There was a man
There was a man who lived east of the Mediterranean among a people who thought that the end of injustice and oppression, cruelty and war was imminent. They saw this as a God-given promise to be effected by a God-given agent.
This man said that they did not have to wait for this longed-for new world any longer. All they had to do was to live as if that state of affairs already existed. In his relationship with God and with other people he did just that, and invited others to join him.
As popular as this message was with the lowly it posed a threat to the high and mighty ones; consequently he was executed as a blasphemer and traitor.
However execution could not remove him from the scene. His power was felt far beyond his own nation, touching people of many races, nations and communities, and even now stands as a beacon of hope for the world.
No, the world has not yet become a realm of perfect relationships whether between God and humanity or between individuals, communities or nations. Many find that inner peace eludes them. However he still remains the light of the world, the hope for something better, an agent for change.
As in his own day, he is misunderstood and misused, but he still reflects divine love, grace and mercy as no one else can and his voice still rings with a love-inspired authority beyond all imitation.
Look beyond the crimes and folly perpetrated in his name. See through the institutionalism and fanaticism that has clouded the scene. Observe one who is for all people of every race, language, nationality, sexuality or gender, religion or ideology, one who offers hope for all.
He shows the possibility of a more just and humane society – one that is compassionate and respectful to all. He offers freedom to those who feel trapped by their own failure to live up to what they know they should be. Through him people experience divine acceptance and forgiveness, friendship and love.
Jesus: the outline of a new humanity
With Jesus, a new humanity came into existence, one that is not determined by evolutionary events, by nature or nurture, history or culture, but one that is shaped by a visionary future. He called that future the kingdom of God. This was a vision of a world re-made where everyone found acceptance and respect; a realm of peace and justice, goodness and integrity; a world where everyone lived in right and harmonious relationship with God, with other people, with oneself, and with the environment. That’s the vision he lived by, and that’s the vision he invited others to live by too.
This might look like an impossible dream, and in many ways it is. It is an unrealized vision, but a vision that summons us, a vision that won’t let us go. It is experienced as a desire for a better world, a longing for peace, justice, goodness and integrity to prevail. It’s the hope that keeps people going through cruel and painful experiences. It is shared by people of all races and religions. It’s that deep-seated longing for a new humanity which constantly eludes us.
But it’s not just a dream. We have seen it lived out in a real, live, person in history. The old ways of being human killed him, but did not defeat him. I have seen glimpses of it in other people that I know.
Jesus the Artist
Jesus has been portrayed from many different points of view, but to me, it is most important that he be seen as a poet and an artist. He was a wonderful storyteller, made frequent use of imagery, was intuitive and holistic. Although they can give us much useful information, left-brain dominant hisgtorians, scientists and theologians will never really grasp what he was on about. One has to take the intuitive leap to see what he could see: to grasp the spirit, life and wonder that he sought to communicate.
Christians make me sick – sometimes. They take Jesus as I meet him through the gospels away and put a pseudo-Jesus in his place. To my way of thinking, they distort him beyond recognition. Sometimes it’s done under the pretext of defending him, but in doing so he gets crucified again. Christians have sought revenge on those they regard as his enemies in direct contradiction to his instruction and example. The one who stood steadfastly against all hypocrisy, pretence and falsehood becomes the centre for systems of quackery and the subject of fraudulent claims. Although he insisted that devotion to wealth was quite incompatible with devotion to God some of his so-called followers have turned devotion to wealth into an art form. You don’t have to point to those who sold indulgences to pay for the building of St Peter’s basilica in Rome or to princes of the church who wrapped themselves in riches in the past; just look at evangelists today who become wealthy on the back of a prosperity gospel that openly holds out material wealth and possessions as a reward for faith. The one who prayed for his followers that they all may be one has become the centre for argument leading to division, suspicion and rivalry. The one who rejected violence, retaliation and killing has sometimes become the rallying cry for war. Christians have burnt heretics, encouraged racism, held back scientific discovery, plundered the earth and its resources, suppressed women, and persecuted homosexual people, just to mention those evils that immediately come to mind. However in spite of all this Jesus comes to me as humanity’s greatest hope. In his powerful humility and self-giving love he offers freedom from and victory over those restraints that prevent people from being all that they were intended to be; all the dehumanizing forces, all the godless emptiness of futile existence, and all the destructive forces that tear communities apart.