantage over everyone else, getting ahead by misusing other people’s trust. To them, life is war and competition and profit, and if you’re not playing the game you’re a fool.

This looks nothing like the humility, transparency, love, and service Christians oughta see in one another. Yet I’ve been in a few Christian organizations where theft is everywhere: People brought their “business sense” from the “real world” into the environment and corrupted it. But then again they didn’t really bring it in from outside. They justified it on the outside. It was already within them.

MURDER (φόνοι/fónë, KJV “murders”). Thankfully we don’t see a lot of murder among Christians. (Well, not after they turned to Jesus.) There are exceptions, but by and large Christians know better.

Where we don’t know better is when we wish others were dead. We Christians do this all the time. I know from experience: I still know a lot of people who are really interested in politics, and really, really hate the opposition party. And anyone who supports it. And enemies of the United States, both real and imaginary. And so forth.

Jesus equates this hatred with murder. Mt 5.22 If you hate a person enough to wish they were dead, you murder them in your heart, and people with this level of hatred in ’em are unfit for God’s kingdom. Supposed to love our neighbors and enemies, remember?

ADULTERY (μοιχεῖαι/mikheíë, KJV “adulteries”). Our culture’s definition of adultery, and the bible’s, are very different. It was a patriarchal culture, where men were culturally permitted to have sex with anyone they were personally responsible for. God forbade ’em to have sex with relatives and slaves, but they still had polygamy and “concubines”—an old-timey word for “girlfriend.” (I don’t care if your favorite bible dictionary claims it means “secondary wife.” It did not. It meant an unmarried woman with whom a man had sex.)

Adultery in that culture meant having sex with someone who wasn’t yours to have sex with. Someone else’s spouse. Someone else’s significant other. A minor. A relative. A stranger in the pornography you consume (and they’re all strangers, aren’t they?). Rape would also fall into this category. Sexual harassment as well.

There’s a fair amount of overlap between porn and adultery, but Jesus was covering the bases.

COVETOUSNESS (πλεονεξίαι/pleonexíë, KJV “covetousness”). Coveting is simply wanting stuff. Which isn’t in itself a sin, but when you want what you can’t or ought not have, that’s sin. But notice Jesus doesn’t specifically single out the sinful stuff: He lists coveting in general. Simply wanting stuff.

’Cause there are a lot of people who aren’t at all satisfied with what they have. They gotta have more. Could be money, position, authority, honor, special treatment, perqs, benefits, and so forth. Unlike the humble, who are fine with where and who they are, these folks demand whatever they can get. And y’know, certain churches teach we should demand whatever we can get, ’cause we’re God’s kids Mt 7.11, Lk 6.38 and deserve the best of everything.

But in so doing we violate Jesus’s example. Part of the devil’s temptations to Jesus included goading him to demand all the stuff Jesus was due by being God’s son. And Jesus wouldn’t. There’s nothing wrong with asking for daily bread, Mt 6.11 but the self-entitled ask not for a day’s worth, but a pantry’s worth. They justify their greed by pointing out how God has more than enough. He does—but the kingdom’s resources are meant to further the kingdom, not line our pockets.

DEPRAVITY (πονηρίαι/poniríë, KJV “wickedness”). Habitual evil behavior. You know the sort who can’t or won’t quit their vices? They’re not addicted; they just don’t wanna quit. Won’t stop drinking, gambling, red meat, sarcasm, holding grudges, or other bad behavior. They’d rather be destroyed than give it up. It’s freedom! It’s who they are! But it’s wrecking ’em and their relationships—including the relationship with God.

DECEPTION (δόλος/thólos, KJV “deceit”). You know, liars and hypocrites.

IMMORALITY (ἀσέλγεια/asélyeia, KJV “lasciviousness”). People who do as they wish and don’t care who it offends, what biblical commands it violates, who gets offended, whether it’s false or evil: Their heart wants what it wants, so they’ll do as they please.

Sometimes it takes the form of “the greater good” argument, or the ends justifying the means—and in this form it regularly works on Christians. “Yeah, we gotta hide our ministers’ sins—but only so the name of Jesus isn’t dragged through the mud.” It’s never really his name they’re concerned about.

STINGINESS (ὀφθαλμὸς πονηρός/ofthalmós ponirós, KJV “an evil eye”). Yeah, literally it says “evil eye.” A “good eye” and “evil eye” are Hebrew idioms which refer to generosity and stinginess. Hopefully we have good eyes: We give when we can.

The stingy don’t give when they can. Or they give the minimum amount necessary to appear benevolent, like when a billionaire gives a thousand dollars to a charity—a millionth of their money, which they’ll never miss, and can deduct from taxes. They don’t think of money as something God gave them to bless others; if they’re not already worshiping it, they figure money’s something God gave them to bless themselves.

SLANDER (βλασφημία/vlasfimía, KJV “blasphemies”). Slander’s when you falsely accuse anyone. It applies to everyone, not just God. And Christians commit it all the time… usually in the form of gossip.

FALSE WITNESS (ψευδομαρτυρίαι/sevtho-martyríë, KJV “false witness”). Claiming you know something when you don’t. Not necessarily slander, although slander is definitely a form of false witness. Like I said, Jesus was covering his bases.

A pretty common way Christians bear false witness is by spreading internet rumors. We’re really lazy about checking facts, and wind up spreading fake news instead of stopping it in its tracks. But there are people who live for this sort of thing, and will never tell an honest story when a juicy one will do. So this’d be them.

CONCEIT (ὑπερηφανία/yper-ifanía, KJV “pride”). Taking pleasure in our achievements, i.e. pride, isn’t necessarily evil. It’s only when we make too much of ourselves that we’ve crossed the line into conceit: Pride gone too far.

Naturally conceit’s the opposite of humility—of recognizing our true value, which is a fruit of the Spirit. Jesus is humble, Mt 11.29 for he knows precisely who he is. We must remember who we are in his kingdom, and never claim otherwise.

STUPIDITY (ἀφροσύνη/afrosýni, KJV “foolishness”). People who don’t think things through—or don’t think at all. They react. Their lives are reduced to knee-jerk reactions: Either “I like that” or “I don’t like that,” yet they can’t always tell you why they like or dislike things. Or, when they do, it’s usually their favorite talk-radio host’s explanation instead of their own thinking.

God gave us brains, and God grants us wisdom when we ask him for it. Jm 1.5 He expects us to think and reason, and get ourselves out of trouble preventatively, not after the fact. He doesn’t want us to react on instinct; certainly not the selfish instincts we were born with. He wants us to think on what’s good and right and God-pleasing, and thoughtfully respond to the world around us. There are far too many irrational Christians among us, whose first response is based on instinct, and whose second response is to cover up the misbehavior by giving it Christianese names: “That just grieved my spirit, so that’s why I said what I did.” Hogwash: You didn’t think. Confess. Repent. And next time, think.

These things make us unclean.

A Christian is defined by our relationship with God through Christ Jesus. If we have such a relationship, we’re Christians. How do we know, how do we prove, we have such a relationship? We’re fruity. We have the Holy Spirit within us; we follow his guidance and leading; we produce his fruit. Fleshliness suggests, at best, we’re sucky Christians; at worst we’re not Christian at all.

So. If we have any fleshly works in our lives—and every Christian, to some degree, has some—we gotta be rid of them. We gotta make the effort. Which God recognizes, and honors: We’re saved by his grace, and God’s grace is for those who make this effort. But for those who make no effort—who figure baptism, the sinner’s prayer, or good karma is getting them into heaven—they’re betting on the wrong horse. Work the relationship. Fight the works of the flesh. God will help you win.

