We need to look at Jesus until we can see the world with his eyes. In Jesus Christ, God’s own broad, deep, and all-inclusive worldview is made available to us.
Too often, we have substituted the messenger for the message. As a result, we spent a great deal of time worshiping the messenger and trying to get other people to do the same. Too often this obsession became a pious substitute for actually following what Jesus taught—he did ask us numerous times to follow him (for example, Matthew 4:19; Mark 10:21; John 1:43), and never once to worship him.
If you pay attention to the text, you’ll see that the Apostle John offers a very evolutionary notion of the Christ message. Note the active verb that is used here: “The true light that enlightens every person was coming (erxomenon) into the world” (John 1:9). In other words, we’re talking not about a one-time Big Bang in nature or a one-time Incarnation in Jesus, but an ongoing, progressive movement continuing in the ever-unfolding creation. Incarnation did not just happen two thousand years ago. It has been working throughout the entire arc of time and will continue. This is expressed in the common phrase the “Second Coming of Christ.” Unfortunately, this was often heard as a threat (“Wait till your Dad gets home!”). It could more accurately be spoken of as the “Forever Coming of Christ,” the ongoing promise of eternal resurrection and the evolution of consciousness into the mind of Christ.
Christ is the light that allows people to see things in their fullness. The precise and intended effect of such a light is to see Christ everywhere else. In fact, that is my only definition of a true Christian. A mature Christian sees Christ in everything and everyone else. That is a definition that will
- never fail you,
- always demand more of you, and
- give you no reasons to
- exclude, or
- reject anyone.
The point of the Christian life is not to distinguish oneself from the ungodly, but to stand in radical solidarity with everyone and everything else. This is the intended effect of the Incarnation—symbolized by the cross, God’s great act of solidarity instead of judgment. Without a doubt, Jesus perfectly exemplified this seeing and thus passed it on to the rest of history. This is how we are to imitate Jesus, the good Jewish man who saw and called forth the divine in Gentiles like the Syro-Phoenician woman and the Roman centurions; in Jewish tax collectors who collaborated with the Empire; in zealots who opposed it; in sinners of all stripes; in eunuchs, astrologers, and all those “outside the law.” Jesus had no trouble whatsoever with otherness. In fact, these “lost sheep” found out they were not lost to him at all and tended to become his best followers.
In the Franciscan view, God did not need to be paid in order to love and forgive God’s own creation. Love cannot be bought by some “necessary sacrifice”; if it could, it would not and could not work its transformative effects. Duns Scotus and his followers were committed to protecting the absolute freedom to love in God. If forgiveness needs to be bought or paid for, then it is not authentic forgiveness at all. Love and forgiveness must be freely given or they do not accomplish their deeply transformative healing. Self-serving love does not change the heart. It must be free and undeserved love or transformation does not happen. (Think about that and you will know it is true!)
I’m not sure many Christians recognize the dangers of penal substitutionary atonement theory. Perhaps the underlying assumptions were never made clear, even though thinking people throughout the ages were often repelled by such a crass notion of God. This theory has become a nail in the coffin of belief for many sincere, thoughtful individuals today. Some Christians just repress their misgiving because they think it implies a complete loss of faith. But I would wager that for every person who voices doubt, many more quietly walk away from a religion that has come to seem irrational, mythological, and deeply unsatisfying to the heart and soul. And these are usually not “bad” people!
Christianity can do so much better, and doing so will not diminish Jesus in the least. In fact, it will allow Jesus to take on a universal and humanly appealing dimension. The cross cannot be an arbitrary and bloody sacrifice triggered by a sin that was once committed by one man and one woman under a tree between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Frankly, that idea reduces any notion of a universal or truly “catholic” revelation to one planet, at the edge of one solar system, in a universe comprised of billions of galaxies with trillions of solar systems. A religion based on required sacrifices is just not glorious or hopeful enough or even befitting the marvelous creation. To those who cling to Anselm’s understanding, I would say, as J. B. Phillips wrote many years ago, “Your God is too small.” 
