Monday, May 25, 2009


Somebody tell me what the hell it means when Mr. Jesus H. Christ his own self says the very gates of hell itself will not prevail against the church!

I want to know! What do y'all think that means??

The KJV phrasing places the action with the object, with the gates, which is confusing. The CHURCH is the ACTOR, and the gates of hell are the OBJECT.

Therefore: The CHURCH will crash through -- IS crashing through! -- the very gates of hell itself! Amd if that don't mean the devil's ass is KICKED, and the poor sons-of-bitches caught up in his lies and sh-t are FREED, then nothin' don't mean nothin'.

So, yeah, Mr. Faker, call me a damn-near universalist. And if you don't like it, take it up with Mr. Jesus H. Christ.


"Damn-near" universalist, I said. Because it's pretty clear that tares and weeds and such will be yanked up, tied up and burned up.

My point is people who get it wrong, whether because they just get it wrong or because they're tangled up in their humanity and its self-preservation-slash-natural-selfishness, are covered by grace -- if they want to be.

Fakers, beware.

But ... but ... but~! As Buechner wrote, maybe in the end not even Old Scratch himself will be able to hold out against God's love. Eternity is a long time -- well, OK, it's outside of time, but y'all know what I mean.

Grrr. It just pisses me off that so many people run around pretending to be Peter.
A couple thoughts, if I may. First, in a little collection of musings, short stories, sermons, poems, and nonesuch entitled Way of the Wolf, the author offers a sermon on the whole wheat/tares thing, and offers the notion that this refers less to individuals and more to the sin that is the tare, to be burned in the unquenchable fire.

Second, Mr. Faker? I don't think he's faking it; I think Neil really believes he has it all wrapped up, nice and neat, complete with bow and Hallmark card.
I like the tares as sin idea. I'll ponder that.

As for HWMNBN, maybe "faker" isn't quite the right word. But Jesus, as soft as he was on the ignorant and the hapless, came down damn hard on people who wore religion on their sleeves, and who used it to push people around, and used it for personal gain.

Look at what he's put together over there! He loves it. He loves the attention, good and bad; he loves that he's "right" and others are "wrong"; for Christ's sweet sake, he actually seems to have literally followed the prescription for blasphemy itself by so calmly and drolly declaring that anyone who claimed to have seen a vision of Mary had actually seen Satan! Can you believe it? What arrogance! And that is the very sin of blasphemy: Thinking you know more than God! God uses all kinds of visions to meet people where. they. are. If it take a vision of Mary the Mother to soften someone up for the Grace of God through Christ, who in the hell does HWMNBN or anybody else think they are to say he can't!? And to actually, literally, attribute it to Satan! Wow!

Huff puff. Huff puff. Neil, I totally believe, has been sent into my Webbertube life by God God's self to keep me on the right track.
BTW, I just meant that as a general link to HWMNBN's blog,, to any of his posts in particular -- although the Mary one did hit a little close home Dr. ER is a cradle Catlick. :-)
My goodness, but that is a Herculean jeremiad. Neil does manage to polish his persecution complex to a high glossy sheen, doesn't he? It is pure artistry in action.
i am not a damn-near universalist.. i just drop the "damn near" ;-)

if you want the actual historical/social meaning, then John Dominic Crossen does an excellent job on this phrase and concept.

there was a place called Hel which had a big pagan temple where all sorts of crazy things that were abhorrent to Jews were going on.. it was around the area of Tiberias (which was on the sea of Galilee). so what Jesus was saying was that even gentiles would be assimilated into his movement.. and that was very true.

as for the metaphysical part, i think that's a good interpretation of the meaning as well. so both are good meanings to this phrase!
"Even gentiles" ... Luke, what's yer take on the Canaanite woman that Jesus flat dissed at first, and at second? "The Message" has him saying something like "I've got my hands full already" trying to save the lost sheep of Israel. That's fairly kind. I have no problem whatsoever, myself, with the notion that Jesus's views, of himself, the world, and what he was about in the world, evolving, with him stretching his own thinking even as he prodded others to stretch theirs.
It means that the "bars" of Hades will not keep the Church from going into the world. The "bars" in later versions "gates" may be a dead give away for the shift in translation from what ever the original was. (Christ can not be kept in Hell after death, he will arise and take the "Church" into the world.)

You do realized that your quoting from the "Peter is the Church Rock" versus "Christ is the Church Rock" verse that has consumed several thousand man-years of examination over the last two millenium?

Try out this analysis of this one verse. Want to be a seminarian? Can you handle this?

