F. Neil Folks: Jesus — Savior or wisdom teacher?
Interesting question, is it not?
We’ve been taught through the years that He, Jesus, is our Savior and Lord. Yet, all through the New Testament, he is considered the rabbi, or teacher. Jesus always said, “Follow me, not worship me.” “Yes,” said Jesus, “as I am, you, too, can and must become. I will be here to help you. But you must do the work yourself.”
I find that when someone uses the phrase, “Jesus, my Lord and Savior,” he or she tends to forget “you must do the work yourself. Get God in you life and all will be well.” I am afraid it isn’t that simple. God doesn’t always give us the “Saul treatment.”
Be helpful, yes, but that’s not always the way it works.
Let’s put Jesus in context. We look at Jesus through the Western filter, exclusively. What this means is we’re looking at Jesus through the Roman filter. Two earmarks of the Roman filter are that it tends to confuse unity with uniformity, and it puts a high priority on order and authority.
Filters always change how we look at and perceive reality. So, we get conformity and purity, and performance codes preached to us.
Much of this type of preaching comes through the human convention of doctrine and dogma church law. It is more about law than following the spiritual teachings of the Rabbi. These laws tend to create exclusivity and dualism.
Ah, wasn’t it nice when we had our tradition; we had our creeds; we had our rules; and we had our story line right.
But somehow 9/11 put a damper on all this. In the Western tradition, Christians came in only two flavors: Catholic or Protestant. We heard along the way something about Greek and Russian Orthodox churches. But they were something that existed in the East. That was about the extent of the Western Christian knowledge of them.
But what about the Ethiopian church? The Oriental Orthodox? The Nestorians? The ancient Syriacs? The Malabar Christians? The Chinese Christians of Xian with their distinctly Buddhist-flavored versions of the teachings of Jesus? What do we know of all these other Christian streams of influence?
Since 9/11, we’ve now reduced the world to three categories of faith —Catholics, Protestants and Muslims, and we have forgotten what Jesus taught us about creating classes.
Jesus stayed close to the perennial ground of wisdom: the transformation of human consciousness. He was always asking those questions we hate to have asked: What does it mean to die before you die? How do you go about losing your little life to find the bigger one? Is it possible to live on this planet with generosity, abundance, fearlessness, and beauty that mirror the Divine Being itself? What’s it mean to be “all one?” What does it mean to “Put on the Mind of Christ,” as Paul teaches?
These are deep wisdom questions — spiritually deep, that is.
Western Christianity has a strong tendency to sentimentalize Jesus as an uneducated tradesman. After all, he grew up in some far away place from Jerusalem, a small hick-town called Galilee as a humble carpenter’s son.
We’ve bought into this fantasy, because it strengthens our human convention that he learned from God. In re-reading the Bible, this picture does not hold up.
We’ve been taught that Jerusalem was the center of culture, not Galilee. Galilee was far from being cultural backwater. Galilee was actually more cosmopolitan in environment than Jerusalem, where people all rushed off to get their spiritual needs filled.
Galilee lays on the Silk Road, that great viaduct of human commerce which has connected the lands of the Mediterranean with the lands and culture of Central Asia and China. The Silk Road went right through the city of Capernaum, where Jesus did a lot of his learning and his teaching.
Wouldn’t this be a great environment in which to learn? What exposure to new ideas and ways of thinking. This would seem as New Age stuff for his time.
In Luke 4:16, we read about Jesus walking into the synagogue in that great moment of his public debut, reading from the scrolls of the prophet Isaiah. I would have liked to have been there that day to watch the look on the faces of the temple priests — Jesus was no priest himself.
An illiterate wood carver from Galilee? Not hardly. His teachings reflected the deep spiritual sources of other spiritual traditions, particularly of Buddhism and Persian light mysticism. And furthermore, being on the Silk Road, he probably spoke several other languages besides his native Aramaic.
To me, He was a literate citizen of His day. Jesus deliberately aimed at turning our usual mind, full of theological percepts, upside down — the Parables and Beatitudes. The parables were spiritual hand grenades; their job is not to confirm, but to uproot.
For me, Jesus is not the Savior or Lord, but The Life-Giver, The Teacher, The Man of Wisdom. He was teaching us how to live “the right” life today, and tomorrow will take care of itself. Heaven is on Earth now, not at some far off place or future.
We must learn to live, act, and walk in the now, not in the tomorrow. It’s time again to set at his feet and listen to what he is really saying.
Then we must go do the real “work.” Amen.