The readings come from the Catholic lectionary for daily Mass, while the headline reminds me of the world in which I write.
Every word of God is unalloyed,
he is the shield of those who take refuge in him.
To his words make no addition,
lest he reprove you and know you for a fraud.
Two things I beg of you,
do not grudge me them before I die:
keep falsehood and lies far from me,
give me neither poverty nor riches,
grant me only my share of bread to eat,
for fear that surrounded by plenty, I should fall away
and say, ‘the Lord – who is the Lord?’
or else, in destitution, take to stealing
and profane the name of my God.
I would argue that if the “word of God” means the written Bible, the beautiful tribute to it above is precisely untrue. The scriptures of both Old and New testament contain a fair proportion of inferior material, and some that is downright dangerous. It amazes me how so many serious scholars can ignore what it actually says, when uninstructed people can see clearly and are appalled. I’e been reading this week the second volume of Mark Twain’s autobiography, which is a marvellous book. In it he has an essay on the biblical God which is a masterpiece of mischief. For example:
“We brazenly call God the source of mercy while we are aware, all the time, that there is not a single authentic instance in history of him ever having exercised that virtue. We call him the source of morals while we know by history and by His daily conduct, as perceived by our own senses, that he is destitute of anything resembling morals.We call Him Father, and not in derision, although we would detest and and denounce any earthly father who should inflict upon his child a thousandth part of the pains and miseries and cruelties which God deals out to his children every day.”
Interestingly Twain is no more impressed by the Son of God than he is by the Father. That’s because he thinks of Jesus as a walking God on earth, and wonders why he does so little to help human beings. I on the other hand, see Jesus as human and therefore limited as all human beings are, while nevertheless dispensing practical wisdom and goodness as no other human being has done. That’s why I’m a Christian, and why I believe that everything else in our scriptures has to be judged by his witness.
Nevertheless, day by day I turn to the scriptures, consider their meaning in the light of Christ, and note my discoveries in this blog. Even then, the word that comes to me is not “unalloyed”, as it is surely distorted by my own character and understanding. But I love the scriptures as perhaps the proverb above encourages me to do.
As for the prayer that I should possess neither to much nor too little for my needs, I can not only make it my prayer, but also a blueprint for life in the Christian Church, and for economic justice in the state.
Jesus called the Twelve together and gave them power and authority over all devils and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for the journey: neither staff, nor haversack, nor bread, nor money; and let none of you take a spare tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there; and when you leave, let it be from there. As for those who do not welcome you, when you leave their town shake the dust from your feet as a sign to them.’ So they set out and went from village to village proclaiming the Good News and healing everywhere.
The vulnerable and penniless disciples are given the task of spreading Jesus’ message a) in word and b) in action. They are to tell people that God has drawn near to the world in judgement and mercy, in the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth; and they are to demonstrate this by driving out evil spirits and curing disease. They are not told to proclaim Jesus as Son of God, nor to ask people to be saved in his blood, nor to teach the doctrine of the Trinity. They told to proclaim the available goodness of God and to care for peoples’ bodily and spiritual health.
One Question: Were they actually able to heal people? I think so, at least in these cases where the patient’s own trust could make a difference. Jesus didn’t make a habit of curing fractures, for example.
Another Question: If that particular gift of healing is not so relevant in modern society, what practical demonstration of God’s goodness can contemporary churches offer? Anything that contributes to the relief of suffering and the good of society, would be my answer. If there is no practical demonstration of God’s goodness, the proclamation is a piece of idle religiosity.