To a modern reader, the relaxed egalitarianism of the open road and the open table can seem undermined by the other part of Jesus’ message, a violent and even vengeful prediction of a final judgment and a large-scale damnation. In Mark, Jesus is both a fierce apocalyptic prophet who is preaching the death of the world—he says categorically that the end is near—and a wise philosophical teacher who professes love for his neighbor and supplies advice for living.
…One thing, at least, the cry assures: the Jesus faith begins with a failure of faith. His father let him down, and the promise wasn’t kept. “Some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God,” Jesus announced; but none of them did. Jesus, and Paul following him, says unambiguously that whatever is coming is coming soon—that the end is very, very near. It wasn’t, and the whole of what follows is built on an apology for what went wrong. The seemingly modern waiver, “Well, I know he said that, but he didn’t really mean it quite the way it sounded,” is built right into the foundation of the cult. The sublime symbolic turn—or the retreat to metaphor, if you prefer—begins with the first words of the faith. If the Kingdom of God proved elusive, he must have meant that the Kingdom of God was inside, or outside, or above, or yet to come, anything other than what the words seem so plainly to have meant.
Secularism is all that matters to me regarding religion and society. I got bored by hair-splitting philosophical and theological arguments a long time ago, and unlike many New Atheists, I don’t believe that religion has the power to make otherwise good people do bad things, so I couldn’t care less to harangue people about how logic and decency compel them to abandon their faith. Whatever gets you through the night is all right, as long as you’re not being an asshole about it. On this point, however, I do think it’s worth standing polite-yet-firm. There’s a thin line between metaphorical interpretation and intellectual dishonesty, and people who refuse to acknowledge what Biblical scholarship has revealed about the historical circumstances of Jesus the person are on the latter side, in my opinion.