My coursework this term includes a seminar with Helmut Koester on Thessalonians and a course on Buddhist Meditation Techniques. The combination of the former’s eschatology and the latter’s emphasis on practice has prompted some reflection on Jesus as an image of the Buddhist monk. Specifically, I am thinking about the model of the renouncer, one who leaves the household in pursuit of a spiritual life. Jesus fits this model, as do his disciples as they are portrayed in the Gospels. Think of his instructions: let the dead bury the dead, love your enemies for even the wicked love their own. With an eschatological focus and the lifestyle of a wandering band of monks… well you can see where I am going.
This is not to say that I am conflating the two categories. Jesus was no Buddhist. But the pattern of renouncing the household life fits. And it points to a difficulty in the Christian life. So many of Christ’s teachings point to a lifestyle we can’t all copy. Not everyone can drop everything in selfless service to the Kingdom. Society would fall apart! We create structures to maintain the church and stray away from the model of Jesus’ own ministry.
Some would have us ask “what would Jesus do?” The answer, dependent upon your Christology, is that Jesus would do as God would do, and not as we can do. And the Gospels just don’t give us anything to go on, despite the claims of the selective literalists (I refuse to use the term Fundamentalists, which implies that they have it right in some fundamental way).
So how then is the church ever to get it right? How can we as Christians live out of the boundless love of God? I imagine that prayer and sacrament are our only real hope. Not that I want to sound pessimistic. Scripture, tradition, sacrament and community. These are more than enough to get us through.
I’ve always wondered how we managed to turn the lifestyle of one who renounced the household for God’s work into mega-churches and prosperity theology. But then again, it doesn’t seem surprising after all. The life of most Christian in America seems to have little to do with the values of Jesus. They’ve turned the flesh and blood Jesus, the table-turning radical, the man of action, into abstraction… It started with Paul and his abstract Crucified Christ, and never looked back.
If I had a prayer for this entry, it would be that we always be aware that we are constructing an ill-fitting theology from an ineffable encounter with God in Christ.
And for the few that read this blog, especially those here in New England where the weather is fierce, a safe and God-filled night.