Skip to comments.THE JESUS CODE (Christianity or socialism?)
Posted on 09/14/2003 12:08:46 PM PDT by Maria S
The Hebrew Bible is full of codes. In the book of Exodus both the Covenant Code and the Ten Commandments appear. These codes prescribe behavior for a people in covenant with Yahweh and in community with each other. In Leviticus there are also the Priestly Code and the Holiness Code, prescribing obligations and responsibilities for priests and ordinary citizens in Israel as well as defining even further what is acceptable behavior among the people of the covenant. Altogether there are more than 600 regulations and commands in the Hebrew Bible, a baffling array of instructions about health, food, sex, worship, and business affairs that required a priestly class to interpret them. Not much has changed on that score. The U. S. Tax Code or even the New York Tax Code is so baffling to most of us that these Codes require a secular priesthood of tax specialists to interpret their meaning to the rest of us and even they get it wrong sometimes.
Another kind of code is written in such a way that only a secret inner circle can understand it. Such codes are common in war time, and there is an entire industry built on the methods for breaking the codes of the enemy. In World War II, the Japanese were very skilled in breaking our military codes until someone hit on the idea of deploying Navajo speaking Native Americans to communicate with each other over open lines. The Japanese were never able to break that code!
One last comment about Codes, and this is a confession. The idea for my sermon topic occurred to me when I read the current best seller by Dan Brown, entitled, The DaVinci Code. It is pure fiction, but interesting because it deals with a very secret code that is incomprehensible to all but a secret society of persons through whom the key to the code has been passed down for nearly two thousand years. Enough about codes in general.
My sermon today is about the discovery and implementation of the most important code for my life and yoursit is the Code that describes the fundamental nature of the ministry of Jesus and functions as a guide to the behavior of those who would follow him. Jesus announced it early in his ministry. It is stunning in its simplicity but it is so revolutionary in its implications that it is seldom taken seriously.
Before we examine the Jesus Code, it is important that we look at foundations for the Jesus Code in the Hebrew Bible.
The roots of the Jesus Code are everywhere in the Hebrew Bible. The main themes emerge in Exodus 23, Leviticus 19, Deuteronomy 15, and Deuteronomy 24. The same themes are evident throughout the PsalmsPsalm 9, Psalm 10, Psalm 72, Psalm 74 just to name a few. The prophets, especially Isaiah and Amos, constantly reminded the people of Israel that the provisions of the code are central to their covenant with God and that if they violate the code they do so at great risk. One almost gets the impression that nothing else matters very much to God except the central theme of this sacred code. Here is the heart of the code summarized by the writer of Proverbs. Those who oppress the poor insult their maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him. (Proverbs 14:31) Those who oppress the poor insult their maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him.
We know that Jesus was a Jew to the core of his soul. He was carefully instructed by his parents. He regularly visited the synagogue for the reading of the scriptures, and his speeches are full of allusions to the Bible, so much so that he seems to have committed important parts of the scriptures to memory. The leaders of the Temple were already amazed at his knowledge of the scripture by the time he was eleven years old, and all the people who heard him acknowledged that he taught as one with authority. And so the Code that Jesus is about to announce is not something that he simply created on his own. It is at the heart of the great Jewish tradition from which he came, a tradition that was born in covenant with God, and was proclaimed by the prophets to be the key to Israels faithfulness to that Covenant
Just before Luke describes the announcement of the Jesus Code, he tells us a story about Jesus being led into the wilderness where he fasted for forty days and nights. Then Luke says that Satan came to Jesus with three propositionsall suggestions for the dramatic announcement of Jesus ministry and all three shorthand versions of reigning ideas about the powers of the coming Messiah. The fact that all three of Satans propositions represent popular conceptions about the expected Messiah lends drama to Jesus own announcement about his ministry.
