Jesus was a liar
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Date: August 2007


'They go to the heart of what religion is about. And on both of these occasions Jesus lies!'


This is an extract of a talk given at Greenbelt by Christian Aid's Inter Faith Manager Nigel Varndell

Two stories from Mark, the encounter with the scribe who asks Jesus about the greatest commandment and the encounter with the rich young ruler who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life?

On these occasions Jesus is asked the two big questions about religion – how is it that I should live my life now and what do have to do to get to heaven? They go to the heart of what religion is about. And on both of these occasions Jesus lies!

Or at the very least he plays fast and loose with his own scriptural tradition.

What Jesus does is take the two most seminal pieces of Jewish religious literature, the Shema – ‘Love the Lord your God’ and the ten commandments, or in more prosaic terms, the dos and the don'ts and he misquotes them both – he lies.

His Jewish audience would have been expecting him to quote from his religious tradition, what they would have been shocked by is the fact that he misquotes from his religious tradition.

And because he takes these two famous bits of scripture every one in the Jewish world would have noticed instantly that Jesus wasn’t playing by the rules.

And that is crucial to understanding what Jesus was trying to do. By misrepresenting his own religious tradition he wasn’t trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes he was trying to draw their attention to exactly what he was saying and shock them into hearing something new.

And what was he saying?

On both occasions Jesus adds in additional sections to these two passages. In the Shema that Jesus quotes to the scribe we get a new injunction to love our neighbour and then to the rich young man we get a whole new commandment about not defrauding workers.

Both of these bits, that Jesus adds, are to do with social justice. Jesus places right at the heart of religion and the practice of faith issues of social justice and he does is in a way that everyone in his Jewish audience would have grasped instantly.

When Jesus lies about scripture he puts ethics at the heart of religion. Not that justice wasn’t there before, the passages that Jesus emphasises were all part of Jewish scripture, ethics were a crucial part of second temple of Judaism - but Jesus chose the ram the message home in an uncompromising way.

When Jesus lies about Jewish scripture and liturgy he does it to make a point - faith is about justice.

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