Monday, July 20, 2020

Jesus Christ, Financial Advisor, Horse Thief

What does the parable of the ten minas mean?  Why does Jesus then exhort his disciples to steal a horse?

The far-right likes to harp on "strict interpretation" of the "letter of the law" which sounds nice and all, but even the word "word" has multiple interpretations, so right off the bat, you have to interpret what the intended meaning of any sentence is.   Strict interpretation results in a lot of weird results - for example, the current conservative Supreme Court finding that gays cannot be discriminated against in employment, because firing someone for the gender of their spouse is, in effect, firing them for their gender.  Yea, I know, weird.   But, in this day and age, you take what you can get.

When it comes to the Bible, which many on the Right think is a legally binding document, the same is true.  There are a lot of crazy insane bible stories that on their face make little sense, so armies of theologians have helped us out by "interpreting" what they mean - their interpretations going on for page after page, often far longer than the bible verse itself.

And of course, any Bible scholar would say, "which version?" because there are so many translations from one language to another and of course, the Bible was assembled from various texts over time, with much of the New Testament being put together hundreds of years after the death of Christ.  What was put in and what was left out wasn't the choice of God, but man.

I digress here, but these chapters of the Bible were meant to be read as a whole, not as individual verses.  What I find disturbing about many Bible analysis sites (and sermons by preachers) is that they will take one verse of the Bible, as if it was meant to stand on its own, and then pontificate for pages or hours as to what it meant, neglecting the verse before or after, or the greater context of the overall chapter or book.   But I digress.

I was thumbing through the New Testament and came upon this odd chapter of Luke (19). I don't recall reading it in Bible study class in church, or hearing about it much.   It is an odd story, and one that really doesn't jibe with the peace-and-love version of Jesus that so many like to promote:
As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.
He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return.  Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ 
When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant!  Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ 
 And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 
Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief;  for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ 
And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’  
‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 
 But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’ ”
Fun stuff!  Punishing people and slaughtering enemies.  What is the point of this parable?  I mean, if we strictly interpret the words, it is just an odd story that Jesus tells.  I looked online to see what some Bible scholars thought of it, and got weird, pages-long analysis that went nowhere.  This fellow seems to believe that the parable is about Jesus himself and the second coming.

In his view, the nobleman is a stand-in for Jesus, and the minas are the word of the gospel, and if you didn't spread the word by a factor of ten, well, when Jesus comes back, he'll be plenty pissed, for sure!   His followers believe the parable is about how Jesus is going to set up his kingdom on Earth as he heads to Jerusalem, where he actually is slated to be crucified (and he knows this).

What I find odd about the  story is that the nobleman wasn't gone for long in the story, but he expected a 1000% return on his money, or at the very least, 500%.   That's a pretty good rate of return!  Invest with Jesus!   Or maybe this is just an MLM scheme Jesus is pushing. That was Judas' problem, he didn't find enough quality distributors of his own, and broke the chain.

He then admonishes the poor servant who merely hid his mina under a mattress for not at least getting bank interest (3%) on his money - an odd thing for the guy who chased money-lenders out of the temple, to say.   So much of Christianity and Islam is about how interest is evil - one reason why we forced Jews into the banking business (stupidly not realizing that if you control the lending of money, you control the economy - Christians aren't very bright, it seems, Muslims not much better).

The entire parable plays into the right-wing fundamentalist view of Jesus as this pissed-off action hero, who will come back one day, guns a-blazing, and killing people (slaughtering his enemies). This stands in stark contrast to the view of Jesus as the one who healed lepers, hung out with prostitutes, forgave sinners, and died on the cross (next to thieves) for your sins.   I mean, which is it?  Peaceful loving Jesus who just wants to help you, or the avenging superhero who will blow away anyone who crosses his path - or even those not sufficiently vigorous in their proselytizing?

The whole part about servants and anointing people to "rule over ten cities" seems awfully undemocratic, by today's standards, doesn't it?  Slaughtering thy enemies doesn't seem much better. Sadly, the idea that if you put your minas in a handkerchief (fail to proselytize enough) seems to have taken hold in the all-white version of the Black Lives Matter protest - if you don't support the cause sufficiently enough, then you are part of the problem, they posit.  I guess they've been reading their Bible.