At first, Satan said, go somewhere and publicly turn stones into bread. The implication was that if Jesus made this a big demonstration that people would flock to this man of magic who could feed all of them as much as they needed. Jesus rejected this ploy, saying that one does not live by bread alone, but by the word of God. Then came Satans second suggestion. Make a compromise with me, play some reasonable politics, and you can become the ruler of all of the kingdoms of the world. Again, Jesus rejected the offer saying that whatever he did, he would do it for the glory of God. And finally, Satan asked Jesus to show that he was the Messiah of God by jumping off the top of the Temple. If he was the Messiah, God would surely bear him up so that he would not be harmed. That would really launch his ministry in a spectacular fashion. Jesus simply said that he would never put God to such a test.
Luke reports that having rejected Satans three propositions and having finished his forty days of fasting and prayer, Jesus came out of the wilderness filled with the Spirit. He now knew what he was to do, and he began to teach in all of Galilee and the surrounding country. Then he headed straight to Nazareth.
By now, Jesus had already become really well known for his teaching in all the synagogues of the surrounding area, but this was the first time that he came back to his home town to teach. In a sense his reading in the synagogue was his inaugural address, the formal announcement of his ministry, and you can imagine that the home town people were eager to hear this young rabbi who was adding glory to Nazareths lackluster reputation.
From the Prophet Isaiah Chapter 61 he read:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of Jubilee. And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them. Today is this scripture fulfilled in your hearing. I am the one, this is who I am.
Luke, not satisfied with one presentation, keeps referring to the Jesus Code throughout his Gospel. When John the Baptist heard the reports of Jesus words and his works among the people, he sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus if he was indeed the Messiah or should they expect yet another to come. Jesus answered them with the Jesus Code. (Luke 7: 18-23).
The Code appears again in Lukes presentation of Jesus sermon on the Plain.
Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now for you will be filled. (Luke 6: 20ff.)
The Jesus Code is the central them of Lukes gospel, but Luke is not alone among the New Testament writers. Altogether in the Christian Testament, there are more than forty references to the special place of the poor in the heart of God and in the divinely initiated new Kingdom of God that is coming into the world. The kingdom prophesied by the Jesus Code is about a divinely ordered kingdom that stands in stark contrast to the world that Jesus knew as a young Jewish boy growing up in Nazareth.
According to John Dominic Crossan, a leading New Testament scholar, that world was oppressive. It was a world where:
95% of the people were barely able to earn enough to eat and to have shelter;
Where the poor owned little and worked hard only to pay exorbitant tributes to the landowners who were rich and prosperous.
Where the poor bore the lions share of taxes collected for the Roman conquerors.
Where tax collectors connived with the authorities to overlook cheating and reward duplicity;
No wonder that Jesus said that his kingdom was not of this world. His was to be a kingdom impinging on this awful world of injustice. The Jesus Code not primarily a kingdom with streets of gold and gates of pearl that is beyond any life in this world. It not a guide to the way out of the world to a heavenly realm after we die. It is not a form of cosmic fire insurance that simply guarantees the believing individual a place in paradise. Literally, the kingdom of heaven is the movement of God into the world to destroy injustice and renew fairness and righteousness. As such it is the divine contradiction of the world as we know it.
The remarkable thing about this Jesus Code is that it is so obvious. It is not even encrypted. Jesus put his Code right out there before the crowd in the synagogue at Nazareth. A new kingdom is coming that will bring Good news to the poor! The year of Jubilee, Gods holy year for Israelthe time for debts to be cancelled, a time for healing of the blind and the lame, a time for land to be redistributed so no one is without land.
It is simple; it is clear; and it is commanding. If you will be a follower of Jesus, you will honor the poor by working hard to release them from the bondage to the powerful and the rich. That is the Jesus Code for life in the new kingdom of God. So today, if you have any doubts about what is the secret to being a Jesus person, let those doubts linger no more. Jesus came to proclaim good news from God to the poor, for the marginal, for those who are downtrodden, beat down, down and out, cast aside.
And you know, some of those who were there did not get it. Luke reports that it was not long until people in the neighborhood were trying to throw Jesus off a cliff. They just did not get it! Or maybe they did get it and found it too much for them.
