What Would Jesus Do? WWJD?
Ask a person who follows the traditional Christian faith, “who was Jesus,” and one of the first answers we might hear is that he was the Son of God, the Savior, who was crucified to save us from eternal damnation. Probe a bit deeper, and answers might include that he was an historical person, a rabbi who lived in Palestine approximately 2,000 years ago – a reformer who challenged the Jewish religious authorities who were so attached to the letter of the law that they forgot its spirit.
Central to the idea of redemption of sin, and salvation from the penalty of eternal damnation is that Jesus, although Jesus he was born of a woman and was fully human, was also the Son of God and fully Divine, and therefore the exception among humans.
Unity tradition has its roots firmly within the Christian tradition. For many years, Unity presented itself as Practical Christianity. The primary spiritual text used in Unity is the Jewish scriptures that are known as The Old Testament, and the writings of spiritual thought leaders who came after Jesus we call the New Testament. We learn the same Bible stories. The Nativity, Jesus’s ministry, and The Passion are also taught and celebrated in Unity.
However, once we begin to take a look at the differences between traditional Christianity and Unity, it takes about a millisecond to realize that what Unity teaches is fundamentally very different. We need look no further than Jesus.
Rev. Joanne began her talk this week telling us about her own spiritual journey. Having been raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, as a young person she received eight years of parochial and religious education. She was intimately familiar with the Bible stories and the idea that Jesus was special, part of The Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In her twenties she began to embrace a new idea about Jesus. He was not “the savior,” but rather that he was a master teacher, that he was the example for us to follow, and when we follow that example we will save the world ourselves. Jesus tells us himself this is so - “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.” John 14:12
Even some of Jesus’s allies were uncertain about Jesus and what he was teaching. They asked Jesus about the observance of Jewish laws. One in particular was the tradition of fasting. The followers of John the Baptist asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but you and your disciples do not?” Jesus replied to them, as was often the case, using parable or metaphor, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” Matthew 9:14-17
What Jesus was telling the disciples of John the Baptist was that the new ideas he was teaching were new wine and that the old framework of the rigid unyielding Jewish laws were the old wineskin. The metaphor is made when we realize that in the process of new wine fermenting, gases are given off. If put into an old wineskin that is dry and no longer supple, the expanding volume of the fermenting wine will burst the container.
What were some of the new ideas being taught by Jesus that could not be contained by the “old wineskin?” We have already mentioned that Jesus taught that all the he did we could also do. Another of his radical ideas, was his not tolerating, but actually accepting and embracing the marginalized people of his time. We read of Jesus staying in the home of Zacchaeus the tax collector, Luke 19; healing a leper Matthew 8; and Jesus’s disciples were common fishermen.
How then can we follow Jesus’s example by embracing the marginalized in our society today? Being a tax collector no longer carries a stigma and there aren’t too many lepers around anymore. So if Jesus were alive today, who among the marginalized might he seek out to embrace?
The Minnesota Psychological Association provides a list of groups that may be described by some as being on the fringe of society. They include1:
· Senior citizens
· Racial/Cultural minorities
· Military Combat Veterans
· Persons of below average intelligence
· Hearing, visually, and Physically Challenged Persons
· Persons with a serious and Persistent Mental Illness (SPMI)
· Persons with Cognitive Impairments
· Gamblers and Substance Abusers
· Autism Spectrum Persons
· Gifted and Talented Persons
· Persons with disfigurements
· Persons Living in Poverty
· Sex Offenders
· The Homeless
Jesus’s ministry included a message of inclusivity. To him, it made no difference from what station of society you were. He saw everyone as the Truth they are, in-spirited by The Christ. Unity Spiritual Center also embraces inclusivity.
Many of the Judaic laws were about separation and people remaining “in their place.” Always looking for a way to entrap Jesus with blasphemy, the Pharisees asked him, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40
These two simple commandments are easy to understand, yet exceedingly difficult to follow. If we are to hold Jesus as our great example, our Way Shower, we must every day be mindful of these two statements. When changes are happening in our lives, directly in a personal way or more broadly within society as a whole, we must keep not in the back of our minds but in the front, this Truth statement of Jesus. And when we do come up short, not to punish ourselves or others for not meeting an ideal.
What is so fascinating to me is that over the expanse of centuries how that even though the outer circumstances and means of living change from year to year and from place to place, that there is so much universally experienced. The great Charles Dickens in the opening sentence of A Tale of Two Cities observes:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.2
Stylistic prose aside, these words could have been written yesterday, not in 1859. People of every era believe that the problems of their times are unique. Some are, most are not. What is the same is that if we follow Jesus’s example and embrace inclusivity, that is a path toward a more loving world.
Christ in you, your hope of glory. Colossians 1:27
Think about the characteristics of Jesus as demonstrated through his life. What is the most attainable characteristic that you see in Jesus that you can incorporate into your life? What steps can you take to incorporate that into your life this week?
This week, I intend to not put any “new wine” into my existing “old wineskins.” The first step will be to recognize what old ideas I have that are not worth retaining, then do the work to find new, better ideas to replace them. This will probably take more than a week. Smile.
1Blog post from Minnesota Psychological Association by Willie Garrett, Ed.D., April 1, 2016. www.mnpsych.org
2Dickens, Charles, A Tale of Two Cities, London: Chapman & Hall, 1859