Well, that was one man's interpretation, I am sure there are others.  I think I like the Billie Holiday interpretation best:
Them that's got shall get
Them that's not shall lose

So the Bible said and it still is news
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that's got his own
That's got his own
My interpretation?   It is hard to take literally a document that has been edited, translated, abridged, and added to, for over 2000 years, coming from a period where record-keeping was sketchy at best, and most records were lost over time - and a lot was handed down by oral tradition.  And a lot of the editing and additions and subtractions were done later on for people who had a political agenda, usually to acquire power.  A lot of people think that Saul/Paul really wasn't "converted" to Christianity, but rather saw a good thing and put himself in front of the parade - molding the religion into what it is today.   It is a fascinating thought.

But getting back to Luke 19, it gets even weirder.  Jesus steals a horse.  No wonder he was crucified!  In the old West, horse thieves were lynched!
And it came to pass, when he was come nigh to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount called the mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, 
Saying, Go ye into the village over against you; in the which at your entering ye shall find a colt tied, whereon yet never man sat: loose him, and bring him hither. 
And if any man ask you, Why do ye loose him? thus shall ye say unto him, Because the Lord hath need of him. 
And they that were sent went their way, and found even as he had said unto them. 
And as they were loosing the colt, the owners thereof said unto them, Why loose ye the colt? 
And they said, The Lord hath need of him. 
And they brought him to Jesus: and they cast their garments upon the colt, and they set Jesus thereon.
Again, I struggle to make any sense of this at all.   Here, Jesus isn't the guy with the fishes and loaves, feeding the masses, but a jerk who just takes some guy's horse, because he doesn't want to be late for his own crucifixion.   I mean, if ever there was a time to take a slow walk, now would be it.

All I can say is, if you go to one of those fundamentalist churches, don't leave the keys in the ignition of your SUV.   Pastor may find he "hath need of it" and just take it from you, first spreading your jacket over the seat, of course.  He can cite biblical precedent for this, too.

So what is the real meaning of these stories?   I think there is none.  The Bible says a lot of things, and often contradicts itself.   Thou shall not kill versus Slaughter thy enemies.   Thou shall not steal versus I hath need of it.  You really can't take it literally, as it is a document of faith, and like I said before, faith cannot be analyzed or proven or unproven.  You just have to believe, and books like the Bible provide comforting stories of belief.  That's all they are, is stories, not something to be taken literally or scientifically or historically.

People who take the Bible (or Koran, or whatever) literally are always trying to stir up trouble.  These are the people with the suicide vests or the ones starting wars.  These are the folks who read the convenient parts (convenient to them) or who are trying to "prove" the Bible is true by building an Ark or searching for one, or just naming their kid, "Noah".

Belief can be comforting for some people, who feel the need to have answers to life's unanswerable questions.   But as I noted in Freddy the Leaf, you really can't find answers from your fellow humans, who are just as perplexed as you are and whose life experience is no greater or less than yours.   And no, stuff written down long ago by fellow humans isn't any better - they didn't know more then than we do now.  Just because they wore robes and wiped their ass with their hands didn't make them any wiser than we are today.  And no, Jesus didn't talk in King James English, nor was he a white guy with blue eyes and honey-brown hair.  You laugh, some folks actually believe that, secretly or openly.

Maybe these things happened as Luke said they did.  Maybe Jesus is a bit of a self-centered jerk, stealing horses and forcing his disciples to make a saddle for it out of their robes.  Seems kind of a dickish thing to do, doesn't it?  Or maybe Luke got it wrong - or one of the various translators, revisionists, or whatever, inserted this story to bolster their own agenda - that if someone important needs things, they can just take them, and if someone isn't sufficiently loyal, it's OK to just take away what little they have.  And if someone rises up against you, well, just mow them down.  The ends justify the means.   Fun stuff!

THAT interpretation makes the most amount of sense.  Because if you rummage through the Bible long enough, you will find justifications for whatever it is you want to do, ungodly or not.    Racism, misogyny, murder, infanticide, incest, slavery - at some point or another, the Bible not only condones these things (and then condemns them, elsewhere) but exhorts people to do them.  Taking any of that literally will surely lead to trouble.