May 30 Flashback: Always with you

May 30 Flashback: Always with you May 30, 2022

From May 30, 2013, “Dives will always be with us — and so will selfish rich jack wagons who misquote the Bible“:

The authors of both Gospels, like Jesus himself, expected that everyone reading or hearing that phrase — “For you will always have the poor with you” — would recognize it and know where it comes from. Jesus was quoting scripture. Jesus was quoting scripture and counting on his disciples knowing that he was quoting scripture.

Fincher is quoting Jesus and counting on his listeners not knowing that Jesus was quoting scripture. Because anyone who knows that will instantly recognize that Fincher is twisting Jesus’ words into the opposite of what they mean.

Jesus was quoting from the Torah, from Deuteronomy 15. That’s another one of those Jubilee passages. The chapter starts with a quick rehash of the laws regarding the Sabbath year. Every seven years, debts must be cancelled. Thus saith the Lord.

Yes, the Bible says that. It says that over and over and over again. Every seven years, debts must be cancelled.

Jubilee and the cancellation of debt are kind of a major theme in the Bible. This tends to escape the notice of most American Christians — particularly those who most loudly proclaim themselves to be upholders of “biblical” morality. Years of painstaking conditioning have rendered this major biblical theme invisible to the eyes of American readers, so much so that people like Dave Ramsey have been able to create an industry out of teaching the opposite of Jubilee.

Every seven years, Deuteronomy 15 reminds us, “every creditor shall remit the claim that is held against a neighbor, not exacting it.” Follow all these rules for Jubilee, Deuteronomy says, and there will be no such thing as poverty:

There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the Lord is sure to bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession to occupy, if only you will obey the Lord your God by diligently observing this entire commandment that I command you today.

Got it? Obey the rules, Deuteronomy says, and no one will be poor. So if anyone is poor, it’s because you’re disobedient. That’s implicit in the verse above, but Deuteronomy makes it explicit in the verses that follow:

If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted towards your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account theLord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”

That is the context for Jesus remark in the Gospels. “For you always have the poor with you” is Jesus’ direct quotation of Deuteronomy 15:11, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth.”

That statement is followed by a “therefore” — “I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor.’” In reciting the first part, Jesus was invoking the second, the “therefore.” He didn’t need to recite all of Deuteronomy 15 for his disciples because he knew that they, unlike American Christians like Rep. Stephen Fincher, were not biblically illiterate.

For Jesus, it was impossible to cite the first part without reinforcing the second part. The two are inextricably linked — hence that “For ..” and “Since …” in our English translations. People like Fincher who invoke the first part as a denial of the second part are mangling the Bible in obscenely perverse ways, turning Jesus’ words into their opposite and turning Christ into antichrist.

Don’t miss the rebuke there in Deuteronomy 15. That’s the key point here — it’s why Jesus chose to quote this particular passage, applying its rebuke to Judas.

“If only you will obey the Lord your God,” Deuteronomy 15 says, there will be no one in need. And then, six verses later, “Since there will never cease to be some in need …” Ouch. That passage just comes right out and says “you’re all a bunch of disobedient disobeyers who will never cease to disobey disobediently.” And in the context of the Pentateuch, that’s not good. (Do you know what Deuteronomy says should happen to the disobedient? It isn’t pretty.) In that context, that’s far harsher than anything Southern Beale had to say to Rep. Fincher.

Whenever you hear some blowhard quoting “the poor will always be with you” in the backwards, antichrist way that Fincher invoked it, there really is nothing more true, more appropriate, or more necessary to be said than just exactly what Southern Beale wrote: “You are a horrible person who uses the Bible to selectively justify your greedy, selfish ways. Woe unto you.”

And “Repent, asshole,” is actually charitable — an extension of mercy, offering Fincher, et. al., a last-gasp shot at escaping their otherwise certain fate of “You are accursed, depart from me.”

Read the whole post here.

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