Saturday, May 22, 2010

The "Wild Gaiety" of Jesus' Moral Teaching

Jesus’ morality has a brash, sidewise indifference to conventional ideas of goodness. His pet style blends the epigrammatic with the enigmatic. When he makes that complaint about the prophet having no honor in his own home town, or says exasperatedly that there is no point in lighting a candle unless you intend to put it in a candlestick, his voice carries a disdain for the props of piety that still feels startling. And so with the tale of the boy who wastes his inheritance but gets a feast from his father, while his dutiful brother doesn’t; or the one about the weeping whore who is worthier than her good, prim onlookers; or about the passionate Mary who is better than her hardworking sister Martha. There is a wild gaiety about Jesus’ moral teachings that still leaps off the page. He is informal in a new way, too, that remains unusual among prophets. [Diarmaid] MacCulloch [in his “new, immensely ambitious and absorbing history,” Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years] points out that [Jesus] continually addresses God as “Abba,” Father, or even Dad, and that the expression translated in the King James Version as a solemn “Verily I say unto you” is actually a quirky Aramaic throat-clearer, like Dr. Johnson’s “Depend upon it, Sir.”

- Adam Gopnik
What Did Jesus Do? Reading and Unreading the Gospels
The New Yorker
May 24, 2010

Image: "Behold the Joy of Jesus" by Lindena Robb (from the Jesus Laughing Exhibition).

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