Led to Jesus
June 1, 2017 § Leave a comment
Jesus, the Christ, and I—Part 6
In 1990, Buffalo Meeting (NY) asked New York Yearly Meeting’s Friends in Unity with Nature Task Group, of which I was a member, to bring them a program for the twentieth anniversary of Earth Day, which was still being celebrated on Sundays then. Another Friend in FUN and I answered that call.
On the Saturday night before our program, I went over my notes and then meditated, and in that meditation I was given an opening that changed my life. I saw that if Christ was the Logos, the Word through whom “all things were made that were made” (John 1:2) and in whom all creation was sustained, and toward whom all evolution was moving (a la Teilhard de Chardin), then destroying creation was re-crucifying Christ. Matthew Fox had already articulated this idea, I think, but I didn’t know that at the time. If felt new and revolutionary, at least for anyone who took the gospel of John seriously.
The idea kept expanding and the next morning, I had a new message; I had discarded my original notes. Buffalo Meeting was a little cool to the message, as I remember. I was unsure myself. I had spent years pulling up Christian and biblical messages from Quaker meetings as though they were weeds.
But the opening kept expanding over the weeks after this experience until eventually, I realized I was led to write a book of Bible-based earth stewardship. A classic “cross to the will”, as elder-day Friends used to say: my own will as an anti-Christian was being crucified by God’s prompting to do something that until then I had abhorred.
I was familiar with the Bible but I had never really studied it in a focused way. I didn’t know what I needed to know to write this book.
I went to Pendle Hill for two terms to begin my research and then took a course from the School of the Spirit in The Prophetic Tradition. Bible study at Pendle Hill, with Doug Gwyn in class, and in the library on my own, immersed me in an environment that felt like home.
Then decisively, the course on The Prophetic Tradition included in its reading list John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus. In that book was a chapter on the economics of Jesus’s gospel as presented in Luke, and it focused especially on Jesus and the Jubilee. The Jubilee (described in Leviticus 25) called for the cancelation of all debts, the release of all debt slaves, the return of all families that had lost their family farm to foreclosure back to their ancestral inheritance, and for fields to remain fallow for the year. That chapter set me on a new course and sparked a love affair.
I studied the Jubilee and the rest of the “economic” instructions in Torah and dove more deeply into the gospels. Once I had learned the principles and the vocabulary of debt, redemption, and release in Torah, I saw it everywhere in the teachings and the actions of Jesus (at least of the Jesus in Matthew, Mark, and Luke; John’s Jesus and John’s Christ have been stripped of the radical economics).
I ended up abandoning my first book on Christian earth stewardship after virtually finishing it because I became convinced that Christian earth stewardship theology was a dead end. But discovering what I have come to call the economics of redemption in the common-wealth of God in the teachings of Jesus led me to write a second book, which eventually went beyond its original focus on earthcare to become a new reading of the gospel of Jesus as a whole.
I had been led to Jesus, and to Jesus as the Christ. For the one place in the (Synoptic) gospels in which Jesus unequivocally declares himself the Christ (Luke 4:16–30), he defines his “Christ-hood” as the one sent by God to declare and fulfill the Jubilee, the “year that Yahweh favors”. Relief for the poor was the heart of the gospel and the mission of the Christ!
The excitement of that discovery has lasted to this day. I fell in love with this new Jesus I had discovered hidden in the gospels, whose truth had never been taught to me before.
This love is peculiar to my type of religious temperament: it is the love of study, of learning, and of deeply reverent appreciation of the subject of one’s study. You see this love in the work of Teilhard de Chardin and Martin Buber. It is the love of a person for whom the life of the mind and the life of the spirit are conjoined, for whom the openings that come with intense, spirit-led Bible study bring a kind of ecstasy and transform your soul.
This love is not an arid intellectual thing. It is mystical. It is, I suspect, at the heart of the rabbinical way to God. It is much more at home in Judaism than in Christianity. In Judaism, study of Torah is the highest religious calling, and a path to communion. And it keeps breaking out in specifically mystical forms in Judaism, of which the Kabbalah is the most well known.
To me, the more interesting manifestation is Merkabah mysticism, the mystical practice of studying the first chapter of Ezekiel leading to visions of Yahweh’s throne chariot (the “wheel within a wheel” from the African-American spiritual). I am fascinated by Merkabah mysticism because this mystical tradition is much older the the Kabbalah, and in fact, is, some think, its root tradition. It seems to reach back almost to Jesus himself. I believe Paul was a proto-merkabah mystic. But that’s another story.
My study of the Jubilee-prophet Jesus has yielded dozens of near-ecstatic openings, two books, and a decades-long love of the man, the teachings, the mission, and the Christ he declared himself to be.