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Jesus' life and words

Life, Love and Law

Life, Love and Law: Chapter 4


From Love to Light

1. Service

God's life of service towards His Humans is lived to the full by Jesus. He says explicitly «For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister»1 where the Greek word «diakonèsai» (διακοησαι) translated by «minister» means «be a servant».

Jesus also wants His disciples to be servants to others. He wants them to look after each other in pragmatic ways. Jesus made this very clear on His last evening with His disciples when, in John's Gospel, He washes His disciples' feet as an example for them:

Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.2

In this episode, only mentioned in John's Gospel, Jesus washed His disciples' feet after the meal, although before Judas' departure.3 This is an odd time to wash guests' feet; one would normally do that before the meal, when people gathered. It is as if Jesus did this as a response to something that had just happened.

I believe, rightly or wrongly, that John's author basically corrects what he considers were the omissions in the other Gospels. If this is so, we can find the solution to our problem by looking at Luke's account of Jesus' last meal with His disciples. In it, we find that, after the meal, after Jesus told His disciples that He was going to be betrayed that same night, they started bickering about who among them was the greatest:4

And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.5

Jesus had to tell them yet again that they had it wrong; upside-down in fact! In God's order, the leader is the one who serves, just as God Himself is their Father, the One who looks after them, and just as His Son is their Servant. They still thought according to this world's order instead of God's; they had not understood Jesus' message; they needed it to come to perfection on Good Friday. O that this message would be really understood by Christians!

Jesus is a Servant who wants all to do likewise to all as He does not set limits as to whom He serves. He is there to serve all, evil as well as good in the passage already referred to «For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister». After all, he did wash Judas' feet at a time when He knew full well what decision Judas had taken.

2. Seeking sinners

There is something pointedly absent in the Gospels. While God readily acts as a Father and a help in many passages of the Septuagint, in each and every one He only does so with deserving humans: those who follow His law, call upon His name. In the Gospels however, Jesus never checks someone's morals or state of sinfulness before doing a miracle of healing for them (surely an act of service).

Jesus does not only heal whoever asks Him, He spends His time in «shady» company, with people of ill-repute to the scandal of the «good people», those who follow zealously the prescriptions of the law:6

And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.7

Jesus makes clear in His answer to the Pharisees' objections that He is sent to those who need Him. He is a physician: the people He meets are not strong, they are unwell, not as they should be. He is there to heal them. He then quotes from the Septuagint and adds (I paraphrase the Greek text) «for I have not come to call the ones who conform to the rules, the Law, those who fulfill their obligations towards God and men. I have come to call the ones who are going the wrong way, who are in error, who are at fault.»

While my paraphrase of the word «righteous» can be said to be useless, the one of the word «sinners» definitely is not: the Greek word «amartôlous» (αμαρτωλους) is better translated by «those who err», «those who are lost». Those terms are less moralistic, more matter of fact though they still mean that those people are on the wrong road, do wrong things.8

So Jesus (God) is a doctor who makes house-calls! He goes to visit the sick and brings them help. His goal is to see that everyone is well. This is far from a God who promulgates a Law on a mountain with lots of «special effects» and finishes by cursing those who would dare to transgress it!

There is another interesting incident on the same theme. Again we have good God-fearing people who are really upset because Jesus spends His time not with them but with «publicans and sinners»:

Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And he spake this parable unto them, saying, What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.9

Jesus says that anyone who has sheep will leave the others and go looking for the lost one: this is what people do naturally. They seek what they have lost, even if it means spending a lot of time to find it. No one accepts to lose something without putting a lot of effort in finding it. Such a person will rejoice when she finally finds her lost sheep. She will celebrate with her friends her recovery of the one sheep she had lost out of the hundred.

Jesus says that God is like that. He seeks «sinners», He looks for «those who are lost» until He finds them. He brings them back on the right path until the sheep are «home» where He can look after them (pasture). Then God calls His friends and they party.

«Repentance» is the translation of the Greek term «metanoia» (μετανοια) which means «change of mind», «regret», «repentance». So God helps those who err to have the change of heart required to get on the right track and so be well again. This makes clear that God wants all to come to salvation and that He will go the extra mile to bring all «home».

Another interesting case is that of the Publican Zaccheus. This story can be divided in three sections. In the first part, Zaccheus, a very rich Publican, climbs up a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus as He passes by, an undignified way of seeing Him:

And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.10

Zaccheus does not mind making a fool of himself to see Jesus as he is not a kid to climb on trees but a very successful businessman. Jesus sees him, tells him to come down and invites Himself at his house for the day!11 Zaccheus is exceedingly happy to have Jesus at his place, but the «good people» complain that Jesus is making Himself the guest of a sinner:

And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.12

The result of Jesus' visit: His host announces that he gives half his goods to the poor and will restore fourfold what he got through false accusation. The simple fact that He makes Himself available to this man, that He lets him entertain Him, has as a result a complete turn around of this man's life. Thanks to His attention, the «sinner» has a change of heart, of perspective:

And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.13

Jesus makes it clear to all that Zaccheus is «saved»: he is now of the Kingdom, living according to God's ways. Again He makes it clear that He is there to «seek and to save which was lost».

