Tuesday, 8 May 2007

For us and against us

I am reading the Gospel of Luke for the first time. I've read the Gospels of Matthew and John, but this is my first journey into Luke. Whenever I get submerged in one of the Gospels, I marvel at the things Jesus said. What a guy! He's pure magic. He had snappy answers for everyone. Very impressive and a joy to read (except for the crucifixion).

One passage I felt compelled to mention was Luke 9:49-50:

49 "Master," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us." (New International Version)

I had to laugh. Jesus had annointed the disciples so that they could do what he had been doing: going around healing people and driving out demons. So there's the disciples going around the towns doing exactly that, and what do they find? A guy doing the same thing as them only without any authority from Jesus! What a cheek! The disciples were none too happy about finding this pretender at work, so they tried to stop him. After all, he wasn't one of them.

This has parallels with the situation today where the administration isn't happy about the unenrolled Baha'is calling themselves Baha'is and teaching the Faith. After all, they're not one of them! What a cheek! Teaching the Faith without any authority from the administration, not even a membership card!

What did Jesus say in reply?

50"Do not stop him," Jesus said, "for whoever is not against you is for you." (New International Version)

What a reply! First of all, Jesus didn't mind that this guy was driving out demons in his name without his express permission. Secondly, he tells the disciples that the principle is: to assume the guy is on their side, given that he shows no signs of being against them. Gee, that would be nice, if the administration were to heed Jesus' advice and assume that I was for them. I'm certainly not against them. It's not my fault I have to work for the Cause independently of them. It still baffles me that they'd prefer that I just let Baha'u'llah go. I don't think Jesus would have wanted that guy to let him go.

In any case, this got me thinking about George Bush and his silly comment about everyone who was not for him being against him. After reading Luke 9:50, I thought Bush had misquoted Jesus. But I discovered that, a bit further on in chapter 11, Jesus actually says that as well:

23"He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters." (New International Version)

That got me thinking. Here, on the face of it, Jesus has said the opposite to what he said above. It's just as well I'm not a literalist; for otherwise this would be a nightmare to sort out. My commentary on the Bible says that verse 9:50 is a warning against intolerance and that verse 11:23 makes the point that it is impossible to be neutral in the conflict between good and evil. That strikes me as a sound understanding of the difference between the two passages.

I assume George Bush thought he was working on the second principle and that he was on the side of good and everyone not on his side was on the side of evil. But I can see how easy it is to confuse the two principles. If you're intolerant, you're going to assume that people are against you when they're not and you're going to justify this on the basis that anyone seemingly not for you is against you.

Baha'u'llah was asked why he didn't oppose Azal earlier than he did. In reply, Baha'u'llah gave a similar answer to the one Jesus gave in 9:50: that God judges people on outward appearances and considers a person on God's side unless they openly rise in opposition:

"Salman, the Absolute Truth has always judged the people according to outward appearances, and has commanded all the prophets and messengers to do the same. It is impermissible to do otherwise. For instance, consider a person who is at this moment a believer and a monotheist, such that the sun of divine unity is refulgent within him. He affirms and recognizes all the divine names and attributes and whatever the preexistent Beauty testifies to, he bears witness to that, for himself and by himself. In this station all descriptions are true and current in regard to him. Rather, no one is capable of describing him as he really is save God. All these descriptions refer to the effulgence that shone upon him from the sovereign of manifestation. In this station, should any of the people oppose him, they would be opposing God himself. For in him nothing can be seen save the divine effulgences, as long as he remains in this station. Should a bad word be said about him, the speaker would be a liar. After he rises in opposition, however, that effulgence that had been the basis for describing him, and all the other related attributes, depart to their own habitation. Now that individual is not the same person, for those attributes do not subsist in him. If you look with sharp eyes you will notice that not even his clothes are the same. For a believer, while he is believing in and affirming God, might be wearing clothes of cotton, but in God's eyes they are of heavenly silk. But when he rises in opposition, they are transformed into the flaming tar of Gehenna. At this point, should anyone praise such an individual, he would be a liar and would be mentioned by God as among the people of hellfire." Commentary on a Verse of Rumi paragraph 6
Although it is also true that one can't be neutral in the conflict between good and evil, I think the principle above is the one we are expected to apply in our everyday dealings with people. We have to assume well of others unless they give us good reason not to. In which case, I think justice requires the administration to cut me and other unenrolled Baha'is some slack and start seeing us as workers in one Cause.