There are disturbing signs that even today, after more than two millennia, many of us still do not get it. I am deeply concerned about the directions we are taking in our common life here in the United States and the world outside our borders. I cannot remember a time in my life when I have been so despondent. Everywhere, the Jesus Code is either being ignored or seriously misread in our country today. Let me share with you some signs that reveal just how seriously we as a nation are in violation of the Jesus Code:
From Statistics on Poverty compiled by The Employment Project and the University of the Poor, we learn that 35 million Americans live below the official poverty line, and the U. S. census bureau has just reported that 1.3 million more Americans fell into poverty in 2002. This in the richest country in the world! Do you know what that poverty line is for Americans? According to the U. S. Department of Heath and Human Services, the poverty line consists of a gross income of $18,400 for a family of four. (In all the 50 states except Alaska and Hawaii where it is considerably higher). This figure represents all wages before deductions for payroll taxes of various kinds. If we make adjustments for cost of living in urban areas, between 80 and 90 million Americans are poor. Good news to the poor? Not according to the Jesus Code.
And the plight of the poor has been getting worse. President Clintons touted welfare reform has affected negatively the wages of already low paying jobs. Among the lowest third of jobs in the labor force, welfare reform is projected to cut average wages by 11.9% from an average hourly wage of $7.19 to $5.47 after welfare reform. One third of the people who left welfare rolls were unable to find a job. Two-thirds of those former welfare recipients who got jobs had no health insurance benefits, and forty percent indicated that on one or more occasions they could not pay rent, utility bills, or the mortgage. So much for Mr. Clintons so-called welfare reform! Is this good news for the poor? Not according to the Jesus Code!
Most of the working poor work hard for minimum wage rates or less. A full time worker at minimum wage earns only 89% of the poverty line for a family of three. It is no surprise, then, that a recent survey of 29 cities found that 1 in every 5 homeless persons is employed! Even more, 5.3 million working poor households--12.5 million people-- have a desperate need for housing assistance because they face a crisis of unaffordable rents and substandard living conditions. Yet, according to the New York Times, the current budget proposal before the Congress will exclude nearly 100,000 families now receiving housing assistance from future assistance. Good news for the poor? Not according to the Jesus Code!
Even more troublesome for the Jesus Code, a great many of the poor are children. According to the Current Population Survey, 4 million children under 6 years of age live in families who are victims of extreme poverty. These families live on incomes of less than $6500 per year, about the same amount of money as the hourly income of the highest paid one per cent of Americans. Another survey found that more than 13 million children live in poverty today in America! And do you know the average age for a homeless person in America? The average age of persons who are homeless in America is 9 years old. Good News for the Poor? Not According to the Jesus Code!
Meanwhile, it is very evident that the rich are doing well, extremely well:
Adjusting for 1998 dollars, the average annual salary in America rose from $32,522 in 1970 to $$35,864 in 1999. That is only 10% increase in thirty years! From another angle, during the thirty years between 1970 and 1999, the income of the top 1% of American families rose 157% compared with a rise of only 10% for middle income families. And this is even more startling. More than half of the income gains went to the top one hundredth of one percent (.01%) of American tax payers with an average income of $17 million. Lower income families actually experienced a drop in income during the same period. Who doesnt get it? This is absolutely contrary to the Jesus Code.
In 1980, Peter Drucker, a reigning expert on business administration and my colleague at Claremont Graduate University and hardly a liberal by any definition, warned about the growing inequality of income in America. At that time, the average CEO of a large American firm made 42 times a much as the average non-supervisory workers. Drucker noted that such a large pay gap could compromise the integrity of corporate leadership and make a mockery of the role of all the other workers in making the company a success. It is clear that corporate boards paid no attention to his warning. Just fifteen years later, by 1995, the compensation of CEOs had risen to 160 times that of the workers. Then by 2000, CEOs earned an astounding 458 times as much as ordinary workers. Even more startling, Paul Krugman, an economist from Princeton, says that by 1999, the average REAL compensation, including stock options and hundreds of other perks, is at least 1000 times as great as the income of the average worker. Who doesnt get? This is an egregious and sinful violation of the Jesus Code. So what have our political leaders been doing about it?
