About 2000 years ago, a Galilean peasant clearly recognized our ultimate life purpose. He saw the need for creating wholeness in every individual and fostering compassion and justice for all peoples. Better than anybody, he wholeheartedly understood ethical and loving relationships and our purpose in doing good for the sake of humankind.
He taught that every person is sacred. He saw beyond tribes, stereotypes, deeds, and any condition that separates people. Through great stories he challenged his listeners to grasp how all people and things are in an interdependent, divine relationship with everything else. He went by the name Jesus.
His message was so radical that the religious leaders wanted to get rid of him, but they had no power to do so. However, they knew how to manipulate the system and get the Roman authorities to crucify him for being an insurrectionist.
Over the next 100 years, it dawned on his increasing cadre of followers that his life plainly exemplified the message he was trying to convey. They said he fit the role of Messiah for the Israelites and, although he never subscribed to that role, they created that mantel for him. Decades after his death, they wrote about his life in the style of that era. That is, they added stories, sayings from the Scriptures, and their own interpretations of how one might have experienced him, if they had ever actually met him.
Jesus and his followers—and all the New Testament authors—simply wanted a better Jewish life. However, by the end of the first century, the once-derisive term, “Christian,” slowly began to be acceptable for those who were no longer accepted in the synagogues. Over the next couple of centuries, disciples of “The Way” became a variety of Christianities until Constantine pushed for one denomination he could control. Eventually, the nascent Jewish transformation that Jesus wished for became the controlling political power for the Western world for 1500 years.
The historical Jesus
What fascinates me is that we’ve learned more in the past 150 years about the historical Jesus and the early Christian church than almost all research in the previous 1800+ years. Certainly, much information accumulated over the centuries. However, it wasn’t until the Enlightenment and later, that scholars would use scientific and literary critical methods for studying ancient texts—including the Bible—along with archeology and anthropology to really uncover and explain the historical data.
For example, we now understand that nearly all the metaphors the early followers used for Jesus were rip-offs of the Roman Empire. Most emperors were called Sons of God. They often had virgin births. Each was the Prince of Peace—well, Rome’s version of military peace. So, to deify Jesus, his followers took to using Roman terminology. Two of the Gospel authors included many references to “Kingdoms” to contrast the “reign of God” with the Roman Empire.
It seems evident from historical research—including non-biblical texts—that Jesus was a real person. He wasn’t just a figment of first-century authors’ imagination. Unfortunately, no acquaintances of his wrote about him. The first person to extensively mention him, Paul of Tarsus, never met Jesus, although he did draw from first-hand accounts.
Marcus Borg was a scholar who summarized the life of this Galilean peasant in his book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time.
[Jesus’] own understanding did not include thinking and speaking of himself as the Son of God whose historical intention or purpose was to die for the sins of the world, and his message was not about believing in him. Rather, he was a spirit person, subversive sage, social prophet, and movement founder who invited his followers and hearers into a transforming relationship with the same Spirit that he himself knew, and into a community whose social vision was shaped by the core value of compassion.
I want to be clear that none of this diminishes the value of examining Jesus’ wisdom and following him as a disciple. That’s why I call this post The Epitome of Good.
Here’s my outline of him:
Jesus was a dynamic Galilean peasant who attracted many fans.
He recognized that everyone was the Spirit of God.
He taught that being compassionate and assuring justice is our highest calling.
He was executed by Roman authorities.
His death did not end his message nor influence.
His community of followers continued to interpret his message
His legacy is our guide to creating and living in wholeness—life abundant.
You might have noticed that these points leave out a lot of traditional dogma about Jesus that has arisen over the past 2000 years. If you’re curious about any missing elements, please send me your questions.
_______________________ June 29, 2018
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Art Fabian is on a spiritual journey to enjoy more aliveness and to share the goal of wholeness with others. He has no special training or degrees in this field. He’s not a religious scholar or theologian. However, he hopes you might also enjoy walking towards a richer life that benefits us, our neighbors, and all creation.