Jesus warns against blaspheming the Spirit.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 June

Mark 3.28-30, Matthew 12.31-32, Luke 12.10.

Fairly soon after we become Christians, we hear a rumor there’s such a thing as “the unpardonable sin.” Or multiple unpardonable sins. Certain things we can do which push God’s grace to the limit, ’cause apparently it has a limit, and these sins cross it. Do ’em and you’re going to hell. Game over, man, game over.

Problem is, the rumor doesn’t always tell us what the unpardonable sin is. When I was a kid I thought it was saying, “F--- God,” and Dad had committed it a bunch of times, so he was surely going to hell. I’ve had newbies ask me whether it was murder. Or Catholics tell me it was one of the seven deadly sins, ’cause what made ’em deadly was they’d send you to hell.

There are in fact multiple unpardonable sins, and today I’m get to what Jesus teaches about one of them, namely blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Turns up in the gospels, right after Jesus had to correct the Pharisee scribes for accusing him of using Satan to perform exorcisms.

Mark 3.28-30 KWL
28 “Amen! I promise you every sin will be forgiven humanity’s children,
and every blasphemy, however often people blaspheme.
29 But when anyone blasphemes the Holy Spirit they aren’t forgiven in the age to come:
In that age, they’ll be liable for a crime.”
30 For the scribes were saying, “Jesus has an unclean spirit.”
Matthew 12.31-32 KWL
31 “This is why I tell you every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people.
But blaspheming the Spirit won’t be forgiven.
32 Whenever one says a word against the Son of Man, it’ll be forgiven them.
But whenever it’s said against the Holy Spirit, it won’t be forgiven them.
Neither in this age, nor in the next.”
Lk 12.10 KWL
“And anyone who’ll say a word about the Son of Man will be forgiven.
But speaking in blasphemy about the Holy Spirit won’t be forgiven.”

So there y’go: Everyone can be forgiven anything and everything. But one massive exception is when people blaspheme the Holy Spirit. Do that, and you’re sitting out the age to come. No New Jerusalem for you. Just weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Scary, right? Hence people wanna make sure they never, ever commit this crime. Problem is, instead of actually avoiding it, many foolish Christians have chosen to redefine and re-explain blaspheming the Spirit till it no longer means what, at face value, Jesus is talking about. Largely because they and their favorite preachers are blaspheming the Spirit. Regularly. I’m not kidding.

So… does that mean they’re going to hell? Not necessarily. But I’ll get to that.

Don’t be surprised if they hate you. They hated Jesus too.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 May

Matthew 10.24-25, Luke 6.40, John 13.16, 15.18-25.

Today’s passages get frequently taken out of context by Christian jerks. So let’s deal with them up front.

Jerks either deliberately try to offend, or don’t care that they do offend. And there are a lot of Christians, religious or not, who behave this way. They want people to be outraged. They want division and strife. They don’t care that these are works of the flesh; they’re not that fruitful anyway, and are way more interested in doctrinal purity than goodness and kindness and grace. So when people get angry, they perversely assume they’re doing something right. After all, didn’t Jesus say we’re blessed when people condemn and rage against us like the ancients did the prophets? Lk 6.22-23 Everybody hates you! Rejoice!

Of course they’re going about it the wrong way. If we have God’s mysteries and share them, yet we don’t do so in love (and no, tough love doesn’t count), we’re an annoying noise; we’re nothing, and gain nothing. 1Co 13.1-3 You might play the best music on your new 150-decibel sound system, but people are gonna hate it because it’s too loud, and it’s 2 a.m. In the same way, people don’t hate Christian jerks because they’re Christian, so much as because they’re jerks. So let’s not be. Let’s be kind.

Jesus’s statements here are not for jerks. But man alive are jerks quick to quote them. “Oh, oh! I’m being persecuted. Well, Jesus said it’s to be expected. They hated him; they’ll hate us.”

Yeah, but they hated Jesus for entirely different reasons. They hated Jesus because he called BS on ’em. Exposed their fake piety. Loved people they didn’t consider worth loving. Objected to their loopholes. And worst of all: There was supernatural evidence he was right, because you can’t just cure people on Sabbath unless God endorses such behavior. Their doctrine was undermined by YHWH himself… which is why they insisted Jesus’s cures couldn’t be God things, and had to somehow be devilish.

So when Jesus brought up persecution in his Olivet Discourse, he reminded them this shouldn’t catch them by surprise. The ancients persecuted the prophets; their contemporaries hassled Jesus himself. Stands to reason people were eventually gonna come after them too. Again, not because they’re being dicks about the gospel: Because God’s kingdom runs contrary to their comfortable status quo.

So since they went after Jesus, don’t think we’re exempt. He’s the teacher; he’s the master; we’re just his apostles and students and slaves. Like he says.

Matthew 10.24-25 KWL
24 “A student isn’t above the teacher, nor a slave above their master.
25 It’s fine for the student to become like their teacher, and the slave like their master.
But if people call the homeowner ‘Baal Zevúl,’
how much more those of his house?”
Luke 6.40 KWL
“A student isn’t above the teacher,
and everyone so repaired will be like their teacher.”
John 13.16 KWL
“Amen amen! I promise you a slave isn’t greater than their master,
nor an apostle greater than their sender.”

Out of context, this passage is also occasionally used by false teachers to make the claim they’ve studied Jesus so much, so extensively, they’re just as authoritative as he. Which everyone should instantly recognize as rubbish, but you’d be surprised how many Christians are total suckers for a winsome cult leader. Everybody co-works with Jesus, but nobody co-leads with him. He’s Messiah; he’s king; he’s above every other name. No matter how wise his followers might get… and the smart ones are wise enough to stay humble and not pull rank.

Completing the cities of Israel before the second coming.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 May

Matthew 10.23.

In the middle of Jesus’s Olivet Discourse, there’s this verse, only found in Matthew, which goes like yea.

Matthew 10.23 KWL
“When they persecute you in this city, flee to another!
Amen amen! I promise you, you might not finish the cities of Israel
before whenever the Son of Man might come.”

Because translators tend to automatically convert any sentence with οὐ μὴ/u mi, “never,” into absolute statements (like Luke Skywalker’s “I’ll never join you; you killed my father!”) they dismiss all the subjunctive verbs Jesus uses in such statements. He said might never, but they translate it as if he said never.

Because people find comfort in absolutes. Especially when the absolutes promise ’em something they want. We want Jesus to return! (Well, most of us.) So here, Jesus promises, with “amen amen,” that his students might not have to be chased through every city in Israel before he returns for them. And Christians nowadays, who want Jesus to return already, are happy to grab this paragraph and claim, “See? All we gotta do is be chased from town to town in Israel, and before we’re done, Jesus’ll come!”

This passage, paired with others, has evolved into a couple different popular End Times claims:

  • Once every Israeli city has been properly evangelized, Jesus will return.
  • Once every last Jew on earth has heard the gospel at least once, Jesus will return.
  • Once every city on the planet has been evangelized, Jesus will return.
  • Once every human on earth has heard the gospel at least once, Jesus will return.

So if we really want Jesus to return—if we’re really serious about it, and aren’t just claiming we want the second coming, when really we just want temporal religious power over our neighbors—we’ll get to work on evangelizing all the Jews. Or evangelizing everybody. We’ll make him return.

And if any other Christians aren’t contributing to the effort, we’ll make ’em feel super guilty. “Yeah you say you want Jesus to return, but what’re you doing to evangelize the planet? I don’t see anything.”

But I remind you: Jesus used a subjunctive verb, τελέσητε/telésite, “you all might finish.” Might finish, not shall finish. This might happen. Or not.

