I have come to the conclusion that, while he was not god, Jesus was a truly revolutionary soul. As humans are want to do, we have for the most part, corrupted what he had to say. The christian fundamentalists have done this by focusing almost exclusively on his birth and death...completely ignoring what he had to say while he was alive. Perhaps that's because his words call us to a place that is difficult for many of us to go.
One of the most powerful messages he gave was the beatitudes.
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they shall possess the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Beautiful words, aren't they? But what about the promises Jesus made? Do we have to wait for some kind of heavenly kingdom to see them? Not according to Tod Lindberg.
Jesus describes those who are truly fortunate, the lucky ones of their day. But it is not emperors, conquerors, priests, and the wealthy who enjoy this favor. Rather, it is the common people, those whom earthly success has largely passed by: the poor, the meek, the persecuted, the peacemakers. How can this be? Because though they may have been denied worldly success, what cannot be taken away from them is their potential to live rightly by one another. It is all too easy for those who enjoy the pleasures of this world to try to float above such obligations. Jesus goes on to say that so long as ordinary people stand for the right things and do not retreat in their rightness before those who seem to have more power, what ’s right will prevail. It’s their kingdom — a kingdom organized not from the top down, but from the bottom up.
Jesus often chose to tell stories in order to illustrate a point. Perhaps the most famous of these is the one where he answers the question "Who is my neighbor?"
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'
"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
Notice that the "expert in the law" couldn't even say the word "Samaritan" in his reply. That's because there was so much hatred at the time between Jews and Samaritans. And yet Jesus was holding up a person from among those who were most reviled as an example of one who demonstrated what it means to be a neighbor.
But the passage that has meant the most to me is a bit more obscure. As many sermons as I heard growing up, I don't recall ever hearing one about this.
And it came to pass that he went through the grain fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of grain.
And the Pharisees said unto him, "Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?"
And he said unto them, "Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was hungry, he, and they that were with him; how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar, the high priest, and did eat the showbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them who were with him?"
And he said unto them, "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath."
What I hear in this story is Jesus saying that the rules (i.e. dogma) are negotiable. What's not negotiable is the dignity of every human being. And that ultimately trumps all.
At this time of year, I usually go back and read an amazing diary written by Kid Oakland about four years ago titled a christmas message. Here's just a taste.
Let me tell you something about the Jesus that I know.
He was a real man. Born in a poor region to working poor parents. He loved learning, he loved his mother and his father.
But he left them and spent his life with the poor, the outcast, the rejected, the defiled, the sick, the sinners, the bedraggled, the bereft, the self-hating, the lonely, the banished, the foul, the miserable, the desperate and finally, those sick with their own power.
He did this, not because of his ideology or his creed. He did this not because of his doctrine. He did this, quite simply, because he loved them. He preferred them.
Their company, their stories, their lives, their environs, their plight and their faith.
And they loved him. Because he touched them. He looked them in the eye and believed in them. Because, at the end of the day, when they looked to him they saw that his commitment to them was a commitment unsullied by qualifier or clause. It was a commitment to love them, even upon pain of death. And they saw in him, a love that promised to love them as they were, who they were...fully, without judgment or flinching glance, or hypocritical accommodation.