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The Watering Hole - Conversations on 21st. Century religion.

This Jesus


Peace. Good will toward men.

This Jesus - Peace and Goodwill Toward Men

A police officer once delivered a stranger to me who was coming through town. He wanted someone to talk to about God.

The man was on his way, by rail, to see his estranged brother. The man was dying of cancer and had only a short time to live. On the way there a question overpowered him. When he died what would God do with him? He admitted that he abused alcohol and had not been a good person. Definitely not a religious person. We didn't get into any details - I couldn't share them anyway - but I gathered he had mistreated friends and family. Don't you reap what you sow? What goes around comes around?

I can't speak for God. No one can. I don't have the answers to such dire questions. I don't even know what God is. No one does. Not even Thor. The following is off the point of this story, so you can skip this paragraph. The word "God" is a title from German, originally meaning "to invoke," as in to request assistance. It isn't a description or name. It's used in the Bible to translate the Greek word "deus" and theos, both of which mean "a god," "any god." Both are ancient Indo-European words. For the Ancient Jews, the word "el" in Semitic languages is a root that indicated God. For example, elohîm, which interestingly is plural. For Jesus the word for God would have been "Allah," same as used today by Arabic speakers.

There is a lot we just don't know about God. There is no definition in the Bible. But I can look at 5000 years of history at what other people tell what they felt God required of them and how he treated them. I researched and wrote a book about it.

All through the centuries, God in many religions has been equated with fairness, social justice, compassion, forgiveness, and love. Fairness in business was a big one. Of course there is the battle god that protects people during war. Was this wishful thinking in a time when conquering other communities and nations was extremely common. But what we believe God asks of us is the same qualities he shows us: fairness, social justice, compassion, forgiveness, and love. Primarily love - wanting the best for others and helping them get it, even for your enemies.

There came this Jesus, whose birth we celebrate, but probably on the wrong day. The day and particulars don't matter. It's a story about the "why" of his birth, not the silly details. It's said the angels proclaimed that his appearance meant peace on earth and good will toward men. Big message. It's like in a beauty pageant where the contestant wants peace on earth - nice to say peace on earth, but short on specifics.

For those who would follow his ways, Jesus brought "Good News." For many that message of Good News relates to forgiveness of sins. Do we care about forgiveness of sins today? Not so much, I think. But that man who came to see me cared. A life full of bad deeds stood between him and whatever comes next.

In Jesus' day, the idea of sin was like a huge boulder that hung around the neck of every Jew. They had 613 Biblical religious laws they were supposed to obey, and still do. Around half were ceremonial laws. If the law had to do with offending another person, they had to go to that person and make it right. We should still all do that, and Jesus agreed. If the law involved offending God, then they had to make a sacrifice at the Temple once a year. Sacrifice meant giving up something of value, like your food. There were all kinds of sacrifices - the religion was obsessed with sin and sacrificing, a gargantuan burden.

Jesus stepped into this land of suffering and said to the Jews, I spend time with tax collectors, prostitutes, people you hate like the Samaritans and Roman soldiers, lepers and beggars - all people who need help. But the only people I condemn are the religious leaders who are snakes and hypocrites who put heavy burdens on you.

Like the prophets before him who said God needs no house or feasts. Jesus pointed out that the laws they kept such as the Sabbath (weekly day of rest) were for them, not God. They didn't need to sacrifice, see a priest, or even go to the Temple for forgiveness, all they needed to do was ask God. God forgives all sin. Why? He doesn't want the wrong things you've done to others standing between you and a better future. It's a recipe for endless suffering. That boulder shouldn't be around your neck, dragging you down and ruining your relationships forever. That's the Good News he was talking about. His burden is light.

The Kingdom of God is now, right here, not some future place reserved for a special dead few. The Good News sets you free from that giant rock that ruins your relationships with others. The kingdom isn't a religious group, or a bunch of new laws to keep, or a government that watches over your religious life. It isn't a social group for those who want to make themselves look good - Jesus hated that. It's for everyone who would try to live lives that love others. Peace and good will are the result.

So what did I tell this man about God? I told him the Good News. It doesn't matter what you've done in your past, all is forgiven for the asking. God isn't looking for a way to sink your ship. Vengeance and punishment aren't what he wants - he wants mercy, not sacrifice. It matters that you try to follow Jesus' ways and become a new person whose way is love. It really isn't that complicated.

Jesus was born, he riled the religious and government leaders who saw him as a threat (remember he called them snakes and hypocrites and condemned them), and the Romans nailed him to a cross to die. In his last action while he was gasping for breath as he hung on the cross, he had a brief conversation with the ones hanging on each side of him. When you're gasping for air, you get right to the point. The thief dying next to him recognized that by the law of that time he actually deserved to be there. Jesus said to him, "Today you will be with me in paradise."

The thief didn't have to go through a bunch of religious ceremony or renounce anything, or say anything special. Like my friend who sought advice on God, the thief realized he had done wrong. We all know what we've done. No one needs to point it out and make us dwell on it. Such is the grace of God that doing wrong isn't what God is looking for. He wants people to exhibit the qualities of fairness, social justice, compassion, forgiveness, and love. That's the expectation. These things result in peace and Good Will toward men. This is what we know about God from analyzing 5000 years of history.

- Dorian

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- Dorian

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