Jesus’ prayer for all believers to know oneness with God is recorded in the 17th Chapter of John. As is always the case with Jesus’ ideas, they interrelate and cannot stand apart from one another. His thoughts form a complete system of thinking that is rooted in the integrity and holiness of God. Although we may reasonably challenge the authenticity of some quotes attributed to Jesus, the main point of everything Jesus in fact said and did while present in a body on the Earth was to demonstrate “that you may believe that my Father is in me and I in my Father.” John 10:38. This core theme of oneness with God, repeated in Chapter 17 of John, 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 by God and the people of God – from “bad” people who supposedly deserve only disapproval and avoidance or exile if not outright attack – by God and the people of God. Its implications ripple outward into his call that his followers treat the “least of these” as if they are one with him – so totally identified with him that what a person does to any of them a person does to him.
Jesus’ life, by word and deed, reminds us that 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 “inherent 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! What a complete undoing of Jesus’ ministry to call believers back to the religious self-righteousness of Judaic elitism with which Jesus so fervently contended.
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 who faithfully struggle with how to relate to God 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. They are like bullies who take over the clubhouse and declare that they now can ban whomever does not please them. As their craving for political power as a false substitute for spiritual power corrupts their minds and hearts, these religiously garbed bullies do all they can to lead others astray with them. How else would they have followers if not to lead them to embrace the same errors that bullies embrace to justify their dominance? 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 most radical 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! As a result we cling to our pathetic powerlessness and declare that the age of miracles has closed when in fact it is our own timidity as disciples that has caused miracles to cease to flow. We are the cause of the lack of divine healing in the modern world. We thwart God’s will by failing to surrender our lesser wills entirely to the Father’s will as Jesus modeled. God’s grace permits us to defy Him but to do so costs our children dearly. Violence, harm and chronic suffering flood our modern world in place of the outpouring of divine miracles God stands ready, willing and able to set free if only we’d listen and heed His call. Long ago He said it, “[I]f my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14. God is entitled to set conditions for our receiving His blessings. He has clearly stated those conditions in many ways. Jesus’ example is an entirely integrated and sufficient restatement of all God wants us to know about how to relate to Him.
Why does Jesus direct us towards serving the “least [familiar or approved] of these?” Why relate to the “stranger” or the “disapproved social outcast?’ 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. And the more we relate to ones who society has labeled as rejects the more we’ll come to accept in ourselves aspects that society would also reject if we were brave enough to reveal them. We have maintained social approval at the cost of utter honesty about ourselves and our own hidden issues, whatever each of ours may be. As a result, we’ve also cut ourselves off from the divine love that the Father would have us experience uninhibitedly, without fear or limitation. We crimp the flow of God’s love by making false idols of social approval in all of its various forms and formats.
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 expressing our demographically measured diversity of gender, age, race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, educational level, economic class, veteran status, etc., humanity also expresses our developmental diversity. We are all arrayed along steps or stages of development as each of us has achieved some steps or stages ahead of others. With respect to the multifaceted range of human wholeness God designed us to master, most if not all of us are as yet incompletely developed or evolved. Since we develop in response to our social environments, 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 (families, cultures, etc.) 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 and its conditioning 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. We are learning to walk in each other’s moccasins with empathy and compassion. 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. The same benefit to ourselves arises from our treating any of those least approved of by our society as if he or she were Jesus.
Jesus calls us to be servants of those we know and approve of and those we don’t know or approve of because he knows how developmentally immature we are and always will be if we remain trapped within our social-approval bubbles or cocoons. Unless we explore beyond our bubbles (comfort zones or familiar territory) to find opportunities to serve as Jesus served, we will remain uninvolved and unevolved as well. Within heavily defended comfort zones based on conformity, discipleship as well as personal maturity stagnates. The world calls it “arrested development.” Constant rebirth amidst the challenges of diversity is a part of maturation as Jesus’ disciple. Jesus’ own journey illustrates that one must never pitch a tent or set up a booth in an attempt 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 we or others may adopt. 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 develop 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 – yet it is also the essence of social justice. It implies letting go of social structures we once depended upon to guide and protect us on our journeys as if social approval were the only purpose of our lives. 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. From that orbit it is increasingly possible to understand and live within the terms of Micah 6:8: “O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Walking humbly with our Father as Jesus did in full surrender of our otherwise socially distorted will is essential to our acting justly as servants of social justice. As preserved in the King James version of the Bible, we must live by faith to be just: “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” Romans 1:17 Let us dare to live as it is written and as it is revealed over and over again in our hearts as we listen to the Holy Spirit and “[d]o not conform to the pattern of this world, but [are] transformed by the renewing of [our] mind. Then [we] will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2
*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.
Copyright by Art Nicol 2015