Today we will continue looking at the way Jesus used the Scriptures with some specific examples:
- He openly disagrees with Scriptures that emphasize non-essentials and “mere human commandments” that made their way into what are presented as divine commandments (see Mark 7:1-23 and almost all of Matthew 23).
- He consistently and openly flouts seemingly sacred taboos like not working on the Sabbath, not meeting with women, not eating with sinners and non-Jews, not touching lepers, and purity codes in general. He is shamed and criticized for ignoring: sacred hand washing (see Luke 11:38, for example); taboos against touching the dead, unclean people, and unclean foods; and the practice of stoning women adulterers. Jesus has Jewish common sense and can never be called a legalist or a “conservative.” In fact, he is accused of being a libertarian and a non-ascetic, instead of following the strict fasting of John the Baptist and his disciples (see Matthew 9:14).
- Jesus reduces the 613 clear biblical commandments down to two: love of God and love of neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40).
- He minimizes or even replaces commandments, as when he tells the rich young man that it is all fine and good that he has obeyed the Ten Commandments, but what he really needs to do is sell everything and give the money to the poor (see Mark 10:21).
- He omits troublesome verses with which he does not agree, as when he drops the final half verse from the Isaiah scroll when he first reads in the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4:18-19). The audience would be familiar with the final line of Isaiah 61:2: “to proclaim a day of vengeance from our God.” Yet Jesus ends earlier with “proclaims the Lord’s day of favor.” There he goes again, light and easy with the sacred text! Good Protestants would call that “selectively quoting” and pious Catholics would call it “cafeteria Catholicism.”
- Jesus uses Scripture in rather edgy ways to defend people, like when he says that David went into the temple and took the loaves of offering to feed his troops (Mark 2:26) or tells the story of the poor man who works on the Sabbath to get his donkey out of a ditch (Luke 14:5). His general principle seems to be summarized in his famous line that “the Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). This sounds a lot like what many Christians would today call “mere humanism” or “situation ethics.”
- Jesus feels free to reinterpret the Law—for example, when he says, six times in a row, “The Law says . . . but I say” in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-48).
Salvation is not a magical transaction accomplished by moral behavior or joining the right group. The only salvation worthy of the name is a gradual realization of who we are already in this world—and always have been—and will be eternally. Salvation is not a question of if nearly as much as when.
Many who call themselves conservative seem to believe that Jesus is fully divine and we are barely human. Liberals and many non-believers seem to believe that Jesus is only human, and the divine isn’t necessary. Both sides are missing the major point of putting divine and human together! They both lack the proper skill set of the contemplative mind.
Matter and Spirit must be recognized as inseparable in Christ before we have the courage and insight to acknowledge and honor the same in ourselves and in the entire universe. Jesus is the Archetype of Everything.
.. Unfortunately, at the Council of Chalcedon (451 CE), this view—the single, unified nature of Christ—was rejected for the “orthodox” belief, held to this day by most Christian denominations, that emphasizes two distinct natures in Jesus instead of one new synthesis. Sometimes what seems like orthodoxy is, in fact, a well-hidden and well disguised heresy!
Perhaps quantum physics can help us reclaim what we’ve lost because our dualistic minds couldn’t understand or experience the living paradox that Jesus represents. Now science is confirming there is no clear division between matter and spirit. Everything is interpenetrating. As Franciscan scientist and theologian Ilia Delio says, “We are in the universe and the universe is in us.”
When the Christian tradition chose an imperial Christ, living inside the world of static and mythic proclamations, it framed belief and understanding in a very small box. The Christ of the creeds is not tethered to earth—to the real, historical, flesh-and-blood Jesus of Nazareth. Instead, this image is mostly mental abstraction with little heart, all spirit, and almost no flesh or soul. Sometimes it seems like Christianity’s only mission is to keep announcing its vision and philosophy. This is what happens when power and empire take over the message.