3. Faith in God's attentive service

Not only does Jesus say that He is His humans' servant, doctor and shepherd. He also makes this statement about God's service to His creation in general and His humans in particular:

And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.14

Jesus says that God looks after His humans; He knows their needs and sees to them. His children should not worry about their material needs but trust in their Father. Such is God that we should not worry about food, clothes, etc. any more than do the lilies of the field.

He also makes clear that the rôle of prayer is not to tell God what we need as He is already well aware of everything that concerns us :

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.15

Three times in a few verses Jesus uses the sentence «and your Father, which seeth in secret».16 That should make it clear that for Jesus, God as Father knows everything that is being done. The God of Jesus is not only one who acts like a human Father; He acts like a Father who knows everyone of our needs and actions; from Whom nothing is hidden.

4. Everything done by everyone will be known by everybody

What is hidden is not only known to God but will also be revealed to all. It is one thing that God knows about our deeds but quite another that everyone else does as well! This is exactly what Jesus says:

For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.17

Jesus insists that all will eventually be revealed. Where, how and when is not specified. Jesus thought that it was important for us to grasp this point. Experience teaches us that such a revelation of others' deeds does not usually happen in this life. So it seems that Jesus expects this revelation to be made in the life to come.

Jesus' view of this earthly life is very different from that found in the Septuagint. While Jesus believes the afterlife is more important than this earthly life which is only its preparation, most of the authors of the Septuagint believe at best in the existence of an underworld of «shades», an afterlife which is a mere shadow of this present life, with nothing to commend it. So it is this earthly life that is really important for them.

While the authors of the Septuagint demand justice from God in this life, Jesus tells us about the future. For Jesus, God does not have to be «fair» in this life: He does not have to make sure the «good» get their reward and the «bad» get their punishment while in this life. For Jesus, bad things can happen to good people. In fact, He seems to think that bad things always happen to good people in this life. It is in the afterlife that the good will get their reward just like it is in the afterlife that the bad will get theirs.

To come back to our original point, the following quote «I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance»18 makes it clear that God is not alone in Heaven but that there are people there with Him, people who are rejoicing with Him. Jesus states that those who are with God in Heaven know what happens on earth. They know who the ninety-nine sheep are as well as who is the lost one.

God loves us enough to come and seek «sinners» to make them «whole». Just as God is extremely aware of our every deeds, thoughts and needs, so are all who belong to Heaven. This is hardly surprising as Jesus tells us that there we will be like Him and His Father. If God is in love with each and every one of His Humans, so must all those in Heaven.

5. Summary

I argued in my essay Christians and Scripture that the Gospels are the only texts that can be used to determine Christian belief as they are the only texts that give us the words and acts of Jesus Christ, God's Voice. This, of course, is based on the fundamental belief that Jesus is God's perfect Voice, God the Word. I also argued there that the Gospels cannot be interpreted in any way that bring about a contradiction in the various sayings and deeds of Jesus. I think it is fair to say that the way I have interpreted the texts examined so far does not create a contradiction.

I think it is fair to conclude from the various Gospel texts examined so far and the assumption that Jesus is the Expression of God, God's Word, that:

1) God loves everyone the same, good or bad;

2) God seeks those who err as He loves them unconditionally;

3) God's love consists of acts of service (like washing feet);

4) God considers it is essential for us to do and be like Him;

5) God knows all our actions and thoughts and

6) God will reveal all in the afterlife.

These facts have definite consequences in the afterlife, consequences that can be either heavenly or hellish according to an individual's state. This is what will be argued in the next Chapter. This will be done on only one premiss: that God is the One who loves unconditionally everyone of His creatures.

1 Mark 10:45

2 John 13:13-15

3 «Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him; Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.» (John 13:1-5)

4 They probably all wanted to take over after Jesus' betrayal! What concerned individuals for Jesus' wellfare!

5 Luke 22:24-27

6 also reported in Mark 2:15-17 and Luke 5:29-32

7 Matthew 9:10-13. The original Greek text which is translated in the quote does not mention the word «repentance» in any of the three references: the non-existent words are in italic.

8 It could be said against me that this Greek word is used in the Septuagint time and time again. So it is plausible that the term had by the time of Jesus a religious and moral connotation close to our use of the word «sinner» rather than the more general translation that I favour.

9 Luke 15:1-7

10 Luke 19:2-4

11 Something that is frowned upon in many passages of the Septuagint as mingling with sinners is seen as endorsing their way of life, giving them legitimacy. No wonder the «good God-fearing people» of Jesus' days could not accept His behaviour: the Septuagint does not either!

12 Luke 19:5-7

13 Luke 19:8-10

14 Matthew 6:28-32

15 Matthew 6:7-8

16 Matthew 6:4,6,18

17 Luke 12:1-3. The first part of this text is also found in Matthew 10:26

18 Luke 15:7

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

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