Friday, February 8, 2013

An Uncommonly Modern Question

For the first time in history retired folk of the working class must ponder this question: how should I spend my time? After the Social Security Act of 1935, and the economic boom of WWII, when jobs were plentiful and salaries on the increase, many of the working class found they could retire and live comfortably without being forced to supplement their retirement income—a situation that formerly appertained only to the independently wealthy. Today my wife and I are flexible enough to begin the day with “Well what are you doing today?” Less than a hundred years ago such a question would have been unimaginable for members of the working class. The aged, having no pension or other means of support, would still be scrambling to eke out a daily living.
     I thought about this question last Saturday while struggling with the Greek prologue to a turn-of-the-century novel. The novel (Η Φóνισσα, The Murderess) was written by Aleksandros Papadiamantis in 1903. The prologue (1971) by Giannis Katzinis is written in rather turgid and inflated Greek (my apologies to Katzinis). Some might consider such a pedantic exercise a rather extravagant and wasteful use of personal time (about 4 hours each week), and wonder why am I not doing something more beneficial for society/the church/humanity, etc. with my time? Such a question leads me in turn to the bigger question: exactly what should I be doing with my time, when paid employment is no longer necessary?
       I am well aware of the numerous appeals from charitable, educational, public, and religious groups for money and volunteers to support their causes—actually more in the recent past than I can ever remember. These appeals for money and volunteers prompt for me a more specific and personal question: should appeals from charities for gifts and volunteer service, and solicitations for “pay-back” take precedence over individual activities of personal interest with regard to flexible time and disposable income?
       It seems to me that there are four broad but basic reasons why people in reasonably good health spend their time and money as they do: personal necessity, personal interest, humanitarian and religious reasons, and public welfare concerns.
       If the Jesus tradition and the Christian tradition (they are not the same thing) are drawn upon for help in making sense of things in life, little practical guidance will be found to help resolve the question as to how flexible time and disposable income should be spent.
       I know of nothing specifically on point in the early Christian tradition that helps the retired working class practically balance the numerous appeals for their time and resources by charitable groups. At least two stories and several sayings in the Jesus tradition (as critically assessed), however, at least relate to this issue.
     To the man who asked Jesus what must he do to inherit eternal life, Jesus said sell what you have, give to the poor, and follow me (Mark 10:17-22). The gospels represent Jesus as a kind of wandering mendicant—or at least as someone who depended solely on God (a cynic would interpret this as depending on the kindness of others) for his daily needs (Matt 6:25-33). The story suggests that there are no such concepts as disposable funds and discretionary time; rather one must be fully engaged with Jesus in homeless “mendicancy.” Here is a saying from the Gospel of Thomas (69B) that probably originated with Jesus, which reflects a similar attitude: “Those who go hungry to fill the starving belly of another are blessed.” In other words all your resources are at the disposal of the needy other. The saying simply does not address the needs of the one blessed—so exactly how long must I go hungry before I tend to my own very practical needs?
       Oddly enough Paul is more practical in soliciting funds as an offering from his “gatherings of saints” for the poor “saints” in Jerusalem (1 Cor 16:1-4; 2 Cor 8-9; Gal 2:10; Rom 15:25-29). His principle seems to be proportionate giving based on what a person has (2 Cor 12-13). Even though he encouraged a liberal attitude in giving (2 Cor 8:3-4, he specifically did not encourage them to exhaust their own resources (2 Cor 8:13), and he left it up to the individual to decide what should be his/her part in the offering (2 Cor 9:7; 1 Cor 16:2). He was, however, convinced that the “Gentile gatherings of saints” had an obligation to assist the poor saints in Jerusalem (Rom 15:27).
       If one follows Jesus and the choice offered to the man in the gospel story, the result will be that the candle of one’s charity will flame rather brilliantly for the moment—but eventually it dies. If one takes the attitude “I have mine; you get yours,” and turns a deaf ear to the evident need all around the result eventually will be that the world becomes a jungle in which only the fittest and the most ruthless survive. The responsible answer seems to lie somewhere between these two alternatives—and where that point lies is the individual’s choice.
     For my part, tomorrow, I will finish the turgid Greek introduction to the Papadiamantis novel, Η Φóνισσα, and the following week I will begin reading the novel itself. I only hope the Greek of Papadiamantis is more accessible.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

