An Epitome of Jesus' Reliable Sayings
I frequently epitomize the works of core thinkers in ethics. Jesus of Nazareth stands in the first rank of axial age thinkers. Yet the early church and its dissenters have fundamentally muddied Jesus’ ideas by interjecting their own theological hobby-horses and rhetoric. One must do some fundamental sorting to ferret Jesus’ message from the historical detritus. Because this task is controversial to many people of faith, I have elected to show my work at length and plainly state my assumptions in separating wheat from chaff. I identify reliable sayings of Jesus and weed out those I find suspect. Then I epitomize Jesus’ message as a fictional monologue over his sleeping disciples in Gethsemane on the most important night of Jesus’ short life.
[If you would like to read my full analysis of the synoptic sayings of Jesus, click here. My epitome of Jesus' teaching is below.]
In Gethsemane on the night before his execution, Yeshua implored his disciples to watch with him. They napped instead. What might Yeshua have said to his somnolent peasant companions?
THE GETHSEMANE SOLILOQUY
Slumber. So much weakness, my friends. You sleep; events crash over you, heedless. It has been so from the beginning. Even now, you do not grasp the good news. The kingdom of God is upon us, breaking into this world. In our work together, we have ushered the kingdom’s leading edge: the sick are well, the lame walk, the dead rise, the possessed are freed, sins are forgiven. Yahweh is about to right the scales of justice and invert our diseased social order. I am to be his strong right hand in so doing. I am the Son of man of the prophet Daniel’s vision.
I know you have wished I were a messiah. You would have me mount an insurrection and throw off our odious Roman yoke. You aim too low, my friends. You would shed blood for nominal gains. You would have more of the same, only more to your liking. You would be satisfied with mere political retribution. The onrushing kingdom of God is not an earthly dominion. The Son of man is no mere messiah. Yahweh’s kingdom is a realm where the words of peaceful men crush the wiles of the violent. It is a kingdom that rewards those who give all. In the kingdom, the weak find power and the low find exaltation. The arsenal of the kingdom is the heart, not the sword. Let nothing hinder you. Give yourselves utterly to Yahweh’s inbreaking kingdom. Hear me! Perhaps you would do so, if only you were awake.
Vindication. Tonight, if Judas’s absence is as I suspect, I will suffer torments fashioned by my religious enemies. Take a deep breath. Be unafraid. Stoke your patience. Yahweh will act to vindicate me. If I am muzzled, stones will shout. If I am bound, my shackles will crumble. Even if this body dies, my Father will resurrect it. Yahweh’s kingdom is inexorable. We shall meet again. Then I shall exercise Yahweh’s power. Doubt will flee. Faithless men shall perish. The repentant shall prevail.
Kingdom. The kingdom of God is not a bigger and better version of human empires. The kingdom of God shatters what has been. The kingdom of God is Yahweh’s square peg in humanity’s round hole. Human rulers marshal armies and erect earthworks. In a day, fields are strewn with the dead and realms are won or lost. The kingdom of God is otherwise. It starts tiny, hidden, beneath notice. Yahweh’s kingdom is like a tiny mustard seed that becomes, once grown, a gigantic bush. In the end, God’s kingdom overwhelms utterly, transforming all things. God’s kingdom is yeast in a loaf. Unseen, it changes everything from within. In the kingdom, even fruit trees bear out of season.
The kingdom of God takes for its army the human heart; its razor weapons are compassionate action, forthright speech, and resilience. We, in our wanderings, have taken the good news of the kingdom of God to all the Jews of Galilee and Judea. Yahweh intends, however, to take as his citizens any who demonstrate confidence in Yahweh, and reject any who lack that faith. Yahweh’s kingdom is bursting its Jewish container. All faithful persons, Jew and gentile alike, will be gathered in my harvest. All chaff will be consumed in fire. A new world dawns.
Do not worry. I have chosen you. You will not die before you see this kingdom of God in its glory. You will see me exercising divine power as Son of man. You will stand beside me, as will all poor, maimed, downtrodden, blind, lame, broken-hearted, peacemaking, diseased, faithful disciples. Yahweh’s kingdom is a peasant movement. Be proud to be part of it. Seize it for yourself now. Do not delay. For Yahweh’s kingdom thunders toward us with breathtaking rapidity. Do not be overtaken unawares!
