Wednesday, December 28, 2011



After growing up in a Western Christian culture with lots of love and good Church and family experiences, I met Jesus. He was different than I expected. He was different from the faculty that educated me, different from the religious crowds that flocked around me at speaking events and conferences, different from the many spiritual friends that deserted me during my down times. Jesus was the one who stayed. He was the one who didn't shake his head in disappointment, didn't turn away in disgust. He is the one who knelt down, picked me up, dusted me off. He is the one who embraced me. It was then I realized that the Jesus I had first embraced was different from the one who was embracing me now.

And I realized something else. That Jesus I could follow. That Jesus I wanted to follow, needed to follow, couldn't help but to follow.

Not the Jesus who is wrapped up in a religious system of do's and don'ts. Not the Jesus who is used to raise money to build more and more buildings or fill the religious treasuries. Not the Jesus who was highjacked for the violent Crusades-persecuting, killing, and even mass murdering Jews, Muslims, all non-Christians, and even other Christians who disagreed with them. Not the Jesus who is embraced by a political candidate or party to impress the people. Not the Jesus who wants you to join his club. Not the Jesus who puts a heavy guilt trip on you for not performing. Not the hell-fire-and-damnation Jesus. Nor the meek-and-mild Jesus.

This Jesus is the one I never really knew. The one without Christian verbiage. The one without religious baggage. The one without self-righteous garbage. This is Jesus plus nothing.

This Jesus is the Jesus that the early followers, called disciples, got to know. For three-and-a-half years they were in an apprentice relationship with Jesus. In their system of education they never made the grade of being chosen by a rabbi to follow in his steps, so they had returned home to work the family business. But this rabbi, this Jesus, this new guy in town, he chooses them to follow him. He picked uneducated, untrained, ordinary men to come along with him and learn from him. In a sense, Jesus chose those who hadn't made the cut, walk-ons, as the team he wanted on the field in the most important game in the history of the world.

From those early beginnings, the Jesus movement continues to be the largest in the world today. This all-encompassing movement consists of people from every culture and religion on the earth-Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Pantheists, Agnostics. When Jesus is not boxed into any religious system or wrapped up in a package marked "exclusive," he has proven to be universally attractive throughout the world. People from every culture embrace Jesus, simply Jesus, whether religious or not.

Take Gandhi, for example. He was so captivated with the life and teachings of Jesus that he became one of the greatest followers of Jesus ever. One of the most common descriptions of Gandhi was that he was so "Christ-like." Gandhi discovered that his cultural background as a Hindu was enhanced by Jesus. "I shall say to Hindus," he once said, "that your life will be incomplete unless you reverentially study the teachings of Jesus. Make this world the kingdom of God and his righteousness and everything will be added unto you." Gandhi, whose goal in life was to live the Sermon on the Mount, said, "It was that sermon that has endeared Jesus to me." And, about Jesus' death on the cross, he said: "A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act." And finally the quote that was probably his most famous: "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ."

The current Dalai Lama is another example. He has expressed his love and respect for Jesus in many ways and on many occasions. Many of his teachings reflect those of Jesus. As the example and leader of the Buddhist community, the Dalai Lama is called His Holiness, yet he says he is not worthy to even untie the shoes of Jesus. In an OP-ED article for The New York Times, the Dalai Lama wrote: "In my readings of the New Testament, I find myself inspired by Jesus' acts of compassion. His miracle of the loaves and fishes, his healing and his teaching are all motivated by the desire to relieve suffering."
Both Gandhi and the Dalai Lama revere Jesus as the greatest teacher and example who ever lived.

Looking at the long history of Jewish thought, some of the most prominent rabbis have come to revere Jesus as possibly the most influential Jew who ever lived. Dr. David Flusser, in his book, The Sage From Galilee: Rediscovering Jesus' Genius, broke down many barriers that have kept Jews from studying Jesus. Albert Einstein, one of the greatest scientists in the world said this about Jesus: "As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene. No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word."

Agnostics are another group of people who have many in their ranks who follow Jesus. In my experience they are perhaps the most open to Jesus when presented without all the religious baggage. Agnostics have a vacuum in their hearts. In my experience, this seems to be a God-shaped vacuum. I continually enjoy conversing with agnostics, once I am able to convince them that I don't want to discuss religion. It seems that this group is better able to view Jesus separated from the religious wrappings. They've already rejected the religious trappings and were left empty. But, when introduced to Jesus without religious baggage, so often they respond by saying: "I can follow this Jesus!"

The "self-help movement" is another group of people who revere Jesus, some going as far as to follow him. Even in our highly educated, secularized society, the principles of Jesus are the basis for most of the self-help and motivational principles. Though they may not use his name, they do use his teaching and his example.

In many ways this is nothing new. Jesus has always worked with people from every culture and found them to be attracted to him. The problem in the First Century was the religious jealousy of the "gate-keepers" of Judaism. When Jesus presented his message of love and compassion to the non-religious and to all other non-Jewish nations of the world, he was resisted, ridiculed, and ultimately rejected.

Yes, Jesus plus nothing-Jesus without religious baggage or boxes-is attractive and can be satisfying for everyone everywhere.