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Life, Love and Law

Life, Love and Law: Chapter 10


What does being a child of God entail?

We have seen that for Jesus God is not One Who Condemns but a Father, His Father. But is He also our Father? As Jesus does not refer to God as His listeners' Father many times, it is perhaps worth examining this set of His sayings to see what meaning it has for us and my scheme. I have already examined some of them but I still hope this will be worthwhile. It also will bring us to look into other texts that develop the same themes.

1. To follow God's lead

What is a father in a patriarchal society? He is the one who takes the decisions for his family. He is the one to whom the children turn for everything: direction, food, clothing, work. He is the head of his clan. So when Jesus states «And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.»,1 He means that God as Father must be the centre of our lives, the One we refer to constantly. He is the One we take our orders from, not our natural father. No surprise that He states that this will cause human family frictions!

We have to follow our Father in Heaven's way of doing, His principles: «Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.»2 This requires us to:

Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.3

This is the central principle of Jesus' teachings: be like your Father, love and serve everyone, whatever their actions towards you. The fact that someone wants to kill you does not give you licence to kill him: you are to serve him! This is the central point of Good Friday: Jesus carried His cross, He helped His tormentors liquidate Him. He did not in any way oppose the forces of this world order. He behaved like His Father, loving His persecutors. And this is what we are also to do, as children of God our Father. Luke puts it in a different way: there Jesus says «Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.»4 where «merciful» can also be translated by «compassionate».

God does not want us to play this world order's game: fighting back, defending ourselves. We are to refuse to play according to those rules. We are to play by God's. We are to accept death, violence, brutality, not only against us but also against those we love, all this without expecting or demanding that God will make them pay in the end. Jesus forgave His tormentors, His killers. We are to do the same: pray for those who persecute us.

According to Jesus then, violence is never justified. We have no right of self defence. There is no such thing as a just war. These concepts are totally alien to Jesus' teaching. Anyone who claims to follow Christ has to remember this. Jesus made very clear that nothing less than total commitment to His way of life will do. You cannot serve two masters.

The reason why non-violence is a must is obvious: violence divides people; it requires enemies to brutalize, to hate. How can you live by God's absolute love for the one you are fighting without raging against God for loving him?

Jesus tells us in this text found in Matthew how to pray to God our Father:

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. ... But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.5

while in Mark the only reference to forgiving to be forgiven by God our Father is in the following :

And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.6

while in Luke there is a slightly shorter version of the Lord's prayer :

When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.7

For Jesus, God as Father knows what we need; so the prayer is not there to remind Him but to remind us of our needs. We need to remember how essential it is to forgive others; that we are of His kingdom, not of this world order; that we have to live like Him, not like those who do not put their total trust in Him. We have to ask Him to feed us as we are aware of our total dependency on Him. Again, we have to trust Him completely if we seek to live according to His ways. After all, His ways of total service to all, friends and enemies, of total refusal of self-defence are such that they are impossible to follow without total trust in Him! We certainly do not stand a chance according to this world order!

2. Trust in our Father

This trusting reliance on God as our Father is again taken by Jesus in the following text found in Luke:

If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?8

and, in a slightly different way, in Matthew :

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.9

We are to trust that God will look after us as a Father. If we trust in God our Father, He will give us His Holy Spirit. Or, in the way put in Matthew, God our Father will give «good things to those who ask Him». And these are the «Golden Rule»: to do to others what you want them to do to you as this is the Law and the Prophets.

The Greek terms «agios pneuma» (αγιος πνευμα) are translated by «Holy Spirit». The term translated as «holy» also means «sacred», «august». The term translated by «Spirit» means «breath», «breath of wind»; from it come words like «pneumatic»; the related Greek word «pneumôn» (πνευμων) means «lung»).

The way we breathe is directly related to the way we are. Breathing in an august way is breathing in a serene way, deeply and slowly. This calm and deep breathing is the breathing of someone untroubled, at peace, unworried. This is the breathing of someone who is a child of God and as such relies entirely on Him and follows with absolute confidence His ways, the Golden Rule, the Rule He gave to His humans.

Jesus again insists on the need for total trust (faith) in God as Father:

Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls? And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit? If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest? Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith? And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.10

which is taken very succinctly in Matthew: «Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.»11

Jesus argues again and again that God does a very good job of sustaining His creation. How much more will He sustain His children! We do not have to worry: God takes care of everything. We do not need to gather possessions on this earth; on the other hand, what we gather in His kingdom is everlasting, incorruptible.

Another very important way to live is to have faith that Jesus (God) will heal us, will make us what we need to become. We have to accept to be clay in His hands. Without His help we will not be able to reform ourselves, to become a «child of God», to embrace His values.