Did you know that the first seven Councils of the Church, agreed upon by both East and West, were all either convened or formally presided over by emperors? This is no small point. Emperors and governments do not tend to be interested in an ethic of love, service, or nonviolence (God forbid!), and surely not forgiveness unless it somehow helps them stay in power.
Mere information is rarely helpful unless it also enlightens and transforms your life. In Franciscan theology, truth is always for the sake of love—not an absolute end in itself, which too often becomes the worship of an ideology. In other words, any good idea that does not engage the body, the heart, the physical world, and the people around us will tend to be more theological problem solving and theory than any real healing of people and institutions. Ironically, healing is what Jesus was all about!
The word “healing” did not return to mainline Christian vocabulary until the 1970’s, and even then it was widely resisted, which I know from my own experience.  In the Catholic tradition, we had pushed healing off to the very last hour of life and called the sacrament “Extreme Unction,” apparently unaware that Jesus provided free health care in the middle of life for people who were suffering, and it was not just an “extreme” measure to get them into the next world.
You wouldn’t guess this from the official creeds but, after all is said and done, doing is more important than believing. Jesus was clearly more concerned with what Buddhists call “right action” (“orthopraxy” in Christianity) than with right saying or right thinking. You can hear this message very clearly in his parable of the two sons in Matthew 21:28-31: One son says he won’t work in the vineyard, but then does, while the other says he will go, but in fact doesn’t. Jesus told his listeners that he preferred the one who actually goes, although saying the wrong words, over the one who says the right words but does not act. How did we miss that?
Humanity now needs a Jesus who is historical, relevant for real life, physical and concrete, like we are. A Jesus whose life can save us even more than his death does. A Jesus we can imitate in practical ways and who sets the bar for what it means to be fully human.
Throughout the Gospel accounts, Jesus uses one particular phrase repeatedly: “the Kingdom of Heaven.” The words stand out everywhere. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like this,” “The Kingdom of Heaven is like that,” “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you,” “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Whatever this Kingdom of Heaven is, it’s of foundational importance to what Jesus is trying to teach.
So, what is the Kingdom of Heaven? Biblical scholars have debated this question for almost as long as there have been biblical scholars. Many Christians, particularly those of a more evangelical persuasion, assume that the Kingdom of Heaven means the place you go when you die—if you’ve been “saved.” But the problem with this interpretation is that Jesus himself specifically contradicts it when he says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you” (that is, here) and “at hand” (that is, now). It’s not later, but lighter—some more subtle quality or dimension of experience accessible to you right in the moment. You don’t die into it; you awaken into it.
Others have equated the Kingdom of Heaven with an earthly utopia. The Kingdom of Heaven would be a realm of peace and justice, where human beings lived together in harmony and fair distribution of economic assets. For thousands of years, prophets and visionaries have labored to bring into being their respective versions of this kind of Kingdom of Heaven, but somehow these earthly utopias never seem to stay put for very long. Jesus specifically rejected this meaning. When his followers wanted to proclaim him the Messiah, the divinely anointed king of Israel who would inaugurate the reign of God’s justice upon the earth, Jesus shrank from all that and said, strongly and unequivocally, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
Where is it, then? Author Jim Marion’s wonderfully insightful and contemporary suggestion is that the Kingdom of Heaven is really a metaphor for a state of consciousness; it is not a place you go to, but a place you come from.  It is a whole new way of looking at the world, a transformed awareness that literally turns this world into a different place.
Marion suggests specifically that the Kingdom of Heaven is Jesus’ way of describing a state we would nowadays call “nondual consciousness” or “unitive consciousness.” The hallmark of this awareness is that it sees no separation—not between God and humans, not between humans and other humans. These are indeed Jesus’ two core teachings, underlying everything he says and does.