Jesus’ alternative reality

Jesus’ Alternative Reality
Thursday, January 18, 2018

I am told that there are three kinds of cultures in the Western world today, each with its own “bottom line”: political cultures based on the manipulation of power, economic cultures based on the manipulation of money, and religious cultures based on the manipulation of some theory about God. These three cultures are based on different forms of violence, although it is usually denied by most participants and hidden from the superficial observer. Evil gains its power from disguise. Jesus undid the mask of disguise and revealed that our true loyalty was seldom really to God, but to power, money, and group belonging. (In fact, religion is often the easiest place to hide from God.)

Jesus announced, lived, and inaugurated a new social order, an alternative to violence, exclusion, and separation. Jesus went so far as to promise us this alternate reality. It is no fantastical utopia, but a very real and achievable peace—by the grace of God. He called it the Reign or Kingdom of God. It is the subject of his inaugural address (Luke 4:14-30) [1], his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and most of his parables. Indeed, it is the guiding image of Jesus’ entire ministry.  Most Christians glibly recite “Thy kingdom come,” but this means almost nothing until and unless they also say “My kingdom go.”

Challenging the status quo is unpopular. Jesus was killed for opposing the religious and political powers of his time. “It is better for one man to die for the people” (John 18:14) than to question the bottom line that is holding the whole system together.

When Christians accept that Jesus was killed for the same reason that people have been killed in all of human history (rather than because he walked around saying “I am God”), we will have turned an important corner on our quest for the historical Jesus. He was rejected because of his worldview much more than his God-view. Yet these two are intrinsically connected. This now and not-yet Reign of God is the foundation for our personal hope and our cosmic optimism, but it is also the source of our deepest alienation from the world as it is. We are strangers and nomads on this earth (see Hebrews 11:13). Our task is to learn how to live in both worlds until they become one 
[1] See also Isaiah 61: 1-3.  Adapted from Richard Rohr and John Bookser Feister, Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount(Franciscan Media: 1996), 3-4.

To Know God Is to Love God
Friday, January 19, 2018

Jesus was a person radically centered in God, empowered by that relationship, and filled with Gods passion for the worlda passion that led to his execution and vindication. —Marcus Borg [1]

Once the guiding vision of the Realm/Reign/Kingdom of God became clear to Jesus, which seems to have happened when he was about thirty and alone in the desert, everything else came into perspective. In fact, Matthew’s Gospel says, “From then onward,” Jesus began his preaching (4:17). Before this utter clarification, the message is not fully clear—in any of us. Jesus’ absolute divine reference point allowed him to relativize, critique, and evaluate everything else truthfully and in proper perspective. This was his Archimedean “place to stand,” if you will, from which he could begin to move the whole world. His center point was clear and unquestionable, allowing him to live and teach with clarity, certitude, and compassion. It was not zealotry nor righteous indignation, but deep sympathy for the human situation which drew Jesus into a ministry of healing and forgiveness.

Jesus’ center point was not an idea or theory about anything but, in fact, a Person—a thoroughly reliable, universal Love that he called “Father.” (You do not need to use the word “Father,” but I encourage you to find some form of endearment that inspires your trust because you will never fall in love with a mere idea.) This new Realm is based on a relationship with a God who can be experienced personally, presently, and existentially.

Jesus seems to be saying that God is not a philosophical system, a theory to be proven, or an energy to be discussed or controlled, although we have often reduced God to each of these. In the biblical tradition, we only seem to know God by relating to God face to face, almost as if God refuses to be known apart from love. It is all about relationship. As Martin Buber (1878-1965), the Jewish philosopher mystic, put it, “All real living is meeting.” [2] It is the “face to face” religion that began with Moses (see Exodus 33:11). The face of human suffering is the same whether it belongs to a Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Jew, or Christian, to a person who’s gay or straight, who’s a believer or an unbeliever. If we don’t see this, it’s because we haven’t risked looking into the suffering face of another.

In Jesus we see, but we did not see, that:

  • God is One and for all.
  • God is not subject to any group ownership or personal manipulation.
  • God is available as a free gift, not through any sacrificial system (which only strengthens the ego).
  • God needs no victims and creates no victims, but false religion always does.

Jesus suffers in solidarity with all humanity. He refuses to project his suffering elsewhere or blame others.

Jesus thus personifies the divine nature. He quotes the minor prophet Hosea in several contexts: “Go and learn the meaning of the words: Mercy is what pleases me, not your sacrifices (Matthew 9:13, 12:7). We offer our “sacrifices” to a distant and demanding God. We return love to a God who is intimate and merciful. Persons bestow grace and freedom; ideas, philosophies, and laws demand only compliance.

[1] Marcus J. Borg, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary (HarperSanFrancisco: 2006), 304.

[2] Martin Buber, I and Thou, trans. Ronald Gregor Smith (Charles Scribner’s Sons: 1958), 11.

Adapted from Richard Rohr and John Bookser Feister, Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount(Franciscan Media: 1996), 4-6.

Jesus’ Alternative Reality
Thursday, January 18, 2018

I am told that there are three kinds of cultures in the Western world today, each with its own “bottom line”: political cultures based on the manipulation of power, economic cultures based on the manipulation of money, and religious cultures based on the manipulation of some theory about God. These three cultures are based on different forms of violence, although it is usually denied by most participants and hidden from the superficial observer. Evil gains its power from disguise. Jesus undid the mask of disguise and revealed that our true loyalty was seldom really to God, but to power, money, and group belonging. (In fact, religion is often the easiest place to hide from God.)

Jesus announced, lived, and inaugurated a new social order, an alternative to violence, exclusion, and separation. Jesus went so far as to promise us this alternate reality. It is no fantastical utopia, but a very real and achievable peace—by the grace of God. He called it the Reign or Kingdom of God. It is the subject of his inaugural address (Luke 4:14-30) [1], his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and most of his parables. Indeed, it is the guiding image of Jesus’ entire ministry.  Most Christians glibly recite “Thy kingdom come,” but this means almost nothing until and unless they also say “My kingdom go.”

Challenging the status quo is unpopular. Jesus was killed for opposing the religious and political powers of his time. “It is better for one man to die for the people” (John 18:14) than to question the bottom line that is holding the whole system together.

When Christians accept that Jesus was killed for the same reason that people have been killed in all of human history (rather than because he walked around saying “I am God”), we will have turned an important corner on our quest for the historical Jesus. He was rejected because of his worldview much more than his God-view. Yet these two are intrinsically connected. This now and not-yet Reign of God is the foundation for our personal hope and our cosmic optimism, but it is also the source of our deepest alienation from the world as it is. We are strangers and nomads on this earth (see Hebrews 11:13). Our task is to learn how to live in both worlds until they become one 
[1] See also Isaiah 61: 1-3.  Adapted from Richard Rohr and John Bookser Feister, Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount(Franciscan Media: 1996), 3-4.

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