How Christianity Lost Jesus, and Why We Must Get Back to Him
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
It is one of the glaring contradictions of organized religion. How did Christianity – a religion based on the teachings of a pacifist who said 'love your enemy' and who defended the poor, the outcast, and the most vulnerable – become so twisted and misrepresented? Why did dominant Christian institutions, such as the Vatican for example, amass obscene wealth and immense power? How could the last 3 US presidents – George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, who claimed to be devout followers of Jesus – unleash the fearsome might of modern American military technologies and firepower to slaughter people in faraway lands who were likely innocent? This latest commentary of mine traces this Christian mystery to the chronology of when the books of the New Testament were committed to writing.
We call chapters 5, 6 and 7 of Matthew's gospel the 'Sermon on the Mount', and it is without question one of Jesus' most memorable public teachings. While the Gospels are filled with the stories that Jesus, and later the apostles, said and told about what he did, the Sermon on the Mount is different because it's a summary of his teachings and commandments. Under the critical analysis of our best Bible scholars, the Sermon on the Mount stands as authentic ‘Jesus material’. I have concluded that if people want to follow Jesus, they need to do three things; accept Christ as your Savior, turn away from your sins, and read and digest the Sermon on the Mount (but don't stop there!). Near the end of chapter five, one of the greatest challenges of Jesus is laid down.
“You have heard the saying ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth;’ but I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other side. And if someone sues you and takes your coat, let him have your cloak as well. You have also heard it said ‘love your neighbor and hate your enemy;' but I say to you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Nothing was more basic to the society in which Jesus lived and taught than the declaration “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” (see Matthew 5, verses 38-48) The saying is a clear expression of the understanding of sin as a debt to be paid. Break one of God’s rules and God will repay you, because ‘what goes around comes around’.
In the prevailing understanding of Judaism in Jesus’ day, sin was a debt that had to be paid. Jews traveled long distances to Jerusalem to make blood sacrifices to pay God the price of their sins against him. Yet Jesus argued against the prevailing system. Jesus did not believe that punishment cured the problem of sin. Instead, he taught passionately that the antidotes for sin were repentance, unconditional love and acts of kindness. And he gave the ultimate example of exactly that by being crucified on a cross and dying for all our sins, from our biggest and most egregious right on down to the little accidental ones. Jesus paid for it all. Never, ever let go of that fact.
It has been my observation that in the 21st century the vast majority of Christians have embraced “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” once again. Not only have Christians embraced what Jesus forbade, the western world has adopted the Biblical standard that “a debt must be paid” and applied it to our finances and our monetary system. This is what capitalism has done to our souls and to our society. Everything revolves around money, interest and usury, and Christ has been left behind by the majority of people. Interestingly enough, most of them are professing Christians......
Please stay tuned for part 2, which is coming right up