John. John announced Yahweh’s judgment at the Jordan River. He baptized for the forgiveness of sins, and ignored Temple sacrifices. Yahweh cherishes repentant sinners. I am wholly aligned with John. Yahweh sent John. Yahweh bypassed the Temple and its religious authorities. It would perhaps be more accurate to say that Yahweh, tasting their vile perversions, spat the Temple and its functionaries from his mouth. Those vipers have hidden their evils; they skulk in shadows. They make their students worse than themselves. Yahweh will expose them. Their sins will be broadcast to all. Then they will be consumed in divine fire.
Hearts. Yahweh wants your hearts. All men violate God’s laws in some way. Only hatred of Yahweh himself will not be forgiven. Many believe that if they comply with religious laws, Yahweh will love them. They are wrong. Yahweh loves pure hearts. God wants mercy more than compliance, and generosity more than alms. All sins emerge from distorted hearts. That is how men become putrid within. Their visible sins reflect ugliness of heart. People proud of their religiosity are the worst: they pray so others can see, they give to be praised for generosity, and they fast for publicity. Do not imitate them. Pray privately, simply, and quietly. Give in secret; don’t even take note of your generosity in your own mind. To do so is dangerous. Fast invisibly. Stay focused on your heart. Introspect. Measure your words; do not blurt. Putrid hearts are easy to come by; pure hearts require some attention to detail. A man’s heart is a tree; taste its fruit to know the man. No price is too great when purchasing a pure heart. In the economy of God, to lose much is to gain all.
To know Yahweh is to drown in your inadequacy. Humble people let their inner putrefaction drain away as they cling to God. Humble people become salt, making life tasty. The kingdom of God belongs to people who embrace their inadequacy. This humility comes more easily to people who cannot equivocate their shortcomings. God’s kingdom brims with poor people, mourners, quiet persons, people who show mercy, peacemakers, people who ask questions and seek God, people who seek forgiveness readily, people who give to children, people who are persecuted, repentant tax collectors and whores, people who forgive readily, children, people of childlike simplicity, and people who rely upon God for daily needs. These persons are more likely to have hearts pleasing to Yahweh. A man of pure heart builds his life on a solid rock; putrid-hearted men build on sand. The inwardly-ugly will be washed away in the onrushing cataclysm of the kingdom.
Some matters pose grave risks to your heart. Learn the pressing dangers of anxiety, money, talking, and clamor.
Anxiety. Avoid anxiety about food and houses and clothing. Yahweh knows your needs. He cares for all creatures. How much more God cares for you! Stay focused in the present. Of tomorrow you know little and control less. Ask God, confident of his affection. Wait patiently.
Money. Love of money pollutes a clean heart. Hearts follow desire. Riches tempt one to forsake God in favor of self-assertion. Those who amass wealth already have their reward. Do not aggregate possessions or envy others’ things. To love money is to hate God. Wealth is transient; God is immutably forever. If you need excess, hoard joy in God. Yahweh rejects the rich. They have no place in his kingdom. Avoid wealth. If you suffer the misfortune of having wealth, give it away. Stay poor. Keep your heart safe.
Talk. The voice exposes the heart. Never boast. If you find yourself boasting, start over again cleaning out your heart. Your spirituality is plastic; what was once in good shape can again become distorted. Beware! All are inclined to pretend more than is true. Just do what I tell you. Let your life do your talking.
Clamor. Remember! When things get tough or we reach a critical juncture, I go to the wilderness or a mountain and spent time alone. Noise erodes the heart. Quiet restores it.
Suffering. The world gushes suffering like a ruptured pipe. Yahweh relieves suffering as a sign of the inbreaking kingdom. I have healed, exorcized, and repaired sufferers. So too have you, my friends. Still, many more suffer than we have helped. Faith heals. Encourage faith. Pray Yahweh will hasten the kingdom, where suffering of innocents shall cease.
