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Jesus started with God

Christian scholars tend to search the New Testament for clues about Jesus' life and personality. I can tell you that some pretty interesting theories have been advanced since the Jesus Seminar began, way back when Albert Schweitzer started to wonder what lay beneath the surface of the New Testament.

If you look at the evidence, it is pretty clear that the circumstances of Jesus' birth were well known by everyone in Nazareth. Everybody knew that he was conceived out of wedlock; there are hints of it in some questionable remarks made about him and his mother in the Gospel of Mark, which was cleaned up by the author of the Gospel of Matthew and later writers. For an investigation of this I urge everyone to read Jane Schaberg's groundbreaking book The Illegitimacy of Jesus.

We also tend to miss the fact that, in spite of his background, Jesus apparently rose to some kind of status as a spiritual leader. His decision to follow John the Baptist may have had more of an impact on his community than we realize. It is also clear that he took over the leadership of John's followers--that's where all those people came from who are described in Scripture as following him around to hear his preaching. That's who they were.

But what Jesus did not do was begin a new religion. If he could put it in a way that we might put it, he might say that he was spreading his realization of the nature of God--a realization that we agree with. You need to look at the Judeo-Christian theological tradition on a timeline to understand this. The rules and regulations that were codified in the Old Testament began hundreds of years before Jesus was born, and many of them had lapsed into insignificance even by Late Antiquity.

That is why there is a hodgepodge of "laws" that are no longer practiced even in Orthodox Judaism today. Today's Jewish community does not buy and sell slaves; they do not perform their own executions for infractions of the Levitical Code. Anyone who says we should be doing that kind of thing is a person who is terrified of God, a person who does not have a true understanding of the nature of God's unconditional love.

And that is just what Jesus went around talking about. He told the Jews of his day that God was like the father of the Prodigal Son, weeping with joy when the lost boy came to his senses and returned to his family. He taught us that God's love is not limited to our own kind, like the Good Samaritan who helped a complete stranger recover from being attacked by brigands. These stories describe a different God from the Book of Leviticus. They describe a God who is not angry and judgmental, but rather compassionate and understanding.

In fact, these concepts from Christianity supersede those of the Old Testament as far as our theology is concerned. The Jewish theological community deals with this in their own way, to which Christianity is irrelevant. But on our side, we need to disentangle ourselves from obsolete fear-based ideas and catch up to Jesus.

Yes, we are far behind the concepts that Jesus taught in his day. You can tell by the fact that the Church has left behind the teachings of St. Paul, even though, ironically, we read from his Letters on most Sundays at church. But the Cristian Church does not put this into practice:

"But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.

"For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." [Galatians 3"23-29]

For that matter, we do not, as Christians, even put this simple rule from Leviticus into practice, as today's politicians amply demonstrate:

"When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God." [Leviticus 19:33-34]

Through a combination of circumstances entirely beyond American control, there is a large influx of unaccompanied children seeking to live in the U. S. This situation is not to be controlled on the other end; we can only, as a nation, react to this strange turn of circumstances. And those who call themselves Christian, and those who quote the Old Testament to prove their piety, are violating this rule of hospitality out of the Book of Leviticus every day, even mouthing the most foul and abusive sentiments in front of any camera or microphone they can get in front of. Meanwhile almost every weekend in America is marked by gunfights in the streets of one city or another. This is how much we value our own children and citizens, to say nothing of what politicians think of those who flee from the damaged societies that Americans have created.

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