I used to think that I could not go on.
And life was nothing but an awful song.
But now I know the meaning of true love!
I’m leaning on the everlasting arms. If I can see it, then I can do it! If I just believe it, there’s nothing to it! I believe I can fly! I believe I can touch the sky!
I think about it every night and day. Spread my wings and fly away.
I believe I can soar. I see me running through that open door!
I believe I can fly! I believe I can fly! I believe I can fly! – R. Kelly, from “I Believe I Can Fly” (1996)
Jesus’s insistence that those who are wealthy and want to be His followers must first give away all their wealth feels impractical to most modern people, as we saw in our last week’s blog comments. True, building a reserve and having to manage it is a distraction from the crucial spiritual work that brought us into these earth-lives in the first place. But here are two important points:
Life is more financially complicated in the twenty-first century than it was when Jesus was on earth. And having to live hand-to-mouth today would be a bigger spiritual distraction than it is for us just to live simple middle-class lives and keep a modest nest-egg in the bank.
When Jesus was on earth, He was familiar with things that His followers – and all of us – cannot even imagine. The givens of His life were so different from theirs, and they are very different from ours as well. Think about it! Jesus knew from His own personal experience that we are all glorious eternal beings. And He knew for certain that God is real!
That second point, especially, is huge. The Gospel passages on wealth include some of those places where it feels okay to sometimes mutter under our breath, “Easy for You to say, Jesus.” I have done some of that muttering myself.
Here below is Jesus’s most prominent Gospel encounter with a wealthy man who was eager to become Jesus’s follower. This is a famous section of the Gospel of Mark, so we ought to spend a few minutes on it:
17 As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do so that I may inherit eternal life?”18 But Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not give false testimony, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”20 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth.” 21 Looking at him, Jesus showed love to him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”22 But he was deeply dismayed by these words, and he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.
23 And Jesus, looking around, *said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!”24 And the disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus responded again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”26 And they were even more astonished, and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Looking at them, Jesus said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”
28 Peter began to say to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and have followed You.”29 Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake,30 but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.31 But many who are first will be last, and the last, first.” (MK 10:17-31)
Now let’s briefly consider this passage.As is true of many things that Jesus says, He is speaking just in this moment. But this is Jesus we are talking about! So each word He speaks is imbued for us with more import than He may have meant for it to carry. Let me show you what I mean:
The rich man was using an honorific. And surely Jesus knew that. His calling Jesus “Good Teacher” was nevertheless seized upon and used as a teaching moment by Jesus when He announced that only God is good. Which likely embarrassed the poor guy.
Jesus calls it hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. And this can be taken in either of two ways. Does God consider the ownership of wealth to be in itself a big sin that can bar someone from entering God’s kingdom? Or is the problem only that having wealth is a distraction that can make it harder for us to raise our consciousness vibrations while we are on earth? In fact, as we learned last week, Jesus is talking only about the latter problem.
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” This passage has been misused as a big teaching moment for the past two thousand years! So many Christian preachers have used it to insist that Jesus was saying that owning wealth is in itself sinful. But in fact, that is not the case at all. In Jesus’s day, there was a narrow gate into Jerusalem called The Needle’s Eye. It was so narrow that camels had to be unloaded before they could pass through it. What a wonderful analogy this was for Jesus to use when He wanted to explain that wealth is a distracting burden that makes spiritual growth harder unless we first shed that wealth. He likely used this analogy often!
All things are possible with God. This is Jesus’s simple, shortcut way of explaining what we now know to be true, which is that even though wealth can be a substantial spiritual distraction, so long as we are not allowing anything – and especially wealth – to distract us from the process of growing spiritually, then the healthy process of spiritual growth can proceed according to God’s plan for us, even if we are wealthy. Jesus says all these things in the simplest possible terms, so His first-millennium listeners can best understand them.
In the age to come, the first will be last, and the last, first. Here Jesus is speaking about the fact that in the afterlife, our spiritual status will be what matters, and that future status is very likely to be the direct opposite of what our status is on earth. Nevertheless, in what we think of from here as the afterlife and from there as our real life, there still is a strict rank order. And what is immensely endearing is the fact that Jesus, who far outranks everyone, wears no insignias of rank at all when He often ministers in the afterlife today.
Jesus seems not to have asked self-impoverishment of all of His followers. As His reputation grew, some high-ranking personages became the Lord’s friends, and He did not ask the most illustrious of them to give their wealth away. For example, the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea, who eventually gave his new-cut tomb for Jesus’s temporary burial, and also the chief Pharisee Nicodemus, who argued for Jesus in the Sanhedrin when He was arrested, and who brought a hundred Roman pounds of myrrh and aloes to anoint Jesus’s body for burial, were among His followers, even if Nicodemus seems to have felt the need to meet with Jesus under cover of night. Here is the very much misunderstood “born again” story in the Gospel of John, which features Nicodemus. Let’s listen to what Jesus really is saying here:
3 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews;2 this man came to Jesus at night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus responded and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless someone is born again (or from above), he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a person be born when he is old? He cannot enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born, can he?”5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.6 That which has been born of the flesh is flesh, and that which has been born of the Spirit is spirit.7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ (or from above)8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it is coming from and where it is going; so is everyone who has been born of the Spirit.”
9 Nicodemus responded and said to Him, “How can these things be?”10 Jesus answered and said to him, “You are the teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you people do not accept our testimony.12 If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?13 No one has ascended into heaven, except He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,15 so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life in Him.
