Have you experienced “thin places?” They’re situations where one touches the divine. Where it briefly feels as if you’re transcending time and space. Well, that happened to me recently. I don’t even remember exactly where. But I sort of stepped into another realm and found myself in the first century—about the year 783 of the Roman era.
I was in eastern Galilee, near a gathering of people listening intently to a dark-skinned man with a wooly beard. After listening for just a few minutes, I realized who he was. Soon he noticed me—well, I was dressed quite differently—and motioned me over.
“Good morning, Yeshua,” I said. (I’ll bet he was surprised I used his Hebrew name.) “May I ask you a few questions?” Yeshua—who you probably know as Jesus—motioned for me to talk. I was so excited at this sudden opportunity that I didn’t think to ask questions in any logical order, but I’d like to share some of our conversation.
Yeshua, you teach with such authority and wisdom. Do you have a better relationship with God than we have? That is, are you “the only son of God?”
“Of course not. We’re all children of God. We’re beings who are here because of the Spirit of Being. No one has a special relationship, we’re all part of God. We only think we’re separate. But to truly enjoy life, we need to recognize our interconnected bond with all creation.”
Some people worry that God will send some folks to hell after they die. Is that right?
With a puzzled look, he said, “I don’t understand your term, ‘Hell’.”
Well, you refer to “Gehenna” as a nasty place.
“Oh, you mean the rubbish pit in the Valley of Hinnom. It’s always a stinky, burning site, and unfortunately, they even throw babies they don’t want in there. I’ll certainly be happy if I can teach some of these folks to stop that practice. But it’s just a metaphor in my stories. Thinking it’s an area where God would punish people is, shall we say, ‘rubbish’.”
How neat! He even liked puns. But he went on:
“In life and death there are no winners or losers. There is just a great interdependent togetherness, a Oneness of all there is. The more we realize that, the more we can live together in harmony, care for each other, and enjoy an abundant life. Not by worrying about how much power we have. Not by wanting stuff we don’t have. It’s living and loving here and now.”
Why did you choose this path? Peter says you are the anointed one, the messiah for Israel.
“I’m not chosen. I’ve simply realized the importance of loving everyone because we’re all one in God.
And I wish Peter wouldn’t keep trying to put me on a pedestal. Being up high makes me a better target for the authorities.”
But you do teach some pretty radical concepts.
“Radical? I’m just suggesting we apply the Torah; you know, the laws of love in mercy and justice. I don’t have all the answers, but I try to give these folks some hope of wholeness…a little light in their darkness of the Roman regime.”
Aren’t you afraid of stepping over the line and getting the Romans mad at you?
“I’m much more concerned about our own Israelite leaders not understanding what they are doing. They’re strict adherents to the fiddle-faddle rules of the temple. That doesn’t encourage caring and compassionate relationships to develop.”
So, what’s it like being Jewish in a Roman world?
“Ha! I think it’s more like the Romans are in our Jewish world!
We Israelites see ourselves as a special people because we recognize that a single, ultimate spirit called God is our source of love. We believe that by accepting these laws of the universe, we see our heritage as an obligation to take on special responsibilities among our neighbors. Rome and other nations don’t see it that way.”
This God you revere so greatly; who or what is it?
“Well, first off, I don’t think God is down in the temple in Jerusalem. Keeping God down there makes him too limited. Someday, I’d like to go down there and rip open the curtain that hides the confined space they call the Holy of Holies. If people could peek behind the curtain, they’d see there’s no almighty wizard there.
God is such a positive spirit around us. We can live in that spirit, if we only open our eyes to the truth of Oneness. God is not separate from us.
Uh, I realize that may not have answered your question, but one really can’t describe God.”
If God is so big, why do you call this spirit “Father?”
“That’s just good Jewish story telling. I try to make it personal. A rabbi can’t be too abstract with everyday people. Relationships have to be based on the way we are as humans. I loved my father, so I think of God as having that same relationship. Maybe some others don’t have those positive feelings about their fathers.”
Are you trying to tell us about how we should understand religion?
“I would beg to differ with you. I don’t profess to speak about religion. I meditate a lot, and I’ve formed glimpses of what our relationship should be with God and with each other. This spiritual life I speak of is deeper, more lasting, and certainly more profound, than any mere religious life—at least the narrow life of piety that the Pharisees and Sadducees profess. Life can be so much more eternally rewarding than that.”
Aren’t you afraid of being punished and maybe even executed for sharing your views so openly?
“Worried about death? No, I’ve let go of that fear a long time ago. We all die, but while we’re living, we should live in the spirit of Oneness.”
Here’s where I sensed a conundrum. Should I warn him about the future and upset the next couple thousand years of history? Well, I just stayed mum on that subject.
I had many more questions, but he seemed to want to return to the larger group. However, I did ask the question that theologians and philosophers have been asking for two thousand years. “Yeshua, I’m embarrassed to ask, but I have one last question. Are you a human? You know, do you have normal, uh, bodily functions of a man?”
“Of course. Why would you think otherwise?”
Finally, as he turned to continue with the others, he said,
“You sure ask a lot of questions, but you seem like a decent guy. I hope someday we can break bread together.”
I called after him, “I’d like that. That meal would be special!”
We only had a few minutes together. Fortunately, I remembered my cellphone and grabbed a quick selfie with him to prove this all happened. Otherwise you might not believe me. However, when I tried to show it to other people by posting it on Facebook, I couldn’t see him.
I guess the point is, today we’re the face of Jesus. How we act, what we do, is the real image of Jesus we share with others.
_____________________________ Art Fabian — July 29, 2019