I have done this before: meeting Scott Morrison on his own biblical turf and ripping him a new one on how his pseudo-christianity is about as far from Jesus as it is possible to be. However, in light of the recent push for drug-testing of welfare recipients and broad discussion of extending the so-called ‘cashless welfare card’ to other payments, a refresher course is necessary. It is fair to say that the Prime Pharisee, as I shall now call him, would be chief among the goats of the parable. Depart from me, ye cursed.
The Christian Bible and The Poor, Part One: The Greek New Testament
The christian scriptures are quite pro-immigrant as I have said before, but the poor also get a good showing in the text. Rather than simply quote these texts, I think some discussion is warranted also.
We start with the first epistle not written by (or to) John the Apostle, chapter 3, verse 17
Rich people who see a brother or sister in need, yet close their hearts against them, cannot claim that they love God
In other words, if you have means (the Prime Pharisee would say blessings) and do not use them to help the poor, you cannot claim to be a servant of the god you say you love. You might claim this Jesus guy as your saviour, but your attitude to those less fortunate refutes any claim that you have internalised his message. You represent that legalistic, judgemental and bigoted side of religion typified by the Pharisees of the new testament. Hence my new title for you: Prime Pharisee.
The Christian Bible and The Poor, Part Two: The Hebrew Bible
Lest we think that doing the right thing by the poor was a new testament notion, consider parts of the Hebrew text. We proceed with a couple of lines from Leviticus 19:9-10. That is right, Prime Pharisee, this book is good for something besides being anti-gay and killing every second person with whom you interact.
The text says
“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God
This we might see as leaving some portion of one’s crops unharvested in case someone in need should come by. Applying this to the treasury of a nation, some insignificant amount of support for the poor should be something that you, as a self-professed christian, do with joy. Instead, you attach stigma and prejudice to it.
This – THIS – is how you treat the poor? If you would be perfect, he said, sell what you own and give to the poor. Even accounting for the idea that this was an interim ethic, a temporary state of affairs given that the world was supposed to end on Friday, the sentiment is still a good idea and supported by multiple citations throughout the text by which you claim to live.
A Modern-Day Pharisee
Perhaps some explanation of this new title for Morrison is necessary. The Pharisees, as depicted in the gospels, were strict legalists who memorised the Pentateuch (1st five) and were the religious leaders of their day. These were the guys who debated what ‘work’ was for purposes of the Jewish sabbath. A fun group to be around.
The blind legalism and adherence to tradition of this group of extreme religious conservatives is perhaps best demonstrated by the words put into the mouth of Jesus in the gospel attributed to Matthew, 23:23
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law-justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former
This we may see as paying attention to the little minor details of the law and not seeing the big picture that, as the epistle to the Romans would later say, love, is the fulfilment of the law (13:10). These guys are the type to quote the text at people saying how many steps you can take on alternate Mondays when the moon is full, but care not a fig for the poor. Ok, I might have made part of that up, but you get the idea.
These guys do the little things and (implicitly) say ‘how righteous am I’ while being as unrighteous as it is possible to be. Relating this back to the Prime Pharisee, he gives his 10% and raises his hand in the air every Sunday, sure. However, he then turns around and orders and implements the most callous, inhumane policies possible. This man is a hypocrite of the highest order. Prime Pharisee indeed.
Faith, Works and The Poor
The epistles in the Greek New Testament have quite a lot to say about caring for the poor. The epistle of James, for instance, says the following (2:15-17)
if a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead
Ignore here the clear implication that you should only do this for your fellow christians (brother or sister has an implied ‘in christ’ attached to it). Regardless, the point is clear: if you claim to have undergone some form of christian transformation, the change cannot be mere words. Rather, it must be reflected in your deeds. Saying the right thing, without actually doing the right thing, is meaningless. Bringing this home to the Prime Pharisee, he says that he loves Jesus, but his actions do not reflect any form of fundamental self-change. Faith without works, as the text says, is dead.
Works Without Faith: The Other Side of The Sheep and The Goats
I imagine most are aware of this parable, but you may not have noticed this. When the king says to the so-called righteous
I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me…
it is noteworthy that what these people believed is not mentioned. Rather, the issue is how they had treated, as the text says, the least of these my brothers. To bring this home to the Prime Pharisee, how you treat the least of these is how he will treat you.
Conclusion: Prime Pharisee
The man calling himself the Prime Minister is the very worst example of the political pseudo-christian. These clowns preach Jesus with their mouths, but their hearts are far from him to paraphrase the gospels. Callous behaviour towards those less well off members of society is in direct contravention of the faith you claim to have.
May I suggest dusting off your translation of the text and reading it once in a while, Prime Pharisee.
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