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Understanding the truth about God was precluded by
and entrenched paradigm in the early Christian community.
What Went Wrong?
There is no question that Jesus had a
significant impact on his society at the time, an impact that
came to be an ongoing major influence in the world, and that Christianity was
born and proceeded with fervor. The disciples were inspired by their
time with the great teacher and the early group of Christians grew. Of
course, the whole nation of Israel had heard about Jesus and the
relevant events, and by some estimates 50% of the population had a
favorable and sympathetic stance toward Jesus. How could they not? He
identified with them and their problems. He didn't talk down to them
from temple tiers or from behind a physical, psychological barrier
lectern up on an elevated stage, but talked up to them standing at the
bottom of a slope or in the lowest possible position, from a boat on the
water. He had healed a lot of them or their relatives and friends, and he had
never threatened them or beleaguered them in any way.
The early "church"
lived in a bubble of expectation and confidence that Jesus would return
very soon—we are talking days, weeks, maybe months but not initially
years—and grew rapidly with an attitude of joyous loving, sharing, and
celebration. At least until the persecution set in. Even then the
numbers continued to increase. All of this is unique and impressive, but
it didn't last. It was/is not enough for the following reasons.
At the time of Jesus on earth, the Jews were looking for a savior of the
nation, not of the cosmos nor even of the global world. They were looking for
their Messiah who was to be a representative of God and king on earth, and they had a short list of miracles that would qualify and
verify such a person. But they had no concept that THE ORIGINATOR
himself would come instead of some lesser Messiah. Anything but that!
16:18-20 On THIS rock I will build my responsible
group (Ecclesia), and the
powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the
keys of the kingship of the heavens, and whatever you bind on
earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth
shall be loosed in heaven." Then he strictly charged the disciples
to tell no one that he was the Christ.
The last sentence of the passage has always been interpreted as Jesus
wanting to keep his Messiahship a secret, or at least spare the
disciples some trouble, but these understandings make no sense in the
light of so many other factors that counter this thinking. Understanding
that the title Christ is the Greek term for Messiah, what DOES make
sense is that Jesus did not want them to think this nor to promote the
identification any more than was existing already. Jesus was different and MUCH MORE
than a Messiah, and for more than one reason did not want to be thought
of as an earthly king!
Another way of
looking at their mindset is to see that they expected the Messiah to DO
great and significant things, to operate with power and authority, to set things right
according to their understanding, but not to PROCLAIM great things about
God. What they
were NOT expecting was for the Messiah to bring them significant NEW
truth, or corrective truth. They didn't need that! Certainly not the mind-blowing,
paradigm-shattering, blasphemous truth that Jesus proclaimed. No! Anything but that!
The disciples were for the most part low-class ignorant fishermen who
were attracted to Jesus and began to follow him. They soon became
enamored with him, and why not? He was charismatic, yet secure, unafraid, mature,
gracious, in control, and he made them feel loved. He was warm and
gentle with them and never made them feel guilty. They were entranced
by his amicable, non-judgmental spirit, and he did miracles. What's not to
like? But they were slow to even associate him with being the Messiah, and
even after calming the storm and saving their boat from being swamped,
they said, "Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?" And
Jesus himself was not comfortable with the Messiah identification. He came with
a much bigger agenda than the Jewish concept of the Messiah would
portray, an agenda to replace their paradigm of God. Were they open to
that? No, no! Anything but that!
When the disciples did confess that Jesus was the Messiah, this was just an understanding
that he was a temporary representative from God. The paradigm of
Judaism defined God in terms of ultimate power and control, a transcendent-to-human being whose
will must be honored, or else! God couldn't be just a
gracious man of humility. He couldn't be a friend who fished naked at
night with them, and urinated over the side of the boat. He couldn't be
a person who had friends like Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. He couldn't be
a person that would hang out with prostitutes and publicans. He couldn't
be a man that didn't rail against the sins of the flesh, or even rail
against the oppression of the Romans. And he couldn't
be a person that would stay out of the limelight.
He couldn't be a mere
human that would get his feet dirty with the dust contaminated with
spittle, bird droppings, and donkey doo-doo. He couldn't be a
person that had no relish for consolidating political power and made no
moves to install himself as a religious or political leader. He couldn't
be a person who healed sinners and then told them not to tell anyone. He
couldn't be a person who was THAT far out of sync with their religion, its
customs, forms and leadership. He couldn't be a person who would rather
serve than be served, rather wash their feet than have them wash his.
Doctrinal thinking is all but if not unanimous that he did this just to
set an example, and it is rarely if ever considered that this is just
the way he ALWAYS IS.
And finally, he just couldn't be a person who would allow himself to be arrested, mocked
and humiliated, tortured, and then hanged on a cross until dead amidst
traitors, insurrectionists, and rabble rousing rebels. "...nothing could be
further removed from Judaism than the concept of God Himself suffering death."[*] NO! NO! NO!
ANYTHING BUT THAT!!!
Oh, their hearts were moved mightily. But not their minds; not their
paradigm of God. That was the ultimate sacred thing, you see, their paradigm, and
not even God himself could induce a major change in their thinking and
belief. And so it stands today after several hundred years. Christendom is still
focused on the TRADITIONAL posited transcendence of the Creator,
the God of power and control, and our
own inferiority and our own
less-than-sterling behavior, still focused on and venerating into
idolatry ancient writings with seriously flawed concepts instead of the
words of Jesus and his claim to be the paradigm, the truth, the light
for understanding and the way to life without death. At this time still,
the greatest most amazing thing in our world is the perverse propensity
for the human mind to cling to irrational, illogical, unreasonable,
unworthy beliefs; beliefs demeaning to both God and ourselves.
Outside of what John and Thomas wrote, there is no evidence that any of
the balance of the disciples ever chose to believe the best
about God, ever overcame their primal sin. Outside of what John and Thomas wrote, there is no evidence that
any of the other disciples ever chose to believe
the best about THEMSELVES, about how the Creator is, was, and always
will be totally and only—psychologically and spiritually—human, a
loving, sharing being of our own NATURE who
has extended equality to us as his children; and how the cosmic system will never be
completely healed and perfectly functional unless and until the humans on earth
choose to believe the best and take their place as equal citizens of the universe.
...many people who have a vague childish affection for a
half-remembered Jesus, have never used their adult critical
faculties on the matter at all. They hardly seem to see the
paramount importance of His claim to be God. - Phillips, J. B., Your
God is too Small, MacMillan Publishing Co., New York, NY 10022, p.
[*] That God suffers in sympathy with the
sufferings of mankind, however, is a well established Jewish
doctrine (e.g. Bava Batra, 73b). This Jewish view, however, was
denounced as blasphemous by Christian theologians (e.g. at the
Disputation of Paris, 1240) as akin to the Patripassian heresy, the orthodox
Christian view being that God the Father was 'impassible', and even the Son
of God could suffer only in the flesh.
- Maccoby, Hyam, "Chapter Nine", The Sacred Executioner, Thames & Hudson, 1982.