by Gina Douglas
Being a Jesusite means that I pay attention to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, without being a Christian. The distinction is that Christians believe in Jesus Christ, the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. Belief in Christ the Divine defines Christianity. Jesusites, for the most part, look at Jesus from a historical perspective. We try to separate Jesus’ ideas and reforms from those that were done in his name.
Thomas Jefferson was a closet Jesusite. While he went through the motions of practicing Christianity, his private writings reveal that he was skeptical of, if not disbelieving in, Jesus’ divinity. Jefferson also put together what has become to be known as the Jefferson Bible, a collection of statements that Jefferson thought were likely to have been actually spoken by Jesus; as opposed to those statements Jefferson thought were later additions written for political or theological reasons, and falsely attributed to Jesus.
On top of being a Jesusite, I am a skeptic. I certainly don’t believe in the literal truth of the Bible, or that it is the word of God. I believe that the Bible is a historical record, prone to the same kind of inaccuracies as other historical accounts.
So, when I read the so-called words of Jesus, I intuitively calculate a kind of credibility quotient. How likely is it that Jesus actually said that, compared to the statement being some kind of tactical inclusion by a later theologian or politician.
What I really pay attention to is the so-called Sermon on the Mount, described in Matthew 5-7. This seems to me to be the part of the New Testament that has the highest credibility. The way it is presented in the Bible, this seems to be a particular sermon that was given on some particular mount, but I don’t see it that way.
I think it was like Jesus’ gig. We know he traveled around Palestine preaching, and that people came from all around to listen to him. I see him traveling around perfecting this speech, reworking it and reworking it, adding and subtracting elements, trying out different rhetorical devices – until he had the sermon essentially perfected. It was this traveling roadshow that people turned out to see. Until the disciples knew the show word-for-word, and Matthew could later write it down, essentially verbatim, in the first of the Gospels. Because Jesus polished this speech to the point that it couldn’t be improved – I believe that it survived the ages with few changes.
In this speech, Jesus takes on both theology and humanism, as well as the intersection of the two. We see humanist concepts, such as “Turn the other cheek”, interspersed with substantial theology, including the Lord’s Prayer.
The Sermon on the Mount is only 112 lines, but it contains a score of Jesus’ best-known statements. Salt of the Earth, turn the other cheek, love your enemies, judge not, pearls before swine, seek and you shall find, do unto others, beware of false prophets….
I don’t pay much attention to the Beatitudes. I see that as the warm-up act, draw the people closer to listen, quiet the murmuring.
The Beatitudes seem to me to be rhetorical devices to draw people’s attention. Happy are the gentle, they shall have whatever. What political writers today call “reversible raincoat” statements, the best example being “Ask not what your country can ….”
The Beatitudes are all positive, affirmative, hopeful assertions – until the last one. Blessed are they who are persecuted in my name. . I don’t see that last one as being real. It lacks the poetry of the rest, for one thing. But mainly, it just seems that it will push people away if you tell them you might get persecuted for standing here and listening to this. This early in Jesus’ reform movement, nobody was threatened by him. He was one of many people with reform agendas who were trying to martial support for their particular reforms. Nobody was being persecuted in his name at any time before he came to Jerusalem. Laughed at maybe, but not persecuted. So I think that passage about persecution was added by somebody else later.
I do believe that Jesus probably hammered on the Law, saying he wouldn’t change a dot of it. But he had to say that, or the authorities would have had him stoned to death. I think that passage was a set-up for saying later that what Jesus really wanted to change was the way Law was interpreted.
I also have a problem fitting this Jesus’ Gig interpretation around the passage about adultery and fornication. It seems to me that alot of people would walk away if he told them that divorce didn’t count. Maybe it’s me putting a square peg in a round hole, but when I look at how short that passage is, compared to the way Jesus expounded on everything else in that speech – I genuinely think it’s a later addition by somebody else.
That all being said, the rest of the speech is about how to be happy. Yeah, you can look at it as ethical. We’ll have a better society if everybody turns the other cheek and follows the Golden Rule. But how likely is that?
It’s more about how turning the other cheek and going the extra mile will make your life happier. For me, Matthew 6 (25-34) is really the heart of it. Not just the heart of this speech. No, this is what was supposed to be the heart of Christianity:
That is why I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and how you are to clothe it. Surely life is more than food, and the body more than clothing!
Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they are? Can any of you, however much you worry, add one single cubit to your span of life? And why worry about clothing? Think of the flowers growing in the fields; they never have to work or spin; yet I assure you that not even Solomon in all his regalia was clothed like one of these.
Now if that is how God clothes the wild flowers growing in the field which are there today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, will he not much more look after you, you who have so little faith? So do not worry; do not say, “What are we to eat? What are we to drink? What are we to wear?” It is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all.
Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Jerusalem Bible translation
When I see arguments such as yours I always think that you are unable to see the big picture in exactly the same way the smallest microorgamism crawling about your damp sweaty places cannot comprehend your total body or all the automatic processes that keeps it warm and itself alive.
The microorganism knows sweat and thinks it knows everything.
What is it that stops you accepting the Bible as literal truth?
Contradictions, inconsistancies and implausabilities.