Opponents. Do not emulate evil people. Those who think themselves right with God usually are not. If a person proclaims his righteousness, he stinks to Yahweh. Evil people clamor to lead, but cannot see the way themselves. Religious hypocrites are the worst. To mislead others, they utter words that would please Yahweh, were the words issuing from pure hearts. Religious hypocrites impose convoluted religious rules of their own invention, but ignore those very rules themselves. Evil people do not care about the suffering they propagate. Their doubts about Yahweh lead them to demand signs and omens. They ridicule obvious good when it suits their purposes. Evil people make others sin by discouraging and misguiding them. Evil people will be damned for that! Always, evil people corral money. Jerusalem authorities have remodeled Yahweh’s Temple into a livestock trading pit. I went to the Temple and kicked over money changer tables, preached a fiery sermon, and brought Temple functions to a halt for a brief period. Temple spirituality is deficient; if you cannot surpass Temple righteousness, you will never enter the kingdom of God.
Evil people ensnare opponents in word tangles. Evil people are never satisfied in their intellectual wrangling; they flip-flop for convenience and without blushing. Corrupt authorities seek to exercise control as though such belonged to them and not to Yahweh. Evil people are, with respect to God, usurpers. They demand animals to kill, thinking themselves meticulously obedient by so doing. Meanwhile, Yahweh demands mercy and justice and faith, all flowing from pure hearts. He is ignored. Evil people accuse people who do good of stinking motives. Evil people think themselves favored by Yahweh. Whores and Roman soldiers will enter the kingdom of God first, and the Temple establishment last, if at all. Theirs is a perilous position. Jerusalem authorities hate prophets; they murder them. It has always been so. Now they intend to kill me, or so I expect. Yahweh will dismantle the Jerusalem authorities and their Temple. Nothing on Temple mount shall stand when the kingdom breaks over it.
Confront evil people. You do not need to seek them out, but when evil people accost you, speak plainly and truthfully. Do not fear calling them disparaging names, provided the names suit them. Do not let your anger rule you, but use your anger to make your voice unmistakable. You have seen me confront opponents over and over. Speak to them frankly. If they plan evil for you, receive those evils humbly. Ask the evildoer if he would prefer another stab at you. If they steal from you, offer them more from your wallet and do not ask for reimbursement. If you are pressed into forced labor, do twice as much as demanded. In the end, love evil people, as you would yourself wish to be loved. Doing so leaves their hearts to stew. Some may change their paths, which would be a great joy for Yahweh. But if not, you have shielded your own heart from their reeking vomit.
Recognize evil people without judging them. One’s vision blurs when examining one’s own sins, but grows telescopic inspecting the faults of others. To avoid judging evildoers demands balance. One must recognize evil people to avoid following them. One must recognize evil people to confront them. But yours is not to condemn. Yahweh judges. Speak plainly to evildoers of their deeds. Keep your heart from slamming the door on perpetrators. Unanticipated repentance remains possible. Barring that, God will judge soon enough. Their damnation lies beyond those concerns appropriate to humble, open-hearted seekers of Yahweh.
Law. Give political governments what they ask for, if the request is indifferent. Reserve your heartfelt loyalty for the kingdom of God. Among political persons, much evil resides. Know you may be called to confront that evil.
Religious governments are much more dangerous. In Jerusalem, they preserve Yahweh’s laws, but hedge them all around with manmade prescriptions and pointless distinctions. Keep God’s law; break human law when necessary. Remember! As the Son of man ushers in the kingdom of God, Yahweh’s law will fall to the wayside, utterly fulfilled.
One must find some perspective about divine law. When God says, Keep the Sabbath holy, does he mean that one cannot do good on the Sabbath? No. The Sabbath exists to help, not injure, man. One is free to work hard on the Sabbath doing good, despite Temple rules.
Men cannot bind or release divine law. Even with a Temple-sanctioned divorce, one has not ceased to fornicate when he remarries. God binds marital partners. Man cannot unbind them. The law forbids murder. The kingdom, however, demands more. Anger is heart-murder; so too, impudent insults. Lust is heart-adultery. Swearing is abusive god-mongering; just say “yes” or “no.” Do not let conflicts lie. Resolving disputes matters more than Temple compliance. Honor your parents. No priest can relieve you of that obligation. Look within. Who loves God more?--the Jew who keeps divine ordinances, or the gentile who saves a crime victim’s life? This is no easy question. Do both.