If it’s a hypothetical statement, why does Jesus make a promise of it by beginning it with “Amen amen” (KJV “Verily”)? Because what he’s properly promising is the Son of Man will come. And he might do it before his apostles finish traveling the entirety of Israel… and he might do it after. Might do it long after. But regardless the second coming will happen.

As for when it happens, or what prefaces it… well we always gotta remember Jesus said this about his second coming:

Mark 13.32 KWL
But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.

Jesus didn’t know when he’d return. He had an idea of what might have to happen first, which is why he expressed what might have to happen first. Thing is, Christians want something more concrete than that: We wanna know what has to happen first. We want the timeline of events. We want to feel some sense of control over these events, and knowledge is power. But not even Jesus has that power. It happens when it happens; it’s not for us to know when. Ac 1.7 It’s for us to share Jesus. Ac 1.8 Including with all the cities of Israel. And the world.

How the mistranslation confuses people.

Let’s check out how the KJV translated it:

Matthew 10.23 KJV
But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.

Thanks to this rendering, this passage “is among the most difficult in the NT canon,” as stated by D.A. Carson in the 1984 edition of the Expositors Bible Commentary. Well duh: It’s profoundly likely Christians have thoroughly, thoroughly proclaimed Jesus to all the then-residents of Israel, achieved at multiple times throughout Christian history. Did it after the Roman Empire became Christian; did it during the Crusades (even though our methods of evangelism at the time were pretty psycho); did it during the French occupation, and the British occupation, and during the newly-recreated state of Israel.

Israel has been overrun by Christian evangelists multiple times. Hence Christians have realized “Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come” can’t be interpreted the way we presume. Something’s off here.

Carson pitched a few theories, which I’ll summarize for your convenience:

  • Remember how Jesus sent out the Twelve, Lk 9.1 then the 72, Lk 10.1 to go preach the gospel? This is another case of that. He had them go round Israel again, but he said he’d catch up with them before they were done. This is about that, not the second coming.
  • “The Son of Man be come” doesn’t refer to the second coming, but of some other major revelation of Jesus as Messiah. Like his triumphal entry of Jerusalem, or his resurrection.
  • “The cities of Israel” aren’t literally Israel. It’s a metaphor for the whole world. We’ve gotta track down everybody on earth, figure out their language, and make sure they understand the gospel.
  • Jesus doesn’t know the date of his return, Mk 13.32 and he incorrectly assumed it’d take place in a few years. Whoops. His bad. (Or alternatively, it was gonna take place in a few years, but we did something to delay him, and thus nullified this prophecy. Our bad.)
  • This prophecy isn’t activated till the End Times. First the seven-year tribulation has to start, and then we gotta proclaim Jesus to all of Israel… who is, because of the Beast’s persecution of them, a lot more open to the idea of Jesus’s return. But we’ll barely finish going the rounds before the second coming.
  • “The Son of Man be come” isn’t the second coming, but the Lord’s judgment upon Jerusalem, which the Romans destroyed in the year 70.

Carson, and preterists like myself, tend to lean towards the last theory. After all, the Olivet Discourse was triggered by Jesus’s statement the temple would eventually come down, and how was that gonna happen? What events came first? So even though Jesus brought up his second coming, he was still primarily talking about Jerusalem’s destruction, and in the 17 years between his rapture and Jerusalem’s fall, there’d barely be enough time to evangelize Israel.

But I still remind you this is not Jesus’s declaration of what will happen, because Jesus lacked full knowledge. He didn’t know when he would return! Still doesn’t know. When he became human—and he’s still human, y’know; he didn’t shed some human suit when he took his seat at the right hand of the Father—he surrendered his power, and limited himself to the power of the Holy Spirit. Which ain’t nothing! But it means he only knows of the future what the Spirit shows him, and apparently the Spirit doesn’t want any human, Jesus included, to have a comprehensive knowledge of the future. For some of these events, he doesn’t want us to intervene. ’Cause we totally would—’cause we have our own ideas about how the End should play out. And they’re nowhere near as benevolent as God’s ideas. They’re a lot more petty and vengeful.

So yeah, Jesus was making an educated guess about what might happen before his return. Hence all the subjunctive verbs. Which our translations don’t show… because again, we have our own ideas about how the End should play out. And when Jesus spoke about the End, we don’t want to imagine him guessing. We want him knowing. We wanna tap his foreknowledge, so it can become our foreknowledge. We want it to be definite, so we can be masters of our destiny.

But that’s not for us to have. We’re to trust God. Ac 1.7 He knows what’s coming, and what he’s doing. Our job is to simply share Jesus with Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the rest of the planet. Ac 1.8 Be okay with the fact Jesus isn’t telling us everything. He’s Lord; he doesn’t have to.

Family members and loved ones may turn on you.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 May

Mark 13.12-13, Matthew 10.21-22, Luke 21.16-18, John 16.2-3.

In Jesus’s Olivet Discourse, he warned his students of the tribulation they’d undergo. Not just the Romans destroying the temple, but how Christians would be persecuted.

It’s something the students needed to hear. Something all Christians need to hear. ’Cause the assumption most people would come to is when God’s on our side, we should never, ever suffer. Suffering’s for losers; for people who lack God. Our God’s a winner, so his followers oughta be winners—people who call down fire on their oppressors 1Ki 1.9-12 or when people just try to put ’em to death, God always supernaturally rescues ’em. Da 3.24-25, 6.19-22 It’s an assumption Christians still make: “I’m working for God, so he’ll keep me safe.”

God guarantees no such thing. The only thing he does guarantee is in this life, we have tribulation. Jn 16.33 Suffering happens. Happened to Jesus too. Imagining that the righteous, the obedient, “good people” don’t suffer: That’s karmic thinking, not reality. In real life, good people die all the time. The universe doesn’t sort everything out; the universe is meaningless, and bad people will sometimes prevail.

So Jesus wasn’t gonna fill his students’ heads with ridiculous happy thoughts. He leveled with them: Bad stuff’s gonna happen to Jerusalem. Bad stuff’s gonna happen to you. They can’t handle who I am, and that you follow me. At some point they’ll come for you. And your family and friends might side with them, not you.

Or as Jesus puts it:

Mark 13.12-13 KWL
12 “And a brother will hand over a brother to death;
and a father his child,
and children will turn against parents and have them put to death.
13 You’ll be hated by everyone because of my name.
One who lasts till the end: This person will be saved.”
Matthew 10.21-22 KWL
21 “And a brother will hand over a brother to death;
and a father his child,
and children will turn against parents and have them put to death.
22 You’ll be hated by everyone because of my name.
One who lasts till the end: This person will be saved.”
Luke 21.16-18 KWL
16 “And you’ll also be handed over by parents, siblings, relatives, and friends.
They’ll put some of you to death.
17 You’ll be hated by everyone because of my name.
18 Or they might not destroy a hair of your head.
19 Gain your lives by your endurance.”
John 16.2-3 KWL
“They’ll make you excommunicants from their synagogues.
But the hour comes when everyone who kills you
might think it’s to offer service to God.
3 They’ll do these things because they don’t know the Father, nor me.”

You’ll be persecuted. Get ready to not defend yourself.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 April

Mark 13.9-11, Matthew 10.17-20, Luke 12.11-12, John 14.26.

After Jesus said the temple’d come down, his students wanted to know what that looked like, so Jesus gave the Olivet Discourse. How the Romans would destroy the temple in the great tribulation. And while he was at it, how Christians would be persecuted too—advice we’ve used throughout the Christian era, because we’ve been persecuted since the beginning. In many parts of the world, still are.

