Rev. Steve Sanchez

Rev. Steve Sanchez
Swedenborgian Minister

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The challenge Jesus faced in transforming the poeple of his time from their dark and external state.


In the previous article we examined how the times before Jesus were in a dark state, how the people had lost the internal connection to religion, and were in an external outlook 'doing it to each other'. We see Jesus’ teaching addressing this situation in the Gospels. The challenge for Jesus was to teach the people how to reflect inwardly and fight for inwardly meaningful relationships:

Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.

To begin to change the external mindset of the people is a monumental task. Jesus is teaching the people that they can come out from under the smothering social definition of themselves. To do so requires recognizing the pressure they are putting on each other and on themselves. Inwardly they are pressured into a state of ill-will, contention, suspician and hate. It is a self-perpetuating, unsolvable knot. To come out of it, they have to overcome ancient habits, and see how they are victims of it, and party to it. This means confronting the internal rage and anger, which they have no practice or skill for; they must learn to use thier anger and hate to fight the oppressive arrangement, not each other; they must use the energy of rage to fight for their identity; it is a fight for their very soul. This is what Jesus means when he says, “I did not come to bring peace but a sword….a man’s enemies will be those of his own household. Fighting for their personal relationship with God also meant fighting to reawaken their capacity for affection, love, kindness, and joy. For the people at the time it requires emerging from the fear of dark spirits and the long-standing habit of defining themselves by others expectations. To hate father, mother, daughter etc. is where the battle takes place. It does not mean that they permanently hate each other, but that it is a process of confronting the condition they are in with each other. Isaiah writes of this situation when he says:

“I will give children to be their princes,
And babes shall rule over them.
The people will be oppressed,
Every one by another and every one by his neighbor;
The child will be insolent toward the elder,
And the base toward the honorable” (Isaiah 3: 4,5).

Isaiah’s words describe the dark and destructive condition that family roles had become, how each person was ‘doing it’ to the other. This verse gives the picture of insolent children leading the people with ill intent, which is very apt. The religious leaders obsessively kept the people obedient to the law of the Torah which was stringent and behaviriol. The system played into the leaders ambition of holding power. To keep the trust of the people the leaders had to keep up appearances and fulfill their role according to custom. The leaders and the people were unconscience of how evil was using them, and most leaders fought to their dying breath to maintain it. The family clan system worked in tandem with the intent of the leaders to keep the people in an external and contentious state. Evil had manipulated the society to the point the people had no internal conscience, and therefore no ability to stop the downward spiral into darkness. It was the work of Jesus to awaken the fighting spirit deep in the soul of the people so they could find their internal life again.
Jesus himself demonstrated overcoming societal and family roles in his life. He first breaks out of the mold when his mother finds him teaching and discoursing in the Temple with the religious leaders. When Mary calls out to Him with alarm He admonishes her for keeping him from his true work; but then the scripture reads that ‘He let himself be subject to her,’ once again bowing to the conventions of the day. The unkown years of Jesus’childhood are often speculated upon. I think the key point about the years before he began his ministry is that he possessed the self-discipline to keep his true identity on the low-down. He developed his skills and powers living within the customs of the land waiting for his time to come. He did not do the things publicly that he was capable of, so as not to bring undue attention to himself. This is why the Bible speaks so little of His yourth and early manhood. He was born into being a carpenter as his father was, and took on that profession as was the custom, but later He became a teacher and a prophet, which shattered the mold of the times. The day He fully revealed his ambition in his hometown synagogue He was vilified and threatened with death for his presumption. Much of this has to do with the claim to be the Messiah, but it was also that the people in his hometown were incensed that he dared to change his social status. (“Is this Joseph’s son”). It greived Him to be rejected by his brothers and his hometown,  but He allowed them to hate him without retribution, and he knew how to stand up to them; He had the skill to fight for his right to love, and to practice love with wisdom. His own brothers rejected him during his life. It took a long time for them to come to see who He really was, but in the end they became dedicated leaders of the Early Christian church. Jesus’ incredible powers of self-discipline can be seen during his ministry. In the Garden when he is betrayed by Judas, Peter uses his sword to fight the Roman soldiers. Jesus admonishes Peter by saying, “Don’t you know I could bring down twelve legion of angels and destroy my enemies”, but he does not, because he knows humanity must be transformed in freedom. As much as possible he lived like a normal human without excorbatant use of his supernatural powers. This is why when he is jeered by the pharisees and the theives while on the cross, “If you are the son of God save yourself”, he does not. He knew the path he must follow, which includes that humantiy can only be transformed within the laws of freedom.
A major characteristic of the honor/shame society can be seen in confrontations between Jesus and the scribes and pharisees.  In the agonistic society these are semi-formal contests between people of equal status. They result in shame for the loser and an increase of honor of the winner. These contests do not take place between people of different status because the lower person is expected to simply accept their place. The confrontation in the synogogue follows this honor/shame custom as do all the face-offs between jesus and the religious leaders.
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