So Many Messages – So Much Good News
The book of Timothy like a lot of writings that are attributed to Paul has often left me wondering if Paul and his followers did not quite get everything that Jesus had to say in the way that they focused on the Risen Christ to the exclusion of his life on Earth.
Timothy II is a very short letter that is attributed to Paul writing to a very good young friend Timothy. He is already in prison and awaiting probable execution. You will see in the book that there have been some of Paul’s followers who have betrayed him, and he is warning Timothy against them. Other followers have risked their lives to try to Paul, for example the family of Onesiphorus, and Paul is letting Timothy know that they can be trusted as well as telling him that he is going to pray for them.
Even though Paul is jailed he continues to encourage his young disciple to go out and preach the “Good News” and I think it is evident in the scriptures how passionate Paul is in his belief that it is essential to him that he must go convince his followers to spread the doctrine:
But what was the Good News that he was preaching. In this book he sums it up partially at 2Timothy 2 8 -13. To Paul and his followers, the Good News was that Jesus Christ had been put on the Earth in order to be sacrificed for our sins, so that now that he was dead if we believed in the Christ Jesus with all of our heart, and acted in the correct manner, the one that Paul was prescribing, then we would be absolved of our sins and could go to Heaven.
This of course came from a man who was one of the temple police and had in his pre-enlightened days persecuted the very people he was now purporting to lead. Paul probably had a lot of guilt on his conscience that he needed or wished to have absolved. I am not saying that his experience with the Risen Lord did not happen, but in many ways it also freed him from a life that he may have been finding horrific.
The idea of the sacrifice fit beautifully into Jewish culture at the time. Remember the story of Jesus at the temple. At the time normal Jews would bring small or large sacrifices depending on their income to show their love of God. So the Christian story of God providing in Jesus his son as the ultimate sacrifice would resonate well with the cultural mores of the time.
So God sacrificed Jesus and Paul’s bloody hands were wiped clean as were his followers.
But this was not Paul’s only Good News. Unlike the original Old Testament when God gave the Prophets a blueprint for a new society that the people of Israel had to follow, Paul’s Good News incorporated the Book of Revelations and the apocryphal writings of Jesus to support a ministry that promoted the idea that God was going to create a New Jerusalem fully formed in it’s perfection. And not only would this New Jerusalem be perfect in every way but it would be coming any day. In fact in 2 Timothy (3) Paul gives instructions to Timothy with respect to what it will be like in the final days before the New Jerusalem comes and warns the boy as to how to conduct himself. Of course only Christians would be allowed into this New Jerusalem.
This is probably one of the reasons why this group of Christians was able to convince some of their followers to give up all of their belongings to the group, to live communally and look after each other as if the new world was coming any moment, then what good was owning land anyway? I have always thought that it was sad that Paul died just waiting, thinking that any moment the new world would begin if only he could hang on long enough.
But if it had only been because of Paul’s writings, and those attributed to him, I would not be a Christian, because I do not believe in Paul’s Good News. I don’t believe in that kind of passive Salvation and I do not believe in the New Jerusalem as depicted in Revelations.
I believe that you have to pull yourself up by your own boot straps if you want to get into heaven. If you have done something wrong, then you have to fix it yourself. In my theology it would be an odd God that would send his son down to earth in order to act as a sacrifice in order to atone for the sins of the past and the future people. My 21st century Western female mind cannot wrap her head around the story of an omnipresent God who would make a part of itself in human form. Come to Earth, mingle with us mortals, spread incredibly important information and then allow my mortal body to be sacrificed in order to show that I was forgiving my followers in the past, present and future their sins. If they only believed in me. If I was omnipresent and all powerful why would I need to pander to these people anyway?
That is the stuff of Legend. Like how the Raven made Man from the Clam Shell. Important as metaphor but not as history.
No I think we need to atone for our own sins. Recognize them, rectify the ones that we can and for the ones that we cannot fix then we need to seek reconciliation with our victims so that both our victims and ourselves can start to heal. This I hope is what the United Church of Canada has started to do with the Native residential schools. It is only then that our God will forgive us not before.
Certainly I do not believe that my past sins and future ones are wiped clean because a Jewish peasant by the name of Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit once walked the earth. That’s too easy, that takes all the responsibility off me to live a better life, to stop hurting people and to take responsibility for my faults and mistakes.
But Jesus Christ did come to Earth; I have no doubt about that. And Jesus Christ was filled with the Holy Spirit; I have no doubt about that. So what then did Jesus Christ come to Earth to tell? In my view, The Good News is found in the four gospels. What he taught during his life.