As a result a number of Christians are steeling ourselves for it. “When they come for me, here’s what I’m gonna do.” And many Americans are planning to do some pretty violent things. Simon Peter with a machete type things. They got their gun stockpiles. They got their armor-piercing bullets and 50mm rounds. Peter only cut off an ear; they’re planning to mow down as many cops and soldiers as they can. Even though many of ’em claim they “love” our police, “love” our troops. Sure, when politically convenient. But those sentiments will turn on a dime.

As for those Christians who don’t have a murdery side, a number of us are already planning our ἀπολογία/apología, our defense. It’s the root-word of apologetics, the study and practice of “defending the faith,” by which they really mean arguing with antichrists. I spent a lot of time studying Christian apologetics because I likewise wanted to verbally spar with people who reject Jesus; I ignored Jesus’s instructions to shake the dust off my feet over them, Mt 10.14 because being argumentative is way more fun. And fleshly, but let’s just pretend it’s not; that it’s spiritual warfare instead.

What did Jesus actually teach about defending ourselves? When, after religious hypocrites take over our states and get ’em to turn against compassionate followers of Jesus, they haul us before the person or people in charge, to condemn us for promoting Jesus’s kingdom instead of their “Christian nation”now what do we do?

Well, some of us have speeches prepared. Something like Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” although not as eloquent. Some kind of personal testimony, or defense of our rights, or defense of Christianity. Something where we stand up for Jesus on just such an occasion. Not quite the same as when we share Jesus with strangers, because this is a hostile audience, so we’re prepared to be just a little hostile right back. Although depending on the Christian, we’re either trying really hard not to… or we’ve ditched the passive aggression and we’re gonna be full-on aggressive.

But if we’re legitimately trying to follow Jesus instead of venting our own spleen, perhaps we oughta read what Jesus teaches his students to do.

Simon Peter denounces Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 April

Mark 14.66-72, Matthew 26.69-75, Luke 22.54-62, John 18.15-18, 25-27.

After dinner earlier that night, Jesus told his students they weren’t gonna follow him much longer; they’d scatter. At this point Jesus’s best student, Simon Peter, got up and foolhardily claimed this prediction didn’t apply to him.

Mark 14.29-31 KWL
29 Simon Peter told him, “If everyone else will get tripped up, it won’t include me.”
30 Jesus told him, “Amen, I promise you today, this night,
before the rooster crows twice, you’ll renounce me thrice.”
31 Peter said emphatically, “Even if I have to die for you,
I will never renounce you.” Everyone else said likewise.

And y’know, Peter wasn’t kidding. I’ve heard way too many sermons which mock Peter for this, who claim he was all talk. Thing is, he really wasn’t. When Jesus was arrested, Peter was packing a machete, and used it. Slashed a guy’s ear clean off. You don’t start swinging a work knife at a mob unless you’re willing to risk life and limb. Peter really was ready to fight to the death for Jesus.

But Jesus’s response was to cure the guy, then rebuke Peter: Jesus could stop his arrest at any time, but chose not to. Having a weapon was only gonna get Peter killed. Peter thought he was following God’s will, but he was in fact tripping up. And Jesus did say his students σκανδαλισθήσεσθε/skandalisthísesthe, “would be tripped up,” by the later events of that day. Despite his repeated warnings he was gonna die, his students kept expecting the Pharisee version of the End Times to unfold, where Messiah would destroy the Romans and take his throne… and instead Messiah got killed by the Romans.

This sort of turn of events would knock the zeal right out of anyone. Y’know how Peter later would up saying he didn’t know Jesus? At the time, he kinda didn’t. Thought he did; totally got him wrong. We all do, sometimes.

See, Peter was having a crisis of faith. Every Christian, if they’re truly following Jesus, is gonna have a point in our lives where we have to get rid of our immature misunderstandings about Jesus. And some of us fight tooth ’n nail to keep those misunderstandings. Even enshrine ’em. But in so doing, it means we’re not gonna grow in Christ any further. The Holy Spirit is trying to get us over that stumbling block, but we insist it’s not a block; it’s a wall.

To his credit, Peter didn’t scatter. He followed the mob, who took Jesus to the former head priest’s house, where Jesus had his unofficial trial before the proper trial before the Judean senate.

John 18.15-18 KWL
15 Simon Peter and another student followed Jesus.
That student was known by the head priest.
He went in, with Jesus, to the head priest’s courtyard.
16 Peter stood at the door outside.
So the other student, known to the head priest, came out and spoke to the doorman, who brought Peter in.
17 The doorman, a slavewoman, told Peter, “Aren’t you also one of this person’s students?”
Peter said, “I’m not.”
18 The slaves and servants stationed there had made a charcoal fire; it was cold.
They warmed themselves. Peter was also with them, standing and warming.

This’d be the first denial. But Jesus didn’t just say Peter would deny him, or pretend he didn’t know him, or pretend he didn’t follow him. Peter ἀπαρνήσῃ/aparnísi, “will entirely reject,” will renounce, his Lord. Mk 14.30 It’s not a white lie so he could merely stay out of trouble; Peter went overboard and publicly quit Jesus. Really.

Good thing he could take it back. As can we. But, y’know, don’t quit him, okay?

Judas Iscariot sells Jesus out to the authorities.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 March

Mark 14.41-46, Matthew 26.45-50, Luke 22.47-48, John 18.1-3.

In St. John Paul’s list of stations of the cross, the second station combines Judas Iscariot’s betrayal and Jesus of Nazareth’s arrest. ’Cause they happened simultaneously—they, and Simon Peter slashing one of the head priest’s slaves. There’s a lot to unpack there, which is why I want to look at them separately. Getting betrayed and getting arrested, fr’instance: That’s two different kinds of suffering. Psychological and physical.

So right after Jesus prayed in Gethsemane (the first station), this happened:

Mark 14.41-46 KWL
41 Jesus came back a third time and told his students, “Now you’re sleeping,
and resting—and that’s enough. The hour’s come.
Look, the Son of Man is getting handed over to sinful hands.
42 Get up so we can go: Here comes the one who sold me out.”
43 Next, while Jesus was yet speaking, Judas Iscariot approached the Twelve.
With him was a crowd carrying machetes and sticks, sent by the head priests, scribes, and elders.
44 The one who handed over Jesus had given the crowd a signal,
saying, “Whomever I might show affection to, is him. Grab him and take him away carefully.”
45 Next, coming to Jesus, he told him, “Rabbi!” and kissed him hello.
46 So the crowd laid their hands on Jesus and arrested him.
Matthew 26.45-50 KWL
45 Then Jesus came back to the students and told them, “Now you’re sleeping,
and resting—and look, the hour has come near.
The Son of Man is getting handed over to sinful hands.
46 Get up so we can go: Here comes the one who sold me out.”
47 While Jesus was yet speaking, look: Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, came.
With him was a great crowd carrying machetes and sticks, sent by the head priests, elders, and people.
48 The one who handed over Jesus gave them a sign,
saying, “Whomever I might show affection to, is him. Grab him.”
49 Immediately coming to Jesus, he said, “Hello, rabbi!” and kissed him hello.
50 Jesus told Judas, “For whom did you come, friend?”
Then those who came, grabbed Jesus and arrested him.
Luke 22.47-48 KWL
45 Getting up from the prayer, Jesus went to the students
He found them sleeping from the grief.
46 Jesus told them, “Why are you asleep?
Get up and pray, or else you might enter temptation!”
47 While Jesus yet spoke, look: A crowd,
and the one called Judas, one of the Twelve, leading them.
He went to Jesus to kiss him hello,
48 and Jesus told him, “Judas, to kiss the Son of Man, you turn him in.”
John 18.1-3 KWL
1 When he said this, Jesus with his students went over the Kidron ravine, where there was a garden.
He and his students entered it.
2 Judas Iscariot, who was selling him out, had known of the place,
because Jesus often gathered there with his students.
3 So Judas, bringing 200 men, plus servants of the head priests and Pharisees,
came there with torches, lamps… and arms.

