Saturday, October 05, 2013

So...Hell has Frozen Over

Thanks to my friend Brigid for drawing my attention to this clip of a recent interview of Notre Dame theologian Candida Moss (PhD, Yale) with Bill O'Reilly. Taking place on the O'Reilly Factor, the interview's focus is on Killing Jesus: A History co-written by O'Reilly and Martin Dugard.

Rather than attempting to reproduce the transcript of the talk, I've embedded the video:

There is hardly any question that the poor were the main audience of Jesus' preaching. His preaching of God's in-breaking kingdom was directed to them; what Jesus experienced as central to his own life, God's Reign on earth, he preached to listeners. We take for granted how audacious it is to pray "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Thy will (the will of God) is quite hardly ever My will.

Gustavo Gutiérrez, one of the architects of modern liberation theology, resists reducing "the poor" to those afflicted only to economic poverty. He writes
From its beginnings the theology of liberation has always borne the different dimensions of poverty in mind. To put it in other terms - as the Bible does - it was careful not to reduce poverty to its economic aspect, a key aspect, to be sure. This led to the affirmation that the poor person is the "insignificant" person, the one thought of like a "non-person," someone whose full complement of rights as a human being are not recognized. People without political or individual influence, who count for little in society and the Church. (Situación y tareas de la teologia de la liberación, 109f.)
Sadly, this temptation to reduce "poverty" to nothing more than an economic concern seems to plague Professor Moss. At 1:48 in the video, she claims, "It's a historical fact that he told people that in order to go to heaven they had to give away their possessions."

After reiterating this at 2:50, she then claims, "A rich man is condemned to hell merely for not giving away his possessions...he keeps the rest of the commandments."

O'Reilly cites, then, Lazarus and Joseph of Arimathea. They were men of means: does this mean they're in hell?

Lazarus, raised by Jesus. Lazarus, with whom Jesus stayed before going to Jerusalem. Joseph, who handed over a burial tomb. Both of them in hell?

Oh my God....I think I'm agreeing with Bill O'Reilly.


Gerhard Lohfink, in his utterly brilliant Jesus of Nazareth, that not everyone was called to discipleship in the same way (91) and what distinguishes discipleship is that they "no longer live for themselves alone but for the people of God" (93). He concludes his chapter "The Many Faces of Being Called" accordingly:
This "wholeness" is different for everyone. For one it can mean abandoning everything. For others it can mean remaining at home and making one's house available to Jesus' messengers. Perhaps for a third it can even mean only giving a fresh cup of water to the disciples as they pass by. Everyone who lives her or his specific calling "entirely" lives "perfectly." 
The perfection of Christian discipleship is located, not in some divestiture of possession as Moss claims, but rather in allowing oneself to be de-centered by Jesus' call to friendship. That call may result in one giving up everything but such an action is not necessitated by all.

I'm embarrassed at her interpretation of Mark 10:17-22 // Matthew 19:16-26. Jesus doesn't "condemn" the man to hell. Indeed, I don't see Jesus doing much condemning in the scriptures! He may convict people, his judgement may be harsh in an effort to elicit conversion, but condemning...I just don't see that.

Jesus calls each person to discipleship as an individual. To be sure, many throughout history have forsaken possessions in order to dedicate themselves to following Jesus. Many more, however, have followed Jesus in other ways, not because they are selfish and don't want to give up their possessions but, because of their having found their new center in their friendship with Jesus, they put what they have at the service of Christ's mission.

When Jesus says, in Matthew 19:24, that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the reign of God" he is not sitting there with an actuarial table or giving some type of statistic. He's using hyperbolic speech to stir his listeners, powerful and vivid images to awaken their imaginations.

Sadly, for a person who specializes in New Testament studies, Professor Moss seems to have been seduced into a form of naive fundamentalism when it comes to interpreting scriptures. When I taught sophomores, I used to ask them to interpret the following passage:
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut if off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go to hell. (Mt 5:29-30) 
So, think for a moment of sophomore boys. Thoroughly disgusted? Yet, I have to say: I didn't see very many maimed students in my classes. So are they all going to hell? Clearly, Jesus is speaking in a provocative way given his experience of God's action in history and the call to find one's center, not in oneself, but in the God revealed in and through Jesus Christ.

I do wish Professor Moss had been given more time to speak and make an argument. I appreciate how gracious she was in her interaction but I'm worried that the thinness of her point, and the potential she had to reawaken Christians to the plight of the poor in the world and our duty toward them, was lost given her benighted interpretation of scripture.

I'm just still in shock that I agree, at least on the level of the aired interview, with Bill O'Reilly!

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