How can we effectively teach the religion of Jesus today?
- How does today’s world differ from the world in Jesus’ day? In what way is today’s world similar to the world in Jesus’ day? The following are some possibilities:
- There are more people today
- People lead busier more complex lives
- People are more guarded, careful, more difficult to engage
- People are less interested in spiritual dialogue
- How should the answers to the above two questions affect the way we teach the religion of Jesus today? Should we just try to imitate what the apostles of Jesus did back there in the 1st century?
So, do we imitate the apostles physically wandering the countryside as ‘mendicant’ preachers (i.e. relying on charity to survive), bringing out the best in people that way? Practitioners of this teaching method object to the use of the work ‘begging’ as a synonym, stating that they are following strict guidelines ensuring that they are non-obtrusive as opposed to the practices of a street beggar.
Mendicant orders to religious orders that have adopted a lifestyle of poverty, travelling, and living in urban areas for purposes of preaching and ministry, especially to the poor. These orders reject the established monastic model of living in one stable, isolated community where members worked at a trade and owned property in common, including land, buildings and other wealth. By contrast, the mendicants avoided owning property, did not work at a trade, and embraced a poor, often itinerant lifestyle. They depended for their survival on the goodwill of the people to whom they preached. Jesus and his disciples lived this mendicant lifestyle.
Sometimes Christians state that Jesus’ extreme instructions were directed towards his Disciples rather than the general population, but there are those who take His instructions seriously – individuals and indeed whole orders – and we will develop that theme later in this presentation.
- What are some of the personal qualities that we can develop that will enable us to be more effective teachers of the religion of Jesus?
Some of the most obvious include a desire to be like Jesus and do the work of Jesus and a love of our fellows – a good heart
But do we need an outgoing personality – to shout from atop soapboxes on busy street corners? Trying to convince the 5,000 perhaps? Those attempts don’t work so well – not even for Jesus.
Perhaps a simple answer is simply doing what we are good at – perhaps nothing special at all – and by being ourselves as we do it. Or more simply put, passing through life in the present moment – something easy to do, not strenuous or daunting, like activities that push us to the very edges of our physical and mental capabilities – driving us to the brink of insanity – as does, sometimes, just running the course of our normal everyday life in modern society.
So, what’s different between our times and those times of Jesus some 2000 years earlier? Well, the amount of people living on the planet for one. Today people rush about busier than ever, lamenting the past, worrying about the future, putting out fires everywhere in their daily lives, paying bills – in many cases without even spending time to stop in the present moment to talk or listen. Could Jesus have stopped a crowd of 4,000 in their tracks in this day and age? I don’t think so – although perhaps with the offer of free herring rolls for all comers, or, as stated in modern phraseology, a ‘sausage sizzle’, then just maybe they might stop for a few minutes or so to fill their stomachs!
Seriously though, apart from the crowds and the pressures of modern life, I’d say that very little has changed really. People still carry that inner spark of God that will eventually drive even the most recalcitrant of us forward on the quest for spiritual understanding. For those of us who have already achieved some form of awakening of what our futures hold as foretold by Jesus, that same inner spark will drive us to share His message with our fellows.
The question here under consideration, is how do we each, as individuals, best share Jesus’s teachings with our fellows?
Do we need the charming, advanced personality of Jesus to be teachers of the religion of Jesus? What if we aren’t like that? Should we feel depressed because we can’t all be heroic saints and martyrs? Or can we just be ourselves in our humble everyday lives?
What kind of personality characteristics do we think we need to be teachers/demonstrators of the religion of Jesus, as we hide in the background, looking on in envy on those suburban preachers standing on a small soapbox on a crowded city corner, shouting out quotes from the gospel – Jesus’ words – to the passing crowds, who stop, perhaps, to throw a 10c coin at them. Are we one of those brilliant charismatic personalities willing to subject themselves to the rigors of being teachers of the religion of Jesus, day after day?
Do we have the personality even to confront people trapped in cars, buildings, lifts, airport lounges? Some amongst us enjoy doing so, and have that easy-going boisterous personality capable of reaching out. But not all us have that sort of personality, as personality ranges, on a sliding scale, from outgoing to extremely shy and reserved. Are we, the shy and reserved, disadvantaged in being teachers of the religion of Jesus?
