Christianity is a religion, but Jesus was not religious, at least not by most standards. For instance, Jesus relied on observation and reason, not visions and revelations, to form his ideas and philosophies. This characteristic was so striking with him that people reportedly were astonished at his teachings, saying that he spoke as one having authority, not like other religious teachers of his day (meaning that he did not reference scripture or divine manifestations to add weight to his teachings).
Unlike John the Baptist who taught that cataclysmic events would usher in the Kingdom of God, Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God was already present in its glory. John taught that God’s reign would be established in power, resulting in the destruction of the wicked. By contrast, Jesus taught that God’s reign is merciful and kind, for, as Jesus observed, God causes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends the rains upon the just and upon the unjust. John’s kingdom-concept was a radical departure from typical life. Jesus’ kingdom-concept was characteristic of typical life; one could even witness it in the lilies of the field. Apparently John was so disappointed in Jesus’ approach that he reportedly sent one of his disciples to inquire whether or not Jesus had given up on what John perceived as their shared vision.
Jesus was sarcastic and often turned venerated religious symbols upon their heads, so to speak. For instance, leavening was a symbol of corruption in Old Testament literature. The Israelites were commanded to eat unleavened bread in their religious observance and ceremonies. In blatant defiance of Jewish scripture and custom, Jesus made leavening the icon for his kingdom-concept: “The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.”
There were many other commandments which Jesus ignored or scoffed at. In response to criticism that he did not observe ritualistic purity practices established by the law of Moses, he observed that it is not that which goes in by the mouth that defiles a man, but rather that which comes out of the mouth that defiles a man. Furthermore, he defended his disciples laboring on the sabbath, he pardoned a woman caught in the act of adultery when the law demanded death, and he replaced the doctrine of repentance with that of seeking joy. For instance, he taught that the kingdom of heaven is like a man who finds treasure in a field; the man buries the treasure, sells all that he possesses, buys the field, and rejoices that he has obtained such great wealth. Jesus did not teach self-purification by the purging of sin. Instead he taught that people should set their hearts upon transcendent values and let the intrinsic rewards guide their way.
Jesus didn’t blend too well with religious folk. In fact, Jesus and religion were an explosive combination. He told his disciples to beware the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The threat that he posed to the ruling ecclesiastical class ultimately led to his crucifixion. Jesus was baptized by John but he broke from John’s movement which promoted too much self-denial and cataclysm for Jesus’ more indulgent tastes. There is no record of Jesus baptizing anyone. He did not establish a church. Churches fundamentally promote a separation of who is in and who is out, who is worthy and who is unworthy, who is saved and who is damned. Jesus’ inclusionary practices and his preference for the outcast would have rendered a church an obstacle more than an aid. It seems that Jesus was more interested in healing and inspiring than in extracting oaths and offerings. Jesus was a hero. He still is. And that’s life after death.
Author of JACK