Notes from a fascinating world.
The world is like a bazaar, full of interesting odds and ends, and I've been exiled into it. This is my all-over-the-map (literally and metaphorically) attempt at capturing some of the world's many wonders.
Despite my atheism, sometimes I read the Bible.
Over the holidays I started rereading my favorite books, Job and Ecclesiastes. Then I turned to the Gospels. And some passages in Matthew struck me as they never had before — how did I miss them the first time?
For example, did you know that Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech takes its central metaphor from Matthew 12:25? “And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” (All quotations are from the King James Version.)
And did you know that in this metaphor, the “house” was Satan? The Pharisees were accusing Jesus of being in league with Beelzebub, and Jesus’s refutation of their charge was to point out that he had cast out demons from the possessed. And, according to Jesus’s logic, Satan couldn’t simultaneously work both for and against himself.
Just a few sentences further, and we have this surprising pronouncement that again I never noticed before: “He that is not with me is against me.” Matthew 12:30.
Who knew — I didn’t — that when George W. Bush pronounced that “If you’re not with us, then you’re against us,” he was quoting the Bible? Who knew that so was Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode III right before he turned into Darth Vader?
But I’ll leave for another day the surely very involved discussion on the alternative image of Christ as a conquering warrior, not the meek Lamb of God, the turner of the other cheek, that has dominated our idea of him in recent times.
The part that struck me the most is the account of what happened when Jesus went home to Nazareth:
And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, When hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?
Surely this is one of the passages in the Gospels where Jesus appears most human. Surely this is one passage most convincing of the historical Jesus.
He’s not preaching; he’s not telling a parable; he’s not throwing moneychangers out of the Temple. Here he is like any talented young person who has left home and gained recognition in the greater world only to return home to find that no one he grew up with cares about his accomplishments. His parents still act like he’s a teenager. His brothers and sisters won’t let him forget embarrassing episodes from when he was a toddler. His childhood friends still expect him to be that kid who didn’t know any better.
You can just picture the Nazarene, in his thirties now and used to being addressed respectfully as “rabbi,” exasperated with his relatives and childhood peers: “Can’t a brother get no respect?”
After this episode, Jesus never went home again, choosing to pursue his mission elsewhere until his crucifixion.
It was the holiday season as I was reading Matthew. And I wondered how many of my friends might be feeling this way as they went home to be with their families.
And then, of course, there is the matter of my own absence from home....
Writer, traveler, lawyer, dilettante. Failed student of physics. Not altogether distinguished graduate of two Ivy League institutions. Immigrant twice over. "The grand tour is just the inspired man's way of getting home."