We each have God-given gifts, whatever they may be, intelligence, artistic ability, mathematical or engineering skills, benevolence, and kindness – whatever they may be. If we pursue those – no matter what on what course in life we are headed – there will always be avenues for teaching the religion of Jesus.
Let us now consider the opposite extreme to the soapbox preacher.
Alzheimer’s research, cancer research, leukaemia, you name it and there is a cake stall raising funds for it, because there are many people out there who deem other people important – more important perhaps than even governments whose principal charge is to look after their people, but instead pay billions to the military to go joining overseas wars, funding armament production or the testing of missiles. So we can donate to many these different causes, stall by stall, $10 by $10, carefully choosing among the thousands of charities struggling on this planet, whilst carefully keeping enough for ourselves to live on.
Some have not chosen, they have donated to everything, leaving themselves completely penniless by choice, like the lady at the temple giving her very last two mites, they’ve become mendicants, not beggars but mendicants – there is a difference. Many religious orders, such as the Friars, are founded on the mendicant principal – giving away every material possession, including even clothes in the case of India’s ‘Sky People’. Can we truly claim to understand this philosophy? Well let’s have a look at the story of an English mendicant, someone to whom we can relate, perhaps better to be able to put their story in a way that we can understand and learn from it. Here is a short extract of Ajahn Sucutto’s story entitled ‘Reflections (31 May 2009) in the book, Buddhism’s relation to Christianity by Michael Lockwood
“The principle of Alms gathering is that being in a public place, yet not part of it, entails the faith that the ‘disturbance’ of one’s presence will generate some positive ripples.”
“Eventually I find a street with some shops on it, and a spot near a food outlet, a supermarket or bakers. According to the training, one should not intrude on the human flow of the street; one should not solicit alms by any gesture or speech or eye contact and one should hold the alms bowl ‘well covered’. In other words, one should not beg, but merely be available for those who are inspired enough wish to offer food. This is quite appropriate in a country where people know what a shaven-headed person in brown robes carrying a bowl is all about. In England, the first thought that regularly comes to mind, as I tuck myself back from the main flow of the street and haul my bowl out of my backpack, is that there is no way that this is going to work. No one knows who I am, no one knows what I am doing – and even if they did, why should these hardworking townsfolk pause in the flurry and bustle of the street and getting their shopping done to offer me anything? Yet here I am with no other way to get me through the next 23 hours and the next twelve miles of walking. I settle into standing. Walking up and down looks suspicious, and standing presents who I am in a clear and simple way.
After about 40 minutes along comes the manager
“Do you realize that it’s against the law to collect money in this area?”
“I’m not collecting money. I’m standing for alms food.”
“Do you realize that it’s against the law to collect food in this area?”
“No, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it. I have no wish to transgress the laws of the land or cause problems in any way.”
“Well, some of the customers have commented on your standing here, and apparently collecting, so I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to move along.”
“Fair enough, I have no wish to cause a disturbance.” Suddenly feeling like a bum or drunk panhandling for coins, I stuff my bowl into my pack… but as the manager walks away, an elderly woman stops in front of me.
“You are a monk! Can I get you some food? I’m a Christian, what can I get you to eat?
I mention maybe something small will do just fine, but she interjects: “No, no, they make hot food in here; I’d like to buy you a proper meal.” So, with her late teens’ daughter shouldering my pack, we march into the cafeteria area of the supermarket that I’ve just been shooed away from. The ripple effect is palpable – Large, bald robed being striding down the aisle following two women, one of whom is carrying a bulky backpack. The servers behind the counter give me guarded looks, but make no comments as I order up a breakfast and take a seat.
An engaging conversation ensues for a while and then suddenly they’re off. Then the daughter re-appears momentarily with bags of nuts and dried fruit, offers them with a smile, and hastens away.
I don’t need this extra food, I can’s store it. What to do? Meanwhile wondering if I have been a nuisance in the store, and feeling unhappy about the contact I had with the manager, I decide to seek him out and explain things. It seems like the proper thing to do. So I head for customers’ enquiries.
“I’d like to speak to the manager please.”
They phone him up. “He’s busy right now, can you wait ten minutes?”
Eventually he comes bustling along.
