Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Jesus is a Friend of Mine

It’s Easter week.  Easter is a celebration of new life, of hope, of promises kept.  Easter is first, though, the celebration of the triumphant Jesus.  “He is risen!” Orthodox Christians say to one another on Easter morning, to which the answer is, “He is risen indeed!”

Jesus has been everywhere over the past several days.  He was the topic on ABC on Sunday morning.  He was the topic of one of Rush Lambaugh’s rants.  Franklin Graham was on several TV shows talking about his ideas about Jesus.  And Jesus has been on my mind a lot.

Jesus to me is a hero, even though I no longer can accept the belief that he is/was divine, the only–begotten son of the Father, the second person of the triune Godhead.  His life, as recorded in the Gospels, along with his teaching also recorded there, are a big part of my personal moral, ethical, and human make–up.  I’m not talking about the virgin birth, the stable in Bethlehem, the miracles, or the resurrection.  I’m talking about the Jesus who is recorded as having lived and having died as a preacher, a thinker, a prophet, and an agitator.  That Jesus has always fascinated me.

Interesting to me are the varieties of Jesuses to be found in art.  Most of the depictions are totally wrong.  Jesus was not an effeminate Renaissance European man.  He was a poor Jewish man living in Judea at a difficult time in Judean history.  He was a man of color, being from North Africa, after all.  He was a man with a message, and my image of him always includes a fire in his eyes that shows the intensity of the soul within.  Not for me the Jesuses of traditional America, where he looks like a cool, hip friend of the family who happens to like to wear dresses.

Jesus is a hero to me because his message was the message that gave me power and direction when I was 20 years old, and the message that still gives me a moral compass to use in my life.  When I was a Franciscan, we had two hours of silent meditation every day, kneeling on wooden kneelers in the friars’ section of the church.  During all that silent time, I read the Gospels and came to know Jesus in my own specific way.  Jesus was, more than anything else, a voice of contradiction, not only to the high priests and the Roman authorities, but also to his disciples.  His message was so new, so different, that no one could fathom it initially.

The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’s Declaration of Belief.  That whole section of Matthew (Matthew 5 through 7) is just mind–blowing.  Look carefully at the beatitudes:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

This is radical shit, even for today!!!

I thought about this sermon for many hours when I was 19,20, 21, and beyond.  I still think about it often.  I have come to understand this sermon as Jesus’s blueprint for a life of revolution!

This isn’t the teaching I hear from most preachers.  This isn’t the teaching that drives many American Christians.  This, it seems to me, is the teaching a lot of them totally ignore.

Jesus may be their light, but, if he is their light, I think a lot of modern Christians have installed a rheostat and turned Jesus way down low.

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