and Empire” – Sunday, December 4 – 10am By Bob Reuschlein
with the book “Jesus Before Christianity” by Albert Nolan, I learned this man
Jesus was far more subtle than the simplistic deity he’s been portrayed as by
modern religion. After five years of
carefully going over the gospels line by line, I concluded that one of the most
important themes taught by Jesus was all about abuse of power. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts
absolutely. Marcus Borg calls this the
domination principle. Teaching love is
not enough to get one killed, but challenging the power structure is. Jesus was a champion of the outcasts of
society, and a thorn in the side of the rich, the powerful, and the religious
elites of his day. His mission? Quote: “I come to give you life that you may
have it more abundantly”.
knew, like the Buddha knew before him, that life was much richer when you serve
and love even the least among us. All
humans have value was his central message, not just those that are in People
magazine. This principle is well
illustrated by scenes from the movie “Titanic”. In this movie an elite young lady runs off with a poor boy and
has the time of her life. While the
rich are having a boring dinner on the top decks, the poor people are having a
rollicking party below decks. The
difference is between being "controlled and reserved" vs. "open
and relating". Note the word “control”
is an empire word.
is what Jesus means when he says, “I come to give you life”. Careful reading in context of the 37
passages in the gospels that refer to the “kingdom of god” or the “kingdom of
heaven” suggest to me a more earthly interpretation. He uses these terms the way I would use the term “fellowship of
humankind”. This is what Jesus refers
to when he says it is “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle
than a rich man to enter the kingdom of god”.
also that "eye of the needle" is the gate to a city in those times,
not a tiny piece of metal. Such gates
had a zigzag baffle type entryway that would block a camel but not a person,
like similar gates to environmental areas today, that block bicycles. I use the device of putting in the word
"good" for "God" to read the bible in more secular
terms. The rich tend to divorce
themselves from the rest of us, and this alienation or isolation reduces their
life experiences, a kind of self imposed mild purgatory, if not exactly hell,
at least a separation from God. So the
rich are cutting themselves off from good, as I see it, in the "eye of the
John the Baptist is known for his fasting, Jesus is known for his eating meals
with all manner of people, partying if you will, another part of his giving us
a model of life. Jesus urged a carefree
attitude, asking his followers not to obsess about their needs, reminding them
how nature provides for the birds in the air.
The miracle of the loaves and fishes is all about feasting rather than
fasting. The Last Supper is the way he
wants to be remembered. He urges us to
let our light shine.
understands that the richness of life is predicated on being in touch with all
of the human experience, including poverty, sin and ill health. In his day, as now, people tend to blame the
victims of bad circumstances and to avoid them. Not Jesus. We gravitate
instead to those who are momentarily successful. Momentarily, I say, because we all have our ups and downs. We are undervalued in youth or old age. Jesus urges us to become as little children
again, full of openness, honesty, and wide eyed wonder. Those of position and honor, looking down
their long noses on the rest of us, are cutting themselves off from the
“kingdom of god”, the fullness of life, and the fullness of connection to the
full range of human experience and wonder.
That is how we build our own hells, like Howard Hughes in the penthouse
in Mexico City.
constantly criticizes Pharisees, scribes, and the rich, while elevating the
status of the poor and downtrodden. He
calls the Pharisees “like empty sepulchres, pretty on the outside, but full of
dust and bones inside”. He tells the
parable of the poor man eating outside the rich man's house and their role
reversal in the afterlife.
major theme of Jesus is against group solidarity, the idea that there is an
“us” vs. “them”. So he not only tells
us to love our enemies, but that his ideas of equality are more important than
even family loyalty. The Good Samaritan
story tells us our actions are more important than our status. Jesus challenged patriarchy in many
ways: with his mother and Mary
Magdelene, concerning divorce and the stoning of the woman, with the woman by
the well, with the demeaning of children.
Patriarchy and group solidarity are at the root of many wars.
to the most common Christian myth, Jesus does not consider himself God. The gospels refer in several places to all
of us as children of God. John the
Baptist teaches people to become children of God. Jesus himself calls all of us children of God. Jesus tells the Pharisee Nicodemus how he
can become a Son of God. Jesus even
rebukes a man who calls him “good master” or “good teacher” by saying “Why do
you call me good, only God the Father is good.” In Luke, Adam, the first man is listed as the son of God. So Son of God is a common title for many if
not all of us. Renee Du Bois “A God
Within” may be right. That tends to
make Jesus a Universalist (we are all saved) and a Unitarian (there is one God,
not a trinity). This interpretation seems much more consistent with Jesus'
pervasive emphasis on equality and against hierarchical notions. Thus Jesus challenges the notion of the
trinity in the overwhelming body of his thinking, as he emphasizes equality and
service, the poor, the sick, rather than elevating some people over others as
much of humanity does. This is very
consistent with all his criticisms of various hierarchies and domination
systems. I do not think he would approve his elevation to the status of God in
the modern Christian church.
took a long time to develop the idea that Jesus is divine. The earliest gospels, the synoptic gospels
of Mark, Luke, and Matthew were written forty years after Jesus’ death and
Jesus is mainly silent or avoids making glorified claims about himself. One exception is the Messiah claim where Peter calls him that and he
promptly swears Peter to silence. The
deification of Jesus seems to begin with the gospel of John, different in
nature from the early Gospels, written ninety years after Jesus’ death, a time
when few people, if any, who had known the real Jesus would be alive. John seems to have been written with the
theology of the emerging church in mind.