“Hello. The last time we met I was standing outside your store and I would like to apologize if I was causing any disturbance to your customers. That was not my intention. Why I am here is because shortly after you left me, a woman came along and invited me to have a meal. As it happened, her daughter also offered me some food, which I don’t need and am not allowed to keep, so I’d like to offer it as a gesture of apology.
He didn’t blink, but seemed to be regaining his breath.
“You see, I’m a monk, and I live on alms food, I’m not allowed to ask for anything directly or even make a sign. I’m supposed to stand in a way that doesn’t interrupt whatever’s going on…but still some people, one in two hundred, see me and feel inspired to offer me food.”
The manager found some breath and sighed: “I feel really crestfallen, I should have asked further what you were doing and given you a chance instead of jumping to conclusions.”
I say I sympathize with his situation and that he has to care for the effective running of his store (‘Nice store you have here by the way’) and that some of his customers might find people like me a bit disturbing. He appreciates it that I can see his point of view…and we get to talking…
“I’m really grateful that you’ve taken the time to come back and explain this to me,” he says. “I could never do what you’re doing (we’re on first-name terms now) but next time you or any of your fellows are coming through, phone and let me know and I’ll arrange it so you can collect food.”
Much hand shaking and so we part.
Humans! Sometimes all this practice is about getting people to come out of their roles and programs for a moment and trust being human, It’s an awkward, nervy kind of process, but this alms-mendicant thing is meant to instigate just that. Come to think of it, I’m supposed to be a disturbance.
So, what are some of the possibilities in between the two extremes?
Do we have to do it one way or the other, or can we just live? Do I just go to my job, which brings income in on a regular basis searching and exploring for minerals? Lots of fun – sometimes – but a lot of the time extremely boring, generating endless reports for the Government Mines Department – countless administrative and bureaucratic tasks as I now sit at least 8 hours a day behind a computer screen most of the time, struggling to exercise my body enough – my evolutionary body that requires a certain amount of movement each day to remain functioning optimally – struggle to pay my incoming bills, life’s ongoing expenses. Perhaps my mundane job in front of a computer screen for 8 hours a day to bring in money to run the family – perhaps that is doing Lord’s work. Perhaps simply this struggle alone is doing the work of Jesus in today’s modern society.
Should we try to do the work of the spirit Jesus did – use those tantalizing spiritual forces that we know surround us – harnessing that power we know is out there?
Remembering six years back to this very place we saw how hard Bernie tried to harness those forces, together with all of you who were here. If you remember, Bernie held that massive group prayer session for my wife, Francis Carleonet, in which most of you were intensely involved – calling upon the power of God –his spiritual energy – to save my wife who was fighting a losing battle with cancer. Along with family and friends, the Minister and parishioners at our local Uniting Church tried equally as hard over the months – many hundreds of prayer hours in total, I’d estimate – all directed towards one single humble human being – one of the planet’s lovely people. Francis Carleonet, only 41 years old at the time, was desperately trying to cling to life; her only desire to be with her two young children aged 12 and 10, and look after them. And as we know, Jesus was present listening to it all, ‘for where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’ (Matthew 18:20; TUB [Paper 131:4.3, page 1448.2]
The amount of spiritual energy and prayer generated in that session was amazing – enough to power a small city were it capable of being harnessed like electricity. Is this how we should be teaching, or wielding the religion of Jesus?
It didn’t work as you know, but I am sure that it was not a waste of effort, I’m sure that something was achieved somewhere through all of that energy – perhaps something for the future – perhaps building some insignificant part of the evolving Supreme Being’s own genetic makeup. Yes, I’m sure all that prayer was not a waste of time, but did it work to our satisfaction? No, of course it didn’t work. And we shouldn’t expect it to work either, if, meanwhile, some equally-as-worthy person on the opposite side of the globe can die of something as simple as malnutrition or dysentery!
When you pray for the sick and afflicted, do not expect that your petitions will take the place of loving and intelligent ministry to the necessities of these afflicted ones. [Paper 146:2.11, page 1639.6]
If we, on this material world, wish to cure cancer and other disease, then we have to fund that area of medical research. We have to take that course of study ourselves, form foundations, raise money, work against all odds to achieve it. Is it an easy road in this day and age? No, it is not! To do the medical course myself would cost at least $60,000 and take me at least 6 years of study, and I don’t begrudge the time studying – I’ve done enough of it myself in other fields, but even then, after all of that study, to find a research institute in which to do the research, and earn enough to support a family, is not easy. However that is how great advances are achieved around here on this planet.