8 comments:

  1. Charles – very well-written and clear post here, as is usual with you. You seem to me to be quite rational in your writing and I’m glad you have room for religious ideas in your thinking, giving credence to such, though the evidence for conclusions in the religious/theological sphere is, of course, amorphous. Your quandary here - how to spend your time (and other resources) as a retired person – is shared by many others in today’s world, as you know and indeed state in your post. My Mom, for one, currently 83 years of age, a retired high-school teacher, is a very generous and charitable person, but is sometimes flummoxed by the sheer mass of solicitations for help in so many worthy causes. She is still a very active person in the Catholic church and other organizations and Christian teachings play a primary role in her actions and self-understanding. I would say that her family, her 9 children and her siblings are the main persons she is concerned with, though caring for herself, making sure she is in the best shape she could possibly be, both mentally, emotionally, not to mention, health-wise, is paramount, otherwise she would not be able to help others. Charles, perhaps you should give more scope to family in your thinking (or writing) about your use of leisure time and money in retirement. Whether family or stranger, the Christian tradition of social concern and activism is quite strong, going back to Jesus himself, who, I’m aware, did not have the best relations with his own family. You are quite right to point out the “modern” aspect to this issue. Advances in medicine and the rest (modern technology) have greatly increased the ability of us older persons to have choices in life. Sociology is relevant to this question, e.g., Thorstein Veblen, ‘The Theory of the Leisure Class’ (1899), as is existentialist philosophy, e.g., Martin Heidegger, ‘Being and Time’ (1927). Anyway, one should always make room for reading in one’s life, even an obscure Greek novel, as entertainment serves both an educational and a spiritual purpose, i.e., edification. I think the goings-on down here on planet Earth are somewhat entertaining for God above, though Einstein thought God doesn’t play dice with the universe.
    Paul Rizzuto
    Posted on 2/17/2013 at 10:32am

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  2. Perhaps Jesus was answering that specific man's question of what he needed to do in order to obtain eternal life for his soul. It could be that simple and perhaps the deeper meaning is for each of us to examine our own lives, our own accountability and to ask Jesus for help in determining the best path for each of us to take. I really don't see where Jesus stated that the path of selling everything someone owns and giving it all to the poor and following him was the path for every single person to take in order to attain eternal life. What I do read is that's what he answered to that particular man who asked the question. I think it's fair to say some people may very well need the experience of giving up all material wealth to the poor for the enrichment of their eternal soul, while others may not.
    Paul's guidelines do seem to be more general guidelines that everyone can follow and rather comfortably. I don't see any duality in the comparison, only apples and oranges.

    As for your opening about the comparatively leisurely retirement of the working man in today's world, I think that's a rather myopic view coming from someone in your position as an Emeritus Professor. Most working people in this country (much less the rest of the world) have no retirement benefits, no ability to save as all monies are devoted to surviving day to day and dim prospects that even the meager social security benefits that have been deducted from their pay checks for their entire lives will be there when they are too old to work. That's reality for most working men (be they man or woman). Not the luxury of a future day in their old age when upon waking from sleep their most pressing problem is how to fill their time.
    Gay Studebaker
    Springfield, MO
    Posted on 2/15/2013 at 12:52pm

