To the non-religious person who says they follow the teachings of Jesus

People often say that they follow the teachings of Jesus, as a way of skirting around the issue. They accept, and/or follow some vague, fluffy, generic, abstracted, unspecified and imprecise collection of ideas and values from a variety of religious traditions, as if to boast on their inclusivity and open mindedness. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things from Orthodox and Evangelical Christianity which have inspired my faith, as well as many particular things in Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism as well. The problem, when people say that they accept Jesus teaching, they do not actually accept Jesus teaching, they merely accept a vague, fluffy, abstracted, unspecified and imprecise collection of ideas and values which are often refered to as Judeo-Christian. Let me explain, it would be like telling the person who declares their love to you, that you are more in love with the idea of love then them in particular.

Let me make it clear. There is a whole lot of what Jesus taught which was not particularly revolutionary, and which was traditional wisdom among the Jews of his day. In this sense, he was a good Jew in every sense of the word. One can look at his condemnation of religious hypocrisy, and find similar statements among the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. One can look at the ideas behind his parables, and find the echoing sentiments and values from the Wisdom Tradition of Israel. Some scholars also debate on some phrases which were put on the mouth of Jesus by the early Church. Even for the Christian, who believes in the inspiration of the New Testament, this is not troubling, as the inspiration in the living Church, the Body of Christ, does not require every single word uttered by Jesus to have actually literally been uttered by him at a specific time, place, and moment documented absolutely perfectly as data. To be so nitpicky to the letter of the law of empirically verifiable data is only to fall into the very irrational madness that Jesus and the Prophets condemned repeatedly.

So there are two aspects of Jesus life and teaching which were incredibly radical. The first was more principally his actions, his good works, and miracles to those in need. When individuals say that they follow the teachings of Jesus, what is the big deal. Jesus went around multiplying fishes and loaves, food for the hungry, sight to the blind, and forgiveness to the sinner, and then he turns around and insists that if we have enough convicted faith and devoted love in him we may do even greater works than this. Often times, in my experience, people go around saying they follow what Jesus taught, but do not imitate what he did; which is what Jesus mandated.

Further, I cannot seem to find a place that Jesus insists that we follow what he taught, rather Jesus insists, mandates, commands, that we follow him. Jesus does not want us following his words, he wants us to follow him who is in the Incarnate word. Jesus does not want us being spiritual seekers of the truth, Jesus insists that he is Truth, and that we commit to that Truth. What would truth be, if we merely accomodated it to our liking and comfort, rather, when Truth finds us, we are compelled to sell everything we have.

It is really easy to say that all religions are the same, when you reduce Christianity to a set of morals. Ironically, people who are not religious seem to like Jesus for challenging the legal narrowness of the Pharisees, but when they turn around and reduce Christianity to a set of morals, they themselves become legalistic in the opposite extreme. What we find in Jesus is not a strict moral code, but a compelling moral witness for a better world. This is the Reign of God that he preaches, and he insists that in him is the fullness of this Reign, verifying it in his actions, his death, and his Rising from the dead. If the Jesus in exposition of the Scriptures and Tradition is absent, you have a neat little legal Judeo-Christian all religions just the same, and you can keep it safe, and you can keep yourself safe in your complacency. However, if what Jesus taught us that he is the living water, the bread from the Heaven, the Word made flesh, God’s Reign come, then that puts our clever manipulations in danger. When we encounter Jesus Christ, the Truth, we can no longer float in a vague, fluffy, generic, abstracted, unspecified and imprecise collection of ideas, because Truth is a person, and we must dare to make a specific, living, actual, and precise person, and what they are about. The Jesus who is the Christ of the Scriptures is a threat to all our complacency and comfort, so therefore, it is much easier to reduce Jesus to a moral teacher, because it requires nothing else of us that sacrifices our self-righteousness.

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