Perhaps just living our lives – looking after our children – if we get the privilege of staying alive long enough to do so – if a whole lot of factors come together enabling us to be in that fortunate position to be able to do so – perhaps that is doing the work of the Lord.
What if we have no children of our own? Can we look after others? FreeSchools World Literacy is a charity that does just that by educating the poor and underprivileged children of this world. Perhaps participating in charity is doing the Lord’s bidding. In the past 16 years of FreeSchools’ operation, we have raised $80,000 and sent all of this to schools in India, Thailand and Africa, to which each of you have contributed in your own way, either through working on the Committee, and/or small donation, $5, $10 or $20 at a time – $20 being the cost of educating one girl for one whole year. Still one struggles with the thought – is this really enough, when other organisations raise millions? Trevor and Kathleen’s concert in Humph Hall raised $1000 towards FreeSchools. It was an amazing feat, but at the same time, a great effort to organize, but as individuals we advance one step at a time, like tadpoles learning to become frogs.
So no, I don’t believe that it takes any special personal qualities or characteristics to teach the religion of Jesus today, apart from an innate desire to do so, however small that might be – an innate desire that can rest in our subconsciousness until a personal opportunity presents itself that is tailored perfectly to each one of us as we pass on through the journey of life – that is to say that everyone can contribute in their own way –– perhaps even simply existing is a way- even as the mendicant has a place – the mendicant, those that live off the alms of others, eschewing all material goods and possessions – even to the extent of clothing as seen in those groups called the Sky People in India, who have thrown off all material ties. Perhaps they do nothing except exist and the work is all done – achieved by – those who simply observe them – the people who offer them token alms – food for their daily existence, or perhaps lodgings for the night. The mendicant, not beggar, brings out the goodness in other people as illustrated in the story.
So, even by doing nothing we are doing something, as this Englishman with the mind like our own, who, in fact, required an extremely strong personality, intelligence, to just simply stand there and choose to do nothing – He is in fact doing something quite incredible. The interaction between him, the manager, and the lady and her daughter are highly valuable – as all of us know so well that the simplest of interactions between humans are valuable as they all go towards the development of the evolving Supreme Being.
We can therefore rest assured that if we are interacting positively with other human beings then we are generating something meaningful for the records. So, taking that to its logical conclusion, then all the world’s poor, the most downtrodden of people who in their wildest of dreams can do nothing more than struggle for the barest of existences on the streets, perhaps desperately trying to feed their family with the scrap of a sandwich tossed aside in the street, a miniscule coin given to them. In India this scene is all too common; there are hundreds of thousands of these in the lowest of castes, from which FreeSchools World Literacy can, perhaps, reach perhaps less than 0.000001 of a percent, These people themselves, their sheer existence, could be looked at as the logical extension of the argument of the mendicant, to be doing the work of being teachers of the religion of Jesus at this moment. Simply by being in existence, and by coming to the notice of those who are far better placed in life – us and them, separated through nothing more than the simple chance fortune or misfortune of being born into a particular socio-economic group – the chance of their spirit appearing in any one country or another like a lottery – a game of chance. The sheer presence and numbers of poor and needy in this world bring out the better in many of those who are far more able to assist.
So how to equip ourselves to be teachers of the religion of Jesus isn’t an easy question to answer because, as it turns out, this work is anything and everything you can think of. Yet at the same time, even the tiniest of benevolent thoughts and acts, are all equal on the spiritual stage – and even the slightest glimmer of one of these acts is the first step on the pathway to spiritual survival.
So, now let us take a look at a very favourite passage of mine ‘As Jesus Passed By’ which illustrates how Jesus himself managed to do good, illustrating to us just how he went about his business – literally as he walked about from one place to another doing good. In his own limited surrounds of poverty with all of the day to day material tasks of simply surviving, carrying out his job as a carpenter/boat builder in his early years, his travels, and then in the final years of life his mission – all of which would have kept him so busy, you just wouldn’t think he had any spare time to minister to the individual – But now let us read how Jesus managed to do this in ‘As Jesus Passed By’.