Can’t see; pretty sure they can.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 March

Matthew 15.12-14, Luke 6.39-40, John 9.39-41.

Jesus’s saying about “the blind leading the blind” is pretty famous. So much so, people don’t remember who originally said it. I once had someone tell me it comes from the Upanishads. And it is actually in there; Yama the death god compares the foolish to the blind leading the blind. Katha Upanishad 2.6 But ancient, medieval, and modern westerners didn’t read the Upanishads! They read the gospels. They got it from Jesus.

Jesus actually doesn’t use the idea only once, in only one context. We see it thrice in the gospels. It appears in Matthew after Jesus critiqued Pharisees for their loopholes; it appears in Luke as part of Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain; and in John it appropriately comes after the story where Jesus cures a blind man.

So let’s deal with the context of each instance. Matthew first.

Matthew 15.12-14 KWL
12 Coming to Jesus, his students then told him, “You know the Pharisees who heard the word are outraged?”
13 In reply Jesus said, “Every plant will be uprooted which my heavenly Father didn’t plant.
14 Forgive them; they’re blind guides.
When blind people guide the blind, the both fall into a hole.”

Not every Jew in Jesus’s day was religious. Of the few who were, one sect was the Pharisees—and Jesus taught in their schools, or synagogues. Problem is, Pharisee teachers had created customs which permitted them to bend God’s commands, or even break them outright. And after one Pharisee objected when Jesus and his students skipped their handwashing custom. first Jesus brought up how their customs were frequently hypocrisy… then he went outside and told everyone that being ritually clean or unclean comes from within, not without.

You think this behavior might offend Pharisees? You’d be correct. That’s what Jesus’s kids came to tell him about. In response he called ’em blind guides. Well they were.

When Jesus says, “I don’t know you.”

by K.W. Leslie, 07 March

The words we never want to hear from our Lord.

Matthew 7.21-23 • Luke 6.46, 13.23-27

Evangelicals do actually quote the next teaching of Jesus a lot. But we tend to do this because we wanna nullify it.

See, it’s scary. It implies there are people who want into God’s kingdom, who honestly think they’re headed there… but when they stand before Jesus at the End, they get the rug pulled out from under them. Turns out they have no relationship with Jesus. Never did. He never knew them. Psyche!

It sounds like the dirtiest trick ever. How can a Christian go their whole life thinking they’re saved, only to find out no they’re not? And they’re not getting into the kingdom? And by process of elimination, they’re therefore going into the fire? Holy crap; shouldn’t this keep you awake nights?

So like I said, Christians figure the solution to this quandary is to nullify it. “Chill out, people: This story isn’t about you. ’Cause you’re good! You said the sinner’s prayer and believe all the right things. This story applies to the people who didn’t say the sinner’s prayer, didn’t believe all the right things, and don’t realize they’re heretics or in a cult. You’re good. Relax.”

Or you can take the Dispensationalist route: “Remember, people, God saves us by grace not works. And notice what Jesus says in this story about “Law-breakers” Mt 7.23 and “unrighteous workers.” Lk 13.27 He’s clearly talking to people of the last dispensation, back when God didn’t save anybody by grace yet, and they had to earn salvation by following the Law. Still true in Jesus’s day, but doesn’t count anymore. So we can safely ignore these scriptures. They don’t count for our day. They’re null.”

Obviously I’m not gonna go with either of those explanations. Partly ’cause I’m no dispensationalist, and neither is Jesus; partly ’cause we don’t earn salvation by accumulating correct beliefs. Humans are saved by grace, and always have been.

So why doesn’t grace appear to apply to these poor schmucks, who tried the narrow door only to find it bolted shut?

Luke 13.23-27 KWL
23 Someone told Jesus, “Master, the saved are going to be few.”
Jesus told them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door.
I tell you many will seek to enter, and not be able to.
25 At some point the owner could be raised up, and could close the door.
You standing outside might begin to knock at the door, saying, ‘Master, unbolt it for us!’
and in reply he tells you, ‘I don’t know you. Where are you from?’
26 Then you’ll begin to say, ‘We ate with you! And drank! And you taught us in the streets!’
27 And the speaker will tell you, ‘I don’t know where you’re from!
Get away from me, unrighteous workers.’ ”

What’d’you mean the Master won’t recognize us? Isn’t he omniscient? Didn’t he at least remember all the times we hung out together? We had a meal with him! (Or at least holy communion—hundreds, if not thousands of times!) We studied what he taught! Why’s Jesus suffering from amnesia or dementia all of a sudden?

Like I said, scary idea. Lots of us like to imagine our salvation is a done deal, a fixed thing, something we can never lose unless we actively reject it. This story throws a bunch of uncertainty into the idea, and we hate uncertainty. We wanna know our relationship with Jesus is real, and that it’s gonna continue into Kingdom Come.

The Golden Rule.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 February

Matthew 7.12, Luke 6.31.

“Do as you’d be done by.”

That’s C.S. Lewis’s wording. It’s probably the briefest form I’ve found of the “Golden Rule,” as it’s called. I grew up hearing it as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”—and it actually doesn’t come from the King James Version, which has it, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” Lk 6.31 KJV I tried tracking down the other wording, and the earliest I’ve found it is 1790.

My translation of the two different ways Jesus taught it:

Matthew 7.12 KWL
“So as much as you want people doing for you, you do that for them:
That’s a summary of the Law and the Prophets.”
Luke 6.31 KWL
“Just as you want people doing for you, do likewise for them.”

It’s “the Law and the Prophets,” as Jesus put it—meaning the bible of his day, the Old Testament. (Yes the OT consists of Law, Prophets, and Writings. But back then, when Sadducees and Samaritans insisted the bible only consisted of the Law, you only had to suggest there were more books in it than just those of Moses, and people understood you meant Prophets and Writings were included.) The entire moral teaching of the scriptures could be distilled into this one concept.

As seen in other religions.

The Golden Rule is a simple idea, one found in pretty much every religion. But the way Jesus put it is a little different than the ways other religions have it. In Christianity it’s an active command: Do as you’d be done by. Other religions make it passive: Do not, as you’d not be done by. Or as Kong Qiu (Latin “Confucius”) put it in the 500s BC, “Never impose on others what you wouldn’t choose for yourself.” Analects 15.24

The Pharisees of Jesus’s day had also figured it out. Yeah, Christians nowadays assume the Pharisees were just a bunch of hypocrites who spent all their time debating the finer points of the Law instead of actually obeying it… and y’know, they did do that. So do we. But the guys who founded the Pharisaic tradition actually did want to follow God. Some of ’em wanted to make God’s commands easier to follow, not by using every loophole they could invent, but by summarizing them.

This is the mindset of the story of Hillel the Elder in the Talmud. Goes like so.

On another occasion, a certain pagan came to Shammai and told him, “Make me a convert, but on one condition: Teach me the entire Law while I stand on one foot.” Shammai smacked him away with the measuring stick in his hand.

Next he went to Hillel, who told him, “What’s hateful to you, don’t do to your neighbor. That’s the whole Law. The rest is commentary. Go learn it.” Gemara on Shabbat 2.5

I don’t know whether Jesus knew this story at all, or whether the Hillel story was plagiarized a bit from Jesus. Doesn’t matter. Hillel’s version is still a passive-form Golden Rule, and Jesus’s is active-form: Do.

And Jesus actually isn’t the only guy to teach an active-form Golden Rule. There were others! They’re rare though.

