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Jesus: The Beginning And The End


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In my faith journey over the years, I have been occasionally asked by conservative Christians why I continue to believe in Jesus if I accept that there many ways which also lead to the kingdom of God? My simple answer is that I continually look to Jesus because he helps me stay focused on God's universal acceptance of all people.

 

Jesus is a paradox. He is the singular truth that keeps me moving toward an ever expanding consciousness. This is a mystery that, in my view, western culture has not been able to grasp -how an unalterable truth leads to a never ending, continually changing, one. In Matthew's version of the Sermon on The Mount, he presents Jesus as making this very point:

 

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; Knock and the door will be will be opened to you. For everyone who askes recieves. he who seek finds. and to him who knocks. the door will be opened." [Matthew 7:7-8]

 

If I'm not mistaken, the Greek verb tense of the words "ask," "seek," and "knock" literally refer to an ongoing action. If we look at the words this way, it would be more in keeping with the writer's thought to say something like always asking we will always be receiving, always seeking and we will be always be finding, and always knocking the door will always be opening. Whether my understanding of the verbs used here are correct, the reality is the same -finding Jesus means that life shifts from a search for answers to a search for questions. To find Jesus means to be continually finding Jesus. Faith is not static, it is dynamic.

 

Continual asking, seeking, and knocking also infers the paradox of the kingdom of God and humility. Western cultural thinking associates God with outer-world power. But the truth is that the power of God is found in our human vulnerabilities. This paradox has left western Christianity with a credability problem, and no little frustration. The church keeps asserting that God is all powerful, all knowing, and everywhere present in an outer-world sense. Thus it must continually rationalize why God doesn't intervene in human tragedies. Typically, they rationalizxe it's because it would interfere with free will or some other such reason. The truth, however, is that God overcame the power of this world not by taking control of human affairs, but by yeilding to them. Jesus teaches us that the paradox of ultimate power is the acceptance of our human weakness and limitations.

 

Progressive Christianity takes the position that it is okay to search on. We don't have to leave our questions, fears, or doubts at the door. Rather, our continual searching is how we find what Jesus found, that the power of God is within our humanity. Only the poor in spirit can enter the kingdom. This means that the way to God is not so much about theologies and church doctrines, but discovering God in the inner-world where I must also come face to face with my inner fears, weaknessess, shadow, etc.. It was Jesus' willingness to accept the ultimate human weakness, namely death, that he became all powerful. Who is it, the Apostle Paul says, that has ascended into the heavens, but he who was also buried beneath the earth.

 

We find the power of God by opening both ourselves and God to all our questions.

 

I will say more later.

 

Bob the facilitator

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Only the poor in spirit can enter the kingdom. This means that the way to God is not so much about theologies and church doctrines, but discovering God in the inner-world where I must also come face to face with my inner fears, weaknessess, shadow, etc.. It was Jesus' willingness to accept the ultimate human weakness, namely death, that he became all powerful. Who is it, the Apostle Paul says, that has ascended into the heavens, but he who was also buried beneath the earth.

 

Robert,

 

Nice post Robert. While i am in line with your conclusions, may i suggest a different meaning for the verse you use... as my understanding is not that the poor in spirit are blessed nor that " only the poor in spirit can enter the kingdom" nor that the phrase mean humble as many teach.

 

First of all, to my knowledge the Greek had no commas and the church has commonly taught that it should read... blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. In my view the poor in Spirit are not blessed.. let me explain.

 

Jesus is recorded teaching it is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. The reason to most are obvious as the rich is overly involved with the distracting cares of this world. Now if I move the comma to where my experience puts it, the meaning is altered to agree with this and other statements Jesus is recorded making. "Blessed are the poor, " (pause) " in spirit theirs is the kingdom of heaven." What i believe he is saying in my paraphrasing in my own words is.. Ye poor, do not fret about having little or no possessions or that you are poor. God's kingdom is found in spirit not in the things of the flesh. You are not distracted by these things and so are blessed in that though you are poor in flesh, you are rich in spirit where the kingdom of heaven is found.

 

Perhaps it is not so important how it is interpreted when the conclusion is that it must be in spirit that the kingdom is entered, but anyway perhaps this slant may be interesting and one you have not heard?

 

Anyway, just a tidbit of one mans understanding given to me as I asked, seeked, and knocked.

