Honest to Jesus(1)
The Christian tradition is now in the midst of Holy Week, the high holy days of our religion, concluding the season of Lent, the six-week period of repentance, prayer, fasting, and reflection in preparation for Easter. The language and tone of Lent address the ego, known in traditional language as our ‘sinful nature.’ According to traditional Christian theology, Jesus died to ‘save’ us from our inherently depraved nature inherited from Adam & Eve, because we can’t do it for ourselves. For the sake of biblical and religious literacy, we need to acknowledge a disclaimer.
The extended gospel read on Palm Sunday and/or the Friday of Holy Week, is called the Passion Narrative It is the mythological story of the suffering, or passion, of Jesus. It is half of the core story of Christian faith, the other half being the Resurrection. The two parts of this story are our foundational myth. Like most foundational myths, most of the content is not literally true. To put it more clearly: most of it is not history, not prophecy, not factual. The myth and the theology do not come from Jesus himself, they are made up about him after the fact. It doesn’t mean it isn’t true on mythological levels, just not literally. What’s foundational is the myth, not the event.
That being said, let’s look at an alternative to the traditional myth and theology.
The cross was not God’s idea. God is love; love does not kill, love does not condemn.
God does not demand the death of his beloved son. God does not require blood as payment for love. That is the ego’s deluded craziness; not God’s idea, but ours.
Jesus did not have to die as part of some cosmic theological plan. He didn’t die ‘for’ us, nor on ‘our behalf,’ to save us from God’s supposed anger or wrath. We didn’t need to be saved from anything, because we didn’t do anything, and, God wasn’t angry with us. That’s more negative fantasy, made up by the ego. In this regard, the ego has kept Christianity hijacked for 2000 yrs by blaming God for Jesus’ bloody death, and calling it love.
Jesus didn’t have to die; it’s more like he chose to. Not that he liked the idea of dying, not that he preferred to. The normal reflex responses in his circumstances are to fight or flee, to save life and limb. He did neither. Instead, he bravely faced his suffering and death – stood in the middle of it – trusting in the love of God to see him through.
It’s important to point out, that Jesus did not wallow in suffering, bleeding, and dying.
He wasn’t trying to be a martyr (we made him into that). He wasn’t looking to be
worshipped (we decided to do that after the fact). That’s a huge human projection and misunderstanding, which the Western Roman Church turned into an obsession.
The point is not to suffer. God does not want us to suffer more. We are not made holier by feeling sentimentally guilty over Jesus’ death. The point is not to suffer: the point is to love….which is what he died for. What he did was show us what we can do. That we’re capable of doing what he did ….because… we are like him. Like him, we can keep our hearts open in the midst of hell.
Some of us have; some of us more than once; some of us are doing it in our lives now.
(Consider any of the families whose children have been killed by guns, on the streets, in schools, even in their own homes). In the midst of our own suffering, real or perceived, when we feel threatened, when we are vulnerable, when we are afraid…we can resist getting caught in the chaos around us….we can resist drowning in it….we can resist running away….we can resist fighting back/ revenge.
Like Jesus, we are made to keep our hearts open, in the midst of hell; ….shattered, but still whole.(2) – like the young people who Marched for their lives all over the country are trying to do
The way we do that, not unique to Jesus, but graphically expressed by him, is by surrendering our egos, letting them ‘die on the cross.’ We do it by letting go of all the illusions we have about what we can control, fix, deny, bury. All the images we make up about who we are, both how uniquely special we think we are, or, how uniquely
un-worthy we think we are. Those are all just figments of our imagination, which we talk ourselves into believing.
During Lent, we can practice letting go of our general addiction to guns, our mindless clinging to the 2nd amendment, and most recently to our abuse of the children involved. That’s all about ego. If it weren’t bad enough that we are responsible for having made martyrs of the children who died, some people are putting the survivors on another trial instead of supporting them. If you’re having a visceral negative reaction going off in your mind right now to what I just said, feeling intensely protective about your rights or your guns, say hello to your ego. The children are showing you how to grow up.
A verse in Hebrew Scripture asserts that God said ‘the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath.’ In other words, all this churchy ritual and theology is for and about our actual daily lives, to help us live our actual lives. The point of reading the passion, the myth, is not to applaud Jesus for making it through. He doesn’t need it, and doesn’t care. We do the ritual to apply it in our daily lives. Talking about guns, about these Kids and this March is not about politics. It is about morality and spirituality. The recurring question is, are we following the Spirit or ego?
Keeping our hearts open doesn’t mean we won’t die, figuratively and literally. It doesn’t mean we won’t hurt. Our egos will die; we will have to surrender them. But, like Jesus, in the midst of Gethsemane and our crosses – who trusted that nothing could separate him from the love of God, and that the loving presence of God enfolded and embraced him – we can follow his example and be taken through our suffering and death to another side. Suffering and dying, at least of our egos, may be a gateway to breaking us open – in order to love – or, if the suffering is undeserved, the challenge is to love anyway….. in the midst of hell.
The most important part of the Christian story is not the Cross, but Easter; not death, but new life. But, you can’t get to new life w/o going through the death. You can’t end-run the process. That’s just the way it is. That’s the truth of the foundational myth.
~Rev. Hank Galganowicz
Palm Sunday 2018
(1) The title ‘Honest to Jesus’ is taken from Robert Funk’s book of the same title.
(2) The phrase ‘shattered, but still whole,’ is taken from an NPR story reported by Saki Santorelli, in ‘Heal Thy Self.’