John Smith has provided us this reflection. John (bio below) is the author of Honest to GOod (see below). Comments are welcome at ‘Leave a reply’ (above).
I recently had a conversation with a friend who had just been to a retirement party. It was with some amusement that he told his story. Apparently he was enjoying some nibbles and a few drinks with friends from the office. He was happily chatting about old times when the formal part of the evening began. There was an impressive array of speakers waxing lyrical about the retiree. As my friend listened, he could not connect what was being said with the real flesh and blood person that he knew in reality. They were well into the speeches when he realized that the ‘saintly’, ‘wise’, ‘can do’ person that they were talking about was himself. So good were the compliments that for a brief moment he thought he had died and gone to heaven.
He became aware for the first time that all of the character traits that he disliked about himself were, in the eyes of others, noble strengths. Suddenly his ‘nitpicking’ became a special eye for detail and his ‘in-your-face’ aggression was, in reality a gentle confronting of people to look at themselves and to judge their own actions. His often used ‘cruel sarcasm’ to put people down were actually witticisms embedded in an unconventional wisdom. He wasn’t taking the ‘Mickey out of people’ he was helping them to be reflective and to gain insight into their own actions. His outbursts with people who made mistakes now became an expectation that the person could do so much better. It was an indication of his belief in the others potential and his commitment to excellence that were in evidence here.
The strangest thing about these comments was that the people making them were genuine and so he had to ask himself why is this. Were they afraid to tell him what a pain he had been and what they really thought of him? Were they so pleased to see him go from the firm that they didn’t mind lying about it?
Suddenly the penny began to drop, when the third speaker said through a flood of tears, that they loved him and wondered how they would cope at work without him and his support. Here was the answer; people somehow had come to love and care for him and truly only saw the best in him. Those who worked with him were able to honestly put a positive spin on all of his negative behaviours and to enlarge and make almost miraculous his many positive characteristics.
In a radio interview Professor Lloyd Geering comes to a similar conclusion about the gospel writer’s portrait of Jesus of Nazareth. He imagines that if Jesus had been listening to what they said about him he would not believe his ears. Jesus would probably have been like my friend and place his behaviour into a more human and realistic perspective. He most likely would have been appalled to hear that he considered himself the only avenue to God, when we know how inclusive his attitude to life was. Jesus being ‘the way, the truth and the life’ or the ‘light of the world’ or the ‘bread from heaven’ or the ‘Son of God’ was more a statement by the writer of John’s gospel than the actual words of Jesus. It is most likely that the interpretation of the so-called miracles would have been another source of irritation for Jesus; whether this was the miracles involving the control over nature or the feeding of the five thousand. The interpretation of the healing narratives and the formalizing of the Jesus movement into a church may not have met with Jesus earnest endorsement.
It is most likely that there were times when people did not understand Jesus’ humour, or his anger about injustice, or times when they misinterpreted his words and actions to justify their own behaviour.
We need to ask the question who is the real Jesus?
So why did people tell these stories about Jesus? Why did they embellish the stories about Jesus so as to make them almost impossible to believe? Was it to draw a connection between God and Jesus? Did the gospel writers want to establish evidence that Jesus was divine by attributing to him miraculous acts?
Or like my friend, did people tell stories of the larger-than-life Jesus because he meant so much to them. Did they embellish the stories because they loved him and wanted others to know how important he was? The stories of Jesus maybe possibly be a reflection of the regard that people had for him rather than factual details. However we interpret this it does indicate that this man from Nazareth had a profound impact on the people he met and developed relationships with.
We too can enter into a relationship with the authentic Jesus, but to do so it may require us to be more perceptive about human frailty than we currently are.
John W H Smith
Honest to GOoD is the story of a personal journey in search of spiritual wholeness with intellectual integrity. It is written in the hope that it will encourage others to explore the spiritual dimension of their lives and not be satisfied with easy answers or pronouncements by religious authorities, especially when they conflict with reason and personal experience. The writer asserts that we should recognise and affirm the presence of this spirit of the sacred energy, which he calls God, and which Jesus claims resides within and around all people in the ordinary events of life. Further, we should be prepared to follow its promptings, even if they confound conventional wisdom. Each spiritual journey is a unique experience in that each person must find his/her own religious voice – anything else is heretical. The God of Jesus is present and comes to visibility in our interpersonal relationships with others. The Jesus message that the reign of God is present is a most revolutionary one, because it challenges the Christian Church to reveal the presence of this sacred energy by affirming its visibility in every circumstance. This book is a message of hope because it affirms that the God Spirit is with us and is continually revealed in random acts of kindness and generosity.
The book retails at $25.00 plus postage and John has copies available should people wish to buy it. Contact John Smith
John W H Smith. C.V.
Rev John Smith is a recently retired Uniting Church minister who was ordained in 1974 in the Methodist Connexion. John has had a varied ministry including, welfare management, chaplaincy and parish ministry. As a trained social worker with a Masters degree from Flinders University John is best known for his pioneering work with children, especially those in need of care and protection, including young offenders. His pioneering work in assisting adults who have intellectual disabilities to become accepted and recognised for their abilities, has received national recognition. John was a welfare service manager for 27 years.
He is a founding member of the Progressive Christian Network of Victoria and continues as a member on the state committee. He is also a founding member of Common Dreams Conferences and continues to serve on the national committee planning team.
He writes articles on the historical Jesus for faith communities and has co-edited with Rex Hunt on “Why Weren’t We Told? A handbook on progressive Christianity,” as well as “New Life Rediscovering Faith: Stories from progressive Christians”. His most recent book “Honest To GOoD Discerning the Sacred in the Secular” is the story of his personal journey in search of spiritual wholeness with intellectual integrity.