Have fun bro.
"Luke, what's yer take on the Canaanite woman that Jesus flat dissed at first, and at second?" -ER

Jesus is human and divine. here is his humanside.. showing that he's just like us.. he can make a mistake and learn from it. then he goes on to give the a parable with a Samaritan in it. if Jesus was 110% perfect, he wouldn't be human. if he never learned nothing, i have nothing to learn from him. he'd just be another Hagee, Fallwell or one of those ilk who know it all. dude wasn't like that. i love that story because of that. i think you hit the nail on the head when you said " him stretching his own thinking even as he prodded others to stretch theirs."
You should quit church (for a few months, or year) read the bible and not worry about the parts you don't understand. Pray for others and yourself to have a peaceful long life, God willing. Quit trying to impress each other with how smart you are, because most times the more you talk the less you really say. Please just live life and stop this silly quest to think you have it all figured out.
God Bless your Soul.
"Just live life and stop thinking." The comfy couch potato's cri de coeur of loveless mediocrity.

Ah, the American tradition of not paying any attention to the wisdom of the ages, not even to the relatively newborn American tradition.

How we do cut off our brains to spite ourselves.

This is why we have to give so much of our money to our missiles.
I don't understand how you guys miss the sarcastic testing tone with the Canaanite woman.

Testing faith is a recurrent theme in the Gospels (as a message to the hearers/readers for their own tests of faith).

This is not an intentional line from Jesus, it is a scene posed by the writer to indicate that when a person has true, deep faith, even "bad" faith from God -- which is a literary stand-in for "bad" fate -- will not separate the faithful from God.

The bad luck I have should not be read as a real disparagement from God. That is immature understanding.

Miguel De La Torre misleads here, badly, into a bad discussion of Jesus' ethics.

It's a red herring that lead liberals into unproductive but seemingly scandalously PC views.

You should quit reading this blog (for a few months, or year) and not worry about the parts you don't understand. Pray for others and yourself to have a peaceful long life, God willing.

Quit trying to impress me with your humble acceptance of ignorance, because most when you do you say nothing.

Please live life richly! And realize that if you're not trying to figure it all out, you're just along for the ride -- like a body in a hearse, because your dead alteady.

Oh, and bite me.
The sarcasm and testing tone *is* lost on me, Feodor. I have no problem withy such a take on it, though.

Truly, I say unto you, I have never been as immersed in Matthew as I have been lately. If I ever teach any kind of Bible class, I'll have the peeps rewrite whatever text we're on in their own words. It's a whole different way of reading -- and since that's pretty much what I've done for a living for 25 years now, it surprises me that that surprises me.
Actually, on the Canaanite woman, I'm kind of on the side of de la Torre. The woman kind of showed Jesus that (a) he was wrong; and (b) he was a bigot.

I know that heads explode at the mere thought. Too bad, so sad.

There is nothing in the text, or in immediately surrounding texts that let Jesus off the hook with the whole "testing" business. Just as Abraham had no idea he was being tested, but was only aware this God who had already asked so much of him had told him to kill his only son and heir (therefore showing the depths of Abraham's faith, rather than letting him off the hook as a potential murderer), so there is nothing here that qualifies Jesus statement, saying that it was the woman being tested. Jesus was being tested, and failed miserably, at first. That he could learn shows his humanity.
This here is an ancient can of worms, ain't it?

Here's where I think people freak out: They equate "without sin" with "perfection." To say that Jesus was sinless to the end is not to say he was perfect in everything, at all times.

This specific passage, then, also suggests to me that ignorance, or short-sightedness, which I guess is the same thing, is no sin if, once realized, one moves on.
I went looking for what the Jesus Seminar peeps said about this passage (not the historical Jesus, they say) and found this interesting sermon, which looks at it from several angles.

(Jesus Seminar Road Show, or whatever it's called, is coming to my church this fall!)

((Don't be overly alarmed, anyone. I take nothing uncritically.))
How can two guys who elsewhere can say so emphatically that the NT does not give us Jesus decide that "here" we have Jesus?

And how can GKS, who knows better, fail to note that the narrative in Genesis has a vastly different worldview and narrative understanding than the writer of Matthew? To flatly equate the story of the sacrifice of Isaac with this Gospel passage is to read like They Who Shall Never Be Named But Always Referred To.

I think you two are just in love with the quick titillation.

If we are to read it as witness to Jesus' human lapses, give me the other passages that press this all-to-important and crucial theme home? And show how Matthew is crafting this theme?

Surely this little pericope can't be made to contain such a seemingly counter-intuitive take on the Gospel's message re Jesus' sonship?

