As one unknown and nameless He comes to us, just as on the shore of the lake He approached those men who knew not who he was. His words are the same: "Follow thou Me!" and He puts us to the tasks which he has to do in our age. He commands. And to those who obey, be they wise or simple, He will reveal himself through all that they are privileged to experience in His fellowship of peace and activity, of struggle and suffering, till they come to know, as an inexpressible secret, Who He is.

Albert Schweitzer - Quest for the Historical Jesus


What is the gospel according to Jesus? Simply this: that the love we all long for in our innermost heart is already present, beyond longing. most of us can remember a time (it may have been just a moment) when we felt that everything in the world was exactly as it should be. Or we can think of a joy (it happened when we were children, perhaps, or the first time we fell in love) so vast that it was no longer inside us, but we were inside it. What we intuited then, and what we later thought was too good to be true isn't an illusion. It is real. It is realer that the real, more intimate than anything we can see or touch, "unreachable", as the Upanishads say, 'yet nearer than breath, than heartbeat." The more deeply we receive it, the more real it becomes.

Like all the great spiritual Masters, Jesus taught one thing only: presence. Ultimate reality, the luminous, compassionate intelligence of the universe, is not somewhere else, in some heaven light-years away. It didn't manifest itself any more fully to Abraham or Moses than to us, nor will it be any more present to some Messiah at the far end of time. It is always right here, right now. That is what the Bible means when it says that God's true name is I am.

There is such a thing as nostalgia for the future. Both Judaism and Christianity ache with it. It is the vision of the Golden Age, the days of perpetual summer in a world of straw-eating lions and roses without thorns, when human life will be foolproof, and fulfilled in an endlessly prolonged finale of delight. In many ways it is admirable and it has inspired political and religious leaders from Isaiah to Martin Luther King, Jr.. But it is a kind of benign insanity. . . .

When Jesus talked about the kingdom of God, he was not prophesying about some easy, danger-free perfection that will someday appear. He was talking about a state of being, a way of living at ease among the joys and sorrows of our world. It is possible, he said, to be as simple and as beautiful as the birds of the sky or the lilies of the field, who are always within the eternal Now. This state of being is not something alien or mystical. We don't need to earn it. It is already ours. Most of us lose it as we grow up and become self-conscious, but it doesn't disappear forever; it is always there to be reclaimed, though we have to search hard in order to find it. The rich especially have a hard time reentering this state of being; they are so possessed by their possessions, so entrenched in their social power, that it is almost impossible for them to let go. . . .

The portrait of Jesus that emerges from the authentic passages in the

Gospels is of a man who has emptied himself of desires, doctrines, rules - all the mental claptrap and spiritual baggage that separate us from true life - and has been filled with the vivid reality of the Unnamable. Because he has let go of the merely personal, he is no one, he is everyone. Because he allows God through the personal, his personality is like a magnetic field. Those who are drawn to him have a hunger for the real; the closer they approach, the more they can feel the purity of his heart.

What is purity of the heart? If we compare God to the sunlight, we can say that the heart is like a window. Cravings, aversions, fixed judgments, concepts, beliefs - all forms of selfishness or self protection - are, when we cling to them, like dirt on the window pane. The thicker the dirt, the more opaque the window. When there is no dirt, the window is by its own nature perfectly transparent, and the light can stream through it without hindrance. . . .

So. He was baptized. He taught. He healed. He was crucified by the Romans. What more can we intuit once the legends have been peeled away?

The focal point of a great Master, the point from which his teachings begin, tells us something important about him. Lao-tzu, like his fraternal twin Spinoza, begins with the vision of wholeness, the current of perfections that flows through all things, the God beyond God. The Buddha begins with the mind; he shows us, with infinite compassion, how to see through our neuroses, into the face we had before our parents were born. Jesus begins with the kingdom of God in the heart. His teachings have such deep moral resonance that they take us beyond the realm of the moral and make righteousness seem like the most beautiful thing on earth. In This he is prototypically Jewish. What is required of us is to do justly, to love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Not "behind": "with".

But few people are ready to enter the kingdom of God. So Jesus has a second focal point: forgiveness. If Lao-tzu's teaching is a circle, Jesus' is an ellipse.

People who are familiar only with Christianity among the great world religions don't realize how surprising this emphasis is. Other great Masters teach forgiveness, to be sure. But for them it is a secondary matter. When we center ourselves in the Tao, surrendering our own will to the will of God-or-Nature, when we purify our mind of the desires and aversions that arise from primal ignorance, then eventually, without any intention or effort on our part, we become the kind o person who finds it easy to forgive personal wrongs. . . .

Why did Jesus place such emphasis on forgiveness? Perhaps partly because he felt that this was the most important lesson that people in his time and place needed to learn. But I think there was another reason. An insightful psychotherapist will notice that many of her patients are confronting , at a more acute stage, issues that she is currently confronting in herself. They are drawn to her as to a relatively clear mirror, and the mirroring is mutual: in them too she can see herself. Even a great Master teaches what he needs, or once needed, to learn.

The Gospel According to Jesus  - Stephen Mitchell