 

Peace,

Joseph

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Joseph,

I like this and makes sense.

 

Now if I move the comma to where my experience puts it, the meaning is altered to agree with this and other statements Jesus is recorded making. "Blessed are the poor, " (pause) " in spirit theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

 

Once I heard a pastor who, in talking to a large congregation, said that since they were so well of materially, they should seek to recognize how they were "poor in spirit".

 

Dutch

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Guest billmc

But the truth is that the power of God is found in our human vulnerabilities. Jesus teaches us that the paradox of ultimate power is the acceptance of our human weakness and limitations.

 

This resonates deep within me, Bob. I heard a story a few years back (I think it comes from India) of a boy who traveled to the river every morning to get water for his family. He carried a yoke with a stone pot at each end. But one of the pots was cracked in a number of places and by the time the boy reached his village, most of the water was gone from that pot. His father laughed at him for not getting a new pot and for losing so much of his hard work. He asked his son why he didn't get a new pot and the boy took his father's hand and began leading him to the river. As they walked along the path, the father noticed all the flowers that were growing there where there had only been sand before. "This," said the boy, "is why I carry a cracked pot. It makes my journey more beautiful."

 

I used to pray that God would remove all of my human vulnerabilities, that he would fix my weakness and dispel my limitations. But I am still very much a cracked pot. :) So now I simply pray that God will somehow use this cracked pot to help others discover the beauty of the journey.

 

PS - Joseph, I love your interpretation of this verse. "Poor in spirit" made little sense to me also.

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The explanation I've read in John Dominic Crossan's book Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography is that the verse where Jesus says blessed are the poor in spirit is a historically inaccurate intereptation of the passage where Jesus says blessed are the poor. Crossan's argument is that the later biblical authors were trying to de-radicalize Jesus' teachings by re-interpeting the passage so that it was about spiritual poverty rather than physical poverty. In an ancient culture with no middle class where success was measured by your riches, it's easier to accept a message about spiritual poverty but it's harder to accept that it's the poor who are the real ones who are blessed. Crossan proposes that in a corrupt society where the rich marginalizes the poor, then truly only the poor are blessed since in such a society, only the poor are innocent.

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Robert,

 

Nice post Robert. While i am in line with your conclusions, may i suggest a different meaning for the verse you use... as my understanding is not that the poor in spirit are blessed nor that " only the poor in spirit can enter the kingdom" nor that the phrase mean humble as many teach.

 

First of all, to my knowledge the Greek had no commas and the church has commonly taught that it should read... blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. In my view the poor in Spirit are not blessed.. let me explain.

 

Jesus is recorded teaching it is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. The reason to most are obvious as the rich is overly involved with the distracting cares of this world. Now if I move the comma to where my experience puts it, the meaning is altered to agree with this and other statements Jesus is recorded making. "Blessed are the poor, " (pause) " in spirit theirs is the kingdom of heaven." What i believe he is saying in my paraphrasing in my own words is.. Ye poor, do not fret about having little or no possessions or that you are poor. God's kingdom is found in spirit not in the things of the flesh. You are not distracted by these things and so are blessed in that though you are poor in flesh, you are rich in spirit where the kingdom of heaven is found.

 

Perhaps it is not so important how it is interpreted when the conclusion is that it must be in spirit that the kingdom is entered, but anyway perhaps this slant may be interesting and one you have not heard?

 

Anyway, just a tidbit of one mans understanding given to me as I asked, seeked, and knocked.

 

Peace,

Joseph

 

Joseph,

 

Thanks for the thought provoking response to my interpretation of "Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .." It may be that you've got a point about the language. It's true there are no commas in Koni Greek, neither are there capitals or paragraphs. Nevertheless, I still think my interpretation of this passage of correct for several reasons:

 

I. The beatitudes recorded by Matthew [ch.5:3-10] refer to spiritual and inner-world conditions. They include poverty of spirit, grief, meekness, a desire for righeousness, mercy, peace, and the willingness to suffer for one's faith. While Luke's gospel clearly refers to those who are materially poor, "Blessed are you who are poor . . . [6:20], Matthew's context makes it clear to me that "poor in spirit," means those who are conscious of their impoverishedness of spirit. That is to say, they are not self-righteous like the religious rulers. They are humble enough to "hunger and thirst after rightousness"

 

II. Matthew's Gospel intends to elevate the virtue of humility over and against the arrogance of the religious elite. In the third chapter of his gospel he begins by vilifying the Sadducees and Parisees who are coming down to the Jordan river to see what John the Baptist is preaching. John makes it clear that if they, or anyone else, wants to be ready for God's Messiah they must humble themselves and be baptized for their sins just like the poor and marginalized. Of course, the religious rulers would never admit that they were in need of having their sins washed away.

