Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Teachings of Jesus and God’s Kingdom

I try to adhere to the ethical teachings of Jesus as I see them.  He summarized the entire Torah of Moses by stating two principle commandments.  The first was Deuteronomy 6:4-6, that you should love God with all your heart, soul, and being.  But it’s not a directly ethical statement in any event (except to the extent that one loves God, in large part, by how one lives one’s life).  The second was Leviticus 19:18, that you should love your neighbor as yourself.  That’s getting to the core of ethics.

For Jesus, love was to be the major guiding factor of one’s life.  Originally the commandment in Leviticus referred to how Israelites should live together in their Israelite community.  The “neighbor” was your fellow Israelite.  You were to love – that is, treat – your Israelite neighbor as yourself.   That didn’t mean you were supposed to love/treat anyone else that way.  On the contrary, you were supposed to *kill* the Canaanites, Moabites, and Midianites.  But your fellow Israelite you were to love as yourself.

Jesus had a broader vision, as I understand him.  Your neighbor included even your worst enemies.  You were to love them as you love yourself.  And what exactly does that mean?

It’s debated of course (what isn’t?).  But I think Jesus had a very simple understanding of it.  You feed yourself, so you should feed anyone else who is hungry; you clothe yourself, so you should clothe anyone who is lacking; you provide shelter for yourself, so you should help those who are homeless.   You should be as concerned for the welfare of others as you are concerned for your own welfare.

The other way Jesus expressed the same (or roughly the same) idea was in the Golden Rule, an ethical principle endorsed by numerous other ethical teachers both before and after Jesus.  Normally the Golden Rule was expressed negatively:  “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.”  Jesus, though, expressed it positively, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

The positive way of expressing the saying is much more difficult than the negative, since it requires action: doing things that are helpful rather than simply not doing things that are harmful.

I deeply admire both these summaries of Jesus’ ethical teachings (“Love your neighbor” and “Do unto others”).  But I also have two problems with them.  The first is practical and the other is theoretical.  They both strike me as rather severe.

The practical one is that I really don’t practice either principle.  I don’t really love my neighbor as myself.  But do I really do everything I can?  Not even close.  I live in a nice apartment ; I drive a very nice car yet old car; I buy as many nice clothes as I can afford: I absolutely am not one who has given up everything for the kingdom.  Not even close.  If there is a future judgment scene with the separation of the sheep and the goats, I can pretty well imagine the cosmic judge saying, “What the h** were you thinking???”

The theoretical problem is one I’ve thought about a lot over the years, but is the thing that really hit me yesterday.   Jesus’ ethics were completely grounded in a view of the world that I simply don’t have.  Jesus believed the history of this world was very soon to come to a crashing halt, that God was soon to intervene to overthrow the forces of evil and bring in a good kingdom here on earth, a utopian existence in which there would be no more pain, misery, or suffering.

Followers of Jesus were supposed to implement the ideals of that kingdom in the here and now.

In the kingdom there would be no war, so Jesus’ followers were to be peacemakers now; in the kingdom there would be no hatred, so Jesus’ followers were to live lives of pure love now; in the kingdom there would be no hunger, so Jesus’ followers were to work to alleviate hunger now; in the kingdom there would be no illness, so Jesus’ followers were to heal the sick now; and so on.

These ethical principles were predicated on the apocalyptic idea that God was ultimately sovereign over this world, and he was very soon to reassert his sovereignty by destroying all the powers of evil opposed to him and establishing an eternal kingdom here and now.  The meaning of life in the mundane present was determined by the transcendent reality that was to become manifest in the near future.

I don’t believe any of that.  I don’t think there is a divine realm above our realm.  I don’t think that there will be a supernatural intervention in the course of human affairs in which all that is evil will be destroyed and all suffering and misery will be removed from the human realm.
I do believe in God although certainly not like other Christians believe. I do not believe Jesus was God in any sense. I believe he was a remarkable human with the cultural view of the world very much like others of his culture. But he had compassion for the unfortunate poor and sick.

I do believe we are living in God’s kingdom..just a very flawed kingdom since humans are in charge of it and some of them inevitably screw up anything they involved in. But there are millions of humans that do their very best to follow Jesus’s teachings. They do feed the hungry, heal the sick, help the homeless find shelter…they try to live good productive lives.