Instead, let's read *in context* and realize that the story is driving home the ten verses before it: no one is unclean unless they make themselves so and many "abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition", i.e. like Canaanite of Syrophoenician people.

The twenty-two after it (in Mark he heals the man born blind who is probably also not a Jew) regarding faith, healing, and bewaring the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees that get one off track of God's commandments to love.

And that Jesus, far from stumbling, is indeed given the power of God ("the demon has left you daughter").

Matthew knows what he is doing. But some Sadducee has you guys off track.
Feodor, you're seeing things. I've not said anything firm at all about what I think this passage means, or how it *should* be interpreted. I'm asking how is *can* be interpreted. And now I ask: What's wrong with considering it from the range of possibilities?

As for other example of Jesus "learning" or "growing" a couple or three come to mind -- and please, don't hesitate to help me see what seems obvious to you.

"Jesus wept." He got to Lazarus too late to heal him.

Jesus jumped ugly on the disciples for falling asleep when he really needed them as he was praying.

And the desperate gutteral cry of the ages: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Now, each instance is depicted whichever writer for his own purposes, of course. But unless someone sees Jesus as either a stick figure or stage actor, I don't see how anyone can see either of those episodes as anything but human. Frail. Weak. Surprised. Grieving. None of which, to me, have jack with his sonship, or divinity.
I left a thought uncompleted, re: "Jesus jumped ugly on the disciples for falling asleep when he really needed them as he was praying." I mean, he was surprised, and hurt, and upset with them.
How can I equate what with whom? I was making a point, Feodor, apparently lost on you. My point was this: Very often, as demonstrated in my OT survey class lo those many years ago, people tend to excuse Abraham's willingness to kill his only legitimate heir on the grounds that he either knew it was a test (as the text explicitly states the LORD sought to test Abraham's faith), or that somewhere deep down inside Abraham must have just known the LORD would never allow such an act. My reasons for objecting to such nonsense is the same reason I object to your insistence that this expression of small-mindedness and what we today would call bigotry on the part of Jesus is actually a test of faith (whose? the woman's? the disciples? Jesus'?) is not based on any textual support whatsoever. And, yes, BTW, when I read the Bible I do tend to check and see what's actually written so I can figure out what's going on. That's not literalism, it's called reading.

As to enjoying titillation, hardly. It's a conclusion drawn from evidence - the text itself. i care neither a whit nor a fig whether this is "historical" or not. Sitting there like a lump on the log of the text of the Bible, it has to be taken seriously, and as such, the only conclusion to which I come is this is an expression of Jesus being small minded and bigoted.

Do I blaspheme? Well, if so, I'll take whatever's coming to me. At the same time, since there is no textual evidence that Jesus was doing anything other than repeating snide Jewish beliefs about their Gentile near-neighbors whom they despised as dogs, I am wondering - since it is Jesus who is explicitly shown to have grown through this encounter, how else should it be interpreted?
Thanks be to God. Finally, a fight with good people.

I mean, curs, obscurantists, myopic beadles.

More later.
Go, ye giddy goose!
I thought he was a gander. Shouldn't a redneck know the difference ?:)

Now just how did you get off on the Phonician well woman from the rock of the church and the bars of hell?
Redneck mighta been callin' him a girl.

:-) Ha ha.
A bit about the Gospel of Matthew:

It is very likely that Matthew was written after the destruction of the temple when the Pharisees began to exert a exclusive authority. That the writer of Matthew knew these things is evidenced in how the Pharisees are the preeminent enemies of Jesus, far more so than in the other Gospels, and the specific anti-Pharisaism in the conflicts around law with Jesus.

Matthew is constructed around five "great dialogues" that may indeed represent the five books of the Torah. It also appears that the writer of Matthew was a Jewish legal scribe, clearly exhibiting such knowledge and style and consistently presenting Jesus as the Moses of a new Torah that fulfills and supersedes the Old Torah.

Given an initial understanding of the theology and structure of Matthew then, it makes sense to see the passage re the Canaanite woman (interesting that Matthew makes her Canaanite -- the original inhabitants upon the first Israelite invasion -- rather than Mark's Syrophoenician woman) is meant to reiterate the message that this New Torah brought by this New Moses is for all people. Jews and Gentiles.

Jesus' sarcasm reflects and mocks the grudging judgments of the Pharisees.

Done and done.

One cannot treat a passage like a short story and spin out interpretations that ignore its function in the document. It sits in deep context, like a scene in a movie, or a set piece in a novel.

