A few words in defense of Jesus

last supper

Jesus gets a bad rap these days. It’s not hard to see why. Too many of his followers seem like idolaters who think all they have to do is say “Praise Jesus” and they can go back to hating everyone outside their small circle of fellow Christians.

In 1972, a Hindu guru, Neem Karoli Baba, told his Western followers to “go read the Bible” over Easter weekend. I always did what he told me to do, so I went to the nearest city and found a copy of the New Testament. On Good Friday, I sat on the earthen veranda of the stone woodcutter’s hut I was living in and started reading. The setting couldn’t have been more idyllic. My hut overlooked an apple orchard. Beyond that were the rolling hills of the Himalayan foothills. Not a building was in sight: just nature in all its glory.

I didn’t know what to expect when I opened the Bible, but vaguely thought I wouldn’t like what I read. As I started reading Matthew, some passages were in black and white, but others seemed written in gold. By Easter Sunday, I wasn’t converted to Christianity, but I was in awe of Jesus. Why? It was those words that were written in gold.

Who Was Jesus?

Like I said above, Christians seem like idolaters to me. Who was Jesus? He said it himself in Matthew:

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

I took these words literally. Jesus wasn’t telling his disciples to worship him. He was telling them to see “Christ” in everyone and everything — even loaves of bread. As he said at the Last Supper: “Take, eat. This is my body.”

Jesus on Love and Forgiveness

Too many Christians run around hating everyone. Given the things Jesus said about love and forgiveness, that seems kind of weird. Let’s take a look at just a few passages:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Basically, he’s saying love should be the primary emotion. What, for instance, is ambiguous about this?

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

Or how about this?

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

If that’s not a description of karma, I don’t know what is.

He was aware that asking his followers to love everybody was a tough call, but didn’t tolerate hypocrisy: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

Jesus on Money

It’s pretty clear Jesus didn’t think too highly of storing “treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.” In one of the only stories in the New Testament where he seems to lose his temper, he:

found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.

I wonder what he would do if he saw what the lifestyles of some of his most popular “spokespersons” in America today are like? Multi-million dollar mansions, private jets and God knows what else. Maybe they should think about the passage where he says, “And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” They’re exceptions, though, because they stand in front of their congregations and say, “Praise Jesus.” Woops. He had something to say about that, too:

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

When I read the New Testament in 1972, I was flying blind. I was blown away by so many of the things Jesus said, but was particularly moved by the beatitudes:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,

for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

To me, he was describing someone who is without an ego or at least values love and compassion more than their selfish desires.

Where is heaven?

And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

I know, later versions amended that, but it was the King James version I read and I took “within you” literally. It’s not up there or over here and it’s not coming after death or on earth after a bunch of prophecies have been fulfilled. It’s “within you” and me and everyone and everything.

Who is God?

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Those lines told me one thing: God is Love. Or Love is God. What other truly creative spirit is there within us than love?

My very own Jesus

Okay, you can argue that I’ve created my very own mythological Jesus. That’s okay. Nobody knows for sure who Jesus was or if he even existed. I like to think he did really live. He had a rag-tag assortment of followers who didn’t quite understand how radical his teachings were. After he died, they missed him, so they created stories about him. I don’t remember Jesus saying he was born of a virgin, for example. That came later. I’m pretty sure he didn’t have the handsome, European face that hangs on the walls of homes in countries where he is worshiped.

My Jesus wore rags and wasn’t particularly handsome. He hung out with losers and definitely never asked them to build him a mansion. If the Gospel of Mary is anything to go by, he was married to Mary Magdalene. They argued about whether he was a prophet or the Son of God until the powers-that-be decided he was the Son of God and wouldn’t allow further argument. Does it matter? Not to me. I just remember those words that were written in gold when I read the New Testament for the first and only time over Easter, 1972. They came as a revelation to me. I’ll stick to my myth. You’re welcome to yours.