Here, Jesus shows the virtues of delegation; I can certainly get behind that. I can also get behind limiting that delegation to a small group that you know well, and accepting that you don’t have sufficient resources to be able to help everybody.

I’m not so thrilled with the “my way or the highway” (actually, “my way or eternal damnation”) philosophy here, though (e.g. Matthew 10:14, “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet”): what happened to the preaching of forgiveness that we’d just been seeing? When he says “And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death” in Matthew 10:21, one might think that this is a bad thing, and indeed he does think it’s bad, but not because of the brother against brother bit: as we see in Matthew 10:37, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me”, being divided against your family members is all well and dandy if you’re on the good side of that. So, sorry, Jesus, I love my daughter rather more than you, eternal damnation or no! (And Matthew 10:34, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword”, is an interesting counterpart to Christmas platitudes.)

This vengeful spirit continues in Matthew 11; he may call himself “meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29) or, in Lattimore’s translation, “gentle and humble at heart”, but that’s not how I would describe “And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell” (from Matthew 11:23).

In fact, the more I think about this, the more these chapters bother me. What Jesus is saying here seems to me, to be blunt, evil. He wants to strip away your abilities to think for yourself: no grey area is allowed, you have to make an explicit choice to be either with him or against him, with the extremely strong carrot and stick of eternal grace and damnation separating those two choices.

This sort of absolutism is hard to pull off. Part of it is because we live in a world where matters are not so simple, and because we don’t actually get to see this alleged afterlife, but maybe that can be overcome with sufficient rhetorical prowess. Even so, though, stripping away people’s various personal loyalties and replacing them with loyalty to a single individual is a hard trick, and no personal loyalty is stronger than that of family; so Jesus goes right for the jugular and attacks that tie, knowing that it’s all simple after that.

The funny thing is that, were matters different, I’d be happy to complain about people for focusing too much on the virtue of family ties: that way lies tribalism, with its own host of evils. But here, those strong family ties are a saving grace against an unrooted vision of morality. (While, conversely, visions of morality can in other circumstances be an equally strong saving grace against uncritically following the actions of those near and dear to you.)

Phew. Not the sort of thing that I want to be writing about on a post that is scheduled to be published on Christmas day. Switching back to a less ranty tone:

There are some interesting bits before that relating Jesus to John the Baptist. In particular, I was struck by Matthew 11:18-19, “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.”

Indeed, sometimes you just can’t win: haters gonna hate, as they say. Or maybe not: just because X and Y are opposed for apparently contradictory reasons doesn’t mean that individuals are acting in contradiction: maybe it’s different individuals opposing X and Y, maybe X and Y are worthy of dislike for different reasons, maybe there’s a deeper consonance that X and Y are missing. But, a lot of the time, it’s definitely the case that the dislike comes first and that the justification based on particulars of the manifestation is only a retroactive attempt at rationalization; I know that’s the case for me most of the time when I dislike something.

Post Revisions:

This post has not been revised since publication.