I have been thinking in past weeks how I ought to read some more of the Bible. In the past several years, outside of the weekly lectionary readings and some readings from the “Jesus Seminar” folks, I haven’t read it too much. I have read more from the non canonical books such as the Gospel of Thomas, of Mary and The Gospel of Truth. These are easily available online. So I felt I would like to read “the church’s Bible” more for myself without needing to teach or speak from it in a public, paid position. I have grown to see this Bible as basically a dualist book, a meaning a book which seeks to take the spirit world of transcendence as serious as it does the material world of mundane matter. I thought I would begin with those various early Christian writings of which we mostly know as the “New Testament.”
Beginning with Matthew, I was reminded of the sweeping summary it is of the life of Jesus. Written near the end of the 1st century, it is an attempt to keep folks, especially Jewish, from completely leaving the idea of following Jesus as a spiritual teacher. It also wants to show that Jesus was more respected than John the Baptist as a teacher.
I was struck by a few words in those early chapters. In chapter one with the announcement to Mary of the birth of Jesus, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere she is called a virgin in the idea we understand of having no prior sexual activity with a male before official marriage. She was engaged but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her husband as he is called, felt embarrassed, perhaps for his and her inability to restrain their passions before a home could be set up (not unknown then and today). He thus was willing to break the engagement until an angel appeared in a dream and told him to take her since the child in her womb was from the Holy Spirit. He is told that this child will save his people from their sins and be named “Emmanuel” meaning “God is with us.” I don’t think this means that Mary was impregnated with some “immaculate conception” but they realized the child she bore was to have a special destiny as revealed by the dream. This isn’t too uncommon is it, or ought to be? Should not every child conceived be considered to be holy, a bearer of spiritual truth which can help liberate humanity from misery, guilt, fear and hated, our sins?
Later on we notice that it was John the Baptist who first announced the famous, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” It’s a phrase meaning to change our minds, the meaning of “repent,” to realize and understand that it is here among us. Such a kingdom, in contrast to the older teachings, was not to be understood as physical but spiritual. Later, beginning his ministry in northern Galilee, Jesus began his ministry with same shocking phrase, highlighting that freedom and peace came not necessarily from governments or special lands but from awareness and awakening to the Divine within.
Soon Jesus is portrayed by Matthew as teaching and living this radical new way of looking at ourselves and world. The Beatitudes were given in chapter 5, given here to just a few of his disciples together on a mountain, ideas which were so radically different from the usual ideas of salvation. We are to assume an opposite understanding of blessedness or happiness. When hated and spurned and with loss of worldly prestige and goods, we still can be comforted, merciful, forgiving, and at peace. Concerning anger, we are warned that to be angry with a brother or sister is to be liable for “hell fire,” a Jewish metaphor for a very miserable life! Further, we are not to resist evil in this world with the usual means but by passive resistance. “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also!” If that isn’t enough, we are told to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….” What a radical change of thinking, a thinking which even now in churches, centuries later, hasn’t been grasped by his purported devoted disciples.
I think Jesus was introducing such a powerful new message of spirituality that people just couldn’t accept it, at least very many. Later, the popularity of his life was taken over by a church which combined with countries as one theocracy ruler, continued on the old idea of conquer and rule by the sword, and the last one standing wins. The modern day A Course in Miracles is again a radical return to the idea that we are spirit rather than material bodies. It is a strong non-dualistic writing. The material world we are in as bodies is short-lived and but an illusion of reality of Spirit. One can see glimpses of this in ancient Biblical writings, and scattered even more plentifully in those early Christian writings, but very openly and clearly in the Course in Miracles, which really might be called a “Course in Understanding.” I am Spirit, the Course boldly asserts. “Spirit am I, a hold Child of God, free of all limits, safe and healed and whole, free to forgive, and free to save the world.” (Lesson 97)
I will continue in the weeks ahead, as permitted, to continue commenting on the Bible and the Course, and other spiritual resources to help promote the idea that only the Spirit world is real and that our release of attachments to things of this world, can and will bring increasing peace and happiness to those who awaken and live this truth.