[saymaListserv] Talking about Jesus

Mike Shell bright_crow at mindspring.com
Thu Sep 22 08:23:28 JEST 2005


I was talking with Wendy Geiger last night about the dilemma I'm sure I share with a number of other Quakers:

Jesus is a very real and essential presence, moment by moment, in my personal life, yet I hesitate to speak about him, because I don't know how to lead people past their preconceived notions of Christianity (especially of Christianity as an ideology) to the core, experiential reality I live by.

Not by coincidence (I brought up the topic with Wendy because of my reading), the March 2005 FRIENDS JOURNAL features articles on Jesus.  Two of them, in very different ways, speak to my condition.

In "Shake before Opening" (pp.14-17), Chip Thomas writes the following:

"The Christocentric approach has been a tremendous asset to my spiritual life....  It is not unreasonable to think that others could profit from the inward Christ as I have.  I feel led to do what I can to make the way easy for these Friends.  But I fear that I will be misunderstood in the process.  I fear that the message I have been given to share will be confused with any number of Protestant views of Christianity.

"Like George Fox, my understanding of Christ is one I have come to experientially.  It stands in stark contrast to the theological representations of Jesus held by organized religions.  More importantly I am not called to share my understanding of Christ.  Rather, I feel called to remind Friends to sweep away preconceived notions before seeking.  We should lay aside both the notions of who God is and notions of who God is not.  It is true that we should plunge into the spiritual depths without carrying any words with us.  But we should not fear any words that are given us in those depths."

In "Jesus and Quakerism" (pp.18-19), an article originally published in FJ on August 10, 1957, Dorothy Hutchinson wrote:

"We are held together by our belief that the historical Jesus was a unique revelation to men of God's nature and will and that there is a spiritual element in men which corresponds to this nature and will and which, therefore, responds to the spirit of Jesus by growing....

"[A]cceptance of the miraculous recorded facts about Jesus, while permissible or perhaps even desirable, is not of paramount importance.  The basis of our Christianity is not these facts but the spirit revealed in Jesus' acts and teachings.  And the essential power of Jesus is not to be sought in the physical miracles but in his transforming power in lives with which he comes into contact.  This we test and testify to by our own experience.

"Jesus' spirit is self-giving love.  This love is not to be understood as affection....  Nor is this love a vaporous good will....  Self-giving love can be felt for those toward whom one feels no natural affection and leads toward beneficial action because its essence is IMAGINATIVE IDENTIFICATION with all men--that I love my neighbor AS IF HE WERE MYSELF and that I do unto others as I would have them do to me, IF I WERE THEY with all their past experiences, individual tastes, and needs.

"What does all this add up to in terms of such basic Christian concepts as those of salvation and forgiveness of sin?

"Quakers have tended to regard Jesus as savior in a sense quite different from that preached by many other branches of the Christian Church.  We regard salvation not as abolishing the price of our sins but as giving us the desire to pay it; not as saving us from the consequence of our sins but from the sins themselves."

Hutchinson then retells briefly the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus, the "grasping, cheating" tax collector who, once transformed by Jesus, pledges to give half his goods to poor and to repay what he had defrauded fourfold.

"[It] is not recorded that Jesus told him not to bother paying for his sins, since Jesus by his life and death would cancel the debts.  It is, on the contrary, recorded that Jesus exclaimed, 'Today salvation has come to this house....'  And this is Jesus' only use of the word 'salvation' recorded in the Scriptures!

"The spirit of Jesus transformed Zacchaeus into a man who wanted to do the will of God.  The spirit of Jesus still gives men this desire.  And the promise of forgiveness of sin gives them the power to throw off their slavery to sin.  Is not forgiveness of sin misinterpreted by many Christians as a promise to blot out all the consequences of our sins?  Jesus did not promise the adultress any such thing.  But when he said to her, 'Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again," he gave her the essentials of divine forgiveness--freedom from the paralyzing sense of guilt which binds us to our past, and the assurance that we have the power to make a fresh beginning and 'sin no more.'  This power is surely as great and mysterious as any promise of orthodox Christianity."

These two Friends speak my mind.

Blessed Be,

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