  • The Chinese philosopher Mozi (ca. 470–391BC), who put it, “One would do for others as one would do for oneself.”
  • Muhammad ibn Abdullah, founder of Islam (570–632) who, according to Shiite tradition, put it, “As you would have people do to you, do to them.”

Everybody else seems to have simply found it easier to forbid evil than encourage good.

Active good, not passive.

So, same as Jesus taught, we gotta have other people in mind when we act. Think about their wishes. Think about what’s good for them. Think about them.

Don’t think of other people as obstacles, roadblocks to move aside, or pawns to manipulate when they get in our way. They’re not that. They’re God’s children. They’re people with hopes, dreams, desires… some good, some bad, some we consider silly. But again: It’s not what we want. It’s about them.

“Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you,” George Bernard Shaw cynically wrote in his 1903 play Man and Superman. “Their tastes may not be the same.” Shaw wasn’t entirely kidding: We have a bad habit of projecting our motives, wants, and attitudes upon others. “I like this,” we figure, “therefore she must like this.” But that’s not truly thinking about them. That’s projected selfishness. Let’s not commit that. Let’s find out what they really want before we do for them.

“Do as you’d be done by” forces us to emerge from our self-centered universe and think about others for once. And since the starting-point of sin is the exact opposite—looking out for number one, regardless of all others, including God—that suppression of our self-interest in favor of someone else’s point of view is indeed the starting-point of rightness.

It likewise reflects God’s behavior. He does stuff for us, and you’ll notice all the stuff he does, he’d kinda like us to do back to him. (And, for that matter, do for everyone else.) He loves us. He’s infinitely forgiving. He’s patient, kind, puts up with all things, believes and hopes and endures all things, demonstrates joy, peace, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. He wants our best. We should want his best.

When we spend some time meditating on just exactly what the end-result would be of really following Jesus’s Golden Rule, we’re gonna find ourselves coming to conclusion after conclusion that mirrors what we find throughout God’s commands: His profound concern for others, his order to the universe, his ideal way of life. We’re gonna see God’s love, and we’re gonna grow in our love for God. ’Cause it’s all there, hiding in plain sight. So think on it.

The widow’s mite, and ancient money’s value.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 January

Mark 12.41-44, Luke 21.1-4.

On the temple grounds there’s a room called the treasury; Greek γαζοφυλάκιον/yadzofylákion, a “guarded vault.” Thing is, the treasury’s in a place inaccessible to women. And since there’s a woman in this story, throwing an offering in, it simply can’t be what the writers of these gospels meant by “treasury.” It has to be in some other place.

Hence most commentators are pretty sure yadzofylákion actually refers to the lockboxes which the priests set in the Women’s Court. Each of these boxes were at the end of a big metal funnel—which looked like a shofar, a ram’s-horn trumpet, and may very well have been what Jesus was thinking of when he talked about trumpeting your charitable giving. Mt 6.2 Because throwing metal into a big metal funnel made a loud noise. And throwing lots of metal—like a big pile of bronze coins, as opposed to, say, far fewer silver or gold coins—made a big ol’ noise.

Probably too noisy to teach! Yet that’s what the gospels describe Jesus trying to do by these funnels.

Mark 12.41-44 KWL
41 As he was seated facing the offering boxes,
Jesus watched how the crowds threw bronze coins into the boxes.
Many plutocrats threw many coins,
42 and one poor widow who came, threw two lepta, i.e. a quadrans. [8¢]
43 Calling his students, Jesus told them, “Amen, I promise you:
This poor widow threw more into the box than all who threw in.
44 For all the others threw out of their abundance, and she her need:
Everything she threw in, was all her life.”
Luke 21.1-4 KWL
1 Looking up, Jesus saw plutocrats throwing their gifts into the offering boxes.
2 Jesus also saw a certain poor widow throwing in two lepta. [8¢]
3 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you: This poor widow threw in more than everyone.
4 For all these people threw in their gifts out of their abundance,
and she from her poverty threw in everything she had in her life.”

The widow donated two λεπτὰ/leptá, which the KJV calls a “mite,” meaning the lowest-denomination coin there is. A penny would be the United States’ cheapest coin; that’s our mite. It might not have been familiar with everyone in the Roman Empire, so Mark states it’s worth a quadrans, the Roman quarter. Worth about 8 cents back then, though money went much further. She could probably buy lunch with it. A small lunch.

Double standards.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 January

Mark 4.24, Matthew 7.1-5, Luke 6.37-38, 41-42.

“Judge not, lest ye be judged” is a really popular verse for people who don’t wanna condemn anyone. But I already wrote an article about how people take it out of context. People use it to avoid making judgment statements, or to rebuke those who do… and it’s not at all what Jesus means.

So today I get to what Jesus means. This bit of his Sermon on the Mount comes right after Jesus taught us about worry. Which is appropriate: Don’t prejudge circumstances indiscriminately, and don’t prejudge people unfairly.

Matthew 7.1-2 KWL
1 “Don’t criticize. Thus you won’t be criticized.
2 For you’ll be critiqued by the very criticism you criticize with.
The measurement you measure with, will measure you.”
Luke 6.37 KWL
“Don’t criticize, and you won’t be criticized.
Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged.
Forgive, and you’ll be forgiven.”

Obviously I translate κρίνετε/krínetë, “criticize,” differently than the KJV’s “judge.” ’Cause our English word judge includes a few senses the Greek doesn’t. Really, this lesson is about decision-making, not condemnation. There’s another word for judgment and condemnation, which Luke uses in verse 37: Κατεδικάσατε/katedikásatë, “pass sentence.” That word is what we nowadays mean by judging. Krínetë is really just about holding things up to our personal standards, and finding ’em acceptable… or not.

Which we all do. As we should. Everyone evaluates stuff, daily, as part of our decision-making processes. We decide which shoes to wear, which breakfast cereals to eat, which coffee blend to drink, which movies to watch, whether to read TXAB on a daily basis… Life is choices. Every choice involves weighing our options, and critiquing them.

Jesus expects this, which is why he follows up “Don’t critique” with “You’ll be critiqued by the very criticism you criticize with.” It’s a warning that if we apply this criticism to other people, to serious issues… we’re gonna get held up to that very same standard.

Human nature is to consider ourselves the exception to the rule. When we critique others, we decide whether their behaviors meet with our approval or not. But when we do the very same things, our standards suddenly change to favor ourselves. When another person tells a lame joke, it means they have no sense of humor; when we tell the very same joke, we’re having ironic fun. When others discriminate against people of color, it’s prejudicial racism; when we do it, it’s because they fit a profile. When others cheat on their spouses it’s awful; when we do it… oh you just don’t understand the circumstances; we’re in love. And so on. We get a free pass; others don’t.

But Jesus makes it clear we don’t get a free pass. If we ordinarily recognize a behavior is offensive or wrong, it’s just as wrong when we do it. We’re not beyond similar criticism. Are we doing right? Because we’ve no business setting ourselves as above criticism, as on a higher level than anyone else. We aren’t exempt. Especially when we fall short of our own judgment.

Whereas Jesus said it in Luke: “Forgive, and you’ll be forgiven.” If people are gonna judge us by our own behavior, and our behavior reflects the fruit of the Spirit more so than yet another self-righteous a--hole, we’re gonna go a whole lot further.

The Talents Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 December

Matthew 25.13-30.

Nowadays when we say talent we mean a special ability; something one can do which most others can’t. The word evolved to mean that, but in ancient Greek a τάλαντον/tálanton meant either a moneychanger’s scale, or the maximum weight you put on that scale. Usually of silver. Sometimes gold… but if the text doesn’t say which metal they’re weighing, just assume it’s silver.

