No caveats found

Going through my mother’s old things, I came across a book mark that must have resonated with her, as it did with me when I found it. My mother was a teacher in public schools and as a bible study fellowship leader, so even after her death, she can still teach me something.

The book mark quotes Jesus’ words in John 13: 34 – 35, which says:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for another.

In looking at this, three words jump out beside the key word “love.” The first is “commandment,” meaning this is so important it is an additional commandment to the first ten. The second is “everyone,” which means he wants all to see the love each has for another as an exemplar. The last is “disciples,” meaning followers of Jesus should love one another.

Throughout this quote or in adjacent bible verse, I found no caveats. He did not say love only those who agreed with you. He did not say love only those who are heterosexual. He did not say love only people of your race. He did not say love only Christians or Jews, since we have to remember he was a Jewish teacher and referred to often as Rabbi.

In our and our leaders’ efforts to win arguments, we have overlooked what is more important. We need to treat others like we want to be treated. Love may be too strong a word for strangers as we are not nearly as good a person as Jesus, but we should treat each other with dignity and respect. We should listen and hear what others are saying. Winning an argument means little if people are harmed by the outcome.

Happy Easter, too

While I did not grow up Catholic, my best friend did. So, one of our rituals that lasted about ten years was going to midnight mass on Christmas Eve. One of the traditions of that mass was the Father would also wish Happy Easter, as he knew he would not see more than a few parishioners until next Christmas.

While fewer people are church goers than before and some check the box “none” when surveyed, Christmas remains an important holiday for the promise it brings. Whether you believe that Jesus is the son of God, there was a man by this name who walked the earth and spoke to gatherings of people of all sizes. He reminded us of four key themes among his many parables and lessons. And, these themes can be found in other religious texts.

– Treat others like you want to be treated.

– Help people less fortunate than you.

– Recognize each of us is imperfect.

– Forgive those who trespass against us.

To me, if we live our lives doing our best to remember these four things, Jesus’ words will help us be better people. And, if enough of us do this, the world just might be a better place.

 

Jesus on my mind

On PBS Frontline, they are airing a two-part series called “From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians” about how Christianity took shape. It is a fascinating history lesson that blends biblical writings with other known historical and archaeological findings. It interviews twelve religious scholars, theologians and historians who offer terrific insight.

I gained a greater appreciation for the role Paul played in spreading the teachings of Jesus following his death around Year 30. His followers were scared after Jesus’ death in Jerusalem as the Romans did not tolerate much dissent. So, Paul spread the word through home gatherings away from Jerusalem and through his many letters which were the first writings about Jesus. These home gatherings were usually over meals and sharing of prayer and stories. It was noted that these followers were a mixture of socio-economic classes, whereas around Jerusalem Jesus’ followers were more agrarian. Hence, Jesus’ parables had to be interpreted for more urban followers of Paul.

I also got a better understanding of the context of when the Gospels were written. Mark was the first Gospel author who wrote around forty years following Jesus’ death, but after the Romans had destroyed Jerusalem squelching the first rebellion of the Jews. He also wrote just after the deaths of three key Christians – Peter, James and Paul. Following this massacre, there was a much somber audience, so Mark highlighted the agony of Jesus’ death noting how much he suffered, just like they were now. He also wanted to record the life of Jesus, with the passing of these three principals.

Matthew and Luke years later followed with their Gospels and used some of the same words as Mark did, which gave the scholars the sense there was another document that had recorded some of Jesus’ teachings. The scholars noted they had to be working off a previous text of Jesus’ parables, as they were written in different regions by different men.These three Gospels are more symbiotic than John’s Gospel, as a result.

The scholars also note that Luke’s writings must be viewed in tandem with his second piece called Acts. They said Luke was more educated than Mark, so his writings flow more like the stories of the day. He also was writing to a more urban audience around the Aegean Sea who spoke Greek. John’s Gospel writings took a different tack as his writing was later and at a time when people were looking for something more lasting. He wrote more of a spiritual Jesus that is the basis for much of modern Christianity.

