This summer as part of my spiritual journey in this world, I decided to be on a different type of mission. Experience the Bible differently-i.e., by listening to it. There is an app on the iPhone called Bible Gateway where it is now possible to listen to the Bible, especially the best version of them all, the New International Version. I decided that in the course of summer, I need to cover all the 4 gospels by hearing the verses, exactly in the same way I would have rather read them normally.
Very quickly into my mission, I got absorbed with the gospels and the sayings of Jesus Christ. Many of the verses, which would have been a normal reading staple became alive quickly and started challenging me both mentally and spiritually. Suddenly a thought came into my mind as I finished each gospel is what did Jesus actually achieve here? Here was the all powerful Yahweh who single handedly formed one of the largest races of humans just because a pastoral trader Abram had the audacity to believe in his promise; appearing in the form of a carpenter’s son, just when his beloved children were crushed mentally, physically and spiritually by the brutal Roman occupation. Their religious texts had promised them a saviour, a Messiah who would redeem them from their oppression and occupation, and lead them to a new Messianic kingdom that would fill all the corners of earth.
What happened was just the opposite. Jesus appears on this earth, gathers a motley bunch of people and spoke salvation through faith in him, and conducted miracles on afflicted people across the spectrum of society and then provoked the teachers of the day i.e., the Pharisees who were pushed to their limits by this, and conspired along with the corrupt high priests in successfully crucifying him. Defying all human logic he rises again on the third day, appears to his disciples and sends them on a mission to spread the word across all the world to both Jews and non Jews. They were very successful in whatever they did and in no time Christianity swarmed the world. The Jews were mercilessly massacred a few decades later in their own country and carried away from their lands, not to return until about two thousand years later.
Is this the story of the promised Messiah to the Jews? Yes and this was exactly what was taught to me while I grew up as a Christian. But today as I listened to these gospels once again, my logical thinking was challenged by these happenings as it doesn’t make any sense. Why dint Jesus take the Romans head on, challenge them, defeat them and reestablish the once revered Solomonic Jewish kingdom of Israel? He could have established a Jewish empire that would stretch from one corner of the world to the other and by force (just like Islam) convert people into believers and obedient citizens in this new kingdom of God?
But the Bible being eerily different ensured that the story of Jesus was also the same. This contradiction made me think for a long time.
Few days ago, I found my answer. It was in the temptation of Christ by the angel turned arch foe Devil. The eternal battle between God and Devil, good and bad, right and wrong has been played out to perfection in countless forms of media and arts. This whole sequence of Jesus going into the wilderness, fresh from his baptism by his friend John the Baptist, to fast and meditate for 40 days and nights and being tempted by Devil is an ultimate Biblical play of dramatic proportions.
Seeing the hungry and physically Jesus, Satan tries to provoke his divinely power to feed and care for himself by asking him to convert the stones in the wilderness to bread. Jesus replies in the negative by saying that man should not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. The significance of the breaking of bread and blessing of it and the wine in the Last supper and Christian communion ceremonies shouldn’t be missed here. Jesus clearly explains his priorities that he didn’t come here to provide the people with just about food that would meet their short term goals of sustenance, just as a normal earthly king would have done to them.
In the other temptations where Devil takes him to top of temple and jump from there because the angels would rescue him, Jesus again dashes the hopes of Devil by saying how important it is not to put God into test. This explains why even during his short lived and tragic earthly ministry he never for once called anyone to help him out and suffered all his tribulations in silence.
Thirdly when the Devil promises him the entire empires of the world only if Jesus would fall on his feet and worship him, Jesus aggressively pushes the Devil away by saying that it is important to worship the one and only God.
These three acts in the temptation of Jesus by the Devil is very important in understanding what was exactly Christ’s mission on this earth. The Jews hoped for a king and a saviour who would provide for them (bread), protect them using divine resources (angels) and lead them to a lasting and powerful empire that would stretch all the four corners of the earth. That would have him made like a mere dictator the likes of which we see and oppose even today in our modern democratic societies.
Jesus’ mission on this earth was to setup a lasting kingdom where everyone was the one and the same, where everyone cared for each other, and lived in happiness and prosperity in seeking out the truth. This is the ultimate state of nirvana, and he taught us the way to it through his life and mission on this earth.
Image courtesy: http://westerncivimages.com/items/show/2764