Reading the Bible, Part 7
It’s time for the New Testament!
King of the Jews:
Guess what? Jesus was Jewish! Well, of course he was. I just said that because I know some Christians that like to ignore the Old Testament. They like to believe that they can talk about Jesus having love and acceptance and ignore the child-killing, woman-hating, gay-bashing, racist, genocidal God that came before. Well, they can’t. God and Jesus are completely a package deal. The book of Matthew begins with a genealogy linking Abraham to Jacob to David to Joseph (who isn’t even Jesus’s father, but whatever.) The author of Matthew clearly and frequently tries to fulfill Jewish prophecies.
Anyway, the story matches what I remember being taught as a child. Virgin birth, wise men following a star bringing gifts, Jesus being baptized with a voice from Heaven saying that Jesus is God’s son. Then Jesus was tested in the wilderness by Satan. Jesus passed the test by quoting some Bible verses. It’s strange to see all of these stories I recognize and them happening so fast. It took forever to find the devil in the Old Testament, but Jesus is already fighting Satan and healing people four chapters into the New Testament. It’s refreshing to have some new content, but I would be confused if I didn’t grow up in a Christian household. I just spent hundreds of pages reading about the children of Jacob and the laws of Moses and how they would last forever. Then this new guy shows up talking about Heaven and Hell and baptisms with basically no explanation of what they are or why they exist.
The Sermon on the Mount comes next. The Beatitudes are okay. The salt and light analogies are pretty good. Jesus explicitly says that he came to fulfill the Jewish law and prophets. Jesus also supports reconciling with enemies, says that divorce if often adultery, is against swearing oaths, supports non-retaliation, and supports loving and forgiving your enemies. I rarely see Christians follow any of those principles. It’s also pretty hollow coming from the guy that sends billions of people to Hell. I did like how Jesus criticized the people that give money and pray in public for social gain though.
All You Need is Magic:
Jesus then tells people not to worry about where their food and shelter comes from. (Were there not starving homeless people back then?) And these two verses in Matthew 7 summarize the worst part of Christianity: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” In other words, you don’t have to work hard or be intelligent or even have a basic understanding of cause and effect. If you can ask for something, you can magically get it! It’s why you can go to any church in the world and most people will have the exact same problems week after week after week. Money problems? You don’t need to learn anything, just pray a little harder. Health problems? Doctors are okay but God is the real healer so just have more faith. Romantic problems? You don’t need to change anything, the right person is out there. Lacking direction in life? You don’t need to take any action, just concentrate on how good your existence is going to be after you’re dead. Did anyone’s problems get solved there? NO! It’s the reality of causality! Building your life on mysticism is like being a foolish man who builds his house on sand! (That analogy is also from Matthew 7. Jesus actually had some good analogies.)
The Healing Tour:
Jesus spent some time traveling, healing disabled people, and driving out demons. He even had the power to forgive people of their sins. If so, (spoiler alert) I don’t know why the whole crucifixion thing was necessary. He then recruited a disciple named Matthew. I assume it’s the same Matthew that’s supposed to be telling the story. It kind of makes you wonder about the credibility of everything that has happened before then. Just kidding, there wasn’t any credibility anyway. None of the gospels were written by people that knew Jesus. Anyway, some woman was healed by touching Jesus’s cloak and Jesus said it was her faith that healed her. If faith is the only relevant thing, I don’t understand why more people weren’t healed instantly without touching Jesus. Moving on, Jesus brought a dead girl back to life. That was nice.
King of the Heretics:
Things get weird in Matthew 10 when Jesus sends his disciples out to preach and heal on his behalf. “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” I can see the last part making sense if Jesus is God, because God has always commanded that people love him the most. That was the point of Abraham being told to sacrifice Isaac, right? But what’s the deal with making enemies within families, especially since Jesus told his disciples to preach among Israel? Why would God send himself to violently overthrow the people that had been worshipping him, as he commanded, having made an eternal covenant with them a thousand years ago, who were understandably skeptical of a guy showing up and exalting himself with blasphemous new teachings?
Miracle Worker (sometimes):
Matthew 15 has some good points. “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” Also, “If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” I was very surprised with what Jesus did next. A Canaanite woman begged him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. Jesus turned her away! He said “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Fortunately, she was good at analogies too: “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Jesus was so impressed by her witty comeback that he granted her wish. It’s unbelievable that he required that. As a child, I was taught that Jesus loves everybody, especially all the children of the world. Yet Jesus and his disciples’ first response to a woman whose daughter was suffering from demonic possession was “Jews only! We don’t have miracles to spare for you lesser people!”
Matthew 17 has a famous story about faith. “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Is that supposed to be literal? I don’t see why not. Faith has already let disciples walk on water and heal the sick. Jesus even says it again in Matthew 21: “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you [curse a] fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” But despite billions of faithful people living year after year, I have never seen telekinetic powers. I have lived a billion seconds and have seen zero miracles. Faith cannot overcome reality. Belief cannot overcome causality.
It is Finished (quickly):
The remainder of Matthew and the crucifixion happened just as I remember being taught at my parents' church. However, I was still not prepared for the ending. Jesus came back to life, met with his disciples, and told them to preach about him. And that was it. If I'm not mistaken, the other gospels say that Jesus ascended into Heaven. That seems like something that would be worth mentioning in Matthew. Did Jesus not say anything else important after rising from the dead? Did nobody pay him any attention? He doesn’t even get a full chapter of what happened afterwards? Really? Did rising from the dead even matter if he quickly returned and went right back to Heaven?
I'm pretty sure that the same stories will repeat in Mark, Luke, and John, but I look forward to seeing if anything happens later.