All the hundreds of rules in the Torah boil down to two: Love Yahweh wholly, and your neighbor as yourself. God sees every person individually. He embraces the sacrifice of a poor person donating a pittance. He scoffs at the ostentatious largesse of the rich.
You will experience this change of perspective regarding the law as a violent upheaval. That it is!
Mission. You have walked with me from Capernaum, around Galilee, and south, up to Jerusalem. We have seen remarkable healings and exorcisms, announced the kingdom, encouraged repentance, confronted opponents, and loved one another. We have had good days and bad days. Capernaum scoffed at us. Five thousand picnickers cheered our message. If you have been paying attention at all (which is not in evidence tonight), you know that Yahweh sent me on this mission. I called you to join me.
You noticed that my understanding of our task changed midstream. When we began at Galilee’s lakeside, I believed that I would preach and train you. When I sent you out to the countryside without me, I expected a great groundswell of enthusiasm to erupt. Yahweh would act, so I thought. The kingdom would roll over us, and I would be installed as Son of man in the clouds with power. But you went and returned. Believe me, you did well! Still, Yahweh checked his divine hand. I struggled to understand, and slowly understanding dawned. I saw that the Son of man must suffer, as did Isaiah’s suffering servant, as did the prophets, as did John. Only then is the Son of man qualified to supervise the kingdom of God. I surmised that my tormentors would be Jerusalem authorities. I resigned myself to my restated role, though not without my own measure of objections and trepidation. You, however, did not receive this mission revision politely. Peter, you corrected me, and I rebuffed you. Judas harbored his disappointment, and tonight seeks to compel me toward a messianic insurrection which he imagines preferable. He is wrong, but cannot be deterred, if I read Judas aright.
So, the time is upon us. I will suffer. You will fear and flee in disarray. But then, the kingdom will arrive in power. I will call you to myself.
I remind you now of other matters we have discussed in the course of our travels and work with the poor of the land.
Preaching. Our mission is to tell people about the kingdom of God. Its time is now. That is why I left home. That is why you left your fields and nets and families, and followed me. We just tell people the news. What happens after that is a matter for them to work out. We are lamps in darkness. When we go places, we let people know what we need. If they welcome us, we stay. If not, we leave. We do not coerce. Do not worry about money as you go on your way. Yahweh provides. So long as you follow me, you will have no permanent home. You must teach others to announce the news. The harvest needs workers. Family. This journey is a demanding one. Every fellow traveler must realign priorities. Families and jobs must take second place. The family of God has become our first task. When your father or mother needs burial, you may not be able to help dig. If your family disapproves of your choice to follow, let that be. The kingdom brings conflict aplenty. You must stay focused on the kingdom. That may mean that you never have sex again. That may mean you seldom parent your children. You give up nothing when you follow me that Yahweh will not more than compensate. Rest. We have rested along the way when necessary. We have also sought solitude. Competitors. Those who heal in the name of the kingdom, leave them be. But do not be fooled. Only those who are with us are with us. Honors. Some of you have requested honors. Honors, in the kingdom, belong to those who serve. Have you been paying attention? Forgiveness. Set no limit to forgiveness. When a brother sins, confront him. When he repents, forgive him. Just keep forgiving and forging onward. Children. Children matter. They always have access to me. Open your arms to children. In Yahweh’s kingdom, all citizens resemble children. Giving. Give freely. Do not ask for terms or reimbursement. If someone asks, give. Discipleship. Your path will be mine; prepare to suffer. Yahweh has linked glory and suffering inextricably. You will be disparaged. Find encouragement in one another. Prayer. I have often prayed. Do so yourselves. Find a quiet place and immerse yourself in Yahweh. Pray also with others. Yahweh hears. Persistence matters. Faith and persistence move mountains. Sadness. I have been sad, even tonight. I have asked Yahweh to grant me a different path. He has not done so. I accept that outcome. Shortly, Yahweh will vindicate our faith and suffering. I shall overcome whatever our opponents do to me. Have faith.
Now I must be going. Wake, friends! Judas, is that you, there in the shadows?