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  3. Good Morning Gay,
    You are correct of course that most elderly people in the world wake up worrying about their livelihood, quality of life, and how to make ends meet. But that was the point of the essay: what is the responsibility of the more fortunate to the less fortunate? That said, I should also say that I, like so many others in academia, have always thought of myself as “an academic working stiff.” Academic salaries and the resulting pensions vary from institution to institution and most academics must plan ahead to supplement retirement income before retirement, just like every other working stiff. On the issue of money and possessions there is more in the Jesus tradition suggesting that he disparaged possessions and property. In my short essay I was only setting out the parameters. Mark also portrays Jesus extolling the widow’s mite, because she put in the treasury “her whole living” (Mark 12:41-44). Several sayings portray Jesus as directing that those who have should give to those who do not have till their funds are exhausted (Luke 6:30, Gospel Thomas 69b, Matthew 6:3). Luke 12:22-30 suggests he simply trusted God to meet his daily needs (which in practice, I suppose, meant: depending on the “kindness of strangers”), and he claimed to have no permanent place of abode (Luke 9:58). All of this puts him in the class of the impoverished, except that he did not worry about where his next meal was coming from.
    Cordially,
    Charlie
    Posted on 2/19/2013 at 8:35am

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  4. Charlie,
    There are only traces in Matthew left behind to show that, with respect to body-spirit dualism, its writer altered his source as he pleased, and omitted most all of it from his gospel. One of them may be what you pointed out, Mt 26:41, though it seems to have been OK to speak of Jesus’ spirit (Mt 27:50), so that the writer of Mark (in Mk 14:38) could retain Matthew’s spirit/flesh saying. The traces I have in mind are at: Mt 7:2, 11:14 (past life), 16:13-15 (past life), 21:43-44 (this stone was a karmic burden), and 26:52. These were sufficiently obscure or inoffensive that the writer of Matthew apparently didn’t bother to remove them or further edit them. You’ll recognize that these deal with rebirth and karma. However, subsequent Gospel writers had time to notice they were not acceptable, and so omitted them, as would be expected.

    Regarding priority of (Hebraic) Matthew, amongst the Gospels, it’s tough to go against the Mark-Q consensus, since there’s so much reversible and irrelevant argumentation that needs to be addressed. Hopefully you can appreciate Mark Goodacre’s work in showing that Q is not needed (whether or not Matthew is placed ahead of Mark). The Catholic scholars who supported Matthean priority, such as Canon B.C. Butler, had certain good arguments but some not so good. They were pretty much obliged to date the Gospels very early so that they could assume they were written by their namesakes. And they assumed that Matthew was written first in Greek, thereby failing to explain all the Hebraisms and Aramaisms found in all the Gospels. And important points are explained by allowing that Hebraic-Aramaic Matthew was translated into Greek only after Mark and Luke had been written, with that translator sensing the need to insert some pro-gentile paragraphs into the his Matthew as well as make some reverential upgrades. Hebraic Matthew was soon phased out in favor of the more pro-gentile Greek Matthew, but apparently later translated back into Hebrew.

    I presume you don’t want your blog to be a debate on the Synoptic Problem. So in ending I’ll give some links:

    Mt-Mk parallels giving some 75 instances where the Markan awareness of Matthew is betrayed through one or more Markan redactions: http://www.proaxis.com/~deardorj/mksec3.htm

    Some 58 examples of Markan improvements and reverential upgradings over Matthew that involve significant alterations; only a few involve improvements through omissions: http://www.proaxis.com/~deardorj/mksec4.htm

    Refutations of 11 authors’ analyses that favor Markan priority, including 16 instances of “editorial fatigue” (re Goodacre) exhibited in Mark relative to Matthew: http://www.proaxis.com/~deardorj/MAH.htm , where MAH stands for Modified Augustinian Hypothesis.

    Indications that Matthew had been written first in the Hebraic tongue (with the narrations probably in Hebrew and the discourse being in the Aramaic of the source): http://www.proaxis.com/~deardorj/mksec8.htm

    Here and there in the above you may find references to the Gospels having appeared late – like from 120-130; for explanation, see: http://www.proaxis.com/~deardorj/Dating of early Christian writings.htm

    Hence, it is logical to conclude that the writer of Matthew had a source other than Mark or Q.
    Posted on 2/13/2013 at 7:52pm

