What About Jesus?
“We must dig deeply in Christ. He is like a rich mine with many pockets containing treasures: however deep we dig we will never find their end or their limit. Indeed, in every pocket new seams of fresh riches are discovered on all sides.”
(St. John of the Cross)
Jesus invites us to go "deep": in our own spiritual practices, in relationships with others, in our service to one another and the world. As a teacher, prophet and friend, Jesus shows us what that looks like; and he encourages us on the way. It's not always easy; but it's thrilling and joyful, and "new seams of fresh riches" abound!
This is our Christian journey. In our life together, Jesus calls us to follow: laying before us a way of life, offering encouragement, challenging us to compassion and forgiveness. The tradition that emerges from the life and ministry of Jesus offers a kind of map, a practice of faith and wholeness for our strange and difficult times. Because we value intellectual freedom and creativity, we make a lot of room at Peace United. Folks here come to Jesus in all kinds of ways...and we appreciate different aspects of his teaching, example and redemptive power.
Perspectives on Jesus
Here are four varied perspectives on Jesus, his identity, his meaning in our time. They're clearly not the only perspectives: but they offer a glimpse of the encounter in our many lives.
JAMES LAWSON: "When Gandhi read the Sermon on the Mount, he said something like this, and I may not have the quite exact words but I think I have his meaning. When he read the Sermon on the Mount, especially the section in Matthew 5:38–48, he said, “A light came on. This is what I learned as a child, and this is what I’ve been trying to do.”
So that’s his connection with Jesus, which he retained for the rest of his life. He rejected all invitations to conversion, and he rejected a great deal of Christian dogma, but he said, “If I am a Christian, as I am a Hindu, I am a Christian because of Jesus; and I try to follow Jesus.” And I agree with that; as a pastor, I agree with that. The test of being a Christian is not the creeds — it’s whether you follow Jesus and will allow the mind and heart and spirit of Jesus to come take root in you.
There’s always been in the Christian movement from the days of Jesus people who took the stance of unconditional love for life, for human beings, and refused therefore to take up the sword against any of them, as Jesus did.
That was a dominant theme in the first 300 years of Christianity. Christians did not serve in the Roman army or anybody else’s army. They rejected violence for two reasons: One, because it would cause them to have to pay fealty to the Roman emperor, to the Roman Christ; and also because it would involve them in the taking of life rather than healing of life."
CARTER HEYWARD: "We who are Christians are empowered by the memory and presence of Jesus. The one whom we call Christ mirrors our vocation: to love neighbors as ourselves and in so doing to offer to God the one spiritual sacrifice God requires of us – to take risks involved in standing with humankind on behalf of a better world. We look to Jesus as a brother, an advocate, a friend, a liberator, because he stood with us on earth. Only insofar as we take seriously this human brother can we discern in what he did the divine spark moving with and in and through him."
LAURENCE FREEMAN: "Jesus forgave sinners and his own enemies even from the cross. One of the ways we listen to him is by following his example of forgiving those who hurt us. To do this is to enter the reality which Jesus places at the center of his teaching: the experience of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is the place outside space, the moment outside time, where sin and all its consequences have been totally absorbed beyond the effects of fear and pain.
The Kingdom, one could say, is the way God intends us to live. It is our natural home. Jesus speaks of this Kingdom experience as his ancestors spoke of the Promised Land or the messiah, as a Zen master speaks of enlightenment or as the Buddha speaks of nirvana. He also embodies the Kingdom as a personal reality experienced through relationship. To know him as he really is, is to find oneself in the Kingdom.
To see Jesus in this clear depth we must see how central the Kingdom is to his vision of reality. It is not a system of morality. The Kingdom is not a place we are going to. Nor is it a reward we are to receive for good behavior. The Kingdom upsets normal ways of thinking more deeply than the strictest of moral commandments. It is a fundamental experience of reality as it truly is.
To be in the Kingdom is to live in harmony with heaven and earth, with friend and foe, with body and mind. It changes the way you even want to live. It is to live in the continuous consciousness that we are born and die under the ‘basileia’ of God. ‘Basileia’ does not mean Kingdom in the sense of place but reign or power. The Kingdom is power in the sense of bonding relationship. Where you are, especially if you are in love, matters less than whom you are with. To be in the Kingdom is to know ourselves in relationship."
Regarding the historical Jesus and his commitments, many of us find the work of Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan compelling. They offer a five-stroke sketch:
1. Jesus was a social prophet in the tradition of Hebrew prophets. He was a radical critic of domination systems and an advocate for human freedom at all levels.
2. Jesus was a Jewish mystic whose experience of the Spirit was immediate, dynamic and life-altering.
3. Jesus was a movement-founder, gathering around him a small group of disciples and followers.
4. Jesus was a wisdom teacher and devoted himself to contradicting the 'conventional wisdom' of his time. Using parables and sayings, he offered followers a "Way" of compassion, freedom and courage.
5. Jesus was a healer and acted at almost every opportunity to re-connect the lost and bind up the broken. He had a special heart for those ostracized and diminished by social and cultural prejudice. His healing was often directed at reconciling ruptured communities and relationships.