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Stephen Stern
Dr. Stephen Stern PhD

The Dirty half-Dozen: SCOTUS, Jesus, and the Hebrew Prophets

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Six cowboys of the apocalypse rode into Grants Pass, Oregon, where the community leaders threw them a big party. They came to announce poverty is not a protected class. It can’t be. Impoverished individuals own little to no property. Displaced bodies may now be criminalized.

The cowboys are six justices of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) who criminalized poverty in a recent decree. Being destitute is not a sheltered class. I’m not surprised. Many Americans have always blamed poor people for poverty, identified as failures of Jesus-ridden cowboy capitalism.

In a single ruling, the SCOTUS eliminated compassion from constitutional analysis. A municipality may today outlaw houseless people from sleeping in public. Where will they sleep? The six propose private groups house them. Compassion doesn’t inform legal issues, only private ones; as if tragedy is not a part of public life.

My first thought when reading the headline was of biblical Nathan confronting King David with a parable. Nathan accuses the King of violating the vulnerable, disregarding their well-being and thus the law.

Nathan appeared to the King and said: “There were two men in the same city, one rich and one poor. The rich man had very large flocks and herds, but the poor man had only one little lamb that he had bought… “One day, a traveler came to the rich man, but he was loath to take anything from his own flocks or herds to prepare a meal for the guest who had come to him; so he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him. David flew into a rage against the man, and said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He shall pay for the lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and showed no pity. And Nathan said to David, That man is you! Thus said the LORD, the God of Israel: ‘It was I who anointed you king over Israel and it was I who rescued you from the hand of Saul. Why then have you flouted the command of the LORD and done what displeases [Hashem]. “ 2 Samuel 12

Today the town elder is Grants Pass, Oregon. SCOTUS is King David. The homeless person with nowhere to sleep is the one with a scrawny lamb. Sadly, Nathan is not here to remind them that their Jesus was a social-political activist on behalf of vulnerable people before he was crucified for things like bringing water and food to undocumented immigrants, providing shelter for them from the hot Sonoran sun, comforting, such as a place to fall asleep.

Like the six SCOTUS justices, Rome didn’t appreciate guys like Jesus. That’s why Rome criminalized and crucified him for prophetic actions. Jesus wouldn’t recognize SCOTUS Christians. The Hebrew prophets, informed him, who no doubt would condemn the SCOTUS permitting municipalities to criminalize poverty.

Imagine a desperate, displaced Isaiah prophesying on the steps of the SCOTUS:

“It is to share your bread with the hungry,

And to take the wretched poor into your home;

When you see the naked, to clothe them,

And not to ignore your own kin….

And you offer your compassion to the hungry

And satisfy the famished creature—

Then shall your light shine in darkness,

And your gloom shall be like noonday.”  58 Isaiah 7

Isaiah may later be arrested for napping on a park bench. Jesus, too,

Jesus lived a life protesting those like the six justices, instructed by the Hebrew prophets, such as Nathan and Isaiah. Weaponizing our laws to criminalize the vulnerable continues Rome’s crucifixion of Jesus. All he did in the Temple courtyard was to ask for more compassion/love. Pilate’s response: kill him!

The six horsemen of the apocalypse are taking a page from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Christian Grand Inquisitor, who arrested Jesus to be burned to death at the stake. The spiritual freedom preached by Jesus was now against the law. (Watch Sir John Gielgud performing the 25-minute monologue of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor while facing Jesus https://youtu.be/om6HcUUa8DI?si=gW9yYvcZFYxK4HFC)

These people have said they want a more Christian nation. One recently stated, we need to return to God fearing Christianity while weaponizing the law against the very vulnerable that the Hebrew Prophets sought to protect. That hypocrisy becomes obvious to those of us who study the history of Judaism and identify Jesus as a Jew who resisted Rome. Simply, he would identify the six cowboys of the apocalypse as betrayers of God, demanding they resign from managing the Temple’s worship services and public decrees.

About the Author
Dr. Stephen Stern has authored Reclaiming the Wicked Son: Finding Judaism in Secular Jewish Philosophers, and The Unbinding of Isaac: A Phenomenological Midrash of Genesis 22. His forthcoming book, The Chailight Zone will be out later this year, 2024. Stern is an Associate Professor of Jewish Studies & Interdisciplinary Studies, and Chair of Jewish Studies at Gettysburg College