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  5. Hi Jim,
    Your evidence is too slight to be convincing (and 26:52 does not seem to apply to what you want it to). And I don’t see your imaginative leap in 21:43-44 to Karma. Besides there are more convincing ways to explain the passages more in keeping with Matthew as a whole—at least to my mind. With reference to Goodacre’s book, I worked through it and was unconvinced by his arguments. I don’t have a lot riding on the Q hypothesis, I just find that the hard data in the gospels more convincingly lead to the probability that there was a Q text than subtle arguments to the contrary. The concession I make to the fact that we have no hard data outside the gospels that Q existed is by calling it a hypothetical gospel. But I find that explanation more convincing than the “Goodacre school.” I still find the evidence in John C. Hawkins, Horae Synopticae (1909) to be definitive that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source. The only thing that gives me pause are the minor agreements of Matthew and Luke against Mark, but these are not many in any case. I am open to the gospels dating later, but we have so little evidence. They all must be written after the destruction of the temple (70 AD) and Matthew and John written before the second century (fragments of these two gospels exist in the second century, and you must allow time for the gospels to circulate and turn up years later in Egypt). If Mark was used as a source by Matt and Luke then it must be earlier. Luke’s gospel has already been argued as a 2nd century text by the Jesus Seminar Acts seminar. It is in any case the latest of the synoptic to be written. My rule of thumb in the “dating game” is never build a stone edifice on a foundation of straw.
    Cordially,
    Charlie
    Posted on 2/14/2013 at 9:25am

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  6. Dennis Dean CarpenterMarch 17, 2013 at 9:32 PM

    Dr. Hedrick
    I believe those teachings about the poor ascribed to Jesus and “Paul” are related to a moral core of the Tanakh, Ex. 22:20-26 (JSB) – Never oppress strangers or mistreat the helpless in your land. One must lend to the poor without extracting profit and never seize their belongings. These are moral obligations. And, this certainly predates the Bible, being found throughout the ancient Near East. The odious attitude I hear and read vilifying the poor is a rejection of community responsibilities and a sole embracing of self, an imbalance between “I” and “We.” I wonder how culture will change with such an assault on community.

    (Somewhere on the web, the Faith Futures site, should be a brief exegesis/midrash called “I Couldn’t Hear Their Hunger – I was too Busy Chewing,” about Ex. 22:20-26, if you would like to read it.)
    Dennis Dean Carpenter
    Posted on 2/11/2013 at 9:13pm

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  7. "The responsible answer seems to lie somewhere between these two alternatives—and where that point lies is the individual’s choice." (the two extreme choices being that I must give ALL to charity, or else I have mine; you get yours.)

    Yours has to be the correct answer, which may require some distressing thoughts before arriving at it. But this is only, as I see it, because the writer of Matthew's own philosophy was to leave everything up to God, and do nothing for yourself. In my opinion, this philosophy as expressed in Mt 6 had been just the opposite in Matthew's source, where the advice had been to take care of one's present body since it's the temporary home of one's spirit, which needs the body in order to undergo experiences that further its spiritual evolution.
    Posted on 2/9/2013 at 10:39am

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  8. Hi Jim,
    You will have to help me out with respect to the source (singular) used by Matthew. Matthew used at least two written sources is the general consensus of NT scholarship. They are Mark and Q. To what single source do you refer? The dichotomy between the body/flesh and the spirit that you describe does not seem to be a part of Matthew’s ideas, to judge by the use of the word “spirit” in the gospel. Such a dualistic feature is a Greek idea that is most pronounced in Christian/Gnostic literature—although I admit I have never asked myself the question about dualism in the gospels. In Matthew the only passage that might possibly point to the body/spirit dichotomy is 26:42: “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” (I take this to be an ancient proverb, however, although I cannot prove it.) Matthew simply took the expression over from Mark 14:28 (Luke omits the saying). The dualistic language (body/flesh versus spirit), however, is found in several places in Paul, but according to Bob Jewett (“The Body, A Study in Pauline Anthropology”) Paul’s language is not dualistic; Jewett argued that Paul saw the human being through Jewish eyes as a unified entity (Genesis 2:7). I am not sure I agree with him—it has been years since I read the book. I recall at the time of my reading it Paul’s language seemed to carry more weight than Jewett’s arguments.
    Charlie
    Posted by on 2/11/2013 at 2:43pm

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