16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him.18 The one who believes in Him is not judged; the one who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.19 And this is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the Light; for their deeds were evil.20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light, so that his deeds will not be exposed.21 But the one who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds will be revealed as having been performed in God.” (JN 3:1-21)
This passage is the basis of the notion that some Christian denominations can change people’s status before God by designating them as having been “born again,” whatever that term might mean to each religious denomination. But actually, Jesus is talking here about something quite different. When the First Council of Nicaea in the year 325 CE was assembling the first Christian Bible, it removed every reference to reincarnation that it could find. Although it did miss a few. And this passage is actually about the form of physical rebirth on earth that we call reincarnation. Witness:
“You have come from God as a teacher”; and “the kingdom of God.” Note here that Jesus agrees with Nicodemus that He has come from God as a teacher. Not as a savior. And Jesus uses the term “the kingdom of God” an incredible fifty-one times through all four Gospels, and the term “the kingdom of heaven” – which means the same thing – in the Gospel of Matthew another twenty-five times. No other term is nearly so important to Jesus! He is here straight-up telling Nicodemus that He came from God to teach us how to more efficiently achieve the kingdom of God/heaven. Which was in fact His actual mission from God on earth.
“Unless someone is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” This is a frank reference to reincarnation, and to the fact that achieving the kingdom of God takes more than one earth-lifetime. Jesus’s repeated references to the kingdom of God or heaven are to the upper levels of the afterlife realities. We know now that people can achieve that exalted level at death once they have sufficiently raised their consciousness vibrations. For most people, that process requires many earth-lives of gradual spiritual growth, but Jesus’s natural predilection for loving people had enabled Him to achieve that level very quickly: He and my spirit guide have told me that Jesus achieved it about six thousand years ago. He then petitioned God to allow Him to be born again on earth from the Godhead so He could teach all of us how to achieve the kingdom of God as easily as Jesus had achieved it. Without Jesus’s teachings, people keep reincarnating repeatedly and cluelessly, perhaps hundreds of times, while making very little spiritual progress in each lifetime. Buddhists call suffering this long, blind process “turning on the wheel.” But Jesus’s teachings work so well in raising our consciousness vibrations that they enable God’s kingdom to be achieved in as little as a single lifetime.
“Born of water and the Spirit”; “born of flesh and the Spirit”. Here Jesus talks first about the process of natural birth, the gush of amniotic fluid and the fact that what is born is a spiritual being. He thus emphasizes the fact that He is talking about a physical and not just a metaphorical rebirth, of the sort that the churches imagine when they talk about the phrase “born again.” And then Jesus adds the fact that we need these earth-based lessons in order to grow spiritually, since that is the entire reason why our time on earth is necessary. Jesus’s teachings are specifically designed to elevate our consciousness vibrations as rapidly as possible.
“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it is coming from and where it is going; so is everyone who has been born of the Spirit.” This sentence perplexes Nicodemus, and Jesus throws up His hands in exasperation. Jesus must be referring here to the between-lives period of preparation for a rapid return to earth that the researcher Michael Newton documents, and from which our loved ones often speak to us. Nothing else really fits.
“No one has ascended into heaven, except He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life in Him.” In the penultimate paragraph here, Jesus tells Nicodemus the same story that Jesus and my Thomas told me in April of last year. Jesus ascended into heaven very quickly six thousand years ago, and then much later He descended from heaven as the Son of Man in order to teach us how each of us can achieve rapid spiritual growth, just as He had done. If we believe Him and follow His teachings, then we, too, will be lifted up and will join Him in eternal life. It really is precisely the same story! Seeing that Jesus told Nicodemus the same story two thousand years ago that He and Thomas told me just last year gives me gooseflesh whenever I think of it.
“Son of Man.” Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of Man before He began to accept the mantle of the long-promised Messiah. He uses that term more than eighty times through all four Gospels. In the ancient Hebrew religion, the Son of Man refers to a prototypical human being, with all his frailties; although Jesus seems to have used the term more to refer to Himself as an exemplary human being come to earth as God’s emissary. He was setting Himself lightly apart before He later specifically claimed the Messianic title and role.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” That final paragraph is religious fluff-words that were probably added by the First Nicaean Councilors. Notice how differently it reads from the rest, full of soaring pontifications. It may well be based on things that Jesus said, but the Councilors added so much that whatever Jesus may have said here is now unrecognizable. This is always a risk when we are reading the Gospels, since after Jesus spoke His precious words, they then were passed down orally for sixty or more years before they were first written down. After that, they spent additional centuries in the hands of people who often had their own religious agendas before their earliest translations into modern languages first were made.
Still, we can be grateful that respect for the Lord’s words has been such that the Gospel words that were messed with were usually only at the ends of whichever passages people wanted to change. And reading these wonderful Gospel passages from a devoutly spiritual viewpoint, which in fact was the viewpoint that Jesus had when He first spoke them, feels so remarkable today! Best of all, it brings us closer to the extraordinary spiritual Teacher come to us directly from God that Jesus actually is.
See, I was on the verge of breaking down.
Sometimes silence can seem so loud.
There are miracles in life I must achieve.
But first I know it starts inside of me. If I can see it, then I can be it! If I just believe it, there’s nothing to it! I believe I can fly! I believe I can touch the sky!
I think about it every night and day. Spread wings and fly away!
I believe I can soar. I see me running through that open door!
I believe I can fly! I believe I can fly! I believe I can fly! – R. Kelly, from “I Believe I Can Fly” (1996)
You can find Roberta’s radio show and podcast posted freshly each Monday on Webtalkradio.net. If there is any guest you would like her to interview, or anything you hope she will talk about, please send your suggestions via the Contact block!