Read the whole thing, then look at the small piece that has been fashioned to fit.
I've got to Hans it to you. I think you Freid my mind.


Yes. The story is the thing. Matthew, the narrative, if taken all of a piece. Absolutely makes sense. And that's great.

But No. 1:

We still don't know what we don't know, do we? That is, given any piece of writing -- any piece that purports to make a case, or be persuasive at all, or even a piece of clearly fiction writing of any complexity -- no one, often not even the writer, can explain all the nuances and all the tiny whirlwinds of ideas present in all the nooks and crannies of the narrative. So, is there room, given what we do know, and what we must we cannot know, about Matthew for the possibility that Jesus's thinking had not yet expanded to include ALL people as God's children?

But No. 2: This particular text aside, did Jesus pop our all Lord and Savioury, or did he, as a Jew, and a student, and then a rabbi, human to the callouses on his feet and sweat of his pits, grow into realization that he, like Jake and Elwood came to believe, was a mission from God? (Leaving totally aside a whole other can of worms regarding whether it came to him by revelation or meditation.)
Hans-fried ER,

Re earlier comment, surely you're not counting tears and expressing anger as sin, right? You're not that kind of Southern pea brain, snake oil salesman from First Baptist in Dallas.

Or even the human experience of alienation, isolation, the emptiness of God? To experience the emptiness of God and cry out in need and hurt is not sin -- it is human.

I find these far different experiential and moral categories than the sin of overt racism.

Nonetheless, we remain in the environment of the text, as we must, and the writer, the writer's sources, the writer's intentions, the writer's construction. Almost all of which is always interpretation.

We also remain in the environment of the text we create when we read the text. We create using our sources, our intentions, our shaping systems of socioeconomic, political identities coding each word, phrase, movement, we open the text and craft a new one, a renewed one along the axes of our communal and psychological makeup.

Your nooks and crannies have edges and volumetric measurements that are carved and hollowed out by your world which is not exactly my world.

Either way we are boundaried by reasonable understanding of the narrative effort displayed and and the attention we pay to our interpretive life.

Even in the subversive or dialogic whispers, the interstitial voices we strain to catch are the ones *we* can strain to catch at any given time.

So, the chasm between knowing and unknowing "about Matthew" (the text) and the image of "the possibility" of "Jesus's thinking" (the Thing) is crossed only by any number of interpretive speech acts of ours. All of which reconstitute, or (in a classically theologically formula of faith) recapitulate, the gesture of faith, and only faith.

We hear of Jesus and we believe, each in somewhat our own way. And the hearing and believing dissolve the story and the storyteller and the hearer and the hearer's act into the matrix of a faith act which, in the end, is non-local, non-empirical, neither knowing nor non-knowing.

Since Matthew is telling the story, you should stop interrupting him with what you think he left out or got wrong. If you want to tell the story after Matthew, your turn can come next.

I have my own story, of course, but for me, the story is too much a prison by itself. Dissolving bread in wine and smelling the Holy Spirit like its some Nation of Islam street vendor is necessary.

But then that is not the fact of Jesus, either. It is a faith.

Who Jesus was, I cannot know. Who he is is the light of my day... and all any of us ever has or anyone has ever had.

Even Matthew.

You may reconstitute Jesus as you wish. It's all any of us do, in the end. But there's something to be said for providing oneself with checks on our own imaginations: scholarship, theology, communal formation, our own theological commitments (since no Theology is totalizing and those that try have grave faults and consequences).

When I come back at DrLBJ, GKS, or yourself, it is the checks and balances I am really arguing... and their consequences for the shape of the Jesus each continually reconstitutes for himself.

But most healthily, and most elusively, the reconstitution should not imprison us from a relationship with the living Christ, which relationship has its own check of a willingness to always walk under the cloud of unknowing, and walking on and on and refusing to walk alone.

And I am not so arrogant to question the Christ that each walks with, for that is my Christ, too, for all I know.

That is the faith that saves, and the faith that is love.
And specifically, here's my argument with you re the Jesus and the Canaanite woman:

Matthew is telling us a story partly about the nefarious influences of bad teachers on our own sub-conscious thinking. The Canaanite woman is a dog (according to the lights of Jewish custom), but as it turns out, a dog who has the kind of faith that the Messiah rewards. The shock value of hearing the words from Jesus' lips is the recognition of our own habits of thought. You see, Matthew is under no absolute deception that he is recording Jesus' very words and behaviors. He knows he is writing to an audience to not only tell them, but to teach them. And the audience is really under not illusion that Matthew is writing the very word of Jesus.

