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Mr Joseph Vempeny Posted on : 05/03/2010 10:21:38

Jesus the Humanist

Jesus the Humanist

Jesus was a revolutionary, if there was one. His words and actions were shocking as per the standards of his time. Among a people who believed that wealth was a blessing from God he taught that poverty was the real blessing and that heaven’s gate will be as narrow for a rich man as the eye of a needle was for a camel to go through. Only a real revolutionary could chastise the hypocrisy of the priestly class of the day as he did. But the most revolutionary aspect of his teaching was his humanism in religion. As a matter of fact his approach was not so much religious as spiritual. It would be correct to say that he was against anything that people then or now would call religious practices, rituals or even vocal prayers. He even laughed at those who use big words to make their loud prayers more appealing. He never wanted a God-centered or Christ-centered religion. For him religion must be man-centered.

After the first few centuries in the history of the Church those who call themselves followers of Christ had gone far from the teachings of Jesus and for most of the second millennium the religion of his followers was not centered on God, Christ or man; it was clergy-centric if not eccentric. Jesus and his teachings had gone into oblivion. All that mattered were the Church laws, rituals, vocal prayers and festivals. The Sermon on the Mount or any extracts from it were not to be heard from the pulpit as it was considered impossible to practice. It was Gandhi, a staunch Hindu, who discovered the value of the treasure that was the Sermon on the Mount and proved to the world that it can be practiced to produce great results. Slowly Christians began to recognize the relevance of Jesus and his teachings and The Sermon on the Mount became to be recognized as something to be taught if not practiced. Even most of the charismatic movements, resented by authorities for not being clergy-centered, are not man-centered as Jesus wanted. Jesus was full of compassion for the poor, the down trodden, the ones long suffering from illnesses, that his views were rather centered on the poor and the suffering people.

The words of Jesus at the start of his public life (Chapters 5, 6 and 7 of Mathew’s Gospel) and at its close (Mt. 25: 31 – 46) define this humanism very succinctly. A few examples are given below with the hope that the reader will read those four chapters for details of the claim here of a homo-centric religion envisaged by Jesus.

Various religions across the world, across millennia recommend or prescribe various ways such as sacrifices to obtain God’s forgiveness for our wrong doings. But according to Jesus all we have to do to obtain God’s forgiveness is to forgive others for whatever wrong they have done to you.

God loves us; Jesus loves us. In return he doesn’t ask us to love God or to love him but to love one another. It is not enough to love our own people or our neighbors. Jesus asks us to love our enemies as well and to pray for those who hurt us. Most of his teachings are such that when we live according to them our lives become happy and we have joy and peace. The aim of the religion or spirituality he envisaged is not to please God but to make our lives good and joyful.

For most people the purpose of religion, of various religious practices, is to escape damnation at the end of life, to obtain salvation or inherit heaven. For this purpose people are told of the need to pray, offer sacrifices to gods, attend the church or temple services, to participate in poojas/prayers/sacrifices, most of which calls for spending or offering money according to or beyond one’s means. But Jesus has a very different prescription. According to Jesus, you shall be judged worthy of heaven or hell, depending on whether or not you have given food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, cloth to the needy, shelter to the homeless, whether you have visited and consoled those who are ill and those who are in prison.

A life of service to the poor is what Jesus prescribes for inheriting heaven. In India we call this Karma Yoga. Mother Theresa, St. Francis of Assisi, St John of God and such great people have shown us how this can be done. I wish all the religions especially all the Christian Churches had adapted this as the main agenda of their mission. The world would be a better place then. Even if the whole world does not heed this great call to humanism there is nothing that stops each one of us practicing this principle of service to the needy. The first step in reforming the world is reforming oneself.

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