Tax cuts for Americans since the Reagan years have been heavily tilted in favor of wealthy Americans. According to George Herbert, recent legislation passed by the House if Representatives offers $1.4 TRILLION in tax cuts while cutting billions of dollars from programs that provide food stamps, school lunches, health care for the poor and the disabled, temporary assistance to needy families veterans benefits and student loans.
From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, we learn that the proposal to eliminate taxes from dividends alone would cost $364 billion during the next decade... Nearly twothirds of the benefits would flow to the top five percent of the population, those with average incomes of $350,000 or more. The top one percent of tax filers, whose incomes are a million dollars or more, will receive 42% of the benefits should all of the Bush cuts be enacted. The average annual tax savings of this million dollar club will be more that $27,000 per taxpayer. For the 1% of taxpayers at the top, tax cuts of $150,000 to $200,000 will be common. In contrast, those who earn up to $40 thousand per year will receive an average of about $40.
At the same time, according to Sojourners, an evangelical Christian organization, 7 million low-income working families and their 12 million children found themselves excluded from child tax credits, a loss for these poor families of $3.5 billion per year. This, says Sojourners, is morally and religiously intolerable, and I strongly agree.
Jeffrey Sachs, one of the leading economists in the world and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University has said that these tax cuts will erase the entire projected $5.6 trillion budget surplus projected for the next decade. Now those same projections forecast a budget deficit of $1.5 trillionand that is before the revised estimates for the cost of the Iraq War now estimated at $100 billion dollars a yearare added to the deficit. These abstract figures project a future of increasing human suffering. There will likely be more huge budget deficits and more cuts in assistance to poor families, cuts in education, cuts in health care for the poor, and a hundred other programs that benefit our most desperate fellow citizens. And, as Sachs points out, unless ordinary Americans like you and me wake up to what is happening, we shall soon hear from our political leaders that due to large budget deficits, there is no money available to address any of the problems of the poor in America. Nor shall America give any leadership to alleviate the plight of the poor in the world outside our country whose suffering is of such a magnitude as to defy description. And just think, Dr. Sachs, in his article, Weapons of Mass Salvation, estimates that the money that will be spent on the War in Iraq over the next 36 months could save 20,000 lives a day or about 8 million lives a year for six years!! In six years 48 million lives could have been saved! As Bill Coffin once said, if you and I are not outraged by all of this, we simply are not paying attention!
Hear the word of God from Proverbs 14:31, Those who oppress the poor insult their maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him. Those who oppress the poor sin against God!
I close with a comment and two suggestions:
First, the comment. Last year when I preached a sermon on the End Times, a very earnest young man approached me and said, Sir, with all due respect, that was nothing but a political sermon. I responded, You are completely right. In fact every sermon in a time of national crisis is political. Silence in the face of these massive contradictions of Gods coming Kingdom is itself a political statement. This observation was burned into my soul during the struggle for civil rights in America. Silence in these times is acquiescence in the status quo, an implicit endorsement of what is going on.
Now for the two suggestions:
We should consider contributing our tax rebates to the Riverside Church Jubilee Fund, or the Mobilization Against Poverty, a program of the National Council of Churches that will actively support organizations providing direct services to poor and marginalized Americans. Let me urge you to join me in doing something like this. In an act of individual refusal, lets put our tax cut where it belongsin service to the poor.
Second, I invite you to consider whether the time has come for a declaration of resistance to any public or private action or policy that increases inequality in America and fails to benefit the poor. This idea came to me when one of our ministers, Dr. Fred Weidmann, reminded me that next May will be the 75th anniversary of one of the most important documents in the history of the churches, The Barmen Declaration. This was a statement by Christian leaders at a meeting in the small town of Barmen, Germany in 1934. Many of you will remember that the Barmen Declaration was a statement of refusal by church leaders in Germany. It was a refusal to acknowledge any power but the power of God as the object of their highest loyalty. Concretely, it was a refusal to accommodate to the Nazification of the churches by many German church leaders. This, they protested, was leading to the distortion of the Gospel to justify Nazi policies.
