Lawrence O’Donnell is the Biblically Ignorant One

May 2, 2011

Since almost nobody watches Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC, it’s a pretty safe bet that you either haven’t seen his recent scriptural dissertation – or if you did, it was because someone shared it with you on Facebook.

If you haven’t seen it, or want to see it again, see this link.

As he disingenuously besmirches Rush Limbaugh’s biblical expertise, and attempts to respond to Limbaugh’s rhetorical musing, ‘What would Jesus take?’ O’Donnell postulates that Jesus would advocate taking it ALL. And uses the story of the widow’s mite as biblical justification for the progressive income tax!

Mark Twain once quipped, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” This saying was never truer than in the case of Lawrence O’Donnell’s biblical knowledge.

O’Donnell’s interpretive hypotheses are completely without biblical justification. Talk about twisting scripture to support one’s preconceived notions. O’Donnell postulates that the lesson of the widow’s mite in Mark 12 is that, because Jesus praised her giving all she had, while condemning the rich giving a mere token of their abundance, that Jesus would condone the Progressive Income Tax!

Actually, I would be no less biblically inaccurate if I were to say his praise of the widow meant that he would condone raising taxes on the Poor.

O’Donnell further referenced Matt 19:21 “Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

Thus, in O’Donnell’s mind, Christ wants those who have means to give it all to help the poor.

Well, gee whiz! He quoted two scriptures and it sure sounds that way, doesn’t it? (To O’Donnell’s audience, likely people as biblically ignorant as O’Donnell himself, it probably does.) But when the Sword of the Spirit is wielded by one unskilled in swordsmanship, there is much danger to any nearby!

Pulling scriptures out of context can be a very dangerous practice, Mr. O’Donnell. Let me demonstrate:

First verse: "Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself." (Matthew 27:5).

Second verse: "Go and do likewise." (Luke 10:37).

So, Larry… think it might please Jesus if you complied??

{Inserting dramatic pause while you stop laughing}

So, let’s look as O’Donnell’s verses in biblical and historical context.

First, let’s look at Mark 12: (NIV)

“41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

First, a little historical perspective. Israel was a theocracy. The nation was ruled by the priesthood. The Temple was the Government.

“Aha!” I hear the MSNBC zombies saying. All those verses about giving can be appropriated by Government!

Well, no! See, scriptures speak of both tithes, and offerings.

The tithe was the “temple tax”. It was the amount each person was to give for the support of the priesthood – the upkeep of the government.

One of the most commonly cited verses regarding giving that you’ll hear in churches is Mal 3:10.

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”

Interestingly, it was food and not money, and it was a tithe… one tenth. The “income tax” set by biblical law was 10%, and it was NOT progressive! The rich were assessed 10% of their abundance and the poor 10% of their meager existence. (Our lowest rate income tax today is 15%! GOD only required 10%!)

Further, the offerings, which were indeed money, went into the treasury of the temple for the work of the ministry. These were free will offerings. Voluntary giving. Jesus referred to this giving when he said, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2COR 9:7

So the offerings were to be voluntary, (not under compulsion), and the amount was to be determined by the individual’s own conscience and purpose. God preferred less given cheerfully over more given reluctantly.

Let’s go back to Matt 19:21 “Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

Sure, he said “sell your possessions and give to the poor.” But look at the context.

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?

Subject: eternal life. A spiritual issue.

 17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

 18 “Which ones?” he inquired.

 Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’[c] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[d]

 20All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus here was setting up the great premise of the Christian Salvation. The law sets the standard of perfection which all men fall short of. (“For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” Rom 3:23). It is this realization that no man can earn or deserve eternal life through his own works that leads man to accept Christ’s substitutionary atonement. 8 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.” Eph 2:8, 9

The man did not come to this realization. He relied on his own self-righteous works. He was deluded into thinking he had not failed in his perfect keeping of the law.

 21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

O’Donnell and his ilk seize upon the “give to the poor,” but they ignore not only the spiritual context of the passage, but the remainder of this very verse! “Then come follow me!” Christ was telling the man that the works of his own self-efforts, of his self-righteousness, were inadequate. He told him to abandon what he valued, and turn to what God valued. He was unwilling.

As a final admonition to our friend Lawrence O’Donnell, I would warn him away from advocating for the position held by Judas Iscariot in John 12!

 1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint[a] of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

 4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.[b]6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

 7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you,[c] but you will not always have me.”

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