I intend to contrast two texts; in the first we have a leper who is convinced that Jesus can cure him if He so wills it:

And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed.12

Jesus can cure someone only if the one who so asks Him firmly believes that He can deliver. The cure is impossible without this certainty from the supplicant that God can actually do it if He so wishes: «If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.» As we know, this required trust is not sufficient: God has to want such a cure: «I will; be thou clean.»

It is important to note that when God refuses to satisfy the supplicant, it is not necessarily because the latter lacks trust in Him. What the supplicant is asking for with trust in God's power to deliver it is not necessarily what God wants for him. The supplicant must trust that God is compassionate and so will do what is best for him.

This certainty in the supplicant's mind that God really takes care of her is essential. Let us look at a case where Jesus' followers lacked this faith in God when a storm struck while they were on a ship with Jesus:

And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?13

It is obvious that the disciples have no confidence at all that all is turning out well for them! In fact, they are so fearful of drowning as their boat is taking on water faster than they can bail it out that they awake Jesus to get Him to start bailing water out as well. He, of course, does nothing of the sort. To their great surprise, He just calms the wind and the sea and then tells them off for their lack of faith!

I can easily put myself in the place of the disciples. I can easily understand their frustration at trying desperately to keep the boat afloat while Jesus is totally unaware of their efforts. Jesus is so oblivious to their predicament that they feel it is just as if He was not there at all!

We also face desperate situations in life; situations where we wonder if God is asleep! Jesus does not tell them off for trying to bail the water out; He tells them off for not trusting that God does His part; that is, save them from drowning or take them to Himself according to His will for them. Confidence in God means to trust that He somehow acts for us, as our Saviour. Faith in God means to believe that He Who can do anything is always there looking after us. The disciples did not believe that Jesus could stop the storm: it never entered their heads. But they should have believed that God was a Father to them.

So faith is confidence that things will work out in the end, whatever that «end» is. It is an outlook on life that provides one with serenity, inner peace. It is a decision to be afraid of nothing, to keep loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us come what may. It is being committed to God's ways. He does not require us to believe in Him. Jesus did not require His apostles to believe that He would rebuke the wind and save them. He just wanted them to «keep their cool», do their best without complaining and moaning and so face life with serenity.

3. Blood, sweat and tears

Jesus promised His followers persecutions. Christians who think that prosperity is the proof of God's love for them have not understood Jesus' message: they seem to have kept to reading the Septuagint. Jesus promises us blood, sweat and tears. He wants us to fight the good fight every day and everywhere; to preach His message of self denial and not self promotion, a message that does not fit at all in the present world:

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.14

His followers are to be «sheep» among «wolves». They are to be «wise as serpents» and «harmless as doves». The Greek word «akeraioi» (ακεραιοι) translated by «harmless» means «pure», like in «pure water», «intact», «whole», «unstained», «unadulterated» and the Greek word «phronimoi» (φρονιμοι) translated by «wise» means «sensible», «wise». We are to be sensible and unadulterated, children of God our Father.

Sheep cannot defend themselves against the teeth of wolves: they get eaten up. We can expect the same. We can expect to be scourged, taken to court. But He says that the «Breath of our Father» will speak through us, so we do not have to worry. Strength and words will be provided for by our Father.

In the following passage, Jesus states that discipleship, though demanding, is far preferable to the dolce vita suggested by this world's order. I will divide this passage in its four verses and examine them one by one: «Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.»15

He first states that the disciple must «reject his self» (the Greek word «aparnčsasthô» (απαρνησασθω) translated by «deny» means «refuse»,«reject». Instead of building the self as suggested by today's psychologists, one is to reject it; instead of wanting to be oneself, one is to refuse to be that self so as to follow Jesus' ways. We are not to look after our advantage or convenience but follow Jesus. He comes up with this terrible image of carrying one's cross for a painful death to self. This is what is actually going to happen to Him; this is what will happen to His disciples, at least metaphorically.

Jesus goes on to: «For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.»16 What does it mean: to save or to lose one's life? The same Greek word «psychč» (ψυχη) is translated by «life» (in this verse) and «soul» (in the next). It means «breath», that which we need to be alive. This verse would be better translated by: «for who may desire to save his breath of life, will lose it; and whoever may lose his breath of life because of me, he will find it.» It states the following dilemma: dying because of one's faithfulness to Jesus' ways or surviving by abandoning them. The one who abandons Jesus' ways will lose his life later (as, after all, every one dies at one point or another) while the one who died to keep them will win his life back later.

This is followed by: «For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?»17 Again, this verse would be better translated as «what good will it do to a man to gain the whole world and suffer damage as regard to his breath of life? or what will a man give in return for his breath of life?» What Jesus is saying here is nothing new. The Ancients all agreed on the fact that living was better than being dead and that most people would give away their riches to stay alive. They also agreed on the fact that riches did not prevent death and were of no use in the «underworld».