Talents varied from nation to nation, province to province. When Jesus spoke of talents, he meant the Babylonian talent (Hebrew כִּכָּר/khikhár, which literally means “loaf,” i.e. a big slab of silver). That’d be 30.2 kilograms, or 66.56 pounds. Jews actually had two talents: A “light talent,” the usual talent; and a “heavy talent” or “royal talent” which weighed twice as much. But again: Unless the text says it’s the heavy talent, assume it’s the light one. And of course the Greeks and Romans had their own talents: The Roman was 32.3 kilos and the Greek was 26.

Using 2020 silver rates, a Babylonian talent is $30,200. So yeah, it’s a lot of money. Especially considering you could get away with paying the poor a denarius (worth $3.51) per day. Mt 20.2

When Jesus shared parables about his second coming, he told this story about a master with three slaves, each of whom was given a big bag of silver to supervise. And Jesus compared their experience to what our Master kinda expects of his followers once he returns.

Matthew 25.13-30 KWL
13 “So wake up!—you don’t know the day nor hour.
14 For it’s like a person going abroad:
He calls his slaves to himself, and hands them his belongings.
15 He gives one five talents [$151,000]
and one two [$60,400] and one one [$30,200]
—each according to their own ability. He went abroad.
16 The slave who got five talents went to work on them, and made another five.
17 Likewise the slave with two talents made another two.
18 The slave who got one talent burrowed in the ground
and hid his master’s silver.
19 After a long time, the master came to these slaves
to have a word with them.
20 At the master’s coming, the slave who got five talents
brought another five talents,
saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me.
Look! I made another five talents.’
21 His master told him, ‘Great! My good, trustworthy slave,
you’re trustworthy over a little, and I will put you in charge of much.
Come into your master’s joy.’
22 At the master’s coming, the slave who got two talents
said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me.
Look! I made another two talents.’
23 His master told him, ‘Great! My good, trustworthy slave,
you’re trustworthy over a little, and I will put you in charge of much.
Come into your master’s joy.’
24 At the master’s coming, the slave who got one talent
said, ‘Master, I’ve come to know you as a hard person,
harvesting where you don’t plant, gathering from where you don’t scatter.
25 Fearfully going away, I hid your talent in the ground.
Look! You have what’s yours.’
26 In reply his master told him, ‘My useless, lazy slave,
you figured I harvest where I don’t plant and gather from where I don’t scatter?
27 Therefore you needed to put my silver with the loan sharks!
At my coming I would receive what was mine, with interest!
28 So take the talent away from him.
Give it to the slave who has the 10 talents.
29 For to one who has everything, more will be given, and more will abound.
And to one who hasn’t anything, whatever one does have will be taken away from them.
30 The useless slave? Throw him into the darkness outside.
There, there’ll be weeping and teeth gnashing in rage.’ ”

The word δοῦλος/dúlos tends to get translated “servant” (as the KJV did), but nope; it means slave. Hebrew slavery didn’t treat slaves as permanent property, but as people contractually bound to their master till the next Sabbath year. American slaves would rarely, if ever, be entrusted with as much authority as Hebrews did their slaves. Whole different mindset.

Deliver us from evil.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 October

Matthew 6.13.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus has us pray not to be led to temptation—properly, not put to the test, whether such tests tempt us or not. Instead, in contrast, we should pray we be delivered from evil.

Matthew 6.13 KJV
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

The original text is ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ/allá rýsë imás apó tu ponirú, “but rescue us from the evil.”

Now. The Greek τοῦ/tu is what grammarians call a determiner, although I’m pretty sure your English teachers called it a definite article, ’cause that’s what English determiners usually do: This noun is a particular noun. When you refer to “the bus,” you don’t mean a bus, any ol’ generic interchangeable bus; you mean the bus, this bus, a specific bus, a definite bus.

So when people translate tu ponirú, they assume the Greek determiner is a definite article: Jesus is saying, “Rescue us from the evil.” Not evil in general; not all the evil we’ll come across in life. No no no. This is a definite evil. It’s the evil. You gotta personify it.

The Holy Spirit reminds us what Jesus taught… assuming we know what Jesus taught.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 September

John 14.25-26.

Most Christians figure Jesus’s students followed him three years. It might actually have been longer than that.

The idea of three years comes from the fact three Passovers get mentioned in John, Jn 2.13, 6.4, 11.55 the last one being the Passover for which he died. But just because John mentioned three particular Passovers doesn’t mean these were the only Passovers which took place during Jesus’s teaching time. Coulda been nine for all we know.

No I’m not kidding:

7 BC: Jesus was born.
24 CE: Jesus’s 30th birthday. Luke states he was ὡσεὶ/oseí, “like,” 30 when he started teaching. Lk 3.23 Didn’t say exactly 30, but let’s start from there.
33 CE: Jesus died. And woulda been about 39.

Time for some basic arithmetic. If Jesus started teaching in the year 24, and “like” just means he was a few months shy of 30, by the year 33 he’d’ve been teaching nine years. If “like” instead means he was already in his thirties; say 33… he’d’ve been teaching six years. (Still more than three.) And if “like” means he was coming up on 30, that he was actually younger than 30, like 27… he’d’ve been teaching twelve years.

Yeah. You thought Jesus was just giving these kids a two-year course in church planting. Nope. Pharisee rabbis provided young men a full secondary education. And as the best teacher ever, you know Jesus taught ’em so well they astounded the Senate, who assumed because they hadn’t been to their academies they were ἀγράμματοί/aghrámmatí, “unschooled” and ἰδιῶται/idióte, “idiots.” Ac 4.13

But one significant boost to their education—and really to every Christian’s education—is the Holy Spirit.

Yeah, Jesus’s students had listened to him speak in synagogue every Friday night. Yeah, they listened to him speak to crowds every other day of the week. Yeah, they sat in on his lessons as the people at dinner parties and every other social function decided to ask Jesus a question or two. And of course there were all those teaching moments as they hung out with him.

But how much of that stuff are you naturally gonna remember? Like really remember? Remember in detail? Remember in useful detail, like when you actually need it in real life? Well, a good teacher will help you memorize stuff by reinforcing it time and again. But for Christians we get another boost because the Holy Spirit remembers absolutely everything. And if we listen to him, as we should, he’ll remind us of everything Jesus taught us. Jesus said so.

John 14.25-26 KWL
25 While staying with you, I spoke these things to you.
26 The Assistant, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name:
This person will teach you everything, and remind you of everything I told you.”

There’s a catch though: What has Jesus told you?

The Holy Spirit of truth… and dense Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 September

John 14.15-17.

Christians take for granted that we receive the Holy Spirit by virtue of being Christian: When we say the sinner’s prayer and claim Jesus as our individual savior, we individually, automatically get the Holy Spirit to indwell us and guarantee us an eternal place in God’s kingdom. Right?

Right. But the assumption Jesus makes when he says as much to his students in John, is his students don’t just passively believe in him. Don’t just passively believe all the correct things about him, and have the proper “faith”, and that’s what saves us. And once we die after a lifetime of taking God’s grace for granted, we get to use the Holy Spirit as our entry fee to heaven.

The Holy Spirit’s been granted to us to help us continue to follow Jesus.

John 14.15-17 KWL
15 “When you love me you’ll keep my commands,
16 and I’ll make a request of the Father, and he’ll give you another Assistant,
because he’ll be with you in this age: 17 The truthful Holy Spirit.
The world can’t comprehend him, because it neither sees nor knows him.
You know him, because he dwells with you, and will be in you.”

The Spirit has an active purpose in our lives. Not just a passive one.

Mammonists versus God.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 July

Luke 16.8-15.

the Shrewd Butler Story, Jesus commended the butler for using his boss’s money to generate goodwill instead of profits, and his moral was for his followers to do likewise.