Jesus spread good cheer everywhere he went. He was full of grace and truth. His associates never ceased to wonder at the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth. You can cultivate gracefulness, but graciousness is the aroma of friendliness which emanates from a love-saturated soul. [Paper 171:7.1, page 1874.4]
Goodness always compels respect, but when it is devoid of grace, it often repels affection. Goodness is universally attractive only when it is gracious. Goodness is effective only when it is attractive. [Paper 171:7.2, page 1874.5]
Jesus really understood men; therefore could he manifest genuine sympathy and show sincere compassion. But he seldom indulged in pity. While his compassion was boundless, his sympathy was practical, personal, and constructive. Never did his familiarity with suffering breed indifference, and he was able to minister to distressed souls without increasing their self-pity. [Paper 171:7.3, page 1874.6]
Jesus could help men so much because he loved them so sincerely. He truly loved each man, each woman, and each child. He could be such a true friend because of his remarkable insight — he knew so fully what was in the heart and in the mind of man. He was an interested and keen observer. He was an expert in the comprehension of human need, clever in detecting human longings. [Paper 171.7.4, page 1874.7]
Jesus was never in a hurry. He had time to comfort his fellow men “as he passed by.” And he always made his friends feel at ease. He was a charming listener. He never engaged in the meddlesome probing of the souls of his associates. As he comforted hungry minds and ministered to thirsty souls, the recipients of his mercy did not so much feel that they were confessing to him as that they were conferring with him. They had unbounded confidence in him because they saw he had so much faith in them. [Paper 171:7.5, page 1874.8]
He never seemed to be curious about people, and he never manifested a desire to direct, manage, or follow them up. He inspired profound self-confidence and robust courage in all who enjoyed his association. When he smiled on a man, that mortal experienced increased capacity for solving his manifold problems. [Paper 171:7.6, page 1875.1]
Jesus loved men so much and so wisely that he never hesitated to be severe with them when the occasion demanded such discipline. He frequently set out to help a person by asking for help. In this way he elicited interest, appealed to the better things in human nature. [Paper 171:7.7, page 1875.2]
The Master could discern saving faith in the gross superstition of the woman who sought healing by touching the hem of his garment. He was always ready and willing to stop a sermon or detain a multitude while he ministered to the needs of a single person, even to a little child. Great things happened not only because people had faith in Jesus, but also because Jesus had so much faith in them. [Paper 171:7.8, page 1875.3]
Most of the really important things which Jesus said or did seemed to happen casually, “as he passed by.” There was so little of the professional, the well-planned, or the premeditated in the Master’s earthly ministry. He dispensed health and scattered happiness naturally and gracefully as he journeyed through life. It was literally true, “He went about doing good.” [Paper 171:7.9, page 1875.4]
And it behooves the Master’s followers in all ages to learn to minister as “they pass by” — to do unselfish good as they go about their daily duties. [Paper 171:7.10, page 1875.5]
Teaching About Jesus or About the Teachings of Jesus
So, finally, are we trying to teach about Jesus himself, or about the teachings of Jesus? As scholars of Jesus, we all love to talk about Jesus, the hero we all love. But, if we go teaching about Jesus, then how can we go about doing this without mentioning his name? In other words by doing this we have restricted ourselves to only sharing with other followers of Christ about Jesus – those who already know Christ and want to hear more about Christ – as we tend to do at each and every one of our gatherings.
Teaching about the Teachings of Jesus allows us to go much further. It means we can go so far as to completely leave out any references to Jesus Himself or any of the Holy Books based on His teachings. We are now capable of interacting with, or ‘teaching’, any colour, creed, or religious belief without any risk of upsetting or alienating them. In other words, we teach as Jesus taught.
The final paper states:
To “follow Jesus” means to personally share his religious faith and to enter into the spirit of the Master’s life of unselfish service for man. One of the most important things in human living is to find out what Jesus believed, to discover his ideals, and to strive for the achievement of his exalted life purpose. Of all human knowledge, that which is of greatest value is to know the religious life of Jesus and how he lived it. [Paper 196:1.3, page 2090.4]
The interaction between the rich and the needy of the world is the key to our work in the world.