 

Again, Matthew, in the thirteenth chapter, presents Jesus as explaining the message of the kingdom in words that the religious rulers will hear, and yet not hear the message of the kingdom, they will see, and yet not see the way to the kingdom. They are too full of their own status and power to ever humble themselves enough to accept a kingdom that operates on the basis or forgiveness and redemption.

 

III. Matthew, I believe, saw only those who were humble enough to see their human condition, and the need for God to help enable them find the peace and power of the inner-world, or soul. Also, I undrstand the story of the camel and the needle to be about pointing out how wealth can so inflate the ego, that one will not have the consciousness of the inner-world needed to enter the kingdom. But I don't believe this is about wealth and poverty per say. Poverty is not a virtue and wealth is not a blessing from God. I think this story has to do with the way our inner-world if affected by wealth. Wealth is often experienced as power (actually, pseudo power, it becomes a way of disassociating from the reality the inner-world where we are in need of forgiveness and redimption. As the Apostle Paul said in the book of Romans, "Who will save my from this body of sin and death." Even much of western Christianity is the cause of much disassociation from the need for the kingom of the inner-world. Ultimately, it only through the humility which allows us to see our poverty of spirit that we will enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

I will say more later.

 

Bob the facilitator

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Robert,

 

Your points are well made and humility is indeed a prerequisite even in my own mind. However, to me, humility is to be rich in spirit, not poor in spirit. Perhaps some in the flesh might look at pride as rich in flesh and humility poor or a weakness in flesh yet i see humility as a strength in spirit and not lacking as the word poor implies. None of this changes the validity of your wonderful post. It is just another angle or way to look at the phrase " in Spirit" that makes sense to me and possibly some others and come to the same conclusion as you in the end as far as the kingdom message and humility is concerned. If my view 'seems' to oppose the spirit of your post rather than add, then let us both agree that it is mine that is in error.

 

Love in Christ,

Joseph

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Robert,

 

Your points are well made and humility is indeed a prerequisite even in my own mind. However, to me, humility is to be rich in spirit, not poor in spirit. Perhaps some in the flesh might look at pride as rich in flesh and humility poor or a weakness in flesh yet i see humility as a strength in spirit and not lacking as the word poor implies. None of this changes the validity of your wonderful post. It is just another angle or way to look at the phrase " in Spirit" that makes sense to me and possibly some others and come to the same conclusion as you in the end as far as the kingdom message and humility is concerned. If my view 'seems' to oppose the spirit of your post rather than add, then let us both agree that it is mine that is in error.

 

Love in Christ,

Joseph

 

Joseph,

 

Ultimately, I think we are both right. In the inner-world, humility is a both gracious and powerful -this is the paradoxical nature of the kingdom within. The Apostle Paul, who was a master at describing kingdom paradox wrote to the church at Corinth, that " . . . my power is made perfect in weakness . . . For when I am weak, then I am strong." [2Cor.12:9b, 10b].

 

The beatitudes in Matthew's Gospel was intended express the paradoxical nature of the kingdom, namely, what is rich in the outer-world is nothing in the inner-world, and what appears to be worthless or powerless in the outer-world is both rich and powerful in the inner-world.

 

I never doubted that you and I were both on the same spiritual page.

 

Blessings

 

Bob the facilitator

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>>I used to pray that God would remove all of my human vulnerabilities, that he would fix my weakness and dispel my limitations. But I am still very much a cracked pot.<<

 

A bit off the subject, but this "cracked pot" brought to mind a book that our small group did together at one time. She suggested that it is through all of us being flawed, or all cracked pots, that allows God to shine out through those cracks from within. I like that. He/She uses those fissures, those weaknesses to shine outwards.

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Nice post, Lauren, I agree. “God dwells only where we step back to give him room,” as Henri Nouwen said.