These scholars spoke of the Gospels in terms that makes sense to me. Gospel means “good news,” and that was the purpose of writing them to share the news of Jesus. But, as one scholar pointed out, these were not four reporters summarizing what just happened in a courtroom. They were writing down the stories that had been told and retold following Jesus’ death. He went on to say he would err on the side that these writings were meant symbolically and have been interpreted literally, rather than the other way around. Since four people are telling the same stories from different perspectives and times, there are inconsistencies in the stories.

Two examples would indicate this, as the day of Jesus’ death is different, where in one it is occurring at Passover where others showing it occurred later. Also, the example of Jesus’ overturning the gambling and trading tables in the temple, occurred earlier in one Gospel, while it is the reason for his ultimate arrest and later crucifixion in the others.

The final key takeaway for me is the separation between Judaism and Christianity became more prominent after these writings. Jesus was Jewish and much of the earlier teachings especially near Jerusalem were in keeping with the Jewish faith. The scholars explain that 90% of people in the Roman empire were paganists worshipping multiple gods. So, the only organized religion around one God was the Jewish religion. This is one reason the Romans feared teachings that wrapped religion and politics together, as in the Roman rule, the emperor was the supreme leader. This is also the reason Christians worshipped in secret in their homes.

The Frontline piece is excellent. It helps better understand context and the history of Jesus and those who followed him and created Christianity. Below is a synopsis of the two episodes.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/etc/synopsis.html

 

We seem to have forgotten what Jesus did while on earth


As we enter the Christmas holiday season, it would be helpful to remind ourselves what Jesus did while he walked the earth and what he promoted while he was here. Variations of his overarching themes can also be found in other religious texts, so these tenets are important regardless of religion. His Golden Rule which paraphrases to Treat others like you want to be treated translates well to any religious faith.

Jesus spent most of his adult life with the disenfranchised people of the areas he traveled. He would visit and stay with those who were not the powerful leaders or church leaders of the day. He tended to be with those who needed him most – the sick, the disabled, the poor and the downtrodden. In fact, he was not welcome by church leaders in some places and became irritated when church leaders did not use his church for its key purpose.

If Jesus walked the earth today, he would likely be irritated with us for many things.

  • Jesus would not be too keen on the demonization of people who look, speak or worship differently than the speaker.
  • He would not be too keen on intolerance especially when advocated by religious leaders who preach a message of exclusion. Jesus welcomed everyone.
  • He would not be too keen on the commercialization of his birthday, which loses sight of why we are honoring the day in the first place.
  • He would not be too keen on treating the impoverished in the world as if they had a communicable disease. “There, but by the grace of God, go I” he would say.
  • He would not be too keen on turning our backs on people who are refugees from their war-torn land. He would be there welcoming them in.
  • He would not be too keen on people being killed in the name of any religion, especially when the perpetrators are twisting language from its true meaning.
  • He would not be too keen on abortion unless a mother’s life is threatened. And, while this may sound inconsistent, he would likely be in favor of using birth control to avoid abortions, lessen poverty and prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.
  • He would not be too keen on the prosperity church leaders who live high on the hog after bilking poor and sick people of their money. If you hear the term “seed money,” understand you are being swindled to help someone buy a jet or house.
  • He would not be too keen on corrupt leaders who forsake their mission to govern wisely and judiciously.
  • He would not be too keen on people not being good stewards of our earth which is consistent across many religions.

We seem to have become a collection of cafeteria Christians, only picking parts of the bible we like and missing the overall context and message. We must treat others like we want to be treated, with no caveats. To prove my point, I want you to picture a mental image of Jesus and then go back to the first bullet point above regarding “demonization of people who look….differently than the speaker.”

Now, I want you to picture an adult Syrian refugee. Jesus did not look like Max Von Sidow, Jim Caviezel or Jeffrey Hunter (who played him in movies). Jesus looked more like the Syrian refugees look than how movies portrayed him. And, he did not speak English. If Jesus was among the refugees, we have folks who would be arguing to deny his entrance into America as he would be a single adult male with a mideastern appearance.

We must be better than this. We must understand his key message and live like he would want us to, even if he does not look like we do. It is the Christian thing to do….and Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Buddhist thing as well.