As my journey continued I focused first on the historical Jesus or what many scholars have referred to as the pre-Easter Jesus. Here stood a man stripped of all the rhetoric, symbols, and doctrine that was added to his existence by others hundreds of years after his death, layers that we continue to pile on even today. He was a human being of flesh and blood sharing his vision of the Kingdom of God to the disenfranchised, to those who were marginalized by society, and to the religious leaders who believed it was their duty to protect rather than propagate their religious beliefs.
This was a man I could understand. That he was born of a virgin and lived again after death didn’t make his living message any more relevant; it was already relevant and available for the taking.
Sadly, for many of us mere mortals, the mystique and magic added to his existence has made his example seem unattainable to follow. Thus, we are resigned to asking for forgiveness for our shortcomings without ever attempting the heavy lifting of following the path of love and compassion that Jesus shared with all of us.
I had always believed that there had to be more documentation about the life of Jesus than just the four gospels that were “chosen” (another topic for another post) to be included in what would become the New Testament; surely, there were other sources that would offer me more details about this incredible individual and his journey. Book after book introduced me to new discoveries to explore, such as the Gospels of Thomas, Judas, and Mary, and the source referred to by scholars as Q. Though most had been discovered many years ago, it wasn’t until recently that men and women devoted their entire academic lives to studying and translating these ancient documents written on papyrus. With each new book I found, each new author and topic amazed me and encouraged me to continue searching and exploring for answer to questions I didn’t realize I had been asking about my faith and myself. It was liberating for me to allow my mind to wonder and to question with a heart that was open to new ideas and concepts—maybe even new beliefs.
What I came away with after seven years of reading, thinking, and praying is that Jesus wasn’t trying to start a new religion; Paul did that for us. Jesus was trying to fix the one that already existed, the one he had grown up in and loved. His mission was to make his faith more inclusive rather than exclusive, as shown by asking those to join him who didn’t have the right job, wear the right clothes, or have the proper lineage. He declared then as he declares today that “tax collectors and the prostitutes” would enter the kingdom of God before those who held their positions in society in such righteous regard.
Jesus wanted to make his faith easier for everyone to understand and follow by boiling it down to two simple commandments instead of ten, and by forsaking all of the rules and ceremonies that no one understood, and only the pious seemed to follow. His simple request was to believe in the love, compassion, and salvation of one holy God and to love your neighbor, which he defined as everyone, as you love yourself. This was revolutionary and all so terrifying to those in power as it to those in power today.
Imagine his world and our world today if we truly lived this way. I can certainly attest to the fact that upholding these two commandments, particularly the loving your neighbor requirement, is difficult to do. We all know people who make it very hard to love them, but Jesus didn’t offer any shortcuts to these two simple commandments. He said, “This is the Way; follow me if you dare.”
My journey continues.