Wednesday, March 29, 2006

"Marxist distortions of the text" -- Matthew 25.

From Matthew 25:
V. 34. Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. V. 35. For I was an hungred, and ye gave Me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took Me in; v. 36. naked, and ye clothed Me; I was sick, and ye visited Me; I was in prison, and ye came unto Me. V. 37. Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, Lord, when saw we Thee an hungred, and fed Thee? or thirsty, and gave Thee drink? V. 38. When saw we Thee a stranger, and took Thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? V. 30. Or when saw we Thee sick or in prison, and came unto Thee? V. 40. And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.
and what does the The Popular Commentary of the Bible by Paul E. Kretzmann , published by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in 1921, say about this text?
It is a kingdom which they are about to inherit, for they have been made kings and priests unto God, His Father, Rev. 1, 6. And the reason for this wonderful gift? A reward for their faith, as shown in the ordinary, everyday deeds of kindness to the lowly brethren of Christ: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, showing hospitality to the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned; outward expressions of love flowing from the love of Christ, as an evidence of faith. Christ expects no heroic acts. He demands no miracles, but He will judge the world in righteousness, making these deeds of kindness and charity the basis of His judgment; for it is impossible to perform even the smallest act of kindness in His- spirit without faith in Him in the heart.

In the early 1990's, I had the good fortune to get inside the head of some very conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod pastors through an internet discussion board on America Online. It is a shame that I did not print out more of those discussions, because they were formative years for me. Formative in terms of choosing a foil for my theological worldview.

We ended up talking a lot about what the bible says about poverty. A consensus on that board was that Matthew 25 was not talking about the physically poor around you, but rather that the "poor" of Mark 10-- those who gave up all for the gospel-- pastors. In essence, they held that the only thing this passage was about was how you responded to the gospel, (by inference of the poor pastors sent out to tell you it). Now I don't deny this message of gospel response has being an additional, useful way to look at the text. I had however always believed that this passage was talking about (v. 31-40) fruits of faith as helping poor around you, and (v. 41-46) it being a sin (the hellfire-and-brimstone thingy) to neglect the poor, the stranger, the prisoner around you. I also believe that one can stand pretty firmly on the established tradition of the church with this interpretation. Read how Luther uses this passage in his Explanation to the Fifth Commandment (LC).

These guys (LC-MS pastors are men), however, had a consensus that there was some kind of heresy involved in this bleeding heart version of Matthew 25. One spokesman for the group referred to it as a "Marxist distortion of the text." This gentleman and pastor was also talking up libertarianism.

Now I don't think there's anything wrong with libertarianism or Republicanism or anti-Marxism or biblical literalism or holding the Lutheran Confessions as being without error. These can be good things; I wear some of these badges on my sleeve. But eventually you can try to be "more Catholic than the pope", such that in this analogy, the pope becomes your adversary. Here we have a watermark text of biblical commentary from as conservative a publishing house as you can get-- and it's repeating the so-called "Marxist distortion".

Am I too bent out of shape over an off-the-cuff remark made 12 years ago? I believe that there is something afoot in this land, where biblical literalism is forced to hold hands with a view that is called "conservative" (in an insult to actual conservatives), and attributed as a motivator for things not required of the text. I think its fruits in the sixties were opposition to admonishments about racism, and today has fruit in indifference to or support for prisoner abuse, pushing the Iraq War, a denial of environmental problems, a denial of things like the dangers of secondhand tobacco smoke. In all these evidences of Original Sin around us, I believe that the tradition of the Church Historic is not to blame, but rather that its tradition has been co-opted by those too mean or lazy to research it carefully.

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