What WAS Jesus Up To?

Mysphyt, in a response to Jenkinsfan’s witnessing thread, commented:

He has a point. Jesus was apparently quite fond of expressing things through the use of rhetorical techniques – parables, metaphors, hyperbole, the works. And orthodox Christianity has zeroed in on one particular interpretation of what he had to say, and taught this as the one road to salvation.

So let me ask the question: In your opinion, what was Jesus trying to teach? What points do you think he wanted most to make? Where was he going, intellectually, with his little itinerant missionary operations around Galilee and Jerusalem?

Basic assumptions for the thread: What Jesus had to say was accurately reported by the four Gospel writers. (This is to avoid the classic foofaraw about people putting words in the mouth of a possibly legendary figure years after the event. It’s a postulate for the sake of this thread’s argument, not an assertion for the objective world at large.) What people from Paul to Billy Graham and Pope John Paul have had to say about what he meant may not have been on target.

Given that, what do you think he meant. What was he doing? Why?

Well, if you’re going to go with the limiting assumptions of this thread, then it’s hard to give much credence to speculations like Mysphyt’s. According to the received text of the Gospels (which for the sake of argument we’re accepting as accurate here), Jesus said “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16) and “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:18) If Jesus in fact uttered those words, and if he didn’t mean that assorted pagans, Hindus, Wiccans, and unbelievers are “lost” or “condemned”, then he was a remarkably poor communicator. It seems pretty hard to avoid coming to the conclusion that some version of the orthodox Christian view of salvation is what is meant here; i.e., people must accept Jesus as savior in order to be saved. Naturally, this doesn’t exhaust the possible arguments about faith and works and what one is supposed to do, having accepted Jesus as Lord (Just stand around and look smug? Post “drive-by witnessings” on message boards? Give away all your worldly goods? Live a basically decent life? Become a teetotaler? Drink in moderation, and always use real wine for communion? Wear a hair shirt? Stone the ungodly?) But I have a hard time seeing how you can read the text of the Gospels as they currently exist and conclude that Jesus’ message (as so recorded) did not include the basic notion that people must become Christians (accept Jesus as the Christ) or else, or that Jesus’ message (as so recorded) can somehow be boiled down to “follow the Golden Rule, and don’t be a jerk, and there are many paths to the Higher Reality”.

Now, you can certainly argue that these words and ideas (“I am God, and you must believe in me or else”) are in fact alien to the historical Jesus of Nazareth. But that discussion has been ruled out from the start, at least on this thread.

I dunno, Polycarp. I have a feeling I’m missing your point here. Did you mean perhaps to have a debate about the part I summarized as “…what one is supposed to do, having accepted Jesus as Lord (Just stand around and look smug? Post ‘drive-by witnessings’ on message boards? Give away all your worldly goods? Live a basically decent life? Become a teetotaler? Drink in moderation, and always use real wine for communion? Wear a hair shirt? Stone the ungodly?)”?

Well, I’m not a Christian. Actually I’m the ultimate prodigal daughter, and I like it here in my pig sty just fine thank you, but…

I have been thinking about the Gospels recently.

And I’ve been thinking about how much Jesus talks about…I can’t even say it…love. I can’t say it 'cause it sounds so trite. But it shouldn’t. He talked a lot about not loving your family and friends (which even the pagans do) by loving people who are different than you, who whorship strange Gods, who do strange things, who make no damn sence to you… love 'um anyway. Cause they’re people. And because one day they might pick you up off the side of the road and help you when you’ve been attacked by robbers.

It seems to me he was talking about finding a morality beyond your present society, beyond what that society deems appropriate, looking beyond mere custom and culture for a morality that gives worth to all people…about taking everyone into account.

and you know, if you make that more than retoric, it’s a pretty damn radical message.

However that’s not something I’ve seen too many Christians do.

MEB: As I’m pretty sure you know by now, I’m pretty much on the same wavelength as betenoir on what the main message there is. And I agree that there’s some strong evangelical-sounding stuff packaged in there, as you so ably pointed out.

I get the idea, from reading various Christian theorists, that Jesus was anything from a first-century Jenkins-LaHaye clone (the Left Behind guys – see Schweitzer, of all people) preaching the imminent Day of the Lord when all God’s chillun get rewarded and His enemies get their just desserts! – to a radical social revolutionary – to an evangelical convert-maker – to the guy who intentionally founded the Catholic Church, complete with kindly old Irish priests and stern nuns with compassionate hearts. And I had no hidden agenda, except that of learning, in my OP – what exactly do the GD aficionados among the TM think that Jesus was trying to say and do? And what was his goal in doing it?

I set the “Gospels as written” proviso simply to avoid the series of me-too posts on “Well, he didn’t really exist” or “Well, how can you trust books written 50 years after the event to give you any accurate accounts?” sort of posts, or the bizarre sorts of answers that people seem to pull from Uranus, where Jesus is actually dispensing some sort of Buddhist-based doctrine he picked up in India, but is drastically misunderstood by his followers, not to bind the answers into taking every disparate utterance that M, M, L, and J threw in into account.

