Jesus is dead. That brave revolutionary teacher – dead.
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
How should we remember him, the beacon who brought light to a very dark world, like a new day shattering night? By telling our children the reports of his immaculate birth? By reminding our neighbors of the many claims of his miracles and saying, “Worship him! He was more than a man”?
“Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch?”
It’s probably the stories of his miracles that draws new followers to him every day. But strip his biography of all magic – like Jefferson did in The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth – and we find that he was really no different than Socrates, Athens’ own great philosopher: Both spread their truth by walking with commoners. Both were put on trial for teaching blasphemy and corrupting their disciples. Both faced death with sage acceptance. And through their teachings, both will influence the whole of Western civilization – if not the world – for ages to come.
“These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you.”
It’s dangerous to judge a man by what people say about him, especially people who’ve never met him. Since I’m one of those people, I rely on what are presented as Jesus’ own words as an aid in illuminating his true teaching. In this way, the Scriptures should be studied like any ancient philosophical text, which requires sifting truth from untruth. Because while it’s unlikely that Plato recorded what his teacher actually thought, we can be sure that Plato accurately described how his teacher thought. And it’s how his teacher thought which matters most to us.
The “Sermon on the Mount” is Jesus’ single most important speech on morality. In it he asks us to be humble, just and peaceful, to not judge our neighbors, to love our enemies as much as our friends and to be kind to the people who harm us.
“For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
Whereas more primitive religious traditions orbit around a deity who grants blessings on worshipers, Jesus tells us to bless ourselves by organizing a fair and equal society, where a man is judged not by what he is, but by what he values. Jesus argues that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor, explaining that a person cannot chase righteousness and money at the same time.
“How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!”
So instead of remembering the miracle in Jesus’ acts, let’s first remember the miracle in his teaching.