Maybe next May is the time for a New York Declaration, a refusal to be silent while public policies increase the gap between the rich and poor while driving the poor into deeper poverty. As a result America will amass inconceivable debts to fund huge tax cuts for the rich and to fund an interminable and ill conceived war in Iraq. These debts will be borne by our children and grandchildren who have had no say in the matter.
Is it time for Christians, Jews and Muslims, the children of Abraham who share a concern for the poor , to rise up together and declare to our political leaders of both parties that in the name of God this madness must be stopped? It is time, for soon it will be too late.
After Jesus death, a remarkable thing happened to a small band of Jesus followers. It was on the day of Pentecost, the day when the Spirit descended upon them and made everything understandable in their own language. They were the ones about whom Luke reports in Acts 3--a little faithful band who understood the Jesus Code, and adopted it. And a radical new thing came into being. It was a community in which the poor and the needy were treated with compassion. Those in need were given help. They got itthe full message came to them with the Spirit, and we received from them a great gifta radical new vision of life under the Jesus Codethose who needed help got help, and they were together and worshipped daily in the Temple.
The concept of helping the poor is a good thing. However like all evil, the vilest of them is wrapped in good intentions.
These first Christians lovingly and gladly volunteered their money and time to the poor. They didn't run to the govt. to apply force to take what wasn't theirs to give.
I am fairly certain that, despite Jesus' teachings to honor and help the poor, he would not approve of using violence to do so. I believe his message was focused towards individuals, not society at large, instructing them to be charitable and merciful to the poor in their daily lives. It was not a call for some people (the gov't) to take from other people (the rich) with the threat of imprisonment or death.
So I doubt Jesus would want us to use coercive government means, like tax funded welfare programs, to help the poor. According to the author's logic, we should also shackle or kill people who are not meek or who do not forgive others.
The real challenge in a modern, secular democracy is not caring for the poor -- it is "abiding by the Jesus Code" when there are no poor people to minister to.
I'll leave Freepers with a challenge: I would suggest that people like the author of this article should read the parable of the Good Samaritan very carefully -- and pay very close attention to the role of the character in that parable that nobody ever talks about, but whose role in the parable is probably most relevant to arguments about the spirit of charity in the modern world.
These first Christians lovingly and gladly volunteered their money and time to the poor. They didn't run to the govt. to apply force to take what wasn't theirs to give. -monkeywrench
So I doubt Jesus would want us to use coercive government means, like tax funded welfare programs, to help the poor. According to the author's logic, we should also shackle or kill people who are not meek or who do not forgive others. -timm22
I am in general agreement with what has been posted above. Voluntary charity is both moral and an efficient means of helping those that are less fortunate. Not only is 'redistributing wealth' immoral [since it relies on the coersive and forceful actions of the govenment/state], it is also highly inefficient mean of lifting individuals out of poverty. Every time that a goverment has attempted to make things more 'fair' or 'equal' by confiscating wealth or punishing those that attempt to create wealth [Communism/socialism] the result has been a society in which everyone is equally impoversed [USSR, Cuba, etc.]. The best 'cure' for poverty is to allow individuals the maximum amount of liberty to spend or invest their own money as they see fit with a minimum amount of goverment/state interference.
I'll take your challenge.
There are two features to the story that bear noting.
One is that the Samaritan acted, himself, nursing the victim personally. He paid the cost out of his own pocket, and when he could no longer stay by the man's side, he paid the innkeeper to look after him.
He didn't call the authorities, he didn't ask permission from anyone, he acted on his own authority as a human being.
The second feature is that Jesus chose a Samaritan as his example. Jesus was a Jew preaching to other Jews, but he chose a non-Jew as his example. The point is that God's people are not the ones who belong to the proper religion, God's people are those who act.
He paid the innkeeper out of his own pocket.
And the innkeeper comes out of this story as a "morally neutral" individual (unlike the two travelers who passed the injured man on the side of the road) who just happened to be running a business.