“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded of you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (MT 28:19-20 NRSV)
Today, most Christians mark the ascension of Jesus into heaven, the formal end of his time upon earth in human form.
And, as should be, we ponder the meaning of his words. It should I hope cause us to ask ourselves some questions, one’s that will help define what we have done, and what we should do, should those two be different.
Ironically, in our Adult Ed class last Sunday, we viewed a piece on the “Lives of Jesus” in the Living the Questions series. Yes, lives, not life. For first and foremost, we each define Jesus for ourselves. We all do this, even atheists, since they presumably have some concept of what they reject I would think. And it must be apparent to all, that we do not all vision Him in the same way.
During that class we were asked what I think is a profound question, and one that fits perfectly with this most holy of days. It asked: If Jesus were to return today, what would he make of what we had made him into and what we have perpetrated, and are doing, in his name?
And the two questions seem to dovetail so perfectly. What have we made of this Jesus, this man who lived for a few brief years in the dusty back roads of Palestine? And given what we believe about him, what are we doing, as his followers to respond to his call in Matthew?
I read just a day or so ago, and then lost the location of the article, that one of the reasons that the ultra right Christian doesn’t feel compelled to social justice issues, is that they see Jesus almost entirely as Savior and Redeemer. In other words, the see salvation as the message. It is one’s personal future that is answered for them in the Gospels. Insofar as Jesus spoke about the poor and so forth, was merely to illustrate that even they (the greatest sinners presumably) could find salvation. Beyond that, the message of “social justice” was a personal call for individuals to be charitable.
I can attest that at least one person has defined it so to me as well, so I think this analysis may have some weight.
The more mainstream Christian, however, cannot avoid that mostly what Jesus had to say, (as opposed to what is said about him) dealt with his inclusion of the marginalized in the world, and our collective responsibility as community to include and care for them.
Part of the problem, I suspect is that the evangelical right often stresses everything but the Gospels. Fully half of the New Testament is of course comprised of Pauline writings. Sadly, this group doesn’t differentiate, as do the vast majority of scholars and believers, between the seven affirmed writings and the rest, who are either clearly not Pauline in origin, or highly dubious at best.
But Paul tells us “about” Jesus, and, through his understanding of what he has learned of what Jesus said, or through private revelation, he tells us how to BE saved. This is the kind of stuff that the religious right can get their teeth into, and indeed they do. Timothy I and II are cited frequently for propositions that place people in their proper slots in life. Unfortunately Timothy is almost assuredly not Pauline in authorship, and in fact may well have been written to “walk back” Pauline doctrine viewed in later years as too subversive to stand.
But the Gospels, are replete, from beginning to end with what Jesus purportedly said. And there is no question that he was indeed subversive. Subversive of politics of the day, and of social arrangements. He told us to forgive our enemies, and he didn’t mean just giving lip service to it. He told us to sell off our hard won “goods” and go and serve the poor and spread the message that God’s kingdom was here and now, and they were included. He made it clear that Mary had the better part in not serving but in learning, and learning is the first step to teaching. He spoke and dined with harlots and the unclean.
I come not to denigrate Paul, for I think properly read, Paul saw the message well, and he seemed in his authentic writings to tear down the artificial barriers between men and women, rich and poor, slave and free. Still, he focused on personally being “right” with God, from advice to the married and unmarried, and to our relationship to “good works.”
What indeed would Jesus make of what we have made of him? I can only speculate of course, as we all do. I approach the question through the portrait of Jesus that I have created from the bible, from non-canonical writings, and from a plethora of scholarly experts who have studied these issues in a depth I can but barely approach.
But I can’t help thinking that Jesus would be sad mostly. Sad that people actually deliberately murder in his name, and that they would willingly deny access to medical treatment to those who are “undeserving.” Sad that they invoke him for every petty personal desire or conclusion that they in their selfish minds can concoct.
So what of tomorrow? How am I different today in how I reflect upon my responsibility to go among the nations and teach what I have learned? I can only conclude that my mission remains to speak truth as best I know it. Always truth. Now that means not that I actually succeed. I may well be wrong in much, but my heart must honestly seek truth and relate truth as I believe it to be.
This is what I believe to day.
Much thanks to Tim at Straight-Friendly who provoked this post, and do read his ascension post today, here.