LUKE 24:44-53

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them.51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

The transition from the kingdom movement of Jesus to the religion of Christianity required some major shifts in accent.

  • From Jesus as messenger, spiritual travel guide and teacher, to Christ as the object of stationary worship.
  • From an accent on faith as full release to the present power of God, to beliefs as truth-statements necessary for salvation.
  • From promoting human liberation above every system, to a system of control ordained by god.
  • From an ethic of love and full inclusion, to a morality of judgment and separation.
  • From a revolution in human consciousness, to an institution of traditions and regulations.

The list could go on, but the point is made. Jesus’ gospel (good news) was simple and straightforward: You are already forgiven, and now the liberated life waits on you to let go of your neighbor’s guilt. Repentance for Jesus was not about confessing your sins, crawling shamefully back to God, and satisfying the conditions against his love and acceptance. God has no interest in punishing you, but only to be reconciled again. To that end, he has dropped the charges and is inviting you back. Repentance is the “turn-around” of surprise, joy, gratitude and love.

For obvious reasons, this is something that cannot be regulated. If the debt has been forgiven, the guilt released, and the past left in the past, then whatever leverage we might have had on each other is gone as well. How can we continue to segregate the sinners from the saints, if God’s preference for one over the other is no longer in play? What’s to become of the mechanism of retribution (payback) that informs so much of religion? How can we motivate contrition and obedience in new believers if the “wild card” of hell is off the table?

Early Christian mythographers rose to the challenge by reconstructing the backstory of salvation. Soon biographies of Jesus were showing up everywhere – not only our four canonical Gospels, but accounts that fit Jesus into a messianic, apocalyptic, gnostic, monastic, or charismatic framework of values and beliefs. He was made to say things and do things that “fulfilled” prophetic texts or popular expectations. The “thus it is written” in the above passage was put in the mouth of Jesus himself so as to remove any question of its authority.

Eventually (and it didn’t take long) his death was interpreted as the turning-point in human salvation, where the penalty for sin was paid and God’s need for vengeance satisfied. Or maybe God’s love was behind it, as the Gospel of John claims (Jn 3:16), though the prospect of perishing for doubt or disbelief still keeps control comfortably in the hands of church managers.

The purpose here is not to bash Christianity, but rather to suggest where it got off the path of the original Jesus – and why. Nothing is served by the exposé if the only reasonable outcome is total abandonment. The First Voice of Jesus is down there – somewhere. We need to dig beneath the accretions of church doctrine and sweep aside the corruptions of inferior motives, in order to hear again the good news.

 

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