But Jesus’ entire ethics were completely predicated on the coming kingdom of God.   And so even though I do try (in a small way) to follow the ethical principles of Jesus, it is for *entirely* different reasons.

If I happen to follow and admire some of the principles of Buddhism (for example, I meditate) that doesn’t make me a Buddhist; and if I happen to follow and admire some of the principles of Jesus, that doesn’t necessarily make me a traditional type Christian.  Our culture has dozens of ways of expressing being "Christian".  Some I definitely couldn't embrace

That, at least, is how I’m thinking about it at the moment.


clairz said...

Margie, you are such a thoughtful and ethical person. Your church is lucky to have you and your sermons/lessons. I had to laugh at the thought of a cosmic judge wagging a finger and saying, "Margie! Is that another new blouse? Go stand with the goats!"

Confession: I have been reading your blog almost everyday for years now and have rarely left a comment. But here is what I've been thinking and wanting to tell you about your writing. I believe that you are one of the great diarists of the 21st century because you honestly, uncompromisingly, and painstakingly describe the details of everyday life for you right now in Coffeyville, Kansas (and your thoughts, musings, and struggle for understanding of our world). A future archaeologist could reconstruct the outline of life for a thoughtful older person in early 21st America if she were to come across your blog in some archive centuries hence.

Don't believe me? Your diary/blog/musings remind me very much of a detailed diary left behind by an early Maine midwife, Martha Ballard, about her daily life in the late 1700s. The diaries, found in a library in Maine, became a research project that Laurel Thatcher Ulrich turned into a Pulitzer Prize-winning book called "A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812." I loved reading the book, as I was living in an old New Hampshire house built in 1770 at the time, and was also a spinner and weaver, just like Martha. You just never know who your writings may speak to, across the centuries.

I'm pretty sure you'd enjoy the book. It's available from Amazon for your Kindle.

~Clair Z.

P.S. A suggestion: It might be time to do a post giving an updated cast of characters. I read a comment elsewhere (can't remember by whom) by someone who had discovered your blog, loved it, and was recommending it to someone else. She ended her comment with this: "Now, if I could only figure out who this Bob is." I should have barged into the conversation and explained that this Bob is your brother-in-law, I think, but that your husband was also Bob. I may have it wrong, so I could also use a list of characters in Margie's world!

clairz said...

Sorry, I forgot to tell your blog to let me know about follow-up comments and couldn't figure out how to do so without leaving another comment~

Margie's Musings said...

Yes, Clair, you are right. The present Bob is my brother-in-law. My Bob died (I know you remember) in 2010. I miss him every day and no one can ever replace him. My brother-in-law is a nice man but more like a brother. There is no romantic interest there on either side. Thank you for letting me know you are still following me after all these years. You know we lost Judy after my Bob died. She and I followed one another for years too. She had all those wonderful recipes.

Thanks for all the kind words but my blog is really just my diary. It's open of course and my kids (especially my boys who live far away) read it nearly every day.

Deb @ Frugal Little Bungalow said...

FASCINATING POST! :) Any good Fundamentalist would call you a heretic of the highest caliber, haha! :)

When I started reading Buddhist writings I began to see many scriptures in a new light and began to think there was certainly Buddhist and Eastern thought in them. However when I moved over to the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita....especially the Gita, I was amazed. It felt just as if Yeshua was speaking in the Gita, only as Krishna, and instead of Sin, Sin, Sin, it was simpler. Our Selfish Desire.

Recently I ordered and began to read "Autobiography of a Yogi" by Paramahansa Yogananda and was so fascinate that I ordered the two volume set by him " The Second Coming of Christ...The Resurrection of Christ Within You".

The yogis of India ( SOME ) have been able to bi-locate, walk on water, heal the sick, see visions, go into long trances, raise the dead ( yes :) and to walk through Yeshuas life through the eyes of a yogi who is familiar with how some of these miracles could occur, via Yeshua being in such touch with Father / Mother / Spirit is a whole new perspective.

To see just about every teaching as a story about the kingdom within ( even the revelation of John, where the seals correspond to the wheels / chakras and the door to heaven being the third eye ) has me fascinated.

Of course any good fundamentalist would call me a heretic, and call me that for many years now, too :)

Margie's Musings said...

That's right, Deb! I would be a heretic in some of my own congregations. Mine tolerates me very well. Thank for visiting! And thanks for commenting.