(Transcribed from an e-mail I sent my mother 24 August 2010.)
Jesus said any number of things in large part, at least, for shock value.
Their outrageousness is easily lost on 21st Century students, for two reasons. First, we have heard or read these things so many times that any shock value they might have at first had for us — when we first heard them, say, perhaps at age 4 or age 5 — has long since worn off. We’re not likely to remember it, and also not likely to give the opinions of our 4- or 5-year-old selves, the credit they, in this case, deserve.
Second, by virtue of “respect for authority,” for centuries students of Chrstianity have trained themselves to ignore, deny or suppress any outrage they might feel at anything The Teacher says. Instead, one expects oneself and all one’s fellow students, approvingly, to “tip my hat … take a bow … smile and grin …”[*]
[*]The Who, “We Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
“BLESSÈD ARE YOU POOR.”
These words were more shocking to their original hearers, than anything else Jesus could possibly have said.
Their function is not to elevate poverty to a preferred status, but rather to deconstruct the “revealed God” cosmology that was rampant in his time. It is no less rampant in our time, including within Christianity itself.
The other key verse in that regard is Matthew 5:45.
THE LOST SHEEP
Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentence.
This is exactly what a shepherd would not do — leave the entire flock at risk, in order to go off in search of one, single lost member. The one sheep that’s lost, is lost, period; I’m not leaving the rest of the flock, just for its sake.
Here, as in a number of other parables, Jesus’ message seems to me to be, “God does not act like human beings. God’s ways are sometimes diametric from human expectations.” Compare Isaiah 55:8-9.
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and [hid in] three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
In recent months, I’ve done a ton of baking; mainly chometz (yeast breads), though I’m learning to make matzoh also as I expect soon to be put on a low-salt diet. From the start, I wanted to recreate the way bread was made in Bible times. As of now, I think I’ve got it.
What I produce can compete with any commercial product.
Years ago, I came across the gloss concerning Jsus’ comments about yeast, that in Bible times the stuff was associated with putrefaction; and I partially understood that. Not until this latest project did I get a full whiff of the meaning.
Wild yeasts are already present in flour. Add water, and sooner or later they’ll start to grow; which is why you must get your matzoh into the oven within חיminutes of having mixed it. But if you want chometz, you let them grow.
They’re all safe; all members of the same species. But some of these backwoods fellows definitely come to the table with, um, substandard grooming. Those have all been excluded from the commercial yeasts you may buy in the store. The pleasant smell many of us associate with the use of those yeasts is one thing. The olfactory experience of using Bible-times-style homemade yeasts can be — something else.
This is an extremely important parable for reasons I cannot go into here. The two-fold crux as to its outrageousness is the amount of flour in question — eight gallons, roughly a cubic foot — and the actual meaning of “leavened” (ἐζυμώθη), which I do not know.
If “leavened” means, effectively, turned into bread dough, then you’ve got one big honkin’ batch of bread here. If it means instead turned into yeast, then you’ve got eight gallons (or more, given rising) of stuff producing a far more intolerable funk than any woman would ever allow in her home.