The last verse helps making sense of this cluster: «For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.»18

Humans all die. Either you die a disciple or not. Either you die rich or not. Your riches do not give you back your life (as He remarks in verse 26). The only thing that can give you back your life is your discipleship (as He promises in verse 25). This is the reward the «Son of Man» gives to His disciples.

The same theme is taken in a somewhat different way in another passage in Matthew, which I will divide in three clusters, of two, four and two verses each. The first cluster is:

Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.19

The first verse would be better translated as: «Everyone then who shall declare himself for me in front of men, I will declare myself for him in front of my Father which is in Heaven.» Basically, if you are ready to publicly declare that Jesus' way is right and face the consequences, Jesus will declare in front of God that you are one of His. If you repudiate Him in public, He will declare to God that you do not accept Him and His message. Jesus will very simply tell His Father what you have announced to your fellow humans.

He then makes a very strong statement:

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.20

As His demands are fundamentally different from that of this world's order, they will cause a rift among people and divide them between His followers and His detractors. Some in a family will be for Him while others will be against Him. Each one of His followers in that predicament will have to choose between their family ties or Jesus; between staying a follower of Him or abandoning Him.

In this war against the world's order, friends and family members end up one against the other. This is why it is so costly to be His disciple. She has to be ready to forgo possessions, friends, family, all that is important in the culture of the time.

He states points already examined in the final two verses of the passage:

And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.21

The image of the cross is a kind of leitmotiv, a point that is hammered on again and again. The life of discipleship, as hard as it is, alone gets you your life back after death.

These points are also found in Luke's Gospel:

If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.22

For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.23

This set starts with two ideas which we have already examined: if a human is not ready to put family well after what Jesus asks of her, she is no disciple. If she is not ready to endure everything for His sake, she is no disciple. Those two sayings are two different ways of saying basically the same thing: Jesus demands a total commitment from His disciple.

This is followed by two very sensible sayings that do not seem to be related to what He has just said. The first one is: do not start building what you are not sure to be able to finish; otherwise, you will look quite foolish when you have to abandon your project half way. The second saying is: if you decide on a campaign against an opponent, make sure that you have the means to overcome him; otherwise, settle with him as quickly as possible.

Then follows what is meant to be the punch line: if you do not say farewell and take leave of all of your possessions, do not try to be my disciple. Why? Because you will lose your campaign, you will not be able to finish your project.

What Jesus is saying here is quite simple: the only way you can succeed in discipleship is by leaving all your possessions behind. This is not something that I have done, nor is it something that I have seen done by most people who call themselves Christians. I have to conclude that most Christians seem to consider this excessive, as they do not live by it.

Jesus insists on the necessity for every human to actually live according to His ways. Nothing else will suffice. This He makes quite clear:

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.24

For Jesus, discipleship does not mean to cure in His name, or call on His name, or prophesy in His name. God can use anyone, good or evil, dedicated follower of His ways or not, to cure people, or preach in His name; these do not have to be real followers of Jesus. To be part of the Kingdom of Heaven, you have to act according to its ways. Those who do not are not part of this realm; they are not «according to God»; they are not in God's image.

Jesus makes it again perfectly clear in this passage:

Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.25

The only way for the house to survive is to built it on His sayings. Otherwise it will collapse and be ruined. The only way for a life to survive after death is to base it on Jesus' teachings. The only way to go through the difficulties of life unscathed is to base it on His teachings.

Jesus claims that His teachings and His teachings alone can provide the stability required in life and death. This is difficult to accept in this day and age. But let us remember that His teachings have nothing to do with dogmas and Church structure; they have to do with surrendering the self to God by trusting totally in His providence (Fatherhood); they have to do with putting the other in first place rather than the self and so being of service to all, irrespective of their actions. Love of God is made manifest in love of neighbour, good or bad. This message is neither confined to a (religious) group nor exclusively lived by any.

4. Humility

If we choose God's way, we will most probably not rise to important positions because we will not be fighting for them; we will have no ambitions for ourselves; we will probably not be rich, because we will not be looking to make tons of money. So we will not be important in the eyes of this world's important people, the politicians and the business people. We will be the ones the rich and powerful feast on: the «masses», the unimportant, the canon fodder, the dispensable. We will be what is called «the little ones».

So if we trust in God our Father, in His ways, we will be defenceless in the face of this world order but we will be part of His kingdom: «Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.»26 The Greek word «micros» (μικρος) translated by «little one» means when applied to people: «of mediocre quality», «unimportant», «weak». They are those who «have not made it» in this world: the poor, the marginalized, the forgotten. For them God is a Father who saves, who definitely cares: «Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.»27

The poor are the one's whose angels are face to face with God: they have direct access to God. They are powerless in this world but have contact to their Father. The present world's order is the upside down version of the Kingdom of God! The ones who are important in God's sight are not in the eyes of this world leaders. Your ways are not God's if you despise what He holds in high esteem.