Also like Robert’s point about the Beatitudes being paradoxical. The sayings as a whole remind us to acknowledge our dependence on God and on each other. From what I’ve read, the culture at that time made those who were in misery feel even worse as though it were their fault, sickness or other afflictions were seen as a sign of guilt or demons, etc –blaming the victim. Jesus’ teachings were a reversal that took away the shame associated with suffering, bringing comfort and hope to those who needed it most, and raising awareness of a common bond between all levels of society.

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To me to argue that there's no point in being a Christian unless you believe in the conservative doctrine of hell is like arguing that unless you have a favorite book, it's a waste of time to read books or you shouldn't bother watching sports unless you have a favorite sport you like above every other sport. We don't use that kind of logic in other areas in our life, so why should the same logic apply to religion? Even other religions have a great deal of respect for Jesus. Muslims see Jesus as one of the greatest prophets who ever lived, Hinduism adopts Jesus as an avatar in their religion, and even some hardcore atheists like Richard Dawkins have a great deal of respect for Jesus. It's debatable if Jesus ever taught the doctrine of hell or if that's a litter mistranslation but even if one accepts the fundamentalist interpretation of the hellfire passages, Jesus reserves his harshest condemnation for the hypocritical fundamentalist leaders of his time. In fact, in one passage he praises the faith of a Centurion's slave over the faith of the religious leaders of his time rather than condemnation. It is corrupted acts and intolerance and hypocrisy which Jesus condemns the most in the gospels, not people who believe differently.

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  • 2 weeks later...

In my observation, the most difficult thing for religious (and non religious) people to accept, is their humanity. It seem obvious, that the goal of relegion is to enable people to become better than they are. I don't think the Pharisees would have had as much of a problem with the "righous poor" (that is, the poor who shared their beliefs) entering the kingdom of heaven, as they would with the spiritually poor (ie. sinners) entering the kingdom. Wasn't it the goal of the Pharisse's religious rightousness to give them a special relationship with God?

 

In the story of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:9ff), it was the Pharisee who boasted of his rightousness as opposed to the publican. The publican was not a materially poor, but was a spiritually poor -"God have mercy on me a sinner." Actually, the publicans were probably better off materially than most of their Jewish brothers and sisters. It was not the material condition of the publican which Jesus found redeeming. It was his willingness to openly acknowledge his sin, in spight of the fact that most other publicans would be too focused on their money to consider their spititual needs. It was this extraordinary humility that was publican's rightousness. This came as a shock, even to Jesus' disciples, that true rightousness was not the ability to be especialy religious or wealthy, but to humbly accept one's need of God's grace regardless all outer appearances.

 

I think the religious elite of Jesus' day suffered from such religious arrogance that they could never love their neighbor for the sake of their shared humanity. They wanted to be more than the humanity that God created. They wanted to be extrordinary, special, and above others. But it is not material things that keep us out of the kingdom of heaven. Rather, it is the failure to be humble enough to accept that we must all divest ourselves of the riches of our accomplishments, religious knowledge, and beliefs, and accept the "poorness" of our spirits, which is to accept our humanity, in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

Bob the facilitator

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  • 3 weeks later...
Guest billmc

For some reasion, this subject of the kingdom of God has been on my mind a great deal lately. Growing up, I was taught that it was about going to the afterlife, about finding a way to let St. Peter open the gates for me to enter through. Read through this interpretational grid, I don't think Jesus' teachings on the KoG make much sense.

 

I'd be the last one to say that I have this all figured out, for, as has been stated, the way Jesus talks about the KoG does deal with a lot of oxymorons, a lot of didactic statements, and a lot of things that seem, well, upside-down. I tend to think that what Jesus is describing with the KoG is not Heaven, but bringing heaven to earth. I.e. it is not about taking people to Heaven, but about people experiencing heaven here and now. In order to do this, I believe Jesus was saying, we need to rethink what it means to be human and how we live together as "the people of God." In other words, the kingdom is about a compassionate community here on earth.

 

There is, I believe, a dynamic tension here. It puzzles me and thrills me at the same time. On one hand, Jesus seems to throw the doors to the kingdom wide open - anyone can enter. He does often talk about a reversal, that the last will be first and the first will be last, but all are welcome just as they are. And yet he knew that entering the kingdom would inevitably change people. Those who were the most open to change, whatever their reasons might be, would be the first to enter. Those opposed to changed, those who wanted to keep the status quo (usually for personal power or prosperity) would either be the last to enter or not enter at all. So I find this dynamic tension to be wonderful - all are welcome, but Jesus posits the kingdom in such a way that we are forced to examine what it will cost us to enter.

