Wednesday, February 12, 2014

It's good to be a heretic

I have been deemed “a heretic,” the highest honor paid to anyone who actually thinks about what he or she believes and why. Harlan Edmonds didn’t mean the attribution as a compliment but that’s they way I take it.

Of course, Harlan is heir to those who, at one time, had the authority to burn, stone, and crucify heretics. Today they use op-ed pages. It turns out the pen is not mightier than the sword.

Harlan, who holds a government job, usually spend his ink extoling the evils of the government that puts food on his table. Now he’s ventured into theology. That’s okay. Biblical interpretation turns out to be a game anyone can play. If you can read it, you are entitled to an opinion about what it means. After all, this is America!

Those who read scripture, as Harlan does, oftentimes find others to be heretics. My favorite was Galileo. In 1633, Father Vincenzo Maculano da Firenzuola was the chief inquisitor of the Catholic Church. He ordered Galileo turn himself in to the Holy Office to begin trial.

Galileo was charged with heresy. He actually believed that the Earth revolves around the Sun, i.e. that the Sun, not a planet populated by humans, was at the center of the universe. The church deemed that crazy notion heretical. People like Father Maculano and Harlan are offended by the notion that they are not at the center of the universe.

My crime, according to Harlan, was to interpret the words of Jesus of Nazareth literally. The heresy charge stems from an interpretation of the words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 25, reading in part, “For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

Jesus spoke often in parables. The disciples frequently had a hard time understanding him. For example, after Jesus told the “parable of the sower and the seed” the disciples took him aside, asking him to explain it to them.

On occasion the targets of his parables got the point and became furious with him and his parable. In Mark 12 Jesus tells the “parable of the wicked tenants.” It’s about a man who planted a vineyard and rented it out to tenant. Each time the landowner sent someone to collect the rents, the tenant wickedly beat the rent collector and sent him away empty handed.

In a last ditch effort to collect overdue rent, the owner sent his own “beloved son” saying, “The will respect my son.” They killed him.

The audience quickly figured out whom Jesus was speaking about. Verse 12 reads, “When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him.”

There’s a little of that in Harlan Edmond’s op-ed. As the leader of CROW (Conservative Republicans of Wyoming), Harlan knows exactly whom I was speaking about in the paraphrase of the “parable of the judgment.”

The parable of the judgment is one of the easier to understand. After speaking about those who hungered and were not fed, those who were strangers and not welcomed, those who were sick and not comforted, in prison and not visited, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do it for me.”

If I was chair of CROW and heard that, I’d have responded just like Harlan…but Jesus still responds like…Jesus.

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