Jesus also suggests very strongly that humans should not put themselves forward, that they should not be puffed up, full of their own self importance. He suggests in fact that being full of oneself is a very good way of risking to loose face:

When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.28

Jesus suggests that we should never assume to be among the most important people anywhere; on the contrary, we should assume that most if not all of the people are more important than us. That point of view means that we do not consider the others inferiors but superiors. This has a direct effect on our behaviour: politeness, consideration, civility, understanding for all and sundry.

Jesus' story of the banquet ends up with a sentence of His that comes up over and over again: «For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.»

But why does Jesus repeat this leitmotiv over and over again ? For Jesus the reason we are on this earth is to prepare ourselves for the next. I suggest that we are going to decide our fate by our reaction to God's absolute love towards all our fellow humans: if we rebel against it, we will live Hell; if we embrace it, we will live Heaven. So finding others more worthy than us surely will help.

Some time ago, black men in the US were called «boy» by whites. It was a term used to denigrate them, to put them in the place of a child, someone who has no recognized rights; not exactly a nonentity, but one who could not vote, hold office, take decisions. This is what is meant in the Gospels by the word «child», which is «pais» (παις) in Greek: someone who has no power, no rights, and who owns nothing (even though he might be able to once he reaches maturity).

Jesus' disciples were very slow to understand His way of seeing things. They wanted to be important, to be leaders in their movement. They often were fighting for position in it. So Jesus had to come back to this over and over. So He makes it crystal clear:

At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.29

Jesus says that someone who does not take the status of a child shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. To reach that status, one has to «humble oneself». The Greek word used «tapeinôsei» (ταπεινωσει) means «humiliate oneself» which surely implies a lowering of status, of standing. The lower the standing according to this word's order, the greater it is in the Kingdom of Heaven. To accept to seek a lower status according to this world's order, one has to change direction, the meaning of the Greek word «straphčte» (στραφητε) translated as «be converted»). Indeed, Jesus requires a complete change of direction, of way of thinking.

This comes out again in a different way in Mark's account. In answer to Jesus' saying that who receives «such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.»,30 John, one of the people always trying to get to the top of the Jesus movement, comes up with this extraordinary out of place statement:

And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part.31

Jesus' answer shows clearly that for Him there is no Chief Executive Officers in the Kingdom nor organizational charts; permissions are not required to do good works in Jesus' name nor is there any copyright on His name! No, everything is free, there are no rules for doing good works.

We saw what Jesus meant by the «little ones». Not every «little one» believes in Jesus, in His message. Some have just not succeeded in this world order but swear by it. But about those who, by their words or actions, their silence or lacks of action, are causing the «little one's» who believe in Jesus' message to falter, to fall, He has these harsh words to say:

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!32

The Greek word «skandalidzei» (σκανδαλιζει) translated by «offend» means «trip», «cause to fall» and the word «skandalôn» (σκανδαλων) translated by «offence» means «trap», «pit placed on the way»; «obstacle meant to trip someone». Jesus says clearly that those people would better be dead than to have caused such a disaster for the «little ones». Now this is not a very accommodating message!

He follows this by:

Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.33

This saying sounds very harsh in this day and age of moral relativism, where even what is «real» is debatable and relative to the way we see things. But Jesus makes it clear that if something causes you to stumble and fall from God's way, you will end up «cast into everlasting fire» which does not sound like a very nice situation to be in. So for Him, it is essential that all obstacles to following God's ways be removed whatever the costs.

Humility is a must. In Matthew, we are told to give alms in secret: «Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.»34 There Jesus makes the point that good works can be done in the spirit of this word's order rather than in the spirit of the Kingdom of our Father.

Indeed looking for good publicity is very much in accordance with this world's order. A hugely rich capitalist, for instance, can «justify» his amassing of a huge fortune (made on the backs of others) by his benevolence. It shows the «human touch», the «compassionate side» of capitalism. So it justifies not only his ways but the whole world order he lives by, based on greed, injustice, inequality.

So we are to go about our Christian lives without a thought given to what others will think of us. What matters is that we live according to the Kingdom, with its way of thinking, of feeling, of living. Loving everyone and rejecting none. Not looking after our needs so much as looking after those of others.

In Matthew is also this sentence of Jesus: «Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.»35 The Greek verb «doksasôsi» (δξασωσι) translated by «glorify» means «have an opinion» «believe» «think», «judge». The Greek word translated by «good» is «kala» (καλα) can also be translated as «noble», «honest», «honourable». The idea here is that people will have an opinion, a judgement of God our Father based on what we do; if we do good works, they will have a good opinion and they may want to believe in His ways. We have a definite role as God's children to make His ways known, to talk in His Name though this will mean persecution, at least to some degree. Because this world's order does not approve of God's. We live in Enemy territory. No wonder Jesus got killed, and lots of Christians as well.

