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The Inconvenient Sayings of Jesus


Some things just need to be pointed out. I’m not sure I’d go quite as far as P. C. Hodgell when she wrote, “That which can be destroyed by the truth should be,” but truth – so long as it’s for the purpose of building and improving – should be told.

As the title indicates, I’ll be discussing several of Jesus’s sayings today. And I’m doing this because I think there’s tremendous potential among the world’s 2.4 billion Christians. As I’ve said before, these are people who have committed themselves to a great man and to a generally useful book. There is a tremendous amount of good that could come from them. I write this to remind them that “church” should never be more important to them than Jesus.

So, let’s begin.

“Call no man ‘father.’”

This one’s obviously going to be hard for Catholic and Orthodox Christians, who call their ritual leaders “Father,” but truth matters, and we may as well start here:

And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.

That’s from the 23rd chapter of Matthew, by the way. And yes, it flatly condemns calling a religious leader “Father.” Don’t blame me for this. Jesus said it; I’m just pointing it out.

And if this bothers you, please decide who is more important to you: Jesus or a church organization. You really can’t have it both ways here (as much as many have tried). Jesus said a specific thing, and while we are free to say, “He was wrong,” or “The book was wrong,” we cannot claim that Jesus and the book are right and still call a man in a robe “Father.”

That’s just the way it is.

“When you pray…”

This one will hit nearly all the big churches and most of the small ones too. Nonetheless, here it is:

When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

So, that’s how Jesus said to pray. Notice that he didn’t say anything about praying together at a church… or even holding hands and praying together at home. Nor do we see Jesus presiding over any such thing in the New Testament. But we do read, “after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.”

And in the verse just prior to this one, Jesus said:

When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners…

Where then, does this leave public prayers?

So, if you think your church knows better than Jesus, pray in unison as much as you like. But if your church bosses don’t know better than Jesus, you might want to take your advice from the rabbi from Nazareth.

These passages are from the 6th chapter of Matthew, by the way, which
continues this way:

And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions, as the heathen do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.

You might want to give that one some consideration too.

“He that is greatest…”

Here’s what Jesus had to say about being a “great man” or “great woman”:

He who is greatest among you shall be your servant.

The word for servant, by the way, means “one who runs errands.” So, in modern speech, the saying goes like this:

The greatest man or woman will be the one who runs errands for you.

I’ll leave you to compare the actions of the big-name ministers to this verse (from Matthew 23), but I think we all know how that’ll turn out.

“My kingdom is not of this world”

Jesus wanted nothing to do with the governments of this world. It would be hard to be clearer than this statement from John 18, though there are others that are similar. Jesus defied the state agents of his time, and his first followers did the same. These things are obvious to any reader who isn’t hell-bent on evading them.

Christian “leaders” have whored themselves out to governments since the third century, and their ideas currently dominate many Christian minds. But with every theological excuse they spin, they push Jesus farther away from themselves.

“A new commandment…”

This last saying, from John 13, is, in my opinion, of central importance:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you.

Church people (and yes, I am generalizing, which isn’t entirely fair) are happy to debate doctrine at any length, but they consistently evade loving. Indeed, they become agitated or worse if you press the subject.

And to love one another the same as Jesus loved his disciples? They won’t accept that as a serious possibility.

But Jesus did think of it as a serious possibility. He thought his followers could do this. If not, he was simply being cruel.

So, again, you are free to shuffle past this saying with all due haste, but you are not free to call yourself a proper follower of Jesus at the same time.

You could of course call yourself a faithful churchgoer, son of the church, daughter of the church, or whatever. And that’s my point:

I hold that you should be free to choose whichever way you like, but I also hold that you should be honest about it: Jesus and church are not the same thing.

* * * * *

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* * * * *

Paul Rosenberg

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