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Ben Franklin's bifocals December 25, 2005

You Gotta Love Him

It is Christmas day and the rest of my family is watching a movie on TV, or surfing the net. I sit here the only non-Christian in the lot, and I am listening to Handel's Messiah and thinking about Jesus. I have always loved Christmas and Jesus. No, I don't mean in the inane bumper sticker terms (No Jesus, No Peace . . .). I mean in the real sense; for what he lived for, what he tried to teach, and what he died for.

You Christians take him for granted. You have made an icon of him, and in your rush to worship him you forgot what he stood for. You have been so busy unloading your sins on him in the frenzied search for redemption that you miss the point. I simply don't believe that Jesus came as a kind of divine sponge to soak up all the sins of the world and wash it clean with his blood. If the concept of sin has any validity at all it has to do with what we do in life, each one of us, and how that measures up against the yardstick of morality. You who see Jesus as some kind of "Get Out of Jail Free" card have cheapened his legacy.

I believe that, like all great teachers, Jesus intended the example of his life to be his lesson. He lived a life in love, humility, and peace. He died for what he believed in without raising a hand in his defense. To the extent that Jesus shows us the way to salvation it is not by taking from us our sin and providing a divine figure to be worshiped, but rather by challenging us to emulate him and learn from him as an example of what is best in man. I love Jesus not for his divinity but for his humanity. I do not need for him to save me, for I have already learned from him and others how to take responsibility and ownership for what I do and have done. I think that I must try to save myself, just as he did.

To the extent that either the New or Old Testaments seem to say otherwise, I believe that this is due to the priesthood, the second oldest profession. The religious bureaucracy that has been around since the beginnings of human society grew a new limb after the death of Jesus and sought to exploit his life and teachings by making him the object of a new cult of worship. By reinterpreting the old texts and inventing new ones, these early clerics succeeded in capturing a large market share of the religion industry. To secure this remarkable accomplishment they codified their efforts in a stunning work of revisionist history.

I have wondered (as many have before me) how things would look to Jesus were he to appear on this earth today and walk again among men. This, then, was my Christmas dream:

The scene is the Vatican in Rome on Christmas Eve. It is around midnight. A figure in a simple rough-woven cloth garment and sandals approaches the entrance and is stopped by a guard in full military regalia with helmet, breastplate and spear. The stranger identifies himself as Jesus of Nazareth. The guard hesitates until Jesus throws back his hood and looks him in the eye. Jesus asks: "Is this not a public place of worship? What do you fear?" The sentry responds: "There may be terrorists with suicide bombs or thieves who would steal the great art treasures." Jesus shakes his head and, putting his hand on the halberd that the guard carries, says, "Do you not remember what a Roman soldier did with one like this?" He leaves behind a shaken guard who has thrown down his spear and is in process of shedding his breastplate and helmet.

Jesus strolls into the Sistine Chapel and looks about smiling. He gazes up at the ceiling and breaks into a broad grin, then moves on into St. Peter's Basilica where the high mass is in progress. A hush falls over the large crowd as he makes his way down the center aisle toward the throne on which the Pope is seated. With loving tenderness he removes the bejewelled miter from the Pope's head and sets it on the alter. He bends down and kisses the Pope on the forehead, then whispers in his ear, "You must be tired, old man. Go to bed now." He wheels the throne (which is now revealed as an elaborately decorated wheelchair) from the podium, and gives it over to an attendant.

Jesus moves into the assembled worshipers in their rich finery, and picks out an old woman in a plain black dress. He carries her to the dais, and setting her down gently he gets a basin with holy water and begins to wash her feet. The massed phalanx of Cardinals, Arch-Bishops, Bishops, Priests, Acolytes, etc. begin to mill about uncomfortably. Several are seen to leave. Some cast off their expensive raiment and come to sit at Jesus' feet. Others are confused and begin to wander. Jesus goes up to the main alter and retrieves the host and the wine chalice, then descends again to the level of the crowd. Speaking without a microphone his voice fills the largest church in the world, yet it is not raised or strained. "Why do you attempt to devour me by eating of my flesh and drinking of my blood?" he says. "If you would take me into your heart you must see what it is I do, listen to my words, and follow my teachings." "Come with me. There are sick to heal, and children to feed, and old ones to comfort." He leads a growing procession out into the streets of the city and the church soon stands empty and deserted.

You have been so busy making Jesus into a God that you have lost sight of what it is about him that could make him holy. I am more fortunate than most Christians in that I never had to go through any kind of a ritual or process to claim Jesus. All I had to know is that he is family. In my tribal tradition, if he is family you have to love him.

William's Whimsical Words:

I can still remember how proud I felt when my parents first told me that Jesus was a Jew.

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