The ancient Biblical texts may help Australians answer one pressing political question of the moment, writes Alan Austin.
THE SUBJECT DISCUSSED discretely inside Christian circles for some years is increasingly out in the open. Are the Pentecostal church members in prominent positions in the Morrison Government actually followers of Jesus Christ?
How can we tell who is a real Christian? Who decides? For answers to such profound questions, most adherents of the Judeo-Christian faiths go back to their foundational texts. Christians examine what they call the New Testament: a collection of 27 books written in the first century after Jesus of Nazareth lived on Earth. These are documents written in another culture in ancient languages. So, it gets complicated.
An excellent guide in this matter is Spanish Jesuit linguist and Vatican theologian Juan Mateos who studied minutely every word of the New Testament in its original Greek and Aramaic.
He did so to translate it into vibrant, contemporary Spanish. His introduction to his 1975 version of the New Testament, titled simply 'The Message of Jesus', is an invaluable resource.
Mateos identifies several prominent religious groups in Judea at the time of Christ. One was the group of followers of Jesus of Nazareth. Another was the Pharisees. Both were devout, mostly lay people who believed in a personal God to whom they prayed regularly, believed the Jewish scriptures were inspired by God, practised personal morality and were dedicated to spreading their faith. Hence, there were many similarities.
But there were stark differences. The Pharisees were the sworn enemies of Jesus and were among those who had him executed.
Jesus warned his followers of the danger of becoming like the Pharisees. The tension between these two religious traditions has continued throughout Christendom.
Juan Mateos wrote that:
Tthe scholarly Pharisees considered themselves the authentic magisterium of the law and attributed divine authority to their tradition ... But they did nothing to improve the unjust social situation in which they enjoyed a privileged position and for which they themselves were also responsible.’
Identifying with the rich
Central to determining whether a religious figure is in the tradition of Christ or the Pharisees is identifying with, and supporting, the rich or the poor.
‘In spite of all their observance of religious rules, the Pharisees loved money and exploited the simple folk under pretext of piety.'
Further, he asserted:
‘For them, the religious law had to be carried out to the letter, but at the same time there were plenty of loopholes, that allowed for injustice.’
In contrast, the mission of Jesus, according to Mateos, was primarily ‘to implant justice and to defend the poor and the exploited'.
Mateos believed Christ’s teaching goes as far as asserting that seeking wealth and power is actually demonic:
‘Jesus passed the test (the temptation in the wilderness) which authenticated his mission as Messiah and Servant, casting aside any pretensions to political power and glory in this world ... Moreover, to make use of power and glory to advance the kingdom of God was contrary to what God wants, making one the tool of Satan.’
Truth and falsehood
The second critical determinant is a commitment to telling the truth. Liars were condemned by Jesus in the strongest terms possible:
‘You are of your father the devil. He ... does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.’
Mateos found one conspicuous trait of the Pharisees ‘was that they belonged to a power system that was necessarily based on lies and violence’.
For Christ’s followers, in contrast, truthfulness is essential.
The Pharisees not only tolerated political and commercial corruption but actively facilitated it.
According to Mateos, they:
‘... dominated and exploited the people with their piety and kept them in a state of false religiosity. On the one hand they upheld injustice while they declared on the other that God would find a solution to it. They were the partisans of inactivity who perpetuated the unjust situation.’
One key text summarising the mission of Christians comes at the end of Matthew’s account of the life of Christ:
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, For ... I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when ... did we see you a stranger and invite you in ..?”
The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”.
According to Mateos, welcoming foreigners was critical for genuine Christians:
‘It was a group without privileges, either racial, national, social, or of class or sex; a group where all barriers have fallen, in which all hostility has vanished, because Jesus Christ has made peace.’
Alan Austin’s defamation matter is nearly over. You can read an update here and contribute to the crowd-funding campaign HERE. Alan Austin is an Independent Australia columnist and freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @alanaustin001.
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