The first important lesson is that we must try to follow the Laws of Moses not in word but in spirit. This was extremely important for during his day as the religious authorities had made the 10 Commandments and other religious doctrine into dogma for the people to follow so that as long as they recited the right prayers and bought the right sacrifices and paid the right tributes then all would be fine with God. But the heart of the matter, the blood and guts of God had gone. Jesus’ point was no, you must believe in your heart the commandments. The trappings of religion mean nothing. It is the heart of the worshipper that means all to God. He said this time and again with the story of the dishonest Pharisees Mark 12:3 “Guard against the teachers of the Law of Moses!”. He reiterated the same theme at the beginning of Matthew Chapter 15 when he spoke to the religious authorities as they were questioning him because his disciples are not following religious practices such as washing hands before eating.
Basically, Jesus’ teaching was that religion is nothing if it does not come from the soul. If religion is just another set of rules to obey, another set of liturgy to recite, you may as well be by yourself in an empty church because God isn’t listening.
Jesus stressed that the most important commandment was that we must love our God and have faith in him for everything. Matthew Chapter 22 37 – The Most Important Commandment What is interesting in his gospel is that he did not actually perform any real amazing healings it was always the people that were looking to him to perform the miracle, their faith in him that he said was the cause of the miracle. Their belief, their faith in God. Examples of this were:
The Canaanite woman who Jesus was not going to tend to but who convinced Jesus to help her daughter by her faith (Matthew 15.3 21)
The Roman officer who asked Jesus to heal his servant (Luke 7 6-9) and didn’t even need Jesus to come and see his servant in person – just give the word and he had faith that Jesus’ word would be accomplished.
Jesus also stressed that we are equal to each other and showed this time and again throughout his Ministry by seeking out women and those marginalized in society in order to travel with or make examples of in his stories. An example is the woman at the well not only is she a woman who he should not have been talking to, but a Samaritan woman (a group in society who was the lowest of the low). So here is the teacher asking her for help. This would be equivalent today of perhaps a Judge or Parliamentarian asking a drug addict on the street for a sip of her water bottle (John 4: 3-30).
Flowing from the idea of equality is that of Jesus’ ministry of caring. If we are equal to one another then we should also care for one another such as the Good Samaritan did. Again, he chose the Samaritan someone excluded in the society of the time to be his example of the excellent person in his story. (Luke 10:25)
And his judgment was harsh for those who did not follow this teachings as is evident in his writings of the final judgment for example in Matthew 25:31 where Jesus is quoted as having the Son of Man presumably himself dividing those coming to him in death into two groups those who have helped the vulnerable in their life and those who have not. Those who have not helped the vulnerable are sent to Heaven but those who do not are banished to hell. And the reason is because what one has done to the vulnerable is also done to the Son of Man
But it is at the end, and the reason why in my opinion Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are the most important days in the Christian calendar, at the end of Jesus’ Ministry, after Judas had gone, when he knew that he was going to be betrayed and the sequence of events had started for him to be arrested which would lead to his death, Jesus gives his last command when he is alive. It is found at John 13 2: 31.
“You must love each other , as I have loved you. If you love each other everyone will know that you are my disciples”
This is all that he wanted at the end. He did not want to tell his disciples to remember to tell everyone that he was about to get sacrificed for our sins, or their babies’ sins or their grandmother’s sins. He did not spend any time at all telling them about this New Jerusalem coming and how he was going to be coming back riding on some horrible beast and there would be terrible climatic disasters and mothers and babies would be horribly tortured and many would disappear and some would go to hell etc. No the last thing that he said to his disciples after Judas had left, when he knew that he had to get it right because he knew that he was going to die was
“You must love each other, as I have loved you.If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples”
For I think that he foresaw that his disciples would be prophets, like Paul was doing. But what he wanted was the evidence of the love that the disciples held in their hearts for one another and for their fellow men and women to reflect his teachings to the rest of the world, to show that they were Christians; that they were people of Christ.
I believe that this is reflected in Christ’s prayer to his Father found at John 17 20 when he prays for his followers later, realizing that he has kept them safe all along but he has to leave them alone now for the first time since his Ministry began just when it is most dangerous for him to do so.
So in my mind Jesus at the end, Jesus is sending his followers out to spread Love and we if we wish to call ourselves the disciples if Jesus rather than Paul are bound to continue his mission. If we can do that; if we can see that each person has a piece of God inside them; If we can see that each person is a beloved child of Jesus, then there is no possible way that we could hurt that person as we would be killing a little piece of God.
And if we could believe that each person with that little piece of God within them; each person in all of our diversity, then we would start to see what an incredibly diverse creature our God truly is. And we truly believed this, then act of violence committed against another would not only be an act against the person but against God; an act of sacrilege
Even if we could just believe in the Second Commandment: “Love one another as much as we love ourselves (Matthew 22 vr 37), then we could live in peace.
That is the Good News for we would be living in Heaven on Earth and would not have to worry about when the New Jerusalem was coming as Paul and his followers did as it would already be here.