 

This is where what we are saying about our humanity comes into play. Unlike the kingdoms of this world, especially the religious ones, entering God's kingdom leads to us becoming more human, more in contact with our own and each other's humanity, rather than becoming more pious and separatist, more of an Essene. The Religious Right of Jesus day seemed to share the old adage of "All men are created equal, but some are more equal than others." :) They were "more than" others - more holy, more accepted by God, more righteous - and, therefore, truly less human. They saw humanity and divinity as two different realms and, therefore, for them, to be more divine was to shed their humanity. Of course, they wouldn't have worded it this way. They would have cloaked the philosophy in religious terms such as not touching the unclean.

 

So I don't think entering the kingdom was a matter of Jesus checking for holiness at the door. That's how religion works. Rather, I think the door was thrown open wide, but he made it quite clear that entering would lead to change, growth, progressive, even compassion for others. And I suspect that for Jesus, both divinity and humanity came together in compassion. Heaven and earth could truly be one.

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For some reasion, this subject of the kingdom of God has been on my mind a great deal lately. Growing up, I was taught that it was about going to the afterlife, about finding a way to let St. Peter open the gates for me to enter through. Read through this interpretational grid, I don't think Jesus' teachings on the KoG make much sense.

 

I'd be the last one to say that I have this all figured out, for, as has been stated, the way Jesus talks about the KoG does deal with a lot of oxymorons, a lot of didactic statements, and a lot of things that seem, well, upside-down. I tend to think that what Jesus is describing with the KoG is not Heaven, but bringing heaven to earth. I.e. it is not about taking people to Heaven, but about people experiencing heaven here and now. In order to do this, I believe Jesus was saying, we need to rethink what it means to be human and how we live together as "the people of God." In other words, the kingdom is about a compassionate community here on earth.

 

There is, I believe, a dynamic tension here. It puzzles me and thrills me at the same time. On one hand, Jesus seems to throw the doors to the kingdom wide open - anyone can enter. He does often talk about a reversal, that the last will be first and the first will be last, but all are welcome just as they are. And yet he knew that entering the kingdom would inevitably change people. Those who were the most open to change, whatever their reasons might be, would be the first to enter. Those opposed to changed, those who wanted to keep the status quo (usually for personal power or prosperity) would either be the last to enter or not enter at all. So I find this dynamic tension to be wonderful - all are welcome, but Jesus posits the kingdom in such a way that we are forced to examine what it will cost us to enter.

 

This is where what we are saying about our humanity comes into play. Unlike the kingdoms of this world, especially the religious ones, entering God's kingdom leads to us becoming more human, more in contact with our own and each other's humanity, rather than becoming more pious and separatist, more of an Essene. The Religious Right of Jesus day seemed to share the old adage of "All men are created equal, but some are more equal than others." :) They were "more than" others - more holy, more accepted by God, more righteous - and, therefore, truly less human. They saw humanity and divinity as two different realms and, therefore, for them, to be more divine was to shed their humanity. Of course, they wouldn't have worded it this way. They would have cloaked the philosophy in religious terms such as not touching the unclean.

 

So I don't think entering the kingdom was a matter of Jesus checking for holiness at the door. That's how religion works. Rather, I think the door was thrown open wide, but he made it quite clear that entering would lead to change, growth, progressive, even compassion for others. And I suspect that for Jesus, both divinity and humanity came together in compassion. Heaven and earth could truly be one.

 

To billmc,

 

Your post is encouraging. You appear to have caught onto the paradoxical nature of the kingdom of God. Someone wrote a book (can't remember who) titled the "The Upside Down Kingdom." I can't think of a better way to describe Jesus vision of it. In our outer-world experience culture, religion, politics, etc., place the emphasis on striving to rid ourselves of pain, mistakes, uncomfortable feelings, and powerlessness. The kingdom of God invites us to become conscious of who we are in our imperfect humanity -our spiritual impoverishedness, our grief, our inner conflict, our tendency toward violence, and on and on. The mystery of the kingdom is that the power of God is found in our humanity, not in our efforts to be better than that. Indeed, when entering the kingdom, he who tries to be first will be last and visa versa.

 

Bob the facilitator

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