The «Good News» is God's order, His kingdom, where all are loved equally and all love each other and look after each other. The «Good News» is that God will never let us down as He will take us to Himself. Death and torments are not the last word. Evil will not triumph over God's love.

5. Choosing between God or Money

For Jesus, serving both God and Wealth (Mammon is the personification of Wealth) is impossible: «No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.»36

Serving God means acting like His child, with His mindset, which is giving, being of service to others. While looking after oneself, one's needs, one's personal security entails gathering wealth as a shelter from the unpredictable, from poverty, from misery. It is trying to rely on ourselves to face the future by accumulating for our needs alone money, goods and influence.

We have a choice to make: to be children of God and so follow in His ways or to be children of the devil and follow in the ways of this world order, based on acquiring possessions and power, on inequality.

What are we to do with our money if we have some? Jesus has a suggestion: «And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.»37

Jesus tells us to use our money to make friends of others so that they will welcome us in the afterlife. We need to use «our» money to help the people who are in need as they then will welcome us in Heaven, this place where it is for all to see that God identifies completely with them.

Jesus follows this by stating: «He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.»38 that someone who cannot be trusted with little cannot be trusted with much and someone who is dishonest about little is dishonest about much. Such a statement is just good sense.

He then goes to say:

If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own?39

Here He argues that if you cannot be trusted with money (little because transitory, ephemeral), how can you be trusted with true riches (something worthwhile because everlasting)? If you cannot be trusted with something as unimportant as someone else's (God's) money, how can you be trusted with something that should be really yours? Or said differently, if you cannot be trusted with money, how can you be trusted with what God wants you to do with your life? How can you make a success of your life, and end up happy in the afterlife?

In Luke's Gospel, Jesus gives an example of what He means: He suggests this method of drawing a list of guests to our dinners:

Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.40

Jesus is telling us to invite people who cannot invite us in return. The idea is that if they cannot repay you, their debt towards you will be maintained until you reach the afterlife. So you will be repaid at «the resurrection of the just».

How does that fit in my scheme? One thing is for sure, this saying can be contrasted with the parable of the rich man who ignored Lazarus. Ignoring the poor makes it Hell, feeding the poor makes it Heaven. Why? Of course, one could talk about «justice» but this is exactly what I want to avoid without twisting Jesus' sayings beyond recognition. It is all very well to try to show that a scheme can work, but you cannot fit square pegs in triangular slots.

I suggested that the reason why the rich man finds the afterlife Hell is because he sees God's love for the poor as well as knowing that he did nothing to alleviate his sufferings, in fact, it can be put even more strongly: God identifies with the poor so much that the rich man sees himself having avoided to feed God Himself. Surely God will have revenge on him for letting Him starve when he could have fed Him. The rich man feels both guilty and afraid. He cannot think of God as being able to forgive, so he stays in his Hell, incapable of leaving it for fear of even worse.

When the man who has fed the poor and the lame has the same insight, he does not have the same reaction. He can rejoice that he fed God! What an honour! What luck! He can rejoice and exult. He is in Heaven. The more God identifies with the poor and the forgotten, the more those who have helped those will exult because of what they did.

The difference between Hell and Heaven is in one's reaction to confronting the same Reality: God. If you know that God is Love, you are not afraid of Him but you run to embrace Him in joy and thanksgiving.

In our world, money is considered essential. We cannot see how we could live without it. We «need» so many things: cars, homes, televisions, clothes, shoes, coats and so on. So to have Jesus making diatribes about money sounds excessive to us. The poor fellow just was not thinking of our world, our country, where we need to pay for electricity, oil, telephone, transport, food, and so on. Surely, He went a bit overboard.

In Luke, Jesus states His case quite soundly: There is no point desiring or possessing more than one really needs as a person's life does not consist in what that person possesses: «And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.»41

Possessions do not in any way help in the afterlife. The Greek word «pleoneksias» (πλεονεξιας) translated by «covetousness» has a wider meaning, which is «having more than others», «advantage», «having too much», «abundance», «desiring more than one should», «cupidity», «covetousness», «insatiable appetite».

This is exactly what Jesus then proceed to explain with the parable that follows His statement:

And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?42

It is very clear from this parable that all this man's abundance of wealth is of no use at all in the afterlife. On the contrary, this man's plan to amass property and goods for his earthly future means that he has not at all planned for his more important future, that of his afterlife.

