Monday, March 13, 2017

My Favorite Passage: The Crux of Christianity

It appears only once in the Bible. Which I find to be deeply interesting since, in my opinion, it is the epicenter of the whole Christian faith. Only Luke tells us of this story from the cross when Jesus prayed aloud, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” as they tore his clothes for souvenirs among them.

There are many ways to view Christianity. Far more than the number of denominations, cults, or schisms that have ever, or will ever, exist. Every religion is a spiritual opinion regarding the Ultimate Reality and what It has manifested in the world. Every opinion is different, even when they agree.

My opinion about Christianity is that we cannot know the truth of most of it. We can opine, deduce, speculate, capitulate, and ultimately, agree to disagree. That is one principle thrust of its sacred gift. For I believe the earthly purpose of the Christian message is Relationship. We are meant to learn to get along with one another, not just in spite of, but because of our differences. Discernment of God cannot emerge from uniformity of belief. It can only occur with considered debate. The Jewish tradition of havruta would concur. The Kingdom of Heaven is a metaphor for the experience of a fuller love—such as that imagined to be the experience of God—here on earth. Peace among all humankind.

What might come from a fuller experience of peace? In truth we cannot even imagine it, or else it would already be here. But God can. Love understands what It’s capable of accomplishing even when we cannot. The view is obscured by our clenched fists and squinted eyes. It is my religious opinion that God, understanding what it would take us to get from Point A to Point B, would grant us the opportunity to save us from ourselves through a systematic teaching—a relational practice—brought by a master. Regarding the divinity of Jesus, make him as divine as you wish. Whether Trinity or Unity, the argument is moot. His level of divinity does not alter the fact that serving our neighbor is the better option for us all.

The purpose of the teaching is to get us from Point A to Point B. From war to peace. From vengeance to reconciliation. From ignorance of one another to knowing one another. For only in peace shall we see the remainder of humanity’s true destiny. We have no idea what we are truly capable of as a species while we are still at war with one another. Even our limitless imagination cannot comprehend the result of world peace. Too many resources are directed toward protection rather than promotion. Resistance as an objective builds only walls.

The various theological commentaries given over the centuries about this particular prayer of Jesus suggest that his petition was limited to those in front of him; those who were performing the act by command. Commentators have concluded he could not possibly have been asking for the forgiveness of Pontius Pilate or for the Jews who forced his hand. But there is nothing to suggest at all that his plea for mercy on those who had trespassed against him was in any way limited. His prayer was for all those whose eyes were closed to what was before them. He had compassion for any who could not comprehend the fullness of love. He knew the struggle in men’s hearts. The difficulty of change. The time it takes to move, to shift.

Most importantly, this petition to God for the forgiveness of each of those who had led him to Golgotha was the moment when he practiced what he preached to the ultimate degree; the very purpose of his ministry. The teachings of the dharmic Christian life practice (rather than the dogmatic) are nonresistance, forgiveness, compassion, hospitality and empowerment. We must do these for ourselves and others every day to bring about the Kingdom of Peace to our world. The first of these is nonresistance. Jesus did not resist the cross. He succumbed to it willingly, purposefully. The second is forgiveness, at all times and for all reasons. These naturally guide us toward the others.

His exceptional example from the cross is the watershed moment of all scripture. This is the instant when his lack of resistance and his all-encompassing ability to forgive proved possible within us a future of mercy, of welcoming, and of personal strength for all humankind. Literally saving us from ourselves over time. Giving us space to comprehend the fullness of love. We have only to accept it within ourselves—no matter our faith, no matter even our belief in God—one generation at a time, one piece of legislation at a time, one heart at a time to bring about the completion of his deepest desire for us: our universal reconciliation with one another.

Everything occurring before that future moment of our ultimate peace will be remembered by history as our age of barbarism. Everything after, our age of salvation.

If Jesus can forgive his own murderers, who are we to do anything less.

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