I teach math. It is one of the most challenging things that I do, and as a result, I'm always on the look out for math in the real world. I found some recently as I was re-reading the Gospel according to Matthew. Gospel means good news, and it is essentially a mini-biography of Jesus. The bible has four of these mini-biographies/gospels.
I re-read things. I re-read the posts of fellow bloggers. I re-read most of my own posts. I see things on the second, third, or thirty-seventh pass. I'm on about my 60th trip through the Gospel according to Matthew.
This time, I saw inequalities. In math, an inequality is usually stated in terms of greater than or less than. It stands in contrast to things being equal. Two fourths is equal to one half: an equality. Nine tenths is greater than one third: an inequality.
Now it's one thing to compare numbers and quantities: that's math we learn in school. (Or, at least they teach it. Learning it is more hit-or-miss.) But in Matthew, Jesus uses inequalities to do moral and spiritual mathematics.
For example: Jesus talks about being "least" or "greatest" in the kingdom of heaven. He speaks of a righteousness that exceeds (is greater than) the scribes and Pharisees (the religious zealots of the day). Just before Jesus gave the so-called golden rule, he said, "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, HOW MUCH MORE shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" Apparently there are degrees of inequality.
I saw more astounding comparisons/inequalities: "Verity I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city." Here, Jesus is doing a cross-cultural, cross-historical moral comparison of two cities. Wow!
Jesus even made cross-species comparisons of worth: "Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows." Or, "How much then is a man better than a sheep?"
Not only does Jesus compare cultures, cities, and species, he compares people: "Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." Double wow!
As a math teacher, and as one who studies levels of moral reasoning, I am impressed.
My last post contained a list of life lessons from Regina Brett. At the top of her list is "Life isn't fair, but it's still good." Life isn't always equal: inequalities exist. But life is still good. Life is still good, in part, because God understands and measures the inequalities. The Moral Head of the Universe knows math.
That's why #8 on Regina's list makes sense: It's OK to get angry with God. He can take it. You can get angry and argue with God, in fact He invites it: "Come let us reason together..."
Even Jonah, the swallowed one, needed a lesson in moral inequalities. Jonah was upset because his shade producing gourd/vine had died, but Jonah was not concerned over the destruction of a whole city, so God said, "Thou has had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: and should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more that sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?" God cared about the plant, the people, and the cattle. He also cared about Jonah -- a single man. Wow.
Each culture and time has its own sticky moral dilemmas, and so do each of us. I don't pretend to understand the inequalities, but it gives me great peace knowing that Someone does. It also makes me glad that I've put my "hand in the hand of the Man who stilled the waters." He knows stuff!
He understands the moral issues regarding prejudice, racism, sexism, genocide, abuse, war... and the list goes on. Jesus rebuked the moral experts of his day with these words: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone." Judgment, mercy, faith... weightier (more than)... arguments about tithing.
In reading the Gospel according to Matthew, I also saw that Jesus' exam questions are real soul searchers: "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?"
A person's soul is of greater worth than... the whole world! Wow. Amazing mathematics. Amazing Moral Mathematician.