Jesus’ prayer for all believers to know oneness with God is recorded in the 17th Chapter of John. Its implications ripple outward into his call that his followers treat the “least of these” as if they are one with him. This core theme of oneness echoes throughout Jesus’ ministry as he constantly questions the standards used by others to separate “good” people who are supposedly worthy of social approval and warm welcome from “bad” people who supposedly deserve only disapproval and avoidance or exile if not outright attack.
We are all one within God and with each other because we are all (each and every one of us!) created in the image and likeness of God, expressing God’s divine nature. Long ago, a fundamental flaw crept into Christian theology when elitists bent on accumulating power over the masses adopted the concept of “original sin” or “created flawedness.” This transparent lie helped to keep the masses controlled by their constant fear of being condemned by God, for whom the elites conveniently claimed to speak to the terror of the masses who already feared the elites. The elites equated their neglect and abuse of underlings with the way God saw and treated humanity. How convenient to claim to speak for God to justify one’s own cruelty!
The concept of “original sin” is such an insulting idea in its disparagement of God as Creator that Jesus has to constantly serve as Redeemer to correct it. We need a Redeemer only because we believe false ideas trumpeted in the marketplace by those who hog the soapboxes and pulpits as socially aggressive personalities who crave social approval so much as to demand that they set the standards for social approval. As their craving for political power as a false substitute for spiritual power corrupts their minds and hearts, they do all they can to lead others astray with them. Those who question such absurdities are colored as heretics and blasphemers and made to serve as martyrs and scapegoats for religio-political heroes/bullies.
Who sets the standards? Man or God? Woman or Goddess? Jesus says that his (and our) heavenly Father* sets the standards. He modeled that truth so radically that he submitted his own lesser will to the greater will of the Father even unto death on the cross so as to demonstrate the power that arises from Oneness lived to its extreme. We are called today to do likewise, but few are willing to endure the merest hint of social disapproval (let alone the public humiliation of a cross-hung criminal) to do so. We mistakenly keep expecting religio-politicians to approve our “deviations” from their critically acclaimed social norms and flinch when they disapprove instead. How timid we are compared to Jesus and his original disciples!
Why does Jesus direct us towards serving the “least [familiar or approved] of these?” Because the more we embrace the stranger in the other person, the more we’ll have opportunities to get to know the stranger in ourselves and accept ourselves more completely too. It’s all a developmental thing actually. The human race’s diversity expresses more than mere diversity of surface appearances and actions summed up as “images,” “lifestyles” and “cultures.” In addition to demographically measured diversity humanity expresses our developmental diversity, the steps of development each of us has achieved with respect to the multifaceted range of human wholeness God designed us to master. We develop in response to our social environments. So, we tend to develop different facets of our gemlike wholeness on different timetables depending upon the social environments to which we have been exposed so far. (Do we not sometimes say, “He is a product of his environment?”)
For this reason, when we encounter a “stranger,” he or she is “strange” to a significant degree precisely because he or she has been exposed to different social environments or conditions than we have. We encounter the effects of those different social environments as embodied in and expressed through the “other” or “stranger.” Yet if we were totally honest with ourselves we would say, “There but by the grace of God go I.” We’d admit that we would be much like the stranger had we endured the social environments through which he or she has evolved.
Each person we meet offers us another opportunity to learn more about ourselves as we might be had we lived a life different from the one we’ve lived so far. Those opportunities offer insights into our wholeness because they reveal aspects of ourselves that our current or previous social environments may not have mirrored back to us before so powerfully or at all. And we tend to mirror for the other person in each relationship similarly helpful feedback about himself or herself. When we mirror feedback consciously without judgment or fault-finding, we are lovingly nurturing each other. The social environment of lovingly nurturing each other with gracious feedback is the kingdom of God Jesus represents and encourages us to enter into – seeking first God’s righteousness and no longer asserting our own (inadequate!) self-righteousness. That God’s righteousness is infused with grace and mercy is a lesson we need to learn by heart until we master it. Meeting and serving strangers so as to be their gracious hosts affords us opportunities for such mastery. Through practice, our mastery of hosting strangers empowers us to rise beyond xenophobia and learn to welcome each supposed “other” as a sister or brother – no longer a stranger at all.
Jesus calls us to be servants of those we know and those we don’t know because he knows how immature we are and always will be if we remain trapped within our social bubbles or cocoons. Within heavily defended comfort zones based on conformity, discipleship is moribund. Constant rebirth amidst the challenges of diversity is a part of maturing as a disciple. Jesus’ own journey illustrates that one must never pitch a tent and try to preserve the status quo, even one as magnificent at the Mount of Transfiguration. For us to develop or mature progressively as spiritual beings, humility requires that we admit that we are often ignorant – not stupid but lacking in information and ill-informed. The brightest genius can still be uninformed or ill-informed. In humility we listen and learn – and perhaps even laugh at ourselves more readily rather than fume over every little error (or non-erroneous nonconformity called an “improvement!”) we or others may make. Jesus asks us to listen within our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit. That’s why he sent the Holy Spirit to be our constant Teacher as we develop greater maturity as his followers. Even today there are things that many of Jesus’ disciples cannot yet bear to hear, as he long ago foresaw. (See John 16:12.) Yet we can all become delightfully competent, ever-growing-wiser students of the Truth that sets us free to development our wholeness more and more completely.
Freedom to be authentic and whole beings of integrity and love as God created us to be is scary. It implies loss of social structures we once depended upon to guide and protect us on our journeys. In His quest for our highest good, our Father does not intend that those social structures with which we become so familiar during various phases of our development become our imprisoning status quo of traditions or “laws” (rules, roles and rituals). Like the gantry of a rocket that once enabled the rocket to stand erect and not fall over while it was assembled, equipped and fueled, social structures must at some point release us to soar beyond them. When that happens we are dependent on our internal guidance systems. The more our internal guidance systems are attuned to God’s will, spirit, heart and mind the more at peace with God we’ll be as we journey onward in our quest for more elegant mastery, deeper enrichment and more lasting satisfaction as our Father’s servant-sons and -daughters. Those who serve with grace achieve a high orbit from which to envision and embrace the whole of humanity as God’s family of beloved and much favored children.
*Today Jesus would have no problem calling the Supreme Parent “Mother” too. He could not do so earlier due to the social constraints of his historically first human audience with whom such a concept would have sidetracked communications too much. See, John 16:12-15 for Jesus’ explanation of his plan of sequential communication with successive audiences.
ã Art Nicol 2013