A while back I read this book, The Jesus Sayings by Rex Weyler. Weyler uses his journalistic talents to look through a whole host of documentation including Josephus’s stories, Paul’s letters, the Gospels of Thomas and Mary, and Q collections, some 200 documents in all.
I don’t have any dog in the fight of whether Jesus actually existed or not. Although there are good arguments for and against Jesus being a real person versus a complete myth, I must admit, I come down on the side that the myth of Jesus [Christ in my nomenclature] is based on a whole bunch of other myths, people, some fabrication and possibly a person called Jesus. At best, Jesus was a minor player in the Levant that gained a huge following after his death. Of course, my take is based on minimal study of such things and observation of human behaviour. Not that it matters.
Weyler concludes that a mere twenty-seven sentences from the various documents can reliably be attributed to “Jesus”. He grouped the sentences by topic, and they are reproduced below. It reads a little like a poem. Anyway, here is my commentary.
Seek the truth.
There is a light within; look and you will find it.
When you find the light within, share it with the world.
Well “seek the truth”, does not seem like a bad start. I am reminded of Clarence Darrow’s
Chase after the truth like all hell and you’ll free yourself, even though you never touch its coat tails. And knowing oneself in as much as one can seems like something to strive for, although our perceptions of ourselves are likely fraught with all sorts of biases. So yes, seeking the truth is a sensible thing to do, and when we think we have found it, take to heart the Zen master’s advice, if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.
As to the light within? Well what is it? Should I ever have the vanity of a gravestone this is something I would not mind having inscribed on it, When I look deep inside my self, I see the universe quietly staring back at me. Treat this sort of as a metaphor, everything that I am has come from elsewhere and ultimately will go to where it came from. It’s not that there isn’t a light within, it’s more that it is a reflection of all that is all around.
A divine kingdom is within you and all around you.
Speak out, teach others about this kingdom.
This kingdom is like a small seed that grows.
It is like leaven in bread, a tiny force that affects everything.
Observe the world before you, here and now.
Here I am a little at a loss. I am not totally clear what the original author or orator had in mind with the phrase divine kingdom. How much is metaphor and how much should we take literally? Does divine in this case mean godly or pertaining to god, does the author have the same connotation of god in mind as do I? Now from my point of view the universe is within in me and all around; I and the universe are not separate entities. This is my whole point. Is this what is being referred to as a kingdom? Certainly [most] Christians are unlikely to see it this way. The forces that shape the universe are tiny and yet there is so much of the universe that add up and certainly our physical models of the forces that shape universe extend to infinity, so I suppose that includes everything. The divine kingdom is not just within you, you are part of it. In this context the quote makes sense to me.
And of course, observing the world makes sense to me.
Commit fully now.
Act on your knowledge.
Your understanding is revealed in the fruits of your actions.
In a sense, this could come across as a little contradictory. If we cannot do otherwise how can we commit? Well either we will or we won’t, but these words are part of the environment and may or may not subliminally nudge you in one direction or another. But it is being argued we should act on our insights. And I agree our actions are more powerful than either our thoughts or words and we will be seen for who we are through our actions.
Be generous and merciful.
Share what you have with others.
Help the poor, hungry, and grieving, and those who have no home.
Don’t worry about your own comforts.
Your poverty and sadness bring you closer to the divine kingdom.
Being generous and merciful will have effects or consequences. Some will be seen as positive and others as negative. But as a general principle this does seem to be reasonable rule of thumb. But to be successful this would have to be done with careful thought regarding the consequences.
The advantages of helping the poor and disadvantaged, is that when the revolution comes, we won’t be the first up against the wall. Slightly more pragmatically, it likely makes for a more stable society which is a benefit to all eventually. But we do need to this with care, we must make sure the aid that we do give does not perpetuate the problem. Teaching someone to fish comes to mind (rather than giving them fish). Having said that, the act of teaching someone to fish could develop into a fleet gill net fishing boats, with its own consequences we might want to think about.
Not worrying about my own comfort? It’s not going to happen. But I would agree there is some optimum degree of worrying about one’s own comfort. Coincidentally, looking at what are popular blogs, Word Press, listed fashion, food, music, travel and lifestyle. This is fine but …
And sadness and poverty bringing us to the divine kingdom. Speaking personally, when James died, the grief I experienced did lay me open to new ways of thinking, ie susceptible to ideas. Certainly, if James had not of died, this blog would not exist.
Remain humble, don’t exalt yourself.
Don’t judge others, but improve yourself.
Be as a child, open, curious, authentic, and modest.
Love your enemies and those that rebuke you.
Well if everyone’s existence boils down to luck, having the right genes, parents that cared, a school that could deliver to meet needs etc, then it is hard to be proud of one’s luck. Similarly, not judging others is easy too: there but for the grace of god go I, sort of thing. In this case we can replace god with the universe and grace with luck.
I have no problem with being open, curious and authentic, though on being authentic I can’t help but think we do put on a persona for others. And of course, open is questionable too. Who would readily admit they are generally not open to persuasion?
I can’t say loving one’s enemies is something I can choose to do. I can see the logic behind it. I don’t love all my neighbours even, and by that I don’t mean I dislike them. They are a good bunch on the whole. It is just that I don’t seem to be able to turn on my love at will. Having said that, I do take the point of the statement. In practice we tend to demonize the opposition. They cannot help who they are any more than you can. This is not to say don’t have enemies or that you should be a pacifist.
Otherwise, avoid rules and follow the truth you discover yourself.
Act from awareness, not habit or convention.
Don’t blindly repeat rituals.
Don’t trust those with spiritual pretensions.
Question those who presume to speak for God.
This verse rings true to me.
Avoiding rules per se is a little bit tricky, but if the rule makes sense then by all means follow the rule. Just be aware that the rule probably won’t make sense in every context. Then of course there are rituals.
Now these rituals like saying grace, have a host meanings. They reinforce the underlying belief; they identify those inside and outside of the particular community. They help convey conformity. Of course, we can identify benefits of ritual too:
- Brings a sense of community and identity.
- Honours a particular aspect of our lives.
- Might be a useful meme, eg cleansing of hands before a meal.
- A way of learning (by copying/rote)
There are other ways of achieving these objectives. But it would be wise to check up once in a while whether these rituals are having the desired effect.
Not trusting those that speak for god and have spiritual pretentions. I suspect that would exclude the vast majority of clergy. Thinking of my childhood cleric, he certainly spoke for god, but I can’t think of a more spiritless sermon that I have endured. I see, “spiritual spirit” in some people around me, not so much what they say, but more so in what they do and how they do it.
If you have two good ears, listen to what I am telling you.
Well yes, this applies to all of us, nevermind a mythical or real Jesus. And of course, take into account the previous section of the Jesus Sayings.
Taking various quotes and clumping them together may add a context that was never there in the original. Having said that, it does make for an interesting viewpoint and in my opinion, it beats The Lord’s Prayer.