Jesus in our time – 6

Jesus in our time – 6

Susan was reading the Bible on the sofa in the living room in the evening in the summer when the sun is up until 10PM and nothing could ever go wrong in the world.

The trees outside in the yard were tall and breathing cheerfully and gracefully in the forever-light. A gray squirrel dashed across the little lawn. No one saw him. I remember the year the squirrels were dying with broken hind-backs. Some evil paralysis would steal away first their locomotion and then their life breath. But that was a while ago, and nothing ever seems to have come of it — not really.

Jesus was seated at the little table in the corner, writing in his notebook — which I am going to steal and auction off for a billion dollars; just kidding; mostly kidding.

I was sitting cross-legged on the sofa down the way from Susan. I wasn’t doing anything.

“Why so hard on divorce?,” asked Susan of the one they call Immanuel, which means “God with us”, and of which the Scofield Bible glosses that it’s more of a title than a name, and that’s why Jesus’s name — already very appropriate, since it means “to save” or “to deliver” — wasn’t literally “Immanuel”, even though Isaiah clearly stated “Therefore the Lord Himself giveth to you a sign, Lo, the Virgin is conceiving, And is bringing forth a son, And hath called his name Immanuel,” [Isaiah 7:14]

Jesus looked up from his notes and, since he was seated facing the wall, with his left side pointed towards the sofa, turned chair and body a little to the left to address the question.

Susan continued,

“Some say that it’s because men were distorting the Hebrew scriptures to justify divorcing their wives on any grounds. Here’s Leviticus 24:1-4, the only verse that specifically mentions a certificate of divorce:

When a man doth take a wife, and hath married her, and it hath been, if she doth not find grace in his eyes (for he hath found in her nakedness of anything), and he hath written for her a writing of divorce, and given [it] into her hand, and sent her out of his house, and she hath gone out of his house, and hath gone and been another man’s, and the latter man hath hated her, and written for her a writing of divorce, and given [it] into her hand, and sent her out of his house, or when the latter man dieth, who hath taken her to himself for a wife: `Her former husband who sent her away is not able to turn back to take her to be to him for a wife, after that she hath become defiled; for an abomination it [is] before Jehovah, and thou dost not cause the land to sin which Jehovah thy God is giving to thee — an inheritance.

“The Pharisees, scribes, and everyone else talking with Jesus in the temple — in Matthew 19:1-12, I mean — would’ve known that verse and how it was being used for men to divorce their wives for any old reason, and in a time when women without husbands were very vulnerable. With that background knowledge, listen then as if for the first time, to Matthew’s account:

And it came to pass, when Jesus finished these words, he removed from Galilee, and did come to the borders of Judea, beyond the Jordan, and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them there.
And the Pharisees came near to him, tempting him, and saying to him, `Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?’
And he answering said to them, `Did ye not read, that He who made [them], from the beginning a male and a female made them, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall be — the two — for one flesh? so that they are no more two, but one flesh; what therefore God did join together, let no man put asunder.’
They say to him, `Why then did Moses command to give a roll of divorce, and to put her away?’
He saith to them — `Moses for your stiffness of heart did suffer you to put away your wives, but from the beginning it hath not been so. `And I say to you, that, whoever may put away his wife, if not for whoredom, and may marry another, doth commit adultery; and he who did marry her that hath been put away, doth commit adultery.’
His disciples say to him, `If the case of the man with the woman is so, it is not good to marry.’
And he said to them, `All do not receive this word, but those to whom it hath been given; for there are eunuchs who from the mother’s womb were so born; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are eunuchs who kept themselves eunuchs because of the reign of the heavens: he who is able to receive [it] — let him receive.’

[The Bible passages were translated by Robert Young, as literally as he could in 1862 and then again in 1887, and then with post-humous collaboration in 1898. We chose this translation for its admiral accuracy, its charmingly old-fashioned English, and because we like picture Robert Young there in Edinburgh in his bulky black suit jacket and tidy black cravat in white starched-collar; we like to see his white, mustacheless, sailorly beard jutting forward with his thin lips (almost smiling!) and strong triangular nose following close behind; and with his small crow-footed eyes (almost certainly smiling!) and large bald pate (white hair on the sides and behind) sloping back the other way, back towards a youth binding books at his father’s side while spending nights in the solitary pursuit of Greek, Hebrew … the tools of his dawning vocation. We like see him writing, in the preface of the 1862 version of his translation of the Old and the New Testaments

If a translation gives a present tense when the original gives a past, or a past when it has a present; a perfect for a future, or a future for a perfect; an a for a the, or a the for an a; an imperative for a subjunctive, or a subjunctive for an imperative; a verb for a noun, or a noun for a verb, it is clear that verbal inspiration is as much overlooked as if it had no existence. THE WORD OF GOD IS MADE VOID BY THE TRADITIONS OF MEN. [Emphases in original.]

