“Please God, make me good, but not just yet.”
– St Augustine of Hippo (354-430), from The Confessions of St. Augustine (400)
The problem with every attempt ever made to inspire us to be better people is the fact that none of it changes us. We might try to be good and loving and forgiving, and if we try hard and keep at it we might even begin to see ourselves that way. But it always will be an effort from without. It never becomes automatic, from within. No law ever changes who we are inside! Back in sixteenth-century London, while they were hanging pickpockets in the public squares there generally were people in the watching crowds who were busily picking pockets. And in twenty-first-century Christian churches, where people profess to be followers of Jesus and they often hear the Lord’s words shared, there still are many who are quick to judge and smugly feel themselves to be superior to those they consider to be sinners.
And think of all the people who have thought themselves to be good and virtuous as they carried out the most horrendous acts! Blaise Pascal, the great seventeenth century French physicist, said, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” Only consider the fact that the thousands of bureaucrats who murdered six million Jews during the Second World War went home at night and hugged their families. And the people who legally owned human beings two centuries ago in the American South were for the most part sincere Christians. We modern folks feel morally superior to the perpetrators of American slavery and the European Holocaust, but we have no right to feel superior! There are more slaves living now in the world than there were at the time of the American Civil War. And in China, good people are carrying out a new Holocaust of religious minorities that includes the live-harvesting and sale of their organs.
I often hear from former Christians. Many of them say they were once devout. They still love Jesus, and they want to keep Jesus while freeing themselves from Christianity, so when they come across some article or video of mine which invites then to begin to follow the Lord’s Way, they reach out and thank me. Most of these folks find traditional Christian teachings to be no longer believable; and many of them add that they can no longer bear the frank hypocrisy of so many church members who follow none of the Lord’s Gospel teachings on loving, forgiving, and never judging. But, why is that? why can’t even practicing Christians let the Lord’s words change who they are?
Until we can solve this problem, all of civilization will be just a veneer over the frankly barbarian me-first mindset that always has ruled humankind.
Although, as you know, we have lately learned that one set of rules does have the power to change us internally if we will take them seriously. Christians don’t take the teachings of Jesus as more than maybe nice suggestions; but when those rules are zealously applied, their power to actually raise our consciousness vibrations is amazing. But the problem is that so few people know what the teachings of Jesus can do! And with Christianity’s off-putting dogmas in the way, even practicing Christians don’t take the Lord’s teachings as seriously as He means them to be taken.
As I have been thinking about this problem, Thomas has led me to reconsider my least-favorite words of all the surviving words that Jesus ever spoke. For most of my life I could ignore that whole passage! Jesus tells us we have to hate everyone we love if we want to follow Him? I use to put that passage right up there beside “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” as an obvious later fraud that should be chucked at once. But unlike all the end-times, church-building, sheep-and-goats, and other bits of anachronistic nonsense that First Nicaea added as they assembled the earliest Christian Bible, that troubling passage from the fourteenth Chapter of Luke has no obvious fraudulence tells. It appears appropriately in context, and the English word “hate” could easily have been a mistranslation for something milder. “Disdain,” perhaps? Jesus knew that hatred is the lowest consciousness vibration, and He taught forgiveness as a primary virtue, so it would have been against everything He taught if we were to replace our love for anyone with hatred! And an included reference to carrying a cross is a frank anachronism that can be ignored. So with those changes, I have been freshly reading the end of Luke’s Fourteenth Chapter, and I am stunned to realize that it is in fact a very powerful teaching. And actually, it is precisely the answer to the problem of humankind’s inability to change.
Here is what Jesus said: “Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to Me, and does not disdain his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. … For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear’” (LK 14:25-34).
Where else have we seen that bit about tasteless salt? It follows the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount in the Book of Matthew: “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (MT 5:13-16). Jesus is here calling for us to put forth the effort to actually grow spiritually, and thereby to become the salt of the earth and the literal light of the world. He seems to be telling us that unless we grow spiritually, we become the equivalent of tasteless salt.
And where else have we seen Jesus urging us to give up what most matters to us so we can follow Him? When a rich young man asked Jesus what he must do to follow Him, “Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for 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.’ But at these words the young man was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus said to them, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God’” (MK 10:21-25).
We understand now that Jesus was referring to a narrow gate into Jerusalem called “the Needle’s Eye,” which no pack camel could use without first being unloaded. And the kingdom of God refers to the level of the afterlife just below the Source, where only people of the highest consciousness vibration can go. So Jesus clearly tells us here that being distracted by too many possessions is a burden that can hinder us from growing spiritually!
The more I study Jesus, the more confident I become that He is in fact of the highest aspect of the Godhead. The evidence is abundant and stunning, and I consider it to be irrefutable. Jesus walked the earth knowing many things that we couldn’t have learned on our own until now; and perhaps He even taught some things that we cannot understand, even today?
Please read again that passage from Matthews’s Fourteenth Chapter. It is clear that Jesus is telling us that in order to succeed at growing spiritually, we first must prepare a solid foundation and steel ourselves with the will to carry it through. Spiritual growth is a process, and it isn’t enough for us just to give it a try and hope for the best! It is clear, too, that He wants us to give up every conceivable distraction and devote our whole attention to following Him. And He has named for us two distractions as particular dangers:
That passage I have always assumed was bogus is in fact the Lord’s direct prescription for how we can use His teachings to effect a permanent change for the better in ourselves. As I have come to understand this over the past week, I even can see why my personal experiment in using the Lord’s teachings to grow spiritually worked so surprisingly well for me.
It could very easily not have worked! But to be frank, I really don’t care about money or anything that money can buy. And while I love my family members, I allowed the process of mastering universal forgiveness and love to spread my love for my dearest ones over the seven billion other people around them. So I didn’t actually give away everything I had or hate or disdain anyone, but apparently I gave myself distance enough to let me put Jesus first in my life. Without my being aware of it, I was following the Lord’s prescription as it is laid out in the Fourteenth Chapter of Luke. And not only did it work for me ten years ago, but I have since then seen it work for many others.
You can do it, too! You can follow the Lord’s directions and use His teachings to effect a glorious change in yourself that will let you begin to really change the world. What I learned most of all when I tried it is that once you put the Lord first in your life, before your special loves and all your earthly distractions, He is going to be there waiting for you. He will smile at you and take your hand.
“Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”
– Denis Diderot, French Enlightenment philosopher (1713–1784)