The moral of the tale is clearly stated in the verse just following the parable: «So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.»43 which can be paraphrased as «So ends up the one who, while amassing lots of goods to protect himself against the unknown of this physical world, forgot to amass what makes him rich in the eyes of God, that is, what he needs to be at his meeting with God.»

Let us look very carefully at what is said here: you have a man who has been accumulating possessions and wealth. He now has so much that he needs greater storage space: so he gets himself a bigger place. He has accumulated wealth, all the necessities of life. He has saved for his retirement. So he can now retire and live a life of ease.

Is not this the life everyone wants for himself? Is not this what everyone tells us must be our aim in life, to save for a happy retirement? How many ads do we find on the subject? How many people tell us we must save for a rainy day? But what does Jesus say? All these things will go to others when you die; there is no way in which they will help you after death, when you meet God. You will have nothing of that to show to Him then.

Most people would have rather said about the dead man: pity he did not retire earlier, while he could still have enjoyed his goods. Now he is dead and cannot. Most do not think of what is after this life; most people do not think about being prepared for that encounter, which can come at any time.

To add another twist, Matthew relates that the final answer Jesus gives to the man who wants to know what to do to inherit eternal life is «Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.»44

Perfection is the same translation of the same Greek word we have seen when we talked about God's as well as His humans' perfection. So Jesus' statement could read : «if you want to be what you are meant to be, sell all and give it to the poor, then come and follow me.»

This is hardly what I see Christians doing by the millions, or even thousands. I do not see all these people who say they have made a commitment to Christ do what He says here. Among those I do not see following this advice, I count myself as well as all the ministers of the various Churches (have they not access to cars, televisions, and most of the amenities of modern life?)

Not everyone necessarily aims for perfection. Some of us could be satisfied by something a little less. The problem is what Jesus says next; that it is very hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom, not to say near impossible:

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.45

And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.46

Of course we could argue that we are not really rich; in fact just somewhere near comfortable with our cars, bungalows, closets full of clothes, dishwashers, fridges, stoves, washing machines, dryers, and so on. All these are necessities of life in this day and age. That most of the people of this earth do not have such amenities is unfortunate; we wish they get them soon.

For Jesus, the more you are rich, the less chance you have to make the Kingdom! Riches are not a sign of God's grace; just the opposite! This flies in the face of the thinking of most Christians who believe, as the Septuagint implies, that riches are a sign of God's love.

The disciples were astounded by Jesus' saying on the near impossibility of the rich to enter the Kingdom. In our case, we prefer to ignore it, which means classifying such a saying among Jesus' «excesses»: He went slightly overboard, you know! He got carried away; He did not really mean it.

6. The widow's alms

Let us look at another incident that shows in a way what we are to do. It is the case of the widow giving money to the treasury at the Temple:

And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.47

Rich people are seen to give substantial sums of money and a poor widow, a very small amount. Obviously, the Temple managers prefer the large amounts given by the rich than the minute amount given by the widow. But Jesus (again, God Incarnate) does not see it that way. The rich gave little of what they had, ensuring themselves a very comfortable life indeed, while the widow gave all she had, leaving nothing for herself and so putting herself in a very sorry state. That she gave all she had while they gave little is the way God sees it; but not the way the worldly Temple managers see it. For them, it is a question of what it costs to carry out such or such a repair; it is not the question of the size of a contributor's loving self-sacrifice in making her contribution.

God does not need repairs to the Temple. What counts for Him is the love humans have for Him. This, because those who love Him very much will want very much to be with Him for all eternity, where they will be rejoicing in His love towards them and others. They will be ready to make whatever adjustment is required in themselves to become like Him. God loves humans totally; the widow showed by her gift that she loved God totally. She acted like Him.

7. Defilement, goodness and evil

Jesus has this to say about trees and their fruits, and people and their words:

Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.48

Jesus' reasoning is straightforward: a tree that produces good fruit is said rightly to be a good tree; similarly a person who utters good words is said to be a good person. After all, good words come from a good heart just like evil words come from an evil heart. What you say shows who you are. If your words are good, you are pure, good; if they are evil, you are impure, evil.

This makes a lot of sense; of course Jesus could have added that you also are good if you perform good deeds and evil if you perform evil deeds. But not everyone is able to put in practice all the threats that he utters. Some destroy others by their words alone.

The logical link between the state of the fruit and that of what produces it is obvious. Jesus says that humans' fruits are their words. So if their talk is «evil», so are they; if their talk is «idle», so are they; if their talk is «good», so are they. The Greek word «pončros» (πονηρος) translated by «evil» means «bad», «defective», «faulty», «wicked», «depraved», the Greek word «argon» (αργον) translated by «idle» means «going nowhere», «unfinished», «incomplete», «slovenly», «slipshod», «lazy», «idle».

So Jesus is requiring of humans that they actually get down to the job the Father has given them to do, which is to produce good fruits; nothing else will do.

