TO SEE AGAIN
There is a story in the Gospel of John where Jesus meets a man who was blind since birth. The oddity of someone being born blind causes Jesus’ disciples to ask a theological question. They wanted to know who’s fault it was that this man was born blind. “Was it his sin or his parents?” One of the ideas people had about life, is that if bad stuff happens to you, somebody must have screwed up. Jesus confronts this wrong thinking head on. He goes over to the man, whom I like to call Sal, (the bible does not give him a proper name.) Jesus spits on the ground and makes a paste, and then proceeds to rub it on Sal’s eyelids. Then he tells him to go wash it off. The man is healed and begins to see. In Greek, there is a word, “iaomai” that sometimes gets translated as physical healing and sometimes gets translated as, “salvation.” So, to recap. Jesus uses his “Saliva” to make a “Salve” to rub on “Sal” to give him “Salvation.” All of these words (except maybe Sal) in English come from the same Latin root, “Salva.”
What if “salvation” is less about what happens to us when we die and more about how we live. I really don’t believe that when Jesus talked about “salvation,” He was ever talking about saving us from our sins in the way that we think of today. In that way, that would keep us from an eternity in Heaven. I believe he was talking about a life of wholeness and connectedness. The sins we commit are what separates us form our neighbors and our selves. Salvation to Jesus meant, connection with community.
The word sin in Greek is an archery term which literally means to miss the target with your arrow. As a metaphor, it means to be disconnected or to miss out on wholeness which is the target of life. I guess you could choose which ever meaning makes more sense to you.
If you want to believe that Jesus died so that we can be, “perfect” before a God who demands perfection, you are free to do so. Your thinking would be in line with thousands of years of Christian thinking. However, if you believe that instead, Jesus came to teach us how to love and accept each other and thus to be connected in community… you may wish to rethink the perfection thing. Right now you may be saying, “But… isn’t there a verse in the Bible that says, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is Perfect.,” you would be right. However, the word in Greek that gets translated, “perfect” has another meaning, connectedness. What you choose to believe here will say much about the God you envision. Is God primarily a God of love and connection or a God of judgement? What makes this hard is that if you know where to look you can find both in the Bible.
If Jesus came to show us how to pass Judgement and get into heaven then why did he not talk much about it? On one occasion a man the bible calls, “The rich young ruler” came to meet Jesus and ask him what it takes to inherit eternal life (those are not really the words he used but that is how they get translated.) But for one minute we will assume that is what he was asking. Why does Jesus not give him the answer we might expect. Jesus does not say, “If you believe in me as the savior of the world and confess your sins, you will be forgiven and when you die you will get to spend eternity in Heaven with God.” Instead he answers the man’s question with a question. He says, “Why do you call me good.” Then he goes on to recite the a section from the Ten commandments. Interestingly enough, he only recites the ones that pertain to how we treat others. He reminds him of not committing adultery, not murdering, not stealing, not lying and not honoring his father and mother. To everyone but Jesus’ surprise the man says, “I have kept these all of these from my youth.” Jesus does not then say to the man, “really, you have kept all of these?,” (That is probably what I would have said.) But Jesus realized that being a rich ruler he had no need to murder or commit adultery or steal or dishonor his parents. Why? Because he was rich. So instead, Jesus reminds him of the final commandment about coveting. Then Jesus tells him to go and sell all that he has and give it away. It then say’s that the man went away sad.
Is the answer to how to get to heaven, to sell all our possessions and give the money to the poor? If we did that, then we would be poor and might even have to lie, cheat and steal just to get by. So why did the man go away sad? I am guessing it is again because he was rich and his wealth separated him everyone else. Jesus was showing him how to be connected. When our wealth or privilege separates us from others, we have too much of it.
What if the man was not asking about, “Eternity with God?” The word, “eternity” as it gets translated, is better translated as, “The age to come.” What if He was asking not about heaven but rather the coming age of, “love” Jesus called the kingdom of heaven here on earth. Then this story, as well as most of what Jesus did in his life, starts to make sense.
Jesus came to heal those with sickness is what we say in our creed. What we mean is that Jesus came to bring healing not only to peoples bodies but to their whole lives. If you had an illness and people thought the reason for your illness was some sin you or your parents committed, it would tend to make you and outsider while making them insiders. Especially if they did not think they had illness (or sin.) We might call this judgement. Jesus confronted this and bridged the gap creating community where ever he went. It is time for us to reimagine the concepts of sin, salvation, perfection and eternity in a better light and heal the spaces between us and them.