Ok, I’ll share my answer. I think that the heart of Jesus’s message is that you gotta put your money where your mouth is. In more sophisticated terms, Jesus was advocating orthopraxy (right practices) over orthodoxy (right doctrines). The Biblical portrayal of the Pharisees is one that shows that these guys had an answer for everything, they had all the right doctrines, they had all the right teachings–but they didn’t do squat with em. Quite the contrary; whenever they tried to put their teaching into practice, the NT authors said that they were being hypocrites, only practicing for the sake of feeling good about themselves. The didn’t follow Rabbi Hillel’s Golden Rule (adapted and modified by Jesus), and they didn’t give two piles of excrement about the poor. [I don’t think the Pharisees were all that bad; see the recent GD thread about the Bible as myth for sources. But I’m working w/Polycarp’s stipulation here. At the very least, even if the Pharisees weren’t the demons they were portrayed as in NT polemic, certainly Jesus thought they should go farther].

I don’t think Jesus wanted to start a new religion. He was a strict Jew, which gets obscured because he broke a few of the rules (must… resist… urge… to… view… the Gospels… as literature… and not as Truth! Symbolism added by later authors must be supressed!) The Book of James says that faith without works is dead. I think Jesus was saying that Judaism w/o works is dead. I think that he was trying to enact reform for the little guys who didn’t have the charisma, the willpower, or the juevos to stand up for themselves.

With this view, it’s depressing, ironic, and unfortunate that the literalist, so-called “fundamentalist” movement in the US has made having the right beliefs the sole requirement of loving Jesus. Just think how much better the world would be if the Fundies spent their time, say, helping out the homeless, the poor, etc. (you know, Jesus’ buddies) instead of passing out tracts, singing off-key hymns in church, sending missionaries to BFE to win converts but only marginally improve living conditions. Wow, Heaven on Earth.

Sorry for the cynicism,

Come now. A great number of these fundies fund and operate charities such as soup kitchens, homeless shelters, counseling centers and crisis pregnancy centers. Some of the more conservative Baptist churches seem particularly aggressive in that regard.

Besides, if they believe in an everlasting afterlife, wouldn’t it make MORE sense for them to concentrate on missionary work and proselytization, than on material needs?

God’s will.


Beautiful answer, Joel!

But, uh, a bit brief. :slight_smile:

Wanna expand on your thinking any?

BTW, I contemplated cyber-hugging you for that response, and decided it would merely embarrass both of us. But for once we’re not coming at cross purposes toward the same end, and that makes me feel really good.

only slightly off-topic…

Dare to be known by your Love

Please pray for my church, we are starting a new ‘care’ ministry, that will hopefully follow God’s will by engaging us to start releationships with those that have needs.

This isn’t a drive by witnessing ministry, but hopefully filling needs by people helping people. In the name of Christ.

I believe that is what Jesus was up to…

Thanks Poly. I had a hard time finding the simple answer.

God’s will in this matter was to save the lost, or what had been lost. John 3:16, essentially.

I would hope that it could always be so! :slight_smile:

I am snipping a bit here for brevity; I hope all will agree that I am preserving context.

Yes, He said all that; however, we do not need to accept all this in the context of specific denominations and specific ceremonies.

A man is having trouble building a fire, and someone who knows how to do it comes along. He says, “You really need to put some wood on that fire.” He then leaves. A cult arises around firebuilding, in which only pine branches between a half inch and one inch round are allowed on fires. Why? Because that is what was there when the man spoke the words.

Christ is not less real than branches. He is more real. It is prefectly possible to come to Jesus and never say the syllable “Jesus”. It is possible to be baptized — a technical term for having one’s sins washed away — without going through a particular ceremony. If this doesn’t happen, one will indeed not be saved. This is technical information, not an advertisement for a specific rite or cult.

In fact, it is not the position of “orthodox Christianity” that those who are not Christian are inevitably damned; in Roman Catholic tradition, this is a heresy that has resulted in excommunication of priests who preach it. The doctrine of the “virtuous pagan” has been known from the beginning of the Church. The ceremonies of the Church are sacrements — outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace (the definition is right out of the catechism). While individual denominations and sects might get hung up on the rites and mess up the explanations, and while some right wing fundies like to emphasize the “everyone else burns in hell” stuff, mainstream Christians have always known that it is the inward spiritual grace that counts — and that God through Christ gives it to whom He loves (not limited to Christians).

None of this gives any problem with the seemingly exclusionary Scriptual texts as long as we all remember that they refer to spiritual realities, not to denominational niceties. Baptisim is not a friendly church service. It is a spiritual reality that signifies acceptance by the Lord of the Universe. We can argue Universalism (which says all are baptized) if we like, but let us not forget what is a sacrement and what is a reality when we try and interpret the Biblical statements.

I’m going to start from J Mullaney’s simple point, Poly.

I understand God’s will as the all encompassing truth, absolute and eternal.

Love is our human means to articulate that truth; that we are all connected in the absolute, and should always strive to honor and recognize that unity by treating each other as beloved brothers and sisters, right now.

I’m following a Buddhist path, but see the heart and wisdom of Jesus as well. To my keep-trying mind, they shine light on the same Truth.

I think Jesus, whether mythic or real and larger than life, was an example of how to live. Love. More love. Love despite the rules. Love even at the cost of suffering. Self improvement through love alone. Also if you believe in a God who can has personal relationships then Jesus also seemed to be teaching a very personal relationship with him.

I don’t know how “accurate” my reading of any religious text, Bible included, is. However I do think that’s the best that can get out of it. Once you start pulling out the dogmatic stuff that the fundies builid on, well then you’ve cheapened and degraded the message.