We like to see that. Why? Are we making fun? Is it all a big joke to us? Or do we in time slide beyond our jokes into the wider hilarity of a Love that is All? Must every good joke grow ever-gentler, and must all true gentleness lead one to the infinite gentleness at the core of all things? Dear God of Abraham, oh Fear of Isaac, lead us, we pray as one, into the deeper merriment, where we recognize all as one and all in one.

Wikipedia – Young’s Literal Translation]

Jesus put his hands on his thighs, on green khaki shorts. He was barefoot — his all-terrain kevlar-strap sandals left at the door. His T-shirt was light blue emblazoned with a (now peeling) wind-whipping American flag, with the words “These Colors Don’t Run” in red, white, and (darker than the shirt) blue written underneath. Tun had bought it years ago at a local thrift store, and had worn it ironically in those years when he was most desperately ironic (I’m thinking of youth, I’m thinking of teens, I’m thinking of the giddy delight of those heady years when one first gets good at jokes, when one feels suddenly so completely and competently “in on it”).

Jesus had picked that T-shirt out of a drawer the other day and brought it, still pristinely folded, forward in his open palms like an offering to the living room, where Tun and Arch were visiting me and Susan, with Bartleby and Frank still on the way, but busy being seagulls gadding over the garbage dump — a strange game, to be sure; but everything’s stranger and more kaleidoscopic when one can shift forms at will. Jesus looked at Tun and said, “I will wear your shirt with irony. I will wear it with irony at the irony of your youth and irony at the irony of my irony at your youth. And I will heap layer upon layer — multitudes of irony will I pile upon the wearing of this shirt.” To which Tun, looking a little embarrassed down towards the dark wood floorboards, replied, “It’s a rare time and place where people can get away with as much irony as we did — our high schools far removed from war and rumors of war; our homes ignorant of poverty and despair. It was a privilege, a grace, maybe a temptation — maybe privilege and grace are always temptation.” Jesus laughed, “Oh faithless and ironic generation, how long must I suffer you?”* But there was a seriousness to his laughter, because one of Donald Trump’s weapons against democracy was a facade of “just kidding”, and so did he pervert humor fun mirth and fellowship even as he perverted truth justice and the American way.

*[See Matthew 17:17. While there, you may as well also see Matthew 17:20 (in which faith the size of a mustard seed is enough to move mountains); and here consider the impossibility of faith, which is incorporeal, having the expanse and mass of any material object — even something as small as a mustard seed. Tun: “He’s setting us up for failure! He’s giving the mountains all the advantages!” But that was when we were young and silly — when a great irony blanketed us all in the snug comfort of knowing that we were gathering up every last nuance; and that with those final insights/perspectives collected and kidded over, we would have finally banished every last danger from our world.]

Anyway, that was the other day.

To return to this conversation in this part of our story:

Jesus said to Susan:

“I think you and Amble are lucky to have each other.”

“Well, yes, of course. I am very grateful … But some people are not so lucky in their marriage …”

“Can what’s unlucky come from God?”

“No, … I don’t know. Are you saying if people are irreconcilably miserable in their marriage, God never cleaved them together in the first place? Or that God has now uncleaved them? Or that God cleaved them, but now, through mutual mistreatments, they’ve uncleaved themselves from each other? Or that God cleaved them, so they’re lucky to be cleaved the one to the other, and they need to work harder to appreciate and love each other?”

But Jesus just nodded all through her questions and then said, “What about the part about the eunuchs? What did you think about that?”

Susan set the Bible down. “I don’t know, Jesus. It sounded to me like Paul had written that part. But I think you’re dodging the question.”

Jesus smiled. He stood up and stretched. “I think you’re dodging the question: How do we make this country realize how lucky they’ve been, and that they owe this luck to a system where the people keep the government honest and the government lets the people find their own truths and speak their own minds? As it is written, ‘A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.'”

Susan shrugged her thin shoulders and pouty cheeks, “I’m just curious, and, well, here you are!”

So then I reached over and picked up the Bible and started shaking it about in front of my face and saying to Jesus, who by now had sat back into the wooden straight-back chair:

“And what about all this stuff about God needing to sacrifice his son to save us from our sins and so he could offer salvation to both Jews and gentiles? It makes no sense. I mean, why should God need such weird rituals to grant us all life overflowing, the peace that passes understanding, and true salvation? And didn’t other people in previous times and places already find salvation? None of that makes any sense. And did you think you were the Messiah and that the Kingdom of God was about to come literally — with a great purge of the wicked and then the governments of the world all fully replaced by a universal holy rule? And what do you think now, two thousand years later, when you’ve become a famous part of a famous three-part God: The biggest boy band in of human history, except that the Holy Spirit doesn’t ever get personified.”

Jesus frowned. And then he said, “Okay, Amble, if you place such store in such knowledge about such matters, I will explain it to you. … But this doesn’t leave this room.”

[Susan had been reading blog posts about Jesus’s statements about marriage:]

Author: Bartleby Willard
Editor: Amble Whistletown
Copyright: Andy Watson

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