So Matthew wants us to keep an eye on Pharisaical thinking in our brains.

Your focus on Jesus' moral growth is a distraction from that, to me very important, task.

You impute racism on Jesus, when I find Matthew to be tropeing our own soft expectations of the capacities of others not ourselves.
Re, "Surely you're not counting tears and expressing anger as sin, right?"

I am not, in any way, shape, form or fashion! That's a major subpoint: It blows people's minds to think of Jesus being dismissive at first, then being "stingy" with himself, for lack of a better word, if they assume that that means he was sinning. I didn't say that, nor do I believe that, at all. Sinless means sinless; it doesn't mean "perfect," as people understand it now to mean all-seeing, all-knowing, etc. Jesus sinless? OK. Perfect? Not if he "emptied himself" into humanity in any way. The Risen Christ, having completed whatever work it is exactly, is someone different, in my mind, than this pre-crucificion, pre-resurrection Jesus.

ALL off the top of my head. I reserve the right to revise and extend..
Now the objective observer who knew both of us -- say, GKSs deconstructive play tendencies or DrLBJs reductionist analytical tendencies-- will say, well, of course, where each man stand on his reading of Matthew is determined by what the interests each man carries into the reading. ER is working on an understanding the real historical man, Jesus. Feodork is working on socio-political values. Each has an appropriate agenda.

But here is my last statement: here, on Matthew, I have a better take on the text.

This is not to say I will be right everywhere, but mine will preach more true, here.

And it questions what you are really after in your search for the man, Jesus.

But my search for justice in the human heart will also be denied by the Gospels and especially the epistles and the damnable Paul. What does this mean for me?

The serendipity is that our opposed interpretations become an opportunity for both of us to ask, what am I seeking and why?

The biblical text will never give you the real Jesus our protestant heritage has always wanted from the text.

Faith will never give me the righteousness on earth our American heritage has always expected to be in the near future.

So I read ancient Syrians and Cappadocians for corrective.

Geritol and St. Basil. "Last Rights."
Feodor, re: your 11:13:

What I'm doing is teasing this passage out to consider it from several sides. It never occurred to me to hear sarcasm in Jesus's words. After sleeping on it, I can hear it now -- or, at least, I'm not deaf to the possibility.

But I think it's overstating it to say that, even in the consideration of the possibility that Jesus *was* slow to respond to the woman, that I'm imputing racism. Racism is overt, at least the kind that, in my mind, is sin. Lack of vision, lack of experience, lack of testing inherited attitudes -- those are not sins. Clinging to them once enlightened IS sin.

And here we skirt very close to my own story, and my own experience, which is, perhaps, why the possibility of this as an example of moral growth is so interesting to me.

Because: the racism I inherited from growing up when and where I did was not sin; it was ignorance. If I still clung to it, it would be sin, and defiance.
Re, "And it questions what you are really after in your search for the man, Jesus."

Ah, well, it's as Marcus Borg put it: "I'm getting to know Jesus again for the first time."

Key: "getting."
Sin is overt only?
Or is sin a conscious deliberation only?

My thinking today: The state of sin is a state of incomplete humanity, incomplete as far as what God wanted.

I'll have to think about what I think "a" discrete sin is. Can't be limited to action. I'd strike "deliberation" and insert "awareness."

But I didn't mean to talk about the generality of what sins are. I was talking about the specific of what I think racism is.
Racism is many things. Discrete act, socially kept and learnd, structurally systematic. Sub-conscious, unconscious, soft, hard.

Some have made compelling theological distinctions between prejudice and bias.

I don't think you will much luck finding a definition that captures.

How do we parse The Fall, fallen, Sin, sin, the eternal sin of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit?
BTW, I am a white, male American.

There are damnable proclivities in being such. Like football. Or NASCAR, God forbid.

And for power (patriarchy, racism, nationalism, regionalism -- The Big Apple, baby, no backwater here, just toxic rivers, baby! And one goddamn great nominee for SCOTUS!!).
Re, "How do we parse The Fall, fallen, Sin, sin, the eternal sin of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit?"

LOL, I believe that is beyond the scope of this post.

I'll ignore yer sniff at NASCAR. I just five minutes ago commisserated with a colleague over Junior's winless ways of late.

The ERs concur on SCOTUS nominee!
Jesus was just Joshing the gal. He was just using his dry wit to nudge her towards the Kingdom.

By the way I'm copyrighting "Joshing" as "Jesus' wit". You know Jesus, real name Joshua, so Joshing. But because I like you so much ER, you go ahead and use if you please.
You can't Yesh me!
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