In John there are frequent suggestions of the divinity of Christ. The Doubting Thomas story may be in the
Gospels to discredit the secular Gospel of Thomas. There were about fifteen early versions of the Gospels, but only
four were chosen as official. One of
the rejected versions talks about slaying dragons in Egypt. I personally think some of the Jesus story
was ginned up to keep up with the Jones’ because many deity stories of the time
featured virgin births and crucifications.
brothers and sisters come up to him in one passage, putting in question the
virgin birth story. Some historians
consider Jesus the third born of seven.
The feast of the Immaculate Conception was declared a holy day of
obligation in Vatican I in 1876. Gee,
that took a long time to figure out. It
took eight hundred years for the church to forbid priests to marry. This first century or so many Christian
communes were lead by women and there were women bishops. The real meaning of Christmas is that it was
renamed to coopt the pagan holiday of Saturnia, and keeps many of the same old
practices. Some say Jesus’ missing
years were spent in a monastery in Tibet until 26 AD when records show a man
from his part of the world left for home.
The New Testament rejects the violence of the Old Testament. My impression of the difference in the two
testaments is mainly that lack of justified violence in the New Testament. The Israelites committed genocide against
the Canaanites, for example. The whole
flavor of the New Testament is more loving and kind, reminding me of Eastern
religions like Buddhism. Hence the
Tibet story has some plausibility.
rebukes those who cast aside one wife for another as adulterers. This may be as much a criticism of a form of
the domination system as a criticism of divorce. Getting rid of one wife for another seems to be the crime here,
not the recognition of a failed mutual companionship that we mainly have now.
all the criticism of the rich and sayings in favor of the poor is Jesus a
socialist? The parable of the talents
may make him a capitalist. There he criticizes
the servant who buries his gold in the ground and applauds the one who doubles
his money in commerce. But could this
just be an allegory about not wasting one’s abilities? Who knows?
Jesus teaches us to avoid jealousy by giving the parable of the
vineyard, where workers who arrive to work late in the day are paid the same as
those who started early. Thus he pays
them according to their needs, a socialist concept.
the prince of peace Jesus knows how much damage is done by human strivings to
be "top dog". The "peck
order" system leads to wars and enemies, not love one another, turn the
other cheek, and forgiveness. He urges
us to forgive “seventy times seven”. He
gives the parable of the prodigal son. He urges people going to church to set
aside their offerings and first settle their differences with anyone they have
offended. He talks about the good
shepherd who leaves the flock to find the lost sheep.
Jesus favor “separation of church and state”?
Probably so judging by his "render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and
unto God what is God’s". He also
says, “the Sabbath was made for man, man was not made for the Sabbath,” when
the Pharisees question his healing a person on the Sabbath. This supports the "question
authority" Jesus who reviles the strict constructionists of his day, the
Pharisees. His message of radical
egalitarianism contrasts with the “corrupted by power” individuals who preach
in his name today. He warns us about
“false prophets who will come in his name” and this makes me think of the
prowar prorich Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.
main mission of Jesus was to challenge the system of dominance of some people
over others. In this very fundamental
way he challenges the essence of empire, which is control. That control alienates the rich and powerful
from others personally, while taunting others with the power of empire
alienates the world from the United States today. It seems like the very use of power tends to distance people from
was particularly hard on the Pharisees, calling them on their hypocrisy. They were ostentatiously pious taking the
seat of honor yet full of greed and wickedness inside. Ultimately, these Pharisees followed him
around trying to trip him up. These
sticklers for the law tried to stop this free spirit.
praises the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the righteous, pure and
merciful. But his highest praise is for
the peacemakers as children of God. He
himself is a peacemaker when he stops a woman from being stoned to death by
asking “he who is perfect to cast the first stone.” He urges us to not be judgmental saying “judge not lest you be
reality of empire is so very far afield from the teachings of Jesus. Empires are haughty and judgmental. Empires will either find or make enemies,
and are almost never merciful. They are
not humble, like the poor in spirit.
Empires are seldom peacemakers.
Empires expect deference, expect others to yield to them in every
way. Empires are sticklers for the law,
just like the Pharisees, yet they are hypocrites, doing whatever they want with
one will tell the emperor that he is wearing no clothes.
my “decay of empire” sermon, I pointed out the harshness of the empire society,
full of stagnation and crime. The
empire society is win lose and petty, with nothing of the graciousness of
Jesus’ “love one another” society. The
empire society revels in the barbarity of the gladiators and/or football
players. The empire society is like
feudalism, being judgmental like the Pharisees, and resorting to the
inquisition for heretics then and favoring torture today. This is reminiscent in some ways of the
intolerance of the modern fundamentalists.