Having just celebrated Easter, the definitive Holy Day of our Christian heritage, I continue to ponder the wisdom left to us by Jesus, calling us into a new age, a new consciousness (no better time for this than the present) - in order to find meaning for our current lives.
One of my go-to sources for understanding is The Fourth R, (standing for Reading, wRiting, aRithmatic, and Religion), the Westar Journal that promotes religious literacy (Westar being the home of the Jesus Seminars).
In the most recent edition (Volume 35 Number 2, March-April 2022), I found an article, “The First Sermon - From Provocations to Proclamations,” by Gordon W.G. Raynal, that I found meaningful. It offers insights as to how Jesus’ message was shared, as well as revealing the most important content, i.e., what the message was. Following are excerpts:
“The Way Wisdom Words Work
“Wisdom words are spoken to alert, to orient, to disorient and reorient. Wisdom communications are lifted up in order to wake hearers up to what is really, really, really going on. They are amazing forms of communication, simple expressions that have the capacity to explode our awareness, expand our horizons, see depths and breadths that we have either ignored or truly never noticed. The number of our kind who have crafted such sayings in any number are relatively few. The number of those who have specifically spoken them in a time of major historical significance are fewer still. Jesus was one of those very few.
Simply put, Jesus really wasn’t a teacher. And he wasn’t a preacher, either. The power of wisdom words is in moments appropriate to their utterance. What might such moments have been? I suggest as a general description they were moments of wondering about loving and being loved. Put simply, Jesus was a provocateur of Divine Love. [emphasis added]
“And if, so to speak, [his words] make your head explode, if they make your life and relationships explode with love, then you will have truly heard him. Sometimes they are merely words strung together and perhaps engender no special response. But when, so to speak, they land (per Jesus, “When you have ears to hear”), your apprehension of what is happening is changed. Truly heard, such words have the power to reshape our minds and hearts, and wills, and actions.
Below is the earliest example of proclamation that we have available to us. It is an amazing example of the craft of proclamation. It is recorded in the Q Gospel and begins what was the first layer of that work….Thus this core became the work that was pored over for decades to give us the compositions we commonly call “the Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew) and “the Sermon on the Plain” (Luke). All the layers of reflection are amazing works in themselves, but I think the sermon that started all that creativity is worth meditating on in its own right. [emphasis added]
(Note: Those sayings that the Jesus Seminar voted authentic or probably authentic appear in bold font. They include ten sayings of Jesus, with one repeated.)
The First Sermon:
Congratulations, you poor! God’s domain belongs to you. Congratulations, you hungry! You will have a feast. Congratulations, you who weep now! You will laugh! But to you who listen I say, love your enemies, do favors for those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for your abusers.
When someone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well. When someone takes away your coat, don’t prevent that person from taking your shirt along with it. Give to everyone who begs from you, when someone takes away your things, don’t ask for them back.
Treat people the way you want them to treat you.
If you love those who love you, what merit is there in that?
After all, even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what merit is there in that? After all, even sinners do as much. If you lend to those from whom you hope to gain, what merit is there in that? Even sinners lend to sinners, in order to get as much in return.
But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you’ll be children of the Most High. He causes the sun to rise on both the bad and the good, and sends rain on both the just and the unjust.
Be compassionate in the way your Father is compassionate. Don’t pass judgment, and you won’t be judged. For the standard you apply will be the standard applied to you.
Can the blind lead the blind? Won’t they both fall in the same ditch? Students are not above their teachers. But those who are fully taught will be like their teachers.
Why do you notice the sliver in your friend’s yes, but overlook the timber in your own? How can you say to your friend, “Friend, let me get the sliver in your eye,” when you do not notice the timber in your own? You phony, first take the timber out of your own eye, and then you’ll see well enough to remove the sliver in your friend’s eye. For a choice tree does not produce rotten fruit, any more than a rotten tree produces choice fruit; for each tree is known by its fruit.
Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from brambles. The good person produces good from the fund of good in the heart, and the evil person produces evil from the evil within.
After all, out of the surplus of the heart, the mouth speaks.
“From Provocation to Affirmation and Guidance
“Read the ten sayings of Jesus together. Once you start to string wisdom sayings together you will notice the genre shift. When gathered like this the wisdom words become a lesson of affirmation and guidance.
… This brief sermon affirms with a tight clarity the core of the nature of God’s rule. And…the enormous challenge of living enabled by that rule. [emphasis added] Taken as affirmation and guidance the words flow together to powerfully describe key aspects of practicing the Way of Reconciliation. Heard as a whole they paint a picture of the profound words spoken by the prophet Micah centuries before:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does Yahweh require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Mic 6:6–8)
“As the saying goes, this sermon still preaches, and it will again and again and again.” [emphasis added]
May we all have ears to hear this divine wisdom - and may it reshape our minds and hearts, and wills, and actions.