Mammonists stumble all over this story. To them the point of money isn’t to use it as a resource, but to accumulate it and gain power by it. To their minds the butler was completely untrustworthy. He was already accused of squandering it, Lk 16.1 and then he turned round and deliberately squandered it by changing his boss’s debtors’ receipts. Lk 16.5-7 He made it look like he collected more money than he actually had; like his boss was owed less than he truly was; and he did it to benefit himself instead of enriching his boss—which was his job, wasn’t it? He embezzled from his boss. He stole. He’s a thief. There’s a command against theft in the bible somewhere; it’s one of the bigger ones!

So Mammonists really don’t know what to do with Jesus commending this butler… except to conclude, “I guess Jesus appreciates shrewdness over goodness.”

No he doesn’t. As I pointed out when I dealt with the story, the butler had full authority over his boss’s estate, and could legitimately do whatever he wished with it. Including forgive debts. He stole nothing. He embezzled nothing. It might be improper, ’cause you certainly can’t afford to do such things all the time. But it wasn’t sin.

…Well, unless losing money is a sin. And to Mammonists, that’s an egregious sin. Isn’t wise at all. Indicates you’re not worthy of having money in the first place, and deserve to lose it all. (There’s a lot of karma-based thinking in Mammonism, ’cause it helps Mammonists justify the iffy things they do to gain and hoard wealth.)

Jesus isn’t Mammonist, and neither are the butler and his boss in the story. They rightly recognize money as a resource, not a raison d’être. It’s a means to an end; it’s not the end itself. By contrast Mammonists figure it is the goal, and the Christians among ’em figure the whole point of turning to Jesus is so we can gain stuff. Mansions in New Jerusalem. Golden crowns full of jewels. Treasures in heaven, which they constantly imagine as material possessions they get to keep forever. And, if they’re into the prosperity gospel, they can even tap into some of that wealth now.

As a non-Mammonist, the plutocrat in the story recognized money—even “filthy lucre,” as I translated τῷ ἀδίκῳ μαμωνᾷ/to adíko mamoná (KJV “the unrighteous mammon”) —is here today, gone tomorrow. Friends can be just as transitory, but when friendship is done right, it doesn’t have to be. And the goodwill his butler generated with his debtors, was gonna come in handy in future—and not just for the butler. It was a wise move, and a wise boss would keep such a guy around.

Luke 16.8-9 KWL
8 “The butler’s master praised the impropriety, for the butler acted shrewdly,
for the children of this age are more shrewd than the children of light of the same generation.
9 I tell you, make yourselves friends out of improper mammon,
so when it runs out, they might take you into their great houses.”

“Their great houses” is how I rendered τὰς αἰωνίους σκηνάς./tas eoníus skinás, “the eternal tents” (KJV “everlasting habitations”). Y’get many Christians who insist it’s about God accepting us into heaven—despite a plural they letting you into plural tents—or the idea that once we get to New Jerusalem, we’re greeted by all the needy people we’ve helped. But properly it’s a euphemism for old money, for great families who’ve been indirectly running the country forever, and they’re the very best friends to have whenever we run afoul of temporal political leaders. That is what the butler was thinking of when he came up with his scheme: He wanted to be taken in by some other plutocrat. Lk 16.4 And it’d be just as shrewd of us Christians to have a few plutocrats in our corner.

Can we handle money? Or really anything important?

Of course Jesus had more to say on the subject of money, and continued:

Luke 16.10-13 KWL
10 “Trustworthy in little things means trustworthy in big things.
Improper in little things means improper in big things.
11 So when you’re not trustworthy with filthy lucre, who will trust you with truth?
12 If you’re not trustworthy with another’s things, who will give you your own things?
13 No slave is able to be a slave to two masters: Either they’ll hate one and love the other,
or look up to one and down on the other: Can’t be a slave to God and Mammon.”

Pharisee logicians taught the principle of light and heavy (Hebrew קַל וחומר/qal v’khomér), which westerners call the argumentum a fortiori, “argument from the stronger [point].” Jesus’s statement “Trustworthy in little things means trustworthy in big things” is a great example of it: If it’s true in a small instance, in a simple case, it’s just as true (and way more consequential) in a big instance, in a complicated situation. If the butler can’t be trusted with money, he can’t be trusted anywhere. If we can’t be trusted with money, we can’t be trusted anywhere.

Mammonists regularly misinterpret this to say we oughta have our financial houses in order. And by “in order,” they mean profitable. We oughta reduce our unnecessary expenses, ’cause they’re bleeding us dry. We oughta eliminate debt, ’cause the interest payments are largely keeping us in debt. Cut up those credit cards! Buy, not rent. Buy used instead of new. Buy generics instead of name-brand items. Use coupons. Squeeze those pennies till Lincoln farts.

Um… was what the butler did profitable? No.

“But in the long run it is,” Mammonists sometimes claim: The goodwill generated by forgiving a few debts, means people are more likely to do business with the boss in future. They’ll think, “He knocked off a few jars of oil from my debt, so I kinda owe him one,” or that maybe he’ll give them another surprise discount in the future. More business, more profits. Shrewd.

And again, not what the butler did. He wasn’t thinking of his boss’s reputation, but his own. He wanted people to think well of him—and if they thought well of his boss instead of him, and didn’t even think of him at all, his scheme would’ve failed. He was offering the debt reduction, not his boss. Spin it all you like into it being good business, good public relations. But you’d be missing the point.

Likewise if you take the other extreme and conclude the butler wasn’t trustworthy. He’d only be untrustworthy if he lied to his boss. He didn’t. His boss would know about the scheme, ’cause it’d be kinda obvious: His debtors had marked up the receipts. Lk 16.5-7 There was no such thing as correction fluid back then: The old amount would be crossed out on the papyrus, and the new one written down. (Or, if they wastefully used parchment for bookkeeping, the old amount was scratched off—but still visible.) Didn’t take a genius to figure out what had happened—and the boss immediately recognized what was up, and found it clever.

Lastly Jesus’s comment about not being a slave to both God and Mammon. I’ve commented more than once how Americans are kinda determined to prove Jesus wrong. We’ve done a lousy job of it so far. We’ve mostly just reimagined Jesus till the version of him we follow approves of all our greed and materialism. But at that point we’re not following Jesus anymore; just our own desires, mainly our desire for wealth.

Mammonist Pharisees.

No surprise, the Pharisees in Jesus’s audience balked at this lesson. Same as Christians do nowadays—the difference being that Christians pretend to follow Jesus anyway. Pharisees figured they could take or leave him, and in this case they figured they could even mock him.

Luke 16.14-15 KWL
14 Hearing these things, the silver-loving Pharisees mocked Jesus.
15 Jesus told them, “You justify yourselves before people—and God knows your hearts.
Those who are exalted before people, are disgusting before God.”

Sounds kinda rude of Jesus, but knowing his character, we know the reason he said this was not to slam his hecklers. It was to warn ’em of reality: Their wealth is not the indication of God’s approval they believed it to be. Some people are wealthy because God enriches ’em. The rest are wealthy because they stole it, inherited it, are idiots who were given wealth by other idiots (but then again I did just mention inheritance), or they got it through dumb luck. Institutional biases keep certain groups poor, and of course the wealthy have rigged things so they can keep their wealth. There’s a lot of unfairness in the system, and people have been tricked into thinking nothing but hard work can overcome it.

But like Jesus said, God knows our hearts. Exalting ourselves in order to justify our wealth, or to justify materialism, or to claim our riches make us better and worthier and greater: God finds it disgusting. Not just because Mammonism is idolatry; because it blinds us to all the sins we commit so we can hold onto our stuff, and put it ahead of God’s kingdom.