The people who reject my scheme will now pounce on the last two verses of the above text which talks about the «day of judgment», when some will be «condemned» and others «justified». Can I extricate myself honestly from what seems the proof that my scheme does not stand?

But who judges? who separates? who accepts to consider someone just? who considers someone condemned? Jesus does not name the «judge».

In my scheme, the day of separation is the day of our death. Then all is revealed, all our shortcomings, all those of others. All the rotten fruits, all the bad fruits, all the fruits that did not reach maturation as well as all the good fruits. Then we will judge and decide either to separate ourselves from the truth and God's love, or we will accept the truth of our poor state of affairs and accept also that of others. We will choose between Heaven or Hell, faced with the truth and the love of God.

Jesus disagrees with the Torah about what constitutes impurety. He states that it has nothing to do with dirty hands, a woman's menstruation or eating such a type of food:

And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand: There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man.49

For Jesus, no human can be defiled by anything that comes into that human, whether it is food, or dirt, liquids or solids, including semen and blood, but only from what comes out of that human from within. For Jesus, a man or a woman who is raped is not defiled.

Jesus considers null and void the Torah's laws on ritual purity, laws which touch every aspect of a Jew's daily life and remind them constantly of their commitment to God's commands:

And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?50

What Jesus considers cause for defilement is the evil that comes from within the «heart». The Greek word «kardia» (καρδια) translated by «heart» is the source of courage, friendship and love on the one hand and passions and anger on the other; and the seat of intelligence:

And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.51

Jesus' list of the evil that emanates from the heart includes adultery (copulating with someone who is married), fornication (copulating with a prostitute), murder and theft. It continues with covetousness (the Greek term «pleoneksia» (πλεονεξια) means «have more than someone else»; «superiority», «have too much», and from there «want more than one should», «cupidity», «covetousness», you can take your pick as for which one Jesus meant here, if not all of the above!). This is followed by «deceit», the translation of «pončria» (πονηρια) which means «nastiness», «perversity» according to my dictionary), lasciviousness, the translation of «aselgeia» (ασελγεια) (which means «impudence», «insolence», «rudeness» and from there lasciviousness, as well as blasphemy, pride, foolishness.

Nothing in this list has to do with worship or even relationship with God but rather with how people relate to others, how they respect others, how they treat others as they want to be treated (the Golden Rule).

But what about blasphemy? The Greek word «blasphčmia» (βλασφημια) translated by «blasphemy» means according to my dictionary a «word of bad omen»; a «word which must not be pronounced in a religious ceremony», and from there an «impious, ungodly and irreligious word».

Nowhere in the Bible is God really hurt by something someone says. Words uttered by mere humans do not wound Him. The only time I recall Him talking about His good name being put into question is when He decides that He cannot continue to punish His people by letting them in the hands of the goyim because if He does so, the goyim will be able to say that He was incapable of protecting them. In the Septuagint we find Him again and again saving His people for His good name's sake.

The God described in the Septuagint does not need the sacrifices that are given to Him; His good health does not depend on such a religious thing being done according to the right prescription. The only effect of the utterance of something impious is to provoke His anger at the blasphemer and the people around him. The consequence of the blaspheme is thus something bad affecting not only the person responsible but also the community in which he lives. So again this affects others.

8. What to make of all this?

What did we learn from this Chapter? Jesus' main point is that we have to love everyone the same, whether they are good or bad, whether they want to do us good or evil. The corollary of this is that we cannot defend ourselves or anybody else for that matter; neither can we protect anything that we have or that they have. This flies in the face of the basic law of any civilized society where the right of defense of self, family and possessions is primordial. No wonder that those who live according to Jesus are at variance with their family and society. They are to let their loved ones be tortured rather than help them! And they are to forgive and love those tormentors! They are to help those who steal from them! No wonder this requires a strong trust in this message of non violence and love! We need an unshakable trust that God will provide us with His «August Breath» that will sustain us to live a life of love whatever happens to us, whether we are robbed, tortured or raped. We are to remain steadfast in His ways of loving everyone whatever happens. And think of them as better than us! Everything must be subservient to this Law of Love of all.

Why must we? Why does Jesus tells us that we have to live like that? Does not all this smack of sadism or masochism? Why are we not «saved» if we follow the laws that I mentionned earlier, laws that are normally considered basic and moral in any civilized society?

According to my scheme, God loves everyone the same, good or bad, sadists or not. This love of God will be for all to see. We will know that God loves our torturors, our rapists, our killers as much as us. We will know for a fact that Adolf Hitler and mother Theresa are loved equally by God. Will this fact revolt us or amaze us? will it make us rebel or rejoice? Is it not a good idea to get used to His ways now rather than to be shocked later, and unable to accept them as infinitely right and so live Hell for all eternity?

My conclusions are very different from what is heard in most churches. Why? Have they not read the texts I have just looked at? Of course they have. But it seems that the idea of «pick and choose» which Jesus applied to the Septuagint has also been applied to His words by those who claim to follow Him! So the sayings with which we are unconfortable have been largely discarded.

There is more. Those who claim to follow Jesus consider the Septuagint as nearly as important as Jesus' words. For them, Jesus came to «save» them by dying on the Cross as required by the Septuagint: that was His main contribution. His sayings are secundary, at par with the Septuagint. And there is no doubt that what the Septuagint introduces is a religion which ordains every aspect of a citizen's life, in other words, a state religion.

As soon as we want to introduce obligations on others, we need a social compact. This the Torah creates while Jesus' message does not. Jesus tells the individual what her obligations are; not what others' obligations are toward her. Jesus does not talk about rights. For Him, we have no rights at all. We are at the disposal of others as we are to love them completely whatever happens.

Such a message is definitely unacceptable to the State as it cannot base law and order on it. On the other hand, the Torah is perfectly acceptable to the State. As my scheme does not permit me to mitigate Jesus' message by the Septuagint, I end up with a message that spells the end of the State if it was to be lived by its citizens.

Soon after Jesus' death some got concerned about creating a «Christian» society. As a society is based on laws, rights and obligations for those living in that social group, they had to go to the Septuagint and so necessarily «forget» some of Jesus' message as being impossible for those «living in the world», in contact with other citizens, either Christians or not. Jesus' message is subversive and does not lend itself to create and maintain a society. As my principle of coherence does not permit me to jettison any part of Jesus' message, I am stuck with the whole of His unconfortable, anarchic and antisocial message.

The day the Roman Emperors wanted to make Christianity a state religion was the day that sealed the fate of Jesus' subversion. His message was sanitized by the Septuagint, and the various kings and emperors were able to see themselves as heirs to David: they were now reigning by divine right! To make a mockery of Jesus' message, we make Him «King of Kings and Lord of Lords», Him Whom we crucified after scurging Him, spitting on His message, and hanging Him to die naked for all to see what a worm He was! He is no king; He is that hidious beggar who smells and stinks of liquor on the next street!

The Enemy, the Prince of this world order, made Jesus into his own image, used Him to justify his subjugation of all humans. Jesus' kingdom is not of this world order. He does not give orders, laws and obligations. He forgives all, loves all, embraces all. And He begs us to do the same so we can find happiness when we come face to face with Reality, as we will inevitably do the day we die.

It is impossible to justify any law, any state, any war, any justice system or any morality (in the real sense of this term) by Jesus' message if taken as a comprehensive whole as required by my principle of coherence. If this is indeed so, any «Christian» ethic is not consistent with Jesus' message. In that case, whose ethic is it? Does «Christian» mean «of Jesus» or does it mean «figured out by people who kind of follow Him after 'mature' reflection»? Or is it that they do not really believe that the Gospels accurately reported all of Jesus' sayings?

1 Matthew 23:9

2 Matthew 5:48

3 Matthew 5:44-45

4 Luke 6:36

5 Matthew 6:7-13;15

6 Mark 11:25-26

7 Luke 11:2-4

8 Luke 11:11-13

9 Matthew 7:7-12

10 Luke 12:24-34

11 Matthew 10:29

12 Mark 1:40-42 (also Matthew 8:2-4)

13 Mark 4:37-41 (also Luke 8:22-25)

14 Matthew 10:16-20

15 Matthew 16:24

16 Matthew 16:25

17 Matthew 16:26

18 Matthew 16:27

19 Matthew 10:32-33

20 Matthew 10:34-37

21 Matthew 10:38-39

22 Luke 14:26-27

23 Luke 14:28-33

24 Matthew 7:21-23

25 Matthew 7:24-27

26 Matthew 18:14

27 Matthew 18:10

28 Luke 14:8-11

29 Matthew 18:1-5

30 Mark 9:37

31 Mark 9:38-40

32 Matthew 18:6

33 Matthew 18:7-14

34 Matthew 6:1

35 Matthew 5:16

36 Matthew 6:24

37 Luke 16:9

38 Luke 16:10

39 Luke 16:11-12

40 Luke 14:12-14

41 Luke 12:15

42 Luke 12:16-20

43Luke 12:21

44 Matthew 19:21

45 Matthew 19:23-24

46 Matthew 19:29

47 Mark 12:41-44 (also Luke 20:1-4)

48 Matthew 12:33-37 (also Matthew 7:15-20)

49 Mark 7:14-15 (also Matthew 15:11)

50 Mark 7:18-19 (also Matthew 15:17)

51 Mark 7:20-23 (also Matthew 15:18-20)

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Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, June 6th, 2004

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