Monday, February 11, 2008

Jesus, attorney at law

(image courtesy of the Subversive Intellectual Society)

This Sunday's reading was from Mathew's version of the Tempation of Christ. And what struck me was not the fantastical nature of the story itself (which makes it very unlike almost all of the other New Testiment stories) but how much Jesus and Satan sounded like lawyers.
The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread."
Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"
"If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written:
" 'He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'"
Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"
the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."
Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'"

Satan, like all bad lawyers, quotes stuff out of context to misconstrue the meanings of the passages. Jesus, like any good attorney worth his salt, is ready to perry with not just a quibble over his oposition's quote, but a more powerful one that counters even the misquote.

To me, the phrase "for it is written" has special meaning...written words were rare in Jesus' day, reserved only for the most important things (like holy books or the history of kings). Writing something down took rare expertise and/or money, and cannoted the desire for preeminance and perminance of the words.

While nowadays writing is commonplace and a sigificant number of the world's population is literate, we still hold the written word in high regard. There is a reason the Founders spent weeks tweaking the language of the Constitution, which unlike its British counterpart, was explicitly written down. Those of us who study the law and literature know that writen words still have special power over us.

Remember that next time